Beyond the Beach: Poros revealed

The Villa Galini, Poros: holiday home to Lawrence Durrell, Henry Miller and Marc Chagall.

There’s a moment as a passenger on a small ferry in Greece, when just as you leave the quay, the world begins to gently move around you. For a second or two you are the still centre of the earth itself. As we glide away from Galatas for the five-minute journey to Poros, the cooling sea breeze in the narrow strait blows away any fatigue you may have from the drive down. You begin to feel your bio-rhythms slowing, your heart lifting. Moving sedately towards the terracotta-roofed dwellings of Poros town that tumble down the hill below the clock tower, you know the holiday has really begun.

Kostas, the owner of Psarotaverna Kathestos is at the plateia waiting to greet us with a smile and a moped. He zooms off. We follow. After a short drive along the seafront he motions for us to park, and soon we were ascending by foot the steps that lead to the Limeri House, our accommodation for the weekend. It’s a hike to reach but great for the cardiovascular system if yours can take it, and the return on your physical investment is well worth the effort.

The newest holiday property developed by Austrian architect Marie-Luise Andoniadou, who fell in love with the island ten years ago, the cosy and luxurious Limeri House sits high above the eastern end of Poros town, with a truly glorious view down to the harbour, across the strait to Galatas and the Anderes mountain range. After a leisurely dip in the cool welcoming pool, and having torn ourselves away from that same view from the deep end, it’s time to explore.

The journey to the lower part of the town can be taken at a less severe angle, taking you through a maze of narrow lanes and stepped pathways. As you near the commercial centre, small shops and tavernas begin to appear more frequently. Once near the water, idling the day away in the cheerful cafes and tavernas that line the waterfront, or heading off for a beach are not unpleasant options, but if you are in search of history and culture, Poros has both in spades.

Cross the bridge which divides the small volcanic island of Sferia from the larger forested island of Kalavria, then take a left along the road that winds westward along the seafront towards Russian Bay. Soon a beautiful red-ochre neo-classical villa with green wooden shutters, and elegant stone-columned balconies appears on higher ground to the right. Hiding behind the coniferous trees and overgrown shrubbery is the Villa Galini. Built in 1894, the villa exudes the elegance of a bygone era, and has a rich and important artistic heritage. Those who stayed here, before and after World War II include George Seferis, who wrote about the villa in 1946 in his poem ‘A house by the sea’.

“Houses frown or smile or even grow stubborn with those who stayed behind, and those who went away…now that the world has become an endless hotel”.

Other literary luminaries who spent time here include Kosmas Politis who wrote his first novel ‘The Lemon Grove’ on Poros in 1930. Lawrence Durrell and Henry Miller looked out from its terrace. Marc Chagall painted beneath its eaves. The villa is now, as then, privately owned. Sturdy chains and padlocks on the gates confirm there is no public access currently to this precious setting that inspired those artists.

Follow the road past the Villa Galini for 3 kms and you come to Russian Bay. This site was given to Russia by Greece’s first President, Ioannis Kapodistrias, in gratitude for Russia’s assistance in the Greek War of Independence. In 1828 Poros was the location of a meeting of the great powers, when Kapodistrias met ambassadors of England, France and Russia to define the borders of the modern Greek state following the defeat of the Turks.

Largely built by convict labour in 1834, the Russian Bay station remained a Russian base and trading post until its ignominious end in 1917. Crews of the two ships on station mutinied against their officers in support of the Bolshevik Revolution and decided to return to Russia. Before getting underway, they discharged their guns on their previous refuge. The station remains in ruins to this day.

For the earliest traces of human civilisation on Poros, you must retrace your steps, and head up a few kilometres to the high north-east of Kalavria, to the flattened ruins which are all that remain of the Temple of Poseidon, where the orator Demosthenes took refuge in 322 bc having been pursued by the King of Macedonia. Though there is little to see of the ancient temple that dates possibly from before the 6th century BC, (most of the stones were removed in 1760 to build a monastery in Hydra which is now the town hall, it’s a beautiful place with a haunting serenity. Swedish archaeologists began working on the site in 1894 and research on the site continues today.

Back in Poros town,the sleepy, unassuming archeological museum holds a collection of fascinating findings from the temple site, Ancient Troezina (Trizina) and many other nearby sites.

At Limeri House the sun has set. My four year-old son looks west from our balcony above the harbour, across the twinkling lights of Poros town, to the boats scurrying to and fro in the strait below, and Galatas in the distance. “It looks like Christmas” says Alexander quietly, enchanted by the surrounding panorama. Poros has unique gifts and precious heirlooms for all to share. For those looking for a tranquil escape with a cultural edge, look no further.

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