When your cities can trace their histories back 4,000 years and they’re located in fabled Macedonia – land of Alexander the Great, Aristotle and Mount Olympus – “legendary” is not an inflated superlative.
Divided into three sections, Central Macedonia is the location for not only Thessaloniki and Halkidiki, but to the more northerly cities of Serres and Kilkis both steeped in history, natural beauty, wine and fine dining.
Read more in my travel column for the April edition of the Hellenic News of America…
Set in the gently rolling farmland of the Languedoc, Domaine St. Raymond sits in tranquility amidst its own lush gardens. The restored 19th century stone barn is home to the acclaimed French House Party, a unique villa for a unique gathering of intellectually curious travelers. From May into October, the French House Party offers participatory creative workshops in culinary arts, singing/songwriting and creative writing.
I’ve been fortunate to be invited three times to the French House Party to experience and write about its workshops – twice for culinary arts and once for singing/songwriting. At her villa, Moira Martingale, novelist and Ph.D., excels in providing an ideal atmosphere for relaxation so necessary to the creative process. Besides the swimming pool, tennis court, bicycles and other entertainment options during free time, Michelin stared chefs of the area frequently provide the food for guests at Domaine St. Raymond.
The culinary arts series for beginners to advanced cooks is taught by Michelin stared chefs and range from a few days to over a week. It’s serious training both morning and afternoon (2 to 3 hour sessions each) and in almost all cases one’s work becomes lunch and dinner accompanied by the wines of local Domaine Le Fort. Besides being 20 – 30 minutes from the UNESCO World Heritage Site of medieval Carcassonne, the workshops may include excursions to area restaurants and for culinary arts to Domaine Le Fort and the Revel Market.
Domaine Le Fort
Le Fort Winery has 45 hectares planted in (reds) pinot noir, malbeck, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and syrah. (whites) chardonnay, viognier, muscat Blanc à Petits Grains (a white wine grape of Greek origin that is a member of the muscat family) and Riesling. Then there’s Gewurztraminer, a class of its own.
Thomas Pages is the 3rd generation of the Pages family to oversee Domaine Le Fort. His grandfather turned the centuries-old family farm into a commercial winery 25 years ago. His father modernized and expanded the hectares under production. With a degree in agronomy and family experience grandson Thomas is well prepared to continue pushing the limits of quality of Le Fort wines.
Many of their wines are aged in oak barrels and are moderately priced – especially considering the quality.
I must admit that I’ve not traditionally been a fan of gewurztraminer or riesling wines. Growing up in America the latter half of the 20th century when wine imports were limited, the German varieties available were wines that simply were too sweet for my taste. It took later experiences traveling to Europe to discover that there are dry gewurztraminer and rieslings.
Although new to making gewurztraminer, Domaine Le Fort’s had a nose of early summer flowers, flowering herbs and a hint of lime zest. In the mouth the citrus notes were pronounced along with hints of mango and juniper. The finish left a clean dry feeling in the mouth and throat.
The Riesling had little aroma for the nose. That’s not a problem since hints of clean fresh air are always pleasant. The palate was quite surprised when it tasted notes of petrol at first sip that quickly dissipate into green apples, currents and fresh figs. Not as dry as the gewurztraminer, the flavors continued into the throat.
Chardonnay has also not been a favorite of mine, but Domaine Le Fort ages theirs in oak, which balances the sweetness of the fruit notes I find annoying in chardonnay. The oak does add subtle aromas for the nose of fireplace smoke in the distance when outside walking, honey and summer flowers. In the mouth these aromas smoothly blend and finish in the throat.
Rosé in oak also continued my education into the world of dry fermentations of this too often sweet wine. The oak imparts a lighter aroma than for the chardonnay but with hints of cranberries and raspberries. In the mouth the light oak tempers the sweetness of the fruit and adds a punch that most rosés don’t possess. The finish is surprisingly dry as the flavors dissipate in the throat.
Domaine Le Fort started growing malbeck grapes ten years ago. This grape that’s strongly identified with the fine malbecks of Argentina takes on a different character in southern France. The aromas to the nose were the traditional rich full flavors of ripe berries and sweet tobacco. In the mouth these notes were accompanied by a surprising sense of spice – freshly ground pepper. That added to the taste like freshly ground pepper on strawberries. The finish was still dry extending the flavor notes far down the throat. Its character is different than in Argentina, but a fine addition to malbec vintages.
