santorini

7 of the Most Unique Beverages That Greece Has to Offer Visitors

Tourists who visit Greece should understand the unique drinking culture that exists in the country. The most traditional drinks are designed to be enjoyed with food, and it is rare for Greeks to drink alcohol without at least a little something to nibble on, even in bars. In the more rural parts of the country, complimentary small plates may be provided alongside glasses of beer or wine. A number of different traditional spirits exist in Greece, several of which have flavors that tourists may not expect, such as aniseed. Of course, Greece also has a rich wine and beer culture, along with some traditional nonalcoholic beverages. Some of the options that tourists may want to try include:

1. Tsipouro

A product interwoven closely with the Greek lifestyle, “tsipouro” is almost always found on occasions of hospitality or entertainment. The spirit is produced by distilling grape marc, the fermented skins of grapes otherwise used to create wine. Individuals may serve tsipouro in a number of different ways depending on the season and time of day. Sometimes, tsipouro comes chilled as a form of refreshment while at other times it comes hot. Many people drink tsipouro instead of coffee or wine, and the flavors pair particularly well with feta, olives, ham, and other mezze, as well as desserts such as halva.

2. Ouzo

People who have not yet visited Greece may still be familiar with “ouzo,” as it has become a popular spirit around the world while remaining intimately connected to Greek culture. Ouzo has a very strong anise flavor and aroma. Frequently, people serve it with a bit of water and ice in a small glass, a preparation that turns the clear liquid to a cloudy white color. The slightly sweet flavor of the beverage means that it pairs very well with small fish, as well as fries and other appetizers.

 

Ouzo

 

3. Raki

Also known as “tsikoudia,” “raki” comes from the island of Crete. A strong spirit, raki usually contains between 40 percent and 65 percent alcohol by volume, so travelers should definitely keep this in mind when they try it. People who travel in Crete will undoubtedly find the spirit, but it has spread to other regions of the country. Usually, raki is offered as a sort of digestif after a meal in a restaurant or taverna. The annual distillation of raki in Crete has become a massive celebration complete with food, music, and dancing. Usually, this event takes place toward the end of October or the beginning of November, so this would be an ideal time to come to Crete. Tsikoudia is the Greek name for the drink, but the Turkish word “raki” has become more popular. The term raki come from a similar Turkish drink.

4. Retsina

A uniquely Greek drink, “retsina” is a sort of wine cocktail that uses white wine or rose as a base and then adds the flavor of pine resin. The history of retsina stretches back thousands of years in Greece, and some say that the flavor profile comes from when Aleppo pine was used to seal amphorae and other wine vessels. The sealing process helped to keep air out while also adding the flavor of pine to the wine.

5. Greek Coffee

Travelers who have had Turkish coffee may think that the Greek variety is very similar. Unlike coffee from a lot of other places in the world, the Greek version is quite thick, as hot water is combined directly with very finely ground beans that are allowed to settle into the bottom of the cup. Individuals should be careful not to consume the grounds when they sip. What distinguishes Turkish from Greek coffee is the roasting process for the beans. Greek coffee uses beans that have not been roasted as long.

 

coffee-1220989_640

 

6. Metaxa

Many people around Greece drink Metaxa as a type of digestif after a large meal. The spirit tastes a lot like a sweet brandy. Unlike the other drinks on this list, Metaxa refers to a brand rather than a style. Produced in Athens since 1888, Metaxa has become one of the most widely exported spirits from Greece, so visitors may have seen it in other places around the world. The liqueur is made from white wine distillates aged in oak casts in an underground cellar before being blended with Muscat wine, rose petals, and herbs.

7. Masticha

Another Greek after-dinner drink is “masticha,” which is created from the aromatic resin of the mastic tree that possesses therapeutic properties. The tree flourishes only in the southern part of Chios, and the liqueur is produced primarily on the island. The production process involves the distillation of mastic, which can only be undertaken in Greece, according to legislation from the European Union. The product has become available in a few international markets, but there is nothing like trying it for the first time in its homeland.

