Category Archives: Greece

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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A Central Macedonian feast from the Silk Road

Dionysos Orma Restaurant, Loxandra Restaurant, The View Cafe Food-Bar (Tzibaepi Taverna) and the Courtyard Cafe at Hotel Hagiati: four restaurants in the Edessa/Pella Region that serve classic Greek cuisine … or is it just Greek?

Silk Road

The name itself, the Silk Road, conjures romantic images of camel laden caravans, vast desserts and colorful markets where merchants speaking dozens of languages hawked the wealth of the world. That was fairly close to the truth.

“We think of globalization as a uniquely modern phenomenon; yet 2,000 years ago too, it was a fact of life…” ― Peter Frankopan, The Silk Roads: A New History of the World

Although camels are not commonly used, the business connections made over 2,000 years ago remain. The Silk Road was a commercial system of trade routes from the Orient to the Eastern Mediterranean, not one trek. Dozens of ancillary routes spun off a major artery into the Indian subcontinent, the Arabian Peninsula and Eastern Europe.

Folklife Museum, Giannitsa shows the Balkan/Near East influences of the Silk Road

 

“Location, location, location…”

Goods from lumber to saffron streamed through Thrace and Macedonia in mutual trade with Asia for both internal consumption and distribution to other markets. The region’s borders were a natural gateway for the Balkans. The Agora (marketplace) of Pella in Central Macedonia built by Alexander the Great (c.300s B.C.E.) was the largest in the ancient world. The port city of Thessaloniki was founded in this era to take advantage of Silk Road trade.

When the Romans built the Via Egnatia  after they expanded their empire (c. 100s B.C.E.) it linked the Adriatic Sea with Thessaloniki and continued to what is today Istanbul. The modern highway (A2) that covers the same route nearly parallels the Roman road. The Silk Road has simply morphed in form.

roast eggplant in olive oil (origin of eggplant is India)

It would be unrealistic to imagine that millenniums old contacts among diverse cultures and geographies could not have major impacts on food. Reality has been that Alexander himself brought Pella Region cherries from Asia. Zucchini, potatoes and tomatoes have nothing to do with the Silk Road but are New World vegetables not available in Europe until the 16th century.

It’s common for the menus to proudly print that all products used in restaurants are sourced local. More than two millenniums later the principal occupations of Central Macedonia are still in agriculture – peaches, cherries, cotton, tobacco, wine, grains and animal products. Four restaurants in less than 36 hours provided more than enough to sample the Silk Road ingredients of Central Macedonian regional cuisine.

Dionysos Orma, Edessa

Dionysos Orma, Edessa, Mr. Tassos Avramidis (photo descriptions from top left)

 

Batzo: sheep or goat milk cheese served with spicy tomato marmalade from central and western Macedonia.

Giant beans slow pan cooked with tomato and herbs. Many variations on this dish throughout the Silk Road world.

Fried Zucchini with tzatziki sauce. The zucchini, like all squash, originates in the Americas. However, the varieties of squash typically called “zucchini” were developed in northern Italy in the second half of the 19th century generations after the introduction of cucurbits from the Americas in the early 16th century.

sun dried grape leaves

Vine leaves over veal with lemon, feta cheese and dill. Sun dried vine leaves have an intense flavor and when hydrated are free of the salty brine of bottled leaves.

 

Tsobleki: In its simplest form, this is a dish of usually red meat in tomato sauce slow cooked in its clay pot, a “tsobleki.”  Dionysos Orma’s is a traditional Edessa recipe using veal and adding potatoes, courgettes, eggplant, red roasted peppers, mushrooms, tomato sauce and feta cheese.

Kavourma: a casserole with traditional salami made of beef, ham and pork, potatoes, peppers and herbs served warm. Kavourma has many variations as a fried or sautéed meat dish in Silk Road cuisines.

Pumpkin spoon sweet (in a spiral) stays crunchy because it’s under ripe before cooking.

Kormos: A popular and simple comfort food dessert – layers of biscuits and chocolate garnished with coconut.

