After an exhausting but wonderful two days sightseeing in Athens, it was nice to board the ferry on the way to the island of Kea (Pronounced “kay ah” and also known as Tzia) to begin the culinary vacation portion of my trip at Kea Artisanal. Just an hour’s ferry ride from the mainland, the boat launches from the port of Lavrio, about 45 minutes south-east of Athens. To get there, a driver, Loukas, was arranged from Kea Artisanal to take us to the port. Loukas picked me up from Eleni’s apartment and we made a stop at the airport to pick up a mother and daughter that were also attending the program. We had several hours before our departure so he took the scenic route, showing us the beautiful coast of Greece and even stopping a few times for us to take pictures, put our toes in the sea and a highlight, a trip to Sounio to see the Temple of Poseidon. He was so sweet to take us all around and we really appreciated the mini tour!
Loukas left us at the port with just an hour or so to spare where the three of us sat outside in a “cantina” and had a little lunch. We ate a very odd sandwich that we thought was to be a gyro, but it was topped with ketchup and mustard and served on a sesame seed hoagie roll. So much for our authentic gyro experience! We were really hoping for tzatziki sauce!
The island of Kea is not as “touristy” as many of the other Greek Islands. It is one of the largest Cycladic islands and has only around 2,800 permanent residents. The island is a popular weekend getaway for Athenians who want to leave the summer heat of the city for some rest and relaxation by the sea.
It provides an incredibly diverse landscape with soaring hills and mountains, ravines and beaches and private coves. There are also several picturesque vistas that are perfect for watching the sunset. A series of hiking trails, both for the beginner or very advanced adventurer can be found to keep visitors active during their stay on the island. We were able to experience all of these things during our stay.
Kea Artisanal, a culinary vacation program, is operated by Aglaia Kremezi and her husband Costas Moraitis. Aglaia, an esteemed journalist and cookbook author, conducts the hands on cooking lessons highlighting authentic Greek specialties while Costas introduces the attendees to various Greek wines, cheeses, honeys and the extensive herb and vegetable gardens they grow throughout their stunning property.
We arrived on Kea and were greeted by Costas and taken to our various hotels. I had chosen to stay at the Porto Kea Suites which is located within walking distance of the port and just across the street from a beach. The hotel has a lovely pool which I tried to take advantage of on a few occasions. My room, a garden view double, was rather small but perfect for one person or possibly two people who are very close. The room was well appointed with a refrigerator, a microwave, free wired internet, a small tv and a very comfortable bed. I especially loved the very large front porch with a table and chairs so you could spend time outside enjoying the garden and the mountain view. My one complaint is that the room was exceptionally dark inside even with all the lights on, so it made it very difficult to tell if it were day or night whenever you were in the room. Thankfully, when I was there, I just needed to sleep but when it was time to wake up, it was often a shock to open the door to such bright sun. I felt as though I was emerging from a cave and I never knew what time it really was.
The best part of my stay there was the breakfast that was included in the room rate. Each morning guests could choose from an a la carte menu which included eggs, toasts, pastries, and pancakes. I enjoyed a large bowl of yogurt with honey each day with a pot of coffee. I had never experienced yogurt so thick, rich and creamy. It was quite unlike the “Greek” yogurt you get at the grocery store here in the states. It was not grainy or dry at all. It was like eating a bowl of sweet silky cool cream. Heaven!
Once we were settled into our rooms and had rested a bit from our trip to the island, Costas had taxis pick us up to attend a Welcome Dinner at their home on the first night.
First we met our group which consisted of five people, a mother and daughter from North Carolina and Los Angeles, respectively and a couple from Maine. Everyone was incredibly nice and soon enough we were fast friends. Our group melded really well and I was relieved that everyone was so warm and welcoming. Aglaia and Costas introduced us to some friends that were dining with us that evening and we engaged in some lively discussions. I knew then, that it was going to be a great week!
I had vowed before I left that I would try absolutely everything that was offered during my stay and it began at the Welcome Dinner.
The menu started with white wine and mezze such as olives plucked directly from their trees, marinated artichokes and carrots and dips such as smoked mackerel and scallion spread, eggplant and pepper spread all served with Aglaia’s Sourdough Laganes (flat breads) and Ladenia (Cycladic flat bread with tomato and onions). It was so delightful and fulfilling that it would have been enough but we moved to their beautiful wooden outdoor table for dinner.
We enjoyed a fresh fava bean, lemon and baby carrot salad followed by charcoal-grilled octopus. This was my first experience with octopus and it was delicious. It had a subtle smoky flavor and was a bit crunchy on the outside and chewy in the middle with a texture similar to sausage. I was worried about the suction cups but you didn’t even notice them. The best part is that it didn’t have any fishy aftertaste.
The main course was a roasted rabbit with dried fruit, garlic, olives and capers served with yellow and red beets and beet greens. Again, I had never experienced rabbit and found it was delicately gamey, but lends itself well to the rich, flavorful, vinegary marinade of the olives and capers with the sweetness of the dried apricots and other fruits. The flavor reminded me of the Chicken Marbella recipe from the Silver Palate cookbook that is one of my favorites.
With each course, we were introduced to more wines and before long we were completely satiated. But not before dessert arrived! It was a delicately sweet Myzithra (fresh cheese) parfait with fresh orange cream and kumquats served with a homemade lemon liqueur to be sipped on the side.
The perfect evening ended and we were returned to our hotel rooms to dream about the week of foods to come.