The resolute cultural dynamism of Greeks, despite a long-drawn-out debt crisis that their county has faced, has landed Athens on the New York Times list of “52 Places To Go in 2017.”
The NYT listing recognizes and celebrates what it describes as the Greek capital’s “thriving arts scene.” The paper’s recommendation singles out for mention Radio Athenes for its pop-up lectures and performances, the recently renovated National Museum of Contemporary Art, which houses some of the most exemplary artworks by Greece’s modern artists, the Nomadic Architecture Network, which runs events in urban and public spaces; and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, which opened at the end of summer and will be home to the Greek National Opera and National Library. It also entices its readers to dive head first into the city’s cultural action, its “surge of galleries, collectives and nonprofit art organizations built for leaner times” and artistic events, such as the Documenta 14 art exhibition.
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Oregano adds the familiar fragrance to a Greek salad, but it also provides relief for a sore throat. Olive oil is an essential component of Greek cuisine, but it is also medicinal. Honey is a sweetener that also contains more than 180 nutrients. Ancient Greek gastronomy, the ancestor of the food culture of Rome, is the source from which many features of European diet and cuisine are derived. But that’s not all. Ever since antiquity, the Greeks have not only sought to satisfy their hunger or to find enjoyment in foods. Many foods were used to prevent or treat a number of health conditions.
A plant native to Greece, the olive tree was being cultivated in the Aegean as far back as 2000 BC. The olive and its precious oil have been omnipresent components of Greek life ever since: in the diet, in religion, in mythology, in medicine, in literature and in art. Olive oil was particularly important at the palaces of Knossos, Mycenae and Nestor (Pylos). It was a key ingredient in most cooking, used in bread-making and even eaten with bread for a light meal. However, it also had important uses beyond cooking; it served as a fuel, as a cosmetic and as a medicine (60 medicinal uses are referenced in the Hippocratic Corpus). The olive tree was endowed with rich symbolism as well: it was the sacred tree of the goddess Athena, and its branches were used to make the kotinos, a crown given as a trophy to Olympic champions.
The mainstay of the Mediterranean diet to this day, olive oil is critical to good health. It is ideal for the heart and prevents blood clots. Its polyphenols reduce bad LDL cholesterol and increase good HDL cholesterol. Its cancer-fighting and anti-aging actions derive from its valuable antioxidants (flavonoids), vitamin E, provitamin A, minerals and trace elements. It helps to regulate glucose levels in diabetes, plays a key role in central nervous system development, and also aids in the normal function of the digestive system, decreasing the possibility of ulcers and improving intestinal tract motility.
“But why Greek olive oil?” you may ask. Well, first of all, because of its unique flavor. Secondly, because more and more research is confirming that olive oil produced in Greece is higher in polyphenol content – polyphenols are the precious chemical compounds that promise to rid us of many health problems – than those produced in other parts of Europe.
Its official botanical name is in fact Salvia officinalis, which is partly derived from the Latin verb salvare, meaning “save,” and alludes to its therapeutic properties. The ancient Greeks used its fresh leaves to treat wounds and snake bites, and as a drink to enhance female fertility. As a beverage, sage-infused “Greek tea,” as the French call it, or “Greek sprout” for the Chinese, remains popular to this day, either on its own or combined with other aromatic herbs.
Sage is also associated with some less scientific benefits. In Syros, for example, they say it exorcises gossip. You will often find little bunches of it hanging outside homes. A beneficial herb, sage has anti-catarrhal properties (for asthma, bronchitis and coughs), as well as anti-fungal and anti-infective action (for flu, gingivitis and insect bites). It is an effective antispasmodic (in cases of dysmenorrhea) and healing agent. Its broader effects include stimulating the nervous system, improving memory and boosting blood circulation, while its antioxidants act against free radicals.
According to gastronomic history, modern-day trahana has evolved from a porridge-like mixture of milk and wheat eaten by the ancient Greeks and Romans. The noted gourmet and recipe collector Apicius (1st c. AD) refers to this food substance as tractae. In Byzantium, it was popular as tragos or traganos. Until a few decades ago, when the refrigerator was still largely unknown in most Greek households, it was a practical method for using up leftover milk and was critical to a family’s survival – trahana could be stored for more than a year in a cool place.
Trahana is made with fresh cow’s, sheep’s or goat’s milk that has soured, to which wheat is added. The wheat can range from coarse to fine – Cretan xinohontros, for example, uses coarse wheat. Trahana is rich in carbohydrates and is a good source of energy. It’s also a source of fiber, which aids intestinal health. The lactobacilli in the sour milk have a beneficial effect on the digestive tract, too.
Trahana contains protein, magnesium, iron, phosphorus and calcium in a form which the body can easily absorb. It also has carotenoids, such as lutein, a powerful antioxidant that works to prevent the harmful effects of free radicals, thus helping to maintain healthy eyes, skin and heart.
Trahana can be made into a thin or thick soup, and is low in calories (100 calories/100g). In recent years, many chefs have enriched the classic trahana soup recipe with bits of meat and vegetables or fish. It can be added to savory pie fillings or used in stuffed vegetables or grape-leaf dolmades instead of rice.
According to Greek mythology, knowledge of cheese-making was gifted to humans by the gods of Olympus through Aristeas, son of Apollo. There are references to cheese products in the writings of Aristotle and in the comedies of Aristophanes, while Homer famously referred to them in the Odyssey as well, citing the production of cheese from goat’s and sheep’s milk by the one-eyed Cyclops Polyphemus who was eventually blinded by Odysseus. Could this cheese have been anthotyro? It is quite possible.
