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Why Greece is the perfect holiday destination

Whether you’re looking for a weekend getaway to one of Europe’s most historic cities, or a luxurious island escape Greece has something in store for everyone. From the mainland to the thousands of surrounding islands Greece is the perfect destination for every type of traveller.

For those looking for a city break to one of Europe’s most vibrant and bustling cities Athens provides the ideal location. Athens is a city that is full of history and culture with so many famous landmarks it is almost impossible to fit them all into one trip. However if you prefer to take it slower of your holiday then look further afield at what the rest of this gorgeous country has to offer. 

Outside the centre of the capital, life goes on as it always has in a picture postcard environment, with stunning views over an azure sea and surrounded by a dramatic landscape. Green mountains, punctuated with pretty flowers plunge towards the shore, white sandy coves with crystal clear waters, the colours of Homer, the land of Odysseus, this is Ellada, this is Greece, unchanged and just as beautiful as it has always been.

The country is varied with each island differing from its neighbour and each island group having its own unique personality. The fertility and vibrancy of colour found in the Ionian Islands change dramatically as we move north to the mountainous regions of Epirus and beyond with their alpine scenery and pretty stone villages lost in the annals of time.

As we move east across the mountainous region of the Peloponnese where ancient civilization flourished, we find an area of outstanding natural beauty where the shores and foothills are a garden of citrus and olives.

Moving on across the Aegean sea to the islands of the Cyclades with their white cubist architecture and villages perched dramatically on the edges of cliffs, offering beaches exotic, remote and serene.

The Sporades with their pristine nature and stunning beaches, and UNESCO World Heritage towns, and Crete steeped in history, with miles of beaches and mountain scenery is another jewel waiting to be discovered.

Greece is varied, a collection of micro cultures all shining under one flag and one mother tongue. Of course the country needs support and it needs change, but it is still and always will be a fantastic place for the traveller where one can explore without feeling threatened and where families and friends can holiday in a safe environment.

Pretty Greek Villas has a wide range of villas all across Greece and the surrounding islands meaning you’ll find the ideal location for your holiday. 

Posted in    |   Tagged  The Peloponnese

14th Aug 2019

Posted by Ben Bland

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Pretty Interesting - Greek Food

Gourmet is not something that most people associate with Greece. Retsina and a souvlaki kebabs accompanied by fresh tomatoes, heaps of Feta cheese and a bowl of olives immediately spring to mind and are much more associated with this Leventine land.

We have always mentioned to our more gastronomic guests that the culinary delights of Greece are based on simple fare. The taste of a juicy tomato the size of a grapefruit, skinned and drowned in lashings of olive oil, a sprinkling of wild thyme and the crunch of sea salt, mopped up with some fresh bread, warm from the oven. Or the explosion of the sea as you crunch on lightly fried baby squid enhanced with the zest of freshly squeezed lemon. 

Towards the end of last year we visited a fabulous restaurant in Athens. It was full of creativity and sensuous delights and although it was towards the more expensive end it was totally worth paying the extra. Tucked away in a corner of Keramikos we sat in the corner of the ‘Funky Gourmet Restaurant’. The food was served in a theatrical manner and as we bit into something that resembled an olive, served hanging on something that looked like a miniature olive tree, the initial taste was chocolatey with a salty after-taste, the combination of which lingered on the palette. We began to think that perhaps there was more on offer than the familiar flavours of Greece. It set us thinking…

 

Avgotaracho from Messolonghi

Apart from the fact that Lord Byron met his end in the salt marshes of Messolonghi, nothing of worth came from this mosquito infested area on the west coast of mainland Greece, until one discovers the taste of Avgotaracho.

Made from the roe of a flathead mullet that comes to spawn in the lagoon once a year, it is salted and then sealed in beeswax making it a rare delicacy with a fine aroma. Best accompanied by a glass of Sparkling Moschofilero and served as an appetizer.

 

Kozani Saffron

Grown on the outskirts of Western Macedonia, the quality of the saffron is considered one of the best in the world. The area has one of the lowest densities of population in Greece.

The Kozani Saffron Producers Cooperative was formed in 1971 in order to take advantage of the harvest and keep the local community alive. In 1992 the cooperative started to package and sell their saffron as a high quality product direct to the consumer. Kozani Saffron can fetch up to 1500 euros/kilo and the production is between 6 and 7 tons per year. The saffron is known for its antioxidant, antithrombotic, and anticancer qualities. It lends its golden colour and subtle aroma to risottos, sauces, and pastries.

 

Chios Mastic

Refusing to grow anywhere else in the world the Mastic tree found only on the south coast of Chios island produces a resin that contains 80 ingredients that have become famous for their therapeutic qualities from treating various types of cancer to lowering cholesterol.

