Greece in a glass

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During our recent trip to Greece, we had the opportunity to meet a passionate wine maker who runs a family wine estate close to Athens in Mesogaia, on the Attica Peninsula. Thanks to our friend Giorgio, a Swiss National who moved to Greece for work a few years ago, we met Vassili Papagiannakos in his beautiful domaine.
Vassili welcomed us with open arms and showed us his estate and the production site which is a very modern, state-of-the-art production line where he and his team produce about 200’000 bottles a year. Most of the products are white wines, complemented by Rosé and Reds.

Vassili took over the winery as the 3rd generation from his grandfather and father and invested in latest technologies, actually they are the first winery in Greece designed and built according to innovative bioclimatic standards in order to produce world-class wine. Various awards are the proof that the Domaine Papagiannakos wines are outstanding.
Vassilli explained that the terroir where his grapes grow is very unique. The soil is a combination of clay, sand and gravel, and the climate is perfect, 320 days of sunshine, no rain from June to October, mild winds and being surrounded by the sea are all favorable factors.
When you think of Greek Wines, I am sure that Retsina comes to your mind and you lift your eyebrows in disbelieve that Greek Wine could taste better than this petrol-flavoured liquid! Believe me, Greece has come a long way and modern Greek Wines do no longer have to shun competition from Italy, Spain etc.
I enjoy especially the white wines as they are making me dream of the crystal clear waters of the Aegean Sea, the hospitality of the Greeks and the wonderful nature!

We were invited to taste all of the Estate’s wines, here is a selection of them:
Kalogeri, made with 100% Malagouza grapes is a dry white wine, very fruitful and balanced. I would recommend it with seafood or fish/poultry.
Savatiano Papagiannakos is made with 100% Savatiano grapes, again a dry white wine with medium acidity, it has aromas of citrus fruit and is a perfect match with seafood, or just as is, to enjy and dream of Greece!
The Vareli, also made of 100% Savatiano grapes, in addition to fermenting in steel tanks, ages 6 months in oak barrels, a very complex wine, with aromas of wood, spices and citrus fruit.
It has very balanced flavours and is my favorite of the white wines we tasted.
This wine for me is Greece in a glass!
Vassilli also produces a Rosé, made of 100% Muscat de Hamburg; it has an aromatic bouquet of flowers and pomegranate. For people who like a chilled Rosé it is certainly worth trying it.

Then we moved on to the reds:
My favorite red is the Kalogeri, a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. After the fermentation in stainless steel tanks, it is aged for 14 months in new french oak barrels. The deep ruby colour and complex bouquet of ripe red fruit, spices and vanilla make it a pure pleasure to drink. It is a wine that complements rich food, but is certainly also a wine that can be enjoyed without food, on a terrasse, marvelling at the sea!

To end the tasting, we were offered a glass of the Melias, a sweet white wine made from 100% Malagouzia grapes. It is a dessert wine with a taste of honey and ripe pineapples. For the boys, it was too sweet, for me, it was just perfect and I would either serve it with blue cheese or with dry bisquits such as Cantucci.

We had a fantastic time with Vassili and Giorgio and hope we can make the Papagiannakos’ Winery better known in our country and help to improve the image of Greek wines outside of Greece.
Efcharisto’ poli for the hospitality Vassili!

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Emiglia Romagna…Italy at its best!

A trip to my Italian roots

The past year went by so quickly, it seems like yesterday when I wrote about our Provence trip during the Holiday Break. And here we go again, a year later. It has become a tradition by now, to travel somewhere nice and unusual after Christmas and spend New Year’s abroad. That has nothing to do with not wanting to spend that evening with friends or families, it is “us time” which we cherish.
This time, the choice was between Dresden and surroundings, or, tataaaa, Italy…well, guess who won the battle?!
I wanted to show Andy my Emilia Romagna, where Mummy grew up before leaving Italy at the age of 17.

We had no concrete plans, just a rough itinerary. We packed our suitcase, making sure there is enough space in the trunck of the car for the goodies we certainly would buy, and off we went.

