Our homeland, Greece, has hundreds of wonderful places… One of them is Nafplio, to which we will dedicate the first of our travel, summer articles! In our new travel article we will have a historic walk in the city and a few words about its history, accommodation at hotel Ippoliti of Neoklasiki Group, a visit to the shop-exhibition “Armiriki”, sweets from the store “Glykos pirasmos”, dinner at 3SIXTY Grill Dining Wine Bar, a discussion with the co-owner of Neoklasiki Group Mr. Periklis Belitsos and chef Alexandra Takoridi of 3SIXTY restaurant, an evening walk in the city, breakfast at hotel Ippoliti, a tourism lesson from Mrs. Katerina Psichoyou, a visit to “Mesali” bakery, an interview with the owner of the Worry Beads Museum Eleni Evangelinou and a dip in the sea of Tolo.
A historic walk
Taking our first exploratory walk in the streets of the old town of Nafplio, we saw moments of history emerging in the urban space… The statue of Otto, the old Parliament, the statue of Kolokotronis, Syntagma Square, the first Greek military school, the first Greek high school, mosaics of history that go back to ancient times, at the time of the creation of the Greek state, when Nafplio was the first capital of the newly formed Greek state.
As we learned from our visit to the Folklore Museum of Nafplio “B. Papantoniou ”of the Peloponnesian Folklore Foundation (you will see more about the museum in the second part of our article) Nafplio was built by the Venetians in the 15th century under the castle of Acronafplia. Until the Greek Revolution of 1821 it had a rare combination of Venetian and Ottoman rule.
Immediately after its conquest in 1822, Nafplio was chosen as the seat of the Provisional Administrations, due to its critical geographical location. Its population consisted of Greeks and many foreigners. With the arrival of Kapodistrias in 1828, the suburbs of Pronoia were organized to receive Cretan refugees. All these populations composed a diverse mosaic with different traditions and customs.
Nafplio is inextricably linked to the first Governor of the Greek state, Ioannis Kapodistrias. When he arrived in the city in 1828, everyone welcomed him with enthusiasm. He ruled the newly formed state for three years and eight months, leaving a huge legacy of projects in areas such as agriculture, education, security, justice, the military and more.
At Hotel Ippoliti
After we got a first taste of the city of Nafplio it was time to go to the hotel that would host us, hotel Ippoliti of Neoklasiki Group Hotels & Restaurants. Hotel Ippoliti is located in the heart of the old town of Nafplio, within walking distance of the streets, shops, port and Palamidi. A beautiful attic room was waiting for us with all the amenities… We left our things and took a bath in the spotless bathroom of our room, which also had a whirlpool! Here we must emphasize that the hotel strictly adheres to all the rules of hygiene for protection from the Coronavirus. So, we got ready and continued our walks…
A hands-on exhibition experience
During our first walk we saw a store that attracted our interest, “Armiriki” and so we headed there. It is a store that makes t-shirts in front of customers, in a workshop-exhibition of textile materials of industrial history in the Argolic plain in the 20th century.
Upon entering the store, we were greeted by Anna, the sewer. She showed us the space where the sewing of t-shirts is done live. A photograph from a 1949 textile factory in Argos dominates the background. Small showcases show the history of textiles, which you can grab by hand and feel the difference between wool and cotton after the first and second processing stage. A hands-on experience, as it is called in museology! In addition, there is also a small library in the store.
The company is a small, family brand that produces t-shirts in limited quantities, 300 pieces each. This is confirmed by the number embroidered on each t-shirt. In addition to the t-shirts in the store, you will find leather cases and canvas bags with embroidered ancient mottos.
As Anna told us, the store has been around for three years and the exhibition for a year now. The owners are a couple who moved to Nafplio a few years ago. The t-shirts are distributed throughout Greece, but also abroad. Before we left, Anna showed us the state-of-the-art sewing machine which embroiders the numbering and the ancient mottos onto the T-shirts based on digital files. We confess that it impressed us!
Sweet almond gifts
Continuing our walk in the alleys of Nafplio we thought of getting some souvenirs for home, and what better than sweets of course! For this reason we visited the store “Glykos pirasmos” from which we got handmade almond macaroons (amygdalota in Greek) made by the owner Vassilis Bobos. Their flavors are many: rose, bitter almond, pistachio, mastic and others. In the store you will find handmade chocolates, but also products from a local women’s cooperative. We also found rahat, almond loukoumia, a traditional dessert from Patras.
Back at hotel Ippoliti
Having wandered the streets of the old town for quite some time, we decided to return to the hotels to rest and get ready for our night out.
As we prepared, we discovered a surprise, a TV-mirror! We were really left speechless!
