Greek tourism hit by recession but still seen as recovery hope

It’s 10pm on a Friday and the main drag of Laganas – party resort, hedonists’ delight, Greek playground par excellence – is alive with the sound of music. Above the hubbub, a group of inebriated young Britons – many in “I love Zante” hotpants and T-shirts – unsteadily make their way up the street chanting: “It’s full of shit, it’s full of shit.”

It seems hard to believe that this is what they are screaming until my eye catches a rep at the head of the pack who, arms flailing, is clearly encouraging the shouting. Further down the neon-lit drag, another Briton, in schoolboy’s shirt and tie, lies in a drunken heap outside a bar. He smiles helplessly as a Gypsy girl, selling trinkets, chastises him.

Surveying the scene from the ceramics shop she has run for the past 25 years, Vasso Georgiadou heaves a sigh of resignation. “When they don’t drink they are such good kids,” she says, adding that by the time the sun rises “there’ll be hundreds of them” wandering the resort in a drunken stupor. “But it’s not only their fault. Unfortunately, this is the tourism we Greeks have tolerated, we Greeks have gone out of our way to create, even at a time when we are in such economic difficulty.”

Just as in Corfu, Rhodes, Kos and Crete, the once peaceful village of Laganas has managed to scale new heights in debauchery. This year, the holiday season opened not only with predictable lewdness but with the murder of a British teenager stabbed to death by a local taxi driver. Though deeply remorseful, the 21-year-old says he was driven partly by rage over the behaviour of Britons visiting the island they call Zante but which Greeks know as Zakynthos.

“This is not the best image, but then Laganas is not Greece,” says George Nikitiadis, deputy minister of culture and tourism. “Many times it is the system, the tour operators who co-ordinate these bar crawls, which makes these kids act in this way. It’s a pity because we don’t want tourists to leave with this experience. Our country has so much more to offer.”

So where has the tourism industry in Greece gone wrong? Without a moment’s hesitation, Nikitiadis – born in New York to a Greek waiter and babysitter mother before settling in Athens – shoots back. “The sector went wrong in every way that Greece went wrong,” he counters, looking up at the Acropolis framed in the window of his sixth-floor Athens office. “There was no strategy, no methodology, no preparation, no business plan. The markets, the tour operators, the travel agencies, the airlines, they all came to us. We didn’t go to them. I am not even sure we knew how to.”

This year, debt-ridden Athens has gone to them, acutely aware that the 12 million tourists who annually visit Greece will offer the single biggest relief to a recession-hit economy hobbled by draconian austerity.

With tourism accounting for 18% of gross domestic product and one in five Greeks working in the field, Prime Minister George Papandreou has frequently declared it will be the motor to drive the economy forward. At 16% and climbing, joblessness has fast become Greece’s biggest problem as the EU and International Monetary Fund have pressured the government to enact deficit-reducing reforms in return for an unprecedented €219bn in emergency aid.

“We haven’t achieved even 20% of what we are able to achieve as a country, which makes me optimistic,” says Nikitiadis. “If we work hard we can easily reach 25m arrivals per year which, in turn, will bring in revenues and mean more work for everyone.”

But, first, there is the little problem of Laganas – and the hoary image of sun, sand, sea and sex that Greece, since the onset of mass tourism in the 1960s, has all too often come to be associated with.

Unlike Egypt, across the Mediterranean, or Turkey, across the Aegean, Greece attracts some 52% of its visitors between July and September – with numbers of Britons second only to those of Germans. From January to March, a mere 7% descend on the country, according to figures released by the tourism ministry, compared with 24% in Egypt.

In the 35 years since democracy was reintroduced with the collapse of military rule – a time in which even the most far-flung Greek isle has come to be discovered – the overload has put immense strain on an infrastructure that is finding it increasingly hard to cope.

On the Cycladic isle of Koufonisia tourists were left stranded last month, not because the local boat failed to show up but because its one and only cash machine at the outpost’s only bank had run out of money.

Nikitiadis does not disagree. For too long, he sighs, the industry was dominated by political patronage which didn’t help. “It was all about party influence and political favours. If someone had a kid studying in London they’d be given a job at the offices of EOT, the Greek Tourism Organisation, there. It was crazy. Now, little by little, we are trying to make that system disappear but it’s not easy. Similarly we’re trying to prioritise alternative forms of tourism, like agro tourism and religious tourism, to encourage visitors to come all year round.”

With this in mind, the ruling socialists have waived landing and take-off fees for aircraft and taken steps to facilitate foreign investment in the sector which, because of its prominence, has also been afflicted by corruption and lack of competitiveness – the very ills that helped bring Greece to its knees. Visa restrictions for non-EU citizens, including fellow Orthodox Russians, have also been lifted.

But despite these measures – and what at the beginning of the summer was gleefully projected as a 10% increase in arrivals after several lean years – officials have also discovered that tourism is far from immune to fallout from reforms in other areas now needed to overhaul Greece.

The penny may finally have dropped that, blessed with the longest coastline in Europe, the country’s beauty is there to be exploited. But some fear it may also be too late.

In recent weeks the sector has been pummelled by striking taxi drivers protesting against the government deregulating their profession – part of efforts to liberalise restricted business sectors.

