The three peninsulas of Halkidiki – Kassandra, Sithonia and Athos – are the summer playgrounds of Macedonia. Blessed with numerous and secluded beaches, surrounded by the clear blue Aegean sea with pine forested mountains of wild flowers, olive trees and vineyards, it's no wonder Halkidiki has been favored by Greeks since antiquity. Only a couple hours drive from the nation's second largest city, Thessaloniki, and within a day's drive from the Balkans, its many resort hotels especially draw a plethora of Eastern Europeans, Ukrainians and Russians seeking sun, sand, hospitality and Greek cuisine.
The Alexandros Palace is located just outside Ouranoupolis, one of many towns built in the 1920s as a result of the traumatic exchange of Greek and Turkish populations that took place after the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the merger of Macedonia into Greece. Once the site of an ancient village – its 14th century tower fortress is a landmark – and still the gateway to 7,000 ft. Mt. Athos, today Ouranoupolis is a tourist and fisherman's town.
The Alexandros Palace Hotel, within site of the autonomous and sacred Monastic State of Mt. Athos, is a self-contained 250-room resort village rising from its wide beach up the hill and spreading over 90 acres. Like most of Halkidiki's resorts an all-inclusive meal plan includes extensive buffets for breakfast and dinner and offers something for everyone from meat lovers to the devoutly vegan. Yet true Greek cuisine shines in Halkidiki hotels a la carte restaurants for those not desiring a buffet.
Chef Giorgos Kosmidis commands the poolside Taverna at the Alexandros Palace Hotel. Having enjoyed several meals over two separate trips, it has taken this chef journalist a year to convince chef Giorgos to part with his intensely flavored yet simple shrimp creation. The Aegean is a seafood lover's supermarket and the shrimp may well have been caught that very day off the coast of Ouranoupolis.
Chef Giorgos Kosmidis Halkidiki shrimp – four servings
- 1 pound large shrimp (reserve shells for the stock)
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon oregano – preferably Greek oregano
- 2 tablespoons sweet butter
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 2 cups chopped parsley
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- salt and white pepper to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon sweet paprika
- Remove the shells from the shrimp and reserve the shrimp in the refrigerator while making the stock.
- Place the shells in a quart size saucepan and add the bay leaves, nutmeg, oregano and a little salt and white pepper. Add cold water just to the level of the shells. Place the saucepan over medium high heat and bring to a boil. Cook until the liquid is reduced to 1/4th of a cup (2 ounces). Strain and discard the shells reserving the reduced shrimp stock.
- Melt the butter in a sauté pan and cook the shrimp for one minute turning once.
- Add the wine to the shrimp, bring to a boil and cook for one minute.
- With a slotted spoon remove the shrimp from the wine and keep warm.
- To the wine add the 1/4th cup shrimp stock, parsley and garlic. Bring to a simmer and cook for two minutes.
- Add the heavy cream, cayenne pepper and sweet paprika. Bring to a simmer and cook for five minutes.
- Add the reserved shrimp and warm for one minute.
- Divide among four plates and serve with crusty bread used to absorb the sauce and a dry Greek white wine such as Mt. Athos ΙΕΡΑ ΜΟΝΗ ΑΓΙΟΥ ΠΑΥΛΟΥ (Holy Monastery of St. Paul), Monoxilitiko, a blend of 90% sauvignon blanc with local varieties. It had a nose of honey and sage followed by summer floral notes with a surprisingly dry finish.
While at the Alexandros Palace Hotel, don't pass up the luxurious Panalee Spa and the new specialty shop selling Mt. Athos wines, skin care products and local foods. In the evening, the spacious Theater Bar with its lower level dance floor and stage might as well be the town square of this village resort. Twin brothers Thomas and Janis Aslanidis, the musically talented and genial young heirs to the Alexandros Palace Hotel, might just be tending bar and don't be surprised either if managers Yiannis Misopapas and Kyriakos Mandouvalos are mingling among the guests. After all this is Greece with hospitality and cuisine as legendary as its mythology.
Ouranoupolis is an easy 2 – 3 hour drive (busier on weekends) on modern roads from Thessaloniki International Airport.
Alexandros Palace Hotel, Ouranoupolis, 63075, Halkidiki, Greece. (Athos) Tel + 30 23770 31402 / 31424 Fax: +30 23770 31100 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org 2014 season runs April through mid-October.
Disclosure: the author was a guest of the Alexandros Palace Hotel and the Halkidiki Tourism Organization.