After a full day at sea on board the beautiful Holland America Line ship, the MS Noordam, it was now off to Greece where our first stop would be the seaside town of Katakalon. I hadn’t heard of this place before but found out that this is the entry point to the town of Olympia where the first Olympic games were played and where the torch is still lit at the start of each Olympic games. While most of the tourists who arrive here head straight there, I had other plans.
Katakalon is full of olive trees and vineyards so my first stop was to Magna Grecia Farms (not too far from Olympia.) I was greeted with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and homemade olive pastry, followed by a glass of ouzo. While waiting for the crew to film the property and set up our main shot, I watched a demonstration of Syrtaki dancing that the hosts were performing for some other visitors. Franca, the owner sat with me and I was served a variety of Greek mezzes including fabulous breads and olive oils as well as a glass of their red wine blend. This was followed by a shot of local grappa called Tsipoura and one of the best baklavas I have ever eaten. Franca then showed me some more of the foods from the farm including jams, tomatoes, olives and peppers. We all left bearing gifts of wine and olive oil!
We decided we should make a quick detour to Olympia since we were so close, but only our camera man, Frank, was able to make it inside the museum. It was getting late in the day so we scurried off to our next stop, Mercouri Vineyards. But first, the owner Christos proudly showed me around his beautiful property, giving me a brief history of their 150 years of wine production. We sat in the pretty garden surrounded by cats and even a peacock and I tasted a variety of their lovely wines including the Refosco, an Italian grape variety first planted by the Mercouri’s in the late 1800’s.
As we headed back to the cruise port, I made a stop at one of the pretty water side restaurants , Mougario, where I was treated to more mezzes of tzatziki, olives, greek salad, chickpeas with spinach, meat pies and eggplant. The owner, Angela, even wrapped up some of the dishes so I could take them back on the ship.
Next stop of this amazing journey on the MS Noordam was the beautiful town of Nafplion, Greece. A hidden gem of a a place, this town in the Eastern Peloponnese is close enough to Athens for locals to take long weekend breaks by the seaside and a romantic getaway that is not yet overtaken by tourists.
Ivy arranged to cook one of her favorite and simpler dishes with me called Kagianis – a dish made up of poached eggs, feta cheese tomatoes, onions and peppers. She and her husband had set up a cooking area outside one of the town’s lovely seaside restaurants, Kipos, and although she said she was a bit nervous about being on camera, within a few minutes she seemed to take it all in stride and was a real pro. While sitting down to eat, Ivy explained that Kagianis were created by the peasants who would go out in the fields early in the morning and return to their farms needing something substantial to replenish. They used products that were on hand like eggs from their chickens, and vegetables from their gardens. This dish has many variations and Ivy always adds her own little touch to make it her own.
On the way to the local market where Ivy picks up most of her ingredients, we strolled through the pretty village passing the Old Turkish Mosque that had become the 1st Parliament building of Greece (Nafplion had once been the capital of Greece), Syntagma Square and the lovely Bougainvillia Alley. We came to Nectar & Ambrosia, a family owned honey shop in existence for over 100 years producing the best honeys, nectars and jellies, and then the best Greek grocery shop where all the cheeses are still made by the owner’s father. I was given a nice chunk of a local cheese that was like gruyere, filled with black and red peppercorns. It was delicious.
After the market where Ivy bought her tomatoes and eggs, Demetris drove us to the nearby Karonis Ouzo factory for a tasting of this famous Greek drink. The family owned business has been in operation for the past 140 years and has received many awards for their products. I tasted both their Karonis Sertiko Ouzo at 40% alcohol and their Karonis Special at 44%. Both were rich and smooth with the Special having stronger flavors of anise. There is a method of adding water to the ouzo to lessen its intensity. When this is done, the ouzo gets a cloudy white due to the way the anise reacts with it. I preferred the Select straight up. Ivy and the crew joined in with a toast (“yammas”) and then it was once again, time to head back to our ship after an extraordinary day.
Now, I have some new fabulous friends in one of the most beautiful places on Earth, so I know I will be back to visit. Efharisto, Ivy and Demetris.