Leaving Kastoria, about which we wrote the first article of our tribute, we headed northwest, to the green Nymfaio, where we would be hosted for two nights by the beautiful Guesthouse Argyro.
The first article of our tribute to Western and Central Macedonia
In the first part of our new travel article we stay in Nymfaio, in the excellent Argyro Guesthouse of Mr. Ioannis Iatridis and Mrs. Argyro Felesaki, we visit the award-winning ALPHA Estate in Amyntaio, where we learn the whole process of producing their qualitative wines, and at the end of a full day we end up at the famous Taverna Thomas in Sklithro, where we taste unique savory and sweet dishes of high gastronomy.
Nymfaio is a preserved traditional settlement, which belongs to the Municipality of Amyntaio of the Regional Unit of Florina of the Region of Western Macedonia. It is located at an altitude of 1350 m and its distance from Kastoria from which we started is about 35 km. It is widely known for its lush nature, as well as for the ecological NGO Arcturos, which we visit in part b of our article, dedicated again to Nymfaio.
We arrived in Nymfaio in the afternoon, after a long trip from Athens and a full day in Kastoria, so we decided to spend the first night in the guesthouse that would host us. It is the Guesthouse Argyro, a beautiful traditional accomodation in the northern part of the village.
The owners Ioannis Iatridis and his wife Argyro Felesaki welcomed us warmly and invited us to sit with them in the courtyard of the guesthouse. The view enchanted us instantly! Especially when we enjoyed it with Greek coffee, cookies and handmade quince spoon sweet which Mrs. Argyro offered us. We immediately met the animals of the hostel, two sweet Chow Chow!
While we were sitting in the wonderful yard, we discussed with Mr. Ioannis about Nymfaio. He told us that the great benefactors of the place are Giannis Boutaris, thanks to whom Nymfaio was reborn, Nikolaos Mertzos, who remained president of the community for three decades, and now Nikolaos Sossidis, who has financially supported the church of the village, Agios Nikolaos, among others.
We asked Mr. Ioannis about tourism in Nymfaio and he told us that it is very crowded in winter, but also in August. This is due to the fact that people, mainly from Athens, have started to want to spend part of their summer vacation at sea and part of it in destinations of natural chill, for rejuvenation.
Mr. Ioannis also told us that Nymfaio is liked by people who love nature and come here to calm down and relax. One can also hike on trails, such as the “Paths of Peace” hiking and cycling trails, funded by the German Embassy, due to the holocaust in the nearby town of Lechovo.
Many weddings and baptisms also take place in Nymfaio; the village has a very beautiful church and it has become known for the weddings that have taken place there, especially in the summer. Five weddings and one baptism have already been closed for the year. In the days we were there, in fact, there would be a very big baptism in Nymfaio, for which most of the guesthouses in the village were booked. Mr. Ioannis told us that the couple was from abroad and had once come for a weekend. Because they were having difficulty having children, the priest of the village prayed for them and they said that if they had a child they would baptize him or her in Nymfaio.
Nymfaio is now doing organized activities to attract tourists from abroad. Mr. Ioannis informed us about two events, in which they invited selected foreign bloggers and took them to the best in the area, from accommodation and food to outdoor activities. A very nice initiative that promotes the beauties of our country abroad!
Here we must note that, as Mr. Ioannis told us, Nymfaio has been considered one of the 10 most beautiful villages in Europe and has been nominated by UNESCO for an award for mild development with respect for heritage!
Mr. Ioannis and Mrs. Argyro also have a second luxury guesthouse in Nymfaio, La Moara, which we will see in more detail in our next article. Mr. Ioannis is in charge of La Moara Guesthouse, while Ms. Argyro is in charge of Argyro Guesthouse. About La Moara, Mr. Ioannis told us that it was originally built by Giannis Boutaris and managed by his wife, Athena. It is a historic guesthouse, with which the village was introduced as a tourist attraction.
When Mr. Boutaris lost his wife, because he did not manage the guesthouse himself, he chose to sell it. It was taken over by a large company of diagnostic centers with the aim of turning it into a rehabilitation center and spa hotel along with two other buildings. They even made a large donation to the village for an additional aqueduct to strengthen the water of the village and the guesthouse. However, the financial crisis came until the necessary procedures were carried out, and then the guesthouse was rented, without success. 4-5 years ago, Mr. Ioannis took it in a very bad condition and since then they have been fighting to keep it alive. Fortunately it works very well and we wish them even better!
