There are many of you travelling over to Europe this year and some of you are first timers, which can be a little scary and overwhelming to say the least.
When I first visited Greece as an adult, I was overwhelmed by the run down buildings, hectic traffic in the city and the suspicious looks I received.
I remember taking a stroll around the shopping area of Kalamata. It’s the area where my mum was born and raised and even though I was born in Australia and considered Australia my country, there was a special attachment to this place knowing my grandparents and extended family had walked these pavers before me.
Entering an upmarket clothing store, I was confronted immediately with looks of suspicion and aggression and being a person that picks up on people’s emotional behaviours, I was a little nervous. The manager of the shop approached me and bombarded me with a billion questions.
“Where are you from?” “What do you want?” “Don’t touch this, don’t touch that!”
I was thinking, ‘man these people are crazy!’ It wasn’t until I got back to my relatives home and told them about the weird experience and after they had a little chuckle they proceeded to tell me, “they probably thought you were a gypsy and casing the joint!”
You see, the colour of my skin, hair and eyes is more like a gypsy than even my Greek cousins so when I entered that shop, that poor woman thought she was in for some trouble!
It’s funny looking back now but was a little disturbing at the time.
Getting back to what you should see and eat while travelling in Greece, while in Athens, you must go visit the Acropolis. The history, the architecture and the scenery is unbelievable. When you stop for a moment and think about the footsteps that took place in that very place, the battles, the victories…it’s a privilege to go and see.
While you are in Athens, go to the small stand just outside the Monastiraki metro station and grab yourself a koulouri or two. This is a sesame bread ring freshly baked with a flavour like no other! We ate sesame bread rings in every village we visited in Greece, but the ones in Athens are in a class of their own. You will be offered a crunchy one or a soft one; I personally liked the soft one but locals love the crunchy one – for just 1euro, you can grab one of each and enjoy both textures.
Then there is Thanasi’s Souvlaki Café just up the narrow pathway. This place is packed at all times and those waiters earn their keep! The souvlaki, drenched in lemon is deliciously good! Pork or chicken is on the menu with a fresh Greek salad and pita bread – so good! Or you can try the ground beef kebab – they all rave about it but I loved the chicken souvlaki!
And then there are the sweet shops known as ‘Zaharoplasteio’ where you will be in cake heaven. Baklava, Galaktobureko, Kataifi, gelato – the list is endless. We came across these mini icecream cones that were filled with a variety of flavours – pistachio, chocolate, vanilla etc… and for just 50c, they were a nice little treat.
Greece is so well known for the coastline, that you may forget that the mountainous areas are just as spectacular and scenic.
My dad comes from the area called Evritania – Central Greece. Head out of Athens towards the north and then cut across towards Lamia and then keep heading towards Karpenisi. The roads are winding, you go through some amazing tunnels and when you come out of the other side, you would think you were in the Swiss Alps! The pine trees, the narrow roads winding around the hills and those pavers that seem to cover the small towns are a give away that this is a snowy part of the country.
Mt Velouchi is a popular resort to ski at and even in the summer is quite a cool spot and a great place for a brisk walk.
A short drive out of Karpenisi and you will come across the smallest of villages, one of them being my dad’s – Milia. A place where he grew up and ploughed through the metres of snow each winter to get to school; it is now mostly a holiday destination for many families.
Visit any of the small cafes in Karpenisi and you’ll enjoy a rustic meal made using the freshest of ingredients straight off someone’s farm. Goat stew is a popular dish and because of the cooler weather, you will love the comforting feel of this dish.
If you are lucky enough to get to the island of Naxos, you must try Europe’s finest potatoes. They are yellow in colour and one bite and you are forever ruined! This potato even has it’s own festival during the month of July and it’s taste and nutritional value is said to come from the high quality of soil found in Naxos and the fabulous climate.
I was privileged to first taste these potatoes a decade and a half ago when visiting my relatives. My Aunty Katina would fry us potatoes every night without fail. I had never tasted such a potato and even now in Australia, I look for the ‘yellow’ potatoes just in case they are from Naxos!
The places we loved to eat at were the tavernas. These family-run cafes were almost like you were in a Greek mama’s kitchen. The food was rustic, homemade and a great price. You must try the moussaka, pastitsio and slow cooked lamb with tubular spaghetti – memorable!
But for real, if you want to experience and taste the authentic Greece, go to the places that are off the beaten track, go out of peak season and be ready to bargain. We found the best hotels to stay in (standard rooms but very clean), we swam at the most amazing beaches that generally speaking the locals swam at because they knew where they were, and find the small little cafes that don’t look like much but know that the food will be big in flavour and the hospitality just as warm.
If you’d like to join us this September for our foodie tour, come to our information day on Sunday 11 March @ 2pm and find out what we will be doing for 8 days in Crete!
And here’s a heads up for you – we are spying out the land in the Hunter Valley and the Clarence River for some weekend cooking retreats coming up in the near future!
But wait there’s more!
Start saving your pennies because next year we will be heading to Piemonte, Monferrato (Italy) where the wine flows and the food impresses! You will not want to miss out on this one!
Well, that’s just a small glimpse into what Greece has to offer and if you are lucky enough to be heading over there this year, immerse yourself in the warm culture, eat homemade food and swim in the crystal clear waters of the Mediterranean or Aegean Seas – you’ll be forever spoilt!