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…
Nothing significant about the number 100 just a human penchant for symmetry. Although I continued to write for publications for which I had deadlines, since February I took time away from my own website to reorganize a significant facet of life – to be settled or wander. Necessity for the change was partly dictated by the end of a long relationship – isn’t that the truth in literature.
But as a life-long traveler – I was barely 20 years old when I went off on a solo year in Europe – the decision I made did not cause much loss of sleep. Okay, a little. Perhaps it was loosing the relationship that caused more sleepless nights, but that’s more for a romance novel than a travel web site, and besides, it ended amicably.
Being a full-time culinary and cultural travel writer since 2009 after a long and varied career as a chef, educator and historian, relocating – having a permanent address – in any number of suitable American locations appeared an oxymoron. (I’m doing my best not to bring politics into this.)
Except for frequent transportation connections – aka waiting – I freely admit being turned-on by the road. Why have an apartment when I don’t have to clean a hotel room? Why cook for myself when as a culinary writer it’s the cuisine of others that I seek? Why agonize over choosing among Earth’s beautiful locations when passport in hand I can be on a beach, hiking in a mountain or rambling through a vibrant urban space.
That doesn’t mean I seek the life of a wandering gypsy. I do have commitments to publications, fine public relations firms and tourism boards that work with me and my own interests that have already helped shape life for the foreseeable future.
One month ago, after considerable research and several invitations, I embarked on an ambitious seven month schedule that has already taken me to Mexico, France, the Pyrenees Mountain Principality of Andorra and, after several days in Barcelona, currently a long train ride through the beautiful Spanish countryside for a return visit to the ancient Roman/Visigoth/Moorish/Spanish city of Cordoba – a personal favorite.
By mid-June I’ll make a long-anticipated visit to Morocco. Having extensive life experiences with Spanish and Latino cultures and cuisine, Morocco – the wellspring of Moorish civilization – is essential in understanding the interplay of cultures that has so influenced the Western Mediterranean, Central and South America.
From Morocco I’ll fly east to the Balkans and a third return to beloved Greece. My smart sponsors for two months in Greece – September and October – not only admire my writing on Greek culture and cuisine, but also recognize my keen interest in history. I’ve always taken a holistic view that the life experiences of people in any region help determine its fascination as a travel destination.
1917 was the turning point for the Balkans and Greece during the First World War. Thessaloniki in particular is honoring this pivotal year that saw Macedonia and Thrace reunited with southern Greece after centuries of separation during Ottoman rule. Besides continuing culinary and cultural explorations in the north and Halkidiki – including Mount Athos – the Corinthian coast in the south will be a new region that’ll only add to my Greek experience.
Prior to my Greek return in September there are the months of July and August which will be filled with culinary and 1917 experiences in the heart of the Balkans including first time visits to Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria and the city that sparked the world changing conflagration, the Bosnia-Herzegovina capital of Sarajevo.
By the 1st of December I’ll have made a full circle from where this adventure started returning to Mexico where I already signed a year-long lease on a beautiful apartment in Puerto Vallarta with stunning views of the Pacific Ocean – and weekly maid service (I still don’t have to clean!) It’s fortuitous that just as life was changing, invitations for two culinary press trips to Puerto Vallarta occupied a month of my life last Autumn. Not only did the city’s excellent cuisine and vibrant culture win me over but solidified my acceptance that being on the road is the life meant for me.
So a year in one city is not like being on the road? Not necessarily since exploring Central and South America has been part of my writing life since 2009 and Puerto Vallarta will become a hub.
After 2018…I don’t yet need to know. That’s the freedom of being on the road. The hundred days of silence are over, and a hundred articles are sure to follow.
The three peninsulas of Halkidiki – Kassandra, Sithonia and Athos – are the summer playgrounds of Macedonia. Blessed with numerous and secluded beaches, surrounded by the clear blue Aegean sea with pine forested mountains of wild flowers, olive trees and vineyards, it’s no wonder Halkidiki has been favored by Greeks since antiquity. Only a couple hours drive from the nation’s second largest city, Thessaloniki, and within a day’s drive from the Balkans, its many resort hotels especially draw a plethora of Eastern Europeans, Ukrainians and Russians seeking sun, sand, hospitality and Greek cuisine.
The Alexandros Palace is located just outside Ouranoupolis, one of many towns built in the 1920s as a result of the traumatic exchange of Greek and Turkish populations that took place after the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the merger of Macedonia into Greece. Once the site of an ancient village – its 14th century tower fortress is a landmark – and still the gateway to 7,000 ft. Mt. Athos, today Ouranoupolis is a tourist and fisherman’s town.
