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Finikounda: Evolution or Ruin PDF Printable Version E-mail



John Foster

September 2006

For the last several years we have spent part or whole of a winter season near Finikounda, a small fishing port at the southern end of the Messinian Peninsula, deep in the Greek Peloponnese. A highlight of all these visits has been the time we have spent with John Foster, talking. walking, eating, reading, discussing and talking again, one with another.

In this brief article, John discusses the possible future(s) for Finikounda as it slowly (as is the Greek way) changes (transmogrifies?) itself from fishing village to holiday resort.

John writes:

Not infrequently holiday visitors ask me whether or not it is my opinion that tourism is ruining, or indeed has already ruined, Finikounda.

During the dozen or so years that I have known it, there have been many changes in and around Finikounda, most of them consequences of an exponential increase each year in the numbers of both tourists and of ex-patriate incomers from northern Europe.

Often, when I impart this information, I seem to disappoint the visitors to whom I speak; to make them feel somehow short-changed, as though they had contracted to buy one thing and been sold something less. Nor does my referring to them, and me, as tourists add much amity to our conversations. It is as though they believe themselves to be something other than tourists; as if foreign holiday makers and longer term incomers are playing no part in the changes to Finikounda that are largely, if not exclusively, direct consequences of mass tourism and the immigration of materially wealthy north Europeans.

When, a dozen or so years ago, I first visited Finikounda the town had long since ceased to be totally dependant on fishing and farming; tourism had already become economically important to the town. Many of the present seafront tavernas were already well established and most, if not all, of the present town centre hotels were up and running. In those days though there was scant concern for northern European tastes; Finikounda at that time was, in style and with respect to the fare on offer there, like the overwhelming majority of its visitors: Greek. Tourism has brought with it many little touches to make visitors' holidays in Finikounda more enjoyable. Presently, folk who prefer to begin their day with a 'full English breakfast' can do so; those who prefer vinegar on their chips rather than lemon juice can have it; and imported beer is now freely available to those who prefer something to drink other than ouzo and the exotically flavoured local wines - drinks that, not so long ago, were the extent of choice in most of the Kafeneons.

My opinion is that, far from spoiling Finikounda, pandering to north European visitors has brought many improvements to the town. The availability of northern European food and drink does not concern me personally, nor does it in any way affect my enjoyment of Finikounda.

Finikounda in 1996 was a poor place. Out of season it had about it something of a third world or at least East European feel; for a relatively prosperous, socially sensitive foreigner it was a not altogether comfortable place to be. In this respect tourism has brought with it very visible improvements to the standard of living, not only of the indigenous population but also of the many economic-refugee immigrant families from ex-communist Balkan countries, who have prospered largely from the Finikounda building boom.

The increasing prosperity of Finikounda has not been entirely underpinned by tourism. In all areas of Greece with which I am currently familiar, there have been changes effected that some people regard as great improvements and others as heartbreaking cultural destruction. Italian stylishness is widely apparent in the refurbishing of all types of buildings - in cafes and restaurants in particular. Homogeneous European style is clearly replacing Greek neo-classicism, even in places far off of beaten tourist tracks.

Improving road infrastructure has made many hitherto barely accessible beaches and tracts of land accessible and ripe for development, and the monitoring of Euro-legislation has had a positive effect on many things which cause concern to holidaymakers: the standards of sanitation in public places for one.

Along with many of the visitors with whom I fall into conversation, I am nostalgic for what has been lost. My first visits to Greece were made over forty years ago, when it was very different from the country it is today. So too, I remember, was Britain: supermarkets were on high streets; banks had managers; pubs had very restricted opening hours; and low cost foreign travel was in its infancy. On the one hand Greece, in those days, was a far distant holiday destination with very few home comforts to offer to its tourists. On the other hand, for the adventurous few, Greece was in many ways a reasonably accessible and largely untouched paradise. Just getting there was more than something of an adventure and travelling around Greece, largely on gravel roads that were invariably deeply pot-holed and rutted, was, even on the newest of the ancient over-crowded buses, slow malodorous and uncomfortable.

Beaches were more likely to be littered with washed up flotsam and jetsam than sunbathers. The shanty tavernas were, it is true, rather more romantic in their simplicity but there was nothing romantic about the stinking fly-blown holes behind them that served as toilets and whose noxious and penetrating odours vied with the mouth-watering aromas emanating from the grill. Accommodation too could be rather more basic than it is today. I clearly remember renting a room, one of four arranged two-by-two each side of a corridor, at one end of which was the front door (the only door!) to the building and at the other a toilet and shower cubicle that I foolishly believed served only the four rooms of the house. Although the shower worked unusually well for those times, showers had to be taken seated on the WC directly under the dinner-plate sized shower head fixed directly above it! On the morning after my arrival, following a night of constantly interrupted sleep, I had learnt from my landlord that the toilet adjacent to my room was the only ceramic 'throne' in the village and as such was used by a very large proportion of the seemingly insomnious local population.

Nostalgic as they may be for an imaginary away-from-it-all rural Greece, few of its present visitors, I believe, would really want to spend their holidays at Finikounda if 1960's conditions yet prevailed there. One visitor I recently heard of certainly would not. On her arrival at the Finikounda Hotel she stripped her bed to search for the impermeable protective sheet between mattress and bedding that she expected to be there. Finding none, she summoned her holiday representative to ask if she, the holiday maker, "should be expected to sleep in a bed contaminated with other people's body fluids!" The rep agreed to make arrangements for some kind of impermeable material to be fitted between mattress and sheet and politely asked if everything else was in order. "Don't go away yet," the visitor replied, "I haven't checked the shower yet!"