Soft, white and rind-less, anthotyro is made in most regions of Greece from whey (left over from making another type of cheese) and the addition of sheep’s or goat’s milk, or a combination of the two. Lightly salted, it combines a pleasant rich flavor with high nutritional value. It provides all of the substances that dairy products offer (protein, calcium, potassium, phosphorus), but contains less fat (it is not high in cholesterol content) and is just 200 calories/100g Compare that to 470/100g calories for graviera cheese, 420/100g calories for kefalotyri, and 350 calories/100g for feta.
Anthotyro is served as a side dish with meals, used in savory pies and salads or as a spread on bread. It pairs deliciously with fresh fruit and nuts, and makes an excellent dessert when topped with honey.
These greens are a variety of wild chicory (Cichorium spinosum), and have a bitter flavor. They are a key element of Cretan cuisine. The Greek name originates from an old habit the Cretans had of placing these greens over the mouth of the water jars to keep bugs out of the water. The Stamnagathi plant is a source of dietary fiber, antioxidants, iron, calcium, potassium and vitamins A, C and E, and beta-carotene. It is an excellent tonic and diuretic; it helps to detoxify the liver and has slightly cathartic properties. The ancient Greeks considered it medicinal. The greens can eaten raw with a lemon or vinegar and olive oil dressing, boiled on their own, or cooked together with lamb or goat. They can also be pickled after parboiling.
The ancient name for rusks was dipyritis artos, meaning “twice-baked bread.” Rusks have been a staple of the Greek diet since before refrigeration or preservatives, when a way of keeping bread for as long as possible was needed. Rusks, particularly those made with barley (which thrives better in the Greek climate than wheat), are considered a key ingredient of a healthy and balanced diet.
They are a good source of vitamin B complex, selenium, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, silicon (which helps to rebuild and protect bones), chromium (for better control of glucose levels in diabetes) and dietary fiber (especially beta-glucan, linked to lower cholesterol). They also aid in better intestinal and liver function and help reduce cellulitis. It should also be noted that barley contains less gluten than wheat.
So, why not try replacing your breakfast toast with barley rusks? Alternatively, you can also replace commercial breakfast cereals, which contain a high level of hidden sugars, with boiled barley, honey and cold milk. And remember that, because their low moisture content eliminates the risk of microbial spoilage, rusks do not contain preservatives, either.
The ancient Greeks considered figs a luxury, with a quantifiable economic value that lent prestige to those who could consume them. But they were also a special delicacy. There was a word – sykoskopos – that referred to someone who brought news of where syka (figs) were to be found; there was also the term sykofantis, used for the person who revealed their illegal trafficking. It was not uncommon in Attic comedies to see the impoverished protagonists dreaming of buying wine and dried figs as soon as they could find a little money. In classical times, figs were eaten fresh as an appetizer, and were usually salted. In dried form, they accompanied the wine served at symposia. The leaves of the fig tree were soaked in brine to remove the bitterness and were then used to prepare foods similar to modern-day dolmades.
The nutritional value of figs, particularly dried ones, is indisputable. Rich in natural fiber (which stimulates intestinal motility), they help in weight control because they enhance the feeling of satiety. They are one of the best sources of potassium, which regulates blood pressure and boosts ligament health: just half a cup provides 300mg. They also contain magnesium, which is important for the function of the nervous system, for metabolism and for bone health. Surprisingly, they contain more calcium than milk does. You can add chopped dried figs to milk or yogurt along with your favorite breakfast cereal, eat them together with white cheeses, or try them on their own as a snack.
The history of apiculture, or beekeeping, in Greece goes back thousands of years. Excavations at Phaistos uncovered ceramic beehives from the Minoan era (3400 BC). Hippocrates, the father of medicine, recommended honey to all his patients. Honey, eaten with bread, was the main food for Pythagoras and his followers. Frequently, the libations to the gods included honey with wine and milk, while ambrosia, the food of the immortals, was said to contain royal jelly. In classical times, desserts with honey were very popular, including honey pies called melitoutta to plakountes, which also had sesame seeds and spices.
With more than 180 nutrients, honey is a food of high nutritional value. It is an excellent source of carbohydrates, antioxidants, vitamin B complex, trace elements and minerals (calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron, copper) essential for keeping the body in balance and contributing to everything from bone strength to metabolism. It has a lower glycemic index than sugar. In other words, in small quantities, it is even suitable for people with diabetes. The great biodiversity of the Greek land – 1,300 endemic plants and an exceptional variety of flowers, herbs and trees – also affects the quality of the honey produced in Greece: it is far superior in flavor, aroma and density than honey from other countries.
Closely tied to Christian fasting, tahini, the paste made from roasted sesame seeds, re-entered the Greeks’ diet through migrants from Asia Minor who carried with them the knowledge of how to make it and its cousin, halva, from their lost homelands. It has the delicious essence of roasted nuts and the rich flavor of its precious oil.
One spoonful of tahini, particularly whole grain, is the perfect dietary supplement. First, the fatty acids it contains are mainly monounsaturated and polyunsaturated: these are fatty acids which raise the level of good cholesterol (HDL) that protects the heart. It is rich in high-quality proteins, vitamin B complex (which regulates the synthesis of several hormones, among other things), calcium (acts against osteoporosis), iron (for physical and mental well-being), potassium, zinc (fortifies the immune system), phosphorus, magnesium (relieves stress and migraines), manganese and copper (reduces joint pain). It also contains selenium, which is one of the weapons in the body’s defensive arsenal against oxidative stress.
