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Meteora Review

Every now and then you discover a place that leaves you in absolute awe. One of these places is Meteora. The name Meteora means ‘suspended in air’.

If you haven’t explored Central and Northern Greece, you are missing some of the most breathtaking, mind-blowing, ‘WOW’ provoking sights that Greece has to offer. If you think that whitewashed houses and beautiful beaches are what Greece is all about, it is time to rediscover.

After winding down through the Pindos Mountains and beginning your cruise through the Peneas valley, all of a sudden, there it is! Skyscraping, rock towers, 400 meters high soar out of the ground supporting historic monasteries at their peaks, like great arms reaching up exalting what they hold in their palms.

Experts suggest that these sandstone and conglomerate pinnacles were created 60 million years ago from a combination of river erosion that created the rising formations and seismic activity that split them into separate pillars.

Monks have inhabited these rock formations since the 11th century. They first dwelled in the natural caves that were accessible with ladders.

As monks became increasingly fearful of the political instability during the Turkish occupation, they sought out a more secure recluse and moved upward. By the 17th century, they had built 24 incredible monasteries on top of the pinnacles. How they managed to do so under such impractical conditions is still dumbfounding. The pulleys and baskets used to transfer people and goods up and down the rocks are still visible and some still functioning.

Today, six monasteries remain working, four men’s and two women’s, and you are actually allowed to go inside for a trip back in time. Roads now take you much closer to them and over the years, steps have been carved out of the rocks for safer, easier access. It can still be quite a climb, so be prepared for some exercise. There is a conservative dress code to enter the monasteries. Women are required to wear long skirts and most monasteries provide wrap around skirts at the entrance that women can put on over their clothes.

Below the monasteries is the touristy town of Kalambaka. If you are after a more authentic experience we recommend avoiding Kalambaka and heading over to nearby picturesque villages, such as Kastraki, that have much more charm. Kastraki village is just a couple of kilometres from the monasteries and sits among the rock giants, peeking out of the hillside through the trees. The traditional village homes and inns are built from stone and wood. Narrow cobblestone pathways lead you through the village where you will discover small chapels and Kastrakis’s own hidden treasures. The town is also known for its high-quality meat and offers an abundance of tempting places to stop for classics like ‘kontosouvli’ and ‘kokoretsi.’ 

When we visited the area we stayed at the Guesthouse Sotiriou. It is a wonderful building with wooden staircases and ceilings, beautiful balconies, and cosy fireplaces and has all the characteristics of a traditional home and provided excellent service.

Meteora is also an internationally recognized haven for rock climbers, offering routes with varying degrees of difficulty. The nearby towns of Rizoma, Pyli, and Mousaki also have additional rock climbing routes. Hikers, as well, can find several worthwhile paths around the area.

UNESCO has declared Meteora as a world heritage site. It is not just an impressive part of Greece, but a ‘must see’ destination for any traveller. It is not often that we are able to get up so close to such a historically significant wonder of the world.

If you come to Greece, you should definitely make a point to visit. Your fascination with this spectacular place will stay with you long after you leave.

26th Jun 2019

Posted by Ben Bland

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Pretty Interesting - Greek Cheese

Whether we are out at a taverna or dining at home, there is one constant on the table. The production of cheese in Greece dates back over 6,000 years. The ancient poet Homer describes the production of cheese, like feta and kasseri, in his epic works. Greece is still an important producer and exporter of a wide variety of cheese today, with the majority of the production coming out of Northern Greece. Most Greek cheese is made from sheep’s or goat’s milk since such a mountainous country cannot support vast herds of cattle.

Many countryside housekeepers still make their own cheese using traditional methods. Straining the heated milk through a cheesecloth, allowing to stand and then slicing to release more whey. The word feta means slice in Greek and it is from this part of the process that the cheese gets its generic name.

It was produced to be able to withstand time without being refrigerated. The salt and liquid in which it is stored help it maintain freshness even in warmer conditions. You can buy feta packaged or you can get it from the delicatessens or supermarket deli straight out of the barrel and most regions produce their own local version each one varying in taste from the other. Feta is excellent in salads, baked or served on its own as an appetizer. It is a standard side dish with any Greek meal.

Types of Greek cheese

 

Kasseri cheese is also commonly used. Made from sheep’s milk it is a mild, semi hard, pale yellow cheese that has a tendency to be slightly oily. It is a little salty and slightly pungent, but has a sweet finish. In Greece, Kasseri seems to have taken the role of mozzarella. It is easy to slice and use for sandwiches, as well as chopping in small cubes for hors d'oeuvres, added to pizzas, omelets or baked in filo dough to make cheese pies. Thessaly, Macedonia and Mytilini are renowned for their Kasseri production.

Mizithria cheese is produced from either sheep’s or goat’s milk. It is available in two forms. You can buy a fresh, sweeter Mizithra that is very soft, resembling a ricotta cheese. Sifnos Island produces Mizithria locally and it often replaces feta in their horiatiki salata (Greek Salad). Aged Mizithra is firm and quite salty. As a hard cheese that doesn’t melt very quickly, it can be easily grated and added nicely to pastas and as a top off to other cheesy dishes.

