Thursday, December 30, 2021

Sensational Santorini

                                         Santorini is like no other spot in the Mediterranean

Winter has now officially descended upon us.  To bring some brightness to these dark December days I am writing a three-part series on my favorite Mediterranean islands.  Today we're traveling to the last island, Santorini.  This Greek jet-setting, jaw-dropping, pleasure-bomb of an island is unparalleled for sheer beauty.  However, Santorini also makes some stunning wines, offers archaeological ruins, and has some mind-blowing walks. 

          Grapes are grown close to the ground in baskets to protect against winds & conserve water 

Santorini has one of the most unique terroirs in the Mediterranean.   The entire island is part of a large volcano system---most of it underwater.  In fact, Santorini is part of a cluster of several surrounding islands that were formed millenniums ago by catastrophic eruptions.  This ring of islands is actually the tops of the underwater volcanoes that have collapsed into the sea, leaving only their tips exposed.     

                                 Gaia hosted WineKnows in their captivating "tasting room" 

Santorini's volcanic soil makes for some terrific wines that ooze minerality.   Summers are hot and there is very little water on the island, so the vines must send their roots deep into the soil to seek moisture.  On this journey penetrating deep into a soil rich in magnesium, iron, calcium and selenium, roots bring back to the plant fascinating flavors for their grapes.  There are several excellent wineries on the island.  My favorite is Gaia (who is even experimenting with aging wines on the ocean floor).  

                           The walk from Fira to Oia is one of the most spectacular on earth

But, there is so much more to Santorini than its wine.  The most compelling thing about the island is its mesmerizing natural beauty.  For walkers, there is no better way to appreciate its magnificence than the walk from Fira (the main town) to Oia.  This hike, which parallels the sea, is arduous and take >2 hours, but its worth every moment (and you can take the bus back to Fira).  Another don't miss is the archaeological ruin at Akrotiri, Santorini's version of Pompeii.  Destroyed by volcanic ash in 1,700 BC, this ancient town is worth a visit.

                    Mextaxy Mas, only a 10 minute cab ride from the main town, feels a world away

For me, another irresistible reason to visit Santorini is to dine at Metaxy Mas.  Located in the center of the island in a small rural village away from the hoards of tourists, this restaurant shouldn't be missed.   Metaxy Mas has it all:  fabulous food, a sexy setting (be certain to reserve for the terrace), and an authentically Greek feel.  The name translates to "between us," and between you and me, Metaxy Mas is a winner.

Breakfast at Anteliz is a special event.

Santorini is replete with a number of hotels and apartments in every price category, however, look no further than Anteliz Suites for a place to stay.  Located in the island's capital town of Fira (but away from the crowds), this spot delivers on every level....from breathtaking panoramic views and superb service (family owned, there is nothing these people can't do can't do for you), to wonderfully-outfitted rooms.  If you can spring for the Anteliz Master Suite, you'll enjoy 1,200 square feet of enchantment including a huge private terrace, however, even their regular hotel rooms are noteworthy.

Cheers to a healthy, sunny and travel-filled 2022!

Monday, December 20, 2021

Aegina---Greek's Magical Little Island

                             Only one block from the waterfront quiet backstreets enchant

This is my second in a three-part series on Mediterranean Islands.  With the winter solstice approaching, I am in need of some sunshine to brighten these dark days.   Memories of my recent trip to Aegina Island in Greece are still radiating warmth and illuminating my December.

                                           Marathanos beach is all of this and much more.......

Located only 20 miles from Athens, Aegina feels like it's on another planet from the frenetic-paced capital.   While I've been to more than a dozen Greek Islands, I've never been to Aegina.  As it was the pandemic, I was looking for an island without an airport---hoping that would mean fewer tourists.   I was right.  

                               Pistachio trees flourish on Aegina due to its special micro-climate

Although it's difficult to imagine, quiet little Aegina at one time was not only the most powerful naval force in Greece, but one of the most wealthy.   This first capital of Greece, Aegina was also the first place in all of Europe to mint silver coins.  Today this sleepy island is very popular with Athenians as a weekend getaway.  It has a distinctive Greek feeling, seemingly untouched by international tourism. 

Reasons to visit Aegina?

1.  Closest island to Athens (reached in < 60 minutes by hydrofoil)

2.  Mid-September Pistachio Festival---Aegina's pistachios are the most coveted in Greece 

3.   Good hiking (e.g. an ancient hilltop town, a grove of 3,000 year old olive tree, a 2,500 year old temple)

                                  Our apartment's terrace was the best seat in Aegina town

Where to stay:

  • Aegina town:   there's only one place to consider and that's a harbor side apartment with a 180 panorama of the entire waterfront.  The brand new apartment is managed by Dream Travel in Aegina, and it's listed on VRBO as the Pelaisos Apartment (where you'll find the glowing review of my stay).  Its location is the best spot in town and working with Dream Travel was a dream.
  • Marathonas Beach:  located 3 miles from Aegina town, this beach is popular because of its excellent swimming & its drop-dead gorgeous situation.  With shallow water protected from the winds, the sea here like a bathtub.  I suggest you contact Dream Travel to have them book your hotel as there are three or four possibilities.

     Ammos' salad with sheep cheese, oranges & Pistachios would please any Greek God (or Goddess)

Where to Dine

1.  Ammos is the number one choice on the island.   I am enamored with this place for so many reasons.  First is the food (one of the owners is Greek, the other is French), the second is the warm hospitality, the third is the stunning location on Marathonas Beach where you can dine on the sand.   The restaurant's motto is "The secret ingredient is always love."  There's a lot of love being served in this special spot. 

