A Taste of Greece

As a family we enjoy visiting the Ionian islands for so many reasons… their hidden beaches, the glorious weather and the friendly people but one thing we most definitely love is the FOOD!! During the Winter months we spend most of our time in the office based in the UK. In January we start dreaming of our Spring and Summer travels around the islands. There is always talk of “oh I can’t wait for fresh Calamari” or “let’s make sure we find that Greek wine again”.

Thoughts of enjoying a waterfront meal on a balmy Greek Summer evening – whilst only half way through a grey British Winter, we decided it might be fun to have a Greek foodie evening and recreate some of our favourites!

So, armed with our Greek recipe books and the internet (plus a few secrets gathered over the years from Greek friends) we started preparations.

Starters were my domain, I made baked feta wrapped in Filo pastry with sesame seeds and honey, this is my absolute favourite dish and was very simple to make.

Alex gave me a hand in the kitchen frying courgettes and making Tzatziki while I attempted to make his favourite Yigandes (Greek baked beans). With the table set and a few Greek Rebetika favourites playing, we started to feel like we were back home on Paxos.

Viv and Dave arrived with the main course – a roasted chicken dish with lemon and potatoes (Kotopoulo Lemonato). Dessert, an Athenian baked cheesecake, was made by Auntie Lizzie.

Greek wines were ordered from Maltby & Greek, a London based supplier of a wide range of Greek food and drink. Our favourite was a ‘Malagouzia’ from the Mylonas Winery: light with fresh fruit notes. We would also recommend the dessert wine – another from the Mylonas winery: ‘Sunday, Savatiano-Aidani’ – a very pleasant, delicate dessert wine which was far too easy to drink!!

It was a great evening filled with lots of laughter and yummy food…hopefully it will suppress our longing for Greek food and balmy waterfront evenings until the Spring.

Catherine x

The New Loggos Bakery

This photo of Paxos was taken in the mid 1970’s (I think) – you will notice:

Loukas’ new bakery shop being completed. The bread oven is still behind the village church. Next door is the Dipli Akti cafenion – now the Roxy Bar. In those days all the waterfront tables and chairs wobbled on uneven surfaces and there was a refreshing lack of gingham tablecloths and bespoke sun umbrellas.

The mayor of Loggos kept his scooters for hire next door to the Dipli Akti and this became the Taxidi Bar.

A lack of plastic/fibreglass boats in the harbour. When my family owned Greek Islands Club we commissioned the one and only boat builder on Paxos (Mimis Mastoras) to build 14 boats. It took him around 6 months to build one boat. The blue & white boat “SPIANTZI” in the foreground is one of the boats Mimis built. Each of these boats had a Seagull engine and all boats were regularly rented out to Greek Islands Club clients. The journey from Gaios to Loggos would take around 45 minutes on a good sea but in those days everything went more slowly.

To the left of the wooden boat are two children: Panagiotis Mastoras and his sister – their father is Yannis, pictured in a previous blog with his prized lobster.

Nowadays in Loggos harbour plastic boats outnumber wooden boats; more of the waterfront is taken up by cushioned café bar chairs and the espresso has overtaken the Greek coffee but Loggos is still a beautiful, friendly, laid-back, unique and special place.

Olive Pruning on the Ionian Islands

Have you ever wondered why some olive trees are regularly pruned whilst others are not. There appears to be a different culture of olive cultivation from island to island, region to region and country to country.

Does the pruning affect the quality of oil?

Stanley Stewart wrote in Times Live the following piece about Paxos olives:

“I walked between tiny hamlets in the interior, through olive groves, steeped in sun-flecked shadow, threaded by dry stone walls, and silent but for the rising drone of cicadas. Olives are the key to the Paxiot character. Olives have meant that, for centuries, no one had to do very much.

It was all down to the Venetians who ruled the island for 400 years until the Napoleonic wars. The Venetians had created an inflated market for olive oil by persuading the women of North Africa that nothing would make them so beautiful as bathing in the stuff. To take advantage of this market, they tried to persuade the Paxiots to plant olive trees. When persuasion didn’t work they offered them one drachma, the equivalent of about £75 in today’s money, for each tree. The islanders promptly planted a quarter of a million.

They have been living off this burst of industry ever since.

“In the old days, if you had 300 trees,” a man told me over coffee one morning in Gaios, “you didn’t need to work. Now the price of olive oil has fallen, people need jobs. They call it progress.”

If olive trees were cathedrals, the Paxos trees would be Notre Dame – elaborate, vast, gnarled, very ancient, and heavily buttressed. They sprawl fantastically. Apparently their owners only bother with pruning every other decade at most.

Paxos’s approach to the whole olive business is not so much laid back as completely horizontal. In most parts of the world, olive harvests usually take six to eight weeks. In Paxos, they can take seven months. The islanders don’t pick olives. They spread nets and wait for them to drop, venturing out now and again to collect the windfall and send them off to press. It is an admirable approach.”

Not sure about the drachma for each tree planted – I think it was a Venetian ducato (ducat).

