My entry for The Telegraph’s Just Back weekly travel writing competition:
Loulou carried plate after plate out to the sunny terrace. Kiwi fruit, yoghurt, feta cheese – drizzled with oil and specked with oregano gathered on Aristotle’s mountain. Tomatoes from the small garden, fat olives, pale green peppers. And freshly baked bougatsa, a traditional Greek breakfast pastry, dusted with sugar.
And then the main dish – a round terracotta ramekin with steaming baked eggs, tomato, peppers and pastourma, air-dried meat rooted in Ottoman history.
Her husband quietly dug the vegetable patch as we ate, joking that despite his retirement, he remained as busy as ever, restoring every room of the Liotopi himself.
The family own two hotels and a beachside restaurant in Olympiada, a small village built around an arc of sand, where the Strimonikos Gulf of the Aegean sea kisses the shore on the knuckle of the third finger of the Halkidiki peninsula.
Olympiada is named after the mother of Alexander the Great. The partly excavated ancient city of Stageira stands above the village, high on a rocky promontory to the south and en route to the monastic haven of Mount Athos, at the fingertip of the peninsula. Stageira is the birthplace of Aristotle, Greece’s most favoured philosopher and tutor to warrior Alexander.
But Olympiada wasn’t always so alluring.
The Alexiadou family were expelled from their Asia Minor home in 1922, escaping from Smyrna along with thousands of other Orthodox Greeks, to avoid a brutal death at the hands of marauding Turks. At the same time, long-settled Muslims left Greek Macedonia to cross the Aegean in the opposite direction.
After breakfast, we strolled along the road to Loulou’s other hotel. Here, she posed proudly underneath a grainy black and white photograph of her grandparents. When the Alexiadous arrived in Olympiada in the early 1920s, it was a desolate, marshy place. Many of their friends and fellow refugees died from malaria, others fled to Thrace or safer places in Macedonia. Access to the village was by boat only, the first road not arriving until the 1960s, winding down to the village through densely wooded hills.
But Loulou’s grandparents stayed, carving out a new life through hard work and a desire to grow fresh, enduring roots. The refugee family’s mantra was passed down through the generations: always care more for people than for money. And every moment you spend at the Liotopi, you feel confident that sentiment will endure for another century.
We had been given fruit liqueurs and delicate homemade cakes as soon as we had climbed the wide, steep steps to the hotel’s entrance hall. And, arriving back in our room late that night, a mince pie-like fresh pastry rested on a small tray on the bed, against which lay a hand-written card and the message:
Good night – with love – Loulou, Tina, Anastasia