Then we asked Mr. Ioannis about the history of Argyro Guesthouse. He told us that initially it was their vacation house, much smaller of course. While neither he nor his wife Argyro are from Nymfaio, but they come from Thessaloniki and visited Nymfaio for weekends, they had decided that one day they would come to live in the village and make a living from the guesthouse.
Unfortunately, the financial crisis came in the meantime, so Mr. Ioannis left his job at the time in the field of cars and they came a few years earlier than they expected to the village, in the summer of 2010. At first it was difficult, but they managed and during eleven years they haven’t left more than 3-4 days away from Nymfaio. The unique view that the guest house has, which with the changes of the weather changes its image every season, from snowy in winter to red and yellow in autumn, is important to them…
After our nice conversation and the enjoyable coffee with the wonderful view of the yard we went up to rest in our room. The room, like the whole guesthouse, was decorated in a neoclassical style, which, as we were told, characterizes the mansions of Nymfaio. The view from the windows was very beautiful and the bed incredibly soft and fragrant; everything you need for a relaxing, restful sleep.
As you can imagine, we could not get enough sleep. And the best? Breakfast is served until noon, so we could get up late! And how could we know what a breakfast was waiting for us!
The delicacies of the morning we devoured were accompanied by low-pitched music, which created a very pleasant atmosphere. The rest of the day would have wine tourism; we would visit the award-winning ALPHA Estate in Amyntaio, a town in the Prefecture of Florina at a distance of about 24 km from Nymfaio, a half-an-hour drive by car.
Arriving in the area, in the middle of a purely viticultural landscape, a huge vineyard appeared in front of us; in the background there was a building in earthly tones, beautifully integrated into the natural landscape. So we were looking forward to going in and learning all about the famous wines made there!
The ALPHA Estate is part of the Wine Roads of Northern Greece, a unique wine tourism network in Greece, which includes 8 wine routes and consists of 31 wineries. The winery of the ALPHA Estate is one of the 6 wineries of the Wine Route of the Lakes. It is located in Amyntaio, which has a wine-growing zone of Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) and is the homeland of Xinomavro. It is also the coldest viticultural zone in Greece, as we learned during the tour of the winery. All the inhabitants of Amyntaio, in fact, as we were told, whatever profession they practice, have vineyards.
In the resting room of the winery we had the opportunity to see the full range of wines produced by the company ALPHA ESTATE, as well as its distinctions, the most important of which is that its winery is among world’s top 100 wineries for 2021!
Mrs. Evangelia Meditskou, host of ALFA ESTATE, welcomed us indoors. We also had the honor to meet one of the two owners of the business, the chemist-oenologist Mr. Angelos Iatridis. Mrs. Meditskou spoke to us with love about the ALPHA Estate and gave us a very detailed tour of its winery.
The tour started with a few words about ALPHA ESTATE. Ms. Meditskou told us that as a company it was established in 1997 by Mr. Angelos Iatridis, chemist-oenologist and viticulturist Mr. Makis Mavridis. The vineyard is covering a total area of 180 ha. The red varieties Xinomavro, Syrah, Merlot, Tannat, Pinot Noir, Barbera, Negroamaro, Montepulciano, Mavrodapnhe are cultivated there; as about white varieties the Greek Malagouzia and Assyrtiko and the French Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc-as well as the Gewürztraminer, from which their dessert wine is produced. 70% of the wines with the label ALPHA Estate are consumed in the Greek market and the remaining 30% abroad.
By the time we visited the winery, in early September, the harvest had begun, as we could tell from the smells inside the winery. Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay were slowly being picked, followed by Malagouzia, the first white grapes to hit the market in November. By the end of September, the harvest will be completed for all varieties. As Mrs. Meditskou later told us, a “green harvest” takes place on the estate in June, during which the unripe bunches are removed and the plants are lightened, so that the grapes have the desired quality based on the high standards of the company.
