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OFF THE BEATEN TRACK Accounts of unusual travels through hidden Greece

As teacher for 27 years of French, Latin and Ancient Greek near Montpellier, I often took my pupils to Greece, but I always had to disappoint them by admitting that I could not interpret for them, nor translate the newspapers, other than a few words. I found it ridiculous and irritating: therefore I promised myself that one day I would get down to studying modern Greek. That happened two years before I retired.

The achievement of this aim revealed to me an unknown world and launched me on an adventure which will endure, I hope, for the rest of my life. I began my studies with individual tuition by a Greek woman living locally. Gradually she became one of my friends, and her relatives, living over there, are now my “ Greek family ”, who I am delighted to see during each of my trips. Then, at the Paul Valery University of Montpellier, I obtained two Masters Degrees in modern Greek ( “ Cultural studies ” and “ Professional translation ” ) while, at the same time, passing each stage of the “ Certificate of knowledge of the Greek language ”, equivalent of the English TOEFL and the French DALF. I still read Greek and watch Greek TV every day. Moreover my studies have introduced me to the literature, history and civilisation of contemporary Greece: like the vast majority of French people, I was almost totally ignorant of this.

Carte de la grèce

My school trips being limited to the classic tour of Ancient Greece ( Athens, Epidaurus, Mycenae, Olympia, Delphi ) certainly fascinating places, but which I eventually knew like the back of my hand, I developed the desire to discover the rest of the country by departing from the beaten track. This choice obliged me to reject the security of organized tours. I even decided to set out alone ( requiring great willpower at first ) to have complete freedom of movement and the ability to converse with the locals. In fact, I noticed that one can launch into conversation with someone much more easily as a lone person than as a part of a couple or a group. Never setting out in the summer, for fear of the heat, I have no problem in making reservations, and also the Greeks have more time for me. But I admit that I meet very few tourists travelling alone, and virtually no women, especially of my age. However I have never felt unsafe anywhere. Of course it is better to avoid some quarters of Athens at night.

Since 2009 I have undertaken a systematic and detailed exploration of all corners of Greece, province by province, during two or three trips a year, each lasting three weeks. Equally I have visited those regions which have a rapport with Greek history : Sicily, Cyprus and Istanbul. All the places I talk about are dealt with to some degree in the reputable guides, which give descriptions and itineraries. But when I arrive in a town or an island I buy a local guide which is much more detailed.

Having discovered so many unknown places and adorable people, I wanted to use my experience to benefit those tourists who wish to know an alternative Greece. Thus I hope that they will want to follow in my steps and get to know this country more minutely.