During the 20-day furore, which finally showed signs of coming to a halt on Thursday, holidaymakers have been forced to drag luggage to blockaded airports and ports, locked out of archaeological sites and, in Crete, pushed, shoved and teargassed as cabbies fought pitched battles outside the island’s aerodrome with riot police.

This week, tourist agencies announced that the strike was about to kill any hopes of the sector contributing to the country’s economic recovery – after thousands of tourists not only cancelled trips but made bookings elsewhere. Satirists retorted that finally tourists were living “their myth in Greece” – the slogan used in the country’s latest advertising campaign.

“The damage that could be dealt [to the sector] is such that it will never be repaired,” despaired the Hellenic association of travel and tourist agencies.

In the cool of his air-conditioned office, Nikitiadis concedes that the summer months were perhaps not “the best time” to pick a fight with the cabbies. “But,” he adds almost in the same breath, “it is just one of the reforms that we are determined to pass. Some people won’t like it, but in the end it will all be part of the revolution that will change Greece.”


The Norwegian Jade: A Huffington Post Travel Cruise Ship Guide

The Norwegian Jade is a popular floating resort. The waters are crowded with sea-worthy vessels, so to make planning easier, we’ve done all the prep work for a cruise vacation. As part of a Huffington Post Travel series on cruise ships, here is a tip sheet offering all the key information one could ever need to know about the Norwegian Jade.

Mediterranean Voyages

The Norwegian Jade sails the Mediterranean year-round. Destinations include Greece, Italy, Turkey, Spain and the Canary Islands.

Elegant Ship

The Norwegian Jade is a 965-foot Jewel-class ship that boasts Norwegian Cruise Line’s “Freestyle” cruise experience. It can accommodate 2,402 passengers with a crew of 1,078. The ship cruises at a speed of 25 knots.

Special Features

The Norwegian Jade has a French bistro, where diners enjoy an ocean view from every table. Cruisers can also enjoy a White Hot Party and a nightly show in the Stardust Theater.

Accommodations

The Norwegian Jade offers inside staterooms that can house up to four guests, as well as ocean-view rooms, staterooms with balconies and a variety of suite and penthouse options. Rooms designed with families in mind are available in each of the categories. Inside staterooms are 143 square feet; ocean-view rooms are 161 square feet; balcony rooms are 205 square feet; and suites range from 285 square feet to the three-bedroom Garden Villa at 4,719 square feet.

Cost

Cruise rates on the Norwegian Jade range from a two-day cruise from Malaga to Barcelona, Spain, at $149 per person for an inside stateroom, to an eight-day Eastern Mediterranean cruise at $1,849 per person for a suite. Children under 2 receive a reduced fare, and certain itineraries offer discounts on the third and fourth guests in the same stateroom. Infants under 6 months are not eligible for travel on Norwegian Cruise Line ships. Check the website — which has a “best price guaranteed” policy — for last-minute and online deals.

Shore Excursions

The Norwegian Jade offers a seven-day round-trip cruise from Venice, Italy, with stops in Dubrovnik, Croatia, and Athens, Greece, as well as Ephesus, Turkey. Shore excursions include a tour of the Acropolis and the House of the Virgin Mary near Ephesus, Turkey.

Dining Experience

The Norwegian Jade has restaurants that are included in the cruise price, and others that are an additional cost. The two main dining rooms, a grill, and a children’s cafe are complimentary options for guest. Restaurants that are available for an extra charge include sushi, French, Italian, steakhouse, Spanish and Asian culinary options. Room service is complimentary from 5 a.m. to midnight, but there is a delivery charge for room service from midnight to 5 a.m.

Maiden Voyage

The maiden voyage of the Norwegian Jade was in February 2008. The ship was originally built as the Pride of Hawaii.

In The News

The Norwegian Jade received recent publicity when it reported that it would cancel its winter Eastern Mediterranean season due to passenger concerns over uprisings in the region, according to Cruise Critic Cruise News.

WATCH:

Take a virtual tour of the Norwegian Jade.

What’s your favorite cruise memory?

Check out even more CRUISE SHIP GUIDES.

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Travellers warned over steep cost of medical bills abroad

By
Travelmail Reporter

Last updated at 4:12 PM on 8th August 2011

Travellers are being warned about the high cost of falling ill or having accidents abroad after it was revealed that medical claims by British holidaymakers now average as much as £1,333.

The United States is the country where hospital treatment is the most expensive, with medical bills averaging £4,726, the survey found.

A rear shot of an ambulance in Florida, USA

Hefty payout: Medical bills average £4,726 in the United States

Of the 10 countries surveyed, Greece had the least expensive bills, averaging just £422, according to research by Sainsbury’s Travel Insurance.

Based on claims made in 2010, the figures showed that Spain was the country where more British tourists had to seek medical help than any other, followed by Turkey and Greece.

The most common complaint was ear infection, with the cost for treatment averaging £320.

Heart problems were the most expensive of the common ailments to deal with abroad, with treatment averaging £8,148.

Sainsbury’s Travel Insurance manager Scott Gorman said: ‘It has been widely reported that healthcare costs are rising far faster than the rate of inflation, not just in the UK but in other countries as well, so ensuring you have adequate cover and peace of mind while you travel abroad is more important than ever.’

Stuart Bensusan, from travel insurance provider Essential Travel, told TravelMail: ‘The recent report by Sainsbury’s travel highlights the financial risk consumers expose themselves to by travelling without relevant insurance.