The first stop that the grape makes after the harvest is the destemming machine, where the berry is separated from the stalk. The first stop we made was the most industrial area, the area of the large stainless steel tanks, each with a capacity of 13 tons, which accommodate by variety the grape pulp, which consists of the stalk, the seed and the flesh of the grape, for both red and white varieties. In the same space, on a balcony, there are 6 small presses that house the white grapes: all the grape pulp is transferred to the presses and with the help of gravity the juice goes down to start the fermentation; the winemaking of white wine is a quick process and requires only juice.
On the contrary, the fermentation of red wine takes several weeks and requires the skin and seed, which will give the colour and will be removed afterwards. The skins and seeds along with the stalks return to the vineyard in another season as fertilizer.
The vineyard extends within a radius of 2-3 km from the building, thus ensuring the shortest possible transfers. It is uniform and linear, with an underground irrigation system and a remote sensing program, with which they see via satellite when the varieties ripen. In the center of the vineyard there is a meteorological station, which provides the necessary data with absolute accuracy.
Inside the tanks we saw, the fermentation is completed and all the juices go down to the cellar, the area of the barrels, where maturation takes place. This was our next stop.
The cellar space is necessary for the creation of the wine. It has low lighting, 80% humidity and a temperature of 14°C, both in winter and in summer. All barrels have the same size with a capacity of 225 liters. They come brand new from France, from specific forests and from specific years per tree. The service life of each barrel is 3 years. Under the barrels there is a river gravel and below the natural soil of the area. The walls inside and out are plastered with the natural red material Kourasanit and not painted, so as not to add chemicals.
The maturation of juices in barrels varies depending on the product that will be on the market. The two white wines of ALPHA ESTATE stay in the barrels for 7-8 months, while the red ones from 1 to 3 years. After the maturation in the barrel is completed, the juices return to the upper tanks to make the vinification, the blend, whether it is from two varieties, or from three, or single-variety. Then the wine goes to the bottling line.
Once the wine has been bottled, it comes down again to rest in a large wine preserver, with a temperature of 16-17°C. All red wines of 2018 and below are stored there in a semi-finished state, since the wines of 2020 and 2019 are in barrels. Semi-finished state is defined as the phase when the wine is ready, has entered the bottle and is sealed with the cap of 100% natural cork, it is simply not ready to go on the market, so it rests there for about a year and a half.
In the winery there is also the possibility of storing labels. For example, if a grandchild is born in 2010, the parent or grandfather can dedicate the wine of the year to him, keep it in the winery and the grandchild will pick it up when he or she grows up. A very nice gift idea!
Returning to the ground floor, Mrs. Meditskou took us to the two complete lines of bottling and labeling. During the harvest season they usually do not have bottling, but labeling to get the wine on the market. In Greece we do not have a developed glass industry, so the bottles are necessarily supplied from abroad; the labels and the cardboard boxes, however, they make sure that they are supplied by Greek companies.
Then Mrs. Meditskou showed us the refrigerators, two large chambers, where the grapes are stored at a temperature of 4-5°C, a cold temperature. The grapes after the harvest are not left to rot in the sun, but are stored in the refrigerators until the next morning, when the process of destemming that separates the berries from the stalks will begin. The rest of the year, except for the harvest, the refrigerators serve as storage areas for the finished products.
After completing the extremely interesting tour, it was time for the wine tasting. In the testing area we met Mrs. Magda, who served us 7 different types of ALPHA Estate wines, the white Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, their unique Rose of 100% Xinomavro, the red Axia, Xinomavro and Xinomavro Reserve, as well as the white dessert wine Omega, and explained in detail their characteristics and how they are produced. Especially about the Xinomavro Reserve, Mrs. Meditskou had told us that it comes from a dry vineyard of about 100 years, which is irrigated only by the weather conditions and has a very low yield. We felt very lucky to try it!
Each of the wines we tasted had its own unique taste and aroma that stayed in our minds. The attention and emphasis on quality given at each stage of their production was evident. Good wines with all the meaning of the phrase!
After we completed the tasting of the wonderful wines of the ALPHA Estate, Mrs. Meditskou guided us to the places upstairs. There she showed us the big table at which travel agents from all over the world, who will promote wine tourism in Western Macedonia to their countries, are welcomed. This meeting lasts a whole day with full reference to the region, the soil, the vineyard, the details of each wine… An important initiative that promotes tourism, and specifically wine tourism, in our country!
