Led by founder Elena Papanicolaou, Fly Me To The Moon designs bespoke travel itineraries that effortlessly introduce travelers to Greece, harnessing the beauty, tradition, culture, and style of the country, while still embracing a truly local authenticity.
After the excitement of the holidays, just when you think winter is setting in, nature in Greece gives a beautiful gift. A little foretaste of spring – balmy, sun-kissed days made for an unexpected al-fresco lunch, a hint of sweetness in the breeze – pays Greece a visit.
These are called the ‘Alkionides’. We know them as ‘halcyon days’. Even though, technically, halcyon’s primary meaning is a period of calm weather during the winter, we have to think of halcyon days as something idyllic. They are a period when everything is beautiful, and everything goes right.
First days of the Alkionides: The Story Behind Them
Like most things beautiful in Greece, the Alkionides days have a story behind them, an origin in Mythology. And like most things in Mythology, the story is touchingly bittersweet. Alkione (Halcyon) was the daughter of Aeolos, the God of the Winds. But her husband was a mortal – Ceyx – the King of Trahina. When he was lost at sea in a storm, Alkione escaped her grief by throwing herself into the sea.
The gods were merciful. Deeply touched by the depth of her sadness, they reunited the couple. They made Alkione a kingfisher – a beautiful colorful bird. They brought Ceyx back as a kingfisher too. The kingfisher lays its eggs in winter, and Alkione nested on the beach, near the place where she first leapt into the sea to be reunited with her husband. Aeolus, Alkione’s father, calmed the winds for her and gave her good weather, to lay her eggs in peace.
Greeks embrace the gift of the Alkionides days. This welcome reprieve from winter is also an ideal time for a mini-break. It’s the perfect combination of balmy weather and quiet of winter.
You have an opportunity to have the sun-kissed islands very nearly to yourself. If you have not yet been to the islands of the Argosaronic gulf, a warm mid-winter break is a perfect time to explore them.
Since these islands are so close to Athens, they are extremely popular in the high season. In winter, their true character shines brightest. These lovely islands- Poros, Aegina, Hydra, and Spetses, are easily reached. They have their own distinctive personalities. And since they are so easy to get to, you can even explore more than one.
Explore the islands of the Argosaronic gulf
Fans of Henry Miller will already know Poros. He describes the beauty of the harbor in lavish detail in The Colossus of Maroussi. The main town is full of traditional character. Explore it as you climb to the clock tower of 1927, a popular sight on the island that offers sweeping views of the gulf and the island itself. Poros is magnificently lush and green. Love bay – a beach surrounded by pine forests – is a perfect, and popular, place from which to set sail for further exploring by sea.
Aegina is so popular in summer it is almost an extension of the greater Athens area. It is lovely! Like Poros, the town is full of character. Aegina has a splendid temple – the 5th century Doric temple to the mother goddess Aphaia which is in excellent condition. Aegina is also known for a superb agricultural product – fat, fragrant pistachio nuts. The ones here are so good in fact that the Greek word for pistachio is “peanut of Aegina.”
Temple of Aphaia
For those interested in the history of modern Greece, a visit to Hydra is a must. This proud island and its fleet were instrumental in the liberation of Greece in 1821. In the modern day, this is a destination for art cognoscenti – the Desde foundation has set up shop in a slaughterhouse where cutting edge international exhibitions are staged.
But neither of these charms outshine the beauty of the island itself. Hydra is worth visiting only for the particularly charming harbor, the elegant 19th century architecture, and the pristine natural beauty. The atmosphere of the island is utterly timeless, thanks to the fact that there are no cars or motorcycles on the island! Donkeys and water taxis take their place.
Lastly, for all-out glamor, there’s no place like Spetses. Traditionally catering to the elite, the splendid island is rich in cosmopolitan appeal. Expect plenty of gourmet dining, gorgeous bars and cafes, and indulgent shopping. The setting is enchanting – natural beauty, elegant architecture, and as in Hydra, no cars. But here, the preferred mode of transportation is a horse-drawn carriage.
The Alkionides days are a wonderful occasion to soak up some pre-season sun on one, or several, of these top Greek destinations, while enjoying an off-season glimpse of authentic charm.
Have you ever visited any of the Argosaronic Islands? What is your idea of the perfect Island get-away?
First days of the Alkionides February 15th, 2019Fly me to the moon
When thinking of your next Greek destination, consider some of our favorites. These hand-picked destinations are full of natural and cultural attractions and gastronomic pleasures. What makes them all the more charming is the fact that they are lesser known to the majority of travelers, and offer therefore an unspoiled – and more exclusive and authentic – experience of Greece.
Our Old and New Favorite Destinations in Greece
Astypalia — The Butterfly Island
This island takes its nickname from its fanciful butterfly shape, giving it an intricate coastline. In the Dodecanese and near the Cyclades, it takes the best characteristics of both while maintaining its own distinctive personality.
Like others of the Dodecanese, Astypalia spent years under Venetian control. The noble family Querini, who controlled the island, built the Castle which crowns the Chora with Venetian fairy-tale charm. But – like the Cyclades – it possesses that breathtaking purity of palate of pristine white buildings against the Aegean blue of the sky. Astypalia is full of laid-back charm, a classic island experience that offers a sweetly relaxed pace that feels untouched by time.
Come to Astypalia to enjoy a perfect mix of elegance and simplicity; you’ll find boutique accommodations that convey a distinctive sense of island style and traditional vernacular architecture. Cuisine, too, is elegant and authentic. Classic island favorites like a perfectly grilled fresh caught fish by the shore are joined by exotic specialties, like vibrant yellow saffron biscuits, made with local saffron. And even though the sea is close, the rich meat of goat that has grazed on wild island herbs is a delicious local treat, too.
