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Every New Year begins with a promise. So for 2019, we’ve pledged to live the best of our beautiful islands in the Ionian Sea and find something different about each of them. There’s still loads of Sun & Sea… but not as you’ve imagined it.
Our island adventure begins with Easter, our biggest celebration of the year and a time of joy and colour throughout Greece. And, typically, each Ionian island has its own way of building up to the festivities.
Easter as never before
The very first day of Lent, known as Clean Monday (March 11), never fails to set the tone for the celebrations to come, with taverna tables overflowing with seafood and laughter.
It helps, of course, that it coincides with the pinnacle of Greece’s carnival celebrations. And if you’re lucky enough to be in Zakynthos at the time, the open-air dancing, parties, parades and theatrical performances bring the streets to life for weeks, not days.
But if it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience you’re after, then you’ll find yourself on Corfu on the last weekend of April, for Orthodox Easter celebrations that are second to none.
From attending a solemn but deeply moving mass service and following the Philharmonic Society of Corfu’s procession of Christ’s epitaph on Good Friday, to the botides (clay jars) being thrown into the streets from people’s balconies… this is Easter as you’ve never experienced it before.
Spring is in the air
It helps, of course, that Easter coincides with Greece’s beautiful springtime, which simply urges you to spend every possible minute outdoors.
When it comes to outdoor activities, the island of Lefkada has long been an adventure-seeker’s dream. It’s famous for its beaches and water sports (imagine your sea fun starting in May) but you should also pack a pair of walking boots.
Here’s one tip: The picturesque Dimossari waterfall, about an hour’s walk from the village of Nidri, spills into a great blue pool – perfect for swimming in!
And just to the south, the wild and largely uninhabited island of Ithaca also offers up great hiking options, with many of the trails maintained by devoted nature lovers and guides. The 3km path from Perachori to the Cave of the Nymphs and the 1.2 walk from Platrithias to Homer’s School are for the whole family, and there are longer hikes starting from Exogi (to the north) and many other locations. A bit of research and a good hiking map will take you a long way.
Late-summer culinary secrets
Whatever the time of year, a good walk should be rewarded with an equally good feast. And each of the Ionian Islands has its own local delicacies and culinary secrets, so it’s hardly possible to separate one. But we’ve got another tip for you that’s worth keeping for late-summer. It’s on Kefalonia and is perfect for wine lovers and anyone who enjoys learning how a destination can be defined by its agricultural produce and vice versa.
Kefalonia is the exclusive home of the Robola grape variety and, whether you are enjoying a drop (or two) of the dry white that it produces, or take a tour of a Robola vineyard, the experience is made all the more special when the island’s vines are fully laden and the harvest is in progress.
Setting sail for a last dose of sun
No tour of the Ionian Islands would be complete without heading to sea. So for our last adventures, we’re celebrating the fact that September and even October still offer plenty of sunshine and heading into those incredible blue-green Ionian waters.
Our first suggestion is something you’ve likely never even associated with Greece… going sea turtle spotting around Zakynthos. You could be lucky and encounter one while snorkeling, or you could increase your chances by going out on a chartered boat trip. Just be respectful of these beautiful creatures if you do encounter one.
And when it comes to sailing holidays, Paxi is perfect in so many ways. But once you’re there you simply have to head to its adorable little brother Antipaxi, just a mile away. Imagine exotic beaches and complete tranquility.
Same story for Lefkada… Just a hop to the east takes you to Meganisi, where you feel like there’s a beautiful beach for each inhabitant. Olive and walnut groves compete with each other for beauty and each of the three villages will make you feel more welcome than the other. All with glorious late-summer sun beating down on you.
I arrived at Rhodes in September – the season of summer here and what more can I say except that this time of year everything is at its peak. As I ride in the Taxi to my destination, I admire my surroundings like I am on an adventure such as tourists taking photos of the beautiful buildings, children walking alongside of the road in their bathers and I see my first sight of bright pink blossom flowers growing upon a white stone building.
