Category Archives: European Travel

Driving Halkidiki

harbor, Neos Marmaras, Sithonia, Greece
harbor, Neos Marmaras, Sithonia, Greece

Sitting at a beach side café in Possidi on the Halkidiki peninsula of Kassandra, this North American was struck by an unfamiliar scene. People were reading.

Driving Kassandra unplugged and tuned into Greece

Nea Fokea:14th Century Byzantine tower and church
Nea Fokea:14th Century Byzantine tower and church

Fingers of land jutting into the Aegean, Kassandra, Sithonia and sacred Athos have, like all of Macedonia, been at the center of turbulent times since the 4th century B.C.E. In the 21st century the only turbulence seemed to be the long lines of cars every summer weekend that bring holiday seekers from Thessaloniki and Eastern Europe.

water sports in Sithonia
water sports in Sithonia

Family owned since it opened in 1989, the rooms surround an opulent pool that is the focal point of the Flegra Palace Hotel including the Soleil Bar with its dramatic glass floor jutting over the water.

Soleil Bar at the Flegra Palace Hotel
Soleil Bar at the Flegra Palace Hotel

Flegra Palace Hotel plans new venture in Pefkohori, Greece

Fortunately mere mortals can dine at Ambrosia, the open-air dining room at the Flegra Palace Hotel in the Halkidiki seaside resort town of Pefkohori, Greece.

Ambrosia, Flegra Palace Hotel
Ambrosia, Flegra Palace Hotel

Chef Aphrodite Balanou makes Ambrosia in Pefkohori, Greece

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Beach in Ouranoupolis, Athos, Greece
Beach in Ouranoupolis, Athos, Greece

Hotel Rafayel: new London on the Thames

Banyan on the Thames restaurant, Hotel Rafayel, London
Banyan on the Thames restaurant, Hotel Rafayel, London

The Hotel Rafayel is part of the remarkable 21st century transformation of the Docklands, the East End and South London from post industrial wasteland into the vibrant, upscale, multi-ethnic residential and commercial city London’s east side of the Thames  has become.

Lobby of the Rafayel on the Left Bank, Falcon Wharf, London, UK
Lobby of the Rafayel on the Left Bank, Falcon Wharf, London, UK

Hotel Rafayel on the Left Bank has garnered praise for its attention to environmental details. From components for the actual building’s construction to its water catchment system, its eco-conscisousness only adds to its 21st century 5-Star charm.

The Hotel Rafayel on the Left Bank: sustainable luxury on the Thames

Banyan on the Thames restaurant, Hotel Rafayel, London, UK
Banyan on the Thames restaurant, Hotel Rafayel, London, UK

Rapid urban change has remodeled the river scape along the Thames recreating the bustle of a modern port of international commerce. Except now the product is more than likely to be transported by computer or jet than freighter.

The ArcelorMittal Orbit, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park Olympic Park, London, UK (scheduled to open 04/2014 )
The ArcelorMittal Orbit, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park Olympic Park, London, UK (scheduled to open 04/2014 )

With a city as cosmopolitan as London, there could only be more articles appearing shortly on Travel with Pen and Palate.

London from the observation deck of the ArcelorMittal Orbit, London, UK
London from the observation deck of the ArcelorMittal Orbit, London, UK

The Tate Modern Gallery is housed in a converted art deco power plant within walking distance along the Thames River walk  just up from the Globe Theater. The clean lines of the sprawling space gives justice to both the subjects and size of many great and imaginative works.  A voiceless short documentary from the Tate is an urban ballet.

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The Hotel Nikopolis and Da Vinci provides luxury on the Spice Route

The clear blue water in the immense Hotel Nikopolis pool mirrors the crystal sea of Thessaloniki’s vast harbor.

Hotel Nikopolis, Thessaloniki, Greece
Hotel Nikopolis, Thessaloniki, Greece

The strikingly modern Hotel Nikopolis, built in 1999, is reminiscent in its clean lines of the marble and limestone structures of Greek antiquity.

photo courtesy of the Hotel Nikopolis, Thessaloniki, Greece
photo courtesy of the Hotel Nikopolis, Thessaloniki, Greece

Chef Stefanos Stamidis commands the hotel’s handsome Da Vinci dining room. Its Italian name is no conceit.