The Alexandros Palace Hotel, within site of the autonomous and sacred Monastic State of Mt. Athos, is a self-contained 250-room resort village rising from its wide beach up the hill and spreading over 90 acres. Like most of Halkidiki’s resorts an all-inclusive meal plan includes extensive buffets for breakfast and dinner and offers something for everyone from meat lovers to the devoutly vegan. Yet true Greek cuisine shines in Halkidiki hotels a la carte restaurants for those not desiring a buffet.
Chef Giorgos Kosmidis commands the poolside Taverna at the Alexandros Palace Hotel. Having enjoyed several meals over two separate trips, it has taken this chef journalist a year to convince chef Giorgos to part with his intensely flavored yet simple shrimp creation. The Aegean is a seafood lover’s supermarket and the shrimp may well have been caught that very day off the coast of Ouranoupolis.
Chef Giorgos Kosmidis Halkidiki shrimp – four servings
1 pound large shrimp (reserve shells for the stock)
2 bay leaves
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon oregano – preferably Greek oregano
2 tablespoons sweet butter
1 cup dry white wine
1 garlic clove, minced
2 cups chopped parsley
1 cup heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
salt and white pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon sweet paprika
Remove the shells from the shrimp and reserve the shrimp in the refrigerator while making the stock.
Place the shells in a quart size saucepan and add the bay leaves, nutmeg, oregano and a little salt and white pepper. Add cold water just to the level of the shells. Place the saucepan over medium high heat and bring to a boil. Cook until the liquid is reduced to 1/4th of a cup (2 ounces). Strain and discard the shells reserving the reduced shrimp stock.
Melt the butter in a sauté pan and cook the shrimp for one minute turning once.
Add the wine to the shrimp, bring to a simmer and cook for one minute.
With a slotted spoon remove the shrimp from the wine and keep warm.
To the wine add the 1/4th cup shrimp stock, parsley and garlic. Bring to a simmer and cook for two minutes.
Add the heavy cream, cayenne pepper and sweet paprika. Bring to a simmer and cook for five minutes.
Add the reserved shrimp and warm for one minute.
Divide among four plates and serve with crusty bread used to absorb the sauce and a dry Greek white wine such as Mt. Athos ΙΕΡΑ ΜΟΝΗ ΑΓΙΟΥ ΠΑΥΛΟΥ (Holy Monastery of St. Paul), Monoxilitiko, a blend of 90% sauvignon blanc with local varieties. It had a nose of honey and sage followed by summer floral notes with a surprisingly dry finish.
While at the Alexandros Palace Hotel, don’t pass up the luxurious Panalee Spa and the new specialty shop selling Mt. Athos wines, skin care products and local foods. In the evening, the spacious Theater Bar with its lower level dance floor and stage might as well be the town square of this village resort. Twin brothers Thomas and Janis Aslanidis, the musically talented and genial young heirs to the Alexandros Palace Hotel, might just be tending bar and don’t be surprised either if managers Yiannis Misopapas and Kyriakos Mandouvalos are mingling among the guests. After all this is Greece with hospitality and cuisine as legendary as its mythology.
When you go:
Ouranoupolis is an easy 2 – 3 hour drive (busier on weekends) on modern roads from Thessaloniki International Airport.
I’ve made Spanakopita most of my life. As a chef it’s been part of my repertoire my entire career. It’s flavorful, a classic vegetarian dish and easy once you become familiar using phyllo dough.
In North America phyllo is found in the freezer section of many grocery stores. (Making the same paper thin dough at home requires skill and helpers). Once you’re familiar handling phyllo its versatility is amazing.
I have wrapped anything and everything into attractive phyllo packets especially for hot hor d’oeuvres. They have graced many a buffet and cocktail party. Yet it wasn’t until I started traveling to Greece that I discovered not all phyllo is paper thin and difficult to prepare.
The village of Vathi on the Cycladic Island of Sifnos is a classic beauty. The winding road descends from the hills and one’s first glimpse is the gleaming white buildings clustered in a crescent on a white sand beach in front of the clear aqua water of the Aegean. Cars are parked at the entrance to the village because there’s nowhere else to drive. The few narrow streets – more stone paths than roads – were made for goats and donkeys.
After passing through the 17th century Church of Evangelistria Taxiarches, which creates part of the seawall, you walk a short distance on the beach to a grove of trees shading Tsikali Taverna. Nearly as many tables are directly on the sand as under the roof of the open-air restaurant. Flora and Nikos Kratzeskaros have operated Tsikali Taverna for decades.
Knowing that a chef culinary journalist was visiting that day Flora demonstrated how easy it was to make phyllo dough that isn’t the paper thin variation. Except for many dessert pastries, Greeks don’t use the paper thin sheets familiar to me. For savory dishes they roll fresh dough to the thickness of a thin pizza crust.