Tahini is the ideal topping for breakfast (try bread with tahini and honey). It goes well with sweet flavors (honey or chocolate), with tangy lemon and with garlic, pepper, pulses and salads (it makes a great dressing). It can also be used in soups, pies, cookies and hummus.
In the days when there was no sugar, or it was hard to come by, homemakers made full use of everything the Greek soil gave them to expand their cooking repertoire. This is how moustalevria was born. The exact date of that birth is not known. We do know it is a dessert that dates back to antiquity; during the Byzantine period, it was called moustopita and was made with flour and boiled grape must. That is more or less the recipe that survives today, though it is now embellished with nuts and cinnamon.
Moustalevria is a highly nutritious food, thanks to the raw material – grape must – which provides a large quantity of antioxidants. With the addition of walnuts, almonds, cinnamon and sesame seeds, it is enriched even further, not only in flavor but also in nutrients. Sesame seeds are rich in amino acids, minerals, trace elements and calcium. Cinnamon improves glucose levels in the blood, while walnuts and almonds provide valuable omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants and phytosterols. What’s more, all this comes with zero fat.
Yogurt has always held a special place on the Greek table, although it is in fact widely consumed throughout the southeastern Mediterranean. The ancient Greeks called it oxygala, and they had a particular liking for it. French explorer Pierre Belon (1517-1564) wrote, “The Greeks and Turks have oxygala, a type of sour milk which they carry in fabric bags hanging off the side of their animals. Though it is quite watery, it stays in the bag without spilling.” There’s been a lot of milk under the bridge since then. Nowadays, as the food industry endeavors to offer products with long shelf lives, most yogurt is processed at temperatures high enough to prevent the growth of unwanted microorganisms. However, this means that beneficial live bacteria are also eliminated and yogurt loses a large part of its nutritional value.
Traditional Greek yogurt, the one with the skin on the surface, it made from cow’s or sheep’s milk and contains valuable bacteria which have a positive effect on the entire digestive tract. These bacteria include the Lactobaccilus, which research has shown to have cancer-fighting properties. In addition, yoghurt enhances digestion, provides all of the nutrients of milk (protein, carbohydrates, fats, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin B complex and others), and can often be consumed by people who are lactose-intolerant. It is, indeed, an all-round superfood!
The ancient Greeks held it to be a symbol of joy: it was used to make wedding crowns. But they also knew of its therapeutic value and used it as a drink to treat poisoning, diarrhea and colic, or externally to relieve skin inflammation. Arcadia and Tenedos are famous for producing oregano. Until a few decades ago, Cretan folk medicine used oregano leaves fried in olive oil to make a poultice for back pain, and oregano oil offered relief for toothache.
Oregano grows practically everywhere in Greece. Fresh or dried, it adds beneficial properties along with its characteristic fragrance to many dishes. Rich in vitamin C, it also contains calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron, potassium, copper, boron, manganese and vitamin A. The essential oil of Greek oregano is considered the best in the world, as recent studies have shown it to have the highest content in carvacrol and thymol, both of which have powerful antioxidant and cancer-fighting properties. It has antibiotic and antiseptic properties as well. Oregano can relieve intestinal upsets and abdominal pain; it exhibits stimulatory, sudorific and anti-asthmatic effects; it is used to treat flu, colds, gingivitis and sore throat (in a gargling solution). Amazingly, oregano demonstrates 42 times greater antioxidant action than apples, 30 times greater than potatoes and 12 times greater than oranges.
…or saffron, is probably the result of efforts to tame the wild Crocus cartwrightianus in ancient Greece, as the plant appears frequently in Crete’s Minoan-era frescoes and pottery, as well as in a fresco from the prehistoric settlement of Akrotiri in Santorini depicting a woman collecting the flowers. Saffron was widely used in medicine – the ancient Greeks drank it in a tisane to cure sleeplessness and hangovers. Today, Kozani’s saffron is one of the most expensive spices in the world (it takes more than 150,000 flowers to produce one kilogram of the stuff) and is very sought-after for its subtle aroma and flavor, its properties as a coloring agent and its health benefits. Saffron contains vitamins A, C and B complex, as well as iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium and lycopene, which is known to help prevent cancer. It also has powerful antioxidant and anti-aging properties, as its carotenoids protect cells from free radicals. It is good for the digestive tract, boosts the metabolism and improves memory and overall brain function. In addition, it helps fight anxiety and acts as a mood elevator. A mere pinch is enough to give food a rich yellow color, a subtle tang and plenty of aroma. It goes particularly well with rice, pasta, white meat and fish; it is used in salads and soups; and it is also used in sweets. It can be found in powder or thread form and as a tea.
Traces of stored crops and seeds found at Akrotiri indicate that a local species of vetchling, Lathyrus clymenum, was cultivated exclusively on Santorini for more than 3,500 years. Dioscorides, a famed 1st c. AD physician and botanist, distinguished the plant that provided the specific fava from its relatives in other regions. The particularities of the Santorini soil, the climatic conditions and, strangely enough, the lack of water combine to create a unique product with a velvety texture and sweet flavor. Rich in protein (20 percent) and carbohydrates (65 percent), the local fava is an excellent source of vitamin B1, iron, copper, phosphorus, potassium and magnesium. Its high fiber content makes it ideal for maintaining normal levels of glucose and cholesterol in the blood, for promoting the proper function of the digestive system and for preventing cancer of the large intestine. And it’s just 85 calories/100g. The fava is served in pureed form with lemon juice, oregano and olive oil, and sometimes with chopped onion and capers or with tomatoes and olives. You might also see it in salads, made into patties or even served with seafood such as octopus or anchovies.
