On the Gourmet Trail. Greece: Moussaka

Want a taste of Greece without leaving the country? Try our easy to follow Moussaka recipe.

Ingredients

750g/1lb 10½oz lamb mince

1 onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 tsp dried oregano

1½ tsp dried mint

1 bay leaf

1 cinnamon stick

1 tbsp plain flour

200ml/7fl oz red wine

400g tin chopped tomatoes

2 tbsp tomato purée

2 aubergines, cut into 0.5cm slices

1 tbsp fine sea salt, plus extra for seasoning

100ml/3½fl oz olive oil

500g/1lb 2oz Maris Piper potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced

Freshly ground black pepper

For the white sauce

50g/2oz butter

50g/2oz plain flour

400ml/14fl oz milk

25g/1oz Parmesan, finely grated

1 tsp finely grated nutmeg

1 free-range egg, beaten

Method

1. Put the lamb, onion, garlic, oregano, mint, bay and cinnamon in a large heavy-based frying pan and cook over a medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon to break up the meat.

2. Stir in the flour and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Add the wine, tomatoes and tomato purée and bring to a simmer. Cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the lamb is tender and the sauce has thickened. Season again if needed and set aside.

3. Meanwhile, place the aubergine slices in a colander and sprinkle with the tablespoon of salt. Set aside for 10 minutes.

4. Rinse the aubergine slices under cold running water and pat dry with a clean tea towel. Heat 3 tablespoons of the oil in a large heavy-based frying pan and fry the aubergines for 2–3 minutes on each side, adding more oil when necessary. Remove from the pan and set aside to drain on kitchen paper.

5. Cook the potatoes in boiling water for 5 minutes, then drain in a colander under running water until cold.

6. Preheat the oven to 200C/180C Fan/Gas 6.

7. To make the white sauce, melt the butter in a large saucepan and stir in the flour. Cook for a few seconds, then gradually stir in the milk. Add half the Parmesan and the grated nutmeg. Simmer the sauce gently for 4–5 minutes, stirring regularly. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

8. Remove the saucepan from the heat and allow the sauce to cool. When cooled, stir in the egg.

9. Spoon one-third of the meat sauce into a shallow ovenproof dish large enough to hold 2.5 litres. Cover loosely with a third of the potatoes and then a third of the aubergines – you don’t need complete layers, just to arrange them roughly on top. Repeat the layers twice more, finishing with the aubergines. Pour over the white sauce, making sure it covers everything in a thick, even layer. Sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan. Bake for 35–45 minutes, or until deep golden-brown and bubbling.

5 of the best Greek islands to holiday

Greece’s charms span across the mainland and its many archipelagos. So much so, it’s often hard to pick which are the best Greek islands to holiday on. Regardless of whether you’re drawn by Zante’s coves or Crete’s picturesque harbours, here’s a summary of Greece’s finest five isles to visit.

Crete

Crete is Greece’s largest island, comprising everything from arid mountains to sun-kissed beaches. There’s plenty of cultural attractions – think the Archaeological Museum of Chania, or the Nautical Museum of Crete – alongside plush sunspots which are the hallmark of many Greek island holidays. Elafonisi beach is one such spot, made up of crystal-clear waters with shallows perfect for a gentle (and safe) swim.

Zante

Primarily known for its vibrant nightlife, Zante is in fact a multifaceted destination which caters for a lot of different tastes. The island’s capital, Zakynthos (or Zante Town) is overlooked by a Venetian castle that dates back to around the 1480s. Brave the climb and explore stone vaulted prisons, church ruins and lookout points for cannons.

Navagio Beach, otherwise known as Shipwreck Beach, is synonymous with holidays in Zante. Its pristine sands lie sheltered within a bay looking out onto the Ionian Sea – just make sure you get a sunbathing spot either next to or in front of the shipwreck in the middle of the beach, that way you’ll get a better view.

