Harry Mount

Two countries now exist: Tourist Greece and Real Greece

‘The isles of Greece! The isles of Greece! Where burning Sappho loved and sung, Where grew the arts of war and peace, Where Delos rose, and Phoebus sprung!’

I couldn’t agree more with Lord Byron about the joys of the Greek islands. Here in Cephalonia, the poppies are out, back-lit by a strong spring sun. The swallows are swooping low across the villa, taking little sips from the swimming pool. The tavernas are gearing up for the summer season; the sea bass at lunch was freshly caught this morning.

Still, lucky old Byron never had to deal with a ferry strike between the isles of Greece.

A general strike meant our ferry from Cephalonia to the Peloponnese was cancelled. The alternative was to hire a water taxi for £150 – bearable for tourists; impossible for most Cephalonian locals. The strike was called in reaction to a new government bill, introducing pension cuts and higher social security contributions. The Syriza-run government is cranking up the austerity in return for more bail-out cash.

And yet, despite the strike, Alexis Tsipras, the Syriza leader and Greek Prime Minister, has just made an extraordinary bet with Andreas Andreadis, President of the Association of Hellenic Tourism Enterprises. Tsipras bet Andreadis that 2016 will break the tourism record of 2015. The loser will buy dinner for the winner in a restaurant overlooking the Acropolis.

The funny thing is that, come October, Andreadis may well pick up the tab as the sun dips down below the Parthenon. I was unlucky enough to catch an off-season ferry strike. Even the hard-line unions are unlikely to call one in high season, and risk the collapse of tourism – the one shining beacon in Greece’s bankrupt economy.

I would say to anyone thinking of booking a summer holiday in Greece – go right ahead.

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