Samothraki Island, Unaffected by Modernity

Samothraki Island, Unaffected by Modernity

Stubbornly retaining its natural beauty, Samothraki remains untouched by this modernizing, globalizing day in age.

The island of Samothraki is one that wins you over on your first visit, enchanting you with the crystal waters of its waterfalls, its lush vegetation, and the imposing Mt Saos. According to Homer, it was from the peak of this mountain that Poseidon spectated the Trojan war.

Built amphitheatrically along the slopes of Mt Saos, lies the Hora. The town looks more like a well-designed theater than an ordinary island capital, with its two-story red-tiled houses and quaint cobble-stone streets. The Church of the Dormition of the Virgin (Koimesis Theotokou) is worth a visit for its valuable icons and the supposed heads of the “Five Martyrs of Samothraki.” The ruined medieval Castle, a 1400 remnant of the rule of the Genovese Gatelouzo family, is another must-see. On your way to the castle, stop at one of the many bakeries that makes the traditional “gorgi” rusks and delightful leavened bread.

Continuing south, go up to the church of Panagia Krimniotissa, which, as it clings to the cliffs, offers excellent views of the island’s nicest beach- Pahia Ammos. On your way down, visit the renowned eatery Profitis Ilias and taste some of the wonderful goat on the spit.

To the north of the Hora is Paleopolis, the island’s archaic and Hellenistic center, where you can view ruins of the Ancient City and the Sanctum of the Great Gods. This is where the Cabeiri Mysteries took place, rituals that supposedly aimed to secure life after death. But since the initiated were not allowed to talk about these ceremonies, historians and archaeologists cannot make conclusive claims.

East of Paleopolis is Therma, a small town that becomes very busy in the summers, due to its therapeutic sulfurous springs. From Therma, begin either the hikes to peak Fengari, or the path that leads to Gria Vathra, both of which will offer spectacular views. Be sure to stop by the Vathres, the stunning waterfalls that run from the peak of the mountain, creating small natural pools on the way down, and in turn leading to new waterfalls.

Next, traverse the ravine of Fonias, a gorge that also springs from the peak of the mountain, creating many more waterfalls on its way down. If you are less adventurous, perhaps take a stroll through the riverine forest, redolent of beautiful perennial plane trees and matchwood. Stop by the Medieval Tower, a structure that offers exquisite views of the river.

Since roads do not reach all parts of the island, there are some places that you will need to visit via boat, in order to experience the magnificent beauty. For example, you will need to take a boat to see the waterfall of Kremastos, a cascade that falls into the sea after a 100-meter drop. Similarly, you must travel by water to see the adorable Mediterranean seals that have found their haven in the sea caves of Samothraki. If you get this far, be sure to make it to Vatos, a beach of unique beauty, surrounded by high rocks with caves, and situated a bit to the west.

Eating out:
With its specialty being the goat on the spit, Samothraki is famous for its fine traditional food. The island’s best taverna, “O Vrahos,” is situated on the road to Profitis Ilias. Also, be on the look out for “O Sotiras,” an eatery situated in the forest, just above Hora. There, you will fine exquisite roasted goat and magnificent fried potatoes, in addition to many delectable traditional “mezedes.” Instead of a refrigerator, the taverna uses the basin with frozen running water to preserve food. A plethora of tavernas, such as “Akrogialim” on the road to Lakomma, or “Limanaki” on Kamariotissa beach, serve unbelievably tasty seafood.

At Kamariotissa beach is also “Klimataria,” the tavern of Mr. Antonis that has remained open for more than twenty years. On the eastern side of the island, you can visit the delicious “Perivoli tou Ouranou,” at Therma, as well as the eatery of Mrs. Maria, a sweet woman who has converted the lower part of her house into an “ouzadiko.” Ask for her homemade leaven bread, along with the cheese that she produces herself. Predictably, the omelet made from eggs and vegetables from her yard is also divine.
For dessert, definitely go to Hora’s “Aggelonia,” for crepes and loukoumades, but don’t leave if you haven’t tasted the fantastic spoon sweets. The owners are known across the island for their amazing figs, morello, quince, “praousti” (wild prune), and walnuts, all of which are preserved and then sweetened to perfection.