We decided to spend the first two nights at the Lago di Garda and start the trip with a Gourmet- and SPA experience. The roads were empty and the big snow storm 24hrs away, so we made it perfectly in time to the Villa Cordevigo in Cavaion Veronese. A fantastic Villa, restructured into a hotel with a small but wonderful SPA and a Michelin Star Restaurant.

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Upon arrival, we were spoiled to a very tasty glass of their own Spumante and later on enjoyed some relaxing moments at the SPA. Life can be so good!
The dinner was delicious too, I just let the pictures speak!

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The next day, we made a little tour to Bardolino and as it was really ice cold, we decided to do a stop in a shopping mall. Not even an hour later, when we got out, we were caught by surprise, it had started to snow heavily.

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The hotel now looked even nicer with the entire court all snowed in, like a dream! We enjoyed a massage and a “dolce far niente” afternoon before having another dinner at the Restaurant. Maybe, we are just too spoiled, it really was delicious food, but we were a wee bit disappointed about the preparation and variety of the dishes. But what I really liked was the possibility to taste their own wines by glass and so we discovered a little treasure.

The most amazing Pinot Grigio:

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The next day, after a nice breakfast and buying some Spumante and Vino, we continued on to Verona through the Valpolicella. The sky was opening up and by the time we got there, the sun was out again. But it was really cold, so we had to go from coffee shop to coffee shop and only took a quick glance at the Arena and the other sights. Verona? Yes, home of Famiglie Capulet and Montague…better known are their kids Giulietta and Romeo…so did we see that famous balcony which in reality is NOT part of the story? Yes, we even had a Suite looking onto that balcony and the court. It was a little gem behind old and ugly walls, a hotel called Le Suite di Giulietta… During the day, it is quite busy on and below the balcony, but when night settles and the court closes, the balcony did “belong” just to us.
We took a stroll through the various Christmas markets and were offered to taste some olives and different varieties of Taralli. Of course we could not resist and they tasted so yummy, we had to buy them for taking them home.
The next morning we were treated to an in-suite breakfast, a nice gesture, although the eggs and the coffee were served cold:-)

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After a visit to one of the castles outside Verona with a fantastic view of the town, we drove along the countryside to Ferrara. We had no idea what to expect of that town and were positively surprised. The old town is car-free and we took a stroll through the various narrow streets. We ended up in front of the Castello and another Christmas market. As it was time for a bite, we queued in front of a booth that sold Piadina in different varieties…ahhh, nobody could ever make a better Piada than my Nonna, that is for sure, but this one came extremely close to it and I felt taken back in time for a moment. To the times, we spent as a whole family in Florence in Summer enjoying quality time and delicious food! I feel really thankful for those careless days!
We stayed at a very nice place in Ferrara, called la Villa Horti della Fasanara situated outside of the town in a wonderful park facing the city wall. We had a great room and the entire Villa is very stylish.

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That evening, we treated ourselves to another great dinner at the Ristorante Quel fantastico giovedí. Funny name, agree! We were greeted like old friends and had a wonderful time, the food was fantastic and the wine was…okay. As much as in my Emilia they know how to cook delicious meals, as little do they know about making really good wines. They have some gems, but mainly, their wine is not what I would call high quality.

One thing you have to accept in Italy is the fact that breakfast is not that important for them and you will rarely find sumptouos buffets in small hotels, they tend to offer a lot of different cakes and tarts rather than salty things or a continental breakfast. But, their coffees are always very good and strong! So, after a cappuccino and a bit of tart we left the Villa and headed to Bologna. All I knew so far from the city was the railway station as it was the one station we would always pass when going to Florence. Other than that, I knew nothing about it.
It was another surprise to be honest, I expected a soulless city but its old town is very cute. First, we took a stroll through the Mercato delle Erbe, a covered fruit, veggies, meat and fish market at Via Ugo Bassi. Then we continued on to the old part of Bologna and discovered the food streets, oh my god! It was paradise times ten for us! There are countless shops selling Pasta, Meat, Salumi, Prosciutto, Bread, Cheese, Wine and much more. Some of the shops are so retro, you feel like being sent back in time! We did buy a few goodies, we could definitely not resist!