I developed this variation on classic Spanakopita decades ago and have used it my entire career. It calls for the frozen dough familiar to most outside of Greece, but you can certainly substitute this New York Times recipe for the dough Flora Kratzeskaros taught me.
I add cottage cheese along with feta because I like the mix. Sometimes I include a couple tablespoons of toasted pine nuts and a grating of fresh nutmeg. All are ingredients traditional to Greece and Eastern Mediterranean cuisine therefore as authentic as any dish can be that has existed for thousands of years and is part of several regional cuisines.
Spanakopita – 6 entrée portions
1/3rd pound defrosted phyllo dough
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup diced sweet onion
1 teaspoon dried basil
½ teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
2 pounds fresh spinach or 20 ounces of loose frozen chopped spinach
2 cups crumbled feta cheese
2 cups cottage cheese
Defrost filo dough still wrapped for 24 hours in the refrigerator. DO NOT unwrap until instructed in step #8.
If using frozen spinach: remove from the bag and place in a colander over a bowl large enough to fit the colander. Thaw the spinach for 24 hours in the refrigerator. Discard the collected spinach water or reserve for other uses. Place the spinach in a large square of cheesecloth or a kitchen towel and press out as much liquid as possible.
If using fresh spinach: remove the stems and chop the leaves. Rinse in a colander and place in a large pot. Cover the pot and steam, stirring several times, until soft, approximately 5 minutes. Place the spinach in a large square of cheesecloth or a kitchen towel and press out as much liquid as possible.
Preheat oven to 375°
Melt 2 tablespoons unsalted butter in a sauté pan and add the onions, basil, oregano, salt and pepper. Sauté until lightly browned.
In a large mixing bowl combine onion, spinach, feta cheese, cottage cheese and eggs.
Melt the remaining 6 tablespoons unsalted butter in a small pan.
Remove the thawed phyllo from its wrapping and unfold onto a kitchen towel or waxed paper. Cover immediately with a slightly damp kitchen towel (phyllo dries and crumbles quickly when exposed to dry air).
Brush the bottom and sides of a deep pie or flan pan (10” X 2”) lightly with butter.
Arrange 8 sheets of phyllo overlapping in a circular pattern. The phyllo will larger than the diameter of the pan. (cover the remaining phyllo with the damp towel) Brush the phyllo with half of the remaining melted butter. Spread the spinach mixture into the pan and overlap the phyllo over the spinach one piece at a time. Gently press the phyllo onto the spinach and with a serrated knife score the phyllo into 6 wedges – do not cut through the spinach – this makes it easier to serve without the flakey dough breaking apart after baking. Brush the top with the remaining butter. (Wrap the remaining phyllo dough in waxed paper and then in aluminum foil sealing well. You can place that in a plastic bag. Refrigerate up to 3 weeks for later use.)
Place the dish on a sheet pan and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour until the phyllo is light golden brown. Allow the Spanakopita to rest for 10 minutes before serving.
A 9” X 13” cake pan can be used for the Spanakopita and it can be scored into smaller portions to be served as a first course.
You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:
As Thessaloniki has been at the crossroads of Greek history for 2,500 years then by all means walk the city. It’s not a small city but easy for anyone who enjoys a good low-impact hike. When that stroll includes stops at world-class historic sites, vibrant centuries old markets and unique cafes, the discoveries that are in store can be amazing.
What to visit:
Roman archeological sites: the 4th century triumphal arch of the Emperor Galarius still has a direct road connecting his palace to the Rotunda. For over 2,000 years the Rotunda served as a Greek/Roman temple, Christian church, mosque and now an Orthodox Church treasure.
The Archaeology Museum of Thessaloniki houses a wealth of culture that both Macedonia and the city fostered from pre-historic times to the golden age of Alexander.
Towering above downtown Thessaloniki up the foothills of Mount Chortiatis where the ancient acropolis was located, the massive fortress of the Heptapyrgion guarded the city for nearly two millenniums. Started by the Romans in the late 4th century it was substantially expanded by the Byzantine Empire in the 12th century and Ottomans in the 15th.
Down the hill the Monastery of Vlatadon in Ano Poli was built on a site already sacred where St. Paul preached to the Thessalonians in the year 51.
Until its near destruction in the great fire of 1917 the historic Ladadika district was the heart of Thessaloniki’s commercial activity and Jewish heritage. What survived both the fire and Nazi extermination is the heart of tradition and the city’s elegant beaux-arts pre-World War II rebuilding. Today it’s a trendy neighborhood of cafes and shops. Centuries old market arcades, the Modeano and Bezesteni in particular, still ply traditional goods such as textiles, flowers and jewelry.
Cafes surround the 15th century Bey Hamam, a preserved Ottoman public bathhouse.