MASTIC FROM CHIOS
The mastic tree was particularly popular with the ancient Greeks: its shoots were pickled and considered a fine appetizer, while its “tears,” the well-known mastic resin, were chewed to clean the teeth and freshen the breath. These tears were also used to flavor wine. The aromatic resin of the lentisc plant, of the Pistacia lentiscus Chia variety, is not produced anywhere in Greece but Chios, and even there, it only grows in the south of the island.
Prescriptions based on mastic can be found in medical texts dating from late antiquity, when it was already considered beneficial. Modern-day studies have confirmed this. Its antioxidant extracts prevent the formation of atherosclerotic plaque on artery walls, thus protecting against heart problems. Its polyphenols reduce glucose and cholesterol levels in the blood. Regular use of mastic limits the formation of dental plaque. It plays a critical role in preventing and treating diseases of the digestive system. It exhibits powerful anti-inflammatory action, and acts as an analgesic, a cough suppressant, an appetite stimulant, an aphrodisiac, an astringent and a diuretic. It is an amazing multi-purpose medicine! Nowadays, mastic has many uses: as a spice in cooking, mainly for meat and fish, and for ice cream, loukoums, spoon sweets and cookies; in beverages (in mastic liqueur and ouzo, drunk as an aperitif or added to foods while simmering); and in cosmetics. Commonly seen in the form of chewing gum, the resin can be also found in a variety of other forms, including as powders and crystals, as mastic water or as an essential oil.
Christos Doumas, emeritus professor of archaeology, takes us on a tour of Akrotiri, one of the most spectacular archaeological sites in Europe.
Akrotiri was a settlement with stone-paved streets and squares, a prudently designed zoning plan and an advanced sewage system. The houses were two- and three-story, built with stone and mud. The ground floors housed craftsmen’s workshops and storerooms, mainly for food. The rooms of the upper stories were bathed in natural light streaming in through large windows. Most walls were decorated with elaborate paintings depicting people, animals and plants. The furniture was wooden and the loom was an essential household item, used by the lady of the house to weave the family’s clothes. The inhabitants were traders, artisans, mariners, farmers, stock breeders and craftsmen. They kept flocks of sheep and goats. They planted wheat and barley, which they harvested with stone or bronze sickles. They stored produce in large earthenware jars and cultivated olives, from which they made oil. Indeed, output was so high that they also exported. Wine production was another key economic activity. Locals further supplemented their income by supplying Crete with large quantities of obsidian (black volcanic rock) and metals. Their diet consisted of pulses, vegetables and all sorts of fish, caught in the surrounding waters and sold in the harbor. But their favorite delicacy was snails, brought to the island from Crete.
“ Men, women and children are equally depicted in wall paintings. For this reason, Akrotiri is also called the Prehistoric Venice of the Aegean. ”
This is how Christos Doumas, emeritus professor of archaeology at the University of Athens, describes life in Akrotiri during the 2nd millennium BC. He also speaks about the wealth accumulated on Thera in that distant time from commerce: “The island had trade relations not only with Crete but also with mainland Greece, the Dodecanese, Cyprus, Syria and Egypt.” Thus, the prehistoric Therans, having satisfied their basic needs and thanks to the wealth they gradually acquired, were able to turn their attention to more pleasurable pursuits, for instance the art of good eating. Doumas focuses in particular on how art flourished as a means of projecting social status, and on the democratic structure of Theran society. “It is telling that men, women and children are equally depicted in wall paintings. For this reason, Akrotiri is also called the ‘prehistoric Venice of the Aegean’.”
This then was the situation until the spring of 1613 BC, when the island’s volcano came out of its slumber. The eruption that followed, the most powerful in the world of the past 10,000 years, completely destroyed Santorini (Thera) and the nearby islands. “If there had been no volcano, however, there would have been no Santorini as we know it today and, of course, there would have been no Akrotiri. Thanks to the volcanic ash, the remains of the prehistoric settlement have been preserved down the centuries,” explains the man who has made this place his life’s work.
In 1975 Doumas took over the excavations begun by the eminent archaeologist Spyridon Marinatos. Since then, he has brought to light an incredible wealth of information about the “Pompeii of the Aegean.” And at the age of 82 he continues to work ceaselessly. “We should be proud of Akrotiri,” says Doumas. “It is part of archaeology courses at universities all over the world. In the history of Aegean civilization, it is considered to have equal importance with the Acropolis (for the Classical period) and Mount Athos (for the Byzantine period). It is a momentous legacy.” All this makes a visit to Akrotiri a unique experience. The archaeological site (covering an area of 12,000 m2) is protected by a bioclimatic shelter that is supported by 96 steel columns, designed by the architect Nikos Fintikakis. Specially designed walkways take visitors around and through the settlement, while there are viewing platforms that provide excellent vantage points.
“ The prehistoric Therans, having satisfied their basic needs and thanks to the wealth they gradually acquired, were able to turn their attention to more pleasurable pursuits, for instance the art of good eating. ”
And, of course, at the Museum of Prehistoric Thera in Fira, the experience is enhanced with important finds from the excavations: marble figurines, pottery, bronze implements, cooking utensils and impressive storage jars with designs indicative of their content. Pay close attention to the celebrated Theran wall paintings (Blue Monkeys fresco, House of the Ladies fresco, etc), the work of outstanding artists, as well as artifacts (seals, lead weights, clay tablets inscribed with Linear A script) that provide evidence that the complex society of prehistoric Akrotiri devised and used systems of writing and measurement. That is, they applied methods for the management of goods, developing a type of bureaucracy. Finally, just before leaving the exhibition area, don’t forget to visit the most impressive find: a gold ibex figurine, quite unique, which was found in December 1999 in excellent condition in its wooden case. Concluding our conversation with Professor Doumas, I ask him what Akrotiri means to him personally. “The scene of the… crime,” he replies laughing. “I will always return here, as long as I can still stand. And when you consider that only 3 percent of the prehistoric settlement has been investigated, we archaeologists still have many centuries of work beneath the shelter!”
