Thursday, 13 June 2013

Three Days in Pserimos: A Different Experience


Pserimos, one of the smallest inhabited islands in Greece, has an absolutely perfect white-sand beach shelving gradually into a shallow, sparkling blue bay. 

Unfortunately, surrounded by Kos, Kalymnos and the shores of Turkey, it’s inevitably become a stop on the day cruise itinerary. An hour after I arrived, the tour boats had come in and the tiny harbour was crowded with pinkish daytrippers wading into the sea or strewn across the cafes. Old folks beckoned me over to buy packets of herbs, and waterside stalls shimmered with things made out of shells. If I’d arrived on one of those boats and seen the island for only that hour, I wouldn’t have fallen in love with Pserimos.

I’d arrived on the regular ferry, however, as a guest of Georgos Karaiskos, who’d taken me under his wing and invited me to pitch my tent under the tall pine trees of the scout camp he runs. I'd found his email address while hunting for information on getting to the island. We’d exchanged a few emails and I explained I lived on another Dodecanese island, Tilos. He’d replied:

‘Nice place, BUT wait until you see and stay for some days at Pserimos. Different experience!!... You will like it, and come every year.’

I hoped he was right; for now I needed a quiet swim, and followed signs to Vathi past a huge olive grove. Reaching the top of the hill, I was crestfallen to see the villa developments of Bodrum in Turkey across the water, a couple of fish farms closer to shore, and the beach full of debris washed in by the sea. A naked couple were clearly enjoying themselves, though, unperturbed by the wasps buzzing around a water-hole for goats. In spite of a rather unusual invitation to join them, I had a quick swim and left them to it.


I still felt Georgos’s claim was a bit of a stretch, but as I followed another path to Marathonta to see some more of the island, it grew on me. The gentle hills, the goats with huge twisted horns and clinking bells, gorse with yellow flowers, sage and thyme bushes; farm enclosures with dry stone walls reinforced with wood and recycled furniture (to keep the goats out); a farmer snoozing with his dog in the shade of a tree; gardens of fig trees and prickly pear, grape vines and flowers.

I decided to stay for a few days and get to know the place a little. And I’m so glad I did.

I got back to the village, strolled to the harbour, and now I had that soft white sand and clear, cool, blue water all to myself.

Georgos had recommended I eat at Sevasti Pikou’s taverna next to the church for good food and good prices – and it also drew in a local crowd – so that’s where I headed, tempting as it was to linger with my feet in the sand. The ‘fylla’, or vine leaves stuffed with rice, meat and tomato, were probably the best I’ve ever eaten, and there was home-made garlicky tzatziki and delicious slices of a huge fish called rina caught that day – the fisherman showed us the photo on his phone – sprinkled with the local herb throumbi and served with fried potatoes. Georgos joined me for a while and told me about his plans to build cabins at the scout camp for people to come and stay.


The smell of the pine trees around my tent was magnificent. I slept well, woke up with the roaming chickens and the crows. At eight a.m., the whole beach to myself again, I swam across the empty bay, then had coffee and yoghurt and honey on the beach at Themis’ cafe, watching the fishing boats coming in with octopus and sponges and fish. Pserimos at its best seemed hard to beat.

A couple of older ladies bobbed about in the water in their dresses and headscarves. Local men occasionally zipped about on little scooters, one with a goat in the trailer. There aren’t really any roads on Pserimos, just a few sandy paths and dirt tracks, but someone drives an army truck with a ram’s skull and horns on the fender.


Some thirty years ago, the population of the island was over three hundred; now only twenty or so live on Pserimos all year round, mostly old folks. But as summer starts and school finishes, it’s a wonderful place for kids and young people to come back to. The whole island is only a few kilometres long by a few kilometres wide, and great for walking.

To avoid the morning tour boats, I set out to walk to Grafiotissa beach, filling my bottle with water. The island has fresh water and it tastes delicious; from the beach I’d seen a young man drawing water from a well for his grandmother. The path was a little tricky to find at first, past goat pens, but then I was striding across hillsides full of purple-flowering thyme, with deep blue seas below. And within half an hour I got a glimpse of a spectacular sight. A long strip of white sand, rust-red cliffs, and half a small whitewashed chapel perched on top, the other half having fallen into the sea many years ago.



