Who would want to bring nothing but memories and photos home from holiday? Wouldn’t you just love a little souvenir or two that reminds you of the good times? But then, will you bring it out or use it often enough? My apartment has a fair bit of stuff in, and I hate throwing things away, yet I love to bring more stuff home. So, holiday souvenirs got to be not just pretty, but also tasty or functional and not just fester in a drawer somewhere.
But what can you bring from Greece that may be unique, useful, tasty, and that you will use again and again?
So, if you want some things that you may not get easily elsewhere or that remind you of that nice holiday in Greece every day, here’s a handy little shopping guide – for that greek plaster head or a “This is Sparta T-shirt”, you need no guide – you find them everywhere!
Cosmetics and Skincare: Korres and Apivita are Greek brands, manufactured in Greece, sold in Greek pharmacies, using a lot of ingredients and fragrances reminiscent of Greece such as spearmint, mountain sage, honey, almond, olive… the list goes on. Especially Korres is available widely outside Greece, but I love to go to shops and pharmacies to check out what’s new and to try the latest products. Many products, especially shower gels and shampoos, cost much less in Greece, too.
In Athens, Korres has a small store on 4 Ermou right by Syntagma Square, although nothing justifies the special trip there, as it is very small, and you get excellent choice in most pharmacies, and often better deals, like 2 for 1 shower gels and shampoo.
Korres is now cruelty-free (never tested on animals, no longer associated with Johnson and Johnson, not selling in China), they list how many ingredients are natural (often >90%) many products are vegan.
Apivita has a store in Kolonaki ( a nice area in itself, and a short walk from the Benaki and Byzantine Museums), which I have not visited, but its hailed an “experience shop” with a spa, barber, lecture hall, tearoom – you get the picture. Probably a nice place for a stop from the hot Athens sun? As the name suggests, their products aren’t vegan (they use beeswax and propolis) but all are vegetarian, contain 90-100% natural ingredients and are, of course, not tested on animals.
Both brands have smaller stores at Athens Airport, but if you fly a budget airline (which use the satellite terminal) there will be no access to the nice shops, only a tiny overpriced delicatessen and Duty Free. And of course, if you want to buy but can’t quite make it to Greece, Korres and Apivita both sell online at their own stores or on Amazon.
Herbs, Spices, dried foods, nuts: You can shop ’til you drop here. Pretty much every town will have a shop that sells them in good quality, some organic. We went to Aegina, where really on every corner there is a stall selling locally grown pistachios. Nice ones. They literally force some freshly roasted ones on you so you can convince yourself of their quality.
In Athens, the Central Market and Evripidou Street to the South are a good place to buy nuts, dried fruits, herbs and spices. If you are a hardcore vegetarian or of a somewhat delicate constitution, bear in mind that the Central Market is mostly for meat and fish. They have tons of spices – and the ones used in Greek Cuisine are a great quality and cheap. Even supermarket spices and herbs tend to be good. And apart from those that grow in other climate zones, all tend to be grown in Greece. Oh, and if you use saffron, buy it here – its mostly organically grown and reasonably priced and goes as “krokos”. During the daytime, the best way to get there is to go to Omonoia Square and walk south (avoid at night).
Some really quintessential Greek herbs and spices you may want to stock up on are Greek Mountain Tea (Tsái tou vounoú; which is somewhat tricky to find outside Greece but is a great tasting tea with similar health properties to Green tea and is great in winter). Also good are chili peppers, the excellent Greek Oregano which you can buy by the kilo, spearmint, thyme – all are locally grown.
Also other teas like Verbena, mint and marjoram (it really tastes good and is great for an upset stomach) are sold here.
Something that really doesn’t go under “spices” is mastic. Its a resin from a tree of the pistachio family, and is almost exclusively grown on the island of Chios, and can be very expensive outside Greece. It contains essential oils and resin acids and is thought to be antibacterial (kills H. pylori, the bug instrumental in causing some stomach ulcers and stomach infections, apparently), antiviral, anti-ageing, and anti-oxidant. You can buy the resin in shops, even supermarkets and use it for cooking or chew it like a gum, or you can buy mastic chewing gum everywhere – it is said to be great for oral health, preventing parodontitis and tooth decay.
