By Dimitris Rigopoulos
It was drizzling on the morning that I arrived at Edipsos. A rainstorm the night before had formed puddles here and there, and especially on the poorly asphalted roads. The cloudy horizon melted into the Gulf of Evia and I could just make out the coast of mainland Greece on the other side.
Having come to see what all the fuss was about this resort that is de rigueur for the country’s elderly population, I greeted the freak late-summer weather with guarded enthusiasm: The meteorological fluke allowed me to wax poetic in my mind about the connection between the unexpected autumnal gloom and the thousands of pensioners who flood this small town on the northern tip of Evia for therapeutic baths in its famed hot springs.
As soon as the sun came out and the streets filled up with groups of elderly men and women, I realized that I was entirely on the wrong track. I had imagined the depressing sight of elderly people shuffling along to their hot baths – a downer, like the sudden shower. It was quite the opposite in fact, because their enthusiasm and their simple joie de vivre makes the town pulsate with life, also providing a significant boost to the local economy.
Possibly because the elderly in Greece are normally sidelined to a supportive role, Edipsos gives you the impression of a reversed reality, one where they enjoy the starring role that they deserve in a better, more just and more civilized world. In fact, it is practically the only summer resort in the country where seniors feel more than welcome. I imagine that when they come here for the first time, they are also surprised by the fact that almost the entire local economy and community depend on their patronage.
The fixation with youth and beauty, so prevalent in other summer resorts, takes second place in Edipsos; its grace lies elsewhere. Here, the entire town is at the service of the people who feed the local economy with thousands of euros every summer: from the hotels, most of which have swimming pools filled with water from the hot springs, to shops selling items like bathrobes, pajamas, nightgowns, underwear, muumuus, fancy handicrafts and flowery tablecloths, along with old-school pastry shops and dozens of pharmacies. Edipsos is like a mall and fun park for the elderly rolled into one. No other town in Greece provides such a lavish welcome for this particular consumer group. A closer look reveals just how well trained the staff at the local shops are, showing patience and letting their customers shop at their own pace.
An afternoon stroll along the coastal promenade of Edipsos’s high street, Ermou, is the best way for a beginner to become immersed in the anthropological uniqueness of this town. The women clearly have the upper hand: There are more of them, most are quite voluminous, they seem more organized and they are certainly more outgoing than their husbands. Their loud voices and their shopper’s temperament set the tone. Most of the men appear somewhat withdrawn and give the impression that they are here against their will.
It goes without saying that we see a way of life in Edipsos that has largely disappeared from the rest of Greece. The daily routine of the beachgoers is reminiscent of the 1960s because of the strict operating hours of the hot springs and the sanctity of the afternoon siesta.
At the seaside cafes and pastry shops, people are happy to make new acquaintances and friends, with groups of elderly women holding court. Edipsos is also a place where friends who have been coming here for years have their regular rendezvous every summer or fall.
On top of all this, Edipsos also has the air of old Europe thanks to the cosmopolitan atmosphere endowed by some of the older hotels and residences scattered along the seafront. There are parts of the town that look like the classic spa towns of Central Europe. A building here, a pavilion there, an imposing events hall in some old hotel and the fact that the Gulf of Evia can look like a lake given its proximity to the mainland complete the picture. Unfortunately, however, ungainly and uncontrolled construction since the end of World War II, without any respect for the architectural traditions of the town, mean that the Central European spa feeling is only fleeting. On the other hand, this mishmash of hotels and rooms, housed in buildings ranging from the stately to the shabby, also means that almost anyone can afford a few days at Edipsos, while its layout allows for all the different social strata to mix and mingle.
Listening in on the conversations of the groups sitting at a pastry shop, the points that drive people together are not whether they come from the “right” neighborhood in Athens or some other city, but the joy of company, the “best cakes in Edipsos” and “this great doctor in Pangrati.”
At the end of the day, architectural harmony is the last thing that Edipsos’s visitors are looking for. And they relish the town’s warm embrace with their joie de vivre and a promise to come back next year.