The next day I decide to explore what Rhodes has to offer with their beaches so I arrive at Anthony Quinn’s Bay and it is scorching hot. I walk down the pathway to the beach and I am so distracted with the lovely view I almost trip down the stairs. The more I walk down the stairs the more beautiful the beach appears. I was in complete awe of the beauty. Everyone is either absorbing the sun, swimming in the clear fresh water or having conversations with their loved ones. A beautiful atmosphere!
Since I was in Kalathos, Lindos was a must. On my drive to Lindos town I couldn’t help but be blown away by water views and blue skies.
As soon as I arrived, I wanted to explore. I saw a gelato store so where do I go? Of course to get a gelato on a cone- It was incredible and definitely adds to the whole experience. The town is beautiful, all white buildings, water views and smiling faces -there is so much character to this place. As my friends and I walk past the stores we see more and more beautiful views! My favourite thing about Lindos town would not have to be the views but also the stores and the variety of traditional Greek clothing & accessories that they all have to offer.
My overall experience of Rhodes in Greece was definitely one of the best of my life so far. So much beauty to absorb, plenty of friendly faces and an unforgettable happiness that I will keep with me forever. I definitely recommend visiting Rhodes if you want to experience Greece in its most beautiful pure form without huge crowds of tourists. Its personal and possibilities are endless.
Life is about living your best life and making incredible memories, so why not start now?
My Rhodes experience was highlighted with the Greek warm hospitality of the Atrium Hotels. Three stunning 5 star hotels, perfectly located across the island specifically in Rhodes town, Lindos and Lachania.
I’ve been visiting Rhodes for 40 years now, and each time I feel that special tingle of anticipation that I’m about to make a new discovery. A spectacle? A shop? A new friend in a mountainous village? A new hotel… you know, the kind that enchants its guests and fills Instagram with dreamy photographs? A book presentation? A journey through art, following in the footsteps of a leading contemporary creator whose work is being displayed at the Museum of Modern Art? Or perhaps a journey through space-time, to a period whose mark remains indelible?
This is the experiential journey of Rhodes… like a diamond hidden within a hibiscus flower, the island’s symbol since antiquity. The heady scent of adrenaline.
Because, in the town of Rhodes, there are certain spots that radiate history, culture, charm, mysticism and nobility.
Every photograph taken in such a place captures the feeling that, somehow, Rhodes has conquered time, regardless of the fashion that portrays every figure as an idol.
The Old Town, the Rodiaki Epavli, the port of Mandraki, the buildings on Evdomis Martiou Square, the aquarium, the coastal route from Psaropoula to Kritika and the historical Grande Albergo delle Rose – Casino Rodos hotel … take all of these, together, and you have a scene that allows you to embark on a journey through eternity.
With a history going back centuries, if not millennia, they are created from Italian stonework to retain their symbolism within the colours of the sea that they face for as long as they can endure.
Like a buccaneer, I try to invade their secret corners each time I visit. I want to see how well hidden is the spirit of the times that have infiltrated them.
In the town of Rhodes, there are certain spots that radiate history, culture, charm, mysticism and nobility
I’m certain that very few people have had the curiosity to stride the stage curtains of this theatre. And fewer still allow themselves to be drawn in by the earthy magnetism emitted by the stone-paved streets within the castle. So how many have explored the ruins of the mill or have hugged the rocks during the magic hour to feel like a redeemed castaway of fate and the sea? Few.
Just as it is few who have had that tingle of anticipation of experiencing the simple grandeur of Rhodes’ casino. Where it’s not only the whir of the roulette ball that fills the air with possibility but also to the echoes of famous guests of the past who have lived out their dreams, small or large, in the gardens, lounges and guestrooms of the historic hotel.
Rhodes was and always will be a cosmopolitan isle. This is what made it what it is and the reason it continues to attract worldly visitors. People who seek culture… even from the sand.
