SALT community: Young couple build paradise in South Crete

SALT community: Young couple build paradise in South Crete

Welcome to this part of the blog. Once a month I’ll be sharing an interview with a fellow SALT. What’s SALT I hear you ask? Well it’s someone that’s seeking or found a Simple Alternative Lifestyle Transformation. They’ve salted the situation, they’ve added flavour to their lives…they’ve…ok enough of the jokes…

On a serious note, are you looking for SALT? Whether you’re searching or not, I’m sure you’ll love hearing from those that have found what they were looking for. Without further ado, let’s hear from our first SALT.

What are your names, ages?

Paul 42 and Eleni 37. 

Eleni and Paul…

What country did you move from, where do you live now and when did it happen?

We are both from the UK, although I (Eleni) am half Greek. My Greek family are in Thassos the most Northern Aegean Island. We moved to Crete from the UK in 2016, but we actually started building our house here in 2010.

What made you want to change your lifestyle? Was there a catalyst? Was it something you’d been thinking for a while?

I grew up in London but spent most Summers in Thassos visiting my Dad’s Greek side of the family. As we didn’t have a permanent base, we stayed anywhere we could: friends basements, store rooms, sometimes five of us kids all in one bed! My childhood is full of amazing memories: playing on the beaches, boat trips, running around the streets with kids I couldn’t speak with, washing our feet in a bucket before we could enter our YiaYia’s house, unending amounts of watermelon, and unbelievably good weather. By the time I was 16, my parents had bought a little house on Thassos and our summers got longer. We were able to stay in Greece for entire summer holidays. I have always had such a pull to Greece and knew I wanted to live here.  

“My childhood is full of amazing memories: playing on the beaches, boat trips, running around the streets with kids I couldn’t speak with…”

In conjunction with a natural pull towards Greece, there was also a catalyst. The year of 2006 was set to be happy and exciting. We bought our first house together in Andover and got engaged. Sadly that same year also became the saddest time. My Dad was attacked and left brain damaged. Although that horrible story (I won’t go into now, otherwise I’ll turn into a blubbering mess) has shaped a lot of our lives, the biggest dramatic effect for me was, don’t wait for anything.  You never know what is coming and should live for now.  

Why did you choose the country/area/location that you live in now?

It all started in 2005 after I finished Uni. Paul converted a people-carrier into a little camper and we headed off around Europe for an adventure. As we explored Croatia, I just couldn’t shake the pull of Greece. We spent the rest of the summer on the Northern Greek islands before island hopping down the country through late September early October. We gradually watched all the islands close up for winter as the tourist season came to an end. Eventually we got on a ferry to Crete, and the rest, as they say is History…. But I’m going to explain it all anyway!!!! 

Van life…

On arrival in Crete we quickly realised it was a place we wanted to stay.  It felt like the start of summer again. I always said I was born to live in a hot country and Crete is the hottest place in Europe for the longest amount of time. On top of that it has 3 big cities, is really big, and while it has an island feel in places, there’s always plenty to explore. We spent 3 months traveling around Crete in our van and swore that one day we would return, buy a small plot of land, build a small log cabin and live the simple life.

“We spent 3 months traveling around Crete in our van and swore that one day we would return, buy a small plot of land, build a small log cabin and live the simple life.”

Fast forward to 2010 and we returned to the south coast of Crete in search of a plot of land. We had arranged a number of appointments with estate agents on the island. Our main criteria was the romantic notion of owning an olive grove. We looked at houses too, but they never came with the land. We wanted to live somewhere real, not be on holiday. Paul was sure he wanted to be in the middle of nowhere, and I wanted to be on the edge of a village.

After viewing lots of strange and randomly priced and placed plots of land we were almost ready to give up when we were shown a last ditch attempt.  It was in the zone we had wanted but not actually an area we had ever been. We both fell in love with the plot instantly. It had everything, a sea view (we were not expecting that for our budget), an olive grove, rocks and little terraces. We’re situated between two tiny villages (500ms from our little hamlet with only 7 permanent residents, and a 15 minute walk from a slightly larger one that now has a shop….Woooooooo) Despite being near, from our land you can’t see another house.  

