Category Archives: European Travel

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

 

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The harvest of Naxos and the Small Cyclades

 

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Saint Zarezan would still favor Bulgarian wine

No matter how murky the legends of St. Trifon Zarezan, the Orthodox Church patron saint of vine growing and wine production, Bulgarian wine is worth celebrating. Since the days of ancient Thrace and their reverence for Dionysus, Bulgaria’s neighbors have prized the wine from this region of the Balkans. At the World Travel Market London, the nation showed off its viticulture bounty to impressed attendees from around the globe.

The existence of wineries for thousands of years in what was then northern Thrace meant the industry flowed with history, sometimes with bumps. Through countless wars, Ottoman Empire restrictions on wine production to Stalinist collectivism, both the quantity and quality of the vintages varied. In the past 40 years the trajectory for quality has been steadily upward.

President Rosen Plevneliev (2012-2017) put it succinctly at a St. Trifon Zarezan Festival celebration, “If during the Socialism we were the symbol of mass production, now we enjoy quality Bulgarian wines. The Bulgarian foreign policy must focus on showcasing the success of our home winemaking; Bulgarian Ambassadors must be Ambassadors of Bulgarian wine as well.”

 

Constituting 42 micro climates in the five wine regions of Bulgeria classic Western European varietals such as cabernet sauvignon, merlot, riesling and chardonnay thrive along with the indigenous Bulgarian grapes gamza, mavrud, melnik, and the white misket and dimiat. Although more than 80 commercial wineries collectively produce over 100 million liters per year with 60% exported, supply does not keep up with demand. Although available in select stores and distributors, it’s difficult to find the wines in the United States.

What was particularly striking about the vintages at this tasting was their bouquet. It was difficult to put the glass to the lips because the nose was being so pleasured. The aromas of berries, especially raspberries, chocolate, hints of honey and the fragrance of oak and summer herbs was as satisfying as their taste on the palate.

Image Reserve

Bulgarians favor red wines, hence a higher percentage of vineyards are focused on those grapes. Image Reserve was a basket of ripe summer fruit, smooth with hints of chocolate, soft and full flavored from sip to finish. A blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah, it’s rare and prized with an annual production of only 700 cases.

Rhapsody

Rhapsody 2009 Chateau Valle de Roses oak and blackberry notes would pair well with grilled meat.

Some of the vines for Ross-Idi Pinot Noir are 2,000 years old. It was light in body with oak overtones. Ross-Idi Winery Nikolaevo Vineyard merlot had a complex mix of berry notes, pleasantly dry with a slightly acidic finish.

Ross-Idi Winery Nikolaevo Vineyard merlot

Angelus Estate’s Stallion was a blend of merlot, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon and syrah from the Thracian Valley in southeastern Bulgaria. It continued the aromas of blackberries with a soft finish and would match well with pastas or lamb.

Butterfly’s Rock

Maryan Ivan Alexander red had only slight oak hints and sparkled with summer fruit notes such as plumbs and blueberries.

When my nose did not want to exit the glass of Butterfly’s Rock red, it was explained that they use special egg shaped oak barrels that are rotated frequently. The results are defined notes of oak, coffee, acorns and raspberries that are as pleasant to smell as to drink.

The average Bulgarian does not take white wines seriously. Even during St. Trifon Zarezan Festivals the reds are favored. Nevertheless, a smaller selection of Bulgarian whites is not to be ignored.

Izba Karabunar Ltd’s Misket & Dimgal was light in texture with slightly sweet melon tones. It would make a pleasant iced summer wine.

Midalidare sauvignon blanc added semillon to give it body. It had a surprisingly complex herbal bouquet finish.

Maryan Kera Tamara 2012 sauvignon blanc had definitive grapefruit tones with a crisp, dry, slightly acidic finish.

Angelus Estate’s White Stallion chardonnay managed to combine grapefruit with hints of honey – a terrific flavor combination of chardonnay, viognier and sauvignon blanc.

Levent 2012 is an Italian owned winery but with Bulgarian grapes vrachanski misket and traminer.

