Category Archives: Cultural Sites

Living history on Corfu

History is not about the past; it’s about the present.

UNESCO World Heritage Site, Corfu Town

We only remember yesterday because we’re alive today. We can only understand today if we dissect what occurred yesterday. It’s with that rubric a visitor to Corfu, if interested, can glean this Ionian island’s reality.

If the first time visitor is already familiar with the classical heartland of ancient Greece encircling the Aegean Sea than the beautiful streetscapes of Corfu Town are in an Italian city. The island’s premiere museum  perhaps belongs in London. The charming Casa Parlante offers insights into the daily life of the Venetian nobility.

The Governor olive oil, Corfu

Yet this is Corfu, and it’s just a short distance from the mainland of western Greece. The reason has everything to do with geography, which means it has to do with politics and trade. The regions that comprise Hellenic civilization for the past several thousands of years were the bridges and battlefields between Asia and Europe, and Corfu represents that reality.

Even olive oil, the gift of Athena to the Hellenic world, has a story. During its 400 year reign over Corfu (1383-1797) the Venetian Empire mass produced olive oil for international export.  As a result the island has over four and a half million trees, more than any other region in Greece.

If you watched the BBC series The Durrels in Corfu you may recognize the top photo as the house of the fictional character Sven. The 18th century stone building used to be an olive press and is surrounded by 400 year old trees in an idyllic setting. It’s currently for sale – history alive – and Sakis Gianniotis  of X Adventure Club will take you there to revel in its tranquility.

Casa Perlante

Fanny, docent at Casa Parlante (Corfu Living History)

Case Parlante, the multi story townhouse dating from 1620, details the life of a 19th century Venetian noble family. This was the social class that ruled Corfu for 400 years until  Napoleon conquered and ended the fabled Venetian Republic in the 1790s. Since 2013 the museum’s docents provide room by room tours bringing the family to life.

“To life” is almost real. From the patriarch to the cook, life-size animatronic figures bow, sip tea, read the news paper and chop vegetables. These entertaining figures were created by the Alaxouzi Brothers, Greeks whose business is based in London. As a guest in this noble house,  visitors are greeted with kumquat and rose  mint liquors – an homage to Corfiot’s Venetian inspired love of excessive sweets.

Drawing room at Casa Parlante

Several insights into life at that time are notable. An only daughter of a noble family could inherit wealth in her own right as well as arrange their own marriage, as long it was to another aristocrat. This was a particular freedom granted only to Corfu women.

The Count’s business office opening onto the main hallway

Mirrors and hallways were ingeniously positioned to keep eyes on the movements of the servants.

kitchen at Casa Parlante

Cooks in aristocratic houses were often at the top of servant status and trusted as “spies” for the owner.

The Palace of St. Michael and St. George

The Palace of St. Michael & St. George

The Corfu Museum of Asian Art  and the Municipal Gallery of Corfu are housed within the impressive neoclassical Palace of St. Michael and St. George. The history of the palace is as interesting as the art on display. The fall of Venice led to a brief period in Corfu of French control. Upon Napoleon’s defeat, Corfu was ceded to the United Kingdom and was administered by the British Empire for 50 years (the Greek nation did not exist at this point.)

Palace of St. Michael & St. George

Constructed in 1819, the palace served as the official residence of the British Lord High Commissioner.  After present day southern Greece gained independence from the Ottoman Empire in the 1830’s it was still not until the 1860’s that the United Kingdom ceded the Ionian Islands. Over the next century the palace served various functions including  a royal residence for the Greek monarchy.

The Corfu Museum of Asian Art

Corfu Museum of Asian Art

The transition of the palace into a world class museum started in 1928 with a vast donation by an avid Greek collector of Oriental art expanding over the years to include  southeast and central Asia. Today its collection numbers in the tens of thousands of objects, which, fortunately, are not all on display creating a tranquil setting to wander the quiet rooms without feeling overwhelmed.

Corfu Museum of Asian Art

 

Municipal Gallery of Corfu

Byzantine-Venetian Cretan School of Art greatly influenced Corfu

The Municipal Gallery of Corfu’s art collection ranges from priceless medieval Cretan works influenced while Crete was also under Venetian rule (15th – 17th centuries). The fall of Crete to the Ottomans in 1699 resulted in a flood of artist and intellectuals settling in Corfu.

“Arab Musician,” by P. Prossalendis

A sizable portion of the collection is of 18th through early 20th century artists inspired by the the Romantic and Impressionist movements expressing individual life and events developing into Corfu’s distinctive Ionian School of Art. 

 

 

 

 

Twenty-first century artists are well represented especially through special exhibits.

Corfu artist Kostas Tbros (b. 1975) with fellow journalist Janice Nieder

Encouraging artistic expression in the newest generations of Corfiots, the gallery sponsors “One Saturday, One fairytale” events for children to display their art and study the artist whose paintings are exhibited.  In honor of Greek Orthodox Easter the gallery recently displayed a special exhibit of photos taken by Corfu boy scouts. The quality was stunning!

photos of Easter celebrations taken by Corfu boy scouts

History is more than facts, and a nation is more than geography.  In his epic poem The People, Yes, the great American poet Carl Sandburg expressed it succinctly.  I am the history; I am the present; I am the culture. Go to Corfu and discover so much more than an island.

