I woke to the incessant calling and chatter of swifts as they darted and dived all around my hotel suite, which gave out onto a veranda and when I turned around in the bright sunlight there it was as large as life, you could almost touch it, snow-covered Mount Olympus. I decided to skip breakfast and to instead go for a walk. I'm not sure anyone told me we were on a beach, but there it was a long beach with gentle waves lapping and miles of nothing but sand and a line of white beach loungers. In the distance a small fishing boat on the beach with some fisherman but apart from this I was alone and could have walked for ever along that beach but we had an 8.30 departure time, we were heading north, so I satisfied myself by taking a lot of photos for my wine and destination portfolio and dug my toes into the wet sand and watched the waves cover my feet. I was touching the Aegean sea for the first time, behind me all the many aquamarine pools of the spa and Mount Olympus and in front of me the sea stretching to the horizon.
I ate a hasty fruit breakfast while some of the group were mulling over the coffee machine. Our plan for the day once we got in the bus was to head north stopping along the way because Ted had a treat for us. It was as he said, after his coffee stop, the only non-wine part of the trip, we were going to the tombs of the Macedonian Kings and Queens at The Palace of Philip the second (359-336 BC) at Aigai, Vergina. After the Parthenon the most important building of Classical Greece.
Our group was led by an expert on the tombs and we got to see the actual preserved tombs and the sealed doors after the discovery, the excavation was carried out in the seventies by the discoverer archaeologist. With a throne room and a classical style room of 280 metres square, the palace was inhabited and undisturbed for two centuries. After visiting the tombs we went on to view the magnificent crowns of gold oak leaves the golden burial casks, silver and bronze utensils, swords and tools, amphora and silver wine vessels. Really worth a visit and I consider myself very lucky to have seen this. Note: no photos allowed inside.
From here we filed onto the bus and hit the high road towards the mountains at Metsova on the border with present day Macedonia, Albania and Bulgaria. It was a good long drive and we arrived At the Katogi Averof winery and hotel high in the hills in the afternoon ready for a walk to the nearby monastery.
The Katogi Averof story begins with planting the first Cabernet Sauvignon vines in Greece which were brought from Chateaux Margaux in France by Alex’s grandfather Evangelos, on the steep slopes of Mount Pindos. The privately owned vineyards at Giniets are the most mountainous in Greece at an altitude of 1100 metres. The varieties cultivated in the 12 hectares presently are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Traminer, Vlachiko, Xinomavro and Debina. The winery operational since 1973 now has a production capacity of 1,000,000 bottles. The cellars which Ted and Alex the grandson of the founder, whose capable hands the estate will now pass to, led us in a tour of, were simply amazing. They house 1200 oak barrels and events are hosted regularly there in the tasting rooms. The company produces 14 labels and exports wine to eleven countries.
Alex led us on a fascinating tour of the nearby local chapel and monastery his family helped restore and maintain when it was deserted during the troubles, is truly worth the walk down a thousand stone steps to get into the valley with a vineyard of old vines. Passing through the village to the path we met a shepherd with his flock of sheep, he is one of the suppliers of sheep’s milk to the cheesemakers in the valley whose artisanal cheeses we had tasted at the hotel. We watched him and his black faced ewes skipping off after him down the valley. Pastoral Greece a slice of times gone by. The backdrop to this scene was the soaring mountains and the recent arched bridge spanning the entire valley built with EU money. Along the path with waterfalls we stopped on to take photographs and drink in the peace, I spotted a sign attached to a tree, a single large paw with claws, the brown bears live here.
Alex then led us to a precipitous edge over which the high altitude slopes below, were laid out the neat patchwork of vineyards. I stood with him on that ledge for a photograph while the acrophobic in the group gasped. What a view, and it seems the winery could not have passed more safely into the hands of the next generation of winemakers than the young Alex whose passion for his family's legacy, the amazing family museum of local history he guided us around and his natural flair for hospitality made us feel very welcomed and inspired. A tasting of the wines in the tasting room was really interesting, they recently introduced two screw-top wines from a sister winery a dry white, called White dot and a red called Mountain Fish that are ready to enter the UK market. We tasted the whole range from the Malagousia and the Tramier,through to the reds. Later that night we dined together with the winemaker Dimitri Ziannis on local specialities and roast lamb and potatoes, with some very drinkable wines all rounded off with a lovely local apple dessert. Next morning our last view of the pretty setting from the lovely rooms all with a fireplace and lounge for those winter nights. We breakfasted on the famed thick Greek yogurt and preserves and tasted a sparkling wine from Santorini by Tsantali with breakfast. Our third day had begun and it was to be action packed.
Rates at the 4 star boutique hotel and winery Katogi Averoff start at 55 Euro the hotel has exclusive suites for couples and familes and all the rooms are original, with fireplaces and are spacious. The breakfast is amazing. Full board can be arranged.
website Katogi Averoff.