Dinner at 3sixty Grill Dining Wine Bar
It was getting dark and Eat Dessert First Greece was starting to get hungry! So, we headed to the restaurant “3SIXTY Grill Dining Wine Bar” of Neoklasiki Group Hotels & Restaurants. We sat outside and enjoyed a wonderful meal accompanied by awesome wines that the extremely polite and hospitable staff offered us. The flavors were special and delicious and the service was impeccable. We were thrilled!
Discussion with Mr. Periklis Belitsos and the chef of 3SIXTY restaurant
Since we are talking about gastronomy, we will refer here to our discussion with Mr. Periklis Belitsos and the chef of the restaurant Alexandra Takoridi, which took place the next day. For reasons of coherence of the article, we will mention it here.
Mr. Belitsos is one of the three owners of the Neoklasiki Group, along with Anastasios Iliadis and Fotios Vassiliadis. He has a great love for gastronomy and that is why he occupies himself with this domaine. His goal is to promote Greek gastronomy and to constantly discover new local products from local producers and companies from all over Greece.
He told us that 3SIXTY restaurant opened in 2012 in a neoclassical building. The floors of the building house the seven suites of the 3SIXTY hotel. In the beginning, the restaurant had wines from all over the Peloponnese, since the philosophy was to support their place. The producers trusted the idea and gave the wines “first hand”, thus making it possible for the restaurant to offer them at a lower price. Today the restaurant has collected wine, tourism and gastronomy awards.
The wine was always accompanied by food and through various changes the restaurant reached its current form, with Mrs. Alexandra Takoridi as chef. In the second year, the restaurant began to offer wines from all over Greece, from large and small producers.
As Mr. Periklis described to us, the 3SIXTY restaurant serves Greek and Mediterranean cuisine, aiming at quality more than profit. Also, in the award-winning restaurant you will find cuts of meat from all over the world, such as Black Angus from Australia, from first class farms of the world.
Mr. Periklis stressed that in the restaurant they like to pioneer and open new paths in gastronomy and tourism. Nafplio is has quality tourism, as he told us. Apart from being a destination close to Athens, Nafplio has many events such as the Marathon, the Mediterranean Yacht Show and more.
Also, Mr. Periklis pointed out that Neoklasiki Group supports local products. They have a collaboration with a supplier and wine and food journalist, Haris Tzanis, who addresses small producers from all over Greece and gets the best there is in each region. One such example is the sun-dried sardines of Kalymnos, which they find in a women’s cooperative. With the chef’s imagination and creativity, local products go one step further. Another such product is the carob toasted bread that we tried at the beginning of our meal. There is even a Greek mutton prosciutto! Also, Mr. Belitsos told us that in addition to the quality materials and the restaurant space, they have invested a lot in the equipment. They even have a special oven to cook the meat properly so that it keeps its liquids!
At this moment our discussion was joined by chef Alexandra Takoridi. We asked her about her personal story and she told us that she had come to the store when it first started, but then the job took her elsewhere. A year and a half ago, the chef decided that she could no longer stand the capital, so she decided to come to Nafplio. She had been in contact with the owner of 3SIXTY all this time and so she found herself in the restaurant again.
From her many years of experience in kitchens -fifteen years in kitchens and ten years in charge of restaurants- she believes that Nafplio is now a suburb of Athens, with a good quality of life. We asked her about the restaurant and she told us that it gets very crowded, especially on weekends, and that it has built its audience.
3SIXTY restaurant invests in small Greek producers, with products from all over the country, cheeses, cold cuts, wines, anything one can imagine. Chef Alexandra believes that it is not easy to change people’s mentality from one day to the next. The menu we tried is the third since the chef came to the restaurant. Local products are slowly being imported. There is no foreign cheese in the menu. The same goes for cold cuts. They are looking to find Greek producers and farms, although they do not always succeed.
From discussions with other colleagues in the province and Athens, chef Alexandra sees a shift towards small Greek producers. There are so many good quality products that we can’t imagine!
According to chef Alexandra, Coronavirus has done its damage, since it has taken them back a bit in this effort, in the most creative issues. For the time being, they are moving a bit sparingly and have to come to terms with the fact that people have lost a large part of their income. That’s why the menu was updated and included dishes at lower prices, which are less sophisticated, but of the same quality. The goal is to maintain high quality, reducing the hours required for a dish so that the price can be reduced. Of course, some expensive cuts of meat have remained, because there is an audience that can support them financially. Thus, the restaurant now has two menus, corresponding to the situation of the time. For chef Alexandra, it is important that the menu changes over time. Slowly, materials that are not seasonal are beginning to be discarded.
