Gastronomy 101: Food & Wine of the Greek Islands

Engorge yourself on our Gastronomy 101 series & discover the most delectable, most fragrant and most mouthwatering treats that Europe has to offer. Freshly caught seafood and ouzo await you...

There's nothing quite like feeling the salty seabreeze on your face as you tuck into some delicious seafood. You can't help but think, 'Can it get any fresher than this?' Add to that a glass of chilled crisp white wine, a salad of fresh tomatoes, cucumber, olives & fetta and you have a match made in heaven.

The Greek Islands are idyllic not just in natural beauty - they are a veritable paradise - but in the slow-paced nature of island life. Travelling in this kind of environment encourages you to slow down and appreciate simple flavours, whether that be the aniseed kick of ouzo or the tender deliciousness of crispy fried calamari.

The best way to see the Greek Islands is by boat, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't take the time to explore what the land has to offer too. Although not known for its wine on a world stage, the Greeks have been making wine for centuries and well beyond just Retsina and Domestica. With the volcanic soil on many of the islands, the wine making techniques are unique, creating very individual wines the likes of which you won't find anywhere else in the world.

All of the day tours and activities listed below can be incorporated into a ready-made or tailor-made island hopping itinerary.

Santorini

Santorini, with beautiful Oia and incredible sunsets, is an absolute must for any first timer to the islands. Not only is it home to beautiful sights and some incredible archaeological finds, it is also home to many wineries. With the volcanic soil being so hard to grow in, many vines are actually grown out of pots! After the 1956 earthquake on the island, the industry suffered hugely and was kept afloat by forming the Santo Wine Co-Operative. Today, they process 65% of the vines on the island and so are a great place to stop in for a wine tasting. The Santorini Wine Adventure will have you trying 12 of these different volcanic wines accompanied by local cheese, salami and olives.

For something a little more, our Santorini Cooking Class and Wine Tasting is a great way to learn about local cuisine and how to match it with local wines. Although many of the grapes are now processed by machines, at some select vineyards vinsanto, the sweet wine of Santorini, is still made by the traditional method of stamping on the grapes!

As well as calamari mentioned above, common seafood you'll find around the Cyclades includes barbounia (red mullet), astakos (lobster) and marides (whitebait). Learn six traditional Santorinian recipes with our small group Cooking Class using local organic produce while tasting local wines.

Mykonos

With sweeping beaches, old windmills, winding cobblestone alleys among white washed buildings with blue trim, Mykonos is known for its wild nightlife yet equally low-key village life in daylight hours. The rugged island is also home to some delicious culinary traditions that you can discover on the Wine & Culture walking tour. This tour guides participants to local historical spots, teaches you about the folklore of the island, takes you to a nautical museum documenting Mykonos' long seafaring history and afterwards lets you enjoy a wine tasting accompanied by traditional mezes.

Meze is a small snack sized bite of delicious local fare and can include dolmades (vine leaves stuffed with mince and/or herby rice), melitzana (eggplant - fried or as a dip with tomato & onion), gigantes (giant butter beans in tomato sauce), saganaki, briam (eggplants, zucchinis, capsicum & tomatoes) and much more.

Naxos

The biggest of the Cyclades Islands, Naxos was once centre of island life. Upon arrival in the port town, you can't help but notice the Apollon Gate, thrust out to sea on an island head, harking back to Naxos' rich history. The namesake town is full of white-washed houses and Venetian mansions, with a medieval castle, Kastro, at the top of the hill acting today as an archaeological museum.

Being such a big island, Naxos is an island of agriculture and they grow many citrus trees, as well as grazing sheep and goats. On the Naxos Yesterday and Today tour, discover the foundations of Naxos, visiting a ceramics workshop, a Byzantine church and a citrus distillery, where you can taste locally crafted creations. To try some delicious local fare, enjoy our Riverwalk coach day trip, following the longest river in Naxos past an old monastery, nine watermills and finishing off with a traditional Greek meal in Engares.

Koufonisia

A little off the tourist path, Koufonisia, meaning hollow islands, are three small islands that look from afar as though they are entirely made up of caves. In reality, they are a charming stop off, often known as the Mykonos of the Small Cyclades with superb beaches and a lovely array of restaurants that maintain their low-key charm and serve traditional Greek fare.

Crete

crete_restaurant_gastronomyCrete is Greece's largest island, with an interesting history and resulting culture. It has the best of both worlds with nature, from rugged mountains to pristine beaches and is surrounded by turquoise waters. With Minoan archaeological sites muddled in next to Venetian-style town houses and quaint villages, Crete has something for every traveller - and we haven't even mentioned the cuisine!

Almost every village in Crete seems to have its own signature cheese. Graviera is a hard cheese that is sweet when young and then becomes nutty and flavourful as it ages. By contrast pichtogalo Chanion is a softer creamier cheese, as is myzithra, a young whey cheese with a mild taste. To drink, everywhere around Crete locals brew their own raki over open fires in copper stills. This is a type of brandy distilled from grapes and is served with mezes, olives or even neat.

Try some of the delicious foods and wines of Crete on the Garden of Crete independent tour - a full day tour of food, wine, Minoan archaeology and even the chance to try creating come pottery yourself under the tutelage of a master potter.

Tastes of Crete features instruction from a local cook in a rustic 18th century farmhouse surrounded by organic gardens. Participate in wine and cheese tastings before enjoying a delicious meal matched with Cretan wines.

A popular daytrip off Crete is to visit the tiny islet of Spinalonga. Once home to a leper colony, the islet was orginally a fortress of Venetian Crete and on The Island - Spinalonga BBQ independent tour you can enjoy a beachside BBQ as you explore the island.

For a more complete Crete itinerary, have a look at one of our Crete Self Drive packages where we can incorporate one of these day tours.

"But how do I get from one island to the next?"

Well, the easiest way to see all of these magical places and enjoy the delicious flavours of the Greek Islands is to let us organise an Island Hopping Package for you. The packages include your accommodation, some meals, return airport and port transfers, fast ferry tickets and flights (where specified). Trips that encompass some or all of the above islands include Cycladic AdventureGreek Island Explorer; Island Delightsor any other route we will tailor-make just for you.

For a full Greece itinerary, check out our Land & Island Packages encompassing classical mainland Greece as well as some of the most famous and beautiful islands. Or how about going for the full holiday experience and book yourself into one of our many Cruises to experience the islands in relaxed style? Delectable meals feature on the menu with many organised day trips to wineries, markets and local restaurants ashore to ensure you get to experience all the flavours of the Greek Islands.


Are you ready for your gastronomical tour of the Greek Islands? Contact us today about one of the itineraries outlined above or we can tailor-make your perfect foodie experience, featuring the best culinary experiences that the Islands have to offer!