September has been a strange month. I flew to Greece to meet the people signed up for the Greek adventure and we drove down to the south of the Peloponnese to stay in Finikounda for a few days, before moving on to explore the Mani peninsula. We had a few carefree days swimming at Zanzibar Beach, eating in our favourite tavernas and catching up with Marina and Cris. We had two great dinners at Palia Istoria and we repeated our idyllic day with Ilios, going with his boat to a remote, uninhabited beach to swim and read, while he unpacked the drinks and meze, and prepared his delicious fish soup.
The next day the winds and rains came and we felt as if we were living through a monsoon. It rained relentlessly with huge tropical storms. In Kalamata cars were swept out to sea and several people were drowned. I have never experienced anything like this in Greece before. Many roads were closed and the immediate shore was stained yellow with the soil washed into the sea. When we left for Mani we had to make a long detour and we passed fallen bridges and uprooted olive trees. We were relieved when we arrived in Mani to find normal summer weather and sun to dry our sodden beach towels and clothes.
Mani is remote and not many tourists make it this far. We drove through the legendary Sparta but there were no archaeological remains to be seen. Their military prowess was so respected they did not feel the need to build fortifications so there are no crumbling city walls to conjure up the past ; however the Battle of Thermopoli is commemorated with a statue of King Leonidas, bearing the words “Come and Take”, which is believed to be the Greeks’ response to Xerxes demand for them to throw down their arms.
We drove through Arepoli, where the Greek War of Independence was started on March 17 in 1821, to stay a night at the beautiful, tiny fishing village of Limeni.
The sea is incredibly lovely and it all seemed very special after the storms we had left behind. We celebrated with a delectable Sunday lunch at Takis, right on the sea. In Mani the towers and houses are built of stone, and even the churches seem sombre to those used to the white and turquoise Cycladic buildings. We drove on to spend our last days in Gerolimeni at the small, historic Kyrimai hotel.
The setting is beautiful and the sea irresistible. I plan to return next year but I must admit I will have no regrets at leaving behind the Mani speciality, smoked pork – siglino – which seemed to make an inappropriate appearance in so many dishes.
At the end of the week I head off to Palermo for our Sicilian adventure and then the last trip this year, Puglia.
Next year I will change the Sicily programme to concentrate on the two most fascinating towns, Siracusa and Palermo. This will give us time really feel at home as we explore the many layers of history, culture and, of course, gastronomy. Dates 7 to 15 October 2017.
Details will be on my website by Tuesday but please let me know as soon as possible if you are interested because places will be limited.
There are still places for Bologna at the end of March. Email for more details.
Recipe for the last of the sun
Small octopus or calamari Santa Lucia style (Polpetielli o calamari alla Luciana)
The Neapolitan fishermen around Santa Lucia invented this way of cooking small octopus. The “real” polpetielli have a double row of suckers on their tentacles and are full of flavor because they feed off the rocks. Octopus with only a single row of suckers is considered inferior. The fishermen used to seal in the flavor by tying paper under and over the lid with string, but a soft flour and water dough is more effective.
800 g small octopus or calamari
4 very tasty red tomatoes, or 4 canned Italian plum tomatoes
4 T extra virgin olive oil
1 T fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 dried hot chili pepper
3 garlic cloves
Put the cleaned octopus or calamari into a terra-cotta pot with the oil, chopped tomatoes, garlic, salt and chili pepper. Seal on the lid with a dough made of flour and water and stew slowly for 2 hours, or half this time for calamari. Remove the lid and stir in the chopped parsley. Serve hot or at room temperature directly from the terra-cotta pot.