Where to stay:
You will find more rooms for rent than hotels on Samothraki, since, unlike most other Aegean islands, it is not a touristy island. At Kamariotissa, you can find “Aiolos” (2551-41795), and on the road to Paleopolis is the hotel “Kastro” (25510-89400). At Therma, you can stay at “Caveiros” (25510-98278) or at “Mariva” (25510-98230 & 98258), where Mrs. Chryssoula will show you what Samothracian hospitality is all about. If one of them has not opened yet due to the weather, you can find many rooms for rent in Kamariotissa as well as in Hora.

How to get there:
You can get to the island either from Kavala or from Aleksandroupoli, with a ferry or a flying dolphin. There are also routes once a week from Lavrio.

Useful Telephone Numbers:
Municipality of Samothraki – 25510 41584
Health Center – 25510 41217
Police – 25510 41203
Port Authority – 25510 41305

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Marinated Eggplants

Marinated Eggplants

Eggplant is wonderfully versatile and it can be used in so many ways and so many recipes.  It absorbs the flavor of the herbs and spices accompanying it. These marinated eggplants are a perfect  side dish or a healthy snack.

Ingredients:

1 large eggplant, peeled and cut into 1-cm rounds
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp dry oregano or basil or mint
a pinch of black pepper
2 tsp salt
1/2 cup good wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
a pinch of chili powder

Procedure:

 

1.  Grill the eggplant rounds on both sides until golden brown.

2.  Put eggplant into a bowl and add all the ingredients. Mix well.

3.  Let stand for 4 hours.

4.  Put in a jar, pushing down well; if needed, add more oil just to cover eggplants completely. Use the next day.

Incredible Crete

Incredible Crete

VIDEO

A spectacular video made by the official Crete’s tourism portal www.incrediblecrete.gr featuring a cinematography that brings tears in most people’s eyes without anyone in the film saying a single English word.
It perfectly displays the Cretan “philoxenia” which in Greek means kindness, generosity, friendliness and hospitality.

Visit Crete for the optimum Mediterranean traveling experience, and trust me you will leave with similar incredible memories.

Santorini, Strange Beauty

Santorini, Strange Beauty

Santorini is consistently voted as one of the 10 most beautiful landscapes in the world. A great ancient civilization flourished here, until a huge eruption in 1623 BC destroyed everything, leaving in its place a unique scenary.

Santorini is one of the most popular destinations worldwide, and is considered to have one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. One can find hotels and restaurants of a very high standard, as well as other more simple solutions for accommodation and food. The famous sunset is best watched from Oia. Visit the unique Vlychada beach with to its volcanic rocks and black sand, as well as the more cosmopolitan Perissa.

Santorini also produces excelelent wines, that are exported to most European countries. During the last few decades, the expanse of vineyards has minimized greatly, due to touristic development on the island, and is currently confined to almost 6000 acres. Even so,  new technology and better-educated winemakers, have contributed to the wine’s enhancement.

Santorini’s main variety is the Asyrtiko. This forms the basis of VQPRD Santorini, together with the Athiri, the second white variety on the island. A third variety, the Aidani, is also produced. The Asyrtiko is considered to be one of the best white varieties of the Mediterranean and results in wines with high acidity and fruity flavours. Particularly in Santorini, the Asyrtiko develops unique characteristics, due to the peculiarity of the ground. We also meet the marvellous Vinsanto, an amber-coloured, sweet wine.

Top Santorini Hotels:

Enigma Suites – Oia, Santorini,
Iconic Hotel – Imerovigli, Santorini
Nefeles Hotel – Fyra, Santorini
white pearl villas – Oia, Santorini

Top 3 Restaurants:

Koukoumavlos – Fyra, Santorini
Τel.: 2286023807, 6979719289
Papagalos – Oia, Santorini
tel.: +30 228 607 1469, +30 694 220 5923
Vanilia – Fyrostefani, Santorini, Τel.: +30 22860 25631

Gourmed Tips:

• One must definitely try the sun dried tomatoes, the fava and Santorini’s wines.
• Take the boat to Caldera and walk on the ground of Nea Kameni.