Advertisements
oyster

9 of the Best Seafood Dishes that Greece Has to Offer Tourists

When people think of Greek cuisine, they may first think about cheese or grilled lamb, but the heart of cuisine in many parts of Greece is seafood. After all, much of the country is surrounded by water, so it makes sense that so many meals are based on what the sea provides. While traveling to the islands, you’ll have the chance to try all kinds of different types of seafood in a variety of preparations. However, even on the mainland, you can find incredible fish, mussels, squid, and so much else. Some of the must-try dishes include:

 

Fried calamari

Virtually every psarotaverna, or fish tavern, will serve fried calamari, especially during the summer months. This dish makes the perfect snack and is often served as an appetizer to share before a meal. Typically, the squid is dredged in flour spiced with various seasonings and then fried until it is crispy and golden. The seasonings are often enough, but a sometimes a spritz of lemon juice brings that extra freshness to the calamari, as do fresh tomatoes and cucumbers.

calamari

 

Shrimp saganaki

Cheese may come to mind when you hear the word “saganaki,” but the word actually refers to a frying pan with a thick bottom and two handles. The shrimp version, like the cheese, is prepared in this dish. Shrimp saganaki involves sautéeing fresh shrimp in Greek olive oil and then deglazing the pan with ouzo, an anise-flavored liquor that’s widely popular in Greece. The cooked shrimp are added to a spicy tomato sauce that’s topped with fresh herbs and a sprinkling of feta. Traditionally, the dish is served as an appetizer, although many people find it filling enough to constitute a whole meal.

 

Sardines

One of the most popular fish to eat in Greece, sardines (or sardeles) can be found in a variety of dishes. You’ll often encounter them on menus as a small dish that comes either grilled or fried, depending on the restaurant. Either way, sardines are delicious. Another tasty, but less common preparation involves baking the sardines with fresh lemon, oregano, and tomato sauce. As a general rule, smaller sardines are more flavorful than larger ones.

 

Mussels

In Northern Greece, mussels can be found in just about any fish restaurant because of their popularity. Typically, the mussels are prepared in a tomato sauce with feta cheese after they have been meticulously scrubbed. This variety is known as mussels saganaki because it is finished in the oven in that same pan. Greek chefs also commonly steam mussels with fennel, fresh tomato, and ouzo before finishing them off with cream. Many people enjoy sipping the salty broth from the bottom of the pan or soaking it up with some bread.

mussels-419052_1280

 

Lavraki

In Greek, the word “lavraki” refers to sea bass. In Greece, it’s popular to coat a whole fish with salt, pepper, and herbs, and then grill it over charcoal. Sometimes, restaurants will serve the fish with ladolemono, a sort of lemon vinaigrette dressing. Another version of lavraki involves wrapping the fish in parchment paper and baking it. Travelers on the island of Cephalonia will find the fish virtually everywhere, but it is also offered at other restaurants across the islands and mainland.

 

Cuttlefish

Similar to squid is the cuttlefish, which has shorter tentacles. Because of the ease of cooking cuttlefish, especially compared to squid, it has become very popular throughout Greece. Unlike squid, cuttlefish is virtually never fried, but instead stewed in a tomato sauce or sautéed with spinach. The sautéed version usually contains bay leaves, dill, tomato, and lemon juice for a nice tart kick.

 

Crab salad

A traditional dish served throughout Greece, crab salad makes good use of fresh crab meat by combining it with lemon juice, mayonnaise, onion, tomato, and white wine. Some aromatic herbs usually top off the mixture—in addition to a variety of other ingredients that depend on the chef’s particular taste. You’ll likely find that different islands, and even different restaurants on the same island, have their own secret ingredients that they think makes their crab salad the best in the country. While most chefs will not reveal their secrets, it can be fun to try to guess what the mystery flavors are.

 

Octopus

Considered a delicacy in Greece, octopus can prove difficult to catch, so it does not often appear on restaurant menus. However, Greek chefs can do wonderful things to this protein so that it simply melts in the mouth. On the islands, you’ll sometimes encounter an octopus hanging out to dry outside of a taverna. Once caught, restaurants usually dry the octopus for a period of time and then grill it on the barbecue, although some chefs also stew it with tomatoes and serve it over pasta.

octopus

 

Astakomakaronada

If you spend some time out on the water, you may spot lobsters crawling along the floor of the sea in the shallower depths. This familiar creature serves as the start of astakomakaronada, a classic Greek dish considered by many the best the Mediterranean has to offer. The lobster is served on top of pasta with a sauce that is usually made from garlic, tomato, onion, and wine, as well as a small pinch of star anise to give it a unique flavor. While the dish is not hard to find among psarotavernas, it’s typically one of the most expensive options, although it’s certainly worth trying at least once.