The White Tower, built by the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century on Roman and Byzantine foundations, is a popular icon and focal point of the new seaside promenade.
It is an undeniable cliché that the islands of Greece are firmly part of the great destinations of the world. It’s an extra pleasure to be a guest on one of the lesser known islands, Kythnos. The island is ideal for tourists who seek tranquility. Five photo perfect villages dot the island and all are easy to reach by car. Their compact size makes them enjoyable to wander on foot. Kythnos being a classic Cyclades mountaintop, driving the roads means going either up or down until on the spine of the island. The panoramic views are spectacular. Read my article in the Hellenic News of America, Kythnos: small island with a big Greek heart.
Homer chose Ios as his final resting ground. His tranquil burial site on the herb blanketed north hills of the island offers a panoramic view of the Aegean. In the 21st century thousands of young tourist in July and August choose the island for its clubs, resorts, secluded beaches and music scene. Yet even at the height of the summer season and certainly the remaining ten months of the year, the tranquility Homer enjoyed for millenniums is the genuine character of Ios. my article in the Hellenic News of America, Slow down on the Greek party island of Ios tells you how to still have fun!
Flowering shrubs, trees, herbs and succulents blanket the hillsides while clear Aegean water laps Paros Island’s shore. Classic white villages accented with blue are surrounded by soil envied in the Cyclades. Buildings jumble upon one another like blocks and many pre-industrial stone streets are pedestrian only, too narrow for anything more mechanized than a scooter. Ancient and protected grape vines thrive along with winter wheat, olives, fruit and produce. Please read aboutSavor culinary and historic Paros Island in the Hellenic News of America.
From volcanic cooking at Cafe Restaurant Sirocco on the island of Milos to Barriello’s 150-year-old vaulted basement in ancient Trypiti, the culinary scene in Milos is part of a trend among young Greek chefs to preserve grandmother’s recipes but tweak them for the 21st century. Read about this gastronomic find in the Hellenic News of America in Eating Milos: culinary stars in a Cycladic galaxy
The steep Sifnos Island hillsides that rise from the Aegean Sea are crisscrossed by dozens of centuries old foot and donkey paths. These tended rock walled paths still connect island towns. With the decline in the use of donkeys, Sifnos tourism promotes them as ideal walking trails, although a hiker will have to make way for goats and the occasional working donkey. This acceptance that both ancient and every day reality still coexist is the unique pleasure of Sifnos, and in the Hellenic News of America find out why Tradition crafts 21st century Sifnos.
“Selene is zero distance from farm to table,” Georgia Tsara says with a broad smile obviously as pleased with the restaurant’s location on Santorini as she is with this fabled island’s products. The volcano that blew Santorini into history 3,500 years ago is responsible for sculpting the magnificent and photogenic 800-foot cliffs currently topped by some of the most sought after hotels in all the Greek Islands.It’s responsible as well for some products unique in all of Greece, and my article, A Santorini lunch with Selene’s Georgia Tsarain the Hellenic News of America will guide you to one of the finest meals you’ll experience in your travels.
Not all Greek islands are similar, just as the mainland is a patchwork of ecosystems. The Cyclades, the tourist mecca of islands in the south Aegean, tend to be dry with low vegetation and whitewashed villages trimmed in blue shuttered windows and doors. Alonissos, located in the central Aegean, is the most northerly of the Sporades islands with towering pine forests tumbling down the rocky cliffs to the sea. They’re more akin to the northern New England coast of the U.S.A. than southern Greece. Discover why Alonissos Island is a floating spoon sweet.
You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:
The twisting streets of Kavala’s old city reveals its recent past. The architecture is a mosaic of historical patterns befitting a port city serving empires. Known as Neapolis for its first thousand years, Kavala has born witness to dreamers and emperors since the 7th century B.C. It’s easy to marvel at the 16th century engineering beauty of the Kamares aquaduct from the fortress.
Adding to the charm of the city are important and entertaining sites in the nearby countryside – the impressive remains of Philippi, Lydia, the Krinides Therapeutic Clay Baths and vineyards on the mountain where Dionysus resided in the Pangaion Hills.
To get there, stay at, go to and dine please read…
“Alonissos is a close knit community,” British expats Dave Court and Gerry Ivison said. For me it’s the robetiko ballads that touch the soul of both Alonissos and Greece.
Not all Greek islands are similar. In this most northerly of the Sporades islands, the towering pine forests tumble down the rocky cliffs to the sea.
Secluded beaches, historic towns, lush pine forests, the land gives way to solitude as one drives north from the port capital of Patitiri to Gerka. Cafes, tavernas, museums, hotels, artists all make Alonissos home, and so did pirates.
Read more in my Hellenic News of America column on this alluring central Aegean island…