On the Gourmet Trail. Greece: Moussaka

Want a taste of Greece without leaving the country? Try our easy to follow Moussaka recipe.

Ingredients

750g/1lb 10½oz lamb mince

1 onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 tsp dried oregano

1½ tsp dried mint

1 bay leaf

1 cinnamon stick

1 tbsp plain flour

200ml/7fl oz red wine

400g tin chopped tomatoes

2 tbsp tomato purée

2 aubergines, cut into 0.5cm slices

1 tbsp fine sea salt, plus extra for seasoning

100ml/3½fl oz olive oil

500g/1lb 2oz Maris Piper potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced

Freshly ground black pepper

For the white sauce

50g/2oz butter

50g/2oz plain flour

400ml/14fl oz milk

25g/1oz Parmesan, finely grated

1 tsp finely grated nutmeg

1 free-range egg, beaten

Method

1. Put the lamb, onion, garlic, oregano, mint, bay and cinnamon in a large heavy-based frying pan and cook over a medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon to break up the meat.

2. Stir in the flour and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Add the wine, tomatoes and tomato purée and bring to a simmer. Cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the lamb is tender and the sauce has thickened. Season again if needed and set aside.

3. Meanwhile, place the aubergine slices in a colander and sprinkle with the tablespoon of salt. Set aside for 10 minutes.

4. Rinse the aubergine slices under cold running water and pat dry with a clean tea towel. Heat 3 tablespoons of the oil in a large heavy-based frying pan and fry the aubergines for 2–3 minutes on each side, adding more oil when necessary. Remove from the pan and set aside to drain on kitchen paper.

5. Cook the potatoes in boiling water for 5 minutes, then drain in a colander under running water until cold.

6. Preheat the oven to 200C/180C Fan/Gas 6.

7. To make the white sauce, melt the butter in a large saucepan and stir in the flour. Cook for a few seconds, then gradually stir in the milk. Add half the Parmesan and the grated nutmeg. Simmer the sauce gently for 4–5 minutes, stirring regularly. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

8. Remove the saucepan from the heat and allow the sauce to cool. When cooled, stir in the egg.

9. Spoon one-third of the meat sauce into a shallow ovenproof dish large enough to hold 2.5 litres. Cover loosely with a third of the potatoes and then a third of the aubergines – you don’t need complete layers, just to arrange them roughly on top. Repeat the layers twice more, finishing with the aubergines. Pour over the white sauce, making sure it covers everything in a thick, even layer. Sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan. Bake for 35–45 minutes, or until deep golden-brown and bubbling.

5 of the best Greek islands to holiday

Greece’s charms span across the mainland and its many archipelagos. So much so, it’s often hard to pick which are the best Greek islands to holiday on. Regardless of whether you’re drawn by Zante’s coves or Crete’s picturesque harbours, here’s a summary of Greece’s finest five isles to visit.

Crete

Crete is Greece’s largest island, comprising everything from arid mountains to sun-kissed beaches. There’s plenty of cultural attractions – think the Archaeological Museum of Chania, or the Nautical Museum of Crete – alongside plush sunspots which are the hallmark of many Greek island holidays. Elafonisi beach is one such spot, made up of crystal-clear waters with shallows perfect for a gentle (and safe) swim.

Zante

Primarily known for its vibrant nightlife, Zante is in fact a multifaceted destination which caters for a lot of different tastes. The island’s capital, Zakynthos (or Zante Town) is overlooked by a Venetian castle that dates back to around the 1480s. Brave the climb and explore stone vaulted prisons, church ruins and lookout points for cannons.

Navagio Beach, otherwise known as Shipwreck Beach, is synonymous with holidays in Zante. Its pristine sands lie sheltered within a bay looking out onto the Ionian Sea – just make sure you get a sunbathing spot either next to or in front of the shipwreck in the middle of the beach, that way you’ll get a better view.

