Greece is not only the word but probably the first name on everyone’s lips when you’re talking about amazing beach holidays and favourite trips. More than 30 million people visited Greece in 2019, making it one of the most popular countries in the world. And there’s no wonder, it has some of the best beaches, crystal-clear water, white-washed houses, sunset-loving tavernas and sunshine. Lots of sunshine.
Make it your personal Odyssey to put the best food, drink and entertainment together while you wait to visit the islands again. Why? Just be-Kos.
So apparently the aperitivo concept originated in Ancient Greece. Sorry Italy, but apparently the Romans “borrowed” it. But let’s not worry about who invented it - let’s just enjoy it for what it is.
We heard through the grapevine that Greek wine is pretty fine. Well actually, we researched it as it came in at number 14 in our world study of the best places to travel for wine. You’ll find some of the oldest vineyards in Greece and its home to the second oldest grape variety. And there’s great regional variation for both red and white varieties, so when you next visit make sure you try the local plonk.
We think Metaxa is the best way to end an evening. This local amber-coloured brandy is nice neat over ice or with coke.
For something non-alcoholic, you could have a go at making soumada which is popular in Crete, especially when you are celebrating. You need to ground some almonds and mix it with sugar and water to then simmer into a syrup.You can add some aromatics if you like, such as clovers or orange peel. Drink it with a bit of water in the summer.
However, ouzo is the national drink and while technically you could make this aniseed-flavoured delight at home in a makeshift moonshine way, we would recommend buying some. Chances are you’ve got a bottle gathering dust from one of your past Greek holidays, but otherwise, if you can’t find it in the local supermarket, it’s easy to order online. Just remember, for it to officially be ouzo it has to have been made in Greece or Cyprus, as it’s protected by the EU and has protected designation of origin (PDO) status. It tastes best cold, so pour the ouzo over some ice cubes for optimum deliciousness..
Greek flavours are some of the most mouth-watering in the world. You can go formal with a starter, main and then dessert. Or you can just make a meze (similar to Spanish tapas), with loads of little plates to snack on. Go crazy with gyros, saganaki, bourdeto, sofrito and pastitsada. It's going to be tough to narrow it down.
Get the pitta bread and dips out. We recommend you try tzatziki (yogurt, cucumber garlic and mint), fava (split peas - and the Greek version of hummus), melitzanosalata (aubergine) and taramasalata (fish roe). While you can buy these all ready-made, it isn’t that difficult to make your own. In fact, we’ve even got our own fava recipe if you’d like to give it a go..
If you’re pressed for time, keep things simple by going for a kebab. Not the greasy meat scraped off the elephant leg in the shop down the road, we’re thinking delicious lamb souvlaki teamed with a simple Greek salad – feta, lettuce, olives, cucumber, tomatoes and red onion. And lots and lots of olive oil.
Now you could be mega lazy and just get some lovely Greek yoghurt and pour some honey over it. Basic but attractive. However, if you really want to end on a sweet note, get yourself some baklava. This might be the best thing the Greeks invented. Well, after the Olympic Games and democracy.
We’re going to assume you’re not really up for a bit of plate smashing (think of the neighbours… and the budget). However, we think there’s still going to be a bit of room for some music and dancing. You’ll feel like you’re back in that taverna already. Greece has a rich folk culture of dancing, in fact they have more than 4,000 different moves you can do, depending on the occasion.
Ironically, possibly the best-known dance is also one of the newest. Sirtaki was actually choreographed for the hit film of 1964, Zorba the Greek. In fact, the music from the film, created by Greek musician Mikis Theodorakis, is also probably the most famous. You will know this one, it's the one where you start off slow and then get quicker, propped up by your neighbour’s shoulders as the circle gets quicker and quicker. Have a search on YouTube and you’ll find the instructions.
If you want some music in the background, you might want to ask your parents (or even grandparents) as Greek singers and musicians were the coolest things ever in the 1970s/80s. Yes, really. So, search for Maria Callas for some opera, Demis Roussos for some romance, And Nana Mouskouri who was the Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande of her day. A true talent who shows us all up by singing in 12 different languages.
We mentioned Zorba the Greek earlier – it’s epic. The energy and exuberance made it a surprise hit back in the 60s and in fact, it’s aged pretty well (like a good ouzo). Want a comedy? My Big Fat Greek Wedding is side-splittingly funny – a romcom with a heart and a massive dollop of Greek family values. And of course, there’s Mamma Mia. The theatre show and film that has meant Skópelos and Skiathos will never have to advertise for visitors again.
No self-respecting virtual party is complete without a quiz. Fire up Zoom or Kahoot and see what your friends know about one of the oldest civilisations in the world.
Here are just some of our favourite facts about Greece to get you started:
What is the biggest Greek island?
What position has Greece never finished in the Eurovision song contest?
Last – they’ve competed 40 times but never ended up at the bottom. Although they first entered in 1974 they didn’t win it until 2005.
Who is the Greek god of the sea, earthquakes and horses?
Poseidon – apparently he was very grumpy. You’d think he would be the god of camels not horses seeing as he always had the hump. Moving on, he usually is depicted carrying a Trident.
If you are looking to play some games, you can choose from the entire canon of Olympic sports (although it’s unlikely you’ve got a big enough garden for the discus or javelin). Wrestling might also not be the best idea either after a few ouzos.
The Greeks did, however, invent the yo-yo which is thought to be the second oldest toy in the world (add that to the quiz list). Otherwise give tavli or backgammon a go – it’s Greece’s national board game.