Forget beaches, a Parga trip helped me see gastronomy is the heart of Greece

Forget beaches, a Parga trip helped me see gastronomy is the heart of Greece

Before leaving for a holiday in Parga, me and my boyfriend had what could be described as a relationship-defining argument – what is better, Italian or Greek cuisine.

Battle lines were drawn as I defended my Balkan roots, while he vowed to never cook his infamous Bolognese again unless I agreed that Italian food is superior.

Determined to win, I packed a suitcase and left in a hurry for London Gatwick to get on a flight to Preveza.

From there, a shuttle bus took me to Elix, a secluded seaside retreat, the third in the Mar-Bella trilogy of hotels in Greece, where I am staying for four days.

I am here for this summer’s first Greek Chefs Abroad culinary series showcasing talent from across the globe and authentic local taste, but with an international twist.

Nick Molyviatis, the former head chef at Soho’s Kiln, an open-kitchen style Thai restaurant, is up first. I hope his dishes give me ammunition for that previously-mentioned debate…

Other renowned Geek chefs from Dubai, Australia, Singapore and the US will be touring the Mar-Bella hotels throughout the season.

But first things first, I head for a full-body massage at the spa centre next to the pool.

Normally, I always find massages a little awkward. There is the pressure of small talk, close physical contact with a stranger and having to provide feedback.

As soon as my masseuse starts applying pressure to my stiff-from-bad-posture shoulders, I know I am in the hands of a professional.

For the next 50 or so minutes, I am in heaven and even find myself dosing off in the dimply-lit room.

I head back to my room, where I snack on pink macaroons that the Elix staff had left for me.

There is also complimentary rosé and white wine that I leave in the fridge to chill for the evening.

The design of the room is smart, with Ottoman-style tapestries that complement the luxurious five-star feel that has become synonymous with the brand, but it is the balcony view that outshines it all.

Rows of blooming purple lavender, the pebbly beach and the soothing blue sea sheltered in the shade of olive trees.

In the distance I can also see where boats leave for Paxos and Antipaxos – a sailing trip I am looking forward to in the morning.

After getting ready for dinner, I head to the hotel bar where I sip on a refreshing Elix spritz while watching the sunset.

No photograph that I take with my phone will ever do justice to the last rays of sun disappearing behind the cotton candy clouds.

Dinner is buffet-style served at the main restaurant Saffron where I pile my plate high with tzatziki, spicy feta cheese dip, roasted eggplants, olives and bread.

It is my type of a TikTok ‘girl dinner’ – if you know, you know.

I order some delicious and crisp Greek rosé and I cannot keep up with how quick the waiters are to top up my glass.

In the morning, I again have breakfast at Saffron. There are endless plates of fruit like dripping watermelon and hot purple grapes, thick yoghurt and pastries.

There is an omelet station too, but knowing that within a few minutes I will be on a boat, I decide against.

With all the fuss over islands like Santorini, Mykonos and Crete, it can be easy to overlook Paxos – with its captivating Blue Caves – and Antipaxos.

Located near the southern coast of Corfu, they are often hailed as the three jewels of the Ionian Sea – and I’m about to get a glimpse into the hidden, rugged charm of the islands by boat.

We set off and it roars along at speed, as I yell out of excitement while watching the waves jump like bunnies around me.

For the rest of the day, the captain drives to secluded beaches, rock caves and lets me swim in the turquoise water.

For a late lunch, I go to Genesis, a traditional Greek restaurant with wooden tables covered with pearly white tablecloths on the seafront.

I ordered a salad with succulent tomatoes, cucumber and olives, some dips, bread and the star of the day – phyllo-wrapped baked feta with honey and black sesame seeds.

After a day of swimming, jumping off the boat and soaking up the sun, I decide to snuggle in bed relatively early.

In the morning, I wake up early to take a solo walk on the private beach. It is 6am and hotel guests are mostly sleeping.

As I gallop down the steps from the top of the hill where the Elix is located, I pass by the suites with private infinity pools that look ideal for a couple’s retreat.

I can hear birds chiming in the trees as rock lizards come out of hiding as the sun rises.

As the waves crash into the rocks, I FaceTime my boyfriend to tell him about all the delicious Greek food I have been having.

In a couple of hours, the beach is full. Families with children, loved-up couples and groups of friends are sipping on Greek frappés or cocktails.

Somehow, I find myself being convinced to do water sports instead of reading on my sun lounger.

Moments later, one of the staff is handing me a lifejacket as he leads me to a sea donut tied to his boat. Is it too late to pull out? I guess so…

For what seemed like an eternity, I hold on for dear life as he manoeuvers, turning left, then speeding up, then turning right.

Considering I fly off into the water a few times, I still wonder how 15 minutes later I again agree to more water activities. What an arm workout that is!

Most of the day I spend on the beach, swimming, sipping on pink G&Ts, napping and reading until it is time I head back to my room to get ready for, drumrolls, the Greek Chefs Abroad dinner.

Wearing my best dress, I am quickly shown to my table and poured the very first of the many wine pairings by Orealios Gaea Vine Growers.

After a serving of bread with olive oil and chilli jam butter, waiters bring a Greek salad with a twist.

There are several courses that I have to skip – the people pleaser in me did not tell anyone about being vegetarian – but the chefs are more than happy to make me something different.

For dessert, Nick has prepared green milk pudding with filo pastry that I devour in seconds.

For better of for worse, this holiday has only strengthened the opinion that Greek cuisine is indeed superior not only to Italian, but many others as well.

Having such a famous chef like Nick prepare a menu so special was worth the trip on its own.

But I also cannot wait to return to Parga, explore its secluded beaches, drink rosé by the Elix pool and book a relaxing massage. After all, it is only a few hours away from London.

Getting there:

The five-star Mar-bella Elix is located in Thesprotia part of mainland Greece that lies opposite to Corfu, between Parga and Syvota.

Standard rooms are available from £245, though this can depend on the time of year.

Flights from London to Preveza Airport start from around £139.

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