‘Scarily our records show that 15% of holiday makers are still travelling without insurance and 54% people read their policy after purchase with 11% admitting to only reading it when they need to claim.

‘When creating a travel budget, holiday makers should always include travel insurance so they can truly enjoy their experience and ensure they select a policy that covers all activities they intend to embark which means reading the small print before purchase.

‘In order to get the most out of their travel insurance, we urge customers to buy their insurance within a couple of days of purchasing their holiday. Travel insurance policies provide cover for many pre-departure incidents, for example, falling ill and needing to cancel the trip.’

Nick Starling, of the Association of British Insurers said: ‘Medical costs if you are hurt or taken ill on holiday can run into tens of thousands of pounds. Travel Insurance is an absolute essential for every holidaymaker.

‘Although people like to enjoy
themselves on holiday, if you hurt yourself when drunk your policy is
unlikely to cover you. While delayed flights, stolen cameras or lost passports can be inconvenient, having to pay a huge medical bill after illness or injury can be devastating.

‘Travel Insurance is there to cover your medical care and help get you home so it should be at the top of everyone’s holiday checklist.’

It follows the news that the family of a British man who had a motorbike accident in Bali is struggling to raise £80,000 to pay for his medical bills and flight back to England.

Richard Plummer, 32, has been in a coma since the crash on 1 July and was flown back to the UK in an air ambulance last week. He is currently being treated at Maidstone Hospital.

Mr Plummer had been living on the Indonesian island since 2009 but had allowed his travel insurance to expire.

A benefactor has agreed to lend Mr Plummer’s parents £80,000 to cover the cost of the air ambulance but their home is at risk if they cannot repay it. They have also had to use their £20,000 life savings to pay for their son’s care.

Richard’s father Eric Plummer, from Maidstone in Kent, said: ‘I would say to anyone going abroad to get travel insurance whatever the cost. This situation is the worst nightmare scenario I can possibly think of.’

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Lyford Cay Foundation donates $18000 to Special Olympics athletes

Published On:Saturday, August 13, 2011

SPIRITS were soaring among the members and supporters of Special Olympics Bahamas earlier this summer, a time when dreams of all sorts became reality for the organisation.

Thanks to a grant of $18,000 from Lyford Cay Foundation, Inc., three athletes were provided with the support to travel to Athens, Greece to compete along with 7,000 international contenders at the 2011 World Summer Games.

Led by Basil Christie, an active and devoted organiser of Special Olympics (SO) throughout the Caribbean region for more than two decades, the Bahamian team — which consisted of 35 athletes and 15 officials — returned as champions, having earned a total of 25 medals in swimming, track and field, softball, bocce, bowling, judo and tennis.

“There was a great deal of social and political unrest in Greece during our visit, but the team was not directly affected by the demonstrations,” said Christie.

“Their spirits were high and they remained focused on their goal of making their families, their supporters and their country proud of their performances.”

Christie expressed his gratitude to the Lyford Cay Foundation for helping to make the trip possible, and for providing much-needed acknowledgement to the athletes over the years.

“For the last decade, the Lyford Cay Foundation has set a pace for supporting Special Olympics, which has enabled us to gather momentum by stimulating further encouragement from the public and other sponsors,” he said.

The Foundation has given SO Bahamas more than $40,000 to date, including $10,000 to pay for three athletes to participate in the World Summer Games in Shanghai in 2007.

TimeWorks, the Foundation’s volunteer initiative, has also assisted SO in organising its annual Bocce Family Fun Day, during which the athletes, their parents and coaches enjoy a variety of healthy competitions and fellowship.

SO is a global nonprofit organisation dedicated to empowering children and adults with intellectual disabilities to become physically fit, productive and respected members of society through year-round sports training and competition.

It serves more than 3.4 million athletes in every continent. The Bahamas chapter has close to 400 members aged 8 – 60 in New Providence, Grand Bahama, Long Island and Abaco, said Mr. Christie.

The Foundation’s interest and involvement in the SO team stems from a genuine admiration of the work and purpose of the establishment, said Suzy Robinson, Co-Chair of the Foundation’s Gifts and Grants Committee.

“We believe strongly in the importance of raising awareness of the participants’ capabilities as athletes, and we believe that Special Olympics brilliantly showcases their powerful talents and passion,” she said.

“We hope to see a conscious change in the public’s perception of people with disabilities, with a positive shift toward an appreciation of their skills and abilities.”

The World Games also provide the Foundation with a unique opportunity to fulfill its mission of addressing vital areas of want within the community, added Mrs. Robinson.

“We try to focus on needs in the Bahamas which are critical and organisations which are providing for those needs,” she explained. “We consider it essential for the Bahamas to be represented on the worldwide stage, and feel that participation in the Special Olympics Games presents an outstanding occasion to do that.”

Lyford Cay Foundation, Inc. and The Canadian Lyford Cay Foundation are powerful catalysts for change, having awarded $16.5 million in academic and technical training and vocational scholarships to Bahamians studying overseas; in excess of $3 million in scholarships to Bahamians attending the College of the Bahamas, and more than $15 million in grants to local charities and civic groups.

For more information about Special Olympics Bahamas please call 356-2433 or email [email protected] For details on the Lyford Cay Foundations please visit www.lyfordcayfoundation.org.