The Paxos olive trees, up till about 20 years ago, used to yield a crop of olives every other year. This was abruptly changed when it was decided (against the wishes of the Paxiots) to spray the entire island to eradicate an olive blight. The Paxiots say that the present annual harvest is not as good as in the years when it was every two years.

I’m not an olive oil connoisseur but the Paxos olive oil looks good, tastes good & by golly ….

How to catch your own Whitebait in the Ionian

1. Book a holiday with Ionian Villas to stay on an uncrowded Ionian island.

2. Buy a medium-sized round Tupperware bowl (lid not needed) & a piece of cloth/muslin and some string.

3. Order chicken for dinner at one of the waterfront tavernas. Take the chicken bones home with you.

4. Put chicken bones in Tupperware bowl. Stretch cloth over the open bowl and tie it securely around the sides with string. Make a hole in the centre of the cloth the size of a 5p piece.

5. Pack swimmers, lashings of feta cheese, oil, bread, chilled retsina and the bowl of bones and head for the beach.

6. Submerge bowl in the shallow water and leave resting on the bottom.

7. Check to see how many fish have entered the bowl & empty fish into a plastic bag and start again.

Simples.

A taste of the Ionian islands

I was once managing director of Greek Islands Club. When we had offices in Old Isleworth it meant a 2 hour drive from home in West Sussex and then a 2 hour drive back home. The M25 was my companion and pacemaker. I now look after Ionian Villas from our home in a little Dorset village and occasionally tune in to radio traffic reports to see how my companion of old is faring. Not too well by all accounts.

My wife and I travel round the Ionian islands for 3 weeks in April/May and 3 weeks in September/October. Refreshing perks of the job but also very important to give knowledgeable advice to prospective clients and to retain good personal links with all our property owners. A plate of grilled octopus by the sea beats the M25 snarl-up any day.

This May we spent Greek Easter on Paxos and then took the hydrofoil to Corfu and then a SkyExpress prop plane to Kefalonia – the ubiquitous grilled octopus at Sami port and then a 30-minute ferry to Ithaca, where we stayed at Dexa Beach House just a few steps away from the beach.

Dexa Beach – early morning

Ithaca hasn’t been tamed or compromised by tourism – it has a beautiful wild side, hidden hamlets, inquisitive locals – many with a lingering Australian or South African twang (many fled Ithaca during the civil war after the 2nd World War), a welcoming lack of coastal development and stunning views from mountain top monasteries.

Back to Kefalonia where we stayed at the superb Avra Suites – above sandy Makris Yalos beach. 5 Star accommodation with only the sound of the sea and the occasional sea bird. Memorable breakfasts procured from the owner’s garden of fruit trees, strawberry patch, vegetable garden and the magic touch of Eleni the creative chef.

Avra Suite breakfast

Then another Sky Express plane hop of 15 minutes to Lefkas (via Preveza airport) where we stayed at Villa Yasmina – above the west coast with our own theatre of an orchestra pit of silver olives, a stage of Ionian sea and a backdrop of oooo – arrrrr sunsets.

Villa Yasmina

On Lefkas’ east coast port of Nidri a ferry takes 25 minutes, passing Skorpios and other small islands, to reach the tiny island of Meganissi. We stayed at Villa Arenaria – a few paces away from a secluded beach. Vasco, the ever-smiling owner, is half Greek and half Florentine.

Sky Express then took us to Corfu where we met up with Jan Manessi, who owns The Manor House– possibly the most beautiful house in the Ionian.

View from our favourite cafenion just outside Corfu Town

Traditional Greek Easter Celebrations in the Ionian

Spring has sprung in the Ionian – temperatures are nudging 20 degrees. Greek Easter is late this year, May 5th – Easyjet and Ryanair April and May flights provide the perfect opportunity to see how the Ionian islanders celebrate it. Easter in Greece or “Paska” is THE most important (and loudest) celebration of the year.

For Greek Orthodox Lent, those who so wish will abstain from eating meat and dairy products for seven weeks. On Palm Sunday churchgoers are given a cross made of palm leaves and the strrets leading to village churches are strewn with palm fronds and flowers. Holy Thursday is egg dyeing day. Good Friday is a holiday and most shops and businesses are closed and restaurants do not serve meat dishes. The procession of the bier of Christ is held on Good Friday evening. Led by a band or choir the bier is normally draped in a gold cloth and decorated with fresh flowers. The procession passes the local village churches.

On the Saturday night the festivities start in each village square – an occasion for all the family. It starts with the Resurrection mass where the Priest and the Church Elders form a procession and the ceremonial candles are lit. At midnight the intoning priest is drowned out by firecrackers and fireworks. Friends, family and strangers are embraced and greeted with the words “Christos Anesti” – “Christ has risen”. After this, everybody goes home for a meal of “margueritsa” (traditionally a lamb’s innards broth) – the fast is over. If their candles are still burning, a cross is made above the doorway with the soot from the wick, to protect the house for the coming year.

