As the Goldring Travel 2018 Culinary & Cultural Cruise on the Seabourn Encore arrived our final country: Greece (after time in Spain, France, Corsica, Italy and Sicily), it was time for the final onshore culinary and cultural experience. It is, as you can probably imagine, difficult to balance the concepts of cuisine, culture, caring and fun; especially when there so much culture and cuisine to explore in a relatively short period of time. In Kerkira (Corfu to most Westerners) we had such an experience.
|For me, while the entire experience in Kerkira (Corfu) as fantastic, the best (an incredible wine tasting) was saved for last. More on that obviously later!|
I was fortunate to come upon a boutique operator: Corfu Walking Tours, owned and operated by two sisters, Ariti (the Queen) and Nausica (the Princess) Katsarou who had experience working with the large cruise ship tours (a/k/a herding cats under the guise of a tour) for others and wanted to do things the proper way. Of course I wanted something other than the ordinary and these two women put together a very special day that I, and my guests, will long remember as one of the best overall Goldring Travel Culinary & Cultural Cruise experiences.
|A little bit of history and culture while enjoying beautiful views (including Albania in the background).|
We were met at the Seabourn Encore by Ariti for a short ride to Old Corfu Town explaining what we would be doing for the day and a bit of historical background; noting that Corfu has a more Venetian influence than Ottoman, so there are none of the blue and white houses one expects in Greece, as the color combination mimics the Ottoman-banned Greek flag, in sort of a quiet protest.
Arriving at a Parisian-style park, Nausica met us for a chat about the history of Corfu, how the Old Town is actually outside of what was fortification, while intermingling modern day aspects and hints of the culinary relationships about to be experienced…including pointing out two monuments to the Durrells, the literary part of a British family that moved to Corfu that eventually brought not only a British influence to the island. Their writings were the basis of the Masterpiece Theatre series, “The Durrells in Corfu”. (Later in the day we would be visiting one of the villas used in the show…but more on that later.)
With stomach’s growling (we received a “Do Not Eat Breakfast!” warning) and a bit of a cultural primer, it was time to head to Corfu’s Old Town for what would be a fun, interesting and delicious culinary experience combined with local flavor, as in people.
|One of the only French influenced areas of Corfu’s Old Town:|
The place to see and be seen…later in the day.
As Nausica was charmingly giving us a bit of a cultural lesson Ariti was one stop ahead of us making sure everything was set up for our arrival at each destination and assisting us during our visits. Perfect!
Our first stop was a local pastry shop called Boutique where we had a bounty of freshly made Greek pastries including (and I hope I get these correct as it is, well, “all Greek to me!”) such traditional ones as spanakopita, galaktoboureko (phyllo with custard), bougatsa (phyllo with cream), loukoumades (doughnut holes) and more, candied figs, sesame and honey covered almonds, yogurt with raisins and honey and, of course, Greek coffee which is “properly” served cold with lots of frothy cream…and caffeine.
|Yes, we had everything on on the shelf..some of us having more than one!|
Vangelis, the owner of the shop, and the two helpers were absolutely charming and so proud and wanting to share their efforts with us.
We then strolled discussing a bit about Greek Orthodoxy and the importance of the church located almost next door to the pastry shop, especially to Russians who visit specifically to pray there.
It was then time for our second stop and an entirely different culinary experience with a much more modern and decidedly sweet twist at Lazaris Distillery and Artisan Sweets. I do have to note that at this point Nausica began teasing me as what I thought was the best selection of sweets was different then hers, so I – only to avoid any issues (hahaha) – began seeking her approval before I made any future choices!
So many choices of flavored almonds, sykomaida (fig paste or pie), a variety of nuggat and Turkish delight. I learned that the chocolate sykomaida was my favorite.
But for me the highlight of this elegant stop was the liqueur sampling. I never would have thought it, but kumquat liqueur is outstanding. Kumquats, I found out, are quite important culinarily in Corfu. (It would make a surprise appearance at the last day’s Food & Wine Experience on the Seabourn Encore!) I did leave with a chocolate sykomaida to take home. Yum!
