The Cats Of Greece: The Purrfect Travel Companions

© Bemused Backpacker

Greece is a popular destination famous for its myth and legend, its ancient history and breathtaking islands and beaches, but it is also famous for being home to a population of cats that hold a special place in the hearts of locals and visitors alike. These feline inhabitants have become an integral part of Greek culture, symbolizing the Greek way of life and the enduring spirit of the country, and are the purrfect temporary companion for any solo traveller.

Greece is the perfect destination for any solo traveller, and the famously traditional Greek hospitality means that there is often no shortage of local company if you want it. From people watching whilst enjoying the country’s famous coffee culture and the historical sites where you can’t escape the crowds to its infamous nightlife, you are never really alone in Greece. But for animal lovers like myself there are other companions to find in Greece that are often overlooked by many tourists, companions that can often give the warmest and most meaningful welcome to travellers of all. The ubiquitous cats.

Cats are everywhere in Greece, and I mean everywhere. Constant, silent companions watching over their human neighbours and allowing the occasional interaction for those who they deem worthy enough of their attention. And for those travellers who love cats and are smart enough to return that affection in kind, they open up a whole new world of cultural immersion that most tourists will never experience.

Cats have a long and noble history in Greece dating back to at least the Minoan age. Initially – according to legend at least – coming over from Egypt where they were rightfully revered as gods, cats quickly adapted to the laid back Greek way of life and were welcomed as beloved companions to sailors, farmers, scholars and nobles and peasants alike. Their natural feline tendencies perfectly suited the slow, procrastinating Greek way of life. The days are long and hot, and just like a cat is naturally predisposed to do, there is no better way to spend your time than slowing down, enjoying your time with friends, lazing in the sun and living life in the moment. As cats adopted and came to symbolise the Greek attitude to life, Greek culture in turn embraced cats as the free spirits they are, allowing them to roam the streets and lounge near the ancient ruins, quaint tavernas, or basking in the sun on the island beaches. Many cat lovers simply leave food and drink out for them as they need or even toss them the odd fish from their catch of the day!

© Bemused Backpacker

A recent trip to Greece was filled with amazing parties, great nightlife, epic food and catching up with old friends. As travels tend to do they fill your social calendar up very quickly, and there is nothing wrong with that. I had a great time and am not complaining. Any and every traveller to Greece should fill their time up with as much food, drink and friendship as they can!

But as someone who has spent the better part of the last 25 years travelling solo I am genuinely at my happiest when I am alone, taking an aimless walk around a new destination, getting lost occasionally, sitting with my thoughts at a coffee shop or two, it is a great way to travel and I always carve out some time to be alone during any trip when I can. It is my solace, my peace. But as anyone who knows me will attest to, the one and only thing I will allow to disturb that peace once I have it, are animals. Any animals, dogs and cats in particular, know they can come up to me and get the warmest of welcomes, and I think they sense that, because from my first day in Kalamata, the famous cats of Greece all wanted to say hello!

I genuinely loved just sitting back and watching the cats living their best lives roaming around the docks of Kalamata, lazing under the tables of the tavernas, waiting for the inevitable scraps the fishermen or the restaurant cooks would happily and frequently leave out for them. Of course, I wasn’t going to snitch when occasionally seeing one run up and sneak off with part of the fisherman’s catch when they weren’t being fast enough for the cats liking!

And this is where I spent most of my time in Greece, yes I explored the ancient ruins, went snorkelling in the crystal clear waters and enjoyed the museums and the tavernas, but I also took the time to sit back and just be with the cats that gave me the honour of a moment or two of their time.

From the little ginger cat who decided to join me on my journey up and down the winding steps of Monemvasia, hopping between my legs and jumping up for the occasional head scratch to the kitten who joined me for a coffee at a taverna in a small fishing village, fascinated by the smell of the national drink (don’t worry, I didn’t let it have any and got her a small bowl of water and a fish snack instead), my time in Greece was filled with new feline friends.

I have always loved animals, all animals, including cats, but have had an extra special relationship with my feline friends ever since one saved my life in Cairo many years ago, and I will never not slow down and give one the time of day when they decide to say hello. Greece is after all their country, I am merely a visitor. They own it and rule over it with a vaguely disinterested attitude and only say hello to a select, lucky few they deem worthy. It would be rude to not say hello back really.

© Bemused Backpacker

A cats affection, or even interest for that matter, is a true privilege that no one should take lightly. A true gift from the gods. It is a common misconception that cats were domesticated but in fact it is cats who domesticated themselves, and humans in the process, learning to meow only as a unique way to communicate with their human neighbours and purring as a Machiavellian tactic to get their own way, integrating themselves into a society that they deem as being built for their comfort and convenience. And they aren’t wrong! They know exactly how to wrap us around their tiny little paws so we may as well just accept it!

When a seemingly lone cat can give you the big, sad eyes and convince you to share your seafood meal with him, and then run off to bring back five of his friends when you inevitably give in, you know you aren’t in charge any more!

This time I spent with cats in Greece, quite apart from just being an enjoyable way to spend the time in general, allowed me to slow down far more than I would have otherwise. This gave me the chance to just be still, be in the moment with nothing but my thoughts and the cats presence, and that gave me a profound sense of appreciation for where I was and what I was doing at the time, enjoying life in the traditional Greek way.

The cats of Greece, with their independent spirit and symbolic presence, have become an integral part of the country’s cultural fabric, so the next time you are in Greece spend some time with our cat friends. Appreciate them, learn from them, adopt their way of thinking and immerse yourself in the real Greek way of life. If nothing else, you will have spent some time making a little feline soul happy, and nothing is worth doing more than that.

BEMUSED BACKPACKER | bemusedbackpacker.com