Travel News

Hellenic heroes

We asked a diverse mix of Greek-Australians to share their favourite experiences in the motherland. Told with heartfelt pride, these are travel tales with kefi.

**Helen Kapalos, news presenter, Network Ten

** “I visit Greece every year to see my dad, and it’s all about the food. He lives in a village in northern Greece called Nea Triglia. Every Monday, the food markets set up camp in the main street and that’s where the villagers source the majority of their fruit, vegetables and meat. I love watching the way they all inspect the fresh produce and decide then and there whether it’s going to be chickpea soup, okra stew or stuffed cabbage rolls for dinner. And you can’t go to Thessaloniki and not have the chocolate-covered tsoureki from Terkenlis bakery – you can smell it five blocks away.”

**Anthony Koutoufides, former AFL player

** “Last time I was in Greece it was to visit the islands – Rhodes, Crete and Mykonos. I’ll never forget Super Paradise beach. Paraga beach in Mykonos was also amazing. The water was sensational, the people, the atmosphere, everything. They play music throughout the afternoon and people are dancing, drinking and swimming. That’s my ideal Greek experience – beautiful beaches, great music, an afternoon spent dancing in the sun with a few drinks. Love it.”

**Nick Bolkus, former Labor Party senator

** “Nestled at the foot of the Acropolis is the open-air theatre, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, the cultural centre of ancient Greece. Under the stars on a warm Athens night, I experienced the most vibrant and glorious production of Zorba the Ballet, conducted by my old friend Mikis Theodorakis, with full orchestra, ballet and chorus. It was a stunning cultural experience.”

**George Calombaris, owner/chef,The Press Club and Hellenic Republic

** “Whenever I’m abroad, I try to find a dining experience with soul. Listening to locals is always a great start. Kiki’s is located in the region of Ayios Sostis on Mykonos. No address. The taxi drops us at the top of the hill at Ayios Sostis, overlooking the most gorgeous unspoilt beach. The taxi drives off and we’re left standing with no one in sight. Someone mentioned that if we got stuck, we could smell our way to the taverna. This is what we do. We find a profoundly busy Kiki’s located under a tree, on the cliff edge, overlooking a secluded beach in Ayios Sostis. The table we are shown to has the best view in the house. No menus are offered, just a trusting conversation with the staff on how hungry you are.”

**Renya Xydis, creative director, Valonz, Salon X and Renya Xydis City

** “The Grande Bretagne hotel is close to all the great cafés, shopping and nightclubs in Athens. It’s very decadent and has the most beautiful restaurant on the top floor and the best view of the Acropolis.”

Melanie Symons, travel presenter, Seven Network

“I thought I’d reached the pearly gates at Katikies Hotel in the village of Oia on Santorini. This glistening white paradise sits 90 metres above the caldera basin; it’s the lap of luxury. Oia, with its famous sunset viewed from the fort, its tavernas, and its moonlit pathways leading back to your heavenly hotel, is somewhere you’ll never forget.”

Marilynne Paspaley, managing director, Pinctada Hotels & Resorts

“My husband and I went with our youngest son to a restaurant known as The Muses near the seaside village of Platamonas in northern Greece. Under ancient trees, icy-cold water rushes out of a pipe in the mountainside into a trough where watermelons chill and guests replenish their own water jugs. No bottled water here. There’s a menu that you glance at but really don’t need to read because, in typical Greek fashion, they’ll tell you what you should eat. And they’re right. Each dish features vegetables from the family garden, and the lamb is naturally flavoured with the wild herbs on which the flock graze as they scramble over the mountainside.”

George Kapiniaris, actor

“My favourite place in Greece would have to be the Acropolis. When I was five years old I travelled to Athens with my mum for my grandad’s funeral. I saw the Acropolis from afar but I never got to go. Thirty-five years later I’m staying at my cousin Mina’s flat in Ambelokipi, Athens, and I’m really excited because finally I’ll get to visit the Acropolis. I’ve asked Mina to come along and her reply, much to my bemusement, is ‘What do you want to go there for? It’s a rock, it’s a big rock, but it’s just a rock, with a bunch of old buildings on it. We had to go there for school.’ Talk about taking things for granted.”

**Janni Kyritsis, chef

** “If you have a morning to spend in the city, have breakfast on the rooftop at the Grande Bretagne hotel. Alternatively, if you happen to find yourself in some taverna in a small village away from the tourist trail, then try some kokoretsi: a large sausage made of spring lamb offal, intestines and herbs, cooked on the charcoal rotisserie, often next to the whole lamb. Not for the faint-hearted but essential for the serious gourmet.”

Effie Zahos, editor, Money magazine

“Paraga beach in Mykonos brings back a laugh. Our first day set the scene for the next five. My husband and I didn’t realise that you had to pay to get a seat on Paraga Beach. We sat ourselves in what were classed as premium seats – front row on the northern side of the water’s edge. A seat a day would set us back around $20 each – throw in some ouzos and you understand why dinner each night was a souvlaki. But then again, you haven’t tried a souvlaki until you’ve eaten one in Mykonos.”