A cascade of images comes to mind each time I ascend the hill to attend Sani Festival in Halkidiki, which colours my summer dreams. Here, everything is shaped and designed in line with the beauty of the location and its exquisite sounds, where the uniqueness of every detail is revealed. I feel that whatever I lay my eyes on, it’s as if I’ve seen it for the first time, and I am sure that it will still be there, awaiting my return next year, with the certainty of a permanent, unchanging paradise. I remember the incomparable feeling that the stars became one with the hill when I first heard Cassandra Wilson’s magical voice, the tingle up my spine hearing the sounds of eminent trumpeter Terence Blanchard, the belief that Terri Lyne Carrington’s velvety voice and sensually caressed my hair and the tears shed over the lyrics “there was a boy, a very strange enchanted boy”, when Kurt Elling, Blue Note’s pride and joy, delivered a deeply moving rendition of “Nature Boy” during the adventure-filled summer of 2015. I will truly never forget that moment.
But, of all the memories gathered from this exceptional festival, what can one keep or leave behind. Held for the past 26 years, every effort has been made to maintain the event’s high quality and, today, it is an institution. Many a star whom today are considered at the top of their field had their first taste of the spotlight here, or left their mark on the hill: Dee Dee Bridgewater, Cassandra Wilson, Yann Tiersen, the unforgettable, ever-barefoot Cesaria Evora, Alison Moyet – after the rain, Arturo Sandoval and Chucho Valdés, just to name a few. Of course, many Greek artists have performed in the festival: Dimitris Papaioannou ascended the (sacred) hill shortly before his Athens 2004 Olympics success, while Dionysis Savvopoulos decided to celebrate his 50th birthday here in an evening which saw hot air balloons soar into the sky and his music revered.
Every festival attendee has recollections of these enchanting nights that form part of their summer memories and an annual cultural event which has truly transformed us.
All of this would not exist if Sani was simply just another festival; if there was no vision, faith, enthusiasm and consistency. And just as there is a worthy woman behind every great man, the same applies to this successful institution. Assuming the reins of Sani Festival, artistic director Olga Tabouri-Babali sought out the best jazz labels. It’s no coincidence that many artists hail from the eclectic circle of internationally-renowned ECM who understood that the hill was not just another venue but a location that fits like a glove with their mysterious, exacting idiosyncrasy. The era-defining Jazz on the Hill series draws some of the biggest names in jazz.
Meanwhile, Tabouri seems to have an innate talent in scouting out talented new names likely to flourish. Of all the concerts I have attended around the world in recent years, I haven’t heard a young pianist perform better than Nikolas Anadolis, a real prodigy. He put in an appearance during yet another difficult summer, when the festival served as a beacon of hope. And it seems that all of these artists have good reason to return to Sani, time and again.
Perhaps it is the fact that, as you head up the hill, you pretty much leave behind whatever is unnecessary as you lay out on the grass and let ecstasy take hold. The rock faces, greenery and the sea, that surrounds the hill, become one. Experiencing a concert at Sani, with an ice-cold gin and tonic in hand as I walk across the cool grass in my new sandals and see the sun kissing the horizon above Bousoulas, Greece’s most beautiful beach, is – in my mind – the image of complete summer happiness. Way up there, one enters a divine state, where you can recall past lovers and the new ones to come, send musical tributes to a friend via your phone or ask Georgia, a friendly face whom you see during your summers on the hill, to photograph you once more in front of the stage. I admit to my misdeeds: taking photographs when it wasn’t allowed, sneaking a peek backstage and imploring artists for an autograph. It’s also the freedom you feel, sitting below the fortress which crowns the hill, and the thought that anything is possible.
It is said that the commander of Kassandra once locked up his three daughters in the three towers to save them from the Sultan. Perhaps, it is these beautiful girls who have blessed the location. From here, one can admire the palm trees that rise up majestically along the coastline in front of Sani Resort and seemingly communicate with the various indigenous plants that grow on beautiful Cape Sani. I imagine that some guests are relaxing after their first dip in the sea, while others see that the hard work invested in Sani is paying off for yet another year. Taking in the breathtaking views that stretch all the way to the Aegean Sea and Mt Olympus, across endless landscapes where dreams awaken, it seems that anything is possible. Pairing a paradise on earth with mind-soothing music, namely the best jazz music at Jazz on the Hill and the superb classical sounds of Sani Classic, is perfection defined. To tell you the truth, as Truman Capote wrote in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, it’s only here that I feel that nothing bad could happen to you here. It’s all about music, elation and beauty in precise, equal doses.