 

When you go: Corfu International Airport (CFU) serves direct flights from many European cities including London, Frankfurt and Rome. Frequent flights connect the island to Athens and Thessaloniki. Ferry and coach bus connections to major Greek cities are frequent as well.

Special thanks: to The Golden Butler, Safari Xperience and Ducas Tours & Travel for facilitating my tour of Corfu.

Where to sleep and dine in Corfu: 

Corfu magic at Villa 1870

Eat with your eyes: four stellar Corfu restaurants
the author in Corfu

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Thessaloniki: history in your face

“In Thessaloniki we live our history.” Sofia Bournatzi

 

looking down to the Rotunda

Of course that statement could almost be a cliché if it wasn’t applied to Thessaloniki. It has greater impact for the city simply than having eighteen UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It has more to do with resilience. Despite wars, earthquakes and fires, Thessalonians are doing what they have been for 2,300 years.

looking out on Thessaloniki port from the Heptapyrgion

Thessaloniki is still what King Cassander, its founder, planned:

  • Largest city in Macedonia
  • Greece’s second largest
  • The port city of the northern Aegean
  • Gateway to the Balkans
  • Commercially connected to Asia Minor
  • Strategically located on both Spice and Silk Roads to the Orient
excavations of antiquities during construction of 21st century Thessaloniki subway next to a 15th century Ottoman bath.

This reality has made the city coveted and popular over the millenniums by conquerors from Rome to the Ottomans,  and their presence is palpable now. It’s under your feet; it’s towering over your head, and soon you’ll whiz by more on the new state-of-the-art underground subway/tube system. The past is an integral component of Thessaloniki’s urban fabric because it’s in your face.

Looking out to the Thermeic Gulf from Thessaloniki’s new Waterfront Promenade merchant ships are anchored waiting their turn at the modern docks just north of downtown. Behind are the Ladadika,  Ano Poli and the “acropolis” – the imposing Heptapyrgion fortress. These districts are the commercial, cultural and culinary heart of the city. They offer postcards onto the past …

The Palace of Galerius

Palace of Galerius (c.300)

The Palace of Galerius was not a large luxurious house. It was an “Imperial City” within the city – administrative, residential, religious and public entertainment venues. Depending on interpretation, it was such a vast complex it could well be considered a rebuilding of Thessaloniki

Thessaloniki was a major distribution port for the Spice & Silk Roads from the Orient.

The Romans were enamored with Thessaloniki ever since they had absorbed Macedonia into the Empire in the 100s BCE. Four hundred years later the port city was the largest in Rome’s Greek provinces and one of the wealthiest in the empire. By the end of the 3rd century Thessaloniki was poised to become central to the new Eastern Roman Empire.

Gaius Galerius Valerius Maximianus (Caesar: 293-311) newly appointed “assistant Emperor” in the Tetrarchy created by Diocletian, preferred Thessaloniki over his region’s official capital. Construction on his palace complex started in the late 290s.

(video published 02/02/2016,  Vladimiros Nefides)

It was a vast site covering a good portion of Thessaloniki’s historic core and composed of numerous interconnected components, most of which today are lying underneath streets, parks, residential and commercial buildings as the city morphed over the centuries. The complex was enclosed by stonewalls from the port waterfront up to the newly fortified acropolis. The most visible examples of the complex today are the stunningly preserved Rotunda and the Arch of Galerius.

Rotunda

The Rotunda (Roman c.300 with Ottoman minaret c.16th century)
The Rotunda’s interior was covered in elaborate mosaics and frescoes

The cylindrical Rotunda was built in 306 AD and has served as a public building ever since. It was originally a temple, possibly to Zeus. By the end of the 5th century Christianity had been established in the Empire and for over the next  thousand years the Rotunda was the Byzantine Church of St. George. After Ottoman conquest in 1430 it became a mosque (note the 16th century minaret in the photo) until 1912 when with Greek-Macedonian reunification it was designated a national monument. (Ottoman era buildings are protected by historic designation throughout Greece.)

Arch of Galerius

Arch of Galerius (Roman c 300)

The Arch of Galerius stands on a busy intersection (Egnatia & Dimitriou Gounari streets) just as it did when constructed. Thessaloniki’s Egnatia Street is a portion of the 2,000-year-old Roman Via Egnatia, which still connects Macedonia to Istanbul (aka Constantinople, aka Byzantium). Significant remains of its intricate carved marble panels detail the military prowess of Galerius and Rome.

Heptapyrgion

Heptapyrgion
The Heptapyrgion overlooking Ano Poli

The Heptapyrgion towers above downtown Thessaloniki where the ancient acropolis was located on the foothills of Mount Chortiatis. The massive fortress guarded the city for nearly two millenniums. Started by the Romans in the late 4th century along with rebuilding the defensive walls to encircle the city, it was substantially expanded by the Byzantine Empire in the 12th century and the Ottomans in the 15th.

Ano Poli

Oddly both its Greek and Ottoman name (Yedi Kule) mean “fortress of seven towers” even though it has ten and at no time in its construction phases did it ever just have seven. Despite that anomaly, the impressive relic today serves as an UNESCO World Heritage  site, a park with panoramic views of the city, and a backdrop for the historic Ano Poli (Upper Town) neighborhood , which survived the Great Fire of 1917.