Wine factories to visit:

Gavalas Wine factory, Megalochori, tel. 22860-82552

Boutari Wine Factory, Megalochori, tel. 22860-81011

Chatzidakis Wine Factory, Pyrgos, tel. 22860-32466

Kanava Roussos, Kanari, tel. 22860-31349

Rambagas Restaurant Sifnos

Rambagas Restaurant Sifnos

Rambagas Restaurant in Sifnos Island of the Cyclades is probably one the must go places for all visitors.

Merging architecture, tradition and the sense of moderation, Rambagas, the first multi-purpose space opened its doors to visitors in the Cyclades in the summer of 2006.
The ‘Cycladic Space’, based in the heart of Apollonia inSifnos, quickly became a place for gatherings, recreation and cultural activity.

Built on a spot that inspires and mesmerizes travelers with its views of the crystal blue Aegean, ‘Cycladic Space’ offers the services of a modern multiplex while simultaneously respecting tradition and was designed with the Greek summer in mind. Breakfast, coffee, cocktails and snacks at ‘Rambagas Café’, the all-day go-to hot spot of Apollonia! Hidden under the natural shade of the trees, are the three paved patios which offer rich breakfasts, fresh fruit juices and the chance to enjoy the summer laziness on our comfortable loungers.

A fresh take on traditional Cycladic flavors under the careful eye of well-known chef Yiannis Loukakos in the all new ‘Rambagas Restaurant’ .  The island of Nicholas Tselementes welcomes Yiannis Loucacos, the famous Greek chef who will be preparing a delicious menu with fresh new flavors based on the Greek Mediterranean cuisine, and especially traditional Cycladic gastronomy. “Every dish served on the menu exists to heighten one’s pleasure and memories of the general ambiance, the moment and the overall experience of the island of Sifnos”, says the chef.

In the Sifnos influenced spaces, harmoniously tied with the color and aura of the island, you can also enjoy selected labels of fine Greek wine.   All of this from early morning to late night , in an atmosphere as special as the island of Sifnos.

When the sun sets,  Rambagas Cafe welcomes its guests with music from around the world. Don’t forget to try one of the famous exotic cocktails…

Rambagas
Apollonia, Sifnos
T 22840-32215
Open from 9 am till late night.

Here are 12 Reasons to Take a Vacation

Here are 12 Reasons to Take a Vacation

If you’re under the impression that the only thing a holiday can offer is rest and recreation, let me put it to you simply: you’re wrong.

There are at least twelve important reasons to take a break, all of which are directly related to good physical health and mental well-being. Experts insist that holidays are a vital necessity, and not a luxury. Here’s why…
The value of regular breaks has been recognized for as long as people have been working. Our bodies need a detox from the “toxins” of work, as well as a more general break from the stress and pollution generated by life in urban centers. But a holiday is essential even for those not residing in built-up areas, even for those not working. Monotony reduces the efficiency of brain cells; brain cells become most productive when introduced to new surroundings and new stimulants. Furthermore, the living and working conditions of today’s day and age create the dire need to take a break.

1. Less of a sedentary lifestyle = better health

The distinguishing characteristic of the human race, the homo erectus, is our ability to stand upright. These days, however, we appear to have become homo sedentarius and this has given rise to a host of new problems. Recent epidemiological studies rank most modern muscular-skeletal conditions as major public health problems and attribute them to the many hours we spend seated while working. Therefore, we should take long breaks from such unnatural conditions, in order to alleviate the consequences of a sedentary lifestyle. In going on holiday, we are forced to exercise the body. Even those who are not athletes will be walking greater distances than the distances that separate the office from the parking lot, while on holiday. As well as walking, you’re more likely to go swimming on a summer holiday. Whether traversing a new city or playing volleyball at the beach, vacations allow you to up your fitness levels, while revitalizing your circulation and increasing immunity.