Rhodes

Rhodes and historic sites go hand in hand. The Acropolis of Lindos dates way back to Ancient Greece, and although large parts have been gradually eroded, the remaining pillars still cast an impressive sight over the surrounding coastline.

Alternatively, visit the Medieval City of Rhodes, one of Greece’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Wander over narrow sandstone bridges or park up by the harbour and enjoy a cold drink while soaking up classic Mediterranean views.

Corfu

Corfu and its fishing villages have all the right ingredients for an idyllic getaway. The Canal d’Amour beach near Agios Stefanos comprises calm, turquoise waters resting within a narrow bay. There’s sunbed facilities overlooking the sea, and on the higher grounds above the bay, so you’re left with no shortage of places to top up your tan.

Kefalonia

Last but by no means least, the Ionian Island of Kefalonia is characterised by its mystical caves, quaint villages and (of course) stretching beaches. The Melissani Cave, or Melissani Lake, is located on the east of the island. Its interiors are lit by sunlight during the day, thanks to a hole in one of the caves’ roofs, making for a calming, slightly surreal experience when you take a boat tour here.

For something a bit more challenging, hike up Mount Ainos, the highest point in Kefalonia. It’s 1,628 metres high, gifting walkers with panoramic views over the region and the nearby village of Lourdas. Back on sea level, the beaches near the village present endless amounts of serene sunbathing opportunities – lose yourself to a good book or simply unwind in the refreshing sea breeze.

Decided on a destination? Take a look at Greek island villa offerings from Villa Plus, and find a property which works for you.

By Isabella Perkins, a freelance travel writer best known for writing about self-catering holidays. Her writing tends to have a family focus, and she is in the middle of writing a new travel guide due to be published next year.

Romantic getaways: Greece and its succulent coastlines

Greece and romance go hand in hand. In fact, the country’s romantic heritage dates way back to Ancient Greece and some of its most famous figures. Take Orpheus, the Thracian musician and poet who travelled down to the underworld, encountering Hades and a three-headed dog, to rescue his wife, Eurydice.

The story might not end well (she is trapped there forever while he is later murdered), but the passion is undeniably still there. A similar lust for love runs through the country today and is encountered by amour-struck couples taking romantic getaways to Greece.

Kefalonia

holidays-in-kefalonia

Anyone who has read Louis de Bernières ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’ will have already fallen in love with Kefalonia over the pages, but the romance of the largest Ionian island isn’t just fictional. Culture loving couples can wander through the markets, discover historical monuments and once that’s done, kick back with a glass (or two…) of locally produced wine. Why not pick up an extras bottle and enjoy it from your holiday rental?

Skala is a quaint village located near the island’s southernmost tip. It’s just as popular with newlyweds as it is with seasoned couples who’ve been through many decades together, known for its whitewashed beaches and pale waters. On top of that, it’s driving distance from a number of other top romantic attractions, like Melissani Cave.

An hour north of here by car you can find Melissani Cave. This lacustrine structure was created with the natural chemical dissolution of rocks, which has resulted in a clear rooftop hole filtering sunlight onto a placid pool. Drive out here for a day of aimlessly dipping in and out of the lake or simply rowing your way around under the Ionian sun.

Corfu

holidays-in-corfu

Corfu’s rugged mountains and beautiful beachscapes make for the perfect romantic honeymoon in Greece. Sunsets here are at their finest in the summer months, but with the Ionian Sea as their backdrop are equally spectacular during other times of year. The village of Kalami sits on the north-eastern tip of the island and is home to a plethora of beaches and bars overlooking the surrounding bay. Spend your days here scuba diving the local waters before an evening of fine meze platters.

Take a trip to the island’s capital, Corfu and its ancient town centre. It’s made up of old fortresses, museums and sacred temples great for long days of exploration and immersing yourself within ancient Greek culture.