I passed happy hours alone at Grafiotissa. The view from the sand was of the quieter ends of Kos and Kalymnos, the deserted islet of Plati, and the occasional yacht floating by in the distance. In the courtyard of the newer church nearby were fragments of ancient carved stones, and five sheepskins hung to dry on a fence.

On the third day, after a breakfast of fresh bread with local thyme honey, I walked to Krevatia beach. ‘Tha berdepseis poli,’ said an older man in Manola’s café (where the day before I'd feasted on squid grilled on the barbecue), when I asked about which path to take: ‘You’ll get very confused.’ He was right, but I wasn’t in a rush and this walk was perhaps the most beautiful yet. There was another lonely church surrounded by grazing goats, trees blown horizontal by the winds, baled hay. A green swathe of hillside dropped gradually down to a nice stretch of sand and pebbles, again deserted with clear, tranquil sea.



 

Later, eating roasted aubergines and courgettes, I thought of the things I now knew and loved about Pserimos, having spent a few days here. The birds nesting in the bell-tower of the church next to Sevasti’s taverna, and the food from Sevasti’s kitchen. The communal grove of eight thousand olive trees and the sound of the wind blowing through it; the smell of sage and thyme; the evening noises of the birds, and the bells of sheep and goats grazing. The people who stayed for only an hour or two missed so much. It was hard to wrench myself away in the end, and I swam as many times as I could across the sparkling, clear bay, taking in the pretty houses and hillsides.



The irony was that to get back to Tilos I had to connect to a boat in Kos, which meant leaving on one of the tour boats. But in the end, the crew dancing cheesily to Zorba on deck with a few game passengers was pretty good fun, I had to admit. Maybe they weren’t so bad after all.


Getting there

The Maniai boat (I’m intrigued that Pserimos has a boat named after the ancient demons of mad frenzy) leaves from opposite the Olympic Hotel in Kalymnos harbour at 9.30 a.m. and returns at 5 p.m. (daily from May to October; three times a week out of season). Tour boats leave Kos harbour around 9.30 a.m. in summer, stopping at different times in Pserimos, and leave by around 3.30 p.m.

Where to stay

Pikou Sevasti has rooms above the taverna (pserimos@gmail.com, (0030) 22430 29337), as do most of the cafes, and there’s Kalliston Studios at the corner of the beach (petkoukouva@yahoo.gr, (0030) 698 0389 276). Pikou Sevasti also sells ice and bread, and free showers are available to customers arriving by private yacht.




23 comments:

  1. Hi Jen - I have just finished reading your book and loved it so much. Having just returned from my own heart's home - Lipsi - so much of what you wrote about resonated with me. So glad to have read it. One day I will come to Tilos!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Mary - thanks so much for getting in touch and for your lovely message! I had to write back right away, as the anonymous island I describe right at the start of chapter one is Lipsi :) Many good memories of times there.

      Hope to see you in Tilos some day!

      Delete
  2. What a treat to read about your Pserimos trip. Our first Greek holiday twelve years ago was in Kalymnos, and we saw the adoring island of P as day trippers. Although we came first, before the boats from Kos :-) and were quite disappointed by the hoards of people invading the sandy bay. We decided to come back for a longer stay, but Tilos came between, for eleven years! So that's still on the to-do-and-enjoy- list.
    Soon back again, / Susann

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thank you. Interesting description, especially the 20 people out of season! And access to the Internet on the island is? Think about it, can go for 2-3 days in January.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi there,
      There was a cafe on the beach offering Wifi, but I opted to stay offline for my three-day holiday! I would think that in the winter, the cafe with Wifi is likely to be closed, so it might be more difficult. Georgos might know! You could contact him via pserimos@gmail.com - probably a good idea if you are thinking of going in January.
      J

      Delete
    2. Hi Jen!
      Yes, I think you're right, in January of access probably not.
      Be sure to ask George.
      Best regards/
      Andrey

      Delete
  4. Hi Jen,

    nice description of Pserimos!

    We met very quickly in Livadia a couple of weeks ago. Thank you so much for the tip about snorkelling close to Plaka beach. I went there twice and really liked it - not only for the snorkelling but also because of the wonderful rocks to swim from (have always preferred rocks to beaches.)

    But - it was in Livadia I spotted octopus three times. And one tiny moray eel. Snorkelling is fun! And the best meditation I know.