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In the afternoon, we continued our trip towards Modena, the city of Aceto Balsamico. We drove into the hillside of the Emilia to a place called Levizzano di Castelvetro, which reminded us a lot of the landscape of the Piemonte. We had booked a room at the Agriturismo Opera 02. This is a very modern building in the middle of old traditional farms, set perfectly on top of vineyards. When we opened the front door we were “greeted” with a heavy balsamic vinegar smell. But also with a heartfelt “benvenuti” from the staff who made us feel at home right from the beginning. The extraordinary thing of this agriturismo is that you pass along hundreds of vinegar barrels in order to get to your room, and all of it in total darkness!
Although it was already 3pm and the kitchen closed, the owner did offer us to sit in their restaurant and have lunch. This is really what I call outstanding hospitality. We had pasta (Andy) and salad (me), not too much as we wanted to enjoy dinner there too.
And it was worth not eating too much for lunch, they served us a delicious dinner, we really were spoiled. Of course, many of their dishes where pimped with their own vinegar, and it tasted amazingly intense and really made a difference. And of course, I am now a proud owner of three different bottles of Opera 02 balsamic vinegars. These three bottles did cost more than the rate for the stay! Ooppss..

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It was December 31st the next day and we had booked two nights in a resort, but did not feel like joining them for a 7 course dinner with music and more. So here was our plan: either we find a restaurant or we have our own dinner party in the room. We called a few Restaurants around the resort but all were sold out. So we decided to go shopping some delicious food…and what city would suit our needs any better than …. Parma?

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So after we left Opera2, we drove straight to Parma and took a stroll through the old town. It was cold and rainy, so the stroll had to be interrupted a few times for a warming coffee break. We found two very nice butchers where we bought Parma ham, Olives, Artichokes, Cotto, Salami and much more. Partly for the evening, partly to take home. In a bakery, we bought foccaccia and we also found a pasticceria where we got a few sweet treats. Got everything? Nooo, the Prosecco was missing! So we went to that stylish Enoteca and asked for their best Prosecco. The best? I should have known better, a Prosecco called “Cola” cannot possibly be good. Oh well:-)

After that fun shopping tour we drove to the Resort along the Val Trebbia, a beautiful spot on earth worth a visit. It is located south of Piacenza, towards Genova, the river Trebbia runs through it and on both sides there are hills with vineyards and pictoresque villages.The Relais Colombara Resort is on top of a hill overlooking the valley, it is an old farmhouse, fully renovated with a nice SPA area and beautiful rooms and restaurants.

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We “smuggled” our food to the room, looking forward to our dinner. But first, we enjoyed the SPA and some treatments.
And later on, we had a fabolous 31st of December in-room Tête-à-Tête dinner! With the exception of the Prosecco, but that did not influence our good mood!

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The next morning, we woke up to a wonderful day, sunny, blue sky, crisp air! We started with a brunch, yes, here, they are on top of things regarding breakfast, offering a vast choice of salty and sweet treats! After breakfast, we decided to explore the valley and drove along the river to Bobbio, the main village in the valley. Another cute Centro Storico expected us! And many nice shops, too bad it was a Holiday and the shops were closed, else we would have bought some specialties you can only find there in the region, such as Il Prete (the priest) a kind of sausage that looks more like a priest’s hat and needs to be boiled in a pan without touching the pan, that is why it is squeezed into some kind of large wooden peg so you can hang it over the pan. Complicated, I know. But looks funny.

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After enjoying a coffee and the walk, we drove back to the Relais, this time, on top of the hills, using secondary small roads, in the middle of vineyards. Did I mention we were about to run out of fuel and our GPS had no clue where we were? Well, I was glad once we eventually got back without me having to push the car;-). During our explorer tour, we both fell in love with a church and its parochial house, both deserted, but with the most beautiful terrace, garden and view over the valley. If we could have bought it, I think we would have done so. Converted it into a small boutique hotel, the SPA in the church…can you imagine? The expression holistic SPA would get a real sense…
But, these are dreams…we know that there is no more priest and we also know that there is a group trying to save the terrace. More information was impossible to get.

