Peaceful and Quiet Kythnos

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Kwstas Filippaios, chair of the Kythnos Municipal Council, said it succinctly, “Our tourism goal is to attract those who seek peace and quiet.” While driving with Kwstas on a very narrow road my heart ached to stop and snap a photo reminiscent of the 19th century – a gentleman driving a donkey cart. I resisted in respect of tradition and privacy. That gentleman was not a photo op; he was Greece.

It is an undeniable cliché that the Cyclades Islands of Greece are firmly part of the great wonders of the world. It’s an extra pleasure to be a guest on one of the lesser known islands, Kythnos. With 1,200 permanent residents and over 50% of all housing available as rentals – about 200 rooms – Kythnos is ideal for tourists who seek tranquility. Some islands are flooded with over 1.5 million visitors a year yet Kythnos hosts an average of 20,000.

Panorama Naousas Kythnos

View from Panorama Naousas

Five photo perfect villages dot the island – Merichas, Loutra, Chora, Dryopida and Kanala. All are easy to reach by car and their compact size makes them enjoyable to wander on foot. Kythnos being a classic Cyclades mountaintop, driving the roads means going either up or down until on the spine of the island. The panoramic views are spectacular.

Ships arrive at the attractive port of Merichas on the western side of the island with its beach-lined row of restaurants and tavernas. With a table directly on the beach at Aupa restaurant, Kostas Prasinos served tender braised lamb in lemon sauce and an artfully arranged salad of rocket, tomatoes and corn with a balsamic reduction. The view of the Aegean was classic.

Salad Aupa

Salad at Aupa Restaurant, Merichas

Mrs. Annezio Bouritis and her son Mixαlis Famelitis own Annezio Bakery. Set in a typical white washed stone building high above Merichas harbor the cars of customers are usually double parked on the narrow street. Like so many Greek bakeries, patrons rarely just run in and leave. Scattered tables and chairs invite one to have a coffee and chat awhile.

Annezio Bakery is particularly known for traditional sweets such as pasteli, a honey and sesame seed confection that’s beloved in Greece and has origins in antiquity among the many cultures that lay upon the fabled Spice Route through Asia and the eastern Mediterranean. Mrs. Bouritis gave this chef a personal demonstration in the preparation of pasteli.

Pasteli: honey and sesame seed candy

Ingredients:

  • 1 kilo (2 1/4 pound) honey
  • 700 grams (1 1/2 pounds) sesame seeds
  • 150 to 200 grams (9 to 12 tablespoons) white flour
  • red wine for brushing onto the cutting board, rolling pin and hands

Procedure:

  1. Place the honey in a large heavy pot and bring to a boil over medium heat.
  2. Reduce heat but maintain a low boil for 10 minutes until the honey turns light brown.
  3. Add the sesame seeds and stir with a wooden spoon to combine.
  4. Continue to cook until the mixture turns a darker brown stirring several times.
  5. Add 150 grams (9 tablespoons) flour in 3 parts stirring with a wooden spoon until combined.
  6. Continue stirring over low heat for a couple minutes. If the mixture is not pulling away from the sides of the pan add as much of the remaining 50 grams flour (3 tablespoons) a little at a time until the mixture does pull away from the sides. Remove from the heat.
  7. Brush a large cutting board with red wine and scrape the mixture onto the board.
  8. Dip your hands into the wine and pat the mixture, repeating several times to cool the mixture, into a smooth oval about 12″ in diameter.
  9. Alternating between a rolling pin and a scraper or large spatula, coat the rolling pin with wine repeating several times as necessary. Roll and shape the candy to a 1/4″ thick square.
  10. Using a sharp knife, cut the candy into diamond shapes about   1-1/2” per side.
  11. Gently press half a blanched almond in the center of each diamond. (For weddings, decorating with several almonds encourages fertility.)
  12. The pasteli can be served warm or cool.
  13. Store in single layers separated by waxed paper in an airtight container.

Loutra literally means baths due to volcanic thermal springs that exist on many Cycladic islands and they have been prized since antiquity for their healing properties. Legend has it that the hot springs of Loutra are directly connected to Italy’s Mount Vesuvius. Prince Otto of Bavaria, crowned King of Greece in 1832, revived the ancient baths bringing fame to Loutra’s healing waters. Today two thermal springs run through the beach pouring water into the sea creating hot pools that delight bathers. (See feature photo above).