Taxi unions call for temporary truce

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Inside travel: Tour operators

Why do so many holiday companies go bust?

First, not many do; the Holidays 4U collapse is the biggest of the year (so
far), yet its 50,000 customers represent only about one quarter of one per
cent of Britain’s total mainstream holiday business.

Next, the travel industry is based on optimism. People stump up cash in the
expectation of a well-deserved holiday, and almost always get it. On the
other side of the bargain, travel companies expect that they will attract
enough customers at the right prices to make a profit. So they sign
contracts with accommodation providers and airlines. Sometimes, their
optimism is misplaced. Like other companies before it, Holidays 4U it was
unable to take in enough money to pay the bills from its suppliers.

How can I be sure my money is safe?

In the narrow sense of getting a refund if the holiday company fails, it’s
easy. Book a package holiday covered by an Air Travel Organiser’s Licence
(Atol), for which you pay a 2.50 “Atol Protection Contribution”.
Then, if your tour operator follows XL, Goldtrail, Holidays 4U and many
others into financial oblivion, you can join the long queue of people who
are guaranteed a refund from the Civil Aviation Authority, which administers
the Atol scheme. Call the organisation on 0844 4933 037, or visit
atol.org.uk.

However, the process will take months rather than weeks, and if you scrabble
around to find an alternative holiday, you can be fairly sure that the cost
will have increased. There is plenty of capacity around this summer, which
is one symptom of the problems in the industry. But when a substantial
collapse takes place, other holiday companies take advantage of the
subsequent spike in demand to raise prices.

If you buy flights and accommodation separately, and your flight tickets turn
out to be worthless, the accommodation provider is not obliged to repay you.

Financial certainty is one thing, but how can I ensure I get the holiday I
booked?

Look at the recent history of big collapses: Holidays 4U, Goldtrail and XL.
All focused on low-budget holidays to the eastern Mediterranean. Their final
days were characterised by massive discounting in a bid to drag in cash to
pay bills – not a sustainable strategy. If you seek a cheap last-minute
holiday to Turkey or Greece, you might opt to travel with a large tour
operator such as Thomson, Thomas Cook or Monarch. Of course, there are
plenty of smaller, reputable operators who are also in good shape, and
personal recommendation remains valuable.

It’s worth paying a bit more to book through a travel agent. A good agent is
well tuned to the market, and can detect danger signals that may indicate
trouble at a particular tour operator. These include being slow with
refunds, demanding payment for future bookings with increasing urgency, or
cutting prices to plainly unprofitable levels in a bid to raise cash. The
agent may stop selling that operator’s product, or at least warn you of the
risk.

If my travel company goes bust, won’t my travel insurance cover me for any
losses?

I don’t know, because I haven’t read your policy. If, like me, you have bought
cheap annual insurance to cover you mainly in the event of medical
emergencies, the answer is probably “no”. Some policies cover “supplier
failure”, but many don’t. Similarly, there is no consistency about the
response to volcanic ash, snow at Heathrow or striking air-traffic
controllers. All the more reason for booking a proper package, where the
tour operator is responsible for sorting out any logistical problems.

If my holiday company goes bust while I’m abroad, what should I do?

Stay by the pool and order another drink, so long as you are on an
Atol-protected package holiday. The Civil Aviation Authority will organise “rescue”
flights, with most passengers arriving back at the right airports at
approximately the right times. You should not have to pay again for the
hotel; if you do, send a claim to the CAA when you get home.





Sun, sand and style: Welcome to Turkey’s jet-set destination

More than 120 hotels are said to be scattered throughout the cobbled streets of Alacati, though I challenge you to find even one. The town, a charming muddle of farmhouses and windmills bordered by olive groves and artichoke fields, doesn’t bother with street names or signs. Discretion is the watchword. Bijou eight-room inns hide behind whitewash and pale-blue painted shutters, their rooms overlooking silent, shady courtyards.

Just occasionally, if you poke your nose around the pretty wrought-iron
railings, you might glimpse a flash of turquoise pool in a back garden.
Shops selling expensive fripperies – gold jewellery, linen dressing gowns,
gaudily embroidered cushions and olive-oil soaps – whisper their wares from
behind tiny windows. Bodrum, this ain’t. Only at night, when the bars and
restaurants spill out of their cool, white interiors and off their tiled
floors onto the streets does Alacati start to resemble a typical Turkish
resort.

Perched above the Aegean Sea on Turkey’s west coast, Alacati has been the
best-kept secret of Turkish holidaymakers for a few years now. Even the
locals – many of whom holidayed here as children and have returned to embark
on second careers as hoteliers and restaurant owners – spend hours arguing
as to who discovered it first. In fact, it was windsurfers who colonised
Alacati in the 1990s, flocking to the flat waters of Alacati Bay where the
northerly imbat winds blow for 330 days a year. It was then embraced by
wealthy weekenders from Istanbul as a kind of Turkey-flavoured Hamptons. And
lately it has become a magnet for celebrities, politicians and pop stars.
They come to sunbathe and party around the 29km coastline of the Cesme
Peninsula, mooring their yachts at the marina, kitesurfing at Alacati port,
spa-ing at Ilica and eating and shopping wherever they can along the way.