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That evening, we had a very romantic dinner at the Relais, just the two of us in the cave, it was delicious and we enjoyed a really nice wine…from Tuscany!

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The next day we started our trip back in direction Switzerland . The trip took us along the rice fields of the Po lowlands, it is incredibly flat! We stopped in Vigevano, another city we had no idea what to expect. And, Mamma mia, this city is beautiful! We really were surprised and thought we should have stayed there for longer…well, next time! We found a nice shop selling fresh pasta, we got some Trofie, Ravioli and Gnocchi to take home. And they tasted yummy, our guests thought so too! Right, Ricardo & Dirk?

We went on to our destination of the day: Osteria della Pista. First however we stopped at Il Gigante to do one more last shopping tour, getting all those things a real italian household needs to survive! And we enjoyed one more nice dinner, in great company ( thanks James & Francesca), at the Osteria! I am sure, around Milano Malpensa there is no better Restaurant! Their food is outstanding, be it Pasta, Pizza, fish, seafood or meet, everything is cooked to perfection! The real simple way of great cuisine! We love to visit Celeste and his team and will go back soon for sure!
The next day, it was time to drive back home….with a trunk full of goodies and with fond memories of another wonderful road trip through Italy! Thanks my love, for sharing these trips and being part of my life!

The unknown Sardinia

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What is the best thing that can happen to you when travelling? For me, it is being embraced by locals, who wrap their arms around me, accept me like an old friend and show me the beauties of their land. Happened so on my last trip! I am endlessly thankful, having spent a wonderful and carefree week, I would say, I had a trip back to my roots. Appreciating the simple things in life, friendship, love, nature, a down to earth trip. We were invited to join the Aresu’s for different culinary and nature excursions. Firstly, an outstanding fish meal at a beach bar. Never ever would I have expected that the chef can do those miracles in his tiny shack kitchen! Absolutely amazing what he presented, freshest seafood and pasta…I just let the pictures speak for themselves

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After that, all we needed was a nap @ the beach. Somewhere between Villasimíus and Muravera. Not sure if I want to disclose the name. Ask me, if you plan to go, I might tell you:-)

Next day, we were invited to go to the mercato in Muravera and traditional Pollo Pranzo. The market is not huge, but offers all you need, summer clothes, flip flops, vegetables, fruit, dried meat, amazing honey and…the Pollo. Chicken from the roast, stuffed with Mirtó leaves. Wow, together with a bottle of Buio Buio and some salad we had a feast! So totally simple, but extremely tasty.

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We spent the afternoon at Feraxi Beach, we were almost alone, a good opportunity to launch our very own beach party, listening to good old Italian Canzoni, having a blast.

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Tuesday night was time for a Cena Sarda. Now, that meant, no food for at least 24hrs before, because what is served is more than enough to feed a whole army! Traditionally, it starts off with cold cuts and cheeses from the island. Sardinia is known for its different types of Pecorino (Goatcheese), from very young to very ripe we tasted them all….all? Nope, there is one which I was not keen to taste…a specialty containing little worms…actually, that one is not sold officially anylonger…but some families still produce it.

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Then followed two very typical sardinian pasta plates: Malloreddus alla Campidanese, with tomatoe-salsiccia sugo and Culurgiones, a pasta filled with a potatoe-mint mix, just butter and sage added-a dream, and full of tasty calories:-). Then came the masterpiece: a piglet, slowly bbq-ed for endless hours over open fire. Needless to say that we digged in and enjoyed it much! Was that it? Of course not, the meal ended with Pardulas, sweet Ravioli filled with Ricotta and topped with honey. Coffee and Mirtó made the entire meal complete. I thought, there’s no way I can move my body anywhere anymore…the next day was a fruit-only day, no way I could have eaten anything else, I was too full, but a very happy camper! On Thursday, Maya and Cesare invited us to explore Sardinias Hinterland, the very unknown parts of the island. We gladly accepted that invitation. Both had so many interesting stories and facts to tell. A lot reminded me of my parents, how they met, what their struggles were, running an own business and so on. We went to amazing places, visited Cesare’s village Seui, far up in the mountains, bought world’s best Amaretti right there. We saw a lot of wild animals, horses, wild pigs and many more. And, I took a branch of mountain oregano with me, hoping it will now grow on my balcony. Honestly, it doesn’t look good right now, but there’s always hope that it will recover and grow! And Cesare cut a whole bag of fresh wild rosemary for us. Believe it or not, but the wild one smells much more intense than what we grow in our gardens!