We warmly thank Mrs. Meditskou and ALPHA ESTATE for the wonderful hospitality and the gifts we brought with us to Athens, a white Sauvignon Blanc and a Rose, which we will keep for a special occasion! We left the ALPHA Estate as we arrived, through the green vineyards, leaving their elegant building in the background. However, we left full of flavors, aromas and knowledge on good wine, which will make us see it with a very different perspective!
Returning to the Argyro Guesthouse, we went up to the room for a while to rest and get ready for the night out for lunch at the famous and award-winning Taverna Thomas. We got dressed and before we left we enjoyed for a while the beautiful, decorated in shades of blue, living room of our floor, and we took our photos too!
Relaxed, but also hungry, we took the road to Sklithro. Sklithro is a small green village at an altitude of 680 m, which is 17 km away from Nymfaio, which was our base, a 25-minutes drive. Taverna Thomas is there, about which we were told the best, both in Nymfaio and before we started, in Athens; we even continued to hear about this restaurant throughout our trip to Western and Central Macedonia. This restaurant is a reference point in Macedonian gastronomy, and was awarded this year with the Greek Cuisine Award 2021.
We were welcomed to the restaurant by Mr. Thomas Paspalis, Thomas’s grandson who together with his wife Eleni founded the tavern in 1970. Now, since 2002, the reins have been taken over by the third generation, Mr. Thomas, who has studied tourism, and his brother, while his father, mother and brother cook in the kitchen; it is a purely family business.
After touring for a while in the atmospherically lit outdoor areas of the restaurant, we sat at our table to taste the menu suggested by Mr. Thomas. The cuisine served by the restaurant, he told us, is local, with traditional recipes made with local ingredients by their own producers, but also with a modern twist. We were looking forward to trying it!
Mr. Thomas explained to us that the restaurant uses only Greek products, whether for example cheese or meat -they have organic Greek Black Angus; they try everything they serve to be only Greek, mainly from the wider area. What they do not find in the area is procured from other places, such as buffalo from Kerkini. The purpose is for whatever that is being served to have a label and be Greek; they do not serve anything in bulk. Mr. Thomas also told us that the company has been certified with ISO 22000 in 2007, when the final renovation of the kitchen took place.
The flavors we tasted were really special and will be unforgettable for how simple and at the same time rich they managed to make them. It was truly one of the most delicious meals we have ever eaten! Having now understood why the restaurant is so famous, we followed Mr. Thomas to a special part of the restaurant, his visitable cellar.
Mr. Thomas told us that their wine list has 365 different labels of Greek wines in 750 ml bottles, a different wine for each day of the year. At the same time, there is a list of aged Greek wines with 104 different aged wines and a list of large bottles, which reach 27 liters per bottle. The aged ones start with Mavrodaphne Karela of 1944, going to the Porphyrogennitos Porto Carras of 1977 and ending with the ALPHA Estate of 2004. In total, just over 500 labels of Greek wines are served. What makes the difference in Taverna Thomas is that it offers exclusively Greek wines, based on the viticultural zone of Amyntaio, Xinomavro.
Leaving the cellar, Mr. Thomas told us that he had a dream to create a museum of Greek wine labels. So he built a small exhibition space dedicated to wine, with books about wine, which one can read at his table. At the same time, the shelves display original wine labels such as Amyntaion, the first label of the Amyntaio Cooperative, or the first wine of the ALPHA Estate, or even the first Philabelos in their own bottling of 1994.
As for the interior decoration, Mr. Thomas told us that the dining tables are all restored and have been found one by one in different old mansions. In fact, one is over 110 years old!
But there was also time for the best… the dessert of course! As Mr. Thomas told us, it is one of the favorites of his brother, who also loves pastry, something one can see at first glance! As for the taste, it is indescribable! So, we enjoyed our dessert, but as if how delicious it was was not enough, a surprise was waiting for us: a fried egg, which, however, was not what it seemed…
We will close this article in this sweet way and we will be back soon with the next day of our stay in Nymfaio, during which we take walks in the picturesque village, see the Nikeios School and the village church, get to know the bears of Arcturos, learn about one of the best Greek sparkling wines by Domaine Karanika in Levaia village and dine in the very good restaurant Diporto in Nymfaio. Stay tuned!
Read the second part of our article based in Nymfaio:
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