Veal ribs were glazed in deep, rich balsamic vinegar on a bed of baby carrots
Veal ribs were glazed in deep, rich balsamic vinegar on a bed of baby carrots

Historically located at the crossroads of empires, the city has sat at the intersection of the fabled spice route connecting the ancient worlds of the Mediterranean, Near East and the Orient.

The Hotel Nikopolis and Da Vinci: luxury on the Spice Route

Thessaloniki: modern, Roman, Byzantine & Ottoman
Thessaloniki: modern, Roman, Byzantine & Ottoman

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In the heart of Alexander’s empire

Founded in 315 B.C.E. by King Cassander of Macedon, he wisely named the city after his wife, Thessalonike, sister to Alexander the Great. Thessaloniki, as a major port city with nearly 2,500 years of history has been at the crossroads of empires starting with Alexander the Great, followed by Rome, Byzantium and the Ottomans.

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For a city bulging with a young educated population – 15% are university students.

Thessaloniki is always pregnant with culture

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Located at the intersection of the fabled spice route between Asia and Europe has had a profound effect on both the culture and cuisine of Thessaloniki. And its young population has made it a city of cafes.

Oval café creates friendships in Thessaloniki

Fava with squid and raisins from Thessaloniki’s Oval café
Fava with squid and raisins from Thessaloniki’s Oval café

Fava beans with squid and raisins is a favorite among Oval cafe patrons and reflects a reality that the ingredients for Greek cuisine remain easily sourced from their home provinces. Follow my step-by-step recipe with photos and recreate this delicious dish.

Fava with squid and raisins

The Oval cafe
The Oval cafe

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and

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A 15th century Ottoman public bath house
A 15th century Ottoman public bath house

 

“In Greece, food is an excuse to meet friends,” says Nikita Patiniotis

“In Greece, food is an excuse to meet friends,” says Nikita Patiniotis

Taverna To Kati Allo, Athens
Taverna To Kati Allo, Athens

With half the national population, Athens is Greek cuisine in microcosm. Nikita weaves his Athens market tour through the narrow streets of Monastiraki to taste Greece, and during several hours Context Travel’s Beyond Feta Athens food tour introduces travelers to many future new friends.

Varvakios Agora, the Athens Central Market
Varvakios Agora, the Athens Central Market

Nikita Patiniotis defines Athenian cuisine for Context Travel, Part One

herb & plant car in Athens
herb & plant car in Athens

We’ll wander through bustling Athinas Street into the vast Varvakios Agora and understand why Greece is still the ancient center of the culinary world. Context Travel’s Beyond Feta walking tour illuminates a civilization. Come walk with me.

Feta Cheese
Feta Cheese

Context Travel wanders markets Lord Byron knew, Part Two

I discover a 150-year-old wine shop in the basement of an aging building which attracts presidents, Hollywood moguls and Athenian business elite.

In part three Context Travel illuminates the Greek way of life

Demitri Koliolios (left) 4th generation owner Dyporto Wine Shop, Athens
Demitri Koliolios (left) 4th generation owner Dyporto Wine Shop, Athens

The pleasant evening temperature, the lack of car horns and loud music coupled with the sounds of conversation and relaxed dining, Greek national pastimes, create a culture in contrast to the 21st century’s frenetic pace.

Grilled Sea Bream, To Kati Allo, Athens
Grilled Sea Bream, To Kati Allo, Athens

This is not tradition triumphing over the modern era; it is the modern era.

Love at first bite at Athens’ To Kati Allo

Orange spoon sweet
Orange spoon sweet

More than one spoonful of this sweet at a time would most likely make your teeth ache. But if the quality of the spoon sweet was deemed worthy, the bride could take a deep sigh of relief.

Spoon sweets were a test for Greek brides

Greek coffee
Greek coffee

Along with a natural Mediterranean diet, enjoying rich Greek Coffee may hold a key to Greek longevity – average life expectancy is 81.