The Turkish jet-set have managed to keep this to themselves. But this summer,
the local airport at Izmir – 45 minutes away by road – joined the easyJet
set, with two flights a week from Gatwick. For now, at least, the region
remains largely un-starstruck, and stubbornly unspoilt. “It doesn’t
matter who comes here,” says Husnu Baylav, president of the Alacati
Tourism Association, “Alacati is the real celebrity.” In other
words, there’s more to the area than chi-chi hotels and chic visitors.
Understated, laid-back luxury is the speciality – although it doesn’t come
cheap.

For those who rouse themselves from their Egyptian cotton sheets, there are
also ancient ruins to visit, thermal mud baths to wallow in, sparkling bays
to surf and sail across, herb markets to explore and culinary novelties to
savour, such as cinnamon-flavoured kofte and mastic ice cream. Cesme was
even praised by antiquity’s own Alan Whicker, Herodotus, for its location “in
the most beautiful climate and under the most beautiful sky on earth”.

The Cesme Peninsula extends elegantly out from Turkey’s west Aegean coast to
within a fingertip of Greece. Here, the island of Chios is just 8km (or a
45-minute ferry trip from Cesme) away; its brooding outline visible even on
the mistiest day. In the mid 19th century, the Ottomans shipped islanders
over to dry out the malarial marshes. Many stayed on, planting the region’s
first vineyards. Today, wandering among the blue-and-white painted stone
houses, you could easily be in Greece. Signs of shared history are all
around – not least in Alacati where the enormous Ayios Konstantinos church
has had a minaret stuck on the top and functions as the local mosque.

I began my trip on the coast, in Ilica. This was the region’s original holiday
hotspot thanks to the healing thermal springs that bubble beneath the waves.
Tusun Pasha, sickly son of the founder of modern Egypt, Muhammad Ali Pasha,
came here in the early 1800s to take the waters, which probably makes him
the winner of the I-discovered-it-first contest. So impressed was he that he
built a beautiful stone house on the seafront.

Three years ago, the building became Nars Ilica, an eight-room luxury hotel,
named after Narcissus and dedicated to the pursuit of pleasure. The airy
rooms, with stripped wood floors, shuttered windows and linen curtains are
decorated in a palette of duck-egg blue and cream to make Nigella swoon. The
public rooms, meanwhile, are crammed with a mix of antiques, modern art and
avant-garde 1940s light fittings. The feel is more like a private mansion
than hotel, and strenuous efforts are made to ensure that you rarely set
eyes on another guest. Premium rooms have their own staircases and private
breakfast rooms overlooking the sea; every morning staff arrive with a
procession of platters of sheep’s cheese, gozleme (savoury pastries) and
tomatoes, curd cheese with mulberry compote and simit (sesame bagels) with
sour cherry jam and honey.

The spread comes fresh from the hotel’s own farm where the workers at the
hotel – and those at its funkier, smaller sister in Alacati – live. Up here
in the hills, there are lemon and orange groves, sheep and horses and some
5,500 olive trees, alongside workshops where stonemasons and carpenters
built the hotels by hand. The olive-oil products in the bathrooms come from
another farm nearby. “If you do it yourself,” shrugs Murat
Pirimoglu, the co-owner, “you know it’s the best.”

The hotel also has a Jacuzzi filled with thermal waters in its walled back
garden. For the full spa experience, though, you need to walk a little
further along Ilica’s 2km sands to the Sheraton Cesme. This is where the
VIPs hang out. The vast hotel offers the full, five-star luxury experience
with its own beach, private pier and floating restaurant. Each of its three
€5,250-a-night penthouses has an “infinity bed” positioned
by the windows so that you feel like you’re sleeping in the sea.

A rooftop pool overlooks the terracotta roofs of million-euro holiday homes,
clustered below like a mini Beverly Hills. To ease your travel plans,
there’s also a helipad.

The main attraction, though, is the prize-winning spa, just voted the world’s
Best Mineral Spring Spa. Alongside sweltering thermal pools and steam rooms,
you can enjoy more esoteric treats including “adventure showers”
which provide a soundtrack of your choice (rainforest, seashore, no Jedward)
and Balinese tea houses where couples can enjoy private treatments around a
heated seawater pool.

I opted for a traditional hammam in the hotel’s beautiful white-tiled Turkish
bath. After being steamed, splashed, scrubbed (vigorously) and swaddled in
bubbles on a marble slab for an hour, I emerged, light-headed and
smoother-skinned. If you don’t want to spend 145 lira (55), there’s a
natural spa at Sifne, 10 minutes down the road, with its own mud bath and
thermal pools.

Windsurfing is near-mandatory in these parts: indeed, the Professional
Windsurfers’ Association World Cup event reaches its climax in Alacati
today. Seven surf schools are ranged along Alacati bay, which provides ideal
conditions – warm, wave-free shallows and constant wind – for beginners. The
breeze also makes the fierce summer heat a little more bearable for
sun-seekers. And, being a peninsula, there’s a beach for every occasion on
Cesme. Ask the locals and they’ll point you to Ilica with its thermal
shallows or to Altinkum with its golden sands, depending on which way the
wind is blowing.

If you’re on a boat – and why wouldn’t you be? – the beautiful bay of Aya
Yorgi is the place to go. By night, the beach clubs turn into glamorous
nightclubs – Marrakech, Babylon and Paparazzi are the most popular – where
you can sip champagne while the waves lap at your stilettos.

