It was about a year and a half ago when Valentina and Nicholas, a young couple from Luxembourg, decided to leave their business and, together with their three (now four) kids, set out to discover the world by camper van.
For 2020, they had planned to travel in Greece from January until late April, with the help of Greek travel consultant agency Mamakita. They arrived and spent a few months, then took a two-week trip to Israel. All this time, of course, Covid-19 was spreading dangerously across the globe.
They landed back in Greece literally one hour before the country went into complete lockdown, leaving them stranded in a foreign land.
But with the help of their travel agent, they found their own little paradise in the Peloponnese, where they stayed for the duration of the lockdown before finally continuing their travel adventures after the restrictions were lifted.
How did you react to the fact that you would have to spend the lockdown in Greece?
Upon returning from Israel, we knew a lockdown was imminent and we could have, in fact, gone back to Luxembourg. Still, we made the conscious decision to stay in Greece because we felt that the risk of an infection was smaller here since we could hide away in remote places in nature.
Indeed, with the help of Eleni Fotiou from Mamakita, we found a safe place in Messinia next to Omega Beach (aka Voidokilia), where we spent our days under lockdown. It was a perfect place for a relaxed nature getaway in the peaceful atmosphere of the olive trees and so close to the most stunning and very child-friendly beaches.
How did this forced change of plans influence your everyday lives?
We are travel bloggers and YouTubers, so not being able to create travel content was a struggle at the beginning. However, we are born optimists and we decided to focus on the positive and the possibilities which the situation could offer. During the lockdown we shifted our focus from traveling to providing our audience with alternative content – we started a homeschooling series by interviewing other travel bloggers, homeschoolers and teachers from all over the world to share knowledge and hopefully help other parents in their involuntary homeschooling situation.
Did you feel safe during the lockdown?
Even in the most remote region, Greeks were following the rules and keeping the measures to keep the virus away, so we always felt safe. We were particularly impressed by how Greeks kept their distances without losing their sense of solidarity, community and inclusion. It did not matter that we were foreigners; we still felt part of this big Greek family – in bright times and in dark times. During the lockdown, locals came to check up on us and see if we had everything we needed, always bringing us their homemade treats – olive oil, lemons, bread, wine, sweets.
What other towns did you have time to visit before the lockdown?
We visited northern Evia, which we highly recommend if you are traveling with kids. It’s a different image of Greece than the one most foreigners have in mind. Besides stunning beaches, there are so many unique nature spots there. The natural hot water springs in Loutra Edipsou over the coastline overlooking the sea are priceless. For nature-loving families, there is a beautiful forest hike to the Drymonas waterfalls with a lovely playground in the forest. We also loved the island of Skyros – we were there during the carnival season, which is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that both adults and kids will love. People wear traditional costumes and dance together on the main square until late in the night; they eat delicious food and enjoy life to the fullest. There is so much positivity, traditions, unity and just a lot of fun for young and old!
What wisdom have you accumulated about traveling with kids in Greece?
Greece is extremely child-friendly. There are many activities for kids and everything is adapted to even the youngest guests. But most importantly for us was the mindset: children are really welcome here. We are traveling with four kids, which is a lot. We always felt welcome and included. The people were always friendly and flexible to adapt to our family situation, which includes a school-aged kid, kindergartener, toddler and a baby.
What have you and your kids loved most about Greece so far?
People are so welcoming and helpful. Many of them speak English and we feel really relaxed and safe here. We like the people-oriented attitude of the Greeks – they are very open, communicative and always find a solution. We are also so impressed by the Greek hospitality, especially towards children. We also love the Greek food; I have no idea how you make it, but even the simplest dish tastes like heaven and we can’t stop eating. We have already put on five kilos.
What have you been up to since travel restrictions were lifted?
We decided to visit the most touristic places provided there were not many tourists there yet. So first we went to Athens to visit the Acropolis and then headed to Santorini.
What did you think of the island?
We had never been to Santorini before, but we had heard a lot about it and how amazing the island is. And indeed, it was a dream, especially since when we visited it was empty. The streets of Oia are magical; they radiate the calmness and peacefulness of the Cyclades. The shops and restaurants were all closed and occasionally we would meet a local on the street, who kindly greeted us with “Kalimera.” To us it seemed like a place where time stood still and authenticity was still untouched.
Economically this period was a disaster for the island; the big hotels were closed and not maintained – the pools were empty, the gardens of the complex still wild. Many hotels opened in July but many will remain closed. In particular those hotel owners who have a pool on the cliffs of the caldera are considering not opening as it’s not feasible for them to keep the Covid measures at their pools. From a human perspective, though, the situation is a welcome break, a recovery, a reset for the locals. They can finally have Santorini all to themselves – many can finally visit Oia after a very long time, they have space to breathe, do maintenance work and enjoy summertime on their island. It has been a nice break for many.
Would you recommend Santorini to a family with kids?
Santorini is not the most family-friendly destination, but we still had such an amazing time with the kids there, ending up staying for more than we had planned. Santorini doesn’t have facilities tailored for kids, but kids can still enjoy attractions like the cable car in Fira, horse riding, sunset spotting, playing in the huge waves of Vlychada beach and doing light water sports like snorkeling in shallow waters. Our kids also enjoyed the sunset boat ride to the volcano. In any case, we strongly recommend avoiding visiting Santorini with kids in the crowded season.
Where do you plan to travel next in Greece?
After Santorini, we visited Anafi and we are now in Ios. We are planning to continute island-hopping in the Aegean throughout July – Naxos, Sikinos, Folegandros, Mylos, Amorgos. In August we will return to Messinia and will spend September on the Ionian Islands. Early autumn we will explore the historical side of the Peloponnese and towards winter we will head to Crete. We decided to stay in Greece until the end of the year, hoping the world situation will have stabilized by then.
Has your decision to leave your old lives behind been worth it so far, despite the lockdown and everything?
Absolutely. We have seen so many beautiful places, we have met so many kind people and we have seen so many different lifestyles. Unforeseen situations like the lockdown teach us to be flexible and adaptable and grateful for the things we often take for granted.