It is a scorching hot, midsummer’s day up in Ano Mera and, standing atop a brown, rocky formation, typical of the Mykonian landscape, Dimitris Mantikas, an architect who has built more than 200 houses here since 1981, is left to the inspiration brought in by the strong Meltemi wind whipping the hillside. He ponders upon the challenges of the deteriorating ground and the clusters of rocks that need to be preserved. He has to take everything into account: the strong winds, the ever-changing course of the sun, the durability of his designs, the environmental impact of the structure and, of course, the view from the finished edifice.
In front of him lay different but very similar white blocks, all typical samples of Mykonian architecture. For some, these are simple forms offering practical benefits. For others, they are a means of showing off wealth. But for the architects and designers that we meet, these materials are the physical embodiment of a love affair, with all the turmoil and excitement that pathos usually brings along with it.
The colorful crowds that flock the streets of Matoyianni every summer probably don’t know that once upon a time, long ago, the island was filled with castles, the remains of which can still be found in places like Lino and Portes. From this very well organized defense system that protected the island from pirates and thieves to the huge villas with the crisp swimming pools that are found today on every little hillside, there have been centuries of evolution and transformation, always adding new elements to what we call today traditional character. And all of these changes were driven by the needs of the day.
The little houses were built one atop the other and the streets were made as narrow as possible in an attempt to close up the town against the pirates. The houses were small due to the scarcity of basic building materials and their shape and color were in reaction to unique weather conditions. Square formations and white colors protect from strong winds and the melting heat.
All this takes place in Chora, the central stage of the island. Ion Stavropoulos, an architect who has known the island since the seventies, also talks about the simple, plain cottages in rural Mykonos: “These were bright examples of the so called ‘additive architecture’, little gems of anonymous folk creativity, symbols of another type of civilization, created by poverty and inventiveness, edifices that the modernist architect Aris Konstantinidis called ‘god-built’”, he says.
Basic living dwellings were formed by cell-like rooms creating “wings” around shaded little patios. A corral for the animals, a wood-fired oven, a winepress, a water cistern, a well, and, in many cases, a small chapel would complete the farmhouse or “chorio”, a word used euphemistically for these farmhouses scattered in the rural areas, since it actually means “village” in Greek.
“This organic and shabby creation of unities ended up becoming a masterpiece of unique character”, says architect Nikiforos Fokas, while Apostolos Nazos, a born and bred Mykonian architect actively involved in strengthening the protection afforded by the local urban planning, adds: “The people who created these masterpieces were very much aware of the concept of space. Today, we are left speechless when we think of their simplicity and moderation. Every little cube is placed in the right part of the field that surrounds it, correctly oriented, and of a size barely fitting the soul of a man. What they used to say was, ‘A house just enough to fit in, a field just as far as you can see’”.
Round rocks, dry earth patches and scattered little whitewashed chapels create a dreamscape that, since 2005, has been protected by law; the island itself is legally classified as one of distinctive, natural beauty. When the sculptor and interior designer Deborah French first set foot on Mykonos in 1978, she instantly fell in love with the island. She kept coming back almost every year, until finally moving here in 1985. “Though one could argue that other places had some of these qualities, Mykonos is where I found them,” she says. “The architecture, the sculptural quality of the structures that, being white, stand out so well, allowing the eye to see the shapes as a union and to follow the undulation of the surfaces…
Other Cycladic islands had this, but none quite as perfectly.” So she decided to set up her home here, calling it “Re-inventing Mykonos”: “The original architecture of the island was my general inspiration but I took much of it from a small old farmhouse where I’d had spent my summers. It was so simple yet very alive, because of all the movements of its surface and the simple rustic details. Being a sculptor I could fully appreciate its beauty and uniqueness.”
It is safe to say that, having worked here for 35 years, Dimitris Mantikas knows the island like the back of his hand. “The reasoning of nature, of the landscape here, is much more powerful than that of the builders who tried to impose their vision on it”, he says. Javier Barba, a Spaniard who has built more than six houses here since 1997, finds his calling to be the integration of each project into the landscape: “We work the architecture from the land, with the land, adjusting to the natural pre-existing conditions. The landscape conditions you, inspires you and gives you guidelines to work on,” he says.
The wind, too, is a force to be reckoned with on Mykonos. The tough one, the Meltemi, comes from the north. The Mykonians situated their houses with their “backs” turned to the north, to shield from the wind. “On a windy day in the old houses, you could stand on the front veranda and be completely protected. This simple intelligence has been lost to those of us who are disconnected with nature and the concept of bending to it for our ultimate advantage” says Deborah French. Nikiforos Fokas believes in the elements as well. “The landscape, the climate and the strong Mykonian tradition can only bring inspiration,” he says. That inspiration, however, may come at a price.
Looking back on his first ever commission on the island, Apostolos Nazos remembers he was frozen, unable to use everything he had been taught. It was impossible to intervene in what to him was – and still is – magical scenery. Thankfully, the law has worked to the advantage of Mykonos. For her house, Deborah French had to get special permission that allowed her not to paint it white. At that time, only the animal shelters were left unpainted. “I saw that a large white house up on the hill would look ostentatious and detract from its surroundings. But built from rock, the residence blends in and almost disappears into the hill. A few years after the house was built, a rule went into effect that houses up on the hills should not be painted white. Someone got the point!”