2. Building better health

Holidays not only improve our fitness levels, but also contribute towards a general improvement in health. While on holiday, mysterious chronic disorders suddenly disappear. This is particularly true for gastrointestinal conditions where improvement can range from 60% to 100%. The cause for this is most likely psychological rather than purely dietary, since our eating habits are usually less healthy while away on vacation.

3. Strengthening the lungs
Pollution is a worldwide phenomenon, but provincial areas are generally less affected by this problem than urban centers, while islands are even less affected than mainland provincial areas. In the clean air of the countryside, your lungs will begin to function better within just three days. From day one, your lungs will begin to expel the carbon monoxide accumulated from the pollution of urban centers with their automobile exhaust fumes. By the second day, your lungs will no longer carry even a trace of carbon monoxide, thus reducing the likelihood of severe respiratory infections later on.

4. Real taste and smell

The population and smog of the city, just like cigarettes, affect one’s sense of taste and smell. Research has shown that within 48 hours of quitting smoking, the proper functioning of these two senses returns. This is primarily due to the absence of the strong stimulants that alter the epithelium of the tissue in the mouth and the nose.

5. Improved sleep
A reduction in stress levels while on holiday, in combination with the relative peace and quiet that prevails at most vacation areas, is quite conducive to sleep. Although many claim that they are unaffected by, or perhaps immune to, noise pollution, our bodies interpret the constant noise as a threat. The upshot of this, amongst other problems, is very superficial or poor-quality sleep. However much we might believe that we are accustomed to it, the body doesn’t stop responding to noise. In other words, sleep in the countryside or other peaceful environments is always of higher quality.

6. Good health due to peace and quiet

The relative peace and quite of the countryside allow the acoustic nerve to rest and recover. Exposure to noise pollution, especially for extended periods of time, increases susceptibility to infections as well as cardiological problems. Peace and quiet substantially reduces cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and the likelihood of getting anything from headaches to colitis.

7. Natural light and hormonal balance
Working in offices, we are no longer exposed to the natural fluctuations of sunlight that occur during the day. Instead, we are exposed to steady, technical light. But the human body is made in such a way as to respond to changes in stimuli, even at the cellular level. Therefore, the human body has developed into an organism that accepts and expects the daily fluctuations of sunlight. When we lose eight hours a day of this natural fluctuation for many days straight,  a condition called the Buchner syndrome appears, with symptoms ranging from headaches to gastrointestinal disorders. Exposure to natural light for a period of three weeks can largely redress the imbalance brought on by long periods of time spent in office conditions.

8. For a more… fertile relationship
Pollution directly influences the quality and quantity of male sperm, as well as estrogen levels in women. Although reduced fertility due to environmental pollution can’t be fully  corrected by a 10-day holiday, cleaner environments improve fertility. Curiously, long-term exposure to pollution leads to a decrease in male births, while female births remain unchanged. In provincial areas that are relatively pollution-free, the balance of male-female birth does not display unnatural fluctuations. In Athens, pollution leads to an estimated loss of at least 400 male births per decade. Is it safe to assume that a couple will have less trouble producing a child if they go on vacation? Theoretically, the answer is yes. Their likelihood is increased, even just slightly.

9. A longer life

Mortality rates in urban centers during summer are higher than those of the provinces. Unfortunately, no study has yet to be undertaken to show how much longer life expectancy can be extended by taking regular holidays. Recent studies carried out by the World Health Organization indicate that 5% of deaths in urban centers are due to pollution. Because there are so many variables, researchers have had difficulties producing studies that determine definitively the affects of pollution and urban life. The one thing that is certain, however, is that anything that interrupts the exposure of the body to harmful factors can only have a positive effect.