The area caters for the amateur historian, too, with Ephesus, the marvellously
preserved ancient city, 90 minutes’ drive down the coast near Selcuk. Much
closer and less well-known is Erythrai, which dates back to 3000BC and is
set on the hillside above Ildiri, a tumbledown village also suspended in
time.

Declared a heritage site when Erythrai was re-discovered in 1964, Ildiri is
now a half-abandoned hodge-podge of farmhouses and fishing boats. The ruins
themselves, guarded by a pensioner and his cat, are reached via fields of
artichokes, speckled with poppies. It’s a steep clamber up to the acropolis
via a neglected amphitheatre, which provides a dramatic view of the
countryside and coast. I watched a sunset over Chios before heading back to
enjoy a traditional seaside dinner of barbun (red mullet) and raki, which
gets nicer the more you drink.

There’s more history to be found at Cesme town, once the final stopping point
on the Silk Road for the camel caravans before they were shipped off to the
Mediterranean. The caravanserai is now a hotel but the bustling port still
ferries tourists across to Chios and Donkey Island (exactly what it sounds
like) several times a day.

A 16th-century fortress, magnificently restored with piles of cannon balls and
excavated ancient tombstones ranged around its walls, looms over the town,
offering wonderful views across the water and beyond. A new marina, with an
array of surf shops and galleries, restaurants and wine bars, has become a
destination in its own right.

The stylish development is typical of the region where a tourist industry is
being carved out of the landscape wherever you look. New pastel-coloured
villas line the roads to the port; stone houses are under renovation on
every corner. But lessons have been learned from the over-developed resorts
of Marmaris and Antalya. The policy here is “conservative tourism”.
Alacati is the jewel in its crown.

Ten years ago, there were no hotels in the town. Now, one in 10 of its stone
houses has been converted into a boutique inn. Nevertheless, Alacati’s
character is fiercely policed. Only two-storey stone houses are permitted,
and, according to the official tourist guide, “anything that has a
strong smell or is an eyesore is forbidden”. So, neon signs are banned,
and kebabs are served until 3pm, not 3am.

Already, though, Alacati struggles in summer when the population of 11,000
welcomes more than a million visitors. I arrived as Alacati was coming out
of hibernation; every day another bar or hotel dusted down its shutters,
while entrepreneurial types opened tiny cafs in their front rooms and
driveways.

Hotel Incirliev is typical of Alacati’s homespun hospitality. The hotel is
named after the 100-year-old fig tree that casts shade over its central
courtyard. It is run by Sabahat and Osman Poshor, whose warmth and
generosity make staying here feel like a weekend at Grandma’s. Having been
shown my terrace room – a cool stone chamber with original fireplace and
floor-length windows – I was ushered straight back down for a glass of
home-made cherry liqueur and freshly baked apple cake under the tree.

Incirliev proved the perfect base to explore Cesme cuisine. Every day begins
with breakfast served al fresco from the open kitchen. The table sagged with
cheese, fruit, bread, olives and – the undoubted highlight – an
ever-changing selection of Osman’s homemade jams. Each morning, there was
also an extra surprise: “egg casserole” scrambled with peppers and
chilli, or ricotta pancakes with “crispy butter”.

Suitably fuelled, I left to watch the daily 11am ritual of fresh fish being
auctioned from marble slabs behind the mosque. On Saturdays, the bazaar – a
shanty town of herbs, cheese and spices – also comes to life. After that,
it’s time to repair to Kose Kahve for Turkish coffee flavoured with
medicinal-tasting mastic, harvested from the trees on Chios.

At the fishing village of Dalyankoy, I picked meze out of a chilled cabinet,
pointed at the sea bass I wanted and ate the lot sitting by the water as
fishing boats bobbed beneath my feet. At Okan’s Place, a secluded stretch of
beach at Ciftlikkoy, crispy sardines were delivered to my sun lounger. The
finest place I found to experiment, though, was Asma Yapragi, a one-room
restaurant in the undeveloped Haci Memis district of Alacati. Here, hearty
tin dishes of meze – marinated artichokes, broad bean and mint stew, cacik
and cigarette-thin stuffed vine leaves – are served straight from the stove
to a communal table in the middle of the kitchen.

As I left Incirliev, my suitcase stuffed with fig jam and olive soaps, Sabahat
and Osman threw water at the car, a tradition intended to ensure the
traveller will return soon. I do hope it works.

Travel essentials: Alacati

Getting there

* The writer flew from Gatwick to Izmir with easyJet (0843 104 5000;
easyJet.com); Izmir is also served by Pegasus (0845 0848 980; flypgs.com)
from Stansted.

Getting around

* Avis provided the writer’s car (0844 581 0147; avis.co.uk); rates from Izmir
airport from 48 a day.

Staying there

* Nars Ilica (00 90 232 729 0001; narsilica.com). Doubles from €300, with
breakfast; Nars Alacati (00 90 232 716 0900; narsalacati.com). Doubles from
350 lira (122), including breakfast.

* Hotel Incirliev, Alacati (00 90 232 716 0353; incirliev.com). Doubles from
180 lira (63), with breakfast.

Visiting there

* Myga Surf City, Alacati (00 90 232 716 6468; myga.com.tr). Beginner’s
windsurfing lessons start at €60 per hour.

* Botanica Thermal Spa, Sheraton Cesme (00 90 232 723 1240; sheratoncesme.com).