This is a wonderful destination for a relaxing beach holiday, where you’ll have your choice of unspoiled spots. But for an even more private and remote experience, take a boat to one of several nearby uninhabited islands, like Koudouna and Koutsomitis, with blindingly pure sands and waters that glitter like a jewel.
Tinos – The insider’s Cycladic Island
The Cyclades are justifiably world famous – landscapes of uncompromisingly stark beauty, that stunning blue and white color scheme that looks like the Greek flag come alive, and a winning combination of modernity and tradition.
Tinos, a close neighbor to the better-known Mykonos, is the insider’s Cycladic Island. That gorgeous Cycladic architecture is punctuated by beautiful Orthodox churches both grand and intimate. There are also fanciful dovecotes- beautiful traditional shelters decorated with intricate geometric patterns, built for the doves and pigeons bred on the island.
The rocky terrain makes for excellent hiking: there are old stone paths throughout the island with stunning views of the Aegean and the surrounding Cyclades that jut majestically from the sea. If hiking gives you an appetite, you are in the right place; whatever grows in the rocky Cyclades is packed with flavors concentrated by the sun and the dryness of the soil, making this an exciting destination for gastronomic travel.
Specialties of Tinos include juicy wild capers, and enormously flavorful artichokes and the many local specialties that showcase them. The tomatoes are packed with tangy sweetness, and when they are sun-dried even more so. Milk from the island’s goats is used to make a whole variety of tangy and rich cheeses. Pork specialties include the marinated cured specialty “louza”- a delicious snack, and the local sausages are fragrant with fennel and enriched with wine.
Tinos is home to several vineyards and local wines are a perfect pairing with the indigenous specialties. But beer makes a delicious change of pace – one of Greece’s best micro-breweries is on Tinos, and beer makes a refreshing choice for the climate and the terrain.
If you want a truly unforgettable and moving Greek experience, visit Tinos on the 15th of August: the island fills with Pilgrims celebrating the Dormition of the Virgin, an occasion centered at the Church of the Panagia Evangelistria and spread throughout the entire town.
Tinos offers the ideal Cycladic experience. This gem of an island combines the elegance of boutique accommodations or traditional villas with rugged natural beauty, authentic culture, and genuinely warm locals.
Epirus Coast — Rich with Mythology
Glamorous and green, this lush Western coastline of Greece has an exotic, remote feel. For the traveler who wants an exclusive experience, the coast of Epirus is worth seeking out for its combination of culture and pleasure.
Epirus is rich with Mythology. The Acheron River is one of the five rivers of Hades, the Ancient Greek underworld. Nikopolis, founded in the 1st century BC by Caesar Augustus, is an ancient city that flourished throughout the Roman and Byzantine civilizations. This impressive archaeological site features monuments from throughout the eras- an ancient theatre, a nymphaeum (monument), Byzantine walls, and early Christian churches. Dodoni – one of the oldest oracles of Ancient Greece – provided spiritual guidance and advice in all matters of importance from as early as 2000 BC until the rise of Christianity. The ancient theater on the site is particularly well-preserved and is the site of a cultural festival of drama, music, and dance with performances throughout the summer. Seeing a performance by moonlight in an ancient theater is an unforgettable experience.
The combination of mountains and coast make Epirus one of the most exciting, fjord-like terrains in Greece. The coastal towns of Epirus are particularly lovely, even by Greek standards. A steep descent through thick greener, coming abruptly to a crystal blue sea edged by blinding white sands brings you to Sivota.
Parga, arranged on a hillside and curved around its picturesque beach, is awash in pastels. An islet with a chapel in Parga’s cove is picture postcard perfection. And a steep climb up to the Venetian castle is well worth it- the views are stunning and the castle itself very romantic. Lovely Preveza is known for its astonishing beaches and its relaxed, unspoiled atmosphere. This most enchanting of Greek coastlines is filled with coves and beaches that make it a perfect destination for exploring by yacht.
This cosmopolitan yet out of the way stretch of coastline has its own distinctive culture, known for its particularly stirring folk music, beautiful traditional costumes, and, of course, regional cuisine. Epirus is famous all over Greece for its fabulous pies of delicate phyllo and fresh and sometimes even wild local fillings, which come in a great variety. Attending a traditional festival is a wonderful way to experience the true Epirus. Zitsa is a popular wine of the region – just ever so lightly effervescent, it’s lively on the palate and a wonderful paring with local foods, especially the plentiful fresh fish.
Epirus combines epicurean pleasures, super yachting and swimming, and cultural enrichment for a holiday that nourishes body, mind, and spirit.
Are you interested in discovering the rare pleasures of some of Greece’s insider destinations?
Our Old and New Favorite Destinations in Greece February 1st, 2019Fly me to the moon
In Ancient Greece, decisions of any significance were guided by a mystical hand of divine origin. An oracle- a word derived from the Latin verb “orare” (to speak)- was in fact a person, priest or a priestess. It was thought that the very Gods themselves spoke through the mouths of these oracles. Different Gods spoke through oracles at different locations- Apollo at Delphi, for example. Oracles were consulted on matters of state, military operations, law, family, and personal matters. The prophesies and messages were mysterious and cryptic. Phrases which sounded poetic and profound were also vague, and open to interpretation.
The Most Important Oracles of the Ancient World
Dodona- Oldest of all of the Oracles of Ancient Greece
This oracle located near the town of Ioannina in Epirus is thought to have dated to as early as 2000 BC. In this sacred grove, the priests and priestesses would interpret the sounds of the rustling of leaves, or possibly bronze objects similar to a wind chime. Dodona was thought to have been originally an oracle of the Mother Goddess – often called Rhea or Gaia – and later Dione (“diety”), and then Zeus. Inscriptions on the temple mention both Dione and Zeus. Although much less known today, the oracle of Dodona was second in importance on to the oracle of Delphi.