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On we went, along beautiful lakes until it was time for lunch. We visited a place which both knew. The guy there did not really expect any guests, but he started to do miracles as well. He loaded our table with delicious antipasti, cut his own ham for us, served his mother-in-laws home made Culurgiones, these were slightly sweet, still with a potatoe-mint filling, yummie. And then, he served us a rare “delicacy”: fermented goat milk in a goat craw. I tasted it but even for me as a cheese lover, that taste was too strong for me. But it looks funny, no doubt. imageimage

We continued on through endless hilly areas, rarely seeing other cars or people, we drove all the way to Arbatax where we stopped to admire young boys jumping from the famous Red Rocks. On we went along the coast, abundantely covered with vegetation, mainly vineyards, citrus fruits and vegetables. What a beautiful island this is. Not only the emerald colored water and white sandy beaches make Sardinia worth a visit. A deeper look into its inland and history is absolutely worthwile!

Other recommendations:

Boutique Hotel S’Arenada, Villasimíus. Alessandra treats you like a member of the family, beautiful rooms, nice balconies to enjoy the night sky, freshly baked sweet treats for breakfast! A gem! image

La Capanna al fresco dining Villasimíus, absolutely delicious and freshest raw seafood and an owner who knows what hospitality is all about:

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Arcada Wine&Restaurant Villasimíus, serving very nice seafood, fish and pasta.

Beach Life: Is Fradis Beach Club, a little bit like Miami Beach, beautiful beach, cozy Gazebos, great food

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Our wines: Terre Brune, Santadi. Buio Buio, Cantina Mesa.
Our drinks: Mirtó, Montenegro, Aperol Sprizz, Ichnusa Birra, Crodino

about Mirtó:

Mirto is a liqueur popular in Sardinia, Capraia Island and in Corsica, obtained from the myrtle plant through the alcoholic maceration of the berries or a compound of berries and leaves. Myrtle grows freely in Sardinia.

Mirto rosso (red) is made with the berries and is sweet.

Mirto bianco (white) is made from the leaves.

A weekend in Nàfplio’…off season and meeting the locals

Where? Yes, I know…this is not the most known place in Greece. Far away from the touristy islands, this is a place you should visit if you are interested to get in touch with true Greek locals.

From Wiki:

Nafplio (Modern Greek: Ναύπλιο, Nafplio) is a seaport town in the Peloponnese in Greece that has expanded up the hillsides near the north end of the Argolic Gulf. The town was an important seaport held under a succession of royal houses in the Middle Ages as part of the lordship of Argos and Nauplia, held initially by the de la Roche following the Fourth Crusade and then by Aragonese nobility, before coming under the Republic of Venice and, lastly, the Ottoman Empire. The town was the capital of the First Hellenic Republic, from the start of the Greek Revolution in 1821 until 1834.

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Interesting, eh? I really think so…not only the village is beautiful and romantic, but also the area around it is very appealing.

A long weekend is ideal to explore the area and the old town. There are a lot of things to do and see, and there are countless B&Bs, Hotels, Tavernas, Kafenions and Shops. You will be amazed how few non-Greek tourists there are, at least now in off season. There were a lot of school classes doing excursions. It is that time of the year, before Easter it is common to do that…it is the same all over the world.

The place to stay at is definitely Amymone and Adiandi Boutique Pension

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This is a very amazing small Boutique Hotel with a very gentle and perfect host. The Breakfast which is served is a certified Greek Breakfast, the choice is endless and very tasty, my favourite was the spinach pie. The rooms are all designed differently; the Suite we stayed in (in the Amymone part) was called Elia (Olive).

