CULTURE

Galaxidi: Silent eloquence

When you arrive at Galaxidi the first thing that strikes you is the quiet. The road into the picturesque coastal village at the foot of Mount Parnassus leads you to Nikolaos Mamas Square – named after a sea captain and local benefactor – and the main port. The fresh sea breeze, the cafes and tavernas lined up in a row, the fishing boats and yachts tied up in the marina, the people strolling on Pera Panta Hill and the beautifully renovated stately homes, once the residences of respected sea captains, compose a setting that is reminiscent of the castle town of Nafplio in the Peloponnese, but with a more tranquil and less commercialized character.

Walking up main Iroon Street, I steal a peek through the odd gate to admire pretty colorfully paved courtyards, while soft music emanates from one of the neoclassical homes along the strip. I push aside my envy of the people who get to live in such beautiful homes and make my way to the Nautical Museum of Galaxidi. There I meet Giorgos Kourentis, a former seaman who saw the world before returning to his roots. Today he is an avid guide and scholar of the village’s history. This museum, though small, has a respectable collection of vintage weapons, stamps and underwater antiquities, and serves as an excellent introduction to Galaxidi. In the same neighborhood, which is one of the oldest quarters in the village, the Church of Aghios Nikolaos boasts an exquisite iconostasis dedicated to the church’s namesake, the patron saint of sailors.

Once one of Greece’s busiest and wealthiest ports, Galaxidi entered a period of decline in the early 20th century after failing to make the technological leap from sails to steam. Yet, despite the hard times it experienced as a result, it managed to retain its special characteristics, remaining a destination steeped in history and the elegance of its nautical traditions. It was listed for preservation in 1978 and is today a protected heritage site.

In recent decades it has become a tourist and yachting destination, though not overly so.

Nicole is an Australian doctor on her fourth visit to Galaxidi.

“You become enraptured with its sense of beauty and calm,” she said. A group of French and German tourists standing nearby and enjoying the off-season tranquillity appear to agree. Even though it’s winter, the pretty Ganimede Hotel, one of the oldest establishments in the village, is busy, accommodating mainly Europeans visiting the area, which also includes Ancient Delphi just a few kilometers away.

I head back toward the port for a bite to eat and as I walk down cobbled Aghios Nikolaos Street, I am invited for an afternoon coffee with the proprietor of the very home I had noticed earlier with the music. Roxani Limniou shows me around her beautifully renovated home, pointing out photographs of ancestors, pretty needlework and the window frames that have been painted by her husband Aris, amid the charming surroundings of a bygone era. Nearby, in another splendid home, Stella Sendouka has prepared an orange cake and offers me a slice. I’m not suggesting that you go around knocking on doors begging for an invite if you visit Galaxidi, but if the opportunity arises to visit one of its renovated stately homes, do not pass it up.

Galaxidi’s sailors traditionally painted the floors of their homes with that left over after painting their boats. Most of the old homes are two stories high, and the top floor was usually arranged in an open-plan design big enough to make space for sewing and mending the ship sails. Another charming detail is that most of Galaxidi’s older homes have a piece of natural stone projecting from the ground-floor wall.

In the afternoon I decided to take a bicycle ride to Hirolakas, Galaxidi’s second port, named after the sailors’ widows (“hires”). Rodoula Stathaki-Koumari is a scholar of local history and folklore as well as the proprietor of one of the neighborhood’s imposing houses. She regales me with tales about the village and points out some interesting landmarks in the area, such as a home built on the walls of Chaleum, as Galaxidi was known in antiquity.

To really get a feel of Hirolakas, take a break at Liotrivi, a cafe-restaurant located in a refurbished building which once housed an olive press. Sitting there, by the sea, sipping a coffee or enjoying a meal, you really feel as though you are on an island, not on mainland Greece.

“Until 1963, when the road joining Itea to Nafpaktos was completed, Galaxidi was quiet and picturesque because it was connected mainly by sea routes. So, without being an island, it had an island atmosphere and its own very distinct character,” writes Stathaki-Koumari in one of her books.

Galaxidi is warm most of the year and gets little wet weather, which is why it is an ideal destination for a weekend break in autumn and early spring, or even winter.

On the first day of Lent (February 23), known in Greece as Clean Monday, chaos and mayhem reign through the streets of this otherwise quiet village, known for the “alevromoutzouroma,” an old custom of unknown provenance whereby revelers throw colored flour at each other and blacken their faces with coal.

When night falls, there is a decent selection of places to eat or enjoy a drink, mainly at the port. If you’re looking for more excitement in the winter, Arachova, one of Greece’s most popular ski and winter resorts, is just a few kilometers away, above Delphi. Crazy partying just doesn’t fit Galaxidi’s quiet profile. It is much more suited to an early morning stroll on Para Panta Hill, with the sea on one side and a pine forest on the other.

You will find something to take back home at one of the few shops around Galaxidi, but you certainly won’t be going on a shopping spree. The best souvenir would probably be a jar of homemade marmalade, which is served at almost every hotel and bed-and-breakfast in the area. The practice of serving a lavish breakfast inspired by Greek agricultural products was first started at the Ganimede by its first owner, an Italian, Bruno. Since then it has become a staple at most of the village’s accommodation units, which are usually small and family-run. I doubt you’ll find a hotel that does not serve homemade marmalades, spoon sweets, pies and cakes.

A weekend is enough to get to know Galaxidi, to recharge your batteries and enjoy some much-needed R&R. If there is one thing that makes this fishing village stand out from others, it is its unique sense of identity and the fact that, as the locals like to say, “it speaks with its silence.”