10. Asymmetry and imperfections create balance

Holidays in the countryside give the brain an opportunity to take a break from the dry, square logic of the city, and to lose itself in the sentimentalism of curves, hills and imperfect shapes. The optic field afforded by cities is oppressively associated with the usual width of a road, and the right angles of buildings, streets, and city squares. On holiday, we often find ourselves on narrow winding lanes that meander in and around the villages; the eyes can wander over the curves and slopes of a mountain, and the point on the horizon where sea meets sky. In effect, the “perfection” of urban living (its ideals technical lighting, regulated temperatures, etc) cause us added stress rather than relaxation. In fact, relaxation is always associated with the imperfections of nature (i.e., the fluctuations in light, imperfect shapes and forms, natural ventilation, etc).

11. Colors soothe the eye

The grey that predominates in offices and most other urban buildings has been proven to increase the pulse rate much more than a multi-colored room and therefore, although a neutral color, it is a significant cause of stress. Holidays interrupt the constant bombardment of the grey tones that come with urban centers. Eye specialists recognize that the most relaxing view for the human eye is an open visual field that lacks strong contrasts- landscapes such as the sea or the sunset.

12. We become nicer people on holiday

While on holiday, a person escapes the over-population of urban centers and human presence becomes welcome. That is, while in cities we continually bump into strangers and the human presence ends up being perceived as an unwelcome superfluity. On holiday we begin to miss others, we long for their company and subconsciously begin to value their presence. In an experiment conducted on two city streets (a busy one and a relatively quiet one), a blind man lost his balance and fell while attempting to cross the street. Passersby on the busy street were far less willing to offer assistance than those of the quiet one. The findings of this study and many others confirmed that medium level noise pollution significantly disturbs our emotional balance, making us more irritable, less willing to help our fellow man, less tolerant, and more threatened.

How beneficial are regular, short breaks?

Some people prefer to take shorter, but more frequent breaks throughout the year rather than all of their holiday leave at once. Experts, however, agree that at least three continuous weeks are necessary for the body to rid itself of the toxins of work. Regular, shorter breaks are not as beneficial to the body as one month of uninterrupted freedom.

Best value for money restaurants in Milan

Best value for money restaurants in Milan

Italy has always been regarded as one of the world’s great dining destinations but often expensive for most of us. Our editor Sarah Lewis selects her pick of Milan’s best value for money restaurants. Enjoy!

1. La Ricetta di Mamé

Most Milanese, famous for their conservative tastes and high standards, are hard pressed to praise a restaurant for such qualities as being “hip” or “modern.”  Despite this, La Ricetta di Mamé—a bright space with an open kitchen, casually hand written menus and chalkboards highlighting local ingredients, a congenial maitre d’ and obvious intimacy amongst the small staff—has garnered honest (if measured) acclaim and attention.  The plates, carefully considered and well presented, in the end are effortless in their enjoyment.  The recipes are actually quite traditional, tied always to region and season.  Recently seen on the menu were glazed chestnut gnocchi with sage and fontina (10 euro), or la tagliata di Fassona Piemontese, with porcini and nebbiolo (22 euro).  After dinner a five minute stroll ends up in zona Navigli, the two canals at the heart of Milan’s more democratic nightlife district.

Via Vigevano, 34
02 83 24 17 07
www.mamemilano.it
Monday to Sunday 19.00 to 24.00
35 to 50 euro per person

 

mame milano

2. Da Mauro

At the farther end of Navigli, where most of the charm and refinement has worn off, three  big windows look into a pale yellow dining room, a mess of long tables sat with punks and hipsters, local legends and decades long regulars.  Two tops are wedged into the available cracks, and rarely go unseated.  Tables in waiting are laid with chubby grissini and cubes of mortadella.  The cuisine is Bolognese, and the pasta is all made in house.  To try just one plate would be a waste, instead, take a tris di pasta, a procession of three pastas technically to be shared in two (13 euro per person).  Look for gramigna (tightly wound tendrils) with sweet sausage ragu, or garganelli with cream and asparagus.  Finish the feast with hot fudge and ice cream, a coffee, and multiple rounds of amaro.  The staff runs a quick ship, for good service avoid asking for swaps/exchanges/or substitutions (unless you have an immaculate Italian accent).

