Greek Islands: Articles

Wine Discoveries: Greece

A smell and sip of the Assyrtiko…a bite of the Spanakopita…the Greek music playing in the background…for a moment, I was back in the Greek Islands. Alas it was Winesdays at my Alexandria, VA Whole Foods. But for an hour, as I walked around with my grocery cart sampling the five different Greek wine varietals and food pairings, I was momentarily transported to Greece. And it was fabulous to try some new Greek wines!

 Elios Mediterranean

  • Varietal: 50% Moschofilero, 30% Chardonnay, 10% Roditis, 10% Savatino
  • Aroma: Creamy lemony almost creamsicle-like
  • Taste: Honey, vanilla, lemon with touch of oak
  • Price: $11.99
  • Thoughts: Elios name comes from Helios, the personification of the sun in Greek mythology. You can definitely pick up the Chardonnay in this wine that’s blended with the other Greek grape varietals. Nice dry white wine.

Yannis Assyrtiko Santorini

  • Varietal: 100% Assyrtiko
  • Aroma: Fresh, sand, slight smokey
  • Taste: Dry, crisp, sea salt, minerality
  • Price: $14.99
  • Thoughts: I first discovered Assyrtiko in Santorini, its native land. It’s a very interesting and unique grape and wine. Quite dry with a slight smokey aroma and taste that comes from the volcanic soil on Santorini. It grows throughout the island in these great little bushes of vines.

Foundi Naoussaia

  • Varietal: Xinomavro
  • Aroma: Bright cherry, cedar, licorice
  • Taste: Earthy, smokey, cherry
  • Price: $14.99
  • Thoughts: This was definitely a new grape varietal and wine to me.  The Xinomavro grape is indigenous to northwestern Greece. Wednesday night it was described as Greece’s Pinot Noir which is a good description.

Nostos Manousakis

  • Varietal: Syrah, Mouvedre, Grenache Rouge, Roussanne blend
  • Aroma: Jammy, smokey, sweet smell
  • Taste: Brown sugar and caramel with dark fruit
  • Price: $18.99
  • Thoughts: This wine comes from the island of Crete. Very neat wine described as Greece’s Châteauneuf-du-Pape. It paired perfectly with the Eggplant Moussaka…yum!

Kourtavi Mavrodaphne

  • Varietal: Mavrodaphne, Black Korinthiaki
  • Aroma & Taste: Sweet raisins and dates
  • Price: $11.99
  • Thoughts: This sweet red dessert wine comes from the foothills near Patras in the north west Peloponnese. Very Port-like but much more fruit forward.

Definitely pick up a bottle at your local Whole Foods, wine shop or order one when out at a Greek restaurant. For more information on Greek wine check out New Wines of Greece.

Yamas to Greek wine!

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Vendema Resort Santorini, ‘a legendary corner of paradise’

Built around a 400 year old winery in the quaint Santorini village of Megalochori, one of the oldest villages on the island, stands Vendema Resort.  Forty-five white washed villas look out to gorgeous views of the vineyards and Aegean sea creating what truly is, as they call it, “a legendary corner of paradise.”

I booked this amazing (and quite affordable for what we got) package through Luxury Link and from winning the auction on, Vendema was incredible.  They emailed right away to secure our dates and helped coordinate any details we needed.  Our package included 5 nights in a Dorian Apartment with welcome drinks, wine & fruit in room, champagne breakfast daily for 2, 3 hr private island tour, 2 olive oil massages, wine tasting for 2, rose petal turndown, shuttle to private beach w/ beach services, taxes and service charges. Only $1,800 (retail value of $4,353).

The staff was perfect from start to finish. We arrived into port via ferry from Mykonos and were greeted by a friendly driver who took us directly to the Resort.  We checked right in, were upgraded to a stunning Athenian Suite (I could have lived in this 2 floor villa complete with upstairs veranda and downstair deck with jacuzzi), then with champagne in hand we were whisked away on a tour of the Resort which offers it all …

  • Restaurants & Bars: our favorites were Vinsanto Restaurant in the 400 year old winery where we enjoyed an incredible candlelight dinner our first night and Canava Wine Bar in a catacomb carved out of the earth where you can enjoy a Greek Wine Journey with the resort’s incredible Sommelier Vaios Panagiotoulas!  Oh and champagne buffet breakfast every morning at the Pergola Pool Restaurant was a great way to start each day.
  • Spa & Fitness – we enjoyed relaxing Olive Oil Massages in the cool cave like spa.
  • Excursions from boating to private guided tours – our 3 hour private island tour was perfect.
  • Pool & Jacuzzi – great spots for lounging (the only small draw back of the whole experience was many American honeymooners hanging out poolside at times made it feel like you weren’t on this incredible Greek Island).
  • Private Beach & Restaurant on Perivolos Beach with shuttle service.

