Modern Day Greek Odyssey
A Journey of Discovery and Adventure
 
Story by: Bill Nestor
Photos by: Flo & Bill Nestor and locations
 
 
"Being in Greece was a personal odyssey immersed in the culture and lifestyles of the people."
Being in Greece was a personal odyssey immersed in the culture and lifestyles of the people. Time in Athens, my ancestral family village of Akrata, at Costa Navarino--the first luxury golf resort in country, and on the islands of Crete and Santorini was an adventurous journey back to my roots and a message to the soul.
 
The Acropolis, looming high above Athens on a rocky outcrop, as viewed from our room at the Grand Bretagne Hotel is illuminated nightly.
From the moment Flo and I stood on the balcony outside our room at the Grand Bretagne Hotel and watched the Evzones changing guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, we were spellbound.  A view of the Acropolis, looming high above Athens on a rocky outcrop, added to the visceral sentiment. 
 
The Odyssey is Homer’s ancient epic work essential to shaping modern western culture. It features a hero and his journey home after the Trojan War, one of the most important events in Greek mythology.  This story of travel and adventure may not influence a civilization, but the journey most assuredly captured our hearts and spirit.  It is a saga that includes a ship Captain named Vassilis and his visionary legacy at Costa Navarino that embraces values inherent in Greek mythology and society.
 
Our first dinner of delicious Greek cuisine and live bouzouki music, at a rooftop table beneath the walls of an illuminated Acropolis, put us on track for a myriad of authentic, palate pleasures and heart-warming experiences.
 
The creative gastronomy throughout Greece delivered traditional tastes, familiar flavors and unique options integrating many indigenous ingredients.
We roamed the Plaka, a historic neighborhood in Athens, where labyrinthine cobblestone streets and neoclassical architecture presented countless shops, ancient ruins, the New Museum, traditions and ethnicity, as well as evidence of Greece’s economic crisis.
 
Afternoon meze with ouzo at tavernas made spending days in Athens an enjoyable event. Mezes, small plates of Greek hors d'oeuvres, were available everywhere. No two were alike, but were some combination of Greek cheeses, Kalamata olives, lamb chops, pork sausage, grilled octopus, taramasalata, meatballs, vegetables and pita bread.  
 
West of Athens on the Peloponnesian peninsula, we visited Akrata, the mountain village of my father. We stayed at his childhood home with Aunt Giota and ate, drank, laughed and roamed the family olive groves with cousins.  It was an emotive stopover that included a memorial service at the village’s 110 year-old church.  Its colorful interior featured fresco covered walls and ceiling.  Burning incense, cantors chanting and the priest’s evocative prayers fashioned a mystical poignancy.  I cannot tell which flowed more during the days in Akrata - food, wine, tears or love.
The Troon managed Dunes Course designed by Bernhard Langer and Bay Course by Robert Trent Jones II play along the shores, above and around the bay and olive groves.
The Westin beachfront hotel at Costa Navarino, the first luxury golf resort in Greece.
Arriving at Costa Navarino in Messinia added another level to an already magical travel. A spacious and tastefully designed beachfront Westin suite, international lineup of menus, spa, modern conveniences and service made for a delightful and comfortable stay at the first luxury golf resort in Greece.  The setting showcased extensive olive groves, a luscious panorama of beach and bay, historic sites and two golf courses.  Troon Management oversees course maintenance and operations of the Dunes designed by Bernhard Langer and Bay by Robert Trent Jones II that play along the shores, above and around the bay and olive groves.

"The biggest surprise was the beauty of the land with the mountains, the different colors of the ocean and the olive trees--it's a nice contrast with the greens and blue,” said Langer about the Dunes Course.

"The Bay Course is sculpted out of the earth and rock of Greek soil, much like the marble statues of the ancients," Jones said. "Those deities were noble and graceful, and the golf course now reflects the same sense of beauty.”

The resort’s villa clusters, designed to replicate ancient Messinian villages, look out on the Bay of Navarino--the largest natural harbor in the Mediterranean. During the Battle of Navarino in 1827, the Ottoman armada was destroyed in the bay by a fleet of British, French and Russian warships.

Costa Navarino’s adherence to environmental guidelines and management principles from design to construction is comprehensive and impressive.  It incorporates sustainable practices and programs to preserve biodiversity and important ecological areas including nearby Gialova Lagoon, a crucial migratory stopover for itinerant African birds.
 
Resort offerings such as philosophy walks or visiting the Palace of King Nestor in neighboring Pylos underscore Costa Navarino’s emphasis on the historic and cultural importance of Messinia.  Cooking with Anna, a local Messinian woman, at her seaside home in Pylos was both edifying and serendipitous.  Together we prepared and ate dinner, drank wine and danced.  We discovered Flo's grandfather's surname Gonis is also Anna and her husband’s surname, all hailing from nearby Methoni.  
 
We captured the spirit of seaside village life at enchanting dockside restaurants in Pylos and Methoni. Recipes served home-style evoked memories of our own family gatherings. 
 
