HEAVEN ON EARTH!
In Praise of Emporios
That is how many people describe the little village of Emporios on the Greek island Kalymnos in the Greek Dodecanese.
Kalymnos has a magnificent rocky landscape that is ever changing throughout the day as light and shadow turns its crags and caves from the palest cream to softest dove grey and - as the sun eventually sets in the western sea - saffron gold, salmon pink and, finally, pale, cool lavender.
The mountain slopes and the verdant valleys that nestle within their folds are alive with the clink-clank of goat bells, the chitter-chatter of crickets in the tamarisk trees, the breeze rustling through the olive groves.
Then there is the early morning fanfare of cockerels and the lazy afternoon murmur of bees as they browse the bushes of thyme, sage, basil and oregano gathering pollen to be transformed into rich red gold of Kalymnian honey.
Kalymnos is famous as the historic centre of sponge diving in the Dodecanese - a dangerous profession that marked out the Kalymnian people as hard working, long-suffering and courageous.
These qualities brought, in equal measure, fame and anguish to the island community as its men annually harvested the world's finest sponges but often returned from their struggles with the bitter sea crippled for life by decompression sickness.
It is a heritage that the tightly knit community, strong on history and tradition, honours to this day.
Kalymnians are genuine, open-handed, warm-hearted people as will be found by any visitor who travels to the very end of the road that runs to the western edge of the island. Here is Emporios (pronounced Emborios) that very special village which people who go there look upon as a piece of heaven fallen to earth.
The sheltered, tamarisk-fringed bay, much favoured by yachtsman touring the Greek islands, offers a panorama of mountains, islands (the small Kalavros and the towering Telendos), clear waters and blue skies.
And the heart and soul of Emporios is Artistico.
To call Artistico a restaurant, café or bar is inadequate even though it is all three and offers accommodation for anyone who would like to fall asleep and wake up to the sound of surf breaking on the shore.
The name 'Artistico' combines the word 'Artist' with the Greek word for the house: 'ico'. For this is 'the house of the artist', a place where people come together - from Kalymnos, from the Greek mainland and from all over the world - to make and listen to music, to sing and dance and to enjoy good food and conversation.
George Glinatsi (right, with his youngest son, Themelis) is the host and a consummate artist who brings music - traditional and modern - to the balmy nights at Emporios with his six and twelve string guitars.
Other musicians visit Emporios bringing and sharing their own music and when magician David Weeks is in residence, guests can enjoy a few marvels and mysteries fitted to the land of myth and legend.
George's wife, Irene, an artist in the kitchen prepares a wonderful, daily changing menu that excitingly combines local dishes and international cuisine from Octopus stiffado and the distinctive Kalymnian salad with its twice-baked, caraway-seasoned bread to Beef Stroganoff or Tuna curry.
Irene's meals are prepared with the freshest ingredients: it is possible to enjoy swordfish freshly caught off Telendos or a plate of whitebait pulled from the sea only half an hour before you sit down to dinner.
It is said that no one ever comes to Kalymnos only once and at Artistico, George and Irene welcome people back year upon year. The record is held by a British couple who visited Artistico twenty-two times in elven years but it is common to meet people who have stayed in Emporios and dined in Artistico for seven, eight or nine years running.
They come here from every part of Britain, from Scotland to the Isle of Wight; from all over Europe; from Australia and from as far away as New Caledonia...
So why do they come?
Because George and Irene, their sons Themelis and Nikolas (right, with his fiancé, Elene Kalomyrou) make those who come here feel part of their extended family - the family Artistico!
The Greeks have a saying: "Only the mountains do not meet". But people meet - once or many times: to eat Irene's meals and listen to George's music and to talk with old friends and new acquaintances while the crickets chirp in the tamarisk trees, the distant goat bells chime on the mountain slopes above and the waves gently lap the shingled shore beneath the velvet canopy of a clear night sky shimmering with starry constellations.
To be there is, indeed, to catch a glimpse of paradise!
Images: © Brian Sibley and David Weeks, 2006/7
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