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.
A few people told me earlier that half a day was enough to appreciate Tinos. I’m not sure what they meant by “appreciate.” After four days I felt I’d barely skimmed the surface of the cultural and gastronomic delights of this northern Greek Cyclades Island.
My guide, Adriana Flores Bórquez, had planned an ambitious itinerary that could easily have stretched over a week, but we did manage to accomplish all and a bit more. Yet it’s impossible to write about everything this island has to offer in one article. Since gastronomy is such an essential part of Greek life, the island’s wines, beer, spirits, cheeses and sausages are part of what gives Tinos its unique character.
Most likely not, especially since I usually do not like Pinot Noir. Not dry enough, a bit raw, too fruit juice for my taste. But I had not yet sipped Argyriou Winery’s 2014 Pinot Noir.
Within the rustic stone and wood elegance of the lounge in the1872 farmhouse, Nikos Argyriou, handed me a glass. I inhale. My head is filled with the bright aromas of a basket of late summer berries – blackberries, blueberries, sour cherries, red currents, and cranberries. I don’t want to take my nose out of the glass as each swirl produced more perfume.
Then a real surprise occurred. Like the legendary volcanic fumes that influenced the Oracles of Delphi, hints of sweet tobacco waft through the berries. The combinations of aromas were extraordinary.
Then I took a sip and was rewarded with the flavors intensified on my palate, dry, but not acidic, and smooth as silk. Rarely does a dessert pop into my head as a food pairing with wine but at that moment I craved a fresh warm cherry pie. Of course full flavored hard cheeses, ripe stoned fruit – fresh apricots for instance – and wood fired roast meats with Argyriou Winery’s 2014 Pinot Noir (aged 10 months in oak) would make an excellent meal especially given the setting.
Argyriou Winery and Wine Tasting Guest house is located within the village of Polydroso. The original 1872 stone farmhouse blends right into this postcard perfect village on the north-western slopes of Mount Parnassus. The main feature of the area is the abundance of water creating a lush ecosystem. Polydroso is within the National Park of Parnassus, which is a protected biosphere.
Nikos Argyriou was born in Polydroso and is the 3rd generation of his family in agriculture and livestock breeding. Nikos is not the only Greek to transform the age-old tradition of making wines for home consumption into an estate winery. The winery today comprises parcels totaling over 290 acres. The ecological position of the region creates mountain air currents essential to prevent deadly diseases to the vines.
A variety of wine related events are held at the guesthouse, which includes six spacious rooms and a wine cellar tasting room. Although the winery is not open to public wine tastings, guests of the Argyriou Winery and Wine Tasting Guesthouse have the opportunity to arrange a variety of wine tastings and pairings with the local cuisine.
A tasting of three more Argyriou Wines did nothing to damper my growing interest in this winery.
Malagousia from the Delphi area grows at 450 meters/1,500 feet elevation on mountain slopes of clay with fine drainage. This ancient white grape, thought to have gone extinct, was rediscovered in the 1970s and is now one of the most popular for wine in the nation.
It has an aromatic bouquet of white wild flowers on a dry summer day with a touch of lemon zest. In the mouth the pleasant undertone of lemon zest continues to scent the light dry grape morphing into herbal notes of lemon grass and lemon thyme. The finish is smooth and slightly astringent. It would pair well with grilled seafood and mild cheeses.
White Oracle Monteio is 40% chardonnay and 60% assyrtiko. The dry sea grass notes of Santorini Island assyrtiko cuts through the traditional sweetness of chardonnay like a mixed drink and yet created a full bodied white. There was an aroma of sweet butter and unripe figs. In the mouth caramel flavors coated the palate as if pairing the wine with ripe figs, mild cheese and white currents (not a bad pairing). The flavors continued silky smooth down the throat. It would pair well with mild cheeses, pastas with white sauces and seafood.
I make no excuses to being partial to red wine. I simply enjoy the full flavor of dry aromatic liquid fruit. Argyriou Winery’s 2014 Pinot Noir had already changed my perception of that grape. So I already did not need to be predisposed to Red Oracle Monteio (2014) – 80% Cabernet, 20% local Mavroudi. Cabernet ranks among my favorite reds, and the deep color and rich ripe fruitiness of Mavroudi are made to pair. Yet like with the Pinot Noir I was not expecting an extraordinary taste experience.
It had the rich aromas of ripe berries, hints of tobacco, unsweetened chocolate yet subtle aromas as well of cloves, allspice and nutmeg emanating as if used as a rub on slowly roasting meat. My palate was bathed in these flavors as they blended with roses and ripe plumbs. Balanced tannins kept earthy and sweet in check as the wine slid down the throat dissipating its complex silky liquid flavors.
Delphi, Polydroso and the National Park of Parnassus are, like Argyriou Winery and Wine Tasting Guesthouse all year destinations with a major ski center. In the summer the beaches of the Corinthian Gulf are an easy day trip. Wine, agriculture, natural beauty helped create the millenniums old Greek civilization and the same forces draw increasing international attention to the extraordinary abundance of this land.
When you go: Polydroso is not a day trip from Athens – 6 hour drive. It would be a part of exploring Delphi and the Corinthian Gulf. Here are driving directions from Athens from Google Maps
Disclaimer: the author was a guest of Iniohos Hotel & Restaurant, Delphi and the Argyriou Winery and Wine Tasting Guest house. Travel arrangements were made by the MTCgroup, Athens
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…