It was, in fact, Dimitris Mantikas who brought the revised study of her house to the architectural committee, and he was also the first architect to design and establish the double walls that resembled the shapes of old farmhouses, starting a trend back in the mid-’80s. “The buildings blend well with the environment and the land has been respected,” he says. “So, if you want to talk about eco-friendly architecture, it is not always about the use of double windows or putting solar or aeolic energy to use. The way the island has been built is totally eco-friendly. Not to mention that traditionally the roofs were insulated with sand and seaweed!’’
Ion Stavropoulos talks about a violent rise in construction that started in the mid-’80s and has changed the landscape: “From being something to satisfy the basic needs of the dwellers, the house gradually became a vessel for luxurious vacation and a sign of the owner’s wealth. Contemporary materials, often imported, allowed for buildings that wouldn’t have been built by the architects of old,” he says. Deborah French adds: “The town of Mykonos was transformed in a matter of a few years from one whose streets were pristinely clean and white-washed with lime wash, bathed in soft, natural light, to one where, once high-end retailers descended, the lights became garish and the streets dirty, painted once a year at best, and with latex or enamel paint. It is a good example of how insensitivity and ignorance have eaten away at what was once so special about Mykonos.”
Skyrocketing land prices and high demand for real estate have turned Mykonos into a unique case study. According to Ion Stavropoulos, architects are often called in to design structures on secluded tracts of land, chosen solely for the purpose of offering its owner the privacy he seeks. This seclusion poses numerous challenges, including not having access to basic infrastructure, such as sewage systems and water supply.
Nikiforos Fokas believes the island has been going through a nouveau-riche phase for a long time, but Dimitris Mantikas is more optimistic: “Although there has been an effort to create a golden facade through Mykonian architecture, in general the buildings haven’t lost their traditional shape thanks to the urban planning laws. The only place left for showing off is the inside of the houses.” According to a spokesperson from the architectural design firm Zege, “it is easy to assume that Mykonos is an island of loud manifestations of wealth. But in architectural terms, there is a constant struggle to keep our traditional Cycladic building principles, devoid of excess and modernity.”0 Read More
It was the first time I was attending Travel Expo 2016 and the first exhibition for G&I custom luxury travel. This 3 day exhibition was based in Athens and it was an international Greek Tourism meeting -3rd Exhibition taking place. This was a huge opportunity to be able to meet with over 2000 people from over the world and build relationships with them. Excitement was an understatement!
We had the opportunity in having B2B appointments with agencies / tour operators from Europe, Balkans, Asia, Middle East, USA and Canada. The appointments were approximately 15 minutes in duration and that was enough time at first hand. If not no worries, as we had the privilege of inviting the agents to our amazing bar at our booth for after work drinks 🙂
Let me tell you more about the booth we had in the exhibition hall. The number was C54-56 (how can I forget) of which we shared with our colleagues, Luxury Concierge and Life Line, and what a booth it was! We had a great Seating area for our outside meetings to take place, a bar for coffee and drinks or even snacks. It was an amazing opportunity for G&I and we couldn’t have done it without our affiliates.
by Mairina Chrysopoulo
General Manager & Owner
The 5 best reasons to spend a day – or week – on Antiparos, Paros’ little sister.
Antiparos, a small, anti-mainstream island, has stood its ground as an alternative offshoot to neighboring Paros, tourism-oriented and cosmopolitan with a vibrant, fancy and high-decibel nightlife. By contrast, the mild tourism development on Antiparos has not taken away the purity of the island, a focal point for the rock-punk community since the pre-digital 80s. Those unconventional camping-ground types our parents advised us to keep away from have since grown old, lives were influenced by the considerable time spent at La Luna, the little island’s legendary outdoor club, as well as at the rock-oriented Doors club, dedicated to the late rocker Jim Morrison, while the “official nudist beach” – as defined by its frequenters – behind the camping ground, was a carefree spot. The Cycladic island’s hippy spirit has not really changed over the years. Five reasons to visit the island follow:
The island’s devotees widely believe that Antiparos is its camping facility, launched in 1978. It has carved out its own history on the island as an alternative-scene focal point and, even today, stands as the reason why many visitors choose to holiday on Antiparos. The restaurant operating at this 300-tent capacity camping facility is its pivotal spot. Groups of friends gather here to play cards and backgammon in the afternoons and enjoy their first warm-up drinks for the night. Most campsite dwellers usually don’t take off for the main town, a ten minute walk away, until well after midnight. Shots and cocktails are had at Camping Antiparos before they head to La Luna for late-night partying.
The bars at the town’s square close at around 3 to 3.30am to avoid disturbing neighbors. As a result, revelers relocate to either the late-night La Luna disco or Mylos, a dance club.
The former, an open-air, down-to-earth nightlife oasis that enjoys cult status, is said to have once been the location of a poultry enclosure. Since opening in 1979, its owner has hardly touched a thing. Any signs of wear or tear have been left unattended, which has added to the spot’s accumulating vintage charm. La Luna is located deep amid fields. The moonlight serves as a useful guiding light to locate the spot, it is said. Everybody dances a lot here. The music is dominated by old classic tunes from the 70s and 80s. Revelers know when it is time to leave when Nina Simone’s “My Baby Just Cares For Me”, the club’s signature closing-time song, comes on. Strictly order beer here.