Retsina & aged tsipuro

to drink…

A premium Retsina (yes there are premium vintages of this ancient wine!) Resin, especially from Apleppo, has been used since ancient days to seal oxygen out of porous clay amphorae to extend the wine’s life. Wines from Thrace and Macedonia were distributed through the Silk Road,

By the 3rd century, barrel making was common throughout the Roman Empire. The exception was the eastern regions, which became the Byzantine Empire, where resin was used to seal the barrels or directly flavor the white wine. A new generation of Greeks are now discovering a new generation of retsina.

Tsipouro has been the poster child of thriftiness for centuries.  This simple distillation of the must – left overs after grapes have been pressed for wine – has been popular with Greek monks and moonshiners ever since. Now it has entered the premium spirits realm – aged tsipouros are available. The brandy-like aromas vary depending on type of barrel used and previous use of the barrel.   The Katsaros Family tsipouro has been in smoky scotch whisky oak barrels for five years.

Loxandra Restaurant, Giannitsa

Loxandra Restaurant, Giannitsa. Mrs. Soso, owner, sitting in the greenhouse-like dining room.

Moussaka is an eggplant or potato-based dish common throughout the Middle East, the Hellenic world and the Balkans with many regional variations. The Greek version includes layers of meat and eggplant topped with a béchamel sauce – Loxandra’s had a particularly thick, creamy béchamel topping. The eggplant is a child of the Silk Road first cultivated in northern India.

Tzatziki Sauce (basically yogurt, garlic and dill) is embedded in regional Greek and Middle Eastern cuisines.

Fried cheese and raspberry jam. A significant variety of semi hard to hard cheeses throughout the region have been used to prepare this popular meze. Sirene is a regional brine cheese frequently fried.

Salad with pomegranate seeds: The pomegranate originated in Persia and northern India and has been cultivated since ancient times throughout the Mediterranean region. It’s probably as important in Greek mythology as it is tasty in its many culinary uses.

Eggplant cooked with tomatoes and herb. Of course, the tomato, so commonly used in Greek cuisine, is classic New World and did not enter Greek cooking until the 17th century but that does not stop this from being a beloved preparation.

Zucchini stuffed with meat topped with delicate avaglomono sauce. Variations on this lemon egg sauce have been around forever.

Dolma with rice. Dolma is a family of stuffed dishes (grape leaves or cabbage) common in Mediterranean cuisine and surrounding regions including the Balkans, the South Caucasus, Central Asia, and the Middle East.

Roast sheep with lettuce. The Silk Road encouraged “head to tail” consumption.

Wine: Lunch was accompanied by a fruity but dry Pella region red by Ligas Winery, similar to a Beaujolais.

 

View Food-Bar (Tzibaepi Taverna), Klisokhóri

View Food-Bar (Tzibaepi Taverna), Klisokhóri . (central photo: restaurant view of Edessa )

Shopksa salads are common to a southern Balkan/Northern Greek table. The mild sheep milk cheese, most likely grated sirene, was perked up by a napping of balsamic vinegar. Of course, every dish with tomatoes is post 16th century since it is an American fruit.

The local freshwater trout is as Greek as they get. The Edessa/Pella region has an abundant supply of fresh water streams from the surrounding mountains. Simple, with slabs of grilled potatoes.

Delectable dishes of roasted eggplant with olive oil and fried cheese are popular small plates.

Roasted local mushrooms from the Black Forest. Greece’s forests, especially in the north, have 150 edible mushroom varieties.

Aegean Sea fried fresh anchovies. Despite the lush mountains and valleys of Central Macedonia the abundance of the Aegean is never far away. These are like savoring french fries.

Grilled Potatoes. The potato was brought to Europe from South America in the 16th century and has never lost its popularity.

Savory beef in tomato sauce – slow cooking…relaxed dining.