It was indeed famed in its day. Odysseus, for example was said to visit Dodona, to ask whether he should return to Ithaca openly, or in disguise. In the third century BC, King Pyrrus, ruler of the region, celebrated Dodona with the construction of a grand temple to Zeus, building a wall around the oracle and the holy tree with its rustling leaves, and building temples also to Dione and to Heracles. Athletic games and festivals of music and drama were also instituted. Dodona remained an important sanctuary until the 4th century AD, when the Christian emperor Theodosius banned all pagan religious activity.
The Sanctuary of Asklepios at Epidaurus
Today, Epidaurus is most famous for having one of the most beautifully preserved theaters of Ancient Greece.
To see an Ancient Greek drama or comedy here is truly an experience you will never forget. But the theater is but one part of a major complex. Here was also the shrine to Asklepios, the God of Medicine. It was the center of the official cult of the city state of Epidaurus. Here, people sought physical and spiritual healing. There were many buildings in the complex. In addition to the theater, there was a Hestiatorion- a ‘restaurant’ for ritual banqueting, the Tholos (the great altar), and the stadium hosting athletic games. Most crucial for healing though was the Abaton.
The Abaton- or Enkoimeterion- was a stoa where patients slept- not to rest, but rather to receive the divine wisdom of Asklepios. Rather than relying on an intermediary like a priest or priestess, Asklepios himself was thought to visit to the patients directly in their dreams, healing them. This was called ‘incubatio”- a ‘temple sleep’. The Asklepion at Epidaurus- perhaps best known today- was just one of many throughout ancient Greece.
The Naval of the world: The Oracle of Delphi
No Oracle was more famous than the Oracle of Delphi. Greek mythology relates that Zeus launched two eagles from opposite ends of the earth. Where they crossed would indicate the center- the ‘omphalos’ (naval) of the earth- which ended up to be Delphi.
The Temple of Apollo at Delphi is one of Greece’s best known sites. Here you will see Doric ruins dating from the 4th century BC, erected on the site of earlier temples. This was an extremely important spiritual site in the ancient world. The oracle of Delphi was a high priestess, called the Pythia, the most powerful woman of the Golden Age of Greece (the 6th to the 4th century BC). She was pre-eminent among all the oracles of Ancient Greece, consulted before every major political or military decision.
The Pythia was chosen from among the priestesses of the temple, all women native to Delphi, of excellent character and sober lifestyle. As many as three Pythia might serve at a time, alternating.
It is amazing to imagine the scene: to receive the divine prophesies, the oracles would undergo a ritual purification, then bathe in a sacred Castillian spring. The oracle would then take her seat on a tripod, next to the ‘ophalos’, holding a bowl of water from the Cassotis spring in which to gaze. The oracle would then enter a trance-like state, sometimes frenzied.
Then her prophesies would come forth like verse, in pentameter and hexameter (poetic meters common to Ancient Greek). People seeking her counsel were lined up. It was said that at the end of the sessions, the oracle was exhausted, by the description of Plutarch, -‘like a dancer after an ecstatic dance.’
A mysterious ritual… with a scientific explanation
At the time, the explanation for the oracle’s divine inspiration was said to be sweet smelling vapors rising up from a fissure in the earth. This was dismissed in the modern era as untrue. But a team of scientists- a geologist, a chemist, a toxicologist, and an archaeologist found that through hidden faults, ethylene would have entered the chamber, producing a kind of euphoria. This scientific explanation makes the oracle no less fascinating though. The naval of the earth is also a fascinating window into the spiritual world of Ancient Greece.
Have you visited any of the Oracles of Ancient Greece?
Most important oracles of the ancient world January 18th, 2019Fly me to the moon
t’s so exciting as New Year’s approaches to think of the year ahead, empty pages of a calendar still to be filled with experiences we can’t yet imagine. Nothing enriches life and creates memories like travel. In Greece, there are so many diverse destinations: you can fulfill a travel dream or pursue an interest in depth, sharpen a skill or expand your cultural horizons, devote some time to true wellness and relaxation, or indulge your inner epicure. In 2019, give yourself the gift of a truly transforming holiday.
A Greek Travel Wish-List 2019
A Different Ski Trip
When people think of Greece, they so often think first of the beaches — the glorious white sands, the jewel-toned seas. But what about top-notch ski resorts? Greece has many!
The storied Peloponnese features Kalavrita- swish down the pristine slopes from a summit of 2340 m- the base is at 1700m and the air and views are glorious! Mt. Parnassus– a great favorite of Athenians- features 18 ski runs and 12 challenging black diamond routes. Snow boarders particularly love Vasilitsa in the Pindus mountain range near Grevena- one of the top southeastern European snow-boarding destinations.
Gorgeous Pelion features Greece’s first organized skiing, at the promisingly named Agriolefkes (‘wild white’!). These are just a few of the many prime skiing destinations in Greece. Of course, the après-ski experience is always distinctively Greek- warm up after the enjoying the slopes with excellent local wines and spirits and hearty, authentic mountain specialties.
You’d think being blessed with such seas and coastlines would be enough for any one country. But did you know that Greece is also generously bathed in therapeutic natural springs? Throughout Greece healing waters have been enjoyed since ancient times. Greece’s healing waters address a host of medical concerns but perhaps their greatest gift is the spiritual wellness that literally washes over you as you bathe in their healing warmth.
The facilities to take advantage of them range from the delightfully raw and wild in their gorgeous natural settings, to historic baths, to absolute state of the art luxury. Enjoy a destination that offers a true historic and cultural experience. Or try a modern retreat that is the very latest word in luxury wellness, offering a holistic approach to total well-being, body and soul.