 

The Baptistery of St. John

The Baptistery of St. John, 5th century – see map below for location
Hagia Sophia, 5th century

The Baptistery of St. John the Baptist of Thessaloniki (c.400) is a peaceful hidden sunken garden with an art deco apartment building and outdoor cafe overlooking the site. The sacred spring still flows but is channeled inside a modern chapel. It’s considered the oldest Christian baptistery. It is close to the 5th century Hagia Sophia and within the Galerian Palace complex.

Bey Hamam

Bey Hamam, 15th century Ottoman bath house used until the 1960s

Surrounded by popular cafes in the shopping district of the  Ladadika is one of Thessaloniki’s most beautiful medieval buildings. The 15th century Bey Hamam, an Ottoman public bathhouse, is testament to the sophistication this city has enjoyed during its long history. Only ceasing its original use in the 1960s, its intricate brick and tiled facade is an architectural sculpture dramatically lit at night providing a stunning visual backdrop as café patrons dine.

Ladadika

Ladadika

The unrestored street (left) in the Ladadika is on purpose to preserve the facades of what this major international commercial district was like prior to the 1917 Fire. (right) A busy historic district of cafes, commerce and culture today.

The White Tower

The White Tower

The White Tower’s infamous history as a notorious Ottoman prison fades in the mist of time when viewed today at its photogenic location on Thessaloniki’s historic waterfront. The current tower, constructed in the 15th century replacing an earlier Byzantine fortification, anchored the city wall’s southern corner on the waterfront. The tower is a fascinating museum of the historic district and offers panoramic views of Thessaloniki.

Rebetika Music

(video published 28/01/2010, flat13onfire)

Within the prisons of the Heptapyrgion and White Tower many famous rebetika songs of love, loss, resistance and survival were written by Greek prisoners during the last 30 year period of Ottoman rule. The mournful yet captivating music of rebetika still reverberates in many Greek cafes bonding music, food and friends and in 2017 UNESCO listed rebetika music as an “intangible cultural heritage” of Greece.

 

When you go: Thessaloniki International Airport (SKR) is served through major European hubs and Greek cities. Thessaloniki is connected as well by rail and coach bus within Greece and to the Balkans.

Location of the The Baptistery of St. John the Baptist of Thessaloniki and much of the historic core:

Special thanks to Sofia Bournatzi of Pass Partout DMC and to Thessaloniki Tourism Organization for facilitating my stay. Historic and culinary walking tours can be arranged with certified multi-lingual guides of the Tourists Guides Association of Thessaloniki

You can read the culinary story of this history at:

Naturally Thessaloniki is a foodie city

walls of the Heptapyrgion

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Thessaloniki through eyes and mouth

Food tours are visceral experiences. They start with your eyes and end in your mouth. Historic buildings and museums can’t offer that multi-sensory fusion with such an important facet of culture.

Ladadika market district

Read more in my August 2019 travel column for the Hellenic News of America…

Naturally Thessaloniki is a foodie city

 

trigono at Trigona Elenidi

 

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Looking upon Greece: Doors and Windows

“The man who comes back through the Door in the Wall will never be quite the same as the man who went out. ”
Aldous Huxley, The Doors of Perception

 

 

 

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Autumn in the Pindus Mountains, Greece

Epirus is a rugged, heavily forested and mountainous region largely made up of the Pindus Mountains. Considered the “spine of Greece,” the Pindus Mountains separate Epirus from Macedonia and Thessaly to the east.

traditional crafts in Metsovo

Even though the clothing, architecture and food may have a Balkan feel, today generally older men and women gather on benches around Metsovo’s church of Agia Paraskevi to observe life on the Central Square and speak the ancient Aromanian dialect.

the park in Metsovo Central Square
Metsovone smoked cheese, Katogi Averoff Red, fresh figs

Livestock grazing on the green Pindus mountain slopes and crafts are still a part of life in Metsovo. To that foundation, tourism has had a significant impact over the past half century. Winter skiing, summer hiking, vineyards, unique foods, charming hotels and restaurants with a view add to the allure of this northwestern Greek enclave.

 

 

 

You can read more about the Pindus Mountains,  Metsovo and a recipe at the Hellenic News of America ….

Metsovo shimmers with Greek Autumn colors

 

Averofeios Garden, Metsovo, Greece

 

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Greek magic at Chateau Nico Lazaridi


Inspired by the allegorical 1924 Thomas Mann novel The Magic Mountain, Frederico Lazaridis takes seriously the primal interplay of mythic forces and human reality. Wine was essential to the Greek psyche and had its own god, Dionysus. In everyday life Eastern Macedonia and Thrace was its motherland.

Mount Pangeon from the theater at Philippi, nearby Chateau Lazaridi

More to the point, Chateau Nico Lazaridi sits opposite Eastern Macedonia and Thrace’s own magic mountain – Mount Pangeon. Its magic was both mythic – a favorite party mountain for Dionysus – and tangible. Its vast gold deposits funded the empires of Philip II and Alexander the Great, paid for the construction of the nearby legendary city of Philippi and, sitting on the Via Egnatia, was at the crossroads between Eastern and Western cultures for centuries.

Chateau Lazaridi

During the Roman Empire era (100s BC – 500s AD) retired legionaries were often settled in the region producing high quality agricultural products shipped as far as Rome. The Via Egnatia spanned the length of today’s northern Greece from Thessaloniki to the Dardanelles. It was the “super highway” for the distribution of goods between the Mediterranean and Asia.