**George Donikian, news presenter, Network Ten

** “My daughter Lauren was 16 and my godson Andrew was 21 when we left for the Olympics in Athens in 2004. They absolutely loved it, especially as we spent a month travelling around the islands before the Games started, and they got to sample the subtle differences in cuisine that exist throughout the different regions. One dish they knew from their grandparents, yemista, turned up in many different forms. Here it is predominantly made with tomatoes, but it suddenly started appearing as stuffed capsicum, or stuffed zucchinis. Kitchens in Corfu and Mykonos also offered the dish using many different spices. Part of the fun was in guessing how our next order of yemista would be served.”

**Maria Benardis, author, My Greek Family Table

** “One of my many favourite places to visit is Kalamata where my mother is from. They not only have the most scrumptious figs and the renowned Kalamata olive, they also have my favourite pastry shop in all of Greece and the world, Athanasiou (in the Kentriki Platia or 23rd of March Square). I always have the ekmek kataifi with Greek coffee. When I was there last year I was asked if I was interested in purchasing the store because I spent most of the day there.”

**Mark Kailis, managing director, Kailis Organic Olive Groves

** “The year was 1986. I was 21 years old and arriving on the island of my forefathers, Kastellorizo, for the first time with a group of friends from Australia. On top of the solid marbled hills of the island sits a 2000-year-old olive tree, next to which the Church of St Nicholas stands as a silent reminder of the Christian history. It is through these hills that I wandered and discovered many archaeological sites, including ancient wine and olive presses and crystal-clear big blue bays accessed by roads built with the labour of the French army during the First World War.”

Kerry Caloyannidis, founder, Whisk & Pin foods

“I spent the first seven years of my life between the island of Syros and Athens, and Greek was my first language. The place I spent many a summer is called Dellagratsia (aka Possidonia) on Syros – pristine, secluded and with a gorgeous old hotel right on the beach. The hotel is still there, but where once no cars were allowed on the island, now it is a motorbike city.”

Alex Perry, fashion designer

“Athens often gets a bad wrap but I love everything about living there, even if it’s only for two weeks of the year. One of my favourite things to do after overdosing on sunshine at Ble Beach is to take off for Biftekoupolis, otherwise known as Beefsteak City or Hamburger Heaven. It is an entire street in Glyfada with a million and one souvlaki and hamburger shops. For somewhere really easy on the eye, beautiful and classy, go to the world-famous Zonar’s on Voukourestiou Street for lunch or just a caffeine hit accompanied by the decadent indulgence of stunning cream-filled desserts. For shopping, try my wife Mary’s favourite haunt, Attica, on Panepistimiou Street. It’s an upmarket department store covering six levels of sheer bliss. If that isn’t enough, then there is always Kalogirou in Glyfada with its jaw-dropping array of shoes.”

**Pam Talimanidis, chef, A La Grecque

** “We spend the European summer every year in our family house in the north of Greece. On Thursday mornings, early, we set off for the local bazari in a neighbouring village called Giannitsa. The bazari is a huge market of local vegetables, fruit, fish, clothing, rugs, shoes and plants. We always head straight for the fish to get the freshest selection, then decide which fruit and vegetables to have for dinner. Along the rows of stalls, some stall-holders will light up a mangali, or grill, and cook sardines or souvlaki. Gypsy families wander in and out wearing colourful clothes, begging, playing drums and violins.”

**Costa Anastasiadis, co-founder, Crust Gourmet Pizza Bar stores

** “Every time I am in Athens I head down to Thanasis in Monastiraki. It is an institution. Forget about a five-page menu. Half a dozen items. My standard order is a serving of souvlaki (open plate with pita bread), tzatziki, Greek salad and chips, washed down with a couple bottles of Mythos beer – take me back!”

John Sintras, chief executive officer, Starcom MediaVest Group

“My father comes from a beautiful town called Parga on the west coast opposite Corfu. It’s a picture-perfect coastal village with twin beaches overlooking a small island with a church on it. I’d seen the photos but nothing could have prepared me for the impact of the real thing. To be swimming there with my kids, while recalling my father’s childhood stories about jumping off the rocks and getting up to mischief, was amazing.”

George Houvardas, actor, Packed to the Rafters

“It was the summer of 2005 and I was flying over the land of my ancestors. It felt like a welcome home. But first I had to catch my connecting flight from Athens airport to my parents’ island of Lesbos. The landing was as smooth as you could get, only a bump or twenty. The doors of the plane opened; the sweet breeze with a touch of salt came rushing in. The complaints of a donkey could be heard. Ah, Greece! My father greeted me outside the terminal, which sits on the coast. He just pointed to the opposite shore, which is no more than 2km away, and said, ‘Turkey’. I then spent the next two weeks discovering my history, but that is a whole other novel.”

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