From the Netherlands to... Crete!

• Category: Interviews

Barbara Westra is a woman from the Netherlands that decided to live in Crete, after visiting the beautiful Greek Island for 8 subsequent years. She has fallen in love with the people, the food, the nature… Barbara describes all the everyday-life elements and the way she perceives them, from her neighborhood to the local little shops, such as the bakery and the place where Cretan raki is distilled. Moreover, she presents her own - new - life and “Mandali”, her shop where Cretan products like olive oil, raki, local honey and artwork are sold.
When was the first time you visited Crete? What aspect of the island made you the most impression?
I visited Crete for the first time in 2000 and from the first day I fell in love with it. The friendly people, the varying nature, the culture, the healthy Cretan food, the way of living, the centuries-old architecture, the rich history; there were so many reasons to return every year. The most impressive aspect of the island is the nature: it is so varying, behind every hill and mountain you can discover something different.
Relocating from Netherlands to Crete is a major life change. What factors contributed into making that decision?
After visiting Crete for 8 years, we wanted to move and start living here. Our children were grown up and led their own lives, so we started looking for the possibility of getting a job and finding a place to live. Our holidays in Crete would always start and end in Georgioupolis, a fishing village at the north coast in the west part of Crete and there we had made a lot of friends. With the help of some friends we both managed to find posts in tourism as well as a small house where we could live in, so the decision was made and in 2010 we could move to Crete.
What charmed you most regarding the village of Kournas? Why did you choose a small mountainous village instead of a larger town, such as Chania or Heraklion?
For the first 6 months we lived in a small hamlet with 28 inhabitants and this was too quiet for us, especially during the winter. We started looking for another house and visited some villages in the neighborhood of our working place. One day we walked in the village Kournas and we knew that this was for us the place to be, the place we wanted to live. The village is small yet lively, with a center where you can observe the daily routine. There are restaurants, a mini-market, a bakery, two cafes, an olive oil factory and two "kazanis" where they distill the Cretan raki. Kournas has also a good atmosphere, as it is a quiet traditional village and has also a nice climate with clean, fresh air. Situated only 5 kilometers from the National Road at the north-coast you can be in Rethymnon in 30 minutes and within 1 hour you are in Chania. So if we want some action we visit the cities, but we prefer living in a village.
Was it an old dream of yours to start your own business? What was your occupation back in Netherlands and was it any relevant to your present one?
In the Netherlands I had studied nursery, and worked in a biological supermarket and in a drugstore with natural healthcare. It was here in Crete that I started working in tourism. I never had the dream of starting my own business, but with all these experiences and my interest in nature (and herbs, food and natural healthcare) I got the idea of starting my own business. It all just came together.
Please give us some info regarding your special shop “Mandali” and the products you sell.
With my shop "Mandali", I try to support the farmers by selling local products like olive oil, honey and raki. I also sell artwork from local artists and  have products from small businesses in Crete for sale. In my shop people are also welcome to ask for information about the area, things to do, possibilities for renting a holiday home etc. At my “story-table” next to my shop everybody is welcome for a chat, make a drawing or write in the guestbook. Local people often join me here when I am making my mandala gift-cards.
You have initiated a series of weekly botanical walks. What was your inspiration?
As a nature lover I have always observed the flowers, herbs and trees and I wanted to learn more about them, so I read, studied and tried a lot of recipes. I am even so interested in the healthy Cretan diet and in the  natural healing methods and here on Crete we have so many herbs, wild vegetables (such as horta) and nuts. We can live a healthy life here. Was it not the Greek father of medicine, Hippocrates, who said: "Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food”? I have learned a lot from the local people in this area and I hope to offer my visitors the chance to discover the beauty and the importance of Crete’s nature.
Do you have another favorite Greek destination?
I have visited Athens and Nafplion and loved both cities. On my wish list there are some Greek destinations that I hope to visit, but until now I don’t have another favorite Greek destination. Crete has it all!
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