Frederico takes all of this personal. Nico Lazadidis, Frederico’s father,  is from the region – the  historic city of Drama. His mother was from Florence, Italy, which added a cultural influence already common in the lands along the Via Egnatia. Nico’s profession was also ancient – stone and marble purveyor. Their roots are, literally, in the building blocks of civilizations.

Nico learned to make wine during his years in Italy. In 1974 the family and business returned to Drama but continued perfecting their wine making techniques as a “garage art.” In the early 1980s Nico explored commercial possibilities and in 1987 established Chateau Nico Lazaridi.

ultra modern facilities but the labels are still placed by hand

They were one of the only wineries at the time in the Drama region of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace. It’s ironic that for seven millenniums, Thrace has been the mother terroir of wine grapes. Yet wine production virtually ended in the 15th century under Ottoman Islamic rule coupled with the phenomenal profits earned from “King Tobacco” followed then by the devastation of 20th century wars.

Cabernet Sauvignon grapes

Of course it was precisely the devastation and upheavals of 20th century wars that ended the preeminence of tobacco as an economic engine. Macedonia and Eastern Macedonia and Thrace are once again regaining the wine reputations they held since ancient days. Eleven wineries dot the Drama area while seven labels are in the nearby Kavala region.

The Kingdom of Thasos, which the region was a part in the 1st millennium BC,  established the first quality control system for grapes, wine and olive oil. Today the Drama area is within the Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) Agora.

Lazaridi wines

Chateau Nico Lazaridi is between three mountains, which funnel steady winds ventilating the grape vines helping to prevent mold. The vineyards lay on an ancient riverbed, which provides soil rich in minerals. The region’s flat riverbed land was made arable only as a result of 1930s drainage and land reclamation projects. The famous Battle of Philippi (1st century BC) fought nearby was on wetlands.

Chateau Lazaridi proves that bigger can be better. Its 1.1 million bottle production consists of over a dozen wines and tsipouro, the classic distillation from wine must. One hundred sixty acres in the Drama area (PGI –Agora) contain the main vineyards. Thirty-seven acres are contracted from area growers.

Their Mackedon Winery in Kavala is 25 acres and a new small  ten acre winery will soon open on Mykonos Island.

Neither bio-dynamic nor organic farming methods are used in the vineyards because Frederico feels they’re best in an enclosed growing environment such as the islands where it’s easiest to maintain proper conditions.

wine cellar, Chateau Lazaridi

The new wine cellar, for me, is the centerpiece. It has exposed earthen walls that maintain climate and temperature with 85% humidity. French and American oak barrels fill the vast room, but acacia wood is now being used especially for the whites. Acacia imparts a floral note. An impressive curved ceiling mural  looking upward at the sky through a grape arbor graces the length of the cellar.

Chateau Nico Lazaridi is a multidimensional company of several divisions today. A demo kitchen, which will feature area guest chefs, will offer cooking and wine classes. It will be the forerunner of a future restaurant on site.

A lab is on site to maintain quality control. They research developments in vinification in the quest for the next generation of Greek wine.

The Magic Mountain Art Gallery

The Magic Mountain Art Gallery is the family’s great pride. It is both the private collection of the Lazaridi family and, in many cases, the designs for wine labels. Twenty-five years ago Nico established an artist partnership to contemporize Greek wine marketing. The Magic Mountain Art Gallery works with and patronizes contemporary Greek and European artists who express interpretations of the primal link between this drink of the gods and its role in Greek life.

lunch at Chateau Lazaridi

Lunch with Frederico offered hearty northern Greek dishes and two of Chateau Lazaridi’s most popular wines both from the PGI-Agora. Cavalieri Lazaridi White (Assyrtiko 70%, Sauvignon Blanc 15%, Ugni Blanc 15%) has the dry yellow fruit notes with hints of honey emblematic of assyrtiko. It spends six months in acacia barrels adding floral accents.

F- EY, a dry red of the PGI-Agora (Merlot 85%, Grenache Rouge 15%).

Greek fashion designer Andria Thomais designed both labels for F- EY, a dry red of the PGI-Agora (Merlot 85%, Grenache Rouge 15%). The original paintings in the Magic Mountain collection are of two contented men and women. Ey (εὖ in Greek) is a descriptor for all that’s good and creative in a person’s life. It’s an apted descriptor for Chateau Nico Lazaridi and one that Dionysus sitting on his magic mountain would bestow.

 

The god would probably want his portrait on a label.

Mount Pangeon
Mount Pangeon from the vineyards of Chateau Nico Lazaridi, Drama, Greece

Disclaimer: The author was a guest of Chateau Nico Lazaridi and the Municipality of Drama.  All opinions are the author’s. Arrangements were facilitated by Pass Partout Tourism Marketing, DMC, Thessaloniki

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Villa life in Halkidiki with Ermia Resorts

It was difficult to get lost especially armed with the well-written and informative guide “Halkidiki Inside Your Dreams” by the Halkidiki Tourism Organization.

Aelia Beach BAr & Restaurant at Nefeli Villas & Suites

Yet even if one did take a wrong turn on the modern well-maintained roads that hug the coastline of the Halkidiki peninsulas of Greece you would be apt to discover a small Orthodox church on the side of the road, a centuries old Byzantine tower, an archeological site from antiquity in a field, another secluded beach and everywhere the sweeping vistas of farmland and blue water.