athens

6 of the Most Fun and Fascinating Day Trips to Take from Athens

Many tourists choose to start their Greek adventure in Athens, the country’s cultural and political capital as well as its largest city. While Athens has some incredible culinary offerings and some of the most iconic ruins in all of Greece, you should still make an effort to get out and see other parts of the country. Luckily, there are a wide range of exciting day trips from Athens that will allow you to see more important ancient sites, truly breathtaking scenery, and other attractions. Some of the day trips you may want to check out include:

 

  1. Delphi

One of the most culturally important cities in Ancient Greece, Delphi is an active, extensive archaeological site as well as a modern city. On a day trip from Athens, be sure to check out the Temple of Apollo and the Tholos, as well as the nearby town of Arachova, a picturesque winter resort. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Delphi once served as the home of the famed oracle; the Ancient Greeks believed Delphi was the “navel of the world.” The ruins in the area include stadiums, temples, and theaters, all situated on the southwestern slope of Mount Parnassus, with commanding views of the surrounding area. To orient yourself and learn the context for everything you’ll see, start your day at the Delphi Museum. To get to Delphi, you can rent a car and drive at your own pace, but there are also many guided tours that will take you directly from Athens to Delphi.

 

delphi-83472_1280

 

  1. Meteora

While Meteora is much further from Athens than Delphi, you can still make the trip in a single day if you’re willing to spend a decent chunk of time in the car or on a train. However, Meteora is worth the time it takes to get there. Another UNESCO World Heritage site, Meteora is home to many centuries-old monasteries constructed on top of enormous natural rock pillars. The natural scenery is incredible, and the manmade structures blend in perfectly with the imposing rock formations. You can also explore parts of the monasteries and meet some of the monks while enjoying the fresh air and natural scenery. There are several travel companies offering overnight tours that combine Meteora with Delphi; consider one of these to combine a trip to two stunning sites.

 

  1. Cape Sounio

Not far from Athens is Cape Sounio, which can be a half-day or full-day trip from the city. The primary attraction in the area is the Temple of Poseidon, which dates back to about 50 BC. This ancient ruin celebrates the Greek god of the sea and provides some of the best views of the Aegean in the whole country. A nearby beach offers crystalline waters for swimming and diving during the summer months as well. In addition, the area is known for its tavernas with fresh seafood dishes. If you go, try to stay in the area to snap a photo of the sunset—the sun sinks behind the ruins and lights up the sky in beautiful orange and pink. Fortunately, there are number of different organized tours to the area, so a trip to Cape Sounio is easy to fit into a busy travel schedule.

 

Cape Sounio

 

  1. Ancient Olympia

Olympia is the home of the first Olympics held in ancient times, and you can see where the original games were played as well as view related artifacts on display at the nearby Archaeological Museum. This museum also houses a number of pieces from the Temple of Zeus, a local structure that has become a shining example of Doric architecture. To learn more about the history of sports in Greece, visit the nearby Museum of the Olympic Games.

Visitors can book private tours to Ancient Olympia that focus on both the gorgeous landscape of the area and its historic importance. Many of these tours also stop at the Corinth Canal, which divides the Peloponnese peninsula from mainland Greece. Built in the late 1800s to connect the Gulf of Corinth with the Saronic Gulf, this narrow canal flows between steep limestone cliffs. Though its narrowness prevented it from ever attracting much shipping traffic, the canal is now popular as a tourist attraction.

 

  1. Evia

Not all of the incredible day trips from Athens are bound by land. If you want to get your feet wet, check out Evia, near the Attica prefecture. This island breaks many of the preconceived notions about Greek islands because of its huge size and expansive green space. In addition, it features some great ancient cities to explore and spas heated by thermal springs in Aidipsos. However, if you’re after a more traditional Greek beach trip, Evia also provides that too—try the Lichades islands. This small group of islands off the northwest coast of Evia is often called the Maldives or Bahamas of Greece.

 

Evia

 

  1. Thermopylae

If you have a strong interest in Greek history, take a day trip to Thermopylae, the site where Persian troops led by Xerxes and guided by Ephialtes launched a surprise attack on Greek soldiers. The ensuing Battle of Thermopylae saw King Leonidas of Sparta staying behind with a small group of soldiers and fighting to the death to protect the rest of the Greek forces as they retreated. The story was retold in the 2006 blockbuster 300. Thermopylae also has significance in Greek mythology. Purportedly, Hercules used the hot springs here to bathe and regain energy after his exploits. Guided tours that take visitors on hikes around the area are available, and these options often include a dip in the same hot springs that Hercules is said to have used.

mykonos

The 5 Best Destinations in Greece for Foodies

The Greek diet is world renowned for being tasty and healthy, and travelers to Greece will have no trouble finding a delicious meal regardless of what part of the country they visit. However, serious foodies who want to taste the best of local cuisine will find that some Greek destinations offer food a step above traditional fare.