Greek Sandals: And shoes in general, they are very reasonably priced here, but lets stick to classic greek sandals. The most famous craftsperson in Athens is The Poet Sandalmaker in Aghias Theklas Street. He’s straightforward to find and easily combined with a trip to the flea market and the Agora: get off the subway in Monastiraki, walk along Ermou with the Agora / flea market site to your left, and keep your eyes peeled, you see the shop in a small lane to the right. They will move, at some stage, to their new store near the Acropolis Museum – the store is already there but as of October 2017, empty!
The family made sandals for Maria Callas, Aristotle Onassis, Jackie Kennedy and a few other famous people, you you can wear their styles, too! They are simple Greek sandals with a leather sole reinforced with rubber, and come in tan leather (although made to order styles are available). The tiny shop is quite a sight (and the master often in residence) and his assistants will help you choose the right size and adjust straps for you – or make you a pair of sandals within hours if they don’t have them in stock. Prices remain reasonable between 40 to 60 EURO. Another member of the family has a rival store just around the corner, which is called Olgianna Melissinos Sandals where you just keep walking down Ermou then turn left into Normannou Street. I liked the styles more on their websites (colours, clean modern styles, metallic and black leather) but found the shop itself lacklustre with barely any sandals on show let alone to try in my size. Since I try not to buy leather and buy one leather item a year at the most, I got “Galiko” sandals from the Poet – I’ll update if they fall apart!
Jewellery: Last not least, bring some bling! In Athens, I saw lots of people selling jewellery from small tables in the street, especially in Monastiraki and the Plaka. Some of them were really unique and beautiful, with the actual ear pieces made from silver or surgical steel. So, it’s worth looking a bit closer.
And then, you get a plethora of gold and silver shops, in almost every place. In Athens, a cluster of nice-looking gold and silver shop for the lower to medium budget is in Aiolou Street, especially at its (more touristy) Southern end by the Tower of the Winds. Walk over to Syntagma Square and into Voukourestiou Street, not only will you find high-end international jewellery brands, but also some very high end and innovative Greek jewellery brands.
The “matia” evil eye charms, ancient greek medals and olive branches feature heavily, in both gold and silver, and a lot if of really nice quality.
You have to look a little harder for Byzantine style jewellery (for inspiration, go and look at the jewellery in the Byzantine Museum with its intricate details and great style) but I have heard Byzantino in Adrianou Street, the main street in the Plaka, is one such shop. And of course, Ilias Lalaounis is the big name in Greek jewellery, he has some Byzantine-inspired collection, too. Twenty years ago, his designs were really elaborate and used lots of golds with precious stones, but my friend told me since the crisis the designs have become a lot more simple and affordable – and they now even have pieces in silver, but in far fewer designs. And if Palaeolothic jewels take your fancy – they happily oblige. And then, of course, there is the more modern style of Katerina Ioannidis, Ileana Makri and others.
Olive wood kitchen items: I already have a batch from Italy, so I did not look for them specifically, but they are sold throughout the Plaka. Olivewood is great for chopping board and cooking spoons – very hard wearing and looks great.
A Coco-Mat bed. Just kidding! But Coco Mat is a 100% Greek Company that makes all their mattresses, blankets and pillows from natural materials in their own factory in Xanthi in Northern Greece, and they are nearly 100% climate neutral and are sold internationally.
Another thing: services cost less than in Northern Europe. So if you need a haircut/colour/pedicure/massage – get it here. Someone in the shop will usually speak some English and business is still difficult for small businesses, so by buying Greek, you will support those small businesses. Also, as I mentioned earlier, the Greek opticians have international selections of frames (with an emphasis on Italian and even Greek) and are worth looking at.
There will be a ton more souvenirs you could buy, such as olives, honey, ouzo, wine, fridge magnets, Grecian dresses and gold olive wreaths, but I said I’ll concentrate on the useful and more practical ones (okay, jewellery always will find its way in). I love to hear about your Greek Souvenirs and where you bought them – is there a place you would go back to and that you would recommend?