Culture, art, and history
The glories of Ancient Greece have shaped the whole of western art and culture. No one ever forgets his or her first sight of the Parthenon, at once majestic and yet so human in its almost imperceptible curves. Culture in Greece is something not just to be visited and seen but truly experienced. Seeing an ancient drama in the theatre of Epidaurus is a transformative experience that will stay with you throughout life. Or perhaps you are an opera fan, in which case a production outdoors at the Herodion at the base of the Acropolis is a must. Throughout Greece, summer festivals feature drama, music, poetry, and even film and animation- from the ancient to the contemporary. And did you know that Greece is also a cultural destination rich in Roman archaeology? Or how about the exotic architectural riches of the Ottoman centuries?
A city-break in Thessaloniki will expand your perceptions of Greece’s tremendous heritage. Greece is also a prime destination for modern and contemporary art, featuring a National Museum of Contemporary Art and cutting-edge exhibitions like the recent Ai Wei Wei show at the Cycladic Museum or other modern shows at the Benaki- just to scratch the surface. In Thessaloniki, the newly merged State Museum of Contemporary Art and Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art offer everything from the Russian avant-garde to Andy Warhol. Add to this a vibrant gallery scene, and even an emerging street art culture and you have a cultural destination that unites a timeless and profound classical base with the latest in creative expression.
Is your idea of relaxation a full-service luxury seaside resort with full spa facilities? Or perhaps it’s a private villa with full catering for reconnecting with family and old friends. Or why not try a secluded, off the beaten path island to find your own private slice of Greece.
You could also try a mountain retreat with some hiking to explore one of Greece’s lesser known but wonderful pleasures. Greece offers these diverse options and pretty much anything else you can imagine.
Total relaxation can be united with a completely stress-free dose of high quality recreation. From rounds of golf to tours of traditional villages, from private sailing tours of secret coves to exploring mountaintops, Greece truly has it all.
Of course, the freshest of Mediterranean fish and seafood are a great starting point- enjoying a post swim afternoon feast of lobster macaroni is a summer ritual you may want to make your own. But did you know that Greece is becoming increasingly well-known internationally for luxury indigenous food products? Let’s start with the essential- Greece’s ‘liquid gold’ (although it’s usually more green!)- extra virgin olive oil of a quality so exquisite that Greece can hardly even bear to part with much of it for export. Try it on the spot, by joining in an olive harvest in an ancient grove followed by an oil pressing, finishing with gourmet dining on authentic local specialties. For something truly exotic, try the bottarga of Messolonghi: compressed mullet roe to be shaved over pastas or as the most elegant of ‘meze’ is Greece’s answer to caviar.
How about truffles? Greece offers prime truffle-hunting in the Zagori region- you can even go out on a hunting expedition accompanied by trained dogs, and enjoy your gourmet harvest right on the spot. Mushrooms of every exotic variety abound in the mountainous area of Grevena, celebrated in mushroom festivals in late summer and enjoyed in local specialties throughout the year.
And in nearby Kozani, endless fields of purple flowers hold within their delicate petals one of the world’s most expensive harvests- highest quality saffron. 100,000-150,000 blossoms are needed to yield a kilo! Oenophiles can find no richer destination. Greece abounds in ancient and indigenous varietals, lovingly resurrected to create wines of distinction and character, as well as successful cultivation of international grape varieties. Wine roads throughout Greece will take you through the lushest of countrysides to elegant tasting rooms for a close-up experience of this most ancient of harvests, truly a civilized gift to life.
What are your travel dreams for 2019?
A Greek Travel Wish-List 2019 December 28th, 2018Fly me to the moon
The Holidays in Greece are marked with some special and specific traditions that are uniquely, beautifully Greek- special decorations, traditional dishes, old customs, and even a mischievous twist on the Christmas elf. We’ve rounded up what makes Greek Christmas special.
What makes Greek Christmas Special
Of course, there is the Christmas tree and the usual festive decorations, but the tree is a relatively recent international addition- credited to King Otto who hailed from Bavaria. In Greece, this nation of seafarers, so many people worked on the ships- as fisherman, or on commercial boats in all corners of the world. A boat coming into harbor is a symbol of family being reunited, an image that stirs the hearts of Greeks. A decorated boat is the most authentic symbol of the season.
Christmas tree in Thessaloniki
Santa Claus (Agios Vasilis)
A kindly old man with a white beard and a red suit delivers presents in Greece too, but not on Christmas- Christmas is centered around the birth of Christ.
Presents are delivered by Agios Vasilis, whose name day is celebrated on January first. Agios Vasilis visits houses on New Year’s Eve.
Agios Vasilis’ day is also celebrated with a cake, called a Vasilopita. Either a sweet cake or a sweet, eggy tsoureki-like bread, this large festive sweet has a coin hidden in it.
Pieces are assigned for everyone in the household, plus the baby Jesus and Agios Vasilis, and the good fortune of the year goes to the one who finds the coin (the good fortune of Jesus or Agios Vasilis is shared by all!).
Elves, Greek style
Not the cheerful toymakers of the North Pole decked out in red and green, the Kallikantzaroi are tiny mischief makers that wreck havoc after dark throughout the 12 days of Christmas. These tiny black long tailed troublemaking goblins are known throughout the Balkans.
Keeping a Yule log burning in the hearth throughout the holidays is thought to be a god way to keep them at bay- they love to come down chimneys.
Kourabiedes and Melomacarona
In most countries, the selection of holiday cookies is very large. In Greece, there are basically two. Two is all you need though if they are absolutely perfect: These two classic Greek Christmas cookies are nothing alike- one is crumbly and buttery, the other spicy and moist.