Extremely different, Mylos plays mainstream dance music. It is housed at an old mill with a view of the sky. At daybreak, the sunrays enter from the glass roof and revelers party on donning their sunglasses. Should you lose track of your friends in the crowd, you may climb the mill’s outdoor staircase to the top and try and spot them from there. Otherwise, the climb is ideal for the breeze and sunrise experience. Without a doubt, the two clubs represent two entirely different camps. You either belong to Mylos or La Luna. There is no between.
Sifneiko beach, named as such because it looks towards Sifnos, also known as Iliovasilema, meaning sunset, is a lovely beach offering an uninterrupted sunset view. As the “golden hour” draws nearer, scores of people, especially couples, rush through the alleys to make it to the beach on time for the experience. Two laid back café-bars also operate here if you feel like treating yourself to a drink. The route to Sifneiko runs by a mid-15th century Venetian castle located within the town. It was built by Giovanni Loredano, a Venetian nobleman, to protect the island from pirate invasions. Twenty-four houses were later built in the surrounding area. Many of these are still inhabited today.
Soros beach is one of the most renowned and essential places to visit. Its Megalos beach is more cosmopolitan and offers a good beach bar. The Mikros beach, which is not organized and covered with fine pebble, offers greater privacy. From this point on, the shoreline features numerous delightful coves with turquoise waters and clean water.
Besides the beach by the island’s camping facility, part of which has been defined as “nudist” by frequenters, Faneromeni and Aghios Sostis, are the island’s other leading swimming spots. Located on the west side of the island, they are challenging to reach but well worth the effort. On the east side, Monastiria and Livadia are great spots for windsurfing and kite surfing.
One of the world’s most significant caves, located in the centre of the island, may be reached by descending 411 steps or 85 metres. Its entrance is located at the top of the Ai-Giannis Mountain, also the name of the charming small church perched on the rock. Fragments of ancient vases, as well as carvings and inscriptions on stalactites and stalagmites by a number of historic figures, have been discovered inside the cave. The descent to the cave’s bottom is safe and reached by a concrete staircase. The heart of the cave is divided into three sections. The first features stalagmites and stalactites, resembling waterfalls. The second is renowned for having hosted a Christmas Day mass in 1673, during Ottoman rule. The third section is known as Vassilikos (Royal) as a result of a visit to the cave by King Otto, the first monarch of modern Greece, and his wife, Queen Amalia. Their inscriptions still exist.
Significant findings from ancient times have been made on Despotiko, an uninhabited island west of Antiparos, as well as at two other neighboring virgin islands, Tsimintiri and Stroggylo. The oldest Cycladic settlement was discovered on Saliagos, an islet off Antiparos. However, the archaeological interest is focused on Despotiko, identified as the location of Ancient Prepesinthos, where proto-Cycladic tombs and cemeteries were discovered a century ago. Two constructions were also discovered a few decades later. One of these, a superb sanctuary dedicated to the god Apollo, is estimated to have been used from the 7th century BC until the Roman era. The people of Paros built this place of worship as they were determined to consolidate their dominance in the Aegean. Numerous parts of sculptures, six kouros heads and over 500 architectural pieces are some of the discoveries that have been made over the years, shedding intensifying light on ancient Greek history. Despotiko may be easily reached by boat from the small Ai-Giorgis port at Antiparos. Once there, do not miss out on the opportunity to swim in this little island’s superb turquoise waters, whose beaches are covered with fine golden sand.
Orphic Hymn 58 to Eros (trans. Taylor) (Greek hymns C3rd B.C. to 2nd A.D.):
“To Eros (Love), Fumigation from Aromatics. I call, great Eros, the source of sweet delight, holy and pure, and charming to the sight; darting, and winged, impetuous fierce desire, with Gods and mortals playing, wandering fire : agile and twofold, keeper of the keys of heaven and earth, the air, and spreading seas; of all that earth’s fertile realms contains, by which the all parent Goddess life sustains, or dismal Tartaros is doomed to keep, widely extended, or the sounding deep; for thee all nature’s various realms obey, who rulest alone, with universal sway. Come, blessed power, regard these mystic fires, and far avert unlawful mad desires”.
Beauty in Greece is exquisite; timeless; unspoiled. It was in this sacred landscape that love was born. Greece is the birthplace of the winged God Eros, the son of Aphrodite; the God that with his quiver and arrows inspired artists and writers over the centuries to praise the virtues of love. Whether you are looking for an ideal honeymoon destination or just a romantic escape, the beauty and diversity of the Greek landscape forms the most romantic backdrop to celebrate your love.
Search for your fairy-tale romance in the Greek islands, a perfect honeymoon destination bathed in sunlight all year long. Explore with your other half the islands on a cruise and enjoy sun-kissed beaches, superb natural landscapes, cosmopolitan resorts and traditional settlements alike or taste exquisite local dishes. Santorini, Mykonos and Corfu rank among the most popular romantic getaways in Greece but don’t forget to pay a visit to the rest of the Aegean and Ionian islands as well!
Set out on a journey through time and experience the sheer medieval beauty of wonderfully preserved stone-built settlements and fortified towns spread all over Greece. Be the knight or princess of your childhood fairytales in the Byzantine town of Mystras; unveil a medieval mystery in Monemvasia or rediscover romance as you enter one of the largest medieval towns in Europe, the old town of Rhodes.
If you fancy the bustle of big cities however, relish blissful unforgettable moments while walking hand in hand along monumental avenues or narrow pedestrian streets under the city’s lights… How about adding an extra touch of romance?! Catch a bird’s eye view of the city from hilltop viewpoints; sip a glass of wine in a nice atmospheric bar; enjoy a dinner of fine Greek cuisine under the candle lights or search for a beautiful secluded cinema to watch a romantic film!
*originally published on Greece is0 Read More
A low-key Cycladic island experience, conveniently close to Athens.