For over 900 years the market in Revel has been in continuous operation every Saturday. Revel, in the Haute-Garonne in southwestern France, is about an hour from the French House Party and Carcassonne.
The halles (food market) is in the middle of the medieval town of Revel surrounded by arcaded buildings, some still the original half-timbered ones. Food vendors are under the roof, and miscellaneous items are on streets radiating from the central square.
The halles is the most notable feature of Revel in its central square. The 14th-century partially covered building is supported by massive wooden pillars and beams topped by a distinctive bell-tower.
The variety of foods available is overwhelming. From fresh black truffles to white asparagus, duck livers in tomato sauce to snails in garlic and parsley, the market requires a lot of self-control not to overbuy. It also highlights the abundance of agricultural products of southern France.
It takes awhile to comprehend that every Saturday for 900 years foodies have been coming to this site for the finest ingredients. Although it was my third experience, it takes time as well to comprehend the cocoon of serenity that Domaine St. Raymond provides for the creative activities of the French House Party. The 21st century isn’t about serenity, but that doesn’t stop Moira Martingale from ignoring that restriction. Within that cocoon an international gathering of the curious will share, learn and dine on fine food.
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.
With the view from my room at Iniohos Hotel & Restaurant, Delphi, 700 meters/2,300 feet up Mount Parnassus, overlooking the Pleistos Valley and the Corinthian Gulf it’s no wonder the Oracle of Delphi could glimpse the future!
Yannis Papathanasiou, second generation owner of Iniohos, is as equally fascinated as I with the interplay of ancient regional culture and history with the development of the region’s food. He decries the weakening of traditional food making techniques and availability of such products as cheese from Crete using an enzyme from fresh figs, and natural yeast made from boiling grapes to syrup creating natural yeast used in their breads.
Yannis shares a feeling frequently expressed to this well-Greek-traveled journalist that Greek tourism in general has not concentrated enough on developing local tourism that cover these interest – popular culture/”people culture,” the history – not simply ancient – and local foods rarely found outside of the region.
Shortly after lunch, Yannis was off to food markets in Athens – 200 plus mile round trip – to pick up special ingredients from trusted purveyors and special spices from India. He didn’t arrive back until well after midnight. India?
A lunch of flaky spiral spanakopita, local grilled smoked sausages, tomato and feta salad all seemed very typical for a traditional Greek restaurant. Yet then an aromatic plate of Indian squash and peppers arrived. The executive chef at Iniohos is from India, and there’s a reason.
Delphi was a magnet for the entire pan-Hellenic world beyond what we now know as Greece. It was always an international city bringing together believers in the Pantheon. Today tourists from China, India and Japan flock to marvel at Delphi – as well as many other ancient Greek sites. After all, at one time all these regions were contemporaries – allies and enemies – always tied by the commerce of the great trade routes.
Hotel Iniohos sits high on the steep Mount Parnassus hillsides in the heart of Delphi. Delphi’s founding is shrouded in mist dating from the 1400s BC. Yet by the apex of the classical era (600s – 400s BC) and even into Macedonian and Roman empire days Delphi held an unparalleled position – and earned great wealth – within the belief system of the Greek pantheon. Considered the “navel of the world” to ancient Greeks Delphi was more important than the gods’ home of Mount Olympus. Delphi was their Vatican.
Pythia, the honorary name given to the Oracle of Delphi, held sessions from the stunningly positioned Temple of Apollo. There is evidence of volcanic fumes that seep up from deep in this tectonic active region that may have induced euphoria, even hallucinations. The Oracle’s pronouncements on the petitions and predictions asked were often cryptic – almost rants – and open to wide interpretations. Yet listened to with baited breath and frequently followed with auspicious outcomes.
Delphi was more than just the Oracle and became a commercial religious city of pilgrimage. Temples, sanctuaries, a vast theater with panoramic views of the valley and sacred springs dot the site.