What comes to your mind when you hear the word “Tinos”?
Surely the island, the sea, maybe oblations or Virgin Mary of Tinos? How about dove cotes, food, surf?
If Tinos is famous about something, well that has to be the Virgin Mary of Tinos. Mainly a religious destination, probably due to the fact that Greeks would consider Tinos when in need of an oblation. But that was 10 years ago.
This past decade, the island has shown a whole new side. A side seemingly kept private, for many years.
You see Tinos is quite athletic. A couple of years ago, we found ourselves north, somewhere towards Panormos cove and we realized that this is the ideal spot for surfers and water sport aficionados. The sea combined with the high waves make it the ideal spot. Don’t even get us started on what it feels like to enjoy your cocktail at the beach, after a day of swimming and surfing.
This year, Tinos decided to give us, one more surprise or should we say to open her kitchen and welcome us in.
Tinos is a foodie. Or rather a chef foodie. Yeah, true! She can cook and set a proper table for guests and loved ones. Like a good mother and housewife, her doors are always open for friends and strangers alike and treats everyone, like family.
A few weeks ago, we got a pretty good taste of the Tinos hospitality, or filoxenia as Greeks would say, and kitchen. An experience that reminded us, once again, that Tinos is a multidimensional island.
We arrived on the island Monday, morning and as soon as we stepped our foot there, we got carried away by the mouthwatering smells. Tinos had decided to show us that side of her, as well and she was showing off tastes and aromas through the Gastronomy Festival TINOS FOOD PATHS.
The sun was high, a sweet summer breeze was caressing our skin and we had just arrived from our boat trip. It was time for the first meal of the day or better said “Tinos Brunch”.
The mainland is the center of the island and an important point in Tinos Food Paths. Our first stop was at Ionnis Kritikos shop, a name connected to meat in Tinos, since it holds a century old family tradition.
In Amfitritis shore, in Vinci, we sat for the Tinos brunch and tried traditional sausages, a garlic sausage and ofcourse loutza (pork fillet marinated in wine and a mixture of herbs, fennel seeds, cinnamon and savory) and tsipouro where the stars of the table.
Next stop, the old fish market. The festivals meeting point, or rather should we say starting point. Set up beautifully, the old fish market welcomes guest with discussions about the island, the local products, meetings with famous chefs and cooks and of course local delicacies.
There, in the middle of a happy family moment, we got acquainted with the festival volunteers and then we tasted, along with Stelios Parliaros, cheesecake with spoon sweet (traditional Greek dessert) dried figs and walnuts. The… gastronomy torch was passed to Iias Mamalakis who served us, in his usual fun demeanor, a mouthwatering lamb frikasee (dish of stewed meat pieces) with artichokes.
The smells where all around us and you could almost hear the sounds of indulgence through the fish market. Experienced bartenders took over the stage and introduced us to Aegean Cocktails & Spirits Workshop by Difford’s guide. Scrumptious cocktails with a Greek twist of local veggies, fruits and herbs.
Monk Epifanios from Mount Athos along with Nana Gampoura cooked a soup with pumpkin and waterless legumes from Tinos.
The next day found us in Hora (mainland) again, exploring the small pathways, heading towards Tinos Cultural foundation, to enjoy the “As a dove” exhibition, dedicated to the symbol of Tinos and this years Tinos Food Paths, the dove.
How could we experience Tinos and a gastronomy festival, without touring the vineyards and enjoying the local wine? So, we headed off to Mesi and Vaptistis Winery. The family the owns the winery uses exclusively Greek grape varieties and especially the ones that are adaptable to Tinos climate. Our wine tour ended with a meal set right inside a restored pigeon house. An unforgetable experience combined with amazing tastes.