Rhodes

Rhodes and historic sites go hand in hand. The Acropolis of Lindos dates way back to Ancient Greece, and although large parts have been gradually eroded, the remaining pillars still cast an impressive sight over the surrounding coastline.

Alternatively, visit the Medieval City of Rhodes, one of Greece’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Wander over narrow sandstone bridges or park up by the harbour and enjoy a cold drink while soaking up classic Mediterranean views.

Corfu

Corfu and its fishing villages have all the right ingredients for an idyllic getaway. The Canal d’Amour beach near Agios Stefanos comprises calm, turquoise waters resting within a narrow bay. There’s sunbed facilities overlooking the sea, and on the higher grounds above the bay, so you’re left with no shortage of places to top up your tan.

Kefalonia

Last but by no means least, the Ionian Island of Kefalonia is characterised by its mystical caves, quaint villages and (of course) stretching beaches. The Melissani Cave, or Melissani Lake, is located on the east of the island. Its interiors are lit by sunlight during the day, thanks to a hole in one of the caves’ roofs, making for a calming, slightly surreal experience when you take a boat tour here.

For something a bit more challenging, hike up Mount Ainos, the highest point in Kefalonia. It’s 1,628 metres high, gifting walkers with panoramic views over the region and the nearby village of Lourdas. Back on sea level, the beaches near the village present endless amounts of serene sunbathing opportunities – lose yourself to a good book or simply unwind in the refreshing sea breeze.

Decided on a destination? Take a look at Greek island villa offerings from Villa Plus, and find a property which works for you.

By Isabella Perkins, a freelance travel writer best known for writing about self-catering holidays. Her writing tends to have a family focus, and she is in the middle of writing a new travel guide due to be published next year.

Crete – beautiful beaches for a self-catering holiday

Crete is a Greek island made for lazing summer days away on. It doesn’t get much better than the stunning coastline surrounding Chania, or the inviting waters near Heraklion. When visiting Crete, beautiful beaches can be found almost everywhere. With a little planning (and some exquisitely prepared packed lunches) it’s all too easy to enjoy the perfect sand-laced daytrip here.

Without further ado, here’s a selection of the finest beaches this Greek gem has to offer…

Elafonisi, Chania

Elafonisi is a small islet off the southwestern coast of Crete, connected to the main island by a sandbank. The surrounding waters form a shallow, turquoise lagoon, which is ideal for paddling children who might not be ready for deeper depths.

When the sea is calm it’s possible to cross over here by foot. Traverse the pinkish sand dunes and explore the secluded island coves, or simply kick back with a good book and some refreshments whipped up from the plush interiors of your holiday home.

Nearby beach parking makes this spot easy to reach by car from self-catered accommodation, particularly if you’re staying in Chania.

Gouves, Heraklion

Gouves is famed for its sandy, safe and well-kept beaches. The water here is shallow, while many of the beaches where people swim are situated within small coves or bays, so they’re kept hidden from the stronger northern winds. Umbrellas and sunbeds are usually available to rent for the day. On top of that, there’s numerous shops and restaurants close by for whenever you’re needing replenished.

If you’re travelling with children, make the most of your time and pack up toys, inflatables and a tasty picnic before setting off. Mades, a Blue Flag-listed beach, is also not far from Gouves. Take the time to visit for a wholly tranquil few hours.

Elounda, Lassithi

The easternmost region of Crete tends to be quieter than other parts of the island, making it idyllic for couples in search of a secluded getaway. Just north of Agios Nikolaos you’ll find the fishing town of Elounda, which sits near a lagoon sheltered by the Spinalonga Peninsula.

For the ultimate day out in Elounda, pack food, water, a camera and plenty of sun lotion, then hop on a boat over to tiny Spinalonga Island. The island is a former leper colony, although don’t let that put you off! Today, it’s made up of an abandoned fortress flanked by a number of pristine shorelines which epitomise the beautiful beaches Crete is known for.