Our plot of land before the house was built…

What was your old life like? Give us an idea of a typical day.

We both worked for my parents construction company. I helped my mum with paperwork and Paul and my Brother-in-law picked up the slack from the hole left by my Dad being gone. Paul would leave the house before 6am every morning, he worked in rain and snow, even occasionally in the sun. He didn’t enjoy the work but felt a large amount of responsibility to the family to keep going.

I worked from home; my only daily interactions with people was when I went to the gym.  My life revolved around gym timetables and class schedules. Paul and I saw each other at weekends and in the evenings, but he was tired and I was bored.

Over the next few years, I also worked for several companies as a freelance hiking and cycle guide and a crew member on a variety of charity, sporting events. Whilst I was having a better variety of life, Paul and I were seeing each other less and less. I worked most weekends, Paul worked weekdays.

With our goal set, we put all of our efforts into paying off our mortgage in the UK and saving for some land in Crete. In the UK we lived super, super, frugal. We shopped in the reduced section of the supermarket, put jumpers on instead of the heating and furnished our Andover house with old furniture from donations and the local dump.

In the UK we lived super, super, frugal. We shopped in the reduced section of the supermarket, put jumpers on instead of the heating and furnished our Andover house with old furniture from donations and the local dump.”

After we bought our plot of land in 2010, we spent the next 6 years travelling to and from Crete whenever we could. We saved money, travelled out to Crete, built walls, plotted, planned, became part of the community, before heading back to earn more and so on and so on. 

First we lived in a tent on the land, then a bigger tent, then a car. Next we built a lovely little cabin (3m by 3m) and really did live The Good Life. We washed with a hose, walked into the village daily for water and made friends when we needed somewhere to charge our drill! Eventually we got plans for a 4 bedroom house to be built – I still think we were fine in our little cabin. We used to smugly talk about how we didn’t miss TV, now we lose our shizzle if the internet goes down for a few days!

It took a few years more before we had enough savings and enough of the house finished to decide to take the final plunge, leave the security of the family business and move to Crete.

What was the reaction from friends and family? Was it positive or negative? Did other peoples opinions make you question your decision?

We never questioned our decision, we knew without a doubt that the life we were creating in Crete was the one we wanted. It was a slow burn actually moving here. We had a lot of misunderstanding from people, most thinking we were making a holiday home. I remember my sister asking “What? Are you just going to pick olives all day?” to which I thought, yes please! (We’ve since done that, it’s hard work and we only got 6 litres of oil from a week of picking ha ha).

Homegrown apricots…

What is your new life like?

Varied. I travel a lot for work. Paul spends most of the year here in Crete with trips to the UK to visit family. In the winter we get to live in our house, but through the summer months we rent it out as a holiday home. During these months we live wherever we can; a van on the beach, our old cabin, or if we are lucky we get asked to housesit friends places. A small price to pay for being able to live in our little slice of paradise.

Paul builds and fixes things and is always busy here. Additionally we have bought an old house in the village, that we’re renovating. The version of Paul in Crete is happier, more relaxed and more productive than ever. Leaving here to travel for work as a cycle and hiking guide is hard, but when I’m home we spend quality time together. We probably see each other as much as most couples.

When I am here my days consist of hiking, cycling, gardening, and yoga. I try to create a routine for myself but we are always focusing on different projects so it isn’t easy. This winter, while I was away working, Paul built me a yoga studio (he really is amazing – he made himself a crane and everything!) Unfortunately this Spring’s yoga, hiking and bootcamp retreats have all had to be postponed until next year due to the virus.

What challenges have you faced?