Graviera cheese is a personal favorite! It is a light yellow, hard texture, wheel cheese with an external rind that is very versatile. Naxos and Crete are most widely associated with this particular type of cheese. Crete uses sheep’s milk to make their famous Graviera, while the Naxos version is made from mostly cow’s milk. It is excellent served as an appetizer and adds a zing to anything. It can be fried up saganaki style, served in salads, grated and used in combination with most other cheeses for things like stuffed peppers or on pasta. It can even be sliced and added to a sandwich to give it a richer flavor. The flavor is fruity and nutty with the Cretan varieties having a heavier caramelized taste.

Kapnisto Metsovone is one of Greece’s only smoked cheese varieties. It makes its way to our dinner tables from the village of Metsovo, in Northern Greece, 1200 meters high up in the mountains. It is a mild, smoked, yellow, semi hard, wheel cheese that is known for its high quality. It is delectable by itself, but also goes perfect in a sandwich or served as an hors d'oeuvres with smoked salmon or crackers.

Kefalotiri is made with a combination of sheep’s and goat’s milk and sea salt. It has a tangy, sharp taste and is dry and salty. In some seasons, the cheese is almost white, but also appears again in a golden yellow. The texture is very hard, therefore, is primarily used for frying or grated and added to stews and sauces. Kefalotiri is made in several regions of Greece, including the Ionian and Cycladic Islands.

Kefalograviera is made from sheep’s milk and is used similarly to Kefalotiri. The flavor is between Graviera and Kefalotiri. Often fried for ‘saganaki,’ grated or used as a table cheese, it pops up often in a Greek meal. Western Macedonia and Epirus are large producers of this type of cheese.

Other cheese worth mentioning are Anthotiri and Manouri which are similar to the soft Mizithra. They are often used in pastries or served with honey as a dessert.

Part of the fun of traveling in Greece is sampling all of the great food. Wherever you travel in Greece, ask what cheese they produce locally. In the villages, some even make their own at home! Greeks are always proud of their local production and more than willing to let you have a sample to taste. You will find that there is something different to try just about everywhere you go. Just when you have declared your favorite, you will stumble across something new!

 

Posted in Area Reviews   |   Tagged  Greek Food

6th Mar 2019

Posted by Ben Bland

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Hydra Review

Lying South of Athens and very easy to get to, artistic, bohemian in style, a ‘hang out’ for the stylish, sophisticated and sometimes famous, Hydra is definitely a place well worth considering as a summer destination.

With the prices of air-flights to the Ionian soaring, it’s worth taking advantage of the cheap offers made by budget and schedule airlines that arrive into Athens International. The new Proastiakos railway as well as the Metro terminate in the airport building so it is very easy to reach the port of Piraeus to catch an interconnecting hydrofoil that will whisk you within 1½ hours to Hydra. All forms of transport are prohibited on Hydra so no need for car hire. The island has benefited hugely from this ruling – no smelly engines or noisy mopeds to interfere with the simplicity of life and the peacefulness of the majestic surroundings.

One must be prepared to walk in Hydra since all properties are located across three hillsides and most of them are at least a 10-15 minute climb. Once up, sitting on your veranda, the views are just superb and the tendency is to remain there sipping your preferred beverage and enjoying clean air and blissful silence.

The coastline of Hydra is mainly rocky and the sea is a cool temperature and crystal clear. The municipality has installed swimming ladders so it is easy to gain access to the refreshing waters. However, the local kids prefer to access the sea by their own means. With deep plunge pools to cushion the impact, the children leap from the rocks into the sea with huge grins on their faces, only to repeat the hilarious procedure again and again and again...

The villages of Kamini and Vlychos lie to the west of Hydra town and can be easily accessed by water taxis or by local caique boats found on the quayside in front of the clock tower. All have pebbly beaches so ‘jelly’ shoes are recommended for those with tender feet! Good local food is served in the tavernas which are dotted along the coastline.

Further west is Bisti Bay, a favourite for snorkelling and exploring. A wonderful thing to do is to search for the black spiky sea urchins, break them open and guzzle them in oyster fashion with some lemon juice, olive oil, crusty bread and of course some chilled white wine.

There are other secrets to be found on the nearby island of Dhokos which, like all the other suggested places, are best accessed under the experience of one of the local caique boat captains. They aren’t too expensive and it is ‘a must’ for at least one day of a holiday. The seadogs know the secrets and can steer you in the right direction!

Autumn and springtime are fabulous seasons to visit Greece especially if your interests extend beyond the beach. Hydra is a choice destination for an alternative holiday and the network of walking paths that line the inland offer a walker’s paradise.

Most of the paths are dirt tracks mainly used by the donkeys. GPS compatible OS maps are available in many of the shops that line the harbour so with a hand held device it is very hard to get lost. The island is long and narrow so it is easy to explore the heartland which is dotted with monasteries and a profusion of flowers especially in the spring.

A favourite hike is along the west coast of Hydra to a Byzantine village called Episkopi. The walk along the coast road is reasonably flat, until you arrive at the little harbour of Palamidas, then the route goes inward and upwards through a lush forest of pine trees. Following the track you arrive at a little group of houses, surrounded by olive groves.

The local people respond warmly to a friendly smile and a greeting of "Yasou". Generous invitations are often made, to sit for a while and enjoy whatever has been prepared that day. Remember that the local wine has quite a kick and the only way back is by foot!

To view a list of our Pretty Greek Villas located in Hydra for holiday rentals, please click here

26th Feb 2019

Posted by Ben Bland

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