Easter Sunday is the official end of Lent and the fasting turns to serious feasting. Goats and lambs are turned on garden spits from early in the morning; the family wine is brought out and the dyed, hard-boiled eggs are cracked – a similar principle to conkers, where you hit the other person’s egg and the one that breaks is the loser.

Bicentenary of Edward Lear’s Birth to be Celebrated in Corfu!

Photo – Villa Aphrodite’s view over Mon Repos

Edward Lear is well known for his limericks and nonsense rhymes such as “The Owl and the Pussycat”. Lear however dedicated more of his time as a landscape painter. He travelled on foot and horseback through 19th Century Greece, Albania, Southern Italy and the Middle East making drawings, watercolours, lithographs and paintings of landscapes, which he sold to wealthy clients.

Lear returned to Corfu many times. He referred to the island as “No other spot on earth can be fuller of beauty and of variety of beauty.”

To celebrate the bicentenary of Lear’s birth, an exhibition of his works of art will be held (25 May to 31 August 2012) at the Corfu Museum of Asian Art, which is part of the elegant Palace of St Michael and St George close to the Liston and the heart of Corfu’s Old Town.

Just a few kilometres outside Corfu Town, just above Mon Repos (where Prince Philip was born) and set in large private grounds above the sea is Villa Aphrodite, which offers sumptuous accommodation for up to 10 guests.

Are you an Extreme Escapist? Find out in Paxos

Photo – Voutoumi Bay, AntiPaxos

On Paxos you can escape the crowds. There are no large hotels, only 3 small ports and the island is covered by olive groves hiding sleepy hamlets. It’s not that strenuous to get there: a 3 hour flight from UK to Corfu, a 10 minute taxi to the port and a 1-hour hydrofoil journey. If, for you, Paxos does not provide enough of an escape but you are still expecting comfort and a swimming pool – try AntiPaxos.

The idea of a holiday escape to a tiny Greek island will appeal to many people. Ingredients of a real escape will probably include a completely different environment, peace and quiet, balmy evenings, warm seas and the freedom to do what one wants when one wants. The tiny island of AntiPaxos has all these ingredients but it’s important to peek under the surface to make sure it’s the right escape for you.

Villa Violetta and Phoenica provide total privacy. Pathways lead from each house to two sandy beaches. There are no roads, no street lights and no traffic lights. You might spot the odd beaten-up jeep but donkey transport is predominant. Goat paths criss-cross the island – many walking trails. With a population of around 20 one is unlikely to bump into many people. With no light pollution the night sky is theatrical.

But – there are no shops (Violetta’s & Phoenica’s caretaker can deliver provisions from Paxos or the regular speedboat service between the islands allows you to shop on Paxos). There are only 4 tavernas and they do not always open at night. Excursion boats call into the two sandy bays most mornings and disgorge scantily clad day trippers for a few hours.

AntiPaxos is 4 kilometres long, 2 kilometres wide and lies 1 mile south of Paxos (a 20 minute speedboat trip). A wilderness of maquis and wild olive trees hides a small number of cottages and private vineyards. When the last inter island speedboat departs at 5.30pm you should have the sandy beaches to yourselves. There are only 3 villas for rent on the island.

A stay on AntiPaxos will provide an unusual and romantic escape but without the usual trappings and distractions of a more built-up resort, it’s important that you get on with your partner!

Discover the Real Ithaca

Ithaca is an island which will appeal to those wanting to escape a busy, noisy lifestyle. But will there be enough to occupy the wound-up mind, which sometimes needs more than a week to jettison unwanted pressures and can refuse to sit happily with simple and peaceful island distractions?

Recharging batteries is important and the small ports of Kioni and Frikes are perfect sleepy venues to do little but gaze at fishermen cleaning their nets. Island exploration however, will introduce many more natural delights to help the mind forget home based anxieties.

Hiring a boat (with outboard engine) is a great way to find a deserted beach and explore a beautiful coastline with just the company of seabirds. Pack a picnic or moor up alongside one of Kioni or Frikes’ waterfront tavernas for lunch.

Hiring a car will provide easy access to many parts of Ithaca but the more hidden parts are more difficult to find.

Katrina Parsey is our Ionian Villas agent on Ithaca. Katrina is a poet, storyteller and walker. With a few winter breaks back in UK as an actress, theatre director, writer and teacher, Katrina has spent the last 12 years on Ithaca. Over these years she has discovered a variety of walking trails and now leads daily walks (when the weather is not too hot) to introduce Ithaca’s more inquisitive visitor to the island’s people, history, mythology, flora, fauna and hidden landscapes.

Katrina says “Join me on a cultural walk exploring the sites and stories of Odysseus and Penelope. Or come along to the Folklore Walk, taste local wine, cheese, oil and olives on an ancient land. See the old olive press and wheat mill at Agrotiri. Walk along shepherds’ trails and discover the past and present of Ithaca’s farming culture.”

Leave your worries on the doorstep and discover an island which many have heard of but few visited.

© 2018 Ionian Villas Limited

Call us on: +44 (0) 1243 820928    ..or email enquiries@ionian-villas.co.uk

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