 

Courtyard Cafe at Hotel Hagiati, Edessa

Hotel Hagiati’s Trahana Soup

The Hotel Hagiati in the historic medieval Verosi district has an intimate courtyard cafe open to the public well into the evening.Breakfast, complimentary for guests, is available as well.  Both the interior lobby and the courtyard comprise the cafe.

Besides local breads, jams from local fruits and classic phyllo pies there are regional specialties. The Hagiati’s Trahana Soup is ancient (open link for a recipe) a product of the Silk Road and still common throughout the region.

Agrozimi Traditional Food Products

Kostas Martavaltzis

Centuries after its creation as a convenience food to take on Silk Road caravans and keep at home as a staple, Trahana is still being made. The origins of this sourdough or regular breadcrumb-like food is part of the Silk Road’s history.

Kostas Martavaltzoglou is GM and  3rd generation of family owned Agrozimi, makers of traditional Greek grain products since 1969. Trahana is one of their products.

 

Culinary history is human history and too rich to quibble over  words as “authentic.”   All recipes are regional – even to a village or a family. For Central Macedonia and the Edessa/Pella Region it was all about location on the fabled Silk Road.

Looking down on Klisokhóri & the Loggos Valley from the View Food-Bar (Tzibaepi Taverna)

 

When you go: Edessa is an easy 55 miles (90 k.) west of Thessaloniki. It’s possible to drive, take a train or travel by intercity couch bus. Pella Archaeological Site and Giannitsa are within 25 miles (40 k.) from Thessaloniki. Both are on the (Silk) route between Thessaloniki and Edessa.

What to do in the Edessa/Pella Region? At home with Alexander: Edessa and Pella 

Where to stay: Hotel Hagiati: Macedonian comfort in Edessa

Special thanks: Edessa Municipality, Edessa Tourist Information Center and Pass Partout Tourism Marketing for facilitating my visit.

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Hotel Hagiati: Macedonian comfort in Edessa

Absorb the architectural soul of Macedonia at the Hotel Hagiati.

Hotel Hagiati, Edessa, Greece
Hotel Hagiati room

Occupying a historic stone merchant’s house a short stroll from Waterfalls Park, the Hotel Hagiati’s interior is a blend of Balkan and Near East textiles and decorations. It’s not an artificial blend. This traditional Macedonian style is due to being at the crossroads of the world.

Cozy rooms feature wood-paneled ceilings and natural stonewalls, plus minibars, free Wi-Fi and flat-screen TVs. Room service is available and the enclosed garden courtyard of the former stables is a cafe until late in the evening.

Hotel Hagiati lobby

Driving the smooth, flat roads of the Loggos Valley past the ancient cities of Pella and Giannitsa, through lush farmland it was easy to see why this became the heart of an empire. Ahead, visible for miles, was the Rock of Edessa. Looming 1,000 feet above the plains, the current city of Edessa was perched like an eagle’s nest.

The city proper wasn’t always on top of the rock. The top held the acropolis. According to legend a descendent of Hercules, Karanos, founder of the Argead Dynasty, (Alexander the Great’s family) built Edessa as Macedonia’s first capital. Two thousand years later (it’s only “time”) the waterfall was named after him – the tallest in Greece.

The city was at the base on the valley floor close to the agricultural commerce of this affluent region. If a mantra of business has been “location, location, location,” Edessa was blessed. It was a western distribution center for the fabled Silk Route linking Asia and the Mediterranean World since at least the 5th century B.C.E.

looking towards the HOLY METROPOLIS EDESSIS PELLIS AND ALMOPIAS

Both earthquakes and wars during the long history of Edessa meant that few buildings remain intact prior to the 14th century. The Varosi district, where the Hotel Hagiati is located, is the most historic area keeping its character and medieval Macedonian ambiance.

Verosi was created on the site of the city’s ancient citadel after the fall of Edessa to the Ottoman Empire in 1389. This was followed by the catastrophic topography altering 1395 earthquake – it created the waterfalls – which by the mid-19th century had turned the neighborhood into a major water powered industrial center. Significant World War II damage and the demise of the mills led to the Municipality of Edessa in the 1990s to focus on a concerted effort to preserve Verosi.

restoration work in Verosi , Edessa

Meticulous but expensive restoration continues. Restoration must preserve and repair the exterior using identical materials and methods (The Hotel Verosi, the Hagiati’s compatriot around the corner, has a Plexiglas floored lobby covering ancient city walls).

