Greek authorities clamp down on a summer tradition

“It would be terrible if we couldn’t come back to Greece,” said Joel Debort, a French pensioner who’s been spending her summers in Greece since 1974. The Deborts have pitched tents and spent summers camped out on some of the country’s most majestic and picturesque beaches, from the Aegean isles to the Ionian.

When the police, the coast guard and the forestry service arrived outside the Debort’s tent on the island of Evia on July 13, they found three generations of campers: Joel and Charles, their son Gil with his wife Florence, and their 14-year-old daughter Liza. The authorities told them to leave, and warned them that the fine for free camping was 300 euros per person.

“They kicked us out. In 40 years, this has never happened,” said Joel. The next day, the authorities returned to chase off the remaining campers.

“Next to us was a retired couple from Athens,” said 75-year-old Charles. “They were crying as they picked up their belongings. It broke my heart.”

The Debort family decided to ignore the authorities’ warnings and moved their tent to another location. Every morning they would disassemble the tent so that they wouldn’t be visible from the sea, and each night they reassembled it.

Every summer, the family spends whatever money they’ve saved up over the winter months in Greece.

“We come for four to five weeks, and we’re five people. Last year, we spent 2,200 euros. On Lesvos, we didn’t spend a lot, just 1,700 euros, but every day we’d eat at restaurants, buy bread, fruit and vegetables, and gasoline for our car,” said Florence.

Not having to pay for accommodation allows tourists from average-income households like the Deborts to extend their summer holidays and boost the local economy.

“In these free campsites, you have space and you’re surrounded by nature,” said 50-year-old Florence. “Some need to have a refrigerator and a bathroom while on vacation. We’re different.”

“Every year, the first thing I do is clean the area behind the beach where we intend to pitch our tents. On the first day I filled up an entire garbage bag.”

In these areas which have come to be known as free campsites, children stop asking for snacks and television. Who needs video games when you have an entire beach to yourself, and children of all ages can let their imaginations run free?

When the group of local authorities finally turned up at the tent, from which Liza and some young newfound friends stared, the police turned their heads, perhaps realizing that explaining to children why they can’t vacation in nature is no easy task.