Rhodes

holidays-in-rhodes

With more than 30 beaches boasting Blue Flag status, the Dodecanese island of Rhodes is a favourite for couples in search of sheer relaxation. Lindos, a town on the eastern side of the island, is renowned for its clifftop architecture. There’s a selection of gates and walls dating back to around 280 B.C. which are just as impressive today as they were all those years ago. Scout them out – they could be the ultimate picturesque backdrop for next year’s Christmas card.

A few kilometres south of here is the idyllic resort town of Pefkos. You can actually get a glass-bottomed boat over to Lindos from here showing you the best of the local marine life. Once you’ve sailed on one of these you’ll return back to your villa feeling pampered and cleansed from the fresh Mediterranean breeze.

Ready to add a touch of Greek romance to your relationship? Take a look at Villa Plus rentals across these islands.

By Lara Scott. A former executive at a major hotel chain, Lara Scott is a freelance travel writer and journalist. She says her previous career gives her extra insight into both sides of the tourism industry.

Hidden gems of Kefalonia

As the largest Ionian Island, it’s a safe bet that Kefalonia has lots of hidden hotspots dotted throughout its serene shores. It’s easy to sunbathe and swim your days away here, you’re on the Ionian Sea after all. But get out of that luxury villa, and prepare to enhance your holiday in Kefalonia by taking a trip to these amazing locations.

Choose a Villa Holiday on Kefalonia
Image by schmilblick, used under Creative Commons license (CC BY 2.0)

Evening meals in Lourdas

Self-catering villas in Lourdas provide all the ingredients for a luxury meal at home, but sometimes it’s nice to explore outside. Lourdas is a charming coastal town, with beaches and cafes galore. It’s when you dine out here that the magic of Lourdas comes to light.

Choose Kefalonia for a Self-Catering Break
Image by Ben124, used under Creative Commons license (CC BY 2.0)

Much of the island is populated by olive trees, so wine and olives naturally make the perfect starter. Savour some of the wine for washing down a portion of lamb kleftiko, a traditional Greek dish of meat and vegetables. Lourdas has plenty of terraced restaurants letting you gaze into the sea whilst you eat.

Turtle spotting near Skala

Getting closer to nature brings everyone together. What better way to do so than with a spot of late night turtle watching? Head to Potamaki Beach, a few kilometres along the coast from Skala. It’s a conservation area for loggerhead turtles, night time ‘turtles watches’ are arranged for anyone who wants to watch these creatures in their natural habitat. This isn’t on everyone’s itinerary for holidays in Kefalonia, yet should be essential if you’re looking to experience a hidden side to the island.

Visit traditional villages

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Kefalonia’s most treasured spots were all by the coast – but they’re not. Troianata, an inland village unbeknown to many, gifts visitors an insight into traditional Greek living. Take a taxi, or drive eastwards into the hills, and explore this quaint settlement of taverns, a church, and stunning viewpoints over the island.

Drive to Melissani Lake

Despite Kefalonia’s size, everywhere is within driving distance. Comprising a lake within a cave, this makes for a great way to see a different perspective of the island. Guided tours are available, whilst the opening in the cave’s roof allows the hallowed walls to be lit by the Greek sun. You might not fancy a swim here, but remember the villa’s private pool will be waiting for you at the end of the day!

Walk to Emblisi Beach

A short walk from Fiskardo, Emblisi Beach sits within a bay of turquoise waters. Walking down the path which leads you to the sea, you can’t help but want to submerge under the calm waves. Surrounded by vegetation and chalky cliffs, even the views are suitably tranquil. It’s also a great sunspot in north Kefalonia – ideal for those seeking long afternoons admiring the Ionian Sea.

If you’ve landed a cheap holiday to Kefalonia, count yourself lucky. The island has cultural and scenic wonders in abundance, so you can discover a side to Greece you’ll never forget.

Ready for your own Greek adventure? Take a look at some of our villas.

By Ciaran Brooks. A former history graduate, Ciaran Brooks’ love for old stories has led him around the world. A self-confessed adventurer, he fell into travel writing after his blog chronicling his year in Thailand was picked up by a national paper.