Italians say that after food comes not dessert, but chees. So, after lunch we headed off to unravel the mysteries of local cheeses. As you would imagine, there is a wide variety of local cheeses, to choose from.
First, we headed off to Aggelas Rouggeri cheese dairy, where we learned everything there is to know about local cheese producers and how to make, two unique types of cheese, Kariki (a cheese that matures for 6 months and has a similar taste to Roquefort and Marathouni which tastes much like Kalathaki (local cheeses of Limnos and Andros, that have a similar texture to feta). Then we headed off to San Lorentzo so we could have a closer look at one of the most interesting processes of cheese making. Petroma is a traditional hard cheese that is kneaded with herbs and salt and then molded into small cheese balls.
The next day found us heading to one of the most beautiful villages of Tinos, Pyrgos. There, in the middle of the quiet central square that fills with people dancing, we had our morning coffee. After taking a quiet stroll in the picturesque alleys of the village, we visited the home the renowned Greek Sculptor Giannouli Halepa.
Then, the road lead us to the greenest village of the island, Kardhianí. Flowing streams, lush trees and us enjoying our coffee and local sweets in a balcony overlooking the sea. How could not fall in love?
Mission Tarambados Dove codes
Last but by far the best, was a visit to Tarambados village. There in a hidden treasure game, we put the straw hats, handed to us by the Tinos Food Tours team and with our map wondered amongst dove codes and fields.
We smelled, tasted, heard, saw, touched everything around us, talked to the locals, fed the pigeons and cooked tradition TSIMPITA (meaning bites), the sweet local cheese pies, and we couldn’t help but notice the locals strong bond with doves. This unique experience made us realize that this year’s Tinos Food Paths main theme, couldn’t be anything other than squab.
Feasts are all about gathering around the table, eating, laughing, drinking and sharing emotions and smiles. And that’s exactly what we did. As the sun was setting we raised our glasses to celebrate this unique hospitality, this once in a life time experience in Tinos.
Around a scrumptious buffet of local tastes we came friends with the volunteers and we all realized what an important part of our life, food is and how it brings us all closer. Maybe that’s why our Greek grandmothers always told us “Eat your food” and the neighbor yelled “come in and grab a bite.” Tinos just like all of Greece show affection with food, with friends gathering a table and sharing everything the land has so open handedly offered.
Tinos Food Paths
So, the locals, realizing themselves how important food is to their life and culture, decided through this unique food festival to open their doors and set the table so we can discover the well-kept secret of Tinos. Local products, local recipes and of course the most precious of them all, the people.
Next time when someone asks what’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear Tinos don’t be so quick to answer. First take a trip to Tinos and succumb to the tasty experience of Tinos Food Paths, the warm hospitality of the locals and the volunteers, who actually took a leave from work, so they could be part of this unique experience.
After that we are sure that the answer will come down to two words. Awesome food! At least that’s what we said as we were leaving Tinos behind us…
That’s it. Enough! All that writing about Greece was too much for us so we downed tools and headed off for a holiday of our own. It was late May, after all, the sun was already calibrated for summer, the sea was at its most alluring and – most important of all – we were ravenous. There was only one thing for it… Island-hopping in the Dodecanese. Obviously, we know a thing or two about each destination, so we set ourselves a challenge. We’d discover at least one new thing about each island, as well as soaking up the best of what each has to offer on the culture and beach front.