Via Elia Lombardini
02 837 2866
www.trattoriabolognesedamauro.it
Tuesday to Sunday 19.00 to 24.00
20 to 30 euro per person

trattoria da mauro milano

3. Del Binari

Beside the rail tracks that pull in to Porta Genova, Del Binari is a grand succession of intimate dining rooms, a glass and iron encased atrium, and lush garden for the summer season.  The menu is classic Milanese, predictable but enormously satisfying, even for this city’s high standards.  At lunch there is a fanciful rush as the neighborhood’s fashion industry workforce files in, often ordering without the menu long ago memorized by heart.  Though plenty of Italians will disagree, this is my favorite cotoletta alla Milanese, served bare on a white plate with a thick wedge of lemon, and a dish of potatoes on the side.  By early evening lunch has devolved into a lively aperitivo, well worth enjoying before settling in for dinner.

Via Tortona 1
02 89 40 67 53

www.osteriadelbinari.com
Monday to Sunday 8.00 to 23.00
30 to 50 euro per person

osteria de binari

4. Un Posto a Milano at Cascina Cuccagna

Supposedly the last cascina (farmhouse) to survive in urban Milan, Cascina Cuccagna is a rustic sprawl where one may enjoy breakfast, lunch, dinner or drinks, shop for organic produce or drop in on a workshop.  There is wonderful mingle of types and generations: while young kids drink organic beers and pick at communal bread boards of salumi, Milan’s older guard cozies up under umbrellas hung with candles, around tables set with biologic chardonnay and sophisticated plates such as roast pork loin with figs and puree, or fresh pasta with Sicilian beans and mussels.  Whatever one’s taste, a corner awaits.  (unless of course the weather is fabulous, and all Milan has descended, in which case you should call for a reservation).  Near by, zona Porta Romana is a great neighborhood to explore, contemporary, and very alive.

Via Cuccagna 2
02 5457 785
www.cuccagna.org

Tuesday to Sunday 10.00 to 1.00
8 to 50 per person

cuccagna milano

5. Malastrana Rossa

On most evenings the corner of Via Palermo and Corso Garibaldi is aflutter with crowds of local VIPS, their posses, and those that just enjoy their style of company.  For an outsider, it looks just perfectly Italian, especially compared to Milan’s more international (and more refined) fashion scene.  Malastrana is itself an easy restaurant with good pizza and red meat.  I, like many of Malastrana’s regulars, rely on either beef carpaccio with with rucola and grana (10 euro), or filet of Chiania al sangue (19 euro).  Upon arrival look for Pino, a handsome man in his early forties, simultaneously seating tables and indulging the desires of  glamorous females and football players.  If he is too busy to seat you himself you can admire his work on the walls: a collage of polaroids starring himself and all his best looking, long maned, hour glass figured clients.  After dinner, much of this crowd migrates up Via Garibaldi, either to bar Radetsky of after hours to The Club.
Via Palermo 21
02 8646 2074
Monday to Sunday 18.30 to 2.00
20 to 35 per person

malastrana rosa milano

6. Sciusciá

With its interior simple and modern (absent any kitch or Italian stereotypes) few
tourists wind up at this wonderful restaurant off of Corso Sempione.  From the miniscule dimensions of its Napoletanean kitchen, a team of verified natives (Gennaro, Ernesto, and Antonio) grind out legitimate plates such as scialatielli with mussels and pecorino, or pasta with potatoes and provalone.  Its owner, Pippo, runs his restaurant with an authentic combo of confidence, charm, and mucscle.  Though I already wrote of their pizza, its worth reiterating: my favorite in the city.  The neighborhood, tree lined and rumbling with trams and traffic, is tucked away from the edges of Chinatown and Parco Sempione.  At lunch, an enormously reasonable menu offers either un primo or un secondo for around 7.50 euro.

