02 Nov A Journey Through the Peloponnese
The story originally appeared in ATOD Magazine.
Indulging in cuisine, wine, history, and a lot of magic
There is a region of Greece that is worth exploring; a region neighboring Athens that you may not have considered but most certainly should – the Peloponnese. Known for wine, indulgence, adventure and serenity, the Peloponnese is a journey waiting to be discovered.
The three-pronged Peloponnese is considered part of the mainland but is also technically an island. The southernmost part of the mainland in Greece, the Peloponnese is a short drive from Athens, across one stretch of land that connects the two areas. The Peloponnese is home to historical areas of Ancient Olympia, Sparta and Corinth and is a region of mythical stories, ancient sites, wine production, mountains, beaches and more.
My adventure began once I was in my rental car. Yes, they drive on the same side of the road as us but I had heard stories of Greek drivers and their ability to create their own rules on the road. What I had forgotten, once I got out of Athens, is that every sign is written in Greek. Remember when you took algebra and were told that you would never need to use it as an adult? That is how I felt when I learned to sing the Greek alphabet during my fraternity days in college. Of course, I had my GPS ready on my phone, hoping that I could trust it. But, little did I know how useful the Greek alphabet song would be as I navigated through my adventure. With some trepidation, and with the song “alpha, beta, gamma, delta….” in my head, I ventured out on the road.
My first stop was Nemea, a relatively small region but the most important wine producing area in the Peloponnese. An hour and a half from Athens, Nemea is located at the foot of the Arcadian Mountains where vines have been planted in the area for 2000 years. Today there are approximately 30 wineries and the primary grape is agioritiko, which makes a red wine that can range from fresh, young and fruity to more structured, complex and age-worthy.
Panos Lantides started Lantides in 1993 after studying winemaking in France, in Montpellier and Bordeaux, and working for a large Greek winery. With 18 hectares planted to grapes, Panos today runs the winery with his family, including his son Simos who is the assistant winemaker. In addition to agioritiko, Lantides produces indigenous Greek varieties of moscofilero, assyrtiko and malgouzia, as well as international varieties of sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, merlot and cabernet sauvignon. The Lantides wines are available in the U.S. Look for the Lantides PDO, made with 100 percent agioritiko from 20-year-old vines, which has aromas of blackberry and spice and has soft tannins.
Lazafanis was started in 1946 by Vasilis Lazafanis in Piraeus but his son Spiros moved the winery to Nemea in 1993. They own ten hectares as well as work with more than five hundred family vineyards after acquiring the local cooperative in 2015. They too produce a variety of wines but the primary product is agioritiko. They produce an agioritiko in stainless steel which has floral aromas and sour cherry notes compared to the agioritiko PDO with notes of blackberry and currants. Note that third generation Vasilis, Spiro’s son, is finishing his studies in enology.
After a day of wine tasting, I headed 40 minutes the town of Levidi in the Mantineia region, where the charming bed and breakfast Villa Vager is located.
Husband and wife team Nicholas and Marina Vager opened the nine-room boutique hotel in December 2011. Marina, an interior designer, and Nicholas, a banker, purchased the mansion that was built in 1843 and spent four years restoring it, creating an elegant, sophisticated, inviting bed and breakfast. Each room, unique in color and furnishing, is spacious with exceptionally comfortable beds. Each morning, a full homecooked Greek breakfast that includes local cheeses, honey, meats, freshly baked cheese pies and sweets, is served outdoors overlooking the Arcadian Mountains.
Two-and-a-half hours south of Villa Vager, and located on one of the four fingers that make up the Peloponnese peninsula, is the luxurious Kinsterna Hotel. A fortified manor that dates to the 12thand 13th centuries, the architecture of Kinsterna is a mix of Byzantine, Ottoman and Venetian influences. The 54-rooms resort is a wonderful oasis for a few days of relaxation. I found myself relaxing in the L-shaped pool that is fed continuously by natural spring water but took a break to go to the spa. Offering treatments with local ingredients such as olive oil, honey, fresh herbs and grape extracts, I enjoyed the signature Grape Expectations, a body scrub, body mask and scalp massage using grape skins and seeds which are filled with anti-oxidants.
I enjoyed my breakfast each day at the “all-day” restaurant but come dinner, I relished in the Kinsterna Restaurant which is built around the original water cistern (kinsterna) and overlooks the sea and island of Monemvasia. I also enjoyed one dinner of local dishes made in the wood-burning oven at the Taverna, which is open only twice a week in the summer. And, after the pool, the spa and eating to my heart’s content, I also enjoyed a wine tasting of Kinsterna’s own wines.