Margarita’s Olive Press is a modern gem of a book of Greek travel writing, in which the author falls in love with and renovates a property on Zakynthos.
Press is the name of one of several properties, mostly owned by the same
family, which cluster together as semi-ruins in the extreme north of the Ionian
island of Zakynthos. Rodney Shields had been looking for a house to buy
somewhere on Zakynthos, somewhere away from the tourist resorts of the south
like Laganas, when someone shows him Margarita’s Olive Press. The owner,
Margarita, might be willing to sell
him the property, if the price is right.
What follows is several years of, first, negotiating to buy the property, and then renovating it, and then delicately negotiating to buy the other handful of run-down properties around the Olive Press. This is tricky (if entertaining for the reader), as Greek properties and land are frequently owned by several siblings, who may or may not agree on what to do with them.
The properties may be derelict, and the owners a few hundred
miles away in Athens with no intentions of ever living in them, but they can
still act as if they’re being asked to part with a sumptuous Mediterranean
villa, complete with two swimming pools.
Margarita’s Olive Press
One disadvantage of the Olive Press – or advantage,
depending on your point of view – is that it is not easily accessible. It’s on
a hillside in the extreme north of Zakynthos, about an hour’s drive from the
capital and main source of supplies, Zakynthos Town, and only reachable by foot
on overgrown footpaths that have scarcely been used in years.
The location doesn’t bode well for hiring builders to do the
necessary renovation work, to make the Olive Press inhabitable. You not only
need a willing builder, but a builder with a donkey, to carry supplies from the
nearest road to the house.
It’s a situation which I would run a mile from, though you understand why someone wants to enjoy this remote and mostly idyllic location. It proves to be a marathon task for the author, who travels back and forth to Zakynthos year after year, sometimes without his wife, first to buy the property (Margarita likes to string out the negotiations) and then to carry out the building work. This being Greece, no-one is in a rush… except for the long-suffering author.
Cliffs on Zakynthos
Rodney Shields served as a lieutenant with the British Royal
Marines and after studying language courses at four different European
universities, he graduated from Oxford. He became Managing Director of Britain’s
oldest management consultancy.
A Great Greek Read
The author strikes up many friendships with people who live
around him, and with the lawyer who helps him negotiate his various contracts. It’s
a great cast of characters, many of whom prove to be overwhelmingly helpful and
generous, like the Greeks we know from holidays there. But others… not so much.
It’s a funny and touching read, one of the best books about
Greece I’ve read in several years. The scenes towards the end where the Olive
Press and the other lovingly renovated buildings are threatened by a huge fire
which engulfs the northern part of Zakynthos are dramatic and almost unbearable
to read. If you want a true portrait of life on Zakynthos, or in the Greek islands
generally, get yourself a copy of Margarita’s
Other Greece book pages
The very thorough A-Z Guide to Santorini by Tony Oswin is now in its 15th edition, a sure sign that the guidebook is both popular and kept up-to-date.
Heaven on Earth is a collection of 19 travel pieces about Greece by Mike Gerrard.
If planning a trip to Greece, what are the best books about Greece to read before you go, or to take with you, to give you a sense of place?
A Thing of Beauty by Peter Fiennes describes ‘Travels in Mythical and Modern Greece’ and places the Greek Gods in the context of modern-day Greece.
Greece Book Reviews on the Greece Travel Secrets website with reviews of the best guidebooks to Greece, the Greek Islands, Athens, Crete and elsewhere.
Taverna by the Sea is an account by Jennifer Barclay of her summer spent working in a taverna on Karpathos and a welcome new book of Greek travel writing.
Wild Abandon by Jennifer Barclay and published by Bradt Guides is A Journey to Deserted Places of the Dodecanese islands in Greece, including Rhodes and Kos.
The Summer of My Greek Taverna by Tom Stone is a memoir of his time on the Greek island of Patmos in the Dodecanese, running a restaurant.
The Bradt Guide to Northern Greece is a detailed guide to Thessaloniki, Halkidiki, Macedonia, Thrace, The Pelion, The Sporades and the rest of Northern Greece.
Greece Travel Secrets reviews the photography book Monemvasia with extracts from works by Yiannis Ritsos and Nikos Kazantzakis.
Mermaid Singing by Charmian Clift is a fine example of 1950s travel writing about the Greek island of Kalymnos in the Dodecanese.
The Lonely Planet guide to the Greek Islands is a thorough and helpful guide to all the Greek island groups, with Athens included.
The latest edition of the Lonely Planet travel guide to Greece is a comprehensive 750-page guidebook to the whole country.
Lonely Planet Crete is an excellent and thorough guide of almost 300 pages to the largest of the Greek islands.
Ikaria by Meni Valle, brings together the best and healthiest Greek recipes with an evocative travelogue about Ikaria, one of the world’s Blue Zone places.
Peel Me a Lotus by Charmian Clift is a Hydra travel writing classic, describing her family’s life on this tiny Greek island near Athens in the 1950s.
There are many great Greek poets, with two authors winning the Nobel Prize for Literature and names include Sappho, Cavafy, George Seferis and Odysseus Elytis.
Fire on the Island is a romantic thriller novel by Timothy Jay Smith set on a fictionalised version of the town of Molyvos on the island of Lesbos.
Eurydice Street, A Place in Athens by Sofka Zinovieff is an honest account of what it’s like to move to Athens and live as a foreigner, learning Greek customs.
Greece Travel Secrets reviews the book Culture Trails by Lonely Planet, which has a section on Artistic Athens and 51 other perfect weekends for culture lovers.
The Bradt Guide to the Peloponnese is the best book on the Greek region which includes attractions like Mycenae, Epidavros, Olympia, Monemvasia and Nafplion.
The 2022 edition of the A-Z Travel Guide to Kos is the 15th edition of the best and most comprehensive guidebook to Kos in the Dodecanese islands of Greece.
A Rope of Vines by Brenda Chamberlain is an evocative memoir of the author’s time living on the Greek island of Hydra in the early 1960s.
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