2.  Sti Fou-Fou, a casual restaurant & deli, has a large take-out business featuring rotisserie chickens.   If you rent the Pelasios apartment, it's only a one minute walk (located just behind the waterfront church).  Don't leave the island without tasting their baked eggplant with tomatoes.   

Don't Miss: 

Whatever you do on this unique island, do it with Xeni Petritou-Triantaffillou.  Xeni is much more than a guide---she is a published author, gifted artist, and an extraordinary resource on the history of the island.  (       

                    Islanders still maintain many of  Palaiochora's  1,000 year old family chapels

  • Palaiochora:  built in the 9th century by islanders whose seaside village was the constant prey of pirates, this decaying hilltop town is filled with a huge number of still functioning private chapels.  This place is hauntingly special & involves lots of stairs.

 The hike to the grove of 3,000 year old olive trees shouldn't be attempted without a guide

  • Eleonas:  a high mountain valley of ancient olive trees, it is reached by a fairly arduous one hour uphill hike from Marathonas Beach.  

                         The temple offers panoramic views of the mainland<20 miles away

  • Temple of Aphaia:  this sanctuary was built 500 BC and has a superb museum.

Stay tuned for the last in my December series of island escapes, another Greek Island... Santorini!

Friday, December 10, 2021

The Best of Mallorca

                        Mallorca can entice even the most discerning of foodies & Wine-Knows*

As the dark days of winter approach, I intend to keep the sunlight of summer flourishing with a trio of posts about three special Mediterranean islands.  Mallorca, located less than an hour's flight from Barcelona, will be the first.  The other two idyllic islands are in Greece; one is reachable only by boat, the other is a jet-setter's paradise with many daily flights and a parade of boats from ports all over the Mediterranean.

                         Dramatic coves, serene beaches & countryside dotted with windmills enchant

I've been fortunate to visit Mallorca six times, the most recent of which was with a group of Wine-Knows in September.   Mallorca is a large Spanish island (approximately 50 by 60 miles), but most parts of the island are easily reachable within a 60-90 minute drive of Palma on decent roads.  There's enough to do on the island to warrant a week's stay, and those who can eek out 10 days will be happy they did so.

                                          Old world haciendas & lush vegetation abound 

The most compelling reasons to visit Mallorca?   Here are just a few.....
  1. It's a wine lover's dream---indigenous varietals not seen else where.  Furthermore, they wines are moderately low in alcohol and reasonably priced!
  2.  While the island is immensely popular, there are still drop-dead gorgeous beaches & coves with few tourists.
  3.  Mallorca's culinary fabric is like no other.   There's a strong Moorish influence (think Morocco & its Cashah), along with a definite Greek, Roman and mainland Spain gastronomic impact.
  4. Gorgeous scenery abounds.  The countryside is dotted with Don Quxiote windmills, hilltop stone villages, a mountain range that has been declared by UNESCO as a cultural treasure, and there are >300 miles of beaches.
 Pedestrian only streets in ancient villages are perfect for walkers

What Not to Miss:
  1. Palma's cathedral----this one is unlike all others.
  2. Palma's indoor market Olivar---a foodie's one-stop shopping paradiso.
  3. The mesmerizing Caves of Drach (and lunch in nearby in sweet Porto Christo)
  4. The ancient Roman walled town of Alcudia---be sure to walk the old walls.
  5. Charming Santanyi's Saturday market.
  6. Es Trenc gourmet sea salt (you can visit!)
  7. Porto Soller (highly recommend the old fashioned train ride to & from Palma)
                             This 17th century palace in downtown Palma is now a luxury hotel

Where to Stay:
If you have a week, I highly recommend at least 3 nights in Palma (especially if you're recovering from jet lag), and then an escape to wine country from where you can reach all parts of the island in less than an hour.  The eastern shore is another option for overnighting if you have time.
  • Palma:   Boutique Can Sera Hotel, located in the historic center, offers old world splendor.  5 stars.
  • *Wine Country:   Look no further than Torre Santa Eugenia, an old estate that is now a lovely hotel with a don't miss restaurant.
  • Sa Pletassa:   Within easy shot of the Drach Cave, Santanyi, two superb wineries, and  Es Trenc sea salt, this reasonable rural property offers charming accommodations with pretty grounds.  The Swiss owner's hospitality can't be beat.
   The Moors, who brought rice & saffron to Mallorca, left a huge imprint on the island's gastronomy 

Where to Eat:
  • *Torre Santa Eugenia (see wine country):  this magical old wine-cellar setting trumps every other spot on the island.   Fab in every way.
  • L'Ambigu (Palma):  This has become my fave in a town of many favoritex.  Top notch service & food for its moderate cost.
  • CanCapo.  Located in an off-the-beaten-track village (near Sa Pletassa above), its charming central square position over-looking the church, & a terrific owner make this a don't miss.

Best Wineries
  • Binigrau:  the standout wine in this standout winery is Nounat.  If you're a white wine lover, look no further than Nounat---a blend of a native varietal & Chardonnay.  
  • Mesquida Mora:  owned by a charismatic female winemaker, highly recommend a tasting here because of its glorious vineyard setting.  
  • Mandia Vell:  one of the oldest estates on the island.  Bottles wine in unique stone containers.
  • Son Prim:  Great value.  Their Merlot is a stunner for <$20.

Later this month will be my two favorite Greek Islands.