Strangely enough, my love affair with Greece began when I moved to Rome. I disliked the beach stablimenti with the rows of umbrellas and sun-beds and I yearned for the simple sea I had known during my childhood in Cornwall. Then I discovered Greece and ever since ‘summer’ means Greece to me. In the beginning when school term finished I would put my daughters in the car and take the ferry to Igouminitsa. We drove around sleeping in rooms over tavernas, exploring the legendary Peloponnese. We were moved by feeling of sanctity at Delphi, haunted by Clytaemnestra, Iphigenia and Orestes at Mycenae and inspired by a white and scarlet Melina Mercouri at a performance of Oedipus Rex in Epidaurus.
In later years we flew to discover the islands- Ionian, Cyclades, Sporades and Dodecanese. Crete drew us back at regular intervals as we dreamed of the bull dancers and sought echoes of Homer’s wine-dark sea. On all these many holidays food and wine played a very minor rôle. We never acquired a taste for retsina and the other wines were often barely drinkable. The meze were always a delight but when we were taken into the kitchen to choose our main course we were not inspired by the heavy, luke- warm stews. We relied on moussaka and souvlaki to save the day. My first real gastronomic experience occurred in Loutrou, Crete at the Blue House where mother and daughter-in-law vied to produce the most perfect home cooking. Wines started to become something to be sipped slowly with pleasure and the taverna food began to bear some resemblance to the good Greek cooking I used to enjoy in Greek families.
I always talked about Greece in my Rome classes and people began to ask me to organize an adventure for them One summer, after a morning swim, when I was the only person in the sea, I sat enjoying a glass of wine and thinking “et io in Arcadia sum”. Arcadia should be shared with the deserving few, so the idea of my Greek Idyll was born.
I have run several adventures in Sifnos, Symi and Crete but last year I moved to the Peloponnese for my Greek adventure. This September I am returning to Finikounda and moving on to the Mani peninsula. When Ancient Sparta declined in power its citizens retreated to the mountains rather than serve alien masters and they became known as Maniots, from the Greek word mania. The Ottoman Turks made little headway with these fierce, proud people and the Greek War of Independence was nurtured by this rebellious region. It is largely unexplored by foreign visitors, but I first learned of Mani through the pages of English writer Patrick Leigh Fermor’s wonderful book and I am looking forward to discovering the tiny villages nestled in olive groves, and the magical, translucent coves.
There are only 3 rooms left for this Adventure which starts 2nd September.
This month I have taken myself firmly in hand and I am doing a variety of treatments and therapies in the Terme, or thermal baths in Ferentino. It is very time-consuming and I have not yet been painted with the black, viscous mud that is supposed to work miracles.
I am mailing this newsletter to give details of the adventures planned for the rest of this year and 2017. The first ‘escape’ will be to my beloved Greece in September, and I am adding a few days in Mani, once inhabited with brigands and war lords. This area has not been really discovered by tourism and gaunt, ruined towers frown down on the magical sea.
October starts with Sicily but there is no availability because Sicily always gets booked up a year in advance. Next year I am planning to rent a fabulous villa I have found outside Siracusa. It is on the sea, with an infinity pool but the part that attracts me is the fabulous kitchen, complete with cook who will be the genie with the lamp – available on demand to fulfill all our wishes. There are six bedrooms so we will be a happy few.
Puglia was where I did my first cooking school ever and it is still one of my favourite regions. In the intervening years it has been ‘discovered’ but there are still many special places to explore and there is still availability. http://www.italiangourmet.com/gourmet_adventure_puglia.php
In November I am planning to offer two days cooking and eating in Rome followed by exploring the Ciociara, the area just south of Rome. It is still relatively undiscovered by tourism, although the Romans (the Ancient ones !) built vast villas and appreciated its natural beauty. From my home in Ferentino I have had great fun discovering the local truffles, the beautiful lake with a moving island in the middle and the cascades at Isola del Liri. I have yet to explore the black mud !
In 2017 I will be repeating some well-established favourites :
I am also very excited by two big projects. I will be going to India in February to plan and set up the tour of Rajasthan which I have been talking about for years. India has a very short ‘cool weather’ season so the historic, Heritage hotels get booked up months in advance. This will be my final Indian trip for late 2016, early 2017 and I will have to move fast to secure the places I want, so if you think you might be interested please let me know now ! http://www.italiangourmet.com/cookingschoolinnorthindia.php
My second big project is expanding Morocco to include a visit to all the Imperial Cities. The idea started when I was pining for Istanbul and people felt sad because the political situation made me drop this popular adventure. Morocco is politically stable and I have no qualms about offering this exotic, mysterious country as a replacement. In fact this makes me feel I am selling it short. I hope I am not. Morocco is no understudy. I have been visiting every year for a long time. The people are lovely, the palaces enthralling and the food satisfies both spicy and sweet tastes. In Marrakech the French colonial influence is everywhere, in Fez it is the past and Africa that has had the dominant role.