You’d never have to leave if it wasn’t for the amazing island out there waiting.  And the sweet town of Megalochori is right outside with a few cute local restaurants.

Vendema is the perfect spot and very romantic (we even have dear friends who got engaged here)!  Check more great photos of Vendema and Santorini in the gallery.

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Magical Santorini!

A perfect word to capture this indescribable island!  I was amazed by its beauty as we pulled up to the Caldera (crater) with the towering cliffs arriving by boat from Mykonos.  Its a one of a kind place unlike any of the other Cyclades!

Also known as Thira, the crescent shaped island is a result of a volcano eruption which blew out the center of the island in 1450 B.C. leading to the fall of the Minoan civilization. Many say this destruction gave birth to the myth of the lost continent of Atlantis.  The volcano’s eruption created all the majesty this island offers from amazing views and sunsets to archeological ruins to surprising wineries and beaches.

My list of “MUST GO’s” …

* Oia – This is the Santorini of the pictures but even more beautiful… houses built into cliffs, Aegean sea blue topped white churches. Pronounced E-ah, it sits on the northwest part of the island. I can’t get enough of this charming town! Wander the streets, explore the boutique shops, take pictures (there’s a photo pop around every turn) then find your spot for sunset and after stroll to a wonderful dinner.

  • Sunsets: every day on Santorini is another chance for a dream sunset.  Two spots we enjoyed... Sun Spirit is a must with the windmills as a back drop for your fruity cocktails and Billy Brown playing fun tunes.  Kastro is a sweet spot with fantastic appetizers to go with your local glass of wine.
  • Dining:  Ambrosia & Nectar was our favorite, low key dining under a pergola with incredible food like local fava, tomatoes & capers, chicken & figs and coconut cake. (They also have a more upscale restaurant Ambrosia but menu didn’t look as good.)  1800 Restaurant is a typical Santorinian captain’s house that was built in the middle of the 18th century…enjoy great Mediterranean food on the front porch terrace.
  • Ammoudi Beach: we didn’t make it down to Oia’s port but everyone raves about the traditional fish tavernas and swimming here as you look up at the cliffs.

* Island Explorations – We had a private 3 hour Island Tour arranged by our hotel that gave us a great sense of the island, its history and offerings.  Some key sites you can explore…

  • Ancient Thira dates back to 8th century B.C. with Greek, Roman and Byzantine ruins. It sits high atop the island giving you amazing views of the black lava beaches.
  • Akrotiri is a small fishing village that was destroyed by the volcanic eruption and preserved under lava, often called the prehistoric Pompeii of the Aegean.  Unfortunately its been closed under construction for several years now but check with your concierge.
  • Caldera Islets: a result of the volcano, these little islands sit out from Santorini’s crescent.  Take a few hour boat excursion around the islets with beautiful views, lunch and even a swim in the Hot Springs of Nea Kameni.

* Fira – The busiest town on the island, Fira hangs from the highest cliffs on the Caldera.

As its where most ‘cruise shippers’ go for shopping during the day, go early evening to walk and enjoy.  While there are lots of touristy shops, you can’t beat the town for sunset and dinner!  There are tons of options to find a great seat, order a cocktail and watch the sun go down behind the Caldera islets.  We had dinner at a cute restaurant Katrin Gallery where our table literally hung off the cliff as we enjoyed fresh local fish and the very friendly staff (note you pay for the view).

* Beaches – Black sand, white sand, red pebbles, white pebbles? Thanks to the volcano, Santorini has them all. Most are on the back side of the island so you’ll need to travel from your hotel to get there.  Red Beach is worth taking the little walk to see.  Our hotel had a beach and restaurant on Perivolos’ black beach which was a great place to spend the day.

* Wine – Wineries dot the island and the ‘bushes’ grow everywhere!  The dry volcanic soil produces a unique grape. Check out my post on Santorini wine for all the details.

