Spring 1990 brought us to the small island of Ithaca, in recent times known for little but its sheer beauty, but famed for its king and hero Ulysses who, history tells us, was the brains behind the winning wooden-horse idea that ended the long war of Troy. He then spent 10 adventure-filled years roaming the Mediterranean seas before returning to his island, and the ever-faithful Penelope.;
Our purpose in leaving Australia was to spend two years building a holiday house on this island of our ancestors. Ah, the plans of mice and men! We’re just now finishing the ‘holiday house’, which is now our permanent home. And our original plans have been slightly skewed.
Back to 1990 when an abandoned citrus orchard at the end of an overgrown pathway was the favoured adventure walk and destination for our two small children. They would run ahead of us, down the small roadway, onto a track, pushing past the enormous oleanders and agaves which grew wantonly over the ever narrowing path. Into a clearing under olive trees, behind a ruined stone house, over a dilapidated stone wall and into the orchard. The favourite tree, laden with sweet oranges, was long forgotten by its owners, but now had daily visitors and admirers to keep it company.
The tree grew amongst many on the steep hillside. Obviously once carefully tended the orchard had an intricate system of irrigation. An open topped stone water tank was filled from a well. The tank’s overflow wound its way down through the orchard in open channels formed with cut stone, from one tank to the next, with branches watering the entire orchard.
Intriguingly, one water channel found its way under a fence to a flat terrace behind the stone ruin and at the end of this one lonely channel, hidden by tangled blackberry vines, were the shattered remains of a large ceramic water urn.
As the children happily consumed their daily quota of oranges, using a large stone as their seat, admiring the panoramic sea view below kept us endlessly occupied. The bay displayed an enormous variety of blues and turquoises, different each day. Its backdrop was a long headland, bounded by high limestone cliffs with fingers of Mediterranean maquis tumbling down the ravines towards the shore, marking out small beaches below the cliffs. The orchard became our resting and dreaming place.
Little wonder at our surprise 18 months later when we were told that the stone ruin was the birthplace of my father-in-law. The mysterious single water channel was the only source of water for the 16 people who had once occupied the small four room house with its dirt floor, outdoor oven and outdoor sleeping ‘room’ for the boys of the family during the warmer months. The house had been home for the family since 1860 when 18-year-old, newly-married great-great-grandfather brought his 16 year-old wife to the valley. The broken ceramic water urn was at the end of the family’s vegetable garden to provide garden water and a the place where the women washed clothes.
Now, nineteen years later, the garden is again a vegetable garden, the house foundations have been given a new life, olive trees have been brought back into fruit, yet more fruit trees have been planted and an expansive garden of Mediterranean flora occupies the hillside.
This has been the result of our dreaming with the original house now having three neighbouring houses, built to be within the hillside rather than on it, and scattered around the terraces and groves. The ideas tumbled through the years so now there’s a coffee shop too, a salt water pool that appears to merge into the bay far below and that takes its design from ancient Greek architecture, hammocks swing from ancient olive trees and hidden in the forest is an al-fresco pavilion where the delights of holistic massage therapy are enjoyed to the tranquil backdrop of waves lapping the cliffs.
Levendis Estate fuses romantic, secluded and family-friendly holiday retreat with sustainable farming and organic food production.. It doesn’t fit any pre-conceived ideas of holidays in Greece. It’s on an island, yet the atmosphere is country, it’s not a villa holiday or resort, but accommodation and services are those you’d expect of a five-star hotel. Our emphasis is on restoring the soul through being in a tranquil setting within nature, enjoying natural fresh foods, rejuvenating your body through massage, pilates and our own natural body-care products, seeing children take pleasure in feeling free and secure, exploring at will, helping with farm chores, and enjoying family fun activities of swimming, snorkelling, boating during the warmer months, or exploring the island’s mountain pathways awash with wildflowers during spring.
Like Ulysses, our years-long adventure has been entwined with this small island of Ithaca. But, unlike Ulysses,whose adventure was in the return to Ithaca, we find we cannot leave it
Marilyn Raftopulos Levendis Estate Ithaca, Greece June 2008