The Hotel Afrodite, built in 2010 and open year round, sits next to the beach in Loutra. Each of the eleven individually decorated rooms is named after a Greek muse. Imaginative decorative lighting fixtures, lots of closet space, private terraces or balconies with direct beach and sea views are among the amenities guests enjoy. The third floor breakfast room offers panoramic views of Loutra harbor with its many beachside restaurants. Eggs, homemade marmalade of lemon and mixed fruits, cookies, coffee, moist orange cake, fresh squeezed juice and a phyllo cheese pie was as satisfying as the blue Aegean views.

Panagia Virgin Mary Greece

The capital of Kythnos, known by the ubiquitous Greek term for a capital, Chora – or Hora depending on the map – is a classic mountain top village of twisting streets, many simply stairs, too narrow for cars. The jumble of white washed stucco buildings are punctuated with colorfully painted shutters, doors, tables and chairs on terraces and a profusion of bright flower boxes. It was in Chora that this chef/writer finally understood the depth of Greek hospitality.

After dropping in on a variety of stores and leaving with gifts of ceramics, local liquors flavored with the island’s profuse botanicals and jars of preserved fruits, Kwstas Filippaios explained that many Greeks consider it an honor to give a foreign visitor gifts. Dinner at Chora’s To Steki Tou Ntentzi Restaurant was definitely a special gift arranged for this visiting chef.

 

Kythnos Chora Street

A Chora street

Chef Moschoula Alafouzou not only owns this premier Chora restaurant but serves as president of the Kythnos Women’s Union. The Women’s Union of Greece is a highly active national social organization with a focus on women’s issues, tourism and community services and membership is open to all women over 18 years of age. I had the privilege of sharing dinner with Marie Voqixtzi and Nikos Mpizikoukis, both involved with island tourism, and Irine Georgouli, secretary of the Women’s Union, my host Kwstas Filippaios and Chef Alafaouzou.

 

Chef Moshoula Alafouzou

Chef Moschoula Alafouzou owner of To Steki Tou Ntentzi Restaurant

But first, chef Alafouzou brought me into the kitchen to demonstrate the preparation of classic Greek cheese pies. Savory and sweet cheese tarts are ubiquitous throughout the islands and go by many names. On Kythnos the simple cheese tart called thermiotikes can be eaten at anytime of the day. Fresh herbs such as dill create a savory appetizer or substituting sugar turns the recipe into a sweet that goes well with coffee.

Thermiotikes: a savory recipe

Ingredients for the pastry (approximately 30 tarts)

  • 440 grams (4 cups) white flour
  • 5 grams (1/2 teaspoon) salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 120 ml. (1/2 cup) extra-virgin olive oil
  • 120 – 240 ml. (1/2 to 1 cup) warm water – check package of yeast for proper temperature.
  • 1 package yeast + 1/2 teaspoon sugar

Preparation:

  1. Sprinkle the yeast and sugar over half the water and allow to proof until it starts to foam.
  2. Combine the flour and salt.
  3. Blend the egg, oil and water with yeast and mix into the flour with a wooden spoon. Add more warm water until you have a soft dough that holds together.
  4. Cover with a warm damp towel and rest for 30 minutes while preparing the cheese filling

Savory cheese tart filling

Ingredients:

  • 1 kilo (2 1/4 pounds) fresh salt free soft white Greek goat cheese such as manouri or anthotyro. Whole milk ricotta can be substituted.
  • 3 eggs
  • 50 grams (3 tablespoons) salt (omit salt if ricotta contains salt)
  • Small handful fresh minced dill
  • Minced green part of 2 scallions
  • 100 grams (6 tablespoons) white flour
  • 1 egg plus 1 tablespoon water combined for a wash

Procedure:

  1. Combine cheese and eggs
  2. Add salt, dill and scallions
  3. Add flour and combine well
  4. Note: can be made in advance and refrigerated.

Procedure to complete tart:

  1. Roll the pastry dough out on a lightly floured surface to a large 1/8″ thick oval and cut out 4″ circles.
  2. Place a generous 1/4 – 1/3 cup filling in center of the pastry leaving a 3/4″ edge. Form the dough into either a fluted circle for an open faced pie or fold the sides up and partially over the filling for a square.
  3. Place the tarts on a lightly oiled baking sheet and brush the tops with egg wash.
  4. Bake in a 200°C (400° F) for 30 minutes or until golden brown.

