A 92-year-old bakery with a wood oven in Vilia village, northwest of Athens

Isminis Bakery Vilia

Stop for fresh bread at Ismini's Bakery in Vilia, northwest of Athens.

I was invited to spend two days at a friend's house in Vilia at the beginning of February. Mimika and Antonis had told me many times about the area's beauties.

The truth is that I passed through in the summer last year after swimming in Porto Germenos. It was, in fact, from the days when the whole of Greece was a furnace. I had stopped for food, but the heat was a catalyst to curb the mood.

We arrived late Friday night. We went out to the square to eat. Delicious pancetta and nice salads.

"Tomorrow morning, we will have breakfast from Ismini's Bakery," my friend said without giving any more details.

Indeed, the next morning, we went for a walk in the village. We turned into a small, narrow hill, and I saw the bakery with a wood oven to our left.

At that time, they were taking large loaves of bread out of the oven while they had already baked three large pans of spanakopita (spinach pie) and tiropita (cheese pie). I thought at that moment how handmade authentic spanakopita was increasingly rare.

Isminis Bakery

Beginnings in 1932

Mrs. Eleni is the current owner of Ismini's Bakery.

"The bakery has been operating since 1932. In 1985, Ismini, my mother-in-law, passed away and together with my husband, Meletios, we decided to continue the bakery, keeping it exactly as it was," she said.

As she will tell me later, the beginning was challenging. They didn't know the kneading techniques and had a hard time at first.

"Although things were difficult at first, there were people who helped us significantly. Even though I came here as a bride in 1970, I didn't learn to knead. My mother-in-law did it all by herself. Fortunately, when we decided to open the bakery, a baker from Alepochori gave us the basic knowledge," Mrs Eleni explained.

Her husband ran the bus line that connected Vilia with Athens and the surrounding area.

"At that time, Vilia had good transport, and because of that, they were crowded all week. Unfortunately, it doesn't have that much traffic now, especially on weekdays," she continued.

Isminis Bakery

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The smoke of the oven

I noticed the oven, which is exactly what it was many decades ago. Smoke has blackened the top of the shop, and as they open the oven, you see its size and spotless oval interior.

As time passes, Polytimi comes to the shop. She is smiling and cheerful.

"This is the precious Polytimi," Mrs. Eleni tells me.

Polytimi is her goddaughter, who comes every day and helps her in the bakery.

"Have you tried Melokouluro?" she asks me.

Melokoulouro, then, is another creation of Mrs. Eleni, which was made for a special purpose.

She tells me: "When the fire station was created in Vilia, the firefighters wanted something different. How many tiropitas and spanakopitas can you eat?"

So, that's how they made the melokoulouro. It looks like a Thessaloniki koulouri, but it has been leavened with the addition of honey. This ingredient has given it a special texture and taste.

Isminis Bakery

On the way from Erythres

That day, we talked for quite some time. Another day, when I was driving from Erythres to Athens, I entered the village again. I bought bread and spanakopita.

"Take this shortbread for the road," Mrs. Eleni told me.

I tried one bite and put it aside. By the time I got to Athens, I had eaten the whole thing. The sourdough wheat bread lasted for days.

Isminis Bakery

A piece of authentic Greece

This bakery could be considered one of the last wood ovens in Attica. In my mind, though, it's more than just a wood oven. It is all that connects us to authentic Greece, with an everyday life that is simpler and, at the same time, more meaningful and valuable.

The bakery in Vilia is a reason to pass by this village, where life continues at a slower pace.

Dimitri Stathopoulos is a columnist for Travel. Translated by Paul Antonopoulos.

READ MORE: The most delicious loukoumades in Athens and Thessaloniki.

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