Part-Time Living on a Historic Greek Island for $1,000 a Month

Growing up in suburban Vancouver, I always wanted to live in a village.

The kind of village where houses fit so snugly together that, if you’re on a hillside overlooking the sea, the adjoining staircases and tongue-and-grooved patios and eaves save you from tumbling headlong to the shore. Where you and your neighbors share lives. Where trips to the village market always take longer than planned, as there are families to ask after, babies to admire, the day’s catch to be viewed, and gossip to share. Where you give yourself time to breathe in the friendliness of the town square—the shopkeepers wishing you kalimera (good day) as you pass, the hikers holding court under the fig trees, and the chattering children waiting at the bus stop.

This kind of quiet goodness is what awaits me every time I come home to Greece. The village of Livadia, on the tiny island of Tilos, is where my partner, Ken, and I have found our perfect European retreat.

As Greece is so far from our home in Vancouver, it didn’t seem a realistic choice at first for a retirement home. But numerous trips to Europe after retiring from teaching convinced me that, yes, this was the part of the world I wanted to visit regularly. And having a place to “hang my hat” would be ideal…particularly if it was on a sunny island, close to an international airport, well serviced by ferries, and offering plenty of opportunities to immerse myself in the local culture and the outdoors.

Since antiquity, the island’s rich flora and fauna—fed by its network of underground springs—has drawn both gods and mortals to its shores. Telos, son of the sun god Helios, came looking for herbs that could heal his mother, and the poetess Erinna was inspired by its natural beauty.

Its year-round population is about 500 people, with the same number of goats, one road, two villages, three honorary monasteries, and plenty of relics from a bygone age. Here you’ll find abandoned villages, swaths of stone fencing, a few toppled castles, and tiny stone chapels hidden in groves of oleander trees.

With its extraordinary birdlife (162 species), rugged hills, and storied past, the island begs to be explored on foot. A typical hike has me on a donkey trail, on a steep hillside with glints of the Aegean below, and white sails and offshore islands just beyond. Paths inevitably tumble down to a secluded cove, where I can enjoy a full salt soak in the Aegean’s crystal waters. The whole experience, apart from the occasional bleat of a lost goat, is blanketed in silence.

I love that life is lived outdoors on Tilos. A typical day on the island starts with a leisurely breakfast on the patio, with fresh Greek yogurt, island eggs, honey, and pastries from the local bakery.

Evenings are a time to socialize, taking in local events, live Greek music, or some blues, courtesy of the expats. Dinners out are well within our budget; a few nights a week sampling Greek fare (a typical dinner of moussaka or souvlaki and a half-carafe of wine averages about $20) keeps our monthly budget well within the range of a basic Canadian pension—about $1,000.

Almost all costs of living are lower in Greece: food, wine, transport (ferry, car rental, taxi, subway, train, bus), clothing, services, household and hardware items. Notably less are utility rates—I pay about $12 a month for electricity, and about $20 a month for WiFi.

Coming from Canada in the spring or fall, we are always greeted by sunny and cloudless skies—with temperatures as high as 80 F in April and November—and the renowned Greek hospitality. The warmth with which guests are welcomed, and the generosity with which they are treated, are due to the bred-in-the-bone tradition of philoxenia: friendship to strangers.

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