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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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Puerto Vallarta lives on its streets

From food festivals and music on the Malecon to affordable week long book fairs, just walking Puerto Vallarta offers too many distractions from work.

aguachile festival

A recent email from a friend living in a popular south Florida destination praised its beauty but bemoaned a culture not interested in much more than lying around a pool or beach. Although that is fine for some, for others there’s vibrancy on Puerto Vallarta streets and beaches rare in North America. Whether it’s the riot of colorful craft stalls on the Isla de Cuale, neighborhood street festivals, processions, parades or oyster vendors on the beach, there’s no lack of stimulation.

Rio Cuale, Puerto Vallarta

Of course that’s all beyond the major events that attract locals, expats and visitors from vacationing Mexican families to gay singles. Food, naturally, is a major focus either as a side component or on the center stage. Northwestern Mexico with its Pacific waters teeming with sea life is a veritable food market.

It’s appropriate that Puerto Vallarta and a nice selection of its many restaurants annually honor aguachile with its own festival – a native dish that can define Mexican food in the northwest. Aguachile (chili water in Spanish) is a “cousin” to ceviche. Like most regional dishes, recipes do not believe in boundaries.

3 different aguachiles

Whereas both dishes include seafood and lime juice, aguachile infuses the lime juice with hot chilies. Both dishes also have variations from the most common, shrimp, to octopus, scallops, salmon or any combination of shell, seafood and fish. The single imperative is that these raw ingredients are as fresh as possible – sushi grade is not too extravagant.

Additional ingredients are both traditional and optional. Ceviche has a bit more onion and less chili. Both include cilantro, frequently other vegetables and even a combination of juices.  Aguachile always includes generous slices of cucumber for the soothing qualities that vegetable provides given the spicier nature of the dish – after all, it is called chili water.

If you happen to own a molcajete for preparation, it doubles as a beautiful bowl with its black basalt contrasting with the colors of the ingredients. A number of internet sites have recipes for aguachile. Hispanic Kitchen has a good basic shrimp aguachile recipe. America’s foremost chef on southwestern Hispanic cuisine, Rick Bayless, provides ideas outside the box.

The annual January Aguachile Festival was held in Parque Lazaro Cardenas, currently undergoing a transformation with stunning mosaics.

Annual Book Fair in Plaza de Armas

On the same day, the annual Book Fair, a week long event, was taking place on Puerto Vallarta’s main Plaza de Armas. Dozens of book stalls sell new and used books in a variety of languages for all age levels. The prices are below reasonable.

Food for the stomach and the mind, stimulation for the eyes and the ears with enviable weather and fronting the Bahia de Banderas: no wonder Puerto Vallarta greets all with “Welcome to Paradise.”

Aguachile Festival n Parque Lazaro Cardenas

 

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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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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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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

 

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French cuisine demystified at the French House Party

A few miles outside Carcassonne a convivial international group of culinary enthusiasts introduced themselves over coffee and pastries. Sitting in the poolside garden of Domaine St. Raymond they could already feel both the relaxation and excitement, which is the hallmark of French House Party residential workshops. Of course a shockingly blue sky and the yellow sunflower fields of the Languedoc provide a perfect foil for creativity.

French countryside in the Languedoc
Carcassonne

Domaine St. Raymond sits among gently rolling hills of golden wheat and sunflowers. A 14th century church, within view in the village of Pexiora, overlooks this agrarian scene. The nearby medieval UNESCO World Heritage city of Carcassonne welcomes throngs of visitors inside its fortified walls. Within this bucolic setting, small groups of intellectually curious travelers gather for all-inclusive creative residential workshops in southern France’s Languedoc.

Yet the creative process is nebulous. It has always been a balance of inspiration and technical skill. For discovering this balance British born Moira, Ph.D., author, and devotee of French cuisine, created the French House Party at her villa, Domaine St. Raymond.