The Hotel Hagiati is a product of this effort, and its location could not be more central to both Waterfalls Park and a historic walk through Verosi.

Virtually next to the Hotel Hagiati is the centerpiece of Edessa, Waterfalls Park and the Open Air Water Museum. Started in the 1940s as the multilevel entrance to the tallest waterfall in Greece, Karonos Falls, the Municipality completed the restoration of surviving mills into museums in early 2000. The museums highlight the industrial and agricultural history of the region as well as the significance of water and the ecosystem.

14th century Byzantine Church of the Koimisis

In the opposite direction from the Hotel Hagiati a stroll will bring you past the14th century Byzantine Church of the Koimisis – its historic frescoes are undergoing restoration. The many canals and streams snaking through big old trees set a dreamy scene. Lined with small cafes, the water softens even the modern city.

The world’s oldest convenience food?
Edessa/Pella Region peaches

Breakfast is complimentary at the Hagiati and among a menu of choices are local jams – especially the region’s famous cherry – and their fresh peaches to ancient dishes such as Trahana Soup. In its most basic form Trahana Soup is the traditional farmer’s breakfast porridge. Yet not just in Greece.

Some culinary historians consider trahana to be the world’s oldest convenience food. Trahana is made with semolina, wheat flour, bulgur or cracked wheat. Milk, buttermilk, or yogurt is mixed in to form a thick dough.

Trahana comes in two types: sweet and sour. Sweet is made with whole milk, typically goat’s milk, and sour trahana is made with yogurt or buttermilk.

traditional spinach pie at Hotel Hagiati

Regional variations can have additions such as vegetables, sesame seeds or red peppers. The mix is then broken into chunks, dried, and then broken up again into pea size pieces. It sounds simple but the process if done by hand is lengthy so it was made in large quantities, carried in pouches on caravans and was a staple in households.

Whatever its origins, trahana in various forms is still found, commercially produced, almost everywhere from the Balkans to the Middle East. (In the Edessa/Pella Region it is made and distributed by Agrozimi, makers of Greek traditional products since 1969). It’s a nearly instant thickening agent ­– like Ramen noodles – added to soups, stews or as a food topping. Another proof that Eastern Mediterranean/Mid Eastern cuisine knows no boundaries.

Hotel Hagiati’s breakfast Trahana Soup was chicken based with cubes of feta cheese. In “The Joyful Cook’s Guide to Heavenly Greek Cuisine,” Greek-American cookbook author Georget Photos has an upscale recipe.

Spicy Chicken Trahana Soup

Hotel Hagiati’s Trahana Soup

Ingredients:

  • 1 fresh chicken, quartered
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 cup spicy trahana (not spicy can be substituted)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • ½ bunch parsley
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • 1 cup red (or white) wine
  • water
  • salt to taste

Preparation:

  1. Melt the butter in a deep skillet.
  2. Saute bay leaf, pepper, parsley, cinnamon stick, onion and tomatoes for 1 minute
  3. Add the trahana and continue to saute 1 to 2 minutes more.
  4. Arrange the chicken quarters on top of the sauteed mixture.
  5. Add the wine and ½ cup water.
  6. Cover and simmer on med low heat for 1 hour. Check halfway and add more water if necessary.

After a hearty breakfast, it is an easy stroll to take in the city and use as a base to explore the legendary history of the Edessa/Pella Region. The Hotel Hagiati offers the ambiance to experience Edessa’s present within its past.

 

When you go: Edessa is an easy 55 miles (90 k.) west of Thessaloniki. It’s possible to drive, take a train or travel by intercity couch bus. Pella Archaeological Site and Giannitsa are within 25 miles (40 k.) from Thessaloniki. Both are on the (Silk) route between Thessaloniki and Edessa.