Here are recommendations from bloggers and travelers for the best Greek destinations for foodies.

 

  1. Santorini

Santorini, one of Greece’s most popular destinations, is famous for its caldera, historic towns, Greek culture, and beaches. While its food may not top the list for many travelers, foodies should not overlook Santorini’s unique flavors and ingredients.

santorini

The island is built on volcanic soil, which has produced fruits and vegetables with strong, distinct flavors. The foods most often associated with Santorini include cherry tomatoes, capers, fava, and white aubergines. Chefs use local cherry tomatoes in one of Santorini’s best-known dishes, tomatokeftedes, or tomato fritters. This dish is made by chopping tomatoes with onions, spicing the mixture with marjoram and fresh oregano, and adding flour and local cheese such as feta. This batter is molded into patties and fried in oil.

Most of Santorini’s restaurants serve tomatokeftedes, but some notable versions can be found at the Cave of Nikolas in Akrotiri and at Taverna Roza in Vourvoulos. Selene in Pyrgos serves a sandwich with warm tomatokeftes and fava sauce.

 

  1. Crete

Greece’s biggest island offers a smorgasbord of local delights, including a variety of local cheeses. Each Cretan region seems to have its own specialty cheese, including anthotiro (soft white cheese of goat or sheep milk) in Sfakia and ksigalo (creamy cheese with a sharp taste) from Sitia. Visitors can find the island’s most famous cheese, graviera (a hard cheese made from sheep’s milk), throughout the island.

Dakos salad is another Cretan specialty not to miss. This dish is made of hard bread slightly soaked in water to soften it, along with tomatoes, olive oil, and mizithra cheese. Excellent Dakos salad is served at Kohilia Taverna, where it’s even better paired with mizithra cheese and marinated sardines. At or paired with lamb and stuffed tomatoes and peppers at Kouzina in Chania.

The mountainous southern region of Crete is home to sfakianes pites, or pies that look like regular pancakes but are rich in taste thanks to flour, honey, cheese, and raki, a traditional Cretan liquor. Some contain Cretan soft cheese in the middle. After the pies are lightly fried, they are best topped with thyme or heather honey.

 

  1. Ios

ios

Naturally, seafood is popular on the Greek isles, but the island of Ios offers another take on protein. This island boasts a long-time tradition of sheep farming, and as a result, its restaurants tend to offer excellent mutton and lamb dishes but few seafood dishes. One of the best dishes on Ios is mastelo, which is lamb shoulder slow-cooked in the oven with red wine and dill. The resulting meat is tender and soft with tasty juices worth soaking up with your bread. Want to try the dish? Head to Rigani Meze & Wine at the port or Vilaeti in Pano Kampos.

 

  1. Naxos

This island in the Cyclades in the South Aegean is home to some of the best potato dishes in Greece. Potatoes are prevalent throughout all Greek cooking, but Naxos’s climate and soil give the potatoes grown there an especially flavorful quality. As a result, Naxos has been the hub of potato seed production in Greece since the 1950s.

The restaurants in Naxos offer a variety of potato dishes, all worth trying. A few suggestions include potatoes and stuffed peppers at Oasis or potatoes, cheese, and kitro at Flisvos Beach Café in St. George Beach or potatoes and lamb at Irini’s in Naxos Town. Visitors who’d like to truly immerse themselves in Naxos potatoes should attend the island’s annual Potato Festival, held each summer. This event draws thousands of people who wish to try imaginative and traditional recipes cooked with potatoes, as well as traditional Greek dancing and celebration. In 2017, Naxos farmers broke the world record for largest quantity of potatoes served by cooking 650 kilograms of Naxos potatoes using 550 liters of local olive oil and 22 frying pans.

 

  1. Milos

greek-island-2101234_1280

This island’s unique topography has produced “volcanic food,” or dishes cooked in ovens submerged in the hot sands of Palaiochori Beach. Geothermal currents run under the ground and create enough heat to thoroughly cook food. Some cooks place a variety of components, such as lamb, potatoes, vegetables, or fish, in a foil packet and cook it in the buried oven. The result is steaming hot food with a one-of-a-kind smoky taste. You can try foil packet meals at Sirocco, and while you wait for your food to cook you can enjoy the stunning views of the beach. Menu items include potatoes with local butter, eggplant with oil and garlic, and chickpeas with lemon.