Capitan Taverna, Loutra, Kassandra, Halkidiki, Greece

At the photogenic seaside village of Loutra, close by Nefeli Villas & Suites, lunch at Capitan Taverna combined excellent traditional Greek cuisine with a classic atmosphere. Costas Vamvakas has maintained both its popularity and quality since 1977. An old grape arbor heavy with fruit covered the flower bedecked dining porch. Olive trees anchored the corners and a fountain burbled softly.

Just a few miles from Loutra was the Spa at Agia Paraskevi. Known for its hot sulfur springs, southern Kassandra has long been sought by people suffering bone and muscle disorders. With a commanding view of the sea, the modern spa facilities include pools, saunas, steam baths and hydro massage.

Nefeli Villas & Suites

Positioned on the west coast of Kassandra, Nefeli Villas & Suites offers spacious one to four bedroom villas in a village setting. Halkidiki’s three peninsulas – Kassandra, Sithonia and Athos – have long been sun-kissed family oriented summer playgrounds. Easy access to dozens of public beaches, classic white washed villages climbing hillsides and the incomparable clear water of the Aegean attract tens of thousands of visitors annually.

Ermia Hotels and Resorts, a family owned real estate and hospitality company headquartered in Thessaloniki, develops resorts and manages villa rentals. Its portfolio includes the Premier Luxury Mountain Resort in Bansko, Bulgaria, Amaryllis Paros Beach Hotel on Paros Island and Sani Woods on Kassandra in Halkidiki. In Halkidiki as well they manage the Nefeli Villas & Suites, the Bellevue Villas and the unique Hastia Villa.

local Greek foods

Giorgos Tsalikis and the staff of Nefeli Villas & Suites run a double operation. The units in this Ermia built complex are privately owned with the option to offer the unit for seasonal rental. It’s a resort and condo. The reception office maintains a compact shop with a nice selection of local Greek foods from cheese and wine to thyme honey and mastic liquor – especially convenient as gifts.

Nefeli Villas & Suites , Kassandra, Halkidiki, Macedonia, Greece

The four-bedroom, two-floor townhouse I enjoyed during my stay was more than spacious for the normal maximum of eight people. Premium furnishings and kitchen appliances, Wi-Fi, outdoor barbecue, washing machine, pool and beach towels are all provided. Breakfast is available at Aelia Beach Bar & Restaurant.

The compact beach and tree shaded grass lawn provides comfortable lounge chairs with service from the Aelia bar and restaurant and protected swimming in the clear Aegean.

As a chef I’m impressed when a fine dining restaurant accents the food with simplicity. Greek yogurt topped with a few almonds in a simple and attractive dedicated glass container with a serene Aegean sea view provided by nature defines chic at Aelia Beach Bar & Restaurant.

Aelia Beach Bar & Restaurant.

While a wedding reception was in the final stages of preparation, I was served an imaginative dinner starting with a salty white taramas mousse attractively arranged on crispy phyllo crackers. Meaty pleurotus mushrooms were marinated in vinaigrette of aged Kalamata vinegar and fresh herbs. Grilled on wood charcoal, the large mushrooms would please a vegetarian as a meat substitute.

preparations for a wedding receptio on the beachfront lawn, Aelia Beach Bar & Restaurant at Nefeli Villas & Suites

Tender, savory lamb chops were bathed in a classic rosemary wine sauce. A rich but light chocolate soufflé rounded dinner. Thank you Maria Ntai for the warm Greek hospitality at Aelia Beach Bar & Restaurant.

At Sani Woods Anna Xafoudi, manages eleven architecturally stunning suites, apartments and a large villa. Set within a carefully landscaped yet natural arboretum the two buildings sit on a hillside that gently slopes down to the pool. Bicycles and a continental breakfast are included.

Sani Woods, Kassandra, Halkidiki Greece

A mini “supermart” is a five-minute drive at the entrance to the large Sani Resort complex, which has popular restaurants and a marina. Fokaies village is 6 km away and has larger stores. Yet If quiet is what you crave, Sani Woods is your refuge.

Bellevue Villas, Kassandra, Halkidiki, Greece

Closer to the popular summer resort town of Pefkoahori the Bellevue Villas sit on a promontory with a panoramic view of the Aegean and Sithonia peninsula. The large, sleek ultra modern multi level villas each have their own private pool.

Hestia Villa, Kassandra, Halkidiki, Greece

Nearby Hestia Villa is a large, unique late 20th century stand alone beach house. It has a 20th century mid-century modern look but it is of more recent construction. A long green front lawn spreads down to Hestia’s own entrance onto the beach.

Pefkoahori, Kassandra, Halkidiki, Greece

For vacation nightlife, the fishing town of Pefkoahori has become Kassandra’s most popular tourist destination. On the east coast of the peninsula it’s a mere 20-minute drive from Nefeli Villas & Suites and Sani Woods – closer Bellevue and Hastia villas. During the summer season this family oriented resort town is a marriage of sun, sea and Coney Island.

A lengthy beachfront pedestrian walkway becomes a carnival of street food and vendors selling everything one expects from sunglasses to helium balloons. A small amusement park will delight children. Shopaholics will be pleased with the number and diversity of stores. Bar and restaurant hoppers will be sated with dozens of attractive beach venues and music opportunities.

secluded beach, Capitan Taverna, spa at Agia Paraskevi

Ermia Hotels and Resorts villas offer the ideal luxury accommodations for an extended beach vacation. From enviable locations, premium furnishings, fine cuisine and unique architecture Ermia is simply offering Greek hospitality. As a bonus explore Kassandra, a storied finger of fabled Halkidiki.

