It is true, “No man is an island, complete in himself; every man is a part of every thing” but it is also true that for every man an island exists somewhere in the world – or a piece of dry land, the physical shape is of little importance – that has always been waiting for him, able to transmit asensation of familiarity upon first sight; a sensation that makes it seem as if he has always lived there.
This is exactly what happened to Ruggero Ravagnan more than thirty years ago when he first stepped on to Donoussa, a tiny Cyclade not far from Naxos. It is a place that still today has not been invaded by mass tourism. This bond was created by chance during a solitary journey without a destination. It then grew over time, year after year, and allowed him to get to know every aspect of the island: its water, its beaches, the faces of the islanders, and – obviously – its cuisine.
It is this intimate knowledge which has allowed him also to observe the island’s rapid changes over recent years first hand. These brought Donoussa to a cross-roads: a decision between chasing afterthe modernity of places like Mykonos or looking for a growth model that did not abandon the island’s traditions but rather valorized them. From here he and his wife Pina Toscani developed the concept Αυλή meets Grigoris: the idea that development based on quality is possible and could be the best way for an island like Donoussa to ensure a future for the younger generations while safeguardingthe work inherited from preceding generations.
The meeting with Dimos e Giorgos Doumouras did the rest: the two brothers, just a few years after having returned to their granparents’ island to live, had opened Αυλή a small restaurant with the objective of proposing quality Greek cooking through simple authentic traditional island dishes, far from the tourist stereotypes which now invade a good part of the Greek taverns. It was a goal adhered to strictly: by planting a vegetable garden, for example, where they produce the vegetables served every day on the menu. The menu also offers cheeses from the Cyclades, beans from Schinoussa, extra virgin olive oil from Crete and other typical products from the nearby islands.
It is a model based on simplicity and quality which Ruggero Ravagnan also adopted in his creationof Grigoris. It was natural for him to wonder how he could transform a pleasure into an instrument able to foster growth through tourism, but also to valorize manual labor such as agriculture, pasture, and the gathering of salt. These are activities that once thrived, but which now have practically disappeared due to emigration which has reduced the resident population to 163 inhabitants. Donoussa is too far not only from the mainland, but also from the major islands, and it is separated, especially in winter, from the rest of the world by the water which has begun for many to resemble the enemy.
“The basic idea – as Ruggero has said – is to preserve and to valorize the local resources (for example by giving new life to local agriculture and farms), to learn to appreciate not only the food but also the manual labor that is at the base of the production process.”
It is a valorization that could stimulate a rebirth of the small production businesses: the collection of salt, for example, which now has almost disappeared on the island. The old saltworks are now abandoned, despite the fact that the salt is considered to be of superior quality. The scarce gathering (of salt) is left to the individual work of the few fishermen left. The cultivation of island tomatoes could also be revived. They are ever more rare in this group of islands – however theyrequire very little water to grow.
The project was celebrated on 3rd July with its official launch at the Αυλή meets Grigoris event:an entire evening where the pizza and bread of Grigoris, together with island products and ingredients, gave life to an evening filled with good food and merriment, but especially with the sensation of being at the beginning of a shared journey destined to repeat itself over the following years.
A journey which could help Donoussa to rediscover its future (and a bit of its lost people) thanks to the splendid water which surrounds it, and a offer for tourists that is unique and different from all the others.
Enabling it to truly become the Greek island that does not exist …yet.
by Teresa De Masi