Orbelus Melnik organic wines sum up Bulgarian wine history. Today’s southern Bulgaria was northern Thrace 7,000 years ago. It is accepted that the ancient Kingdom of Thrace was the motherland of wine grapes. Soldiers of Alexander the Great brought melnik grapes to the Tharcian Valley over 2,300 years ago. The flavor notes of this full-bodied red were dark chocolate and walnuts accentuated by the smaller amounts of grenache noir and petit verdot added to the mash.

There is a good reason why wine is part of literature and science since nearly the beginning of the written word. Isn’t all of gastronomy meant to take simple ingredients and transform them into the extraordinary? Wine was an early success, and Bulgaria proudly continues the legacy.

Sommelier Lubomir Stoyanov representing Bulgarian Wine at the WTM London

 

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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

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Villa life in Halkidiki with Ermia Resorts

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

Aelia Beach BAr & Restaurant at Nefeli Villas & Suites

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

Capitan Taverna, Loutra, Kassandra, Halkidiki, Greece

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

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

Nefeli Villas & Suites

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

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

local Greek foods

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

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

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

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

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

Aelia Beach Bar & Restaurant.

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

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

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

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

Sani Woods, Kassandra, Halkidiki Greece

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

Bellevue Villas, Kassandra, Halkidiki, Greece

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

Hestia Villa, Kassandra, Halkidiki, Greece

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

Pefkoahori, Kassandra, Halkidiki, Greece

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

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

secluded beach, Capitan Taverna, spa at Agia Paraskevi

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

When you go:

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

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

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Lipsi Island: tranquility in the Dodecanese

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

Kairis Traditional Wood Oven Bakery

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

please read my July article for the Hellenic News of America

Defining tradition on Lipsi Island, Greece   

 

Vendita cheese

 

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At the French House Party the pigeon has priority

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

Domaine St. Raymond

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

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

Domaine St. Raymond

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

pigeon breasts, legs, wings

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

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

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

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

Chef Robert Abraham’s Smoked Haddock Burger with lime cream

Smoked Haddock Burger with lime cream

A light, savory alternative on a warm summer day.

Ingredients for 6 servings:

Buns:

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

Preperation:

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

Shallot Confit

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

Preparation:

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

Lime Cream

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

Preparation:

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

Haddock

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

Preparation:

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

To serve:

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

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

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

Pyrenees Mountain view from the French House Party

When you go:

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

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

Contact:

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

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

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

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

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

Recent French House Party articles by Marc d’Entremont

Being Creative at the French House Party

French cuisine demystified at the French House Party

A French House Party for the intellectually curious

 

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

 

Please read more by Travel with Pen and Palate at…

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

Escape to the Greek beach island of Ammouliani

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

View of Amoliani town with Mt. Athos in background

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

Fisherman fixing a fishing net on Ammouliani Island

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

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

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

Ammouliani Island

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

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

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

Kastalia Hotel, Ammouliani Island

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

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

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

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

Mrs. Marigo Vasiliou

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

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

creating a lilly amigdalota cookie

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

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

sargos fish at Tzanis

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

Big Sand Beach, Ammouliani Island

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

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

Kostas Voutsac, Savana Beach Bar & Grill

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

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

view of Alikis Beach from Savana Beach Bar & Grill

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

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

 

Please read more by Travel with Pen and Palate at…

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

Where Greek Gods vacationed

Delos was firmly established as a spiritual center by at least 2,000 BC.  Apollo was born on Delos, but the island did not need Apollo’s stardom even in antiquity. At its zenith in the 8th and 7th centuries BC, Delos was the wealthiest city in the Hellenic world.

Apollo
Portara, main entrance to Sanctuary of Delian Apollo, c 500s BC, Naxos Town

Known for its agricultural abundance, Dionysus, god of wine, theater and love, is the protector of Naxos Island and the Small Cyclades. The island provides much to make the god’s stay comfortable.

Chora
approaching Little Venice c.13th century, Chora, Mykonos

It was on Mykonos that the young Zeus defeated the Titans, emerging as King of the gods…than the Golden Butler arrived…

read more in the Hellenic News of America

Naxos, Mykonos, Delos: divine vacations in the Cyclades

 

You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

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