via Procaccini 73
0234537866
12.00 to 14.30, 19.00 to 23.30
7.50 menu fisso at lunch, 30 euro per person for dinner

sciuscia milano
7. Da Giannino l’Angolo d’Abruzzo

On a sharp corner in Porta Venezia, l’Angolo d’Abruzzo indulges the innate desire for a rustic Italian dinner.  The kitchen is Abruzzesi, from the mountainous region to the east of Rome, famous for slow roasted meats and unusual fresh pastas.  Though orderly during the day, by night this small dining room is a mess of red and white gingham topped tables, and waiters wielding hot plates of chitarra pasta with goat ragu, or pallotte cace ove (fried balls of egg and pecorino, cooked slow in garlic and tomato).  Standing since 1965, today this corner of  Abruzzo is alive with young people who come to eat and drink like animals (or more accurately, like the pastoral shepherds of Abruzzo).  When seated, mention you are hungry and a silver platter spilling with meatballs, fried eggplant and hot salami, should arrive within minutes.  The food is rich but easy, the specialties lesser known to those unfamiliar with this region.  Following the antipasta, try the scrippelle mbusse (a type of Italian crepe made with aged pecorino and immersed in chicken broth), or the agnello e scamorza alla griglia (goat meat and an indigenous, meaty cheese on the grill).

Via Rosolino Pilo, 20
02.29.40.65.26
www.dagianninolangolodabruzzo.it
The opening times are
Monday to Sunday 12.00 to 15.30, 19.30 to 24.00
25 to 35 euro per person

de bruno milano

France: Champagne, Disneyland for Wine-lovers

France: Champagne, Disneyland for Wine-lovers

A trip down champagne lane, paying a visit to the Pommery winemakers, the place where the very first brut was born.

It takes about one and a half hours by car and only 45 minutes by TGV to get from Paris to Champagne. It was in Champagne, about four centuries earlier, that a French monk called Dom Perignon created a sparkling wine, a revolution in wine-making. This kind of wine eventually became a status symbol, as well as one of the most enjoyable vineyard products.

First Stop: Reims

As soon as one arrives in Reims, the largest town in France’s Champagne region, you realize that its life here revolves around wine. Local maps offer information on the main winemakers in the region, and even the streets are named after great, historical champagne makers.

Next Stop: Pommery Winemakers

Meadows and vineyards and interesting scents; a different atmosphere all together. The castle of Pommery, with its lively colours, looks like an over-sized toy, straight out of a fairy-tale. In the reception room visitors from all over the world wait for a guided tour, and the host proudly serves glasses of Cuvee Louise 1998; all enjoy it slowly, taking small sips. The guide explains that Jeanne Alexandrine Louise Pommery inherited her husband’s business in 1878, four years after making the first brut champagne, thus making history and changing the region’s destiny.

Down to the wine cellars

The wooden door opens to reveal 116 stone steps leading to the cellars, 30 meters below ground level. One cannot help but be amazed; each corridor is named after a city, symbolizing and honouring the distribution points of Madame Pommery’s champagne. 25 million bottles of this fine liquid stand here, waiting to be brought to light.

After half an hour, during which enthusiarm overpowered tiredness, the guide led us back up to ground level, in order to partake in some wine-tasting.

Leaving the Champagne region made us feel like children, deprived of their favourite toy; a true Disneyland for wine-lovers!

How to Plan a Fairy-Tale Picnic

How to Plan a Fairy-Tale Picnic

We all remember how Julia Roberts convinced Richard Gere to dine together under a tree, why don’t we give it a shot? Whether it’s with your respective other, your friends, or your family, scroll down to read how to plan the perfect picnic…

1. Before you set a date, listen to the upcoming week’s weather report. There is nothing more depressing than a picnic in the midst of a thunder storm.

2. Come up with the perfect place. Research your surrounding area for pretty parks or garden areas.

3. Locate a spacious basket, preferably one with separate spaces for silverware and glasses. Maybe find some plastic champagne glasses in order to avoid accidents.

4. Bring along two blanket-tablecloths, not just the one. Spills are simply inevitable when you’re having fun.

5. Avoid knives with sharp edges, breakable glasses, and any food that might smell. When picnicking, seafood is almost always a horrible idea.