    Had three wonderful weeks on Tilos. Fantastic island :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Great to hear! :)

      I was back at Plaka again this week - it's so green still on that side of the island, and Lisa likes playing on the rocks.

      Lovely getting chance to say hello, however briefly...

      Jx

      Delete
  5. After we had met, I continued seeing people reading your book on the beach. For example the Scandinavian woman who walked over to others saying "Have you read this one? It is about Tilos and it's very good!" :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ha ha, that's great to hear! I got some nice compliments about the book from a Finnish chap this week too. It's wonderful - and just shows how special Tilos is.

      Delete
  6. Hi Jen
    It was a joy to read your article on Pserimos and just perfect timing too as we arrived home yesterday following our usual 2-week stay there. June and September are our fav months. We have been visiting the island for over 30 years. We will send the link to Sevasti (via Erika on Facebook) and also to Petruala who is running the Kalliston Studios this year; that is where we stay. To answer some questions on this blog; the tourist season on Pserimos ends on 26 October when all the taverna's close and the people return to Kalymnos for the winter. There is free Wifi at Ana's at the Tripolitis, at the main harbour end of the beach. About to order your book from Amazon! Thank you again for sharing your thoughts. Mary and Chris from Surrey

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And thank you! How lovely to hear from you. I am hoping to go back to Pserimos in September or October...

      Delete
  7. Message from Sevasti (via Erika who is working with her and is German)

    hello i am sevasti, i want to thank you for your kind compiments for sperimos all the best from us here.hope to see you again
    18:13

    Second message is because my husband Chris has a piccie of himself (taken many years ago) with Sevasti's Dad, from Facebook. He was a wonderful man.

    'hier oll together happy and looking fotos from grandfather. i grandmother was crying'

    Jen, can we be facebook friends? Let me try and find you. Mary x

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. How nice! Erika (I didn't get her name while I was there) looked after me very well! Do return my best wishes to them. Would love to be friends on FB (I'm 'Jen Barclay') - do let me know if you have trouble finding me... x

      Delete
  8. Cannot find you - too many Jennifer Barclays! x

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm 'Jen Barclay' on FB. What's your name there and I'll try to find you... Or just email me at barclayjennifer at hotmail dot com

      Delete
  9. I failed again! I have a privacy setting on my FB but you can find me and make friend contract through my daughter's FB friends. She is Celia McCamley and I am Mary Pursey. x

    ReplyDelete
  10. Hi Jen,
    Love to have read about your wonderful 3 days experience on beatiful Pserimos.
    I fell in love with Pserimos in September 2013 staying just 1 night, i spent every hour of daylight exploring the whole island, i just couldn't believe that beatiful island was little known outside the harbour.
    My vision is to return frequently share the island and encourage people to leave the popular harbour and actively explore the islands hidden treasures.
    PHILLIPOS FIELD

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for connecting and for reading the Pserimos post. It's been one of the most popular posts this year - I'm so pleased because the island deserves to be better known, as you say (though don't tell TOO many people!). I'm looking forward to going back sometime.

      Delete
  11. Hi Jennifer I'm so thankful to come across this post. I'm in search of seventh after we lost contact 4 yrs ago. My dad used to spend 6 years of the summer helping sevasti. He passed away 4 years ago which she knew about but unfortunately haveno been able to go on holiday with family commitments since then. I just Want to know that she and the family are well and that I'm always thinking of her and to visit again soon. Would be fantastic if u could contact me back via my email tanlou86@hotmail.com lok forward to hearing from u many thanks Tanya xx

    ReplyDelete
  12. Dear Jennifer,
    I Just read your post about Pserimos. We thank you SO much for writing down your opinion about spending a few days at Pserimos. It seams like many people red your post and that's why this summer I have a lot of emails asking about how to find a room at Pserimos and how to get to our beautifull Island. As always they have my curtesy and love. Hope to see you later this summer. The camp is still there for you. Love you all, George Karaiskos, pserimos@gmail.com.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Dear all, I'm just back from Pserimos where me and my girlfriend spent a really wonderful week. Many many thanks to Georges who managed to let us to reach the island and find the nice Manola's Tavern with the nice Giorgio, Katerina and Costas. Many many thanks for this beautiful holidays in a wonderful insland!

    ReplyDelete