Crete: Rethymno Old Town- Casa Vitae Boutique Hotel's open air quad, Quaint cobblestone streets, View of city from room at CV, Monalis plays bouzouki at CV; Fortezza--a 10th-13th century walled fortress overlooking the Aegean Sea; Isolated beaches on the Libyan Sea, Umbrellas at Beach Bar Nayagos.
Costa Navarino is a testament to the vision of Captain Vassilis Konstantakopoulos--ship-owner, entrepreneur, environmentalist and native of Messinia.  The sustainable resort development preserves historic and environmental resources, and enhances the economic vitality of the region and its people. Achilles Konstantakopoulos, CEO of TEMES, and son of the late Captain, continues the development of his father's Costa Navarino vision.
 
On Crete, the largest and most populated Greek island, we were warmly greeted at Casa Vitae, a charming small boutique hotel in the old town section of Rethymno.  A maze of cobblestone streets lined by classical Venetian architecture led to many shops, tavernas, restaurants and the Fortezza, a 10th-13th century walled fortress overlooking the Aegean Sea.  The creative Cretan gastronomy at Pomegranate, Alana, and Othonas restaurants delivered traditional and unique flavors influenced by 150-years of ancestral recipes.
 
Daytime explorations took us over rugged mountains on sharply curved roads, through walled canyon terrain and valley landscapes to a sparsely populated southern coast where the Libyan Sea washes ashore on remote, isolated beaches near small towns where sheep outnumber people.
 
Santorini is a place often visualized as the quintessential Greek island with whitewashed, blue-roofed buildings set on terraced landscapes.
Driving in Greece conjures the terror of chariot racing at the coliseum.  It was a welcome relief to find a beautiful, barren beach that provided lovely coastal vistas after a long and challenging drive.  Beach Bar Nayagos, a solitary, ramshackle taverna appeared like a mirage at the water’s edge.  From a patio table we surveyed the panorama, shared meze and sipped ouzo.  The meze was the best of the best in Greece, made so by fresh local pork, lamb and beef, and preparation by Steleios Panagiulakis.  Discovering Nayagos was well worth the effort of getting there.  The raw beauty of this natural setting added to the vibes; the magic of Greece just kept on giving. 
 
Returning to Casa Vitae’s open-air quad of pillared antiquity draped in grapevines and burgundy flowers was a blissful finale to adventurous afternoons.  Each day in the spirit of Greece, Angeliki and her goddess-laden staff served and shared meze and raki, a locally distilled elixir, while Manolis sang and played bouzouki.  Casa Vitae was a delightful and captivating sojourn.
 
Aboard Santorini Sailing’s 36-foot Blue Lagoon catamaran, we cruised the islands within the caldera. (Top photo: Bill Nestor and his wife Flo.)
The high-speed ferry took us to the shores of Santorini where a long and winding road led to the Adronis Boutique Hotel on the island's northern tip in Oia. It was 92-steps down the side of a cliff to our contemporary cave-like suite overlooking the volcanic rim (caldera) and Aegean Sea.
 
Santorini is a place often visualized as the quintessential Greek island with whitewashed, blue-roofed buildings set on terraced landscapes.  Various towns set along the caldera rim are home to hotels, shops and restaurants that benefit from the scenic beauty and popularity of tourism.

Cliff edge terrace dining at the Adronis was hard to beat.  On a warm and lovely star-filled night, light reflected along the rocks to the water below and light from towns near and far outlined the volcanic rim.  Twenty-six year old Chef Efi Pentaraki dazzled our palates with brilliant Greek gourmet cuisine--shrimp saganaki and zucchini drizzled with lemon sauce paired with a local white wine.
 
Aboard Santorini Sailing’s 36-foot Blue Lagoon catamaran, we cruised the islands within the caldera stopping only to snorkel, swim and enjoy a feast.  Captain Michael and first mate, Chef George shared history, culture and lifestyle notes while sailing, preparing, and serving an array of scrumptious Greek dishes. 
 
Exploring Santorini means finding small seaside towns with historic highlights, churches, shops, beaches and waterfront tavernas.  One afternoon, we found the Santorini Brewing Company where Red, Yellow and Crazy Donkey are brewed as  “Hip Hoppy Kiss Ass Ales”.  The Donkey bottled in 25-ounce champagne vessels was quite flavorful.  An afternoon visit to Akrotiri was fascinating.  Excavations at this 4,000-year-old Minoan site have revealed evidence linking it to Atlantis, formation of the caldera and the disappearance of the Minoan civilization.
 
Throughout this personal odyssey, the Greek language floated to my ears and flavors ignited my palate.  The parade of customs triggered my minds eye reinforcing being part of a family and community vested in Greek culture, history, traditions and heritage.
 
Freelancer Bill Nestor explores globally to write about travel, golf, food, nature and lifestyles. 

For More Information:
Hotel Grande Bretagne (Athens) www.grandebretagne.gr  

Costa Navarino Resort (Messinia) www.costanavarino.com  
Casa Vitae Boutique Hotel (Crete) www.casa-vitae.gr  
Adronis Luxury Suites (Santorini) www.andronis-suites.com
Santorini Sailing www.santorinisailing.com