Mastic gum was even sold to the Sultan’s harem as a breath freshener. Mastic is used for flavouring the liquors of Mastichato and Masticha and with its unique aromas transforms pastries and savoury dishes into gourmet delicacies.

 

Tsakonian Aubergines

Leonidio is the capital of Tsakonia and home to some 7000 Peloponnesians who love food. The eggplant owes its deliciousness to the microclimate of the area where it is not only eaten in its many more familiar forms - ‘imam baildi’, ‘melitzanosalata’ and ‘moussaka’ but also it is preserved, pickled, distilled into liquor and made into ice-cream!

 

Mainalo Spruce Honey

The rarest type of honey in the world is also found in the Peloponnese in the central region of Arcadia. Mainalo is a mountainous place where fir tree forests are abundant and it is here that the vanilla flavoured honey can be found.

It is exquisite with yeast bread baked in a terracotta oven, some spicy Graviera cheese and a glass of chilled white wine.

 

Greece is home to many more delicacies and culinary delights. I suppose our initial thoughts are still correct and the ‘gourmet of Greece’ is to be found in the simple things and wonderful produce that are unique to this very special and varied place.

 

10th Jul 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!

 

6th Mar 2019

Posted by Ben Bland

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Pretty Interesting - Greek Wine

Wine has been pretty interesting to many people throughout the ages and should be one of the main ingredients in a successful self catering holiday, but where do you start in a country which exports very little of this wonderful nectar so the wineries and grape varieties are little know to foreigners traveling in Greece.

I was once stopped by a gentleman in Kefalonia who asked my advice regarding choosing a nice bottle of Greek wine to accompany the food his wife had prepared, he said that I looked like I knew what I was buying, though I am not quite sure what he meant by that! Normally, he would have known which variety and year were the ones to go for but in this little winery just outside Fiskardo, the man was lost. It is not so surprising since there are over 300 indigenous grape varieties in Greece although only 24 of them are of any great significance, producing wines for an international market. The remaining varieties end up being served in the little metal jugs that we find in the majority of tavernas throughout Greece that we foreigners collectively refer to as Retsina. This is a mistake of ours since Retsina is a wine that has been treated with pine tree resin which gives it a sappy and turpentine like flavour but the truth is that it all tastes pretty much the same.

The main point of this editorial is to focus more on the international quality wines than the ones that are served in metal jugs and Greece has its fair share of really excellent wine. Moscofilero, Assyrtiko, Vilana, Xynisteri, Robola and Rhoditis grape varieties produce the majority of the good white wines of Greece while Xinomavro, Agiorgitiko, Mandelaria, Limnio, Mavro and Ophthalmo are the names of the red grape varieties. Wine makers often blend these juices with more familiar grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Grenache, Merlot, Syrah and Chardonnay which are also all grown in Greece. So where does the average holiday maker start? There are several labels that are well worth looking out for. Here are some of them below.

 

The Peloponnese grows about a quarter of the grapes used in the production of Greek wine and is predominantly red wine country. Nemea uses the Agioritiko grape to produce a spicy, well structured red while the highly prized Mavro Daphne of Patras offers a dark, oily fortified wine. The Mantinea region produces a fruity white wine using the Moscofilero grape, which is a particular favourite of mine. The best wine makers can be found in Macedonia, the most famous being the Boutari winemakers who sells its wine both nationally and abroad under the label John Boutari & Sons. Yannis Boutari himself makes high quality red wine in deliberately small quantities and markets them under the label Kir Yianni. Constantin Lazaridi created a very modern estate in 1992 which aims to produce wine of international class. Laziridi winery is located in the Drama region. Markovitis estate focuses on organic methods and the Gerovassiliou winery develop French wine culture and aims to produce the same very high quality wine.

Many of the islands offer really good wines, the most famous being Kefalonia, Santorini, Paros, Samos and Crete. It is believed that the first Mediterranean vineyards were found on Crete and the practice of wine making was taken by the Minoans to the islands of Santorini and Paros. Due to the strong winds that blow up in the Aegean, the grapes are not grown high on trelaces but low, on the ground, in basket like shapes. The volcanic rocks of Santorini collect moisture from the sea at night and release it gradually throughout the day to the vines. This unique micro climate is responsible for the production of the best white wines of the Assyrtiko grape variety. One of the grapes most frequently grown in the Attika region is the white wine grape Savatiano and it is from this grape that some of the best white wines in Greece are produced. The grape produces distinctly robust and full of character wines that are relatively low in alcoholic content. Hatzimichalis, Fragou, Vassiliou, Strofilia, Semeli and Megapanos are the names of the more renowned estates in the Attika region.  

19th Feb 2019

Posted by Ben Bland

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