I truly enjoyed my guests interaction with the shop owner as well. There are so many times so-called food tours have little interaction and involve a mere sampling of one or two items. Here we were able to really dive deep into both the culinary aspects and those who make these foods and literally sample over a dozen delicacies.
Just getting started – that’s right! – our next stop was a Sweet n Spicy Bahar Shop that will not soon be forgotten. The woman who owns and operates it is a loud, funny, unashamedly menopausal Lebanese/Greek woman from Montreal, Canada that moved to Kerkira with her Greek husband.
As Nausica was explaining various spices and spice combinations Saoumaa would interrupt, explain more, show something different, instruct us to smell. And while that was going on the locals pushed through and requested various spices. Ariti and Nausica then become shop helpers packaging loose spices as the show continued. It was like visiting with family.
We then had a variety of olive oil and honey tastings. I, of course, left with a very special bottle (can actually) of olive oil. (By the way, if you go to the Sweet n Spicy website there are some great Greek recipes.)
Next up was a dairy shop: Traditional Cheese Paramythias. In this quaint shop we had the perfect nouboulo, which is sometimes referred Corfiot prosciutto but is far richer and flavorful than that. We also sampled graviera cheese & feta…unlike, and far better, than what you probably think as feta along with some olives. Topping off our visit was a sampling of Tsipouro, which is similar to ouzo without anise.
With stomachs full and aching from laughter, it was time for one more stop before lunch before heading to the wine tasting I have been waiting for many months. And what a lunch it was!
After strolling through a bit more of the Old Town we came upon Ta Kokoria, a small local restaurant, and our table set in a lovely courtyard.
|A typical Greek salad with feta unlike that which you have at home|
|Beef Sofrito made with garlic, white wine vinegar and white wine|
|Pastitsada – A beef and macaroni dish with a think tomato sauce that is very specific to Corfu. My favorite!|
|Galaktoboureko: Phyllo with custard, melted butter and syrup.|
We, of course, finished off our lunch with some ouzo. Opa!!
Finally it was time for what I considered to be the main event…like we didn’t already have one! We headed out of town and up into the hills for about twenty minutes to a very special place: The 17th century Villa Bizzaros (the family’s ancient nickname meaning eccentric or strange) where we were to have a Greek wine tasting lead by one of Kerkira’s finest sommeliers and paired with appropriate culinary treats. It will always be a highlight of my travels!
We walked up a dirt and stone path, through a rustic arbor and then down a cobblestone path
to this breathtakingly beautiful courtyard
through a magnificent ancient wood door
into one of the most romantic settings for a wine tasting
The charming owner of the villa gave us a tour of his home before our tasting, with a promised visit to his olive grove afterwards, setting the stage for a wonderful afternoon.
And then: Let the Wine Tasting begin!
|Our Greek sommelier was charming, approachable |
and very knowledgeable
He also poured more than one of my favorite wines;
here a Vinsanto from Santorini
Each wine was described, located on the tasting map provided to each of us and generously sampled. While I had not been a fan of Greek red wines before, we were treated to some delicious ones. Overall, my Greek vino-heart remains in Santorini, but now is open to a number of solid options. (If there was only enough production to have them imported into the United States.)
|Just a sampling of our Greek wine tasting!|
Ariti and Nausica were not done, however. They then presented us with an unusual and surprisingly tasty and refreshing olive liqueur to finish off our tasting.
As we were walking out of Villa Bizzaros our host offered each of us a bottle of his unfiltered olive oil from his olive grove. I will treasure the bottle as a remembrance of a fantastic experience. (Oh, I plan on enjoying the olive oil with some crusty bread; it is the bottle I will retain!)
To just top off the cultural charm of the day, our walk back to our van was through the Bizzaros olive grove as they were harvesting olives.
Every year my guests say to me, “Eric I don’t know how you are going to top this.” This time I said it to myself. Why? Because through the tours and tastings at Chateaus Margaux and Lynch Bage in Bordeaux, France and culinary adventures in places like Tangier, Morocco, this one had something extra: A warm, personal touch from everyone we encountered…in addition to delicious food, excellent wine and a truly cultural experience.
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