I first had seen them when I went on the island of Spetses, performing their routes at dawn carrying people coming out “merrily” from the bars of the old port to Dapia harbor.
I’m talking about the carts, the horse buggies. If you come to the island you will see them all gathered in front of Dapia, quite often until the early morning hours! It is one of the most picturesque images of the city and still preserves a romantic memory of the nice old days.
I noticed at my travels during the years that such carts with horses survived at the coastal old towns, especially those who have an architectural character and perhaps a quintessence of the Belle Époque’s flavor. This happens in Spetses, par excellence, romanticism on horseback and two wheels.
I grabbed an ice cream and started talking with George Thymaras, the president of the Professional Association of Horse Carriers of Spetses.
“These carts first arrived on the island in 1956,” he says. “The first one was brought by a man named Argentinis. They are French, landau type, all hand made … “.
“The golden age was from 1980 to 1995.” He also told me countless tales of famous clients and their truly epic cart rides!
Today there are about 33 Spetsiot coachmen. “The profession has increasing expenses,” said George. “Every coachman must service four horses for each buggy: two horses working in shifts one day and the other two horses on the next day; all horses need a day of rest.
The day is hot. The horse of George sits patiently under the sun in front of the neoclassical mansions at Dapia harbor. Tourists stop and photograph the picturesque buggies. The sea stll shines.
Are there any new men on the job?
“You know, the profession goes from father to son, but gradually it declines …” he replied. “Unfortunately, it has significant maintenance costs plus the tourist season is quite short.”
The classic route (5 km approximately) passes through the old neighborhoods, old port, Agios Nikolaos monastery and Dapia harbor. Other carts make tracks to the north, to Kounoupitsa and the Anargyrios School.
I look at the buggy ornaments and their many colors. Who really makes those carts today?
I found out. A wood carpenter of Spetses, named Nick Kalogiannis. In the beginning he repaired an old buggy which was his father’s and later hr developed his own technique. By now he builds new carts totally by himself. Customers are mostly coachmen in Spetses, but there are also coachmen from Aegina Island and Loutraki town.
A customer approaches … “Old Port” he shouts …
The buggy goes with a certain rhythm, leaving behind a sound made by the petals as they hit the asphalt. It looks like an old movie. Retro-cosmopolitanism in a summer town…
I’m leaving too by my not so romantic scooter
Not so romantic at all…
Where am I?
Spetses Island is located right beside the coast of the Peloponnesus, in the Gulf of Argolis. The easiest way to reach out is by modern speedboats from Piraeus. However, most Spetsiots come from Athens driving to Costa port (next to Porto Heli village), leave the car there and go across to the island by a water taxi. Ahh, yes… I forgot to tell you… that all cars are forbidden on the island!
Info Reservations for the coachmen of Spetses: tel +30 22980-73170.