A unique Be My Guest programme offers tourists a glimpse into the lives of locals.
SO, this is what it feels like to be treated like royalty. Not that any of us Trafalgar sojourners had any blue in our blood, but it sure felt like it, given how a whole village was out to welcome us.
The women of Demircidere were decked in colourful traditional costumes embellished with sequins and bling, and as our coach pulled up, they greeted us in the best way they knew how - with homemade bread and wine.
Yesim Guris, our travel director, had earlier given us a friendly warning that the villagers would be offended if we refused their kind offerings, so we happily accepted. The wine reminded me of Sarawak's tuak (rice wine), and besides, what's not to like about fresh bread straight from the oven?
Enlisted to be part of Trafalgar's unique Be My Guest programme, Demircidere offers tourists the rare opportunity to interact with locals and get a glimpse of real lives without the commercial trimmings.
One of the most important sources of the villagers' livelihood is the cultivation of grapes, which are used to make jam and raisins, and home-brewed wines. Summerhouses and olive yards yielding olives fetch good money, and small-scale ecotourism selling home-grown products add to their income.
Located to the northwest of Izmir, in Turkey, the quaint village seemed untouched by the evils of modern civilisation. Upon closer inspection, however, it was apparent that apart from working in vineyards and olive gardens, the good folks here also have access to WiFi, TV and handphones; certainly not as isolated as we initially thought. We were told that most of their children are also university graduates who have found jobs in the bigger cities.
Divided into groups of four, we were sent off to enjoy lunch with our host families. It was a comical but warm, touching experience as neither party understood the other, communicating only through hand gestures and broad smiles. Yet, as we savoured Tarhana soup, homemade yoghurt, börek (pastry with potatoes), dolma (stuffed grape leaves), eggplant, olives and home-made wine, it was heartwarming how they shared their homes with a bunch of strangers.
It was a simple yet satisfying home-cooked meal, and thereafter, our hostess showed off her modest home - where four generations resided - and pictures of her family. When we left, we exchanged hugs, as if we were bidding farewell to distant relatives, and given fresh pomegranates from the garden as parting gifts.
It is experiences like these that money can't buy, a reminder of old-world charm.