#1. The special spirit of Kos
We all know about Kos … the tall palm trees, the crazy choice of sandy beaches and the vibe. There’s a reason the Romans, Venetians and a whole bunch of medieval knights – at some point or other – all squabbled over the island. It was kicking back then, just as it is now. But there’s something spiritual about the May sunshine in Greece, so we were in the mood for some enlightenment. The sort that comes from just taking in the aura of Hippocrates’ Asclepeion, just 4km outside the main town. It’s easy to understand why the father of modern medicine chose this spot, on a verdant hill with a spectacular view, as the place to build his healing centre. You can just image the infirmaries, temples, hot springs and even the school for physicians. Quite uplifting. But we were also in the mood for another kind of spirit. We had heard that Kos is making a name for itself in wine. There are a number of wineries to visit – Hatziemmanouil in Linopotis, Triantafyllopoulos near Kos town and Volcania in Kefalos, among them. We learned that Kos was known in antiquity for melantanon wine. Today vineyards plant other Greek varietals – Athiri, Assyrtiko – and a range of international grapes. But we’ve got to leave you with a special tip. So get yourself over to Kos and ask for a Malagouzia. Hippocrates would have approved.
#2. The hidden depths of Leros
From Kos, the island-hopping options are plentiful, but our next hop was a 1hr 30min boat ride to the gorgeous island of Leros. There’s a word that comes to mind when you’re on Leros – authenticity. It’s everywhere. In the numerous hamlets that effortlessly blend with nature. In the ochre and terracotta-coloured houses that give Agia Marina its stately charm. And it’s definitely in the collection of windmills still presiding over Platonos, the island’s capital.
Leros is quite a big island, so renting a car isn’t a bad idea, but we were in the mood for a different kind of exploration. Our new experience on Leros was diving. Come on, who can resist the idea of discovering a sunken German transportaircraft – a Junker 52, we learnt? There are apparently other treasures down there –an Italian barge and a German landing ship, and there are caves with beautiful fauna and flora.
The point is that because Leros is a volcanic island, the visibility underwater is high. You can see clearly whether you’re diving to a depth of 30-45m or just snorkelling, so you don’t even need to be an expert diver. Just curious.
#3. A taste of heaven on Patmos
Patmos was our next stop, a short 50-minute boat trip away. This is the island revelation where St John the Divine wrote the Bible’s Book of Revelation. Apparently, he was exiled here (there are worse fates), where he became a teacher and lived a simple, spiritual existence in a cave overlooking the sea. It was here that he heard “a great voice, as of a trumpet” which led him to put pen to paper (or whatever the writing implement of the time was in 95AD). Yes, we visited his Cave of the Apocalypse and the Monastery of St John the Theologian (you can’t possibly not) and we sat – as Richard Gere, David Bowie, Madonna and a whole set of celebrities have done – and marvelled at the cubist beauty of the main town. But as we said, we were ravenous so, to be honest, the most divine experience was the food. It was – pardon the expression – quite a revelation. No wonder there’s a gastronomy festival here in June. Patmos, we discovered, has a variety of traditional breads, sweets, drinks and savoury dishes. The kolokithoanthi courgette flowers stuffed with rice were exceptional. As for the fried poungia – little dough pockets or purses with a sweet filling of nuts and honey… quite simply heavenly.
#4. Magical, subtle and fragrant Astypalea
With a ferry connection back to Kos taking around 2hrs 20 mins, we could have left our island-hopping adventure here. But after posting so many images of the whitewashed homes and the crown-topping Venetian castle of Astypalea on Discover Greece’s social media, we were eager to head over. So from Kos, we boarded our last ferry and completed the 3hr 40min journey with eager anticipation. Besides, Astypalea also has an airport, which makes getting home from there very easy.
Picture perfect just doesn’t do Astypalea justice. And as for the beaches, let’s just say we visited a few: Agios Konstantinos, Vatses, Livadi, Steno, Psili Ammos … and a special stop at Kaminakia. There’s also a fantastic archaeological museum here, spanning pre-Mycenaean times through to the Middle Ages. Another thing that will keep your attention are the cheeses – Kopanisti, chloro and the oil-preserved ladotiri. There’s a whole range, soft to mild and spicy, courtesy of the island’s 20,000 goats and sheep.
But there was one final experience on the food front which took us by surprise and left us wondering what else we didn’t know about this island gem. Astypalea produces saffron and uses it in a number of local recipes. Our lasting memory was of the most magical, subtle and fragrant scent of one of the island’s characteristic sweet yellow cookies.