Kourabiedes are butter cookies rolled in powdered sugar – they melt on the tongue like a snowflake. Melomacarona are “honey macaroons” (‘meli’ = honey)- spicy cookies scented with cinnamon and cloves, stuffed with walnuts, and moistened with honey syrup. Mounds of each type of cookie are found not only in every Greek home during the holidays, but also at cafes, bars, and sometimes even the local hardware store.
Just as the Christmas cookies are limited in scope but perfect, so are the Christmas carols, or rather carol- there is just one for Christmas, and another for New Year’s, and yet a third for Epiphany. The song is beautiful, but the best part is the tradition of caroling- children go door to door, wearing Santa hats and playing triangles while they serenade the household. It’s a long song- it’s totally okay to give them some coins and good wishes before they get through all of the verses. In fact, they’ll appreciate it- “kalanda’ is not just a sweet tradition- it’s also good business! The custom is not as strong as it once was, epically in the larger cities. But you’ll still see groups of children serenading neighborhood shops and even boarding the buses to spread a little holiday cheer.
Save up your change if you’ll be outside on Christmas Eve day or New Year’s Eve day so you have something to give them. And speaking of being out, you definitely should be- these are wonderful days of the year.
Last minute shopping, champagne, and street parties
This of course is both a custom and usually a necessity in many countries. But the Greeks do it with verve- carolers, bands, and djs fill the streets. By noon, almost everyone has picked up their last minute cheeses or the meats they had on order, and are meeting with their friends. Everyone is loaded down with parcels and lightened with wine and good cheer.
The streets fill with the scent of grilling chops as restaurants and bars move the action into the streets. The cafes and bars are at their shimmering best too- stop in for a glass of prosecco and, of course, some melomacarona.
Have you ever been in Greece for the winter Holidays?
What makes Greek Christmas Special December 14th, 2018Fly me to the moon
Greece has a wonderful variety of mushrooms, and in more recent years has become a prime spot for cultivation of high quality truffles. It has also been found to be prime ground for hinting wild ones. Of course, regions favorable to the cultivation of truffles and mushrooms abound in other delights- mountain air, forests, rich soil, and unspoiled beauty. Greece has two magnificent destinations for a novel sort of gastronomic tourism, ideal for those who don’t mind getting their hands dirty and working up an appetite in the mountains before they sit down to a serious gourmet meal.
Greece’s wealth of Fungi: the mushrooms and truffles near Zagori and Grevena
A wealth of mushroom varieties
Mushroom foraging requires expertise- there are far more than 2,000 varieties of mushrooms in Greece, but fewer than ten percent of these are edible. Even that much smaller number is impressive- an astonishing variety of shape, color, texture, and aroma that will delight connoisseurs. Some of the most famous and prized varieties thrive here.
These include porcini mushrooms, chanterelles, morels, trumpet mushrooms (yellow and black).There are also the exotically named and beautifully orange colored amanita caesarea (one of the few edible varieties of amanita mushrooms)– more commonly known as “Caesar’s mushroom” and the macrolepiota procera- “parasol mushrooms”, and many, many others.
Foraging is also serious business. Some of these varieties fetch astonishing prices. Morels and chanterelles are on the menus of the worlds’ finest restaurants.
Exploring the fragrant wonders of Grevena
Northeast of the Pindos mountains at an elevation of 530 meters, the prefecture of Grevena is prime mushroom foraging territory. The wealth of the region is celebrated in mushroom festivals towards the end of August. But they are enjoyed year round and most especially in the cooler months when their rich aroma suits cold weather dishes.
Don’t imagine the mushroom’s use to only savory: there are also mushroom spoon sweets, liqueurs, and even loukoumia. The culinary potential of the mushroom is explored by the chefs at Avlais- a restaurant specializing in fungi. Many other rustic local restaurants also serve wonderful mushroom dishes.
Truffles — the most fragrant of treasures
Much more costly, mysterious, and rare in the fungi community are truffles. The truffle is a legendary foodstuff. The richness of its aroma is intoxicating (perhaps this is why it was prized as an aphrodisiac in Ancient Greece and Rome) and unforgettable, yet so delicate. The truffle is a hypogeous fungi- meaning simply a fungi below the ground, and mycologists (botanists specializing in fungi) name ten Greek varieties.
For man, and beast
We are not the only species who prize truffles. They were formerly hunted by trained pigs- females only; the truffle’s slightly musky aroma is very similar to a substance secreted by boars, intended for courting females. The problem with pigs is that they are so eager to claim the truffle that they destroyed the delicate truffle bed in the process.
Dogs are more effective- they can locate the precious find and are happy with a small treat as a reward. Greek truffles are hunted by dogs- the Lagotto Romangolo breed has a particularly fine truffle nose but other dogs too can be trained- adding to the delight of the experience!
Truffle Hunting in Zagori
Here by the Pindus mountains in Eipirus, truffle hunts can be arranged. Trained dogs and human experts can accompany you. Alone or in small groups, you can explore the glorious forests of the National Park and of the UNESCO Geopark of Vikos-Aoos, prime truffle-hunting ground.
A Total Experience
An education about the truffles’ natural habitat and their cultivation makes the experience more enriching. Your fragrant harvest can become a memorable gastronomic experience- fresh from the earth, the fragrant harvest can be cooked and enjoyed in these beautiful surroundings. Here in the forests, invigorated from the fresh mountain air and the exercise, you can experience one of Greece’s most elegant yet satisfyingly primal gastronomic treasures.
Have you ever dined on a variety of mushrooms, or gone truffle hunting?
Greece’s wealth of Fungi: the mushrooms and truffles November 23rd, 2018Fly me to the moon
After the olives harvested and pressed for oil, and the grapes picked and pressed for wine, a treasured third fall ritual takes place — the making of Tsipouro. This aromatic strong spirit is made of the marc- the skins and seeds and pulp- leftover from pressing the grapes for wine. The marc is distilled, and traditionally flavored with aromatics, primarily anise, which makes it so cloudy in the glass over ice just like ouzo. But blends of aromatics make each batch unique (these are, of course, a secret).