For the profession of the cook, the chef told us that she loves it very much. We asked her if it was difficult and she told us that until the beef fillet with potatoes arrive on the plate, there is much difficult work behind, from potatoes dirty with soil to meat with blood on it… According to the chef, many young persons have entered the profession because it is fashionable or because they were promised a lot of money, which is not the case. You need to have a lot of patience and a strong stomach!
Our conversation ended sweetly, with a dessert from the excellent chef Alexandra Takoridi. It was truly one of the most delicious desserts we have ever tasted!
A night walk
Back to our normal flow now … after enjoying our delicious meal at 3Sixty Restaurant we thought it was time for a night walk. The city of Nafplio does not sleep, since there are a lot of shops that are filled with young people, but also older people. We preferred to walk the streets and gaze at the beautifully lit buildings, against the backdrop of Palamidi castle shining at the top.
Back to the hotel for sleep
Time to sleep Eat Dessert First Greece… tomorrow will be a great day with many more sweet discoveries, Rupert told us and sent us to the room for rest and sleep in the soft mattress and fluffy pillows of hotel Ippoliti.
The next day dawned, the clock went off and we got ready for breakfast. A rich buffet awaited us with savory and sweet delicacies that satisfied every taste! A variety of eggs, pies, bread, rolls, cold cuts, cheeses, cakes, croissants, tartlets, sweets, yogurt, jams and whatever coffee we wanted were just a few of the options we had! We filled our dishes with the help of the staff who served us, having taken all the necessary precautions. We really tried everything and it was all fresh and delicious! To enjoy our breakfast we could sit in the dining room of the hotel, or in the beautiful courtyard with a pool.
Eliza’s choices on the first day were: scrumbled eggs with bacon and sausages, fried bread, croissant, biscotino tart and orange pie. George’s choices were a bit more… The sweet dish contained cake, biscuit tart, croissant, chocolate croissant, and apple pie. The savory dish contained various cheeses and cold cuts, fresh bread, handmade pies and much more!
A tourism lesson from sales director Mr. Katerina Psichoyou
After devouring our full dishes, we met sales director of the Neoklasiki Group and former journalist, Mrs. Katerina Psichoyou, who spoke to us about the philosophy and values of the Neoklasiki Group. One of the first things that Mrs. Psichoyou emphasized to us is the love and passion that the owners have and how much they take care of the buildings that are being renovated. They take abandoned buildings, in poor condition, which need a lot of work, and transform them into the beautiful buildings we see today that really adorn the city.
Mrs. Psichoyou told us that the first hotel that was renovated was Nafsimedon in 1993, a very beautiful mansion with a garden outside, which for her is one of the most impressive in the city. Its first floor has a very high ceiling and its interior has antique furniture, which the owners have searched hard to find.
In 2004 Neoklasiki Group opened hotel Ippoliti, as Ms. Psichoyou told us, with the large hall with hand-painted ceilings and Tuscan furniture. The renovated building was built in 1830.
In 2008 they opened the Xenon Inn in Syntagma Square, with a coffee shop on the ground floor. In 2015 Neoklasiki Group opened 3SIXTY with seven two-room and one-room suites over the homonymous restaurant. The Castellano Hotel opened in November 2019, and more will follow, Ms. Psichoyou told us.
In the renovations, great attention is paid to matching the buildings to the character of the city. For Ms. Psichoyou, the owners offer to the city, with the beautiful old buildings. The municipality has helped a lot, she told us, and has been very involved in the tourist development of the area. It is important that the municipality makes many nice events that have been established and have become an institution.
Mrs. Psichoyou described to us that when the Mediterranean Yacht Show takes place, Nafplio becomes a cosmopolitan city. There is also the Venetian Carnival, while during the year many cultural events take place, such as the Music Festival that lasts more than 20 years with classical music bands in archeological sites. This year, unfortunately, everything has been postponed due to the pandemic.
We asked Ms. Psichoyou which countries most visitors came from and told us about England and America in terms of groups, and private visitors from the Netherlands, Germany, France, England, most recently Switzerland and Sweden. Nafplio also has many visitors from America, Canada and Australia. The impression that the visitors have is that what is offered to them in Nafplio is very cheap and very good. For Ms. Psichoyou, it is very important to offer a good experience to the client, because in this way they will form a good image not only for the place, but also for Greece and the Greeks … Mrs. Psichoyou also told us that a lot of work is being done by the Ministry of Tourism. This way we closed our nice conversation, with a wish that the visitors leave our country with beautiful images and experiences.
Visit to “Mesali” bakery
The Neoklasiki Group also owns Mesali bakery, which supplies the group’s hotels with fresh bread, baked goods and sweets for breakfast. We visited it before our return to Athens and they gave us as a gift a double loaf of sourdough bread made with a grandmother’s recipe. Many thanks!
