Neapoli, Laconia, an ‘island’ on the mainland where the inhabitants’ lives have been shaped by the sea

The things most often known about Neapoli, Laconia, is that its fields produce good olive oil and that its waterfront cafes serve grilled octopus to be dunked in ouzo. Almost until the end of the 1960s, the main contact between Vatika, as the broader region is known, and the outside world was by sea, making the locals feel more like islanders as they sailed to Piraeus or to Gytheion. Now a winding road takes them the 113 kilometers to Sparta. The locals aren’t like other Laconians, as they themselves are the first to declare. «For many years, our livelihood came from the sea,» said Petros Deliyiannis, a retired seaman. «At one time you couldn’t find a single household here that didn’t have a husband, son, father or brother at sea. There was a time when Vatika had the second-largest contingent of registered seamen in Greece, after Piraeus, although we never produced any shipowners of renown for lack of a good harbor. We usually occupied the lower ranks. My village, Faraklo, for example, has a tradition as ships’ cooks,» he added. Every morning, the stores fill with people from the surrounding villages who come in to do their shopping and socialize. In the summer the waterfront cafes and tavernas are busy, but at this time of year, people withdraw indoors once evening falls. The small taverna in the small fishing port attracts locals looking for the latest catch. «Most of us have lived for some years in Athens, but after seeing its madness, we made a conscious decision to live in the place where we were born,» said Costas Tzerefos. «It’s hard for the young people – after all they are looking for new experiences and feel stifled by the quiet of the countryside. They usually leave Vatika once they finish school. I’d do the same thing in their place.» Many of them come back later, after weighing the advantages and disadvantages. «When I was 18, I went to Athens and thought I would never come back,» said newly married Kelly Manakou. «But at 26, I began to reconsider. In Athens, whenever I had some money, I didn’t have the time to enjoy it, and when I had the time, I didn’t have much spare cash. On the other hand, I knew that here I would be able to have a proper relationship with my family and friends instead of rushed telephone calls and visits once a month or so.» Kelly and her friends Dina and Sevi believe that if you have a mate and a job, you can enjoy life in Neapoli, but there are few entertainment options.