Dentzi Restaurant

To Steki Tou Ntentzi Restaurant

The Filippaios family owns a vineyard with over 700 vines, and I had the opportunity to sample Kwstas’ talents as a winemaker. Fresh from the barrel, the deep red wine had a nose of ripe summer blackberries. Its tannins tingled the mouth, and I had a sudden urge to pair it with chocolate cake.

Kostas Filippaios

Kwstas Filippaios drawing his wine at Panorama Naousas

 

Within view of the red tiled roofed village of Dryopida, ΕΡΓΑΣΤΗΡΙΟ Η Μελισσενια (Beekeeping Laboratory Melissania) hugs steep hillsides blanketed with a plethora of wild herbs and flowers. They provide plenty of pollen for the honeybees of Kythnos from plants untouched by pesticides. Although the wild thyme is in full bloom in springtime covering the hillsides, family owned Beekeeping Laboratory Melissania has over 450 hives in several island locations.

Beekhives Melissania

The Cyclades island group is world famous for the production of themari – wild thyme honey. On Kythnos to be labeled themari it must be certified greater than 16% thyme honey. Beekeeping Laboratory Melissania’s themari honey is certified greater than 75%.

Everything connected to bee keeping is done in-house at Beekeeping Laboratory Melissania including constructing the hives. Each box can contain 70,000 to 80,000 bees and produce 45 pounds of honey. Harvest is after July 15 when the herbs are past flowering. The processing of honey, like all foods, is done with medical sanitation. Stainless steel machines cut open the wax sealed trays from the hive and an extractor drains the honey. It’s collected in stainless steel pans and a strainer collects the wax.

The honey is double filtered and then placed in tall stainless steel tanks for 10-12 days before bottling. The beeswax is used to make candles and to coat screens. The hives are restored, repaired or wood recycled for new ones. The entire operation is powered by solar energy.

 

View of Dryopida

Dryopida

Dryopida’s roofs are red tile – an oddity on Kythnos. The manufacture of roof tiles was a major economic engine for the village in the past. Nestled in a steep valley in the island’s interior, its ancient streets, like those of Chora, are a pedestrian maze. A small cave under a church is being transformed into a theater. There’s a small amphitheater in town for events, but mainly the quiet, the jumble of buildings and the workout one receives walking Dryopida gives credence to the word quaint.

Down the road from Dryopida is the popular village of Kanala perched on the edge of the Aegean. Pilgrimages are made to the Panagia Kanala – Church of the Holy Maria of Kanala. Unique for the Cyclades, the Panagia Kanala, and a good part of the old village, is set among the only pine forest in the island group.

Town of Dryopida

Kanala

Built in the 17th century during Ottoman rule, its icon of the Virgin Mary is sacred and miraculous. A small golden boat hangs from a central cross in the church reminding pilgrims of an age-old ship accident in the harbor. Prayers to the Virgin Mary by the crew are credited with the ship not sinking, thus sparing their lives. The church complex has guest quarters for pilgrims with cost on a donation basis only.

Up along the winding coastal road outside Kanala is Café Ophioussa with beautiful views of the sea. What first visually attracts visitors to Chef/owner Yannis Kollaros’ café are the colorful tables painted with individual scenes, then the eye sees the long refrigerated display cases of fresh fish and seafood. Upon closer observation, the stone terrace is painted with trompe d’oeil scenes that will not fail to elicit chuckles.

The interior of this acclaimed seafood restaurant brims with imaginative folk art, many with sea themes created using found objects. The artist responsible for Café Ophioussa atmosphere is no less than Chef Kollaros himself. It’s his winter work when the café is closed for the season, and most of the art is available for purchase

Yannis Kollaros

Chef/owner/artist Yannis Kollaros of Café Ophioussa

Size doesn’t matter. On 39 square miles Kythnos provides the atmosphere and amenities to satisfy any seeker of tranquility with a touch of what the Cyclades islands were like before the age of packaged tours. Yet what hopefully will never change, even given packaged tours, is the genuine hospitality of the people. Perhaps that will be the Virgin Mary’s ultimate miracle.

 

Travel with Pen and Palate every month to Greece and the world.

Disclaimer: the author was a guest of the Municipality of Kythnos

 

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The hospitality of Greece

Marc travels, cooks, eats, observes, interacts, lives and writes. Please read more about Marc on our About Us Page!

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