6. Don’t forget music. Borrow the boom box from your younger brother.

7. Take more food than you think you’ll need. Running out is no fun.

8. Abandon your diet for the day. No picnic is complete without dessert.

9. Bring “toys.” Rackets, tennis balls, baseball mitts, jump ropes. You’ll find you haven’t grown out of them just yet.

10. Bring a trash bag. When you pack up to go, there will be plenty of things you’d rather discard than toss into your trunk.

Nafpaktia, True Peace and Beauty

Nafpaktia, True Peace and Beauty

Nestled amid the stunning Vardoussia mountain range, Nafpaktia is a thriving resort area redolent of classy hotels and tasty restaurants, but still characterized by peace, tranquility, and breathtaking views.

Traditionally one of Greece’ poorest regions, the Vardoussia mountain range has been off limits to all but the hardiest visitors until just recently. The population of Nafpaktia, a town nestled amidst these mountains, had dwindled towards extinction in the face of the “better life” promised by the growing urban centers and the shores abroad. Though the snow-capped peaks and dense chestnut forests have always been picture-postcard gorgeous, the region’s villages lay moldering from neglect. Some families would return in August to escape the heat of the cities, but otherwise Nafpaktia was about to be pronounced clinically dead.

But then, the vision of a former emigrant reversed this grim diagnosis. Closing his hospitality businesses in both Cleveland and Athens, Yiorgos Papaioannidis returned to Ano Hora, the largest village in this district, to begin the construction of a hotel. He lived to inaugurate twenty rooms and baptize his establishment “Crystal” before his untimely death. Since then, this seemingly preposterous venture has expanded to include sixty rooms, while several more hotels have opened in the area to house the overflow.

The first guests were hunters, hoping to track down the boar, deer, and game birds that still thrive in the region’s sprawling wilderness. But no hunting lodge ever had such a plush décor, welcoming ambience, or delectable menu. The brawny hunters were delighted to feast on wild boar in all its manifestations, for example – stifado (a Greek onion stew), spare ribs, or chops, to name a few – or a chicken soup thicker and creamier than anyone’s grandmother had ever prepared.

Today’s Crystal is all this and more. The rooms are lovelier, the cuisine more exquisite, and the services more extensive. The staff is extremely knowledgeable with regards to the plethora of activities and day excursions that the mountain range offers. Crystal will never disappoint.

For a more rustic refuge, try the Xenios in Kato Hora. The hotel is comprised of cozy log cabins, a wood-paneled living room with a superb fireplace, and a spacious terrace for either sunny lunches or tai chi in the snow. During the winter, its guests and staff are the only inhabitants in this tiny village, apart from the forest ranger and his wife. The peace and tranquility are indescribable. The view up to Ano Hora is even better than the view down from it, and there will be no need to find a taverna, given that the Xenios only hires the region’s most talented cooks.

But many tavernas do exist in Ano Hora and they are well-worth patronizing. The village’s eateries are located on the main street, lined by stone houses with cheerfully painted balconies. Be on the look out for Vasilis’ place – it’s the one with no name, a fireplace, posters of Switzerland (which could just as well be Vardoussia), and probably a smiling Vasilis wandering among the tables. The restaurant’s hortopitta (wild greens pie) and cabbage dolmades are both superb. To Platano, a taverna located under a plane tree at the end of the street, also features sumptuous home cooking in front of a large fireplace. Between meals, a stylish espresso bar attracts the young and the restless.

If you grow tired of eating and lounging by the fire, you might think to explore the stunning Kakavos Gorge on foot. Or take the paved road above it to the Ambelakiotissa monastery where a miraculous icon is believed to have made its way, unaided, from Ambelakia on Kissavos.

Oreini Nafpaktia is on the cusp of turning trendy, but for now it is just a peaceful, beautiful spot. It is getting a new lease on life, but soon it will be brimming with tourists.

It seems more remote than it actually is. You can get there via Rio-Antirrion, the Galaxidi-Nafpaktos coastal road or over the hills past Lidoriki and the Mornos Dam.

Useful information:

Crystal Guesthouse, Ano Hora, tel. 2634 041555
Xenios, Kato Hora, tel. 2634 041111, www.xenios-katohora.gr