Greek coffee at Flegra Palace Hotel can promote longevity

Athens will introduce the visitor to a life that’s beyond the microwave and the modern world’s overly scheduled itinerary. If you give in to the experience, you just may change your own way of life.

Ruins of the ancient Roman Agora looking out onto markets in modern Athens
Ruins of the ancient Roman Agora looking out onto markets in modern Athens

You can read all my articles on Examiner.com at:

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International Travel Examiner

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and

 Food & Recipes Examiner

 

Four Days in Flanders

Brugge, Flanders, Belgium

In the land of Bruegel, chocolate and mussels, the lush green land of Flanders is punctuated by towns of extraordinary beauty. Medieval castles, Renaissance houses, canals and cafes are in view with every convoluted turn in the ancient streets. Yet in Brussels, larger than life cartoon wall art decorates, and compliments, its historic core.

wall art in Brussels depicting popular Belgian cartoon characters

In four days, VisitFlanders introduced me to three cities rich in layers of culture, four restaurants bursting with layers of flavor as well as beer and chocolate as it ought to be enjoyed. Articles, as they appear, will be added to this post, so please check back often.

Dominique Personne chocolates, Brugge, for Hertog Jan and Gruut Brown herb beer, Gent

Flanders, today, is at the vanguard of a new wave in international gastronomy that’s pairing the freshest of locally sourced ingredients with 21st century culinary techniques.

With 3 Michelin Stars already….

Restaurant Hertog Jan, in Brugge, brings their farm to their table

A Walk through the garden at Hertog Jan

The mild climate may have favored Flanders own agricultural abundance, but access to the world through trade constantly brought new products, such as the potato and chocolate, fueling today’s Michelin starred restaurants, creating chocolate beer and celebrity chocolatiers, although Dominique Personne is considered the bad boy of Brugge – watch the You Tube video in my latest article.

Belgium celebrates eating during its 2012 Year of Gastronomy

Dominique Personne with chocolate gun and the Chocolate Shooter

Ghent’s de Vitrine is Kobe Desramaults little city bistro. Yet the secret these young chefs are revealing is simple, fresh regional ingredients treated with respect and given pride of place. “I think about the vegetable,” Speybreck says, “not what meat or fish it goes with. What can I do with a nice cauliflower. Each ingredient has its own place.”

Ghent’s restaurant de Vitrine is a showcase for each ingredient

mussels with cucumber, eggplant sauce and sour cream foam

Ensconced in Brussels’s elegant Radisson Blu Hotel, Chef Yves Mattagne’s two Michelin star Sea Grill serves art to the power brokers of Europe.

Brussels’s Sea Grill catches Michelin stars

Caviar Royal Belgium, Sea Grill, Brussels, Belgium

London Gastronomy in the Jubilee Year

 

From scotch eggs to stinking bishop, Context Travel nibbles through London

Neal’s Yard, London
Orange marmalade with gold leaf

Amidst the frenzy of summer in London, it’s comforting to know that scotch eggs and marmalade with gold leaf can still be part of your customized picnic basket from Fortnum & Mason. In three hours, Context Travel’s Janine Catalano narrates a three century evolution in British gastronomy with “a walk through central London from less than a common perspective.”

 

 

London’s St. John Bar and Restaurant transforms offal into delectable

Roasted Bone Marrow with toast
St. John Bar & Restaurant, London

Chef Fergus Henderson’s 1999 book, “Nose to Tail Eating: A Kind of British Cooking,” caused a sensation when published. It placed Chef Henderson and St. John’s at the forefront of an omnivore movement, in direct opposition to modern meat consumption, in which the whole animal is eaten –  trotters, tripe, kidneys, heart, sweetbreads …

 

 

 

 

 

London’s The Little French Restaurant is big on flavor

The Little French Restaurant, London

It would be easy to walk right past The Little French Restaurant on London’s narrow Hogarth Street. The diminutive road, opposite Earls Court underground station, is lined with at least a half dozen small cafes, shops and quaint flower bedecked townhouses. Yet a passerby would be hard pressed to dine in a more charming French bistro.