The Thelos at the Sanctuary of Athena (4th century BC) in Delphi is iconic. It was often the first temple many pilgrims saw when entering the vast complex of the Oracle. Considered in its own day a masterpiece of Greek architectural symmetry and polychrome decoration it had 20 outer and 10 inner marble columns. Devotees of Athena still come to pay homage and pray to the goddess.
The ancient site of Delphi – a mere 20-minute walk or short taxi ride from the center of town – is extensive and built on the hills of Mount Parnassus, so walking within the site is essential. There is a modest admission charge to the main complex – the Temple of Apollo – including the excellent Archaeological Museum of Delphi. There is no admission charge to enter the Thelos at the Sanctuary of Athena, which is another easy 20-minute walk down the hill. You do want to see it all so allow yourself at least 3-hours.
The modern Archaeological Museum of Delphi caps this UNESCO World Heritage Site and is recessed into the mountain constructed of the same honey colored marble as the temples. Much of the art were gifts from around the pan-Hellenic world to the Oracle and priests of the temples, or burial objects for those fortunate enough to be interred in this sacred land. It’s superbly arranged in chronological order from 2,000-year-old bronze figurines to the eerily beautiful statue to Antinoos (2nd century AD). This remembrance to a tragic gay love story is sculpted in marble smooth as wax with rivulets of hair delicate and life-like.
On the morning I walked the grounds of the Thelos at the Sanctuary of Athena, a group of women – not a staged event – were dressed in modern versions of ancient robes chanting and meditating to the goddess Athena. It seemed strange at first. Then it all became real; they were giving thanks at the navel of the world to mother Earth.
When you go: Modern toll-roads and many bus companies connect Athens with Delphi.
Disclaimer: the author was a guest of Iniohos Hotel & Restaurant. Travel arrangements were made by the MTCgroup
You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:
It’s appropriate that an ancient fruit should have a close relationship with an ancient town. Both the pomegranate and Ermioni have been part of recorded history for millennium. Situated in the southeast Peloponnese, the Kranidi region of the Peloponnese is an agriculture powerhouse for Greece especially olives & pomegranate.
The annual Pomegranate Festival in Ermioni held the end of October featured delicious juices, liquors, the seeds, pomegranate inspired art and of course the fruit itself. But the whole town was involved especially the restaurants featuring pomegranate inspired dishes. In Greek mythology the pomegranate was known as the “fruit of the dead,” but it seemed very much alive in Ermioni.
Maria’s on the waterfront this weekend offered a tasty bowl of Greek yogurt topped with apples, thyme honey and pomegranate seeds for breakfast.
One of the more fascinating parts of the Festival were the cooking demonstrations by chef’s from the local area. One dish in particular caught everyone’s attention, and was his original. I would call it a “buckwheat risotto.”
Buckwheat Risotto – approximately 4 servings
1 & 1/2 cups buckwheat
2 & ¼ cups water
(Note: that’s the end of measurements for this dish. Simply increase buckwheat and water if you want more than four servings and play with ratios of honey and pomegranate.)
Cook the buckwheat: Add water to the buckwheat, bring to a boil, then simmer for 20 minutes; Amount after cooking: 4 cups.
thyme honey (at least ¼ a cup)
generous handful of washed, dried and chopped cilantro
juice of one lime
olive oil (at least ½ cup)
salt and pepper to taste
1 pound slivered pork loin in the honey mixture until buckwheat is cooked.
1 pound of sweet onions sliced
Heat a large skillet
Thinly coat with olive oil and then add the onions and caramelize for 10 minutes.
Then add the pork and marinade.
Stir-fry for a couple minutes and then add at least one cup of white wine
Allow the liquid to reduce by 1/3rd then add one Tablespoons dijon mustard.
And add 1/3rd cup pomegranate liqueur
Then add ½ to 1/3rd cup cream.
Stir for a few minutes more add salt and pepper to taste as well as additional pomegranate juice or liqueur until sauce is creamy to taste.
Serve over buckwheat garnished with a good handful of fresh pomegranate seeds and, if desired a sprinkle of feta can be added.
The 2017 Pomegranate Festival coincided with the Greek national patriotic commemoration of Ohi Day celebrated throughout Greece, and the Greek diaspora on 28 October each year. Ohi Day commemorates the rejection by Greek Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas of the ultimatum for surrender made by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini on 28 October 1940.