Falassarna, Chania

One of the best things about staying in self-catered accommodation is the outdoor space available – you can buy pool inflatables and store soggy wetsuits and bodyboards without worrying about ruining the hotel carpet! With that in mind, active tourists seeking a bit of adventure in Crete should plan a trip to Falassarna Beach. Not only is the sand soft and the waters clean and clear, but the westerly winds often result in some exciting wave action.

Make a day of it and head down with some bodyboards then hit the water. If you’re feeling even more daring, take advantage of the water sports on offer at the beach. Paragliding, anyone?

Experience these beautiful beaches for yourself and look at Villa Plus offerings on the island.

By Isabella Perkins, a freelance travel writer best known for writing about self-catering holidays. Her writing tends to have a family focus, and she is in the middle of writing a new travel guide due to be published next year.

Best Mediterranean places to visit for cycling holidays

There’s something idyllic about cycling along a clifftop track while the sea gently crashes beneath you. Apart from that and the whizz of your hubs, the world seems mysteriously quiet. It’s moments like this that make cycling holidays in the Mediterranean region so appealing.

Between Spain’s Costa del Sol and Cyprus’ eastern shores you’ll find some of the best Mediterranean places to visit for cycling holidays. Here are a few that any cyclist should tick off.

Spain – Costa del Sol

Like the name suggests, Spain’s Sun Coast largely makes for brightly-lit rides which, depending on when you visit, can get a little hot, so bring a hydration pack! One such Costa del Sol cycle starts from the small hillside town of Mijas.

Study a few maps then make for La Cala Golf Course, a popular spot for golfers that’s south of Mijas. The route entails a mixture of arid single-track and two-lane roads, suited to either hybrid bikes or cross-country models. Like all great bike rides, it’s a mixture of ups, for a challenge, and downs, which leave you with a little more time to enjoy the stunning Andalusian views. Once you get to the river near the golf course, stop for a picnic, made up from the kitchen of your self-catering holiday rental, then prepare to do it all again on your way back to Mijas.


Image by Antonio, used under CC License (CC by 2.0)

Spain – Costa Blanca

Many professional cycling teams use the Costa Blanca as a training hub in the winter. The smooth surfaces here appeal to road cyclists who thrive on gradual climbs, speedy descents and flat stretches.

One of the most renowned climbs in the region is known as the Coll de Rates. You can easily access it from nearby towns, like Javea and Calpe. From Coll de Rates, make your way to the village of Parcent, where the route starts off with a light incline until you reach the summit. Soak up the verdant views of the surrounding region then replenish with a refreshing drink and get ready for a leisurely cruise back down.


Image by Phillip Capper, used under CC License (CC by 2.0)

Greek islands – Crete

If you’re ever struggling to tackle a Greek hill, promise yourself a big platter of mezes when you finish your ride to spur you on. Other than the end-of-ride meal, however, Greek island cycling makes for unbeatable holiday memories on routes you’ll always remember, many of which are found on Crete. A lot of Cretan roads are large and quiet, too, resulting in a wholly tranquil experience when you’re speeding across the island.

While it’s perfectly easy to trundle along these roads at your own pace, a real test of endurance is to brave the near-90km journey from Chania through the inland hills to the stunning village of Kallikratis. From here you’ll be able to see much of the island’s enticing coastline. Make sure you bring a camera, then capture the moment with a panoramic shot which’ll always remind you of your Crete cycling holiday. If you don’t fancy doing it over again, though, get a holiday companion to drive over and take you back to your villa rental.


Image by Andy Montgomery, used under CC License (CC by 2.0)

Cyprus – Paphos

Cyprus serves cyclists a selection of island routes for many different preferences. The city of Paphos and the surrounding resorts of Coral Bay are home to road and off-road paths suited to everyone from the everyday commuter to the endurance junkie who craves another fix of kilometre-rich coastal roads.