The making of Tsipouro: Tyrnavos, Mount Olympus, Vergina & Dion sites
Throughout October and well into November, groups of friends gather around copper stills – “kazani” in Greek, for distilling parties, which are also called “kazani”. What makes Tsipouro particularly special is that, although it can be found commercially bottled in a liquor store, it is primarily a traditional agricultural product.
Much of it is poured into plastic bottles and sold in bulk to friends and neighbors. Northern Greece has a lot of excellent wine grapes, and consequently a lot of fine Tsipouro. Northern Greece’s famous Tsipouro-producing areas are also filled with other charms. Just as people go on a wine route, on a tsipouro route you can learn more about the country as you learn more about the drink. Here are some of our favorite destinations.
The name Tyrnavos is most closely associated with superb Tsipouro. This large town in the Larissa prefecture is full of charming traditional architecture. In the 18th century, Tyrnavos was known for textiles, making red dye, silk, and fabric for Navy uniforms, and the town’s wealth can still be seen in its traditional buildings. There is a hamam from the Ottoman era, and a famous bridge over the river Titsarisios. Another highlight is the lake called the “Mati Tyrnavou” (“The Eye of Tyrnavos”) – the region’s only natural lake, which is a haven for flora and fauna.
The name speaks for itself — Greece’s most famous mountain is of course one of the most famous mountains in the world.
Once home of the gods, it is still heavenly, and still glowing with spiritual energy. It’s 2918 meters attract climbers and nature lovers. Even if you are not a very serious climber, you can get just a taste, by hiking to one of the refuges. Here, enjoy a rustic meal of spaghetti with meat sauce or a traditional bowl of white bean soup. There is, of course, tsipouro too.
Litochoro, a town on the slopes, makes for a surprisingly sophisticated destination, with elegant cafes, a charming naval museum, and an excellent restaurant- Gastrodromio- specializing in gourmet cuisine with integrity, highlighting true mountain ingredients.
Near Olympus is the sacred site of Dion, the most sacred of all ancient Macedonian sites.
Here, sacrifices were made to Zeus and festivals held in honoring Zeus and Pierian Muses (the region today is called “Pieria”), including competitions in theater and gymnastics. It was here that Alexander the Great came to seek the blessing of the gods before his glorious expedition to the east.
Dion enjoyed over a millennium of activity, from the 6th c BC to the 5th c AD. The archaeological park has the ruins of various sanctuaries, including that of Demeter, of Asclepios, of Zeus Olympus, and of Isis.
Running through the marvelous site is the river Vaphyras, itself considered a deity, and thought to have been the site of the holy Grove of the Muses. In this wild natural setting, the spirit of the ancient world thrives. Findings from the excavations are housed in the on site museum.
For many, the tombs of Vergina- otherwise known as ancient Aigai- are the most thrilling of ancient archaeological sites.
Image source: wordscene
Discovered only in 1976 by the archaeologist Manolis Andronikos, the excavations uncovered the tombs of Macedonian Kings, including that of Phillip II, father of Alexander the Great. The tombs themselves are in situ- the museum has been built around them. Apart from the monumental significance of the figures buried here, the findings are of exquisite beauty. The frescoes on the tombs look like the work of Rembrandt, with faces evoking a subtle range of emotions. The golden burial wreaths are spectacular, and the ivory miniatures are exquisitely detailed. The whole of this is housed under mounds in partial darkness, adding a great sense of mystery and discovery.
Wines and spirits are so connected with culture — it is wonderful where following their trail can lead you. Have you ever tried Greece’s distilled spirit — Tsipouro?
Tsipouro: Tyrnavos, Mount Olympus, Vergina & Dion sites November 16th, 2018Fly me to the moon
The saffron of Kozani counts among the highest quality saffrons of the world. But here, it’s not called saffron, but rather “crocus”- for the flower that produces it. And the crocus, in turn, is named for the mortal Crocus, who in Greek Mythology was turned into a flower by the gods- either by Hermes who was devastated at accidentally killing him in a game of discus, or by the gods who mercifully transformed him into the flower to save him from the despair of his unhappy love affair with the nymph Smilax.
Kozani’s Fragrant Treasure: The Saffron of Kozani
What makes saffron so special
Given saffron’s famously aphrodisiac properties, the second mythological explanation fits best. We can see from the lore that saffron is no ordinary seasoning. It is greatly prized in cuisines throughout the world- for its luxurious color, its delicate aroma, and for its real and imagined properties. It is thought to have medicinal as well as culinary applications.
Why is it so precious?
Adding to its allure is the fact that it is also really, really expensive. This enormously labor intensive spice is the aromatic, crimson stigma of the crocus sativas flower. Each flower has but three.
Image source: Rove.me
This means that an astonishing 100,000 to 150,000 blossoms must be harvested to yield a single kilo of quality saffron. Fortunately, just a whisper of it is all that is needed for it to work its magic.
The saffron harvest
Saffron’s beauty starts in the field. The region of Kozani, in northern Greece, is abloom with acres upon acres of its exquisite purple blossoms. Across the villages of the Kozani region, such as Krokos, Karyditsa, Agia Paraskevi, Ano Komi, Kato Komi, Pefkopigi, and Petrana, approximately 3,000 acres of crocus are cultivated. This yields 1,200 to 2,000 kilos of saffron yearly.
In October, the purple blooms are collected. This is much too delicate a procedure to be trusted to machinery. Skilled hands gather the flowers- usually those of local women, who gather the blossoms into their aprons or in baskets.