Ohi Day is celebrated by honoring the youth of Greece, both in the thousands of young lives sacrificed during the bloody 20th century, but in the respect shown by the generations for each other. School after school band march in precision watched by all while towns honor with certificates those high school graduates granted admission in this ancient nation’s universities. The pomegranate may have been the “fruit of the dead,” but it nourished many. Greece understands that youth is not the future; it’s the present.
When you go: Ermionia is easily reached by high speed ferry from Piraeus. Or it’s approximately a 2 hour drive from Athens on excellent roads with some stunning views.
On Andros Island in the Cyclades Islands, it’s easy to be distracted by vistas at every turn. With my first glimpse of the glittering harbor of Batsi it was obvious I’d enjoy four days exploring the island’s coastline and dramatic interior.
I can’t think of a better way to spend a beautiful afternoon than lunch at Taverna Lagoudera on Batsi harbor. When you can still taste the natural saltiness of the Aegean Sea on the sea bream you know you’re in heaven (aka Greece).
Andros and its sister island Tinos (the subject of my March Hellenic News article) are affluent escapes with more villas than hotel rooms. Within easy access of Athens through the port of Rafina, the comfortable car-ferries of the Fast Ferry group run year round. Restaurants, cafes and coffee shops thrive on this island
From Bulgaria’s Bansko ski and trekking center, the calm Aegean coastline of Halkidiki and the Cyclades Island of Paros, Ermia Resorts are havens of comfort, design and fine cuisine.
Summer or winter lush forests, mountains of marble and gurgling streams, surround you. In the cocoon that’s the Premier Luxury Mountain Resort, Le Spa will soften the physical exertions of your outdoor activities. At the art-filled Lobby Bar you’ll imbibe such creations as their Maple Whiskey cocktail. While dining in the Amvrosia Restaurant your taste buds will thank you for choosing the Premier’s unique fusion of Greek and Bulgarian cuisine.
Eastern Macedonia and Thrace is a region still home to the mix of ethnicities and religions that have settled on these lush, mountainous lands.
The lush mountainous terrain of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace make driving difficult. It’s not the well-maintained roads; it’s the distractions. I wanted to constantly pull the car over, get out and take yet another photo of scenes that I know the Greats of the ancient world witnessed. Every few miles another sign pointed to a sanctuary of the pantheon, sacred cave or ancient theater.
A hundred years! A hundred years are gone
Of Grecian mornings and of Grecian sunsets!
Make them a coffin wide, O carpenter,
And bury them, the hapless dead, in silence!
(Kostas Palamas 1859-1943)
By the dawn of the 20th century the three major regional kingdoms bordering what would become the First World War’s Macedonian Front (Greece, the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria) were players in a grand game of thrones. Britain, France and Germany would dictate the script. The chess pieces in this first round of what would be an ever more deadly 20th century spiral would be a generation of young men.
Please read more of the most difficult to write and heart wrenching article I’ve ever been assigned…
What may seem an oxymoron, an agnostic recognizing the sacredness of Mt. Athos, is perfectly normal to me. I do not believe in a divine being, but freely accept the holiness of humanity and creation, whatever caused the big bang. I accept holiness because it’s impossible to deny visceral emotions when immersed in surroundings that dwarf ordinary human expression.
There are certainly impressive mountains that tower over 2,033 meter/6,670 foot Mt. Athos, even in Greece. It’s not about size. It’s all about perception.
Read more about my experiences on Mount Athos in the Hellenic News of America…
Nowhere in the southern Balkans has a region been so coveted by empires than Croatia with over 1,100 miles of photogenic Adriatic coastline. Although the ethnic Croats were themselves 7th century northern invaders, they could not stop a historical process that would come to an end only in late 20th century. The Romans, Venetians, Hungarians, Austrians, Ottomans, Mussolini’s Italy and Serbs all lusted over this beautiful and strategic land akin to the biblical neighbor’s wife.
Today Croatia is invaded not by empires but by golden hordes of tourists…
Read more on my travels to Croatia in the Hellenic News of America