The Zouganeli family of four is located behind the beautiful Rizes farm, which reminds us of the authentic Mykonian life and the traditional side of the island. Nikolaos and Panagiota Zouganeli, together with their children, Maroulio and Giannis, have created a small oasis just outside the village of Ano Mera, which has been operating for the last three years, and they introduce us to their way of life and habits. Maroulio, despite her young age (21 years old) spoke to us about the decision to enter the tourism sector and offer an alternative experience to someone who will be interested in learning more about the tradition and history of the Cycladic island.
“At Rizes we combine folklore with gastronomy, but also the agricultural part, because we have our own crops and our own animals. The options that our guests have are many”.
“We will all wake up early enough in the morning to start our works”
Rizes is a multifunctional farm, as Maroulio insists on characterizing it at every opportunity. But what does this mean? “At Rizes we combine folklore with gastronomy, but also the agricultural part, because we have our own crops and our own animals. The options that our guests have are many. They can come to eat at our restaurant, make use of our activities (such as cooking lessons or making bread), wander around our place and learn about the architecture of Mykonos and the traditional habits of its people or just get to know us” Maroulio explains. Also, a new addition is the possibility of riding in the area, which accommodates 32 horses. “Anyone who wishes can take riding lessons. At the same time, we organize horse rides, which end in a picnic on the beach. It is truly a unique experience”, he added.
Host and guide in this experience, is the Mykonian family, which continues to live with the tradition and customs, which are passed from one generation to another. Now the daily life of all four members of the Zouganeli family is full of work, for the better and more efficient operation of their farm – or as they call it, of their village. “We will all wake up early enough in the morning. Especially my father wakes up at 5 in the morning, as he makes the bread and goes to feed the horses. My mother will go to get some supplies for the store and when she returns, she will take care of the restaurant, as well as the accounting, since she has also taken over the financial part. Then, we take on the role of the host, where we welcome the people to our home”, Maroulio explains.
“There is a great response from the world, especially from families with young children”
Rizes are located in Maou in Ano Mera, on the road to Fokos. There, the Zouganeli family grows fruits and vegetables, which are used in recipes for their restaurant dishes. Tomatoes, eggplants, zucchini, cucumbers, peppers, lettuce, watermelons and melons are some of the vegetables and fruits that are grown every summer. This is a part that seems to attract the interest of parents who have young children and Maroulio explains to the Mykonos Post the reason: “There is a great response from the world, especially from families with young children, because parents want their children to be informed in an experiential way about how to grow the products they see ready-made in supermarkets. At the same time, children show great interest in contact with animals, as most of them come from cities. Therefore, such a thing is not familiar to them at all”.
“Many foreigners want to get to know the traditional side of Mykonos, and not just parties, fun and luxury”.
Most of the farm visitors seem to be tourists. On an island like Mykonos, which is basically known for its fun and intense nightlife, it sounds a bit strange to have such a large response from foreigners to an alternative tourism. However, there are many foreign tourists who want to learn and get to know a different side of the island. The side that has a strong tradition and local customs. “Many foreigners want to get to know the traditional side of Mykonos, and not just parties, fun and luxury. They are very interested to see this. Quite often, they tell us that they have read about us or heard very positive comments, so they want to know what it is, which is discussed so much”, Maroulio comments characteristically.
“Hospitality was something we always had in our home”
The Zouganeli family has always lived a classic, Greek, traditional life in Mykonos. The farm was their home. They have been taking care of it for many years. However, the time came when they wanted to go one step further and enter the tourist sector, but without losing their identity and authenticity. “We have always lived this way. We have always lived in the traditional way. We had our crops, our animals, our festivals. Our house was always full of people, since my mother kept making tables. That is, what we do now is not much different from what we were doing then. We just said to do it now on a professional level and deal with the tourism part. Hospitality was something we always had in our home”.
“I want to pass this feeling on to our visitors. The concept of hospitality, togetherness and above all, tradition”.
If we look back, Mykonos is full of tradition and stories, something that according to Maroulio, many people have forgotten. She emphasizes that one of the main goals of Rizes is to remind the world of something they have left behind. “I do not remember myself not being out in a field and running, or having no contact with animals, or our house not being crowded. I remember very characteristically that sometimes we were alone at home and I would say to my mother “What is going on? Will we eat alone today?”. I want to pass this feeling on to our visitors. The concept of hospitality, togetherness and above all, tradition”.
“What I recall is going out without being afraid that something will happen”
What is certain, however, is that the island has changed a lot in recent years. These changes, many locals from Mykonos, believe that they have altered the identity and glamor that Mykonos once had and this is something that Maroulio – who has lived all her life on the island – knows very well. “I am 21 years old and since I can remember as a child, Mykonos has made a U-turn. I believe that the needs and beliefs of some people have changed and that they have become more consumerist and more greedy. That’s why we got here. I also think we have a lot to see in the future. Things that will alter our tradition and past. “Unfortunately, changes will continue to come to our place”, he says honestly.
Something that surprised me during our discussion was the answer to the question of what recalls more than the old ones. “What I recall is going out without being afraid that something will happen. And so do my parents. That is, if I am afraid to go out for a walk in Chora, which I have walked countless times all my life, for me this is something unbelievable and very sad. I would also like Mykonos with less people. But with good people. I look back on these two more. I can not imagine going to a beach and being told I can not stay and swim unless I sit on a sunbed. A beach that I have been going to since I can remember and I have played and grown up there”.