More to do in the Edessa/Pella Region: At home with Alexander: Edessa and Pella  

Where to eat: A Central Macedonian feast from the Silk Road

Special thanks: Edessa Municipality, Edessa Tourist Information Center and Pass Partout Tourism Marketing for facilitating my visit.

late 19th century water mill at Waterfalls Park, Edessa

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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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Celebrate at the home of Carnival: Naxos and the Small Cyclades

Makes perfect sense why Naxos is home to Mardi Gras. Dionysus was its first Rex!

 

Naxos Carnival 2019

Venice, Rio de Jeneiro and New Orleans may capture headlines, but no destination other than Naxos and the Small Cyclades can claim Dionysus, the patron of Carnival, as their native son, as well as his father, Zeus.

The Carnival of Naxos 2019 (2 – 13 March) blends timeless Greek festive elements from ancient Dionysian spring rites through to the evolution of modern Mardi Gras. Tracing roots back to rituals of sowing winter crops and praying for the coming of spring through to the Christian celebration of Easter’s promise of rebirth, the Carnival of Naxos 2019 captures all – and their web site details all!

The Koudounatoi 

the Koudounatoi

The classic Koudounatoi  – based on ancient rituals during Dionysian celebrations – is a hallmark of the Naxos festival.  The Koudounatoi dance and rituals are performed by men dressed in traditional white costume bedecked with colorful ribbons and a belt of cowbells. Their dancing movement makes the bells create a very loud sound in order to clear away bad spirits that may bring plague and famine.

Temple to Demeter

The Temple to Demeter overlooks the productive agricultural land of Naxos Island. Agriculture had made Naxos wealthy and in the 6th century BCE the island erected this first all marble temple in the Greek world to Demeter, goddess of grain. Dionysus was the protector of Naxos and maintained one of his divine residences on the island.

Carnival Naxos 2019

In more traditional form the men are covered with a brown coat wearing a belt with hanging bells. Holding large sticks that symbolize the Dionysian phallus, the Koudounatoi challenge each other and anyone who interacts with them and the divine right to ensure a bountiful harvest.

 

 

 

 

Wedding of the century

On Friday March 8 at the Temple of Apollo’s Portara this fertility theme is dramatically recreated with a retelling of the arrival of Theseus and Ariadne, which through a series of complications worthy of Greek story telling (including pirates!) ends with her marriage to Dionysus, elevation as a goddess and blessings upon Naxos. Ritual weddings are a common theme during Carnival.

Portara of Temple of Apollo

Parades night and day

The island villages are studded with individual folkloric events during Carnival, the preparation and presentation of traditional foods, the beloved Torchlight Parade and the culminating Grand Carnival Parade on the Chora waterfront.

Torchlight Parade

The Greeks elevated revelry to divine status. Christianity added its themes to the pre-Spring/Lenten season, and Naxos’ several century occupation by Venice all embossed their personality on the Carnival of Naxos 2019. Travel to the heart of the Cyclades and experience three millenniums of Carnival.

The Grand Carnival Parade

When you go:

Naxos and the Small Cyclades are regularly served by air and ferry through Athens. Being the largest of the Cyclades islands, Naxos offers a wide range of accommodations.

 

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Carnival 2019

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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Being a foodie on Naxos Island, Greece

Naxos is the most fertile island of the Cyclades. It has a large aquifer under the island in a region where water is usually inadequate. Mount Zeus at 1,004 meters (3,294 feet) tends to trap the clouds increasing rainfall. Agriculture is an important economic sector making Naxos the most self-sufficient island in the Cyclades.

Naxos Sweet Home candy

This abundance is obvious in Naxos restaurants, artisan food shops and food markets. Besides produce Naxos is famous throughout Greece for its cheese, meats, fish and seafood. Simply walking along the wide, beautiful, long, crescent, pedestrian friendly waterfront of Chora (Naxos Town) is a gastronomic delight. Some of the best cafes and tavernas in Naxos are sandwiched between shops offering Naxos crafts and food products – it’s the center of nighttime social life in town.