For a real challenge, cycle into the Troodos mountain range from Paphos. The journey itself is roughly 65 kilometres and is mostly downhill, making for a highly enjoyable and breezy trip. It’s suited to both road and off-road cyclists – just make sure your trusty steed is fitted with a good set of brakes for when you need to stop!

Take the time to soak up gorgeous Cypriot views, like that of the Diarizos river, which you’ll encounter along the way. It’s the fourth largest river on the island, although every twist and turn makes for a serene spot for a sandwich and a bottle of water. Failing that, you can always dip your feet in the river to help cool off before hitting the road again!


Image by Tomasz Huczek, used under CC License (CC by 2.0)

Mediterranean destinations have all the right ingredients for a cycling holiday – sun, scenery and a fair whack of sandy strips where you can put your feet up after a long day of pedalling!

Thinking about bringing your beloved bicycle on your next getaway? Here’s how to go about taking it onto an aeroplane.

By Isabella Perkins, a freelance travel writer best known for writing about self-catering holidays. Her writing tends to have a family focus, and she is in the middle of writing a new travel guide due to be published next year.

Crete holidays – cheap things to do on a self-catering break

 The Greek island of Crete is among the world’s most beloved holiday destinations. The chances are you’ll know it for its sun-splashed resorts and world-class nightlife. But there’s far more to Crete than Preveli Beach and Heraklion’s strips – it’s also a hotspot for culture and history, home to awe-inspiring Aegean ruins and gripping museums.

Best of all? It’s a fantastic destination for a budget holiday. You can keep Crete holidays cheap by booking a self-catering holiday home, and enjoying activities like these…

Hit the beaches

Crete isn’t short of pearlescent beaches. In the summer months, the sea is reliably balmy and therefore perfect for a spot of swimming, particularly in the bays surrounding Istron. For a cheap beach day, load up on snacks in your holiday villa, pack a few towels, a beach umbrella, a snorkel and lots of sun lotion, then head to your nearest stretch of sand.

Popular beaches include Balos, near Chania, and Bali, which is close to Rethymnon. You can typically rent sunbeds and umbrellas for a few euros – a small price to pay if you’d rather relax in the shade from time to time.

Serve up a traditional Greek feast

Greece is known for its cuisine, and a holiday to Crete wouldn’t be complete without sampling some local delicacies. To save some of your hard-earned pennies, make the most of your self-catered accommodation by preparing a Greek banquet at home.

Start with traditional dips like tzatziki and taramasalata. For an easy main, make some pork or chicken souvlaki – chunks of meat on skewers which are grilled or barbequed, then served with warm pitta. If you can get your hands on ready-made filo pastry, another easy main is spanakopita (spinach and feta pie).

For dessert, put together a platter of local Cretan cheeses, fruit, and fresh baklava from a local bakery.

Visit attractions for free

Most of the major attractions on Crete have an entry fee, but depending on when you travel it’s possible to save money. Throughout March, many historic and archaeological sites around the island offer reduced ticket prices – the fascinating Heraklion Archaeological Museum can be visited for as little as five euros.

During the peak season, on International Monument Day and International Museum Day, certain attractions are completely free.

Pack a picnic and go wandering

If you’re the adventurous type, then spend a day exploring the Cretan wilderness. Keep an eye out for Cretan shrews, badgers, and martens. One of the best places for nature is the park surrounding the White Mountains, which are known locally as Lefka Ori. It’s situated on the west of the island, in the Chania region. Here you’ll find the beautiful Samaria Gorge, one of Europe’s longest gorges, and of course the White Mountains themselves.

Stay safe and make sure you wear good walking shoes and sun lotion, then pack a nutritious picnic (fruit, nuts, cheese and water are a must) to keep you going along the way.

Inspired? Browse Villa Plus rentals in Crete and take the first step towards your big Greek adventure.

By Isabella Perkins, a freelance travel writer best known for writing about self-catering holidays. Her writing tends to have a family focus, and she is in the middle of writing a new travel guide due to be published next year.