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.

Best drinks for your self-catering holiday to Rhodes

When it comes to drinks, visitors to Rhodes are spoilt for choice. The island has centuries of alcohol production under its belt, so you know you’re in for a quality tasting experience. The best part of a self-catering trip is that you don’t have to stick to the menu in a hotel bar, leaving your options wide open.

In the comfort of your private holiday rental, you can try a different drink every night of your trip – wine, beer, liquor, or whatever else takes your fancy. Here are some authentic Rhodian flavours that you simple have to try:

Enjoy an ice-cold ouzo from the balcony of your Rhodes villa
Image by jerrroen, used under Creative Commons license (CC BY 2.0)

Ouzo

This strong liquor is often hailed as Greece’s national drink, and it has a long history, originating from a 14th century drink called tsipouro. Ouzo is anise-flavoured, so if you like liquorice, you’re bound to like this.

Ouzo is found local supermarkets, but for the best flavours, choose a reputable brand like Plomari. For an authentic experience, follow the Greek custom of drinking ouzo with food. Typically, is it sipped alongside mezedes, the Greek version of tapas, so treat yourself to some small plates whilst cooling down with chilled ouzo in the garden of your villa.

If ouzo on its own is a little too strong for your tastes, try adding water – and don’t be alarmed when it turns milky. This happens to all anise-flavoured spirits. Alternatively, you could experiment by making some ouzo-based cocktails in your kitchen.

Souma

Another traditional Greek drink, made from either figs or grapes, is souma. Similar to ouzo, and is also pretty strong, souma in Rhodes is usually the grape-based variety, and has a distinctive sweet taste.

As a result of the tradition and ritual surrounding the production of souma, it is not produced on a wide-scale by large companies. Instead, it is crafted by individual distillers, and often sold in unlabelled bottles. In the village of Siana, you can visit a distillery to learn about how this spirit is made before purchasing a bottle to bring home your holiday rental.

Rhodes is well-known for its excellent wine
Image by GanMed64, used under Creative Commons license (CC BY 2.0)

Wine in Rhodes

Rhodes is one of the most prominent winemaking areas in Greece, with wine production dating back to the ancient Phoenicians. The island is home to thousands of acres of vineyards, where grapes thrive thanks to the hot, dry climate.

The CAIR (Company Agricultural Industry of Rodos) cooperative is the most esteemed wine producer on the island, and perhaps the best in the whole of Greece. For a luxury experience, be sure to sample the company’s top quality Mandylariá and Athiri wines.

The Emery winery is another top producer in Rhodes, offering a choice of wines including dry whites, rose, and reds. No matter what your tastes, you’ll definitely find a bottle you can bring back to enjoy alongside a home-cooked meal.

Beer in Rhodes

Beer might not have the same reputation and history as wine in Rhodes, but you can still enjoy some fine Greek offerings. The lager beer Mythos is made by one of Greece’s largest and most popular breweries. It won’t be hard to find in your nearest shop, and it’s perfect if you want to relax with a refreshing pint on the terrace of your holiday villa.

By Shaun Fraser, a former drinks rep, who now focuses on writing about his favourite tipples from Europe and beyond. He credits his good nose to a previous life as a sommelier.

Hidden Gems of Rhodes

As with most of Greece, Rhodes marries beautiful weather and scenery with rich history and culture. This island is an irresistible place to relax and it is easy to get lost between the ancient civilisations and incredible ruins. Popular holiday towns like Lindos, Faliraki, and Rhodes City may hoover up most of the tourists, but look further afield and you’ll find plenty of hidden gems to discover that will make your holiday all the more rewarding.

Marvel in the beauty of Rhodes
Image by AtrBirkett, used under Creative Commons license (CC BY SA 2.0)

Halki

Only 10km long, the small island of Halki is a beautiful and slow-paced destination just off the west coast of Rhodes. Offering as undeveloped a slice of Greek island life as you can find, Halki is tranquillity personified. Just over an hour from Rhodes, Halki has only a few hundred residents, one hotel and three beaches, meaning that you have little option other than to relax! The picture-perfect main village on the island is called Emporio and there are several delightful tavernas found around the harbour.

Enjoy Rhodes' rich history
Image by andyreid1, used under Creative Commons license (CC BY 2.0)

Monolithos

For a more spectacular slice of Rhodes, take a trip to the coastal village of Monolithos. The village is known for its castle which is perched on a hundred-metre high rock face and has amazing views across the surrounding green hills and blue seas. As well as the views, the castle is an intriguing place to visit for its historical importance as it was built to protect the island by the Knights of Saint John in the 1400s.
Treat yourself to a stay in a Rhodes villa

Asklipiio

One of the most scenic settlements on the interior of the island, Asklipiio is worth visiting. Close to the popular resort town of Kiotari, Asklipiio is well known for its 13th century fort. The village also has a folklore museum housed in an even older 11th century church, replete with remarkable Byzantine wall paintings. A stroll around the village offers a pleasant change of pace from the lively beachfronts close by.

Embona

Embona is the highest village on Rhodes and it can feel a world away from the island’s busier towns. It is also right in the middle of the island’s most verdant grape producing region. This means it is the unofficial wine capital of the island as it is home to several vineyards. Wine lovers should visit in the spring when the village celebrates its wine making prowess with a local festival. Embona is also celebrated for its first-rate food thanks to the quality of local olive groves and orchards. As well as wine, it’s also the best place to sample Rhodes’ local spirit, suoma.

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.