The Admiral’s House in Kastellorizo, Greece
Spring had just started when I was on a tour with some friends visiting the ancient Greek sites on the coast of Asia Minor. The spectacle of the Aegean fascinated us for days on end… we sometimes gazed at it from up high, and sometimes we walked along sandy beaches whenever the serpentine road led us there, as in semi-immersed ancient Patara, which welcomed us with strong winds and inflated waves.
As we approached Kaş, we had a panoramic view towards Kastellorizo, the last tiny island of the Eastern Mediterranean. It was great excitement for us Greeks, and we unanimously decided to visit it for a few hours, even though it changed our itinerary. Fortunately we found a Turkish captain to take us there, but he did not seem so happy because of the strong wind. "Let’s wait a little for the weather to calm down, and if that is the case, we will have the signal for our departure," he told us. It was true that the waves looked like mountains, but as we were intrepid travellers, the rough sea could not stop us. Besides, the distance was 2.5 kilometers, three quarters of an hour only.
As we were imbibing in an aperitif next to the captain's office, we saw him coming out. "Let’s go!" he announced and we jumped from our chairs to follow him. The boat would transfer us along with various vegetables and fruits intended for the islanders. There may have been other goods as well, but I didn’t notice because my eyes were so impressed by the spectacle of the waves.
The captain proved to be a true maestro orchestrating the movements of the boat against the 7 Beaufort winds that brewed violently in the sea. Kastellorizo would be in front of us one instant, and then lost from sight the next before reappearing, off to one side, depending on the mood of the waves. The more we approached, the more its silhouette became clearer, showing its grandeur of rocky mountains that formed a plateau at the top. Before entering the protected little harbour, I noticed a white villa at the end of a promontory and, as I was observing it, I felt as if I had visited it many times before.
It was the Admiral's House, as described to me by a longtime friend. It was designed by her father, an Admiral of the Greek Navy, who originated from the island. Surrounded by a large terrace just suspended above the azure sea, it captured my gaze, and I imagined how nice it would be to sit there with the seamless views to the Turkish coast and ancient Lycia, from where I was arriving.
As my friend had told me, the love and the respect the Admiral felt for his island and its turbulent history was demonstrated in the authentic traditional details belonging to the architecture of the villa, which had been decorated with family and traveling memorabilia. This love had been passed down to his daughter, who wonderfully refurbished the house with amazing items, like chiseled marble topped tables set under the arche for the atmospheric dinning pleasure of guests or al fresco breakfast settings amidst palm trees and Schiaparelli shocking-pink bougainvilleas.
Or even, as she enthusiastically had described to me, the restoration of a staircase adorned with antique marble elements that led up to the Kioski – a covered verandah facing the medieval Castle… her favorite chill-out spot after her morning swim, or a restful venue for her afternoon reading.
The villa was such a splendid spectacle embraced by an enchanting scenery, so dreamy and delightful at the same time, the last villa of its kind in the outermost cape of Europe. An exaggerated thought of mine, but so romantic.
It was within a short walking distance from the port. As the boat turned to enter the calmer waters, one of the most beautiful sights of the Mediterranean began to unfold before me. It was something I had not been expecting on such a tiny island. Each house had the form of a small mansion and was painted distinctively. A palette of vibrant colours, not afraid to express themselves in a series of yellows, reds, light blues, garnets, greens and pastel pinks. These beautiful houses, amphitheatrically arranged around the little harbour and with their shutters closed, testified that in older times Kastellorizo had flourished economically with its sailing vessels trans-shipping products in the Mediterranean.
When we moored and safely set foot on land, the captain told us that he would sail back to Turkey and would return in a few hours to get us. The wind having taken off my hat, I worried thinking what would happen if the 7 Beaufort would increase in a few hours. Our luggage was in Turkey, and if he could not come to get us, where would we spend the night on this jewel of an island with the shutters of the houses all closed? Naturally, I was in my own country and, even more naturally, I could fly to Athens and then to Rome, but to be honest I did not feel at all natural. In my travel bag left in the hotel in Turkey, besides my nightly necessities, were my books, maps and, above all, my travel journal. Without them I felt as though I was flitting in limbo!
Quickly though I adapted to the new situation, leaving to chance what was to come. My friends and I enjoyed an exquisite Greek meal, picking at random an open tavern and talking to islanders who happily came to meet us because ιn winter foreigners don’t visit the island. They seemed quite surprised when we told them where we came from, and after lunch they wanted to dance with us, but as the Greek music echoed loudly outside the tavern, I escaped to walk in the little town and feel more closely the descriptions of my friend.
I climbed the streets and I was struck by the incredible cleanliness. Not a leaf, not a single piece of debris anywhere, and the tiny squares were deliciously paved with pebbles. Two locals followed me for camaraderie, and when we reached the cathedral with its beautiful bell tower, I was impressed with the wealth of its interior and the imposing granite columns brought in by sea in 1835 from the temple of Pythian Apollo in Patara of ancient Lycia. The sun was setting and a sweet light, unaffected by the wind, gave its golden hue to the serene atmosphere.
It’s true that Kastellorizo operates its particular magic on every visitor, always with an unexpected twist. The Italian movie Mediterraneo was exclusively filmed on the island, with the wholehearted and active support of the few inhabitants, before going on to win the Oscar for the Best Foreign Movie in 1993. My Italian friends are enchanted when they arrive here with their sailing boat as it is considered one of the last unspoiled paradises of the Eastern Mediterranean. Indeed its scenic harbour and crystal clear waters attract the few cosmopolitan cognoscenti throughout the summer season.
My walking companions left me as I climbed to the medieval castle, restored by the Crusaders in the 14th century, with captivating views to the Turkish coast and the islets that belong to the small archipelago of Kastellorizo. I think that every traveller looks for such solitary moments to realize that there are hidden corners on Earth solely to fill his heart with Beauty. It was such a surprise to see the Admiral’s House again, with its splendid location on the cape. Oh, I could also see the private gate that led directly to the water.
As I was taking shelter in a semi-ruined niche to protect myself from the wind, a friend, who apparently had also decided on a walk-around, saw me and stopped to tell me the news. Some islanders had offered us their homes to sleep in if the captain didn’t come to get us. Their kindness was touching. “Do you worry that he won’t come?” I asked him. “Aren’t you worried?” he replied. Definitely I would have been worried if I had spent all this time thinking of our way back. But as the spectacular view captured me, his words awakened me as if from a dream. I turned and gazed at the mountains of Asia Minor, which had taken on a beautiful pink colour with the setting sun. They seemed so close, as if the distance was merely a short flight for seabirds, free and untouched by passports and borders, immersed in the rhythm of their oneness with nature. Of course, it was an irrelevant thought to the question of my friend, but making it… I saw a moving white sign setting out of the port of Kaş into the open sea.
“He is coming to get us,” I said gently.
He was the Turkish captain who, true to his word, was crossing the sea to reach the island. My friend went quickly to tell the news to our co-travellers and, staying alone, I watched how harmoniously the boat moved among the waves. But what I did not expect was that the wind started to decrease and the waves became less turbulent and foamy. When the boat finally reached the harbour, the sea was almost calm. As I’m not a meteorologist and do not know the science of the winds, I believed that nature had performed its miracle.
Night had fallen when we left Kastellorizo. We slid calmly through the water, returning to the coast of Asia Minor.
*Ι visited again Kastellorizo and I stayed at the Admiral’s House invited by my friend. My wonderful sojourn is described in the book: GREECE, The Dance of the Seas