Bees have been integral to the life of Nikos Reppas. Since the age of three, his job in his family's long-running honey business was to smoke the bees out of their hives while his father collected the honey. 'Bees have been my family's work for 200 years/ he boasts proudly. Now, he says (he takes a long drag on his hand-rolled cigarette and leans lazily forward to stir his strong espresso -his fourth for the day), he has had another 37 years' experience in all aspects of the honey industry from production to sales. Nikos owns and runs honey shop Nektar & Amvrosia (Nectar & Ambrosia; see p185) in the town of Nafplio.
Nikos gets a buzz from his bees. He has 500 hives from which he gains 50,000kg of honey annually. He collects, jars and sells the honey to locals and tourists. Sometimes he adds extras -such as walnuts or pistachios - to the chemical-free, organic honey syrup.
Nafplio's contemporary honey man is not your elderly labourer with calloused hands. This man doesn't drive a bakaziera (the miniature trucks with tray, quite common in villages), and his shop is far from a tin shed with jars. This guy sports designer shirts (that's when he's not wearing a T-shirt with a bee print) and his other passions include his two TOOOcc motorbikes. His self-designed shop window features a huge wire hive dripping with giant bees and a beekeeper outfit (an all-white uniform which, apart from the long rubber boots, resembles an astronaut's attire). Inside, mirrored shelves hold lines of perfectly spaced jars.
Nikos repeatedly stresses that Greece, especially Nafplio, is the best region in the world for producing honey. This area is away from citrus trees (these don't produce high-quality nectar) and there are no chemicals. This region has many wildflowers and herbs with excellent-quality nectar, plus thyme and sage. We take the bees to Tripoli so they can feed off the region's pine. Each flavour is special.'
But back to being the honey man. Nikos loves the variety in his work and the fact that there is no 'typical' day. Full season (between March and October) is his busiest time. 'I get up early, open the hives, inspect the bees and see what work needs to be done. I come to the shop around 10am and return, sometimes, to the hives in the afternoon.'
He enjoys the ongoing learning process related to the complicated life of bees. 'You need to be around them all day in order to understand them at a basic level. And you need a lifetime to learn about their lives; these are like labyrinths.'
Each time Nikos collects the honey, he is stung at least 10 times. 'I like the stings - they are merely honey, royal jelly and pollen and this is good for your health,' he says. (Spoken like a true Greek.) 'Besides', he adds, 'bees are among the most intelligent and creative living creatures on earth.'
While Nikos currently has no children to whom he is passing on his knowledge, he is training up to 10 beekeepers in the traditional practices. 'It's very important that we keep this knowledge and tradition going in Greece. Our honey is like caviar - top of its class. This is not only important for the Greek economy, but also, we want people to experience the best honey on earth!'
Nikos may be taking the tradition out of the honey men, but (thankfully) not the honey men out of the tradition.
excavations continue, visitors are limited to exploring the Upper and Lower Citadels.
Any Nafplio-Argos bus can drop you outside the site.
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Companies that have beekeeping stuff deal with all the equipment that is required for this business, like attire for bee keeping which is essential from head to torso, full body suits and just head gear. Along with this equipment they also sell journals and books on beekeeping to help people to understand this field better. Some of the better known beekeeping companies have been in the business for more than a hundred years.