Inspirational Traveller: Girl Gone Greek
Rebecca Hall is a co-author of the Rough Guides to Greece, author of Greek-based novel, Girl Gone Greek, travel writer, and all-round Greece expert. British born, she moved to Greece 10 years ago, and has never looked back. We sat down to ask her some questions.
What drew you to Greece in the first instance?
I’d been coming to Greece since a young kid on holiday with family and I think I subconsciously grew to love the country; the food, the people and, as I grew older, I appreciated how the Mediterranean lifestyle was so different to that of our own in the UK. I came out on a full time basis to initially teach English, and fell in love with the country even more.
1. Traditional Greek church, 2. Swimming in Zakynthos, 3. Traditional island streets, 4. View from Thera
And what made you decide to stay?
I think primarily how different it is from my own culture – and how I feel it suits me better. Especially the weather. To stay in a place where the weather is beautiful creates the warmth and friendliness of the people around you. I feel this on a daily basis. People have filotimo – friendliness towards others. You can be alone in Greece, but never really lonely.
During your time in Greece, have you always lived in Athens, or have you been based elsewhere at times?
Initially I started out my first year in a small Greek village in the mainland, teaching English. It was a great intro to the Greek lifestyle as it wasn’t a touristy village and helped me integrate and gain a better perspective of every day Greek life.
When you decided to move to Athens, how did you manage to integrate into the big Greek city lifestyle?
I used to visit Athens on weekends when I lived in the village, so I had made some Greek friends (Facebook groups are great for these type of things) and then my network spread from there. I live in a Greek neighbourhood in Athens, so this makes interacting with Greeks on a daily basis easier. I have a mix of Greek and British friends, but mainly Greek.
Ancient ruins in Athens, 2. Athens Marina, 3. Peloponnese, 4. Athens coastline
For anyone visiting, what are your absolute must see or do experiences in Athens, and why?
A street art tour of the city – you get to see an alternative side of Athens
Anafiotika – an ‘island’ neighbourhood beneath the Acropolis. It’s a little hard to find but with a map of the city, it’ll be pointed out. It has whitewashed houses, cobbled lanes and is just like being on a Greek island. It has an interesting history behind it too.
Hire a car and take a half hour drive out of the city centre to Mount Parnitha where you’ll find the 10,000 acre abandoned Royal Estate of Tatoi. It’s a beautiful area with countryside all around. You wouldn’t think you were near the captial.
And outside of Athens, what are your other Greece recommendations for visitors?
Greece is such a varied country: the cities and islands – but a lot of people when coming on holiday tend to miss out the mainland, or just think of the Peloponnese. I’d encourage people coming to Greece to explore more of the mainland; for example, have a skiing holiday in Arachova, take a visit the ancient site of Delphi which is further on and then take in the monasteries of Meteora, sitting on top of these magnificent geological rock formations.
In your opinion, which is the best island for:
Foodies? Just about all of them, seriously! There are special dishes relevant to all islands.
Peace & Quiet? Halki
Lefkada, 2. Rhodes, 3. Kos, 4. Symi, 5. Kalymnos, 6. Santorini, 7. Halki, 8. Mykonos
Your novel, Girl Gone Greek, is based in Greece, what is it about the country that inspired you to write a 45,000+ words novel?
As Greece became more and more embroiled in the debt crisis (I came out just at the start of it) and more and more European countries seemed to be blaming the country and the people for its lifestyle, I recognised that what I was reading in the papers was not the experience I had of this lovely country. So I wanted to try to pen something that could appeal to a wide audience and help them see and appreciate a different Greece – one that helps people understand we all have cultural differences and that’s ok. Hence Girl Gone Greek was born. I am a girl, and I had ‘gone Greek’. It’s semi-fictional.
Which other literature based in Greece do you love, and would want recommend to readers?
I’ve been inspired by a novelist Chrissie Parker who writes historical fiction and includes a lot of research. Her novel ‘Among the Olive Groves’ - based in Zakynthos island - is one such book that spurred me on and grabbed me from the outset.
You helped create the Rough Guide to Greece & the Rough Guide to the Greek Islands which, to many, sounds like the dream job. What was the best bit about researching Greece for it?
I was fortunate to be able to visit & experience many parts of the country I’d never been to before, nor heard of! Thus I grew to love the country and its people even more.
And the hardest part?
Be prepared for long days; interviewing hoteliers, restauranteurs and places of interest, checking the best places to put into the book and thinking, ‘What would the readers want to have recommended to them?’ Also, the travel can take a long time as ferry schedules don’t always align up. But it’s all part of the fun – it teaches you to be organsied.
Greece has more than 6000 islands. If you had to recommend just one for a tourist to visit, which would it be, and why?
Symi in the Dodecanese islands is my favourite. It’s aesthetically beautiful and whilst it doesn’t have many sandy beaches, it has great platforms to swim off. Its lack of airport means it doesn’t attract a package holiday scene, but visitors can still being reach it from Rhodes by ferry.
And, with all of that to see - how would you recommend navigating a few islands in a short trip?
Choose a starting point that has an airport. i.e. Athens where you can visit islands such as Halki, Aegina and Agistri in only one hour so you can either do day trips from Athens or hop between easily.
Or fly to Santorini or Mykonos in the Cycladic chain and tour from there, or Rhodes or Kos in the Dodecanese chain of islands and once again, connect with the great ferry services.
1-4. Picturesque villages of Santorini