The one piece of baggage you really don’t want to take on holiday is your partner’s mid-life crisis.
When I told Harry that I’d found the perfect destination for a family holiday he immediately rejected the Greek island on the grounds that he’d been there before with an old girlfriend. Gently, I talked him round, and a mere two weeks later we were making the ferry crossing from Corfu to Paxos, where a hire car, a house with a pool, and a legion of romantic ghosts awaited.
“I don’t remember this harbour,” was Harry’s first reaction, as our hydrofoil docked under the gaze of some curious goats. Nor, as became obvious over the following week, did he remember much about Paxos at all; those files had apparently been completely overwritten in the 30 years since his first visit. So instead of wrestling with poignant memories, Harry was free to experience the place afresh as the exhausted, middle-aged father of two young children. This would be our first foreign holiday as a family of four, and our requirements were simple – guaranteed sunshine (in May), a non-touristy atmosphere, some decent beaches, and a house with a pool. Paxos promised to meet them all.
Lying to the west of mainland Greece, in the Ionian Sea, the island has no airport, so has avoided the kind of mass tourism that has blighted neighbouring Corfu. No nightlife, no high-rise developments and no resorts: perfect for a back-to-basics family holiday.
The old-fashioned charm of Paxos was immediately apparent when we found our rental car had been left at the harbour with keys in the ignition, ready for us to drive away. ‘They’re not big on paperwork here,” as our rep, Sam, explained. Our villa, a recently and tastefully modernised farmhouse, was in the centre of the island, near Magazia, a 20-minute drive away. Standing among olive groves, it had ocean views from its pool-side terrace, and a walk-cum-scramble down an overgrown track took us to the edge of the epic Erimitis cliffs.
It’s very relaxing, being on holiday somewhere there isn’t much to do. Our beach of choice was Mongonissi, a small, sandy strip that offered shade and a couple of good tavernas. Among the many facts about Paxos that Harry had forgotten is that the island’s beaches aren’t sandy (Mongonissi is man-made). They’re mainly composed of flat, white stones, which look stunning, and give the ocean that azure clarity you normally only see in brochures, but can be hard going for small feet.
The fantasy Greek island beach – of virgin white sand stretching down to aquamarine water – did lie within reach, however; on the tiny island of Anti Paxos, a short boat trip away. Screwing up our courage, we rented a motor-boat in Loggos. We moored at a jetty at the first beach we came to, Vrika. Here was the dream – the white sand beach, the turquoise water so clear you could practically snorkel without a mask, and the Taverna Vrika, where we feasted on barbecued rockfish.
The Greek way of life is only child-friendly if you don’t adopt a rigid, Gina Ford-style approach to scheduling. In Gaios, the main town, whose harbour-side square is lined with cafés and tavernas, we pitched up expectantly for supper at 6.30. Then we realised that the group sipping coffee at the next table were only just finishing lunch. By 8pm, with the children drooping, we were still the only people in town who seemed to be eating, though the first families had started to emerge for a pre-dinner stroll.
It was at a taverna in Gaios, eating lamb kebabs and feta salad for the fifth meal in succession, that Harry had his first flashback to his earlier visit. “Oh God – I think this is where I asked for a Turkish coffee!” he groaned. He spent the rest of the meal with his head in his hands. Some memories are just too painful to revisit.