When you go:

In general the summer season runs from May through mid-October. Pefkoahori is an easy and picturesque 50-mile drive on modern highways from Thessaloniki Airport “Makedonia.” The gateway city of Thessaloniki is served by direct flights from a number of European cities. Numerous flights from Athens are available and affordable for the short 35-minute journey.

Disclaimer: the author was a guest of Ermia Hotels and Resorts and Nefeli Villas & Suites. Special thanks to Kiki Petridou (Ermia Resorts) for the villa tours. Arrangements were facilitated by Pass Partout Tourism Marketing, DMC, Thessaloniki.

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Lipsi Island: tranquility in the Dodecanese

From artisan cheeses and wood oven baked breads, handmade ecclesiastical beeswax candles, weaving on a century old loom, bathing at another secluded beach to leisurely sipping tsipouro while enjoying meze on the waterfront, Lispi is for seekers of tradition and tranquility.

Kairis Traditional Wood Oven Bakery

Lipsi is an island lover’s dream and a journey back to tradition.

please read my July article for the Hellenic News of America

Defining tradition on Lipsi Island, Greece   

 

Vendita cheese

 

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At the French House Party the pigeon has priority

Sure Moira Martingale, the doyenne of the French House Party,  wants her guests to relax. Yes the conversation among the international gathering of participants is often scintillating. Yet when you’ve just prepped your pigeon and are reaching for the brandy to marinate, neither hand is on a notebook or adjusting the voice recorder – the pigeon rules.

Domaine St. Raymond

As a travel journalist I like capturing the thoughts of others to illuminate articles. Yet as a chef, the pigeon held my full attention.

French House Party culinary workshops are not cooking demonstrations. They are hands-on learning experiences working alongside award winning chefs. The multi-course lunches and dinners guests enjoy are the dishes they are preparing.

Domaine St. Raymond

Moira Martingale, British novelist, transformed her eight-bedroom en suite villa, Domaine St. Raymond, outside the UNESCO World Heritage City of Carcassonne into the French House Party over a decade ago. Small group workshops (approximately 10 guests) are offered in singing/songwriting, creative writing and the culinary arts. The experience is all-inclusive with the workshop fee covering room, meals, wine, snacks, excursions and the villa’s facilities that make this a five star party (pool, tennis, bike riding…ask Moira.)

pigeon breasts, legs, wings

The pigeon is still in my hand. There are seven procedures in creating Chef Robert Abraham’s Young Lauragais pigeon with sweet clover, confit of shallots, carrots and honey. It was worth every time-consuming step and even better when paired with a Domaine Le Fort Malepere.

Young Lauragais pigeon with sweet clover, confit of shallots and grilled foie gras

Yet despite popular assumptions, French cuisine is rarely as complex as the pigeon. French recipes do not all ooze with butter and cream. They’re light, fresh with an emphasis on taste, texture and presentation.

Whereas it may not be easy to find pigeon in the local market, smoked haddock is in many fish markets or, as a last resort, in the refrigerated packaged fish section of larger supermarkets. If time does not allow for making the fresh buns, a good quality bakery will have a selection of soft buns – do not use a hard roll.

Chef Robert Abraham’s Smoked Haddock Burger with lime cream

Smoked Haddock Burger with lime cream

A light, savory alternative on a warm summer day.

Ingredients for 6 servings:

Buns:

  • 400 gr (14 ounces) bread flour
  • 1 egg
  • 20 gr (4 teaspoons) sugar
  • 7 gr (1 teaspoon) salt
  • 25 cl (8 ounces) warm milk (43°C/110°F)
  • 12 gr. (1¾ package) active dry yeast
  • 40 gr (3 tablespoons) soft unsalted butter
  • golden or black sesame seeds
buns

Preperation:

  1. Warm the milk, remove from heat and add the yeast.
  2. In a mixing bowl slowly blend the flour, sugar, egg and salt. (Either use a mixer with a dough hook or stir by hand)
  3. Add the milk/yeast mixture and the soft butter slightly increasing mixer’s speed (or stir harder).
  4. Knead the dough in the mixer for approximately 5 minutes, or remove to a lightly floured board and knead by hand. Either method the dough should be smooth and springs back when lightly indented by a finger.
  5. Cover the bowl with a slightly damp cloth and allow it to rise for 50 to 60 minutes.
  6. Weigh out balls of dough: 50gr/2 ounces for small rolls, 90gr/3 ounces for large.
  7. Place on a baking sheet and cover with a cloth. Allow to rise 60 minutes. Brush lightly with an egg wash (1 egg white/1 teaspoon water beaten) and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
  8. Place a pan of hot water on the bottom rack of a preheated oven and the baking sheet on the middle rack. Bake at 180°C/350°F for 10 – 15 minutes until golden brown.

Shallot Confit

  • 4 shallots
  • 10 cl (3 ounces) white wine
  • 5 cl (1½ ounces) apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon honey

Preparation:

  1. Peal and chop the shallots.
  2. Place in a saucepan with all the ingredients.
  3. Cook on low heat stirring occasionally until nearly all liquid is evaporated.