Chora waterfront, Naxos and the Small Cyclades

 

Read more on the Hellenic News of America …

The harvest of Naxos and the Small Cyclades

 

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Greek style at Marathia Restaurant, Tinos Island

Marathia Restaurant on Tinos Island aptly proves the superlatives you have heard on the creativity of Greek cuisine and the uncompromising beauty of Cyclades Island beach locations.

Partokali Beach Bar at Marathia Restaurant

Considering how many restaurants in Greece I have reviewed, Marathia is one of the more traditional yet modern you can visit.  Chef/owner Marinos Souranis opened Marathia Restaurant in 2002 in the renovated nine-room boutique hotel his parents constructed on Tinos Island 40 years before. He and his staff use ageless techniques crafting a menu firmly based on local products and traditional recipes.

antique plow as decoration at Marathia Restaurant

Yet the hook for the curious diner is in the knowledge that subtle personal touches (cinnamon added to homemade petroma cheese) and the imaginative presentations (marinated sardines served in sardine cans) set Marathia apart. That is a high compliment considering the exemplary level of Tinos gastronomy.

Both restaurant and hotel are open year round. The nine one and two bedroom apartments with kitchens are integrated within a design that’s traditional Greek village villa with 21st century amenities. The hotel includes the airy taverna style indoor dining room with many attractive antiques, tools especially, serving as sculptures against the white stucco walls.

Marathi Restaurant and Apartments

Across the street is the seasonal dining pavilion, Partokali Beach Bar, which itself languidly spreads down stunning Aghios Fokas Beach – the longest sand beach on the island. Besides the dining area, Marathia provides shaded lounge chairs for total enjoyment of this Blue Flag beach. All of this is within a ten minute drive from the center of Chora.

Cheese & Tomato pastry

Brunch at Marathia in general follows hotel patterns in so far as a buffet includes a variety of their cheeses, marinated fish, local sausages, yogurt, fruits and savory dishes. What from a distance could be mistaken for pastry layered with cream topped with strawberries was a baked savory pastry layered with cheese, herbs and topped with cherry tomatoes.

Chef Marinos wanted me to sample Marathia’s specialties from the a la carte menu. They are all meze, small plates that together with bread, salad and cheese frequently define a Greek meal. All were traditional centuries old preparations of local ingredients when preservation drove recipes. The dishes using riki, sardines, grazos and fish row are all uncooked salt cured.

Riki being salted for Lakerta

Lakerta appears throughout the Aegean and Adriatic coasts. It uses riki, cousin to bonito fish. The fish is soaked in two separate salt-water solutions each for 24 hours. This cleans the fish. It’s then cut into steaks, salted and weighted down for 3 to 4 days turning daily. The lakerta may then be thinly sliced and eaten or stored in olive oil.

Lakerta at Marathi Restaurant

The lakerta is tender with mild saltiness as if fresh from the sea. Serve thinly sliced drizzled with olive oil and lemon.

grazros in oil

Deboned grazros (cousin to sardines) sit in salt water for 90 minutes and in apple cider vinegar for 5 to 7 minutes. After the vinegar soak they’re placed in jars and covered with sunflower oil – important because sunflower oil imparts no flavor unlike olive and most other oils. The grazros can keep for three months.

Botargo – or avgotaraho – is a delicacy of cephalus or gray mullet fish row. The whole row sack is cured in sea salt for a few weeks, sundried and then encased in beeswax for preservation as it has been for over a thousand years. Traditionally served thinly sliced with some lemon juice and/or zest and white pepper either solo or with crusty bread and butter – the beeswax is removed before eating.

Botargo at Marathia: (top) sliced with beeswax still on, (bottom) whole gray mullet fish roe encased in beeswax – botargo

The botargo has a lightly chewy texture due to the process; yet its unique flavor is intense. Although like wine, flavors can very depending on the life-style and age of the cephalus, I detected hints of mango and sea urchin tongue. Allow the botargo to linger in your mouth to maximize the subtly sweet umami experience.