Grilled goat cheese at The Little French Restaurant, London

 

 

As Greek As It Gets restaurant brings the Aegean to London

Grilled calamari stuffed with cheese, As Greet As It Gets, London

Not only is London’s population a polyglot of the former empire, but Britons have embraced an unprecedented broadening of their culinary palate.  As Greek As It Gets, a restaurant in fashionable Earls Court, says it all in words and in the authenticity of its menu offerings.

As Greet As It Gets, London

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Borough Market, London England: the Empire Lives on in Food

The mother of all food markets, London’s 13th century Borough Market is appropriately located near Borough High Street station delivering the world’s food to ancient Southwark Cathedral’s door.

Borough Market & Southwark Cathedral

Moving patiently with the crowds through narrow aisles, the experience is both exotic yet modern.

The Market is an international food court

Organic, unpasteurized, artesian, locally sourced, urban honey are all terms that have certified clout in England’s regulated farming and food industry and are the norm at the Market.

 

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Purveyors of fine foods since 1512

 
 
                Ordizia, Euskadi (Basque Country), Spain
 
 Still a modest sized town of 10,000 founded in 1268, Ordizia (on some maps Villafranca de Ordizia) lies in the heartland of Euskadi’s prized agricultural abundance. Iberico and Serrano hams – from pigs who diet on wild acorns –  Idiazabal sheep’s milk cheese, and flawless lemon-yellow peaches are only a few of the products from farms following ancient as well as state-of-the-art green methods: organic, grass-fed and chemical-free. In Spain, these methods are not only tradition but in many cases codified in law.      
 
 
San Sebastian

Leaving the beautiful Basque seaside town of San Sebastian on an early morning train for the 60-minute trip south to Ordizia, the countryside speaks its beauty. Vistas of lush green hillsides are dotted with cattle and centuries old white-washed red-roofed farm houses. Yet there’s resilience as over the years it was at the center of wars and atrocities. The past four decades has witnessed resurgence and affluence.

Ordizia

Like all towns in the Basque country, Ordizia is built on a hill close to water, in this case the Rio Oria. Easier to fortify, this topography also makes these century old villages  picturesque and a decent aerobic workout. With perfect early October weather – high 70’s, sun, deep blue sky – I walked hilly, cobblestone streets lined by old narrow, townhouses whose window boxes were bursting with a profusion of flowers. Ordizia’s Wednesday Farmers Market, in continuous operation since 1512, occupies the plaza in the heart of the old town, but, unlike most plazas, it’s covered by an open-air Romanesque-Renaissance structure befitting an important 500-year-old institution.

This is not just another farmers market.  Along with the variety of customers who come to purchase goods for their homes and socialize, there are serious negotiations going on among commercial buyers, restaurants and farmers. These negotiations usually result in setting the prices for many products throughout Spain – until the next Wednesday market. Food here is serious business.

The food stalls glisten with vibrant colors: peppers, squashes, fruits – fresh and dried – pickles, olives and preserved foods. Bushels of freshly picked mushrooms, varieties I’ve never seen, vie for my attention with dozens of Euskadi’s famous sheep and goat’s milk cheeses. Baskets of breads studded with herbs, grains and seeds are close enough to local sausages and hams to make me desire a sandwich.

Fish, especially fresh sardines, anchovies and salt cod (bacalao), are well represented, as well as services – like knife grinding. Serious cooks can purchase freshly executed pigeons, feathers and all, a Basque delicacy – of course most households know how to dress and prepare them.

A milk dispensing machine is a standard farmers market service. Sterilized quart glass bottles are removed from a refrigerated compartment and placed under the dispenser. Empty bottles are returned to the attendant. A local dairy co-op operates the kiosk.  It was very popular.

Cafes, butchers and cloth shops line the edge of the market plaza. Sitting at an outdoor table listening to a musician playing Basque accordion compositions, sipping espresso, watching the bustle of a serious farmers market, I was struck by the permanence markets give to life. For the past turbulent 500 years the same hustle and bustle has occupied the Ordizia Farmers Market sustaining and celebrating every day life.

For an interesting “birds-eye” view, follow this link for Ordizia. Move the map a bit east (to the left) and the white covered structure of the market will come into view.

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