Lime Cream

  • Zest from 2 limes
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 25 cl (8 ounces) heavy whipping cream

Preparation:

  1. Heat the cream with the lime zest and salt until cream just begins to steam.
  2. Turn off heat and infuse for 30 minutes. Chill in refrigerator 30 to 60 minutes.
  3. If you are familiar with a siphon, add the strained cream and follow directions. If not familiar with a siphon, whip the chilled cream with a beater until soft peaks form just before serving the burgers.

Haddock

slicing smoked haddock
  • 400 – 450 gr (14 – 16 ounces) smoked haddock fillet
  • 25 cl (8 ounces) milk
  • handful of mixed fresh herbs – dill, parsley, basil, lemon thyme
haddock poaching in herb milk

Preparation:

  1. Using a fish fillet knife – and I’d recommend gloves if not used to slicing potentially slippery fish – thinly slice wide haddock no larger than a couple inches in size.
  2. Heat the milk with the herbs until steaming. Add the haddock, reduce heat and gently poach for 10 minutes. Drain.

To serve:

  1. Cut the rolls in half, lightly brush with extra virgin olive oil, return to baking sheet and heat for 5 minutes.
  2. Place a roll on a plate and spread with a little lime cream, a dap of shallot confit, some haddock slices, more lime cream and then top with the bun.
  3. You may garnish with baby greens, drizzle of oil, sprinkle of sea salt and a dab of lime cream.
smoked sliced haddock wrapped for future use

There are several steps, but the buns can be made earlier in the day or store bought. The confit and the lime cream could be made a day in advance, just do not whip the cream until ready to assemble the burgers. The haddock can also be prepared a day in advance, arranged on plastic wrap in single layers and refrigerated.

At the French House Party creativity not time is of the essence. With two 3-hour workshops sandwiching a delicious lunch, the pool is inviting at the end of the day. A relaxing multi course dinner that you worked on will top the evening  with scintillating conversation, laughter and remind you that, yes, you are a guest at a French House Party.

Pyrenees Mountain view from the French House Party

When you go:

The 2018 schedule of the French House Party runs from May 5 through October 1.

The French House Party, Domaine St. Raymond, is less than 50 miles (77 km) southeast from the Toulouse-Blagnac Airport and the rail station Gare de Toulouse-Matabiau. The Gare de Carcassonne is 16 miles (27 km) west. Transportation is provided for guests arriving by air or train from either Toulouse or Carcassonne to Domaine St. Raymond.

Contact:

Moira Martingale, French House Party, Domaine St. Raymond, 11150 Pexiora, Languedoc, France.
Tel: +33 4 68 94 98 16
Email: enquiries@frenchhouseparty.co.uk

The French House Party: http://www.frenchhouseparty.eu/

Location: http://www.frenchhouseparty.eu/about-us/location/

Course dates: http://www.frenchhouseparty.eu/how-to-book/course-dates/

Disclaimer: the author was a guest of the French House Party for three separate workshops – Song Writing with Dean Friedman and two Gourmet Explorer courses.

Recent French House Party articles by Marc d’Entremont

Being Creative at the French House Party

French cuisine demystified at the French House Party

A French House Party for the intellectually curious

 

Moira Martingale, Ph.D., châtelaine de Domaine St. Raymond et French House Party

 

Please read more by Travel with Pen and Palate at…

Hellenic News of America (Travel with Pen and Palate)
Hellenic News of America (Marc d’Entremont)
Travel Pen and Palate Argentina

Escape to the Greek beach island of Ammouliani

The sun glints off white sand and aqua water as I walk down the stairs to Alikes Beach. One of five major beaches on Ammouliani Island, Alikes Beach is so beautiful it’s as if a giant pool boy to the gods cleans the crystal clear Aegean Sea rock free for feet to walk on a soft sand floor and swim in pristine water.

View of Amoliani town with Mt. Athos in background

I can assume that the god’s may have favored Ammouliani Island and wanted it for them. Its wide crescent white sand beaches are fringed with lush vegetation, wild flowers and craggy wind and wave formed rock outcroppings. The topography is gentle yet with hills of enough elevation to provide beautiful views of mist shrouded sacred Mt. Athos. Mysterious of all, rarely did a human live on Ammouliani Island for thousands of years.

Fisherman fixing a fishing net on Ammouliani Island

For most of the past millennium Ammouliani was the property of Vatopedi Monastery on Mount Athos. It was used for fishing and  farmland to provide for the monastery – one of 20 vast Greek Orthodox complexes on Mt. Athos. Only a few men ever lived there until 1925.

The disastrous aftermath of the First World War and upheaval caused by the collapse of the Ottoman Empire led to an unprecedented repatriation of ethnic groups between Greece and former Ottoman lands. Vatopedi Monastery ownership of Ammouliani Island ended in 1925 with the establishment of villages for Greek refugees.

Five hundred full time residents live on this tranquil island with great beach bars, small hotels, daily fresh seafood and relaxing restaurants. Summer tourism swells the population many times, but enough business remains open year round to attract winter visitors.

Ammouliani Island

Less than two square miles in area and an easy 65 mile car or coach bus drive from Thessaloniki, Ammouliani is the only inhabited island of Central Macedonia and the Halkidiki peninsulas. It is located in the Gulf of Mount Athos two miles off the coast of Athos peninsula. In summer ferry service for the 10 minute ride from Tripiti on the mainland is regular and often. In winter the schedule is less frequent and subject to weather.

