Manolis and Eleni Stavroulaki
Nested in a beautiful landscape, Vyzari is a tiny little village of a few homes at just 42km away from the city of Rethymno in Crete, past the marvelous village of Amari. There, at the point where the public road makes a turn, next to a tufty mulberry tree, we caught sight of a few people, the first ones we were coming across here. They were just leaving a small traditional taverna; the name on the sign wrote “I strofi tis Gefsis” (strofi stands for turn in English and gefsis translates to taste); the “Taste’s Turn”, as the owners translate it into English.
We had just made ourselves comfortable when we got our first surprise. There he was! Papa-Manolis (papa is a Greek Orthodox priest) came our way to take the order:
“Welcome, welcome! Good to have you here! Let me treat you to a couple of raki shots”.
With his frock knotted at the back, wearing a beanie on his head, papa-Manolis set the table. He had an honest, kind face and clear, warm eyes.
We shared some lovely chats with him over raki:
“All the houses are securely locked here. Nowadays, Vyzari is an empty village. In the old days, it used to be home to about one to two hundred people. Most of them are gone and it’s only about 25 of us here now. There are no families with children to rejuvenate the population of the village, and that’s a serious problem. We remain open year-round. Locals come here for coffee and visitors for lunch”.
In the end, he said laughingly:
“Me, I am a servant of God and always in my wife’s service”.
Then, a joyful woman, full of energy made an appearance. I thought I was seeing Tina Turner in the guise of a priest’s wife standing in front of me. Not the kind of papadia (priest’s wife in Greek) I was expecting to see…
Joyfully dressed in “flower-power”, Eleni Stavroulaki, the owner of the taverna, welcomed us with the brightest of smiles:
“Unfortunately, there is not much food left, we had a large group of people earlier, but not to worry; I will surely get you something to eat”.
This lady seems to do almost everything; apart from being a chanter, a cook and a taverna owner, she’s been a volunteer firefighter for years and, get ready for one more surprise, she is President of Crete Volunteer Firefighters Organization! Amazing not?
A vegetable garden, a wood stove in the kitchen and one more at the entrance of the taverna, a wooden fence overgrown with flowers; we were in the embrace of a serene setting as we were listening to the beautiful stories of papa-Manolis… Unbelievable, we were in heaven!
Food had arrived. Omelet with artichokes, tasty fried potatoes, sublime lamp, fresh salads, divine pasticcio and, last but not least, home-make loukoumades (puffs of dough, deep fried until golden, drizzled with Greek honey and sprinkled with cinnamon, a traditional Greek sweet).
Full of pride, Papa-Manolis and his wife showed us a picture of their children; they have two daughters and one son, all university-educated. Their younger daughter helps them with the internet.
“I strofi tis Gefsis”, this small traditional taverna, keeps the village alive. Like a real beacon, it’s calling people to stop. You won’t be able to say no! Don’t resist!