From their webpage: Junior Suite Elia: With a very impressive headrest on recycled wood … a drawing with female shadows …… so simple, so original! – with much humor and love created by Italian artist Francesco Moretti.

But beware, the house has no elevator and is narrow, so it is for the young @ heart!

As usual, local food is important to me when travelling, so we went to explore different locations. There is a good choice of Restaurants, many of them are located along the Promenade facing the sea, where delicious fish and more is served. We had a wonderful lunch at Arapakos, the mezedes and the fish they are serving is worth 10 points out of 10! Ah, not to forget the toasted bread with olive oil and oregano.

In the old town, there are also a few Tavernas and we went to two of them. One being a bit off the beaten track and where the owners served authentic greek food is Taverna Karima Kastro. We enjoyed freshest octopus, amazing mezedes and lamb. The second one, Taverna Vasilis, is centrally located close to the Syntagma Square. I would not call it a tourist trap; it’s just that it is probably too big and has not as much charm as others. The mezedes were fantastic, however the main courses, Rabbit Stifado and Soydiukaka (kind of meatballs) were served cold and did not taste nice. I would not really recommend it other than for the mezedes.

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If you are in Nàfplio’ on a Wednesday or Saturday, don’t miss the Farmer’s Market at 25is Martiou Street, starting right after the Fire Station. It was very amusing to watch the market barkers trying to sell their stuff. The choice of vegetables, fruit, cheese, olive oils, eggs, flowers, fish and more seemed endlessly. The nice thing about travelling off-season is that you get a chance to chat with the locals, they seem to have lots of time and whether they talk English or not, you can get into really interesting and funny conversations with them.

A bit of history? Well ok, not that I am that much into that ancient stuff, but when in Greece, you cannot escape from that. A visit to Palamidi is a must! The fortress that dominates the city was built by the Venetians in only 3 years, a very short time compared to the many years it takes to build a highway in Switzerland!!! It is on a steep hill and you can either drive up or if you consider yourself part of the sporty ones, you can walk up. Guess? Yeah, we drove.

My favourite ancient building however is Bourtzi, the fortress in the gulf. You can reach it in no time by boat from the Promenade.

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I should also mention that there are a few nice beaches worth visiting, one, Karathona is reachable again by car or on the pedestrian pad (about 3km from the village). Arvanitia is closer to town and was empty now, but I guess in summer it will be really crowded.

There is also a village called Tolo’  not far from the old town, it is very touristy but has some nice looking Tavernas right on the beach, the beach is okay, not to be compared with the ones we saw in Crete. There are many other beaches, but we did not have the time to explore them all, it was anyhow not warm enough to swim.

One morning, we drove along the coast to Nea Kios, at the sea front, there was a little fish market where the fishermen are selling their fresh catch of the day. Now, if I would live there, I would buy fresh fish every day!  We continued on to Paralios Astros, a little village at the seaside with a few Tavernas, Kafenions and shops, a sleeping village right now, but probably also quite packed in summer. I think it is really worth travelling outside the high season and avoid that area in July and August.

 

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On the way back to Athens we drove inland and made a stop in Mykines where we wanted to visit the various archaeological sites. But there were so many buses packed with Students and Tourists that we decided it was good enough to take a few pictures and escape again. But if you are interested in the Greek History, this is definitely a must.

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I discovered this non-profit website with all the information about Argolis and what to do/where to go, I found it a big help to discover an area of Greece that is not fully developed for international tourism: www.visitnafplio.com

Of course, we brought home a lot of nice Greek Goodies: Olive Oil, Tapenade, Baklava, Crackers, Oregano, Mountain Tea and so much more which will not allow me to go on a diet…other than a Greek Diet 🙂

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Best Cretan Herbs and Spices

Cretan herbs and spices are definitely the tastiest I ever bought! Oregano and Thyme are my favorites. I use them for almost every dish that I am cooking. I bought them from a little spice shop up in the Cretan hills, and believe it or not, their taste is much more intense than spices from Italy or any other country.
The very cute shop of the Botano family has a wide variety of herbs and spices.
http://www.botano.gr