For many British expats, the popular Greek holiday islands of Crete, Corfu or Kefalonia appeal. But Chris and Kathryn Wicks from West Malling in Kent preferred the idea of being connected to the Greek mainland, and fell in love with the beauty of the chestnut-forested Pelion peninsula jutting out into the Pagasitic Gulf between Athens and Thessaloniki.
A five-hour drive from Athens, or four hours from Thessaloniki (served by Ryanair and easyJet) it is an area popular with the Greeks every August and really is worth the trek. It’s a secret paradise that was once the summer playground of the gods, including Zeus who resided at nearby Mount Olympus.
It was whilst on holiday on the lushly forested peninsula, immediately after 9/11, that the Kent couple, who loved to ski and sail, suddenly decided they wanted to live there. “We had never contemplated moving away from the UK and I was four years away from receiving my police force pension, yet we found some land, a ruined cottage and decided we wanted an adventure,” says Chris, now 60, who had worked in London for 30 years, whilst Kathryn, now 55, has been a medical secretary.
"We wanted to escape the grey skies here, in such a small place, we have everything we want, from skiing in the winter, to hiking and boating in summer.” In 2005 they moved out to Greece — keeping a flat in the UK as a base, should they want to return — and renovated their “cottage in the garden”, the stone farm building they lovingly restored as a holiday let. It has two bedrooms and two baths with a covered terrace outside for al fresco dining. Seventy metres away on their three-acre plot is their own home, a three-bedroom property they built themselves (for a total of €230,000, including landscaping). Their land, at the top of a valley 4km from the sea, offers olive trees, a stream and looks towards forests.
“We rent it out when not offering it to family and friends and we love meeting the people who come and stay,” says Chris. “We’ll always have a glass of wine with them, show them around and maybe even go for a trip in our boat.”
And what about living full time in Greece? “There’s a lot of freedom, space, people have a lot of spare time, so this is both a great bonus but can also be frustrating if you want to get something done quickly. It’s a very paper-dominated society,” he says, referring to the infamous bureaucracy. The couple have made both Greek and expat local friends, joined a choir and have also set up a 500-strong group dedicated to restoring and walking the ancient pathways that criss-cross the peninsula: Friends of the Kalderimi.
6 Tips for Finding Property in Greece:
- Be very clear about what you want from living in Greece: summer holidays or year-round living.
- Do you want close contacts with an expat community, integration with Greek life, culture and people or a mixture of both?
- Learn the Greek alphabet and some Greek language. Don’t rely on Greeklish.
- Choose your location carefully and consider long-term rental first.
- At home, would you make your important decisions on the advice of your friendly barman or landlord. Stay businesslike and consult professionals, real estate agents, accountants and lawyers.
- Take your time, shake hands on a deal but be clear you will only buy a property that is 100 per cent legal.