A Chef’s City is an occasional travel feature in which our fortuitous writers hit up chefs for recommendations.
Most visitors touch down briefly in Athens, see the sites and then head to one of Greece’s gorgeous islands. We had no intention of missing out on the islands, but decided on a few-day detour to Monemvasia first.
Jutting off the southeastern tip of the Peloponnesian peninsula, the walled town of Monemvasia sits on a giant rock in the deep blue Myrtoan Sea. Visitors drive a thin causeway up to the fortress wall, enter through a gated entrance and find a small town believed to have been founded by Spartans fleeing a Barbarian invasion.
There are several shops and cafes. My boyfriend and I stopped into Kanoni and ordered tzatziki, stuffed peppers and the local specialty, an octopus simmered in red wine. The views of the sea from the veranda was stunning, but the food was disappointing — very oily — and the bill was shocking. We quickly learned eating inside the walled city can be seriously overpriced and that some restaurants dish up misleading prices.
After lunch, we wandered through town, hiked up to the remnants of the old city perched atop the rock, and swam in the cool water. We returned to our hotel, the Kinsterna, a wonderful boutique hotel in the hills three miles south of the Monemvasia. The hotel’s restaurant looks down the hill to the sea and features local fish, produce and wines. We feasted on tzatziki, cheese wrapped in phyllo and lightly grilled tuna.
After a strenuous day of lounging by the pool, we headed to Pipinelis, a traditional Greek restaurant a mile south of Monemvasia. We grabbed a table in the courtyard, chatted with the waitress about the specialties and ordered more tzatziki, squash blossoms stuffed with rice and tomatos, veal in a wine and pork in a lemon sauce with potatoes.
As we sopped up the not-too-garlicky tzatziki and shared bites of rich veal with sweet, sauteed onions, the chef/owner came out from the kitchen, took a seat on a bench in the courtyard, held up his glass of wine and, commanding everyone’s attention, toasted the crowd before breaking into song.