Image source: Politismos eMagazine
The flowers bloom briefly- the work must be carried out delicately, but quickly. It is enormously labor intensive, taking about 40 hours to gather about 150,000 flowers. Each of these flowers will yield but 7 grams of dried saffron.
Kozani and Siatista: The wonders beyond the saffron harvest
The town of Kozani itself and the neighboring town of Siatista are known for the rustic traditional mansions built in the 18th century, an era of prosperity for merchants and owners of small factories.
Image source: hellasjournal.com
These mansions have a characteristic style that reflects the way of life of the Ottoman era. There would be a large courtyard. The ground floor had an “aniliako”- a room for enjoying the sunshine in the winter months, and a “kafe-ondas” and “Mousafir-ondas” for welcoming guests. The stone walls, and cantilevering covered balconies, and the wooden trim define this distinctive traditional style. In Kozani, the Vourkas mansion is a particularly lovely example of the classic type. Kozani’s history of wealth has gone to excellent purpose- the Kovadareios library- the work of over four centuries- contains rare and beautiful volumes, and is Greece’s second richest library.
Millenia of History
Neighboring Servia has an even older heritage. Byzantine Emperor Herakleios built a fortress and town here in the 7th century, which grew into an important settlement over the next two centuries. The Byzantine ruins are splendid.
For more history, visit Aiane. This ancient city was the capital of Elimiotis, a kingdom that later merged with the kingdom of Macedonia. Findings from the site date to the 6th c BC, and can be seen in the Archaeological Museum of Aiane. At the site, there are the ruins of a Classical Agora with a Stoa, and Hellenistic houses.
Apart from the crocus fields, there are other natural attractions of the region. It took 70,000 years to create Macedonia’s own “Grand Canyon”-find it in the Potamis ravine, on the way to Mikrovaltos. The Kozani region also has a magnificent artificial lake Polyfitou.
Image source: MEDeat
The long narrow lake is crossed by a dramatic causeway, called alternately the Polyfitos bridge or the Servia bridge, found as it is en route from Kozani to Servia. The bridge- nearly a causeway- at 1,372 meters one of Greece’s longest- makes for a dramatic and beautiful drive.
Did you know that Greece is known for its saffron? Have you ever explored the beauty of Macedonia?
Kozani’s Fragrant Treasure: The Saffron of Kozani November 9th, 2018Fly me to the moon
Come autumn, Greece’s country roads and sometimes even its city streets are strewn with spike-covered balls. Some split open to reveal a glistening brown chestnut. You’ll be tempted to gather them, but wear gloves if you do – their spikes are needle sharp. An excursion to celebrate their season brings many other pleasures with it. Join us on a rewarding Greece’s Autumn Treasure escape.
Chestnuts: Greece’s Autumn Treasure
The natural and historic wealth of the Peloponnese
One of the best places to experience the wealth of the season is in the Peloponnese. Majestic Mt. Parnonas, located between Laconia and Arcadia, is known for its dense forests of chestnut trees and oak trees on its lower slopes.
It’s also known for much more: the Peloponnese abounds in natural, historic, and archaeological wealth. The Peloponnese has been inhabited since pre-historic times. Some of the villages are built in the sites of ancient cities, and in some relics of the Bronze Age have been found. But the history most in evidence is that of the Middle Ages. The Peloponnese is full of romantic Frankish castles and other ruins from the crusades.
Villages of Mt. Parnonas
Geraki- A Medieval Ramble
If you’re hoping for lunch, you’re out of luck- Geraki has not been inhabited for a long time. But as an archaeological adventure, this is truly a special treat, awash in the heritage of the Middle Ages, the era of knights and crusades.
Once the Barony of Gerkai- a Frankish fiefdom established by the crusaders in the early 13th century, it has a fine fortress, built near the site of the ancient city of Geronthrae. This is a protected archaeological site now, and one that is very much off the beaten track, adding to its charm. These are among the region’s most atmospheric ruins — those of the castle and several churches. There is a climb to reach it, and you’ll be glad of having good footwear.
Tzintzina — Hiking and History
Photo credit: ndimensi
The euphoniously named Tzintzina (also called Polydroso), on the sloped of Mt. Panornas, is extremely popular as a starting point for hikes, just the thing to take in the majestic scenery, and build up an appetite for rustic and refined mountain cuisine.
Kosmas- The Balcony of Kynouria
At a glorious elevation of 1,150 m on the mountain’s southeastern slope is a village referred to as the “balcony of Kynouria” owing to its sweeping views.
One of the region’s best known villages, this was once known as the ancient city of Selinous; today, it’s the village of Kosmas, known for its traditional architecture and charm, and its proud history, playing a role in the Greek War of Independence. Today, enjoy its picture-perfect cobbled town square, shaded by chestnut trees. Traditional tavernas offer fine mountain cuisine. The architectural integrity is completely intact in its classic stone buildings with tiled roofs.
Ano Doliana- A Mountain Gem
Ano Doliana is another village of high elevation- at 1,050 m up the mountain’s northern slopes, it looks out over the plain of Tripoli. The requisite plane tree in a charming village square, convivial traditional cafes and tavernas are among the village’s charms.
Photo credit: Gourmed
This is a lush area, and among the many orchards there are, of course, abundant chestnuts. As Tzintzina, Ano Doliana is known among hikers. The A4 path passes through the village on its way from Tripoli to Sparta. There are also plenty of marked trails for those who cannot commit to such a serious route. The church of Agios Giorgos at the village’s edge makes a very pleasant destination
Kastanitsa- The Chestnut Village
The Greek word for chestnut is “kastana”- and the suffix “-itsa” means little. Kastanitsa is what you imagine- a darling village, swelling with chestnuts. 850m up on the southern slope of Mt. Parnonas, Kastanitsa’s houses are made of local stone and their roofs are slate (slate withstands the winter frosts well); its traditional architecture have made it a local heritage site. The village celebrates its namesake each autumn with a chestnut festival.