Domaine St. Raymond

The early 19th century stone farmhouse ­­– restored into a spacious villa with eight individually decorated en-suite bedrooms – becomes a salon for like minded guests who delve into residential workshops focused on creative writing, songwriting with Dean Friedman, the arts and gastronomy with acclaimed French chefs. The French House Party workshops are serious endeavors but without pressure to perform. Although the pool is inviting, it’s that lack of pressure that energizes participation.

Chef Robert Abraham

The ambitious  Gourmet Explorer cookery courses brought together Michelin star French chefs Robert Abraham and Jean-Marc Boyer. From making foam from rocket to preparing young pigeon, the group was immersed in hands-on learning of both classic French and cutting edge culinary techniques. Dishes prepared during the culinary workshops become lunch and dinner.

Successive articles will illustrate some of the imaginative recipes these two chefs taught the group. On this first evening Moira and Chef Robert Abraham created a true dinner party by having prepared most of the dishes in advance. The group had an enjoyable experience making some canapés before sitting down to a superb French meal with wines from Domaine Le Fort.

fava beans & cheese puffs

Canapés

  • Parmesan marshmallows
  • Cookies with black olives and shrimp
  • Cheese straws
  • Tartar of smoked salmon and avocado
  • Large raw fava beans shelled, cut in half and sprinkled with sea salt
Mussel Curry Soup

Dinner:

  • Mussel curry soup
  • Sea Bass with mango
  • Lamb with lamb reduction sauce and potatoes au gratin
  • Brioche French toast with stewed cherries
  • Assorted cheeses

The cookies with black olives and shrimp were particularly interesting given both the flavor of the main ingredients in the texture of a cookie.

Cookies with black olives and shrimp

Ingredients:

  • 3 to 4 ounces cooked, chopped shrimp
  • 3 Tablespoons grated gruyere
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 6 chopped black olives
  • 2 Tablespoons flour
  • 2 ounces butter, cut in small pieces
  • 1/3rd teaspoon yeast
  • pinch of chili powder

Preparation:

  1. Mix the flour, gruyere and yeast in a bowl.
  2. Add remaining ingredients and mix with a wooden spoon until well combined.
  3. Drop by heaping teasoon size cookies on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Rest for 15 minutes.
  4. Bake in a preheated 350° oven for 15 minutes.
Dinner (clockwise) Sea Bass with mango
Lamb with lamb reduction sauce and potatoes au gratin
Brioche French toast with stewed cherries
Assorted cheeses

Dean Friedman’s four-day summer singer/songwriter workshop at the French House Party provides a stimulating opportunity to discover, or rediscover, internal creative skills. Like all good teachers, Dean wants to draw out these skills from each participant. “I don’t profess to be able to write other people’s songs,” he states simply. Individuality is important.

Creative writing workshops are conducted by British author and “writers’ writer” Sarah Hymas. Poet, performer and coach, Sarah leads workshops for both beginners and writers already working on a project. For many of the creative courses available at the French House Party, groups can arrange workshops outside of the published schedule. Domaine St. Raymond is also a favored destination for international business retreats.

Class begins…

The French House Party’s all-inclusive tariff allows guests to focus energy on creativity. Multicourse lunches and dinners with wine follow a poolside French buffet breakfast of pastries, cheeses, fruits, granola, yogurts and charcuterie.

Workshop time is interspersed with excursions to such local attractions as exploring Carcassonne, the market in Revel, which has operated every Saturday since the 13th century, wine tastings and dining at area Michelin Star restaurants.

Even with the physically more challenging cooking courses held in the spacious, modern, professional kitchen, free-time activities revolve around a swim in the pool, tennis, billiards, table tennis, a book or CD from the library, biking in the French countryside or simply napping. After all, this is a French House Party.

after dinner coffee at Domaine St. Raymond

When you go:

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.

Please click the link for the 2018 schedule of the French House Party

Disclaimer: the author has been the guest of the French House Party for three separate workshops – Song Writing with Dean Friedman, Gourmet Explorer and Gourmet Explorer Advanced.

Pyrenees Mountains from the French House Party

 

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