Where to stay? We had 5 amazing nights at Vendema Resort, built around a 400 year old winery with volcanic stones, in a little town inland called Megalochori. Its a true Luxury Collection Resort.  They also have a hotel in Oia or can you can try Oia’s Sea Captain’s House (they also run Caldera Massage Studio) or Golden Sunset Villas.

This trip is a once in a lifetime … and I look forward to going back again!

To see more great photos of Santorini and Vendema Resort visit the gallery.  Other posts you may like… Mykonos.

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Mykonos…ahhhh…the Greek Islands

…white washed architecture with blue shudders & doors to match the azur blue sky & sea, sunshine, beaches, Aegean Sea, warm temperatures, delicious food, great wines, sunsets… its definitely one of my favorite spots!

I’ve loved Greece since the first time I went to Athens and love it more every time I go…especially after this trip. We did 10 days in the Cyclade Islands …called that from the ancient Greek word meaning ‘to cirlce’ or ‘surround’ because the islands encircle Delos, the birthplace of god Apollo…4 1/2 on Mykonos and 5 1/2 on Santorini.

Vencia Hotel pool

What did I love most about Mykonos? The beaches, Mykonos Town for its restaurants & shopping, cocktails & sunsets, and the laid back fun atmosphere. Many say Mykonos is the party islands … not why we went so don’t let this deter you. We went mid-May and it was perfect… before the packed high season of late June through Aug. The weather was in the mid-70s with blue skies & sunshine every day.

“Must GOs”… here’s my favorite list from the island…

The Beaches

Mykonos has a beach for everyone…family, party, ‘be seen’, gay…there’s one for you. In mid-May everyone was getting ready for the season so we checked them all out. I recommend renting an ATV (or scooter if you’re brave) to check out the island & all the beaches have to offer. Then pick your favorite to hang out for a full day … that’s what we did. And our favorite… Psarou Beach & Nammos

  • Psarou Beach & Nammos “restaurant by the sea”… this is the place to see & be seen, voted #1 restaurant in the Mediterranean last year, as it was off season we easily got great chairs, fabulous service and enjoyed a delicious lunch at the restaurant. The day wasn’t cheap but it was worth the splurge! Check out their cool website… make sure you pick up a pack of their matches (being in marketing I appreciated them)… this place is so well done!

Cocktails & Sunset
Little Venice is the place for this. With a stunning view of the Windmills on your left and the ‘hanging bldgs’ on your right (thus the name Little Venice), you’ll enjoy the sun setting in between. Our favourite spot is Scarpa. They have FABULOUS cocktails full of fresh fruit!

Scarpa Sunset Cocktailssunset-from-little-venice

The Dining
Greek cuisine… it & Italian are the best! Ripe fresh vegetables, olives, olive oil, fish, feta, tzatziki w/ fried courgettes, baklava…yum!! :) Our restaurants of choice…

  • Acqua – on everyone’s list as a must go, in Little Venice so perfect spot on the water , reservations suggested +30 22890 26083
  • Nikos Tavern – just off the waterfront, this traditional Greek Taverna is great! 22890 24320
  • Avra – in town set under a beautiful canopy of grapevines, romantic spot with great food
  • 2 spots we didn’t make it to but are supposed to be great…Sea Satin Market below the Windmills and philippi in town (supposed to be most romantic restaurant in town)

The Shopping
Walking the streets of Hora, aka Mykonos Town, in the late afternoon/evening is a treat in itself and there is plenty of shopping to be done. For some reason I always treat myself to lots of jewelry in Greece (and pick up Christmas presents for friends & family!).

  • a fish called Marina – (9 Georgouli Street) Marina, the sweetest ‘ya ya’ (grandmother in Greek), has fantastic jewelry for great prices
  • fetish – cool store with great interior design and I got a beauitful ring here, www.fetishjewlry.gr

We stayed at a great family run hotel, Vencia Boutique Hotel, I found on line perched just above Hora a quick walk into town (which I think is a must for the Island, you can then ATV or Scooter to the beaches). The staff was so nice; rooms are simple, clean with great patios offering views of town & sea; infinity pool is perfect for sun, swimming & cocktail at the bar. We even got to see a “Big Fat Greek Wedding” Saturday night at the hotel!

One excursion we must do next time is the boat trip out to Delos (2 miles from Mykonos), considered by ancient Greeks to be one of the holiest sanctuaries as its the birthplace of Apollo.

To see more great photos of Mykonos visit the gallery.  Also see the post on Santorini.

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