sit on a jasmine-scented balcony in Tolo, Greece, a
small village seven kilometers past Napflion on the
Peloponnese, overlooking a hillside that runs down to
the sea. Before me in the Bay of Tolo, rock-mounds that
are tiny islands, Romvi and Koronisi, seem large, floating,
touchable from shore. It is as if the Gods closed their
eyes and strew rocky outcroppings: some green, habitable,
At night, a monastery and the tiny island it is on is
covered with lights, a miniature fairy castle in the
night; another island to the right is so dark, so close
I feel its looming presence.
There are no known ruins here, no museums or famous
works of art to draw in hordes of people. Tolo has other
attractions that make it sought-after as an Athenian
and tourist playground. A two-plus hour drive from Athens,
it holds beauty, a sun- and water-oriented day life
centered around its exquisite sandy beach; a night life
replete with visiting, eating, talking, laughter, dancing.
Many city-dwellers keep apartments here and the weekend
population swells on Friday nights. This is a good,
small-scale party town!
Proximity to Athens helped solidify its discovery by
other Europeans as well: Italians, French, Germans,
Austrians and English all have made this area their
destination, with easy day trips out to museums and
historical sites in the Peloponnese such as Mycenae,
Nemea, Epidauros, Corinth, or out to Athens and other
areas on the mainland: Delphi, Mystras. Several tourists
I met at my hotel were repeat visitors to Tolo; indeed,
it was my second time! There is a large year-round English
population here as well. It's a wonderful place to combine
water sports and true relaxation in the sunshine with
the option of sightseeing.
With water to the left, you enter the long, thin, village
on Boubalinas Street which juts sharply to the right
then left to become Sekeri Street. This is the main
street in the village, with everything centered around
it, either growing up the hillside for a block or two
or moving down one street to the water. In daytime Tolo,
male and female bikini clad tourists walk this main
street to and from beaches, restaurants and lodging.
At night, the same street becomes a carnival of sorts,
flooded with people walking to see and be seen. Transformed
into well-dressed, sun-kissed tourists, they vie for
attention with the most stylish women and men of the
The shops cater to a varied clientele; there is lots
of gold and silver, clothing; beach rafts and sand pails:
tourist fare next to shops with goods as exquisite as
any in Paris, Rome, New York, London.
In one store at the end of Sekeri Street, there is entertainment
along with your shopping: a carver stands in the window
and works at his lathe, making everything from Olive
wood: cups smaller than one-half inch, pencil cups,
frames, spectacular crosses and larger wall carvings.
The work is beautifully done, with not a tiny piece
wasted. Half a block away on the other side of the street
there is a store carrying hand-crafted Olive wood pipes.
The workshop itself is in a nearby village.
The majority of accommodations, campgrounds, hotels
and motels, are on Sekeri Street. My hotel, The John
and George, sits on the hillside above, near the end
of Sekeri Street and is family owned and run. It has
a white marble facade and stunning view and boasts a
swimming pool as well as its own section of beach complete
with cabanas and wind surfing boards. Though a little
pricier than other Tolo hotels, it was recommended by
a friend and, welcomed warmly on my second visit, feels
like home. Besides, the food is great, the people friendly;
you're treated well.
Many traditional Greek restaurants are located on the
main street, some serving fresh barrel wine. On the
waterfront the more tourist-oriented restaurants serve
both Greek and international foods.
Night time is party time: Tolo is well-known locally
for its discotheques. The roads into the village have
several clubs where dancing extends well into the morning;
in the village itself there are more. American-style
discos open at 11 PM; the Greek clubs, with traditional
bouzoukee music and folk dancing, at 1 AM. This is,
after all Greece, where hot, sultry days are the norm,
where the summer sun shines unendingly, making the siesta
a necessity, turning the night into a second day. And
that is a wonderful thing at any time, but especially
here, for the night-time scents of Greece are subtler
yet more consuming, the absence of light filling the
other senses more fully. The night sky is star-laden,
sweet with laughter, aromatics, life.
At the same time, this is still a village; the natives
on the whole simple people, living their daily lives
as they have for decades: working, visiting each other,
enjoying life, glad for the financial transformation
that has overcome them due to the tourist trade, somewhat
dazed by their success. Somehow, in the living of their
daily lives, what they do to live their lives has made
them very successful and in some cases, very rich.
One of my favorite places to eat in this village was
recommended by an Englishwoman who has made Tolo her
year-round home. The Butcher Shop is a restaurant as
well as a traditional Greek butcher shop, with whole
and half- carcasses hanging in front, a refrigerated
case with sausages and meat parts, and a meat cooler.
You can buy meat to take home and cook, as in a regular
butcher shop, or you can have your meal prepared for
you in the restaurant kitchen. Tables are in back under
a covered balcony or on a covered porch beside the street
where you can watch the nightly parade. This is a family
operation, with tables often served by the teen-aged
son who speaks some English. The fare is simple and
straightforward Butcher's fare: Beef, Veal, Pork, Lamb,
Chicken, sausages and souvlaki.
A Butcher first and foremost, the owner knows quality
meats. The meat he serves is ordered by the kilo, as
it is in restaurants throughout Greece, freshly cut,
grilled on charcoal, served simply with lemon.
In the year since I was here the first time, I thought
often of the lamb chops I had eaten here before: char-broiled
perfectly, liberally covered with oregano, salt and
lemon juice. There I go again obsessing about lamb chops,
indeed a simply cooked meal. That the owners understand
the proper way to grill meats is only one element in
this equation; the knowledge that I could never find
them fresher and more perfectly selected is another;
and the third? Novelty: during my first visit I was
astonished to hear the thwack thwack of the cleaver
as the chops I had ordered were freshly cut from the
carcass. This is getting close to your food!
Barrel wine is available here and in many Tavernas,
restaurants and grocery stores in this village. Bring
your own bottle and have it filled!
Tolo is extremely proud of its reputation for making
excellent wines for family consumption. I am told that
many villagers make their own wines or someone in their
extended family makes it for them. They learned from
their fathers who passed the knowledge down to them;
they will do the same for their sons. It is how it has
been done in this and surrounding villages for a long
time, and it will continue to be a skill lovingly taught.
Having tried several of the local wines, I can attest
to their quality.
Wherever I find barrel wine in Greece, I usually find
good traditional food of the region. I have found that
where the restaurateur makes the additional effort that
keeping young, chemical-free wine incurs, he usually
takes the same care with the food. In many parts of
Greece modernization and ease of storage have taken
over; the majority of restaurants, particularly those
with a mainly tourist clientele, serve only bottled
wines. I am happy to find it readily available in Tolo.
Another nice thing about Tolo is that it is small, everything
is convenient; a nightly walk up and down the main street
several times is typical early evening entertainment.
There is often a traffic jam: too many people taking
their evening "volta" crowd the streets. Cars
often have to wait!
If you are easily bored with small villages, take a
bus (hourly) to Naplion, where there is culture, art,
many more restaurants and tourist shops and boat tours
to nearby islands are readily available.