In preparing smoked white grouper the fish is covered in a mixture of sea salt, white pepper and sugar for 16 days before being smoked for two days. The moist, delicate silky fish is served thinly sliced with a garnish of pickled grapes as counterpoint.

Smoked white grouper

Marinated vegetables, including artichokes, are steamed in water with some vinegar, lemon juice and a little olive oil until just tender. Then they are drained and marinated in olive oil, lemon juice and herbs. The textural contrast of the piquant vegetables pairs well with rich cheeses and delicate fish.

All cheeses, except one, are made in-house from unpasteurized milk and are so labeled on the menu due to health restrictions for certain conditions such as pregnancy. The exception is graviera, which is locally made with pasteurized milk. It’s the second most popular and versatile Greek cheese after feta and similar to gruyère. A firm but creamy cheese with generally mild on the sweeter side taste notes, it’s often sliced and added to cheese trays, grated over pasta and fried as saganaki.

I was surprised to see dozens of kariki aging. Only one person on the island makes it commercially, chef Aggeliki Vidou, but in small batches that cannot satisfy demand. Marinos makes his own kariki – the very rare (in the 21st century) “pumpkin cheese” of Tinos.

sealed kariki gourds & aged kariki cheese

The name comes from the small gourd, a karika. Traditionally it was used to collect milk. Now metal milk containers are called kariki. It starts with petia a simple base cheese, that’s packed in the karika – the actual gourd. The gourd is sealed with a flour/water paste and aged for 2 to 3 months. The interaction with the gourd imparts both color and deep flavors with hints of caramel, mild gorganzola and dried figs.

His malathouni, also from the base petia (cone), is made with goat’s milk. On average malathouni is aged for about one month. At Marathia it’s aged six months intensifying the natural tang of the goat’s milk yet maintaining a creamy texture.

(clockwise) graviera wedge. petroma, dried figs, malathouni (& in middle) katmari

Petroma’s base cheese is freshly strained petia. The round of cheese is then weighted until most of the additional whey drains. At Marathia they add a bit of sea salt and cinnamon to the petia before straining.

The wood burning oven near the entrance to the hotel is for bread baking. Olive wood only is used for its high and uniform burning temperature. Breads are made from whole-wheat flour and the yeast from a starter dough. The breads have a touch of sourdough texture and aroma that compliments rich butter and cheeses.

Tinos Island’s own T-Oinos Winery  2013 Clos Stegasta Assyrtiko accompanied the main courses. It has a classic nose of dry summer grasses and vanilla. The tongue picked up fresh citrus zest, which lingered. The throat sensed a pleasant finish of dry grapefruit zest. Assyrtiko ought to be a Greek national treasure.

T–Oinos Winery’s 2013 Clos Stegasta Assyrtiko & Winery 10+12 Potamisi

With the cheese course, local Domaine de Kalathas’ Winery 10+12 late harvest 100% Tinos Island potamisi grape produces a fresh semi-dry white wine. It’s not aged and has subtle tones of honey and white currents with floral notes. Despite being semi-dry in the mouth it has a surprising dry smooth finish.

Tinos Island is a gastronomic destination of great physical beauty. Yet you could eat a convenience store hotdog on a Greek island beach and remember the beauty of the experience. At Marathia let’s just say the experience is raised far above sea level.

(far left) Chef/owner Marinos Souranis & Chef Stefanos (top right) “3 chefs” – Stefanos, d’Entremont & Marinos

When you go:

Marathia Restaurant and Apartments, Aghios Fokas, is just a short drive east of the center of Chora. Tinos Island is easily reached by ferries from the nearby Athens ports of Piraeus and Rafina.

Disclosure: The author was a guest of Marathia Restaurant and the Municipality of Tinos Island. Transportation was provided by Dellatolas Rent a Car and accommodations by Hotel Meltemi. Arrangements were facilitated by the MTCgroup.

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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

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