* Cesme Marina (00 90 232 712 2500; cesmemarina.com.tr).

Eating drinking there

* Paparazzi, Aya Yorgi (00 90 232 712 6767; paparazzi.com.tr).

* Marrakech on the Beach, Aya Yorgi (00 90 232 712 0403;
marrakechonthebeach.com).

* Babylon, Aya Yorgi (00 90 232 712 6339; babylon.com.tr).

* Kose Kahve, Alacati (00 90 232 716 0413).

* Okan’s Place, Altinkum Mevkii (00 90 532 394 0131; okansplace.com).

* Asma Yapragi, Alacati (00 90 232 716 0178).

More information

* Turkey Tourist Board: 020-7839 7778; gototurkey.co.uk





Books with get up and go

The Irish Times – Saturday, August 13, 2011

  • Pretty in Provence: Saint Paul de Vence on the French Riviera.Photograph: Photodisc

GO READ: Not going away this year? There’s nothing to stop you dreaming, with the help of a good book.
FRANCES O’ROURKE browses through some new and old works about our favourite holiday places

FRANCE

Menerbes :
A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle has sold over six million copies since 1989. Mayle’s tale of making a new life in southern France has spawned a string of sequels and a new genre of travel writing, most humorous and/or romantic tales of city folk adjusting to rural life abroad.

Cannes :
The Olive Farm: A Memoir of Life, Love and Olive Oil by Carol Drinkwater is the first in a trilogy by the British actor about turning her dream of owning a crumbling, shabby-chic house near Cannes into reality with TV producer Michel, when they buy an abandoned Provençal olive farm.

Paris :
A Year in the Merde by Stephen Clarke is about the fictional adventures (and misadventures) of a 27-year-old English businessman sent to Paris to open an English tearoom, based on Clarke’s personal experiences. Very funny, insightful about Paris. Sequels include
Merde Happens and
Merde Actually .

Limousin :
C’est la Folie by townie and
Daily Telegraph journalist Michael Wright who gave up a successful media career in 2004 to buy a farm in the depths of rural France. His popular humorous
Telegraph columns have been turned into two bestselling books.

Dijon/Aix-en-Provence/ Marseille :
Long Ago in France and
Two Towns in Provence by MFK Fisher. The author was a prolific American food writer who lived in Dijon (
Long Ago ) in the 1930s and in post-war Aix-en-Provence and Marseille (
Two Towns ). Both are memoirs of her years in France, the first more foodie, the second about day-to-day life with two young daughters. (And although not a travel memoir, her book titled
How to Cook a Wolf is hard to resist.)

Italy

Verona :
Italian Neighbours: an Englishman in Verona by Tim Parks is a much reprinted 1990s autobiographical account of Parks’s life in Montecchio, near Verona. It is practical, intelligent and informative – and less saccharine than many books of this genre.

Cortona :
Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes. American poet Mayes’s romantic 1996 memoir of buying, renovating, and living in an abandoned villa in Cortona became a bestseller, spawning a number of sequels and a movie of the same name.

San Casciano dei Bagni :
A Thousand Days in Tuscany: A Bittersweet Adventure by Marlena de Blasi is a sequel to the Missouri chef’s
A Thousand Days in Venice where her romance with Italy and an Italian bank manager leads to marriage and yes, a farmhouse that has to be converted. Comes with recipes.

Venice :
Venice by Jan Morris. Not one of the wryly humorous/romantic expat books but a classic by a great travel writer first published just over 50 years ago. Manchán Magan described it in Go recently as having “languorous descriptions, gossipy asides and deliciously nutty insights”.

Spain

Andalucia :
Driving Over Lemons by Chris Stewart. Drummer Stewart (he retired from Genesis at 17) succumbs to the rural dream, this time in the Alpujarras, the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. With his wife Ana, his fantasy survives the harsh realities of farming life and 23 years and a clutch of books later, he’s still there. Wry, amusing and insightful.

South from Granada by Gerald Brenan. Bloomsbury Group fringe writer Brenan’s account of seven years in the 1920s living in a village in the Alpujarras was published in the 1950s. Popular classic which never went out of print. Made into a Spanish movie in 2003, starring Matthew Goode as Brenan.

Castellon :
Sacred Sierra: A Year on a Spanish Mountain by Jason Webster recounts the first year of expat Englishman Jason and his flamenco dancing partner Salud’s restoration of a crumbling farmhouse in rural Castellón on Spain’s eastern coast. He is still there, 15 years on. Thoughtful book about one man’s search for a bit of the earth to belong to.

Greece

The Pelopponese :
Blue Skies and Black Olives: A Survivor’s Tale of Housebuilding and Peacock Chasing in Greece by John Humphrys. Grumpy British broadcaster and his musician son Christopher, who already lived in Greece, tell the humorous story of John’s impulsive purchase of a semi-derelict cottage overlooking the Aegean – and his travails restoring it over four years.

Patmos :
The Summer of My Greek Taverna: A Memoir by Tom Stone. American Tom went to Greece to write a novel, fell in love and stayed 22 years. Tale of innocent abroad and the dangers of doing business in a closed community.

Corfu :
The Corfu Trilogy by Gerald Durrell. Budding zoologist Durrell’s
My Family and Other Animals and its sequels set on the island of Corfu in the 1930s tell the story of the eccentric English family who moved there.