Where do I start! Greek bureaucracy, building a house, living in a building site, the wind, the sun, Greek bureaucracy, learning what was in the food trucks that came to the village before the shop was there, driving to neighbouring villages to sit in the car and use the internet before the village got hooked up, the language, forest fires, ANY official Greek office, growing stuff, killing fruit trees, sheep devouring our vegetables and fruit trees, buying the village house we’re renovating (WHY DID WE DO THAT????!!!!), making friends, sifting through village gossip to get truthful information, missing a pal to have a girly party night with, worrying about Grexit and Brexit and now the Corona Virus…oh and did I mention Greek bureaucracy???!!!!

Have you made any funny language mistakes?

There was the time I ordered pork belly instead of napkins! I also told old ladies to take down their knickers instead of saying it’s raining!

What are your favourite things about your new life?

Sunshine, heat, outdoors, mountains, sea, fresh air and contentedness. Yep, I’m smug!

Is there anything you would do differently in hindsight?

Find and pay someone (ANY AMOUNT OF MONEY) to deal with the Greek bureaucracy.  Not buy the village project…it’s so much extra work, bureaucracy and headaches!

Do you see this as a permanent move? 

YES. This is where are hearts are.

This is where our hearts are…

What would your advice be to others considering a change of lifestyle.

If it is what you want just do it. Whilst dreaming of our life here we watched A LOT of tv shows, A Place in the Sun, A place in Greece, Grand designs, something or other with Sarah Beanie and Never Going Back. We learnt a lot from those shows:

  1. Don’t do it whilst pregnant or planning to be pregnant.
  2. Don’t cut your ties to home, you might want to go back, make it as easy as possible for yourself.
  3. Rip up your timescales and plans, they will never be met!!!

We’ve had a lot of people say “Oh, we would love to do that, but we have kids” as if there are no kids in Greece. If you really want to do it, why wait until retirement? Have the life you want now. Who knows what is coming.

Is there a way that people can follow your journey further?

We have a facebook page EliaPetra – Olive Rock House and on Instagram as @eliapetra and @elenidelis

I love what Eleni and Paul have achieved, they are truly inspiring. Has their story got you dreaming of a Simple Alternative Lifestyle Transformation? What’s your dream SALT like? Have you achieved SALT already? Let me know in the comment section below.

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8 thoughts on “SALT community: Young couple build paradise in South Crete

  1. Hello Paul & Eleni
    I so admire what you have done. Sacrifices and hard work have obviously paid off. I loved reading about your transition to a new life in Crete. I lived there for just one year but loved it. I have some of my best memories there. All the very best to you both.
    Edna K

    1. Thank you. Sometimes we forget about the hard times we had and the work we put in to building the place.

      Writing this and digging out some of the old photos gave us a chance to look back and remember.

      We are pretty proud of ourselves too!!

      Thanks Steph and Matt for this opportunity.

      Stay safe guys xxx

    1. I’m so glad you’re enjoying them. When I login and see comments like yours, I honestly feel so motivated to keep going. Thank you for reading😀

  2. Thank you. Sometimes we forget about the hard times we had and the work we put in to building the place.

    Writing this and digging out some of the old photos gave us a chance to look back and remember.

    We are pretty proud of ourselves too!!

    Thanks Steph and Matt for this opportunity.

    Stay safe guys xxx

  3. Great to read this, a more simple approach to life seems ever more appealing just now. Enjoyed this pics too…even if they did make me pine for Crete even more. Hope you’re both keeping well.

  4. I LOVE reading anything to do with Crete. My sister and I spent every summer, from May through September on Crete with my father. This was from 1980-1985
    My father worked for Namfi , on a telemetry site in Souza Bay. He wasn’t in the Navy, he worked for the US Navy. He tested Missiles. We lived on the opposite side of the island from you. We were just outside of Xania. Our home sat right on the Mediterranean Sea, on The Golden Beach! The best years of my entire life, thus far, are from those summers. Reading your SALT article took me back to those days. I long to visit Crete again. I have got to find a way to make this happen. Congratulations on your beautiful forever life, on the most beautiful place on earth.

    1. It sounds like an idyllic time. I hope you can return to reminisce and make some more lasting memories😀

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