Visit to the Worry Beads Museum
Our second day in Nafplio started with the awesome breakfast of the hotel Ippoliti and continued with a visit to the Worry Beads Museum of Nafplio, in which we discussed with the owner Eleni Evangelinou. The Worry Beads Museum is located in the old town and has as its theme the worry beads and prayer beads. As we read in its informational material, the museum was founded in 1998 by Aris Evangelinos and Rallou Gromitsari, who have been collecting and studying worry beads since 1958.
As the owner Eleni Evangelinou told us, the museum is private and operates under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture. The store that is housed on the ground floor has existed since 1994, while the museum upstairs since 1998.
But what are worry beads? Eleni told us that “worry beads are objects that produce a repetitive sound, and this separates it from prayer beads.” The exhibition tells the story of worry beads in four rooms. In the first there are Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim prayer beads, in the second Catholic prayer beads (rosaries), and in the third and fourth rooms Greek worry beads. The worry beads come from the prayer beads. The Greeks are the only people in the world for whom worry beads have no religious use.
The worry beads and prayer beads of the collection are made of various materials, from amber and coral to ivory, bone and more. As Eleni told us, the first prayer beads were made of cheap, natural materials -fruits, wood, seeds, bones- for the first faithful, hardworking people who had no money. Over time, the materials were enriched, for example with amber. Amber is considered the king of materials -it is no coincidence that 3/4 of the collection is made of amber. It is a healing, warm material, ideal for worry beads or prayer beads, since they are constantly held in our hands.
At this point we asked Eleni how it all started and she told us that her great-grandfather and grandfather’s father Aris was an economic immigrant and lived for many years in Alexandria, Egypt, sometime in the 1950s and 1960s. There, as in other places where Hellenism flourished and where Greeks and Muslims coexisted, the workshops that made beads were very common. Eleni’s great-grandfather came in contact with laboratories and with the tradition and technique of making beads. He also learned a lot about the ingredients, the mixtures they used in the past. In the last years of his life he returned to Greece. The great-grandfather passed away when Eleni’s father was 14 years old, but he had managed to convey his love for the worry beads. He also left him a very small collection. This became the trigger for her father when he became an adult to travel and study the worry beads.
He continued his travels together with Eleni’s mother. Eleni’s parents did not intend to open a museum, they bought the objects for their personal use. At some point they realized that all the knowledge and material they had gathered (at least a thousand pieces) could bring the world closer to the object they loved so much. For Eleni, the story of worry beads is very beautiful and romantic, and that is why people are interested in learning about it.
The Worry Beads Museum is an original idea -it is in fact the only museum with this object in Greece, but also in the whole world since worry beads are purely Greek… Since its creation in 1998, Nafplio was tied to worry beads and we believe that the museum is a stop that is really worth a visit if you visit the city.
We asked Eleni if people were buying worry beads and she told us yes, although it is a kind of luxury. Foreign visitors, as well as Greeks, are also very interested in its history. In the museum they are in the mood to learn. Whether they buy worry beads depends on the purchasing power of each one.
It is, therefore, interesting for Greeks to learn the symbolism of the worry beads. Worry beads, Eleni described to us, symbolize the freedom that the Greek gained after the Ottoman occupation. They have been misunderstood for years as objects belonging to the “tough guys”. This has changed in recent decades and the museum has played its part. Eleni explained to us that worry beads were associated with the “tough guys” because in the past an educated man would not have time to get occupied with worry beads.
Foreigners are also very interested in learning the history of worry beads, and guided tours help. Eleni informed us that the museum offers guided tours by appointment, but also an activity for groups on “how to make your own worry beads” in collaboration with an activity office. The museum is also visited by many schools and kindergartens -about a thousand children every year, except this year due to the Coronavirus. We wish all businesses a good season with the fewest possible losses!
A dive in Tolo
After learning all this interesting things about worry beads, we drove to the beach of Tolo.
With a dive we will say goodbye for now… The second part that comes will have the story of Tolo, a visit to the Folklore Museum and the Museum of Childhood and a discussion with Mrs. Ioanna Papantoniou, founder of the Peloponnesian Folklore Foundation, dessert and bread from the Kostopoulos bakery, a lonely climb to the Acronafplia fortress, a wonderful meal with meat in Stavlos, ice cream from Koustenis, conversation with Dimitra at the reception of hotel Ippoliti, breakfast at the hotel and visit to the Holy Monastery of Panagia Katakekrymeni-Portokalousa of Argos before our return to Athens. Stay tuned!