Xylokastro for the weekend: an attraction still

The long coastal road that stretches from one end of the town of Xylokastro to the other is crowded with cars slowed down by pedestrians who are making their way among the tavernas and cafes on one side of the road and the tables by the seaside on the other, making waiters’ jobs a game of Russian roulette. As in nearly all coastal towns in Greece, streets such as these have more traffic than the center of Athens in summer, when every weekend a large number of Athenians descend on Xylokastro, in the northern Peloponnese on the Gulf of Corinth, with bags and baggage. «They even bring their supermarket shopping with them. We’ve become a suburb of Athens,» says one local resident. Some resorts are for those with pleasure boats; others are for socialites, or for rockers. Xylokastro is for the «weekenders,» that large sector of the Greek populace with a holiday home in some part of the country to which they repair at the first opportunity with the whole family. «We have all kinds of examples of the typical Greek family here,» said Giorgos, the owner of the popular No se cafe. «We have pensioners who bought a small house with their lump sum for retirement to spend their summers in. Then there are couples in their 40s, where the man works in Athens and the wife brings the children here for the holidays, or the couples whose children have grown up and spend most of their time here, their children visiting at weekends or when they can’t afford a holiday in the islands,» he added. Problems arise when young people who flood the resort at weekends stay up all night partying in areas where nightlife is illegal, because of the proximity of homes, usually occupied by older people who complain about the noise. As a result, the bars and cafes are visited regularly by police to check on noise levels. Apart from the 6,000 permanent residents of the town, the large numbers of visitors represent a wide range of age groups, most of whom are in the middle- to low- income bracket. They descend on the town Friday evening, which is usually spent settling in. Saturday is devoted to swimming, drinking, eating and, for the younger ones, clubbing. By Sunday afternoon they are packing up the car again. Saturday morning on the beach at the Touristikon, the crowd stretches right across the age spectrum. Umbrellas from chain stores, coolers with soft drinks and iced coffee brought from home, elderly couples waiting their turn at the showers, ladies in bathing caps trying to put on their flippers to swim out to where they can tread water, chatting in small groups. As the day wears on the scene changes as the beach crowds head to the tavernas, while at the two beach bars Barakis and Beach Connection at Pefkia, in front of the pine forest, the town’s youth arrive, having finally woken up. Teenagers play racketball on the beach, coffee, juice and shots are served at cafes where the sound of dice tossed on backgammon boards isn’t quite drowned out by the Greek and foreign hits on the sound systems. The usual answer to the question «Why do you come to Xylokastro?» is «We have a house here,» whether the «we» refers to one’s parents, grandparents or other relatives. To stay in a hotel in Xylokastro is throwing money away, they say. «If we had to pay for a room, we might as well go to Myconos,» said 20-year-old Nikos, who comes here with his cousins. At the Berdema restaurant, the owner Giorgos said that business picks up in the town during times of financial belt-tightening. «When people can’t afford the islands, they come here.» Budget weekend The town has been booming in recent years. The previous mayor who had occupied the office for several years had brought about great changes, say locals. Even the younger people admit that they like to come back here after spending holidays in more exotic island destinations. «When we first went off on our own at 18-20 years of age, we looked down on Xylokastro as the place we used to come to with our parents. But as years go by and we have had our fill of the islands, we realize that it isn’t so bad here after all. After all, Xylokastro represents our childhood summers.» As night falls, the coastal road turns into a pedestrian strip where cars are banned on summer evenings. Most people are wearing their holiday best. Groups of teenage girls leave their parents in the restaurant and stroll up and down the coastal promenade. If they are lucky their parents will let them go and sit at the Flight, Fox or Exo clubs, a little further on. The music is the same at all of them – Greek and foreign summer hits. Yet even here there is a family atmosphere. «Whenever we go to the Flight they always play our favorite song,» said Constantinos, introducing us to the owner, who has known his customers since they were children. At 6 a.m. the survivors of Xylokastro-by-night head for the creperies before heading home to bed. Tomorrow is another day. This article first appeared in the August 14 edition of «K,» Kathimerini’s color Sunday supplement.

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