Those who are used to thinking of chestnuts as a snack, roasted over the coals and eaten in city streets or lounging by the fire at home, will be astonished to see the variety of preparations they are suited for. In addition to the classic preparations as spoon sweet, jam, spreads, and lending their characteristic rich autumnal flavor to breads and cakes, they are a toothsome, rich accompaniment to meats.
Kastanitsa is known for yet another interesting thing. The majority of its residents at one time spoke not Greek, but Tsakonian. This was the language. The Tsakones were the local tribe who founded this village high on the mountain while fleeing Slavic tribes who had invaded the Peloponnese. The origin of Tsakonian is intriguing- the language has its roots in the ancient Doric language. Few speak it today. If you do go to Kastanitsa, make sure not just to taste their culture, but listen for it, in the sounds of Tsakonian you may be fortunate enough to hear.
We hope that you enjoyed reading about Greece’s Autumn Treasure – chestnuts! Have you ever travelled to any of Greece’s small and enchanting mountain villages, or attended a traditional Greek village festival?
Chestnuts: Greece’s Autumn Treasure November 2nd, 2018Fly me to the moon
Nafplio, in the Peloponnese is arranged beautifully on the Argolic Gulf. One of Greece’s most romantic cities, where centuries of history intertwined in an unusually dramatic natural setting, providing the rich backdrop for a vibrant local cultural scene — art, design, and plenty of quality places for a fine meal or a relaxing glass of wine, always with stunning views. Lets embark on journey to discover the artistic side of Nafplio and its deep cultural roots.
The Artistic Side of Nafplio and its deep Cultural Roots
Nafplio through the ages
Established in antiquity, known then as Nafplia. Its location is not just gorgeous but strategic — the city was an important seaport throughout the middle ages, a ruling city of the region in partnership with Argos during the Frankish rule of Morea– name of what we know today as the Peloponnese.
Held initially by the de la Roche family, it later fell under the control of the Republic of Venice, before falling to the Ottoman Empire. After the revolution, when the Hellenic Republic was established in 1921, Nafplio served as the first capital of the nation, until 1834.
Its most famous sights
The city has a dramatic topography, arranged on a cape, and crowned with the Palamidi fortress, arranged along the side and top of a high hill above the city. The fortress was started by the Venetians in the early 18th century. It’s reached by 857 steps, and the view gets better with each one.
Another distinctive monument is the Bourtzi Castle, whose fairytale charm is reflected in the sea — it takes up the whole of its tiny island just off the harborfront. It’s Venetian, built in 1473, and originally named Castello dello Soglio (its Turkish name “Bourtzi” stuck- it means ‘Island-Fort’). Another monument in the city dates from the Ottoman years, the Trianon mosque, from the second half of the 16th C. That, of course, is not its Turkish name — it later housed a cinema- the Trianon, and more recently it has housed the municipal theater. Another mosque on the square, built in 1730, had a more illustrious history, serving as the first Parliament building of Greece.
Apart from these landmarks, the narrow alleys of the old town are awash in color and charm, lined with two story buildings of traditional architecture with tiled roofs and painted shutters and bougainvillea spilling from balconies.
Follow these alleys to Syntagma square- the large and handsome plaza, then continue on to the seafront to enjoy the city’s convivial charms, where the contemporary finds expression and depth in historic settings. Just outside of town is another perfect example of this, it’s just at the edge of town. An old canning factory has been converted into an exciting venue for culture and entertainment.
Image source: www.argolikeseidhseis.gr
The Fougaro – once the tomato canning factory “Anthos” is now a multi space hosting exhibitions and concerts, art workshops, and even a library for art and science. The rustic authenticity is also the setting for its café and art shop. Through November 25, 2018, the Fougaro is hosting an exciting event that brings together fashion, art, and the tradition of Greek textiles. The designer Tseklenis is being celebrated in a retrospective exhibition of his creations, organized with the cooperation of the Peloponnesian Folklore Foundation.
There is plenty to keep a visitor busy right in Nafplio, but the region is full of exciting destinations for an excursion, especially for those with a love of archaeology and the history of ancient Greece. Chief among them is a place that also plays an active role in the cultural life of Contemporary Greece- the late 4th century BC theatre of Epidaurus, near the sanctuary to the god of Healing, Asclepius, once held theatrical and musical events in his honor.
The Ancient Greeks thought that culture had a beneficial effect on spiritual health- and so do we, today. Epidavros hosts many performances each year- both of classical theater and other more modern productions. Mycenae, one of the most significant archaeological sites in all Greece is also nearby; this was the richest palatial center of Late Bronze Age Greece (about 1600 – 1100 BC). We know it today as home of legendary Agamemnon, who led the united Hellenes to Troy in quest of Helen. The findings from the site include the famous gold marks, and the Lion’s gate will be a familiar site to visitors.
Nemea, another ancient sanctuary, was the site of the pan-Hellenic games from the 6th century BC to the third century. The Temple of Nemean Zeus (God of shepherds and shepherding, not the god of all gods ). The ruins are splendid and so is the setting, and there is an excellent small museum on site. Of course, for many oenophiles, Nemea is already very familiar- Nemea is home to the indigenous grape variety Agiorgitiko, and many excellent wineries, including a cooperative winery, representing 1100 growers. This is an excellent wine tourism destination too- the soil around Nafplio appears to be rich in beauty, in culture, in history, and not least, in grapes.
We hope that you enjoyed reading about the artistic side of Nafplio and its deep cultural roots. Do you enjoy combining sophisticated urban pleasure with archaeology and the beauty of the countryside? Have you ever been to the Peloponnese?
The Artistic Side of Nafplio and its deep Cultural Roots October 26th, 2018Fly me to the moon