Cyprus :
Bitter Lemons by Lawrence Durrell. Gerald Durrell’s novelist brother Lawrence (
The Alexandria Quartet ) retreated to Cyprus in 1953 to get on with his writing, but fled three years later as the fight against British rule there escalated. Humorous at the start, fascinating as his idyll crumbles. (Also see his novel
Prospero’s Cell , a fictionalised account of his life in Corfu, contemporary with Gerald’s.)

USA

Alaska :
One Man’s Wilderness: An Alaskan Odyssey by Sam Keith. Published in 1973, Keith’s book is based on the journals and photography of Richard Proenneke, who in 1968 moved to Twin Lakes in Alaska to build his own log cabin in the middle of nowhere, learning how to survive the harsh Alaskan winter and live at one with nature.

Appalachia :
A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail . Laugh-out-loud account of travel writer Bill Bryson’s hike from Georgia to Maine with his unfit recovering alcoholic friend Stephen. (Bryson fans also recommend
I’m a Stranger Here Myself , an account of his return to America after living 20 years in England.)

Washington state :
The Egg and I by Betty MacDonald. Humorous memoir published in 1945 about the author’s life as a young newlywed, running a chicken farm in the Olympic peninsula in rural Washington state. Very funny (although now criticised for its depiction of native Americans and locals, who both filed lawsuits against the author) but also a vivid description of a beautiful remote part of the US.

Morocco

Fez :
A House in Fez: Building a Life in the Ancient Heart of Morocco by Suzanna Clarke. An Australian journalist and her husband buy a dilapidated, centuries-old riad in Fez, one of the best-preserved medieval walled cities in the world.

South America

Costa Rica :
Happier Than a Billionaire: Quitting My Job, Moving to Costa Rica, and Living the Zero Hour Work Week by Nadine Hays Pisani. Humorous account of a couple who risk it all for a dream in South America.

All books on amazon.com


Inside travel: Tour operators

Why do so many holiday companies go bust?

First, not many do; the Holidays 4U collapse is the biggest of the year (so
far), yet its 50,000 customers represent only about one quarter of one per
cent of Britain’s total mainstream holiday business.

Next, the travel industry is based on optimism. People stump up cash in the
expectation of a well-deserved holiday, and almost always get it. On the
other side of the bargain, travel companies expect that they will attract
enough customers at the right prices to make a profit. So they sign
contracts with accommodation providers and airlines. Sometimes, their
optimism is misplaced. Like other companies before it, Holidays 4U it was
unable to take in enough money to pay the bills from its suppliers.

How can I be sure my money is safe?

In the narrow sense of getting a refund if the holiday company fails, it’s
easy. Book a package holiday covered by an Air Travel Organiser’s Licence
(Atol), for which you pay a 2.50 “Atol Protection Contribution”.
Then, if your tour operator follows XL, Goldtrail, Holidays 4U and many
others into financial oblivion, you can join the long queue of people who
are guaranteed a refund from the Civil Aviation Authority, which administers
the Atol scheme. Call the organisation on 0844 4933 037, or visit
atol.org.uk.

However, the process will take months rather than weeks, and if you scrabble
around to find an alternative holiday, you can be fairly sure that the cost
will have increased. There is plenty of capacity around this summer, which
is one symptom of the problems in the industry. But when a substantial
collapse takes place, other holiday companies take advantage of the
subsequent spike in demand to raise prices.

If you buy flights and accommodation separately, and your flight tickets turn
out to be worthless, the accommodation provider is not obliged to repay you.

Financial certainty is one thing, but how can I ensure I get the holiday I
booked?

Look at the recent history of big collapses: Holidays 4U, Goldtrail and XL.
All focused on low-budget holidays to the eastern Mediterranean. Their final
days were characterised by massive discounting in a bid to drag in cash to
pay bills – not a sustainable strategy. If you seek a cheap last-minute
holiday to Turkey or Greece, you might opt to travel with a large tour
operator such as Thomson, Thomas Cook or Monarch. Of course, there are
plenty of smaller, reputable operators who are also in good shape, and
personal recommendation remains valuable.

It’s worth paying a bit more to book through a travel agent. A good agent is
well tuned to the market, and can detect danger signals that may indicate
trouble at a particular tour operator. These include being slow with
refunds, demanding payment for future bookings with increasing urgency, or
cutting prices to plainly unprofitable levels in a bid to raise cash. The
agent may stop selling that operator’s product, or at least warn you of the
risk.

If my travel company goes bust, won’t my travel insurance cover me for any
losses?

I don’t know, because I haven’t read your policy. If, like me, you have bought
cheap annual insurance to cover you mainly in the event of medical
emergencies, the answer is probably “no”. Some policies cover “supplier
failure”, but many don’t. Similarly, there is no consistency about the
response to volcanic ash, snow at Heathrow or striking air-traffic
controllers. All the more reason for booking a proper package, where the
tour operator is responsible for sorting out any logistical problems.

If my holiday company goes bust while I’m abroad, what should I do?

Stay by the pool and order another drink, so long as you are on an
Atol-protected package holiday. The Civil Aviation Authority will organise “rescue”
flights, with most passengers arriving back at the right airports at
approximately the right times. You should not have to pay again for the
hotel; if you do, send a claim to the CAA when you get home.





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