One of the country’s more low-profile islands, Kythnos is located in the western Cyclades, just a three-hour ferry trip from Piraeus port. It features five main villages, Merihas, serving as the island’s port, Hora, the main town, also known as Messaria, Dryopida, Loutra and Kanala, as well as some smaller villages. The autumn season suits this island well as it derives its beauty more from the interior than the coastline. The greenery between Messaria and Merihas, the scene of ceramic roof-topped houses at Dryopida and the medieval castle at Oria are examples of the island’s inland charm.
Emotional and impulsive, the people of Kythnos, once called Thermia, are lively and full of surprises. Don’t be caught off guard if asked to take command of a traditional wooden boat (trehadiri), as was the case during our first visit to the island, when we found ourselves steering a 12-meter vessel at Kavouroheri, Potamia and Aghios Sostis, three small bays close to Loutra. Also, don’t feel awkward if offered a sip of local wine from a hollowed-out bull horn. They were used as spoons in the old days here. Another of our unusual experiences on the island was when a wine-filled horn spoon was passed around one night during an outdoor celebration to the sound of lute (lauto) and tsabouna (traditional bagpipe) in Dryopida.
When the dancing begins, locals let visitors know that it is time to get up and move. Any claims by outsiders of not knowing the steps to traditional dances are immediately brushed off. Visitors really have no choice but to join the traditional syrtobalos dance. Locals can be insistent on such issues and may seem a touch harsh or mad but, deep down, they are hospitable people.
The island’s culinary offerings are exceptional. On our brief trip, we tried thesfoungata (cheese croquettes), tarahto (scrambled eggs with tomato),tyropitaria (cheese pies), dried olives and, of course, souma (distilled spirit). The sweet-toothed members of our group were drawn to theTratamento confectionary workshop and store in Messaria, whose products included beetroot sweet preserve, verbena (louiza) liqueur andamygdaloto (almond-based biscuits).
*Originally Published on GreeceIs0 Read More
They are pictures as reminiscent of Greek summer as glasses of ouzo and slices of watermelon. White sandy beaches, beach umbrellas which look like colorful buttons scattered across the frame and tranquil turquoise watersin which the figures of tiny people float.
These are the beautiful drone photographs captured by Marina Vernicos in tribute to the Greek summer, which form part of a series titled “Shades”.
The Athens-born photographer studied Communications and Photography at Emerson College, Boston, and Business Administration at Harvard Extension School. Since 2001, her work has been showcased around the world, including at the Museum of Cycladic Art, the Louvre and the Hangaram Art Museum in Korea, London, Monaco and New York.
She has also won the Sandro Botticelli award and the France La Grand Exposition Universalle.
Her foray into aerial photography began two and a half years ago, when a friend of a friend showed her husband a drone he had bought. “My husband got really excited and got one too. This is how it all started.” says Marina.
“We’ve seen aerial pictures from helicopters, but never like this, looking from above straight down. We’re not used to seeing this kind of view so it’s something new and interesting for us.”
Since buying the drone, she’s been working on her technique, and says that drone photography is the next big thing in her field. “I think it’s the best that photography has to show right now. It’s a whole different concept, a wholedifferent view. And it’s very tricky in order not to make the pictures seem as if you’re looking at Google maps. There’s a fine line between art and Google Earth. ” says Marina.
Why is it that we find aerial photography so fascinating, I ask her. “It’s a completely different point of view,” she says. “We’ve seen aerial pictures from helicopters, but never like this, looking from above straight down. We’re not used to seeing this kind of view so it’s something new and interesting for us.”
Her pictures showcase locations around Europe such as Ibiza, the Dominican Republic and Formentera, Spain, but are heavily focused on Greece. “The locations are places that I go and that I love. This is my suggestion to anyone who is involved in photography, to start from where you come from.” says Marina. “You have to photograph the places you know best, and the places you love and this is how you get inspired.”
Her upcoming project focuses on the Greek islands. She currently traveling around them and, as she puts it, trying to capture the very best that they have to offer.
And when it comes to Greece, her enthusiasm for the country that so often occupies her lense is endless. “I think Greece is the most beautiful place on Earth. I really do believe that. I’ve traveled all around the world, I’ve been to107 countries. Nothing compares to our waters, to our energy, to our light. The beauty of Greece, you can’t find it anywhere in the world!”
“A day at Flisvos is filled with so many options of things to see and do”
The Palio Faliro coast that runs from the Trocadero Tram Stop to Edem has retained some of its former glamor as a cosmopolitan resort; hidden among the tall apartment buildings, you can still spot a few surviving architectural gems such as the neo-gothic Kouloura Mansion, on the corner of Tritonos and Poseidonos Ave.
This is one of the few stretches along the Athens Riviera that you can comfortably explore on foot or by bicycle, thanks to the pedestrianized strips by the sea. Start your day with a visit to the Battleship Georgios Averoff, which has been turned into a museum. Have a coffee, a nice lunch or maybe just an ice cream to go at the Flisvos Marina as you check out the luxury yachts.
If you’re with the kids, take them to the huge playground in Flisvos Park, which comes equipped with picnic kiosks, a petanque court and a place where you can rent pedal go-karts (€5 for 30 minutes). The scent of oregano and pennyroyal wafts in from the educational herb garden, stocked with native Greek flora; it’s certainly worth exploring. Or, if all this sounds like hard work, just spread out a towel under the shade of a palm tree and relax between dips in the sea.
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“This is one of the few stretches along the Athens Riviera that you can comfortably explore on foot or by bicycle, thanks to the pedestrianized strips by the sea”
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