One permanent resident with a year round business is Sissy Neofitidou of Kastalia Hotel. Sissy is a calm driving force for tourism on the island. She was also my guide during my stay.

Kastalia Hotel, one of several properties owned by Sissy and her family, is typical of the comfortable accommodations found on the island. The well-appointed rooms have kitchens making them convenient apartments for extended island stays. Breakfast in the attractive split-level lobby is bountiful.

Kastalia Hotel, Ammouliani Island

Located in Amoliani town, the ferry port, Kastalia Hotel is conveniently situated for hiking and biking. Alikis Beach is a mere ten minute stroll from the hotel. Amoliani town is a charming Greek island village of classic white stucco and blue shuttered houses, shops, the center for bike rentals and boat excursions as well as waterfront restaurants and relaxing bars.

Since many of Ammouliani Island’s first residents were Greek refugees from islands and towns on the former Ottoman Empire’s  Turkish Aegean coast, they brought with them hybrid Near East Hellenic traditions and dress. The large stone paved old town square and its ecclesiastical buildings were constructed in the 19th century when the island was owned by the Vatopedi Monastery. Its Byzantine icons from Asia Minor venerated in the Church of Panagia are particularly prized.

Folklore Museum (far right: medicinal tonic made with olive oil infused with spathohorto (sedge) – specially good for wounds) and digestive ailments.

The Folklore Museum, housed in a 1907 stone former monastery building in the old town square, is a living museum. The crafts and recipes of the past are practiced by members of the Cultural Association of Ammouliani and passed on to the next generation. Mrs. Marigo Vasiliou is an expert baker of amigdalota a traditional almond pastry formed into flower shapes, baked and served at weddings, christenings and name days. She demonstrated her skill on a Jamie Oliver TV show.

Mrs. Marigo Vasiliou

There is nothing complicated with the recipe for amigdalota cookies: finely ground almonds, sugar, eggs and almond extract.  Sounds like marzipan but not as sweet. The skill required to form the delicate dough into intricate baked flowers takes years of training.

Mrs. Vasiliou demonstrated her art at the Hotel Erotokritos, owned by her daughter. The Erotokritos sits high on an island hill with panoramic views of the Aegean Sea and Mt. Athos. I was treated to what I can only describe as a Greek version of High Tea – a late afternoon treat of coffee and homemade desserts.

creating a lilly amigdalota cookie

A buffet of classic Greek dishes and fresh Aegean seafood is available at any number of island tavernas. With an island as small as Ammouliani many are on the waterfront. At Taverna Tzanis you choose your fish from a market display of dozens of choices. A succulent grilled sargos fish with fresh lime juice was refreshing.

Taverna Glaros, another fine choice, continues the Greek love of having a number of small plates to share among guests. Cheese stuffed zucchini blossoms, fried fish balls, stuffed grape leaves, a variety of salads, raw anchovies marinated in vinegar and oil and wild sea greens gathered from the craggy rocks along the shore are just a few selections from island menus.

sargos fish at Tzanis

For a relaxing nighttime venue Dimitrias Boskos has created Aelia Summer Cocktail Bar on the Amoliani town waterfront. The American generated cocktail revolution has been slow to catch on in Europe, but Greeks have rapidly developed expertise in this art. Besides the quality cocktails and attractive modern multi-level seating on the waterfront, this being Greece, a meze (tapas sized small plate) is served with drinks.

Big Sand Beach, Ammouliani Island

Ammouliani Island is justifiably known for its beaches. They all have seasonal beach bars that make the experience more enjoyable. On Alikis Beach, the island’s most famous, Savana and Canteen «O Spiros» serve tasty burgers and Greek classics both on their covered terraces and under their beach umbrellas.

Mainos, the grandfather of current family owner Kostas Voutsac, founded Savana Beach Bar & Grill in 1967. Mainos started selling orange juice and candy from baskets by walking the streets of the island. Sissy remembers as a child waiting for him on his daily circuit.

Kostas Voutsac, Savana Beach Bar & Grill

In 1967 he secured a lease on a prime location at a major entrance to Alikis beach and within a 20-minute walk from town. He opened a taverna. Taking advantage of the beach for umbrellas and the rocky hillside for panoramic views of Alikis Beach, Mainos’ children renovated Savana into the beach bar in 1995. Its unique design takes full advantage of lush vegetation, rocks, wood and multi level seating made possible by the hillside.

Sissy, Mainos and Marigo are metaphors for Ammouliani Island. They work hard to create two square miles dedicated to effortless relaxation. The gods must have favored Ammouliani Island – its aura is timeless.

view of Alikis Beach from Savana Beach Bar & Grill

Disclaimer: The author was a guest of Ammouliani Island tourism and the businesses mentioned in this article. All opinions are the author’s. Arrangements were facilitated by Pass Partout Tourism Marketing, DMC, Thessaloniki

Traditional bar/cafe on the old town square since 1932. In the 4th generation with many original furnishings.
Traditional phyllo desserts at Hotel Erotokritos
Savana Beach Bar & Grill climbs up the hillside on one end of Alikis Beach

 

Please read more by Travel with Pen and Palate at…

Hellenic News of America (Travel with Pen and Palate)
Hellenic News of America (Marc d’Entremont)
Travel Pen and Palate Argentina