Macedonia today is a geographic and historical region that today includes parts of six Balkan countries including Bulgaria, Greece, Albania, Kosovo, Serbia and North Macedonia. I had the pleasure of traveling with Relais & Chateaux to Bulgari and Greece to two spectacular properties in areas still untouched by mass tourism.
This trip was a perfect combination of beach and countryside, staying near Thesaloniki at a coastal resort called Avaton Luxury Villa Resort and in Bulgaria at Zornitza Family Estate in an area that felt very much like Tuscany. My clients who are looking to travel in an area that feels authentic, relaxed, un-hurried and at a fraction of the cost of more touristed areas, will be delighted!
I arrived directly into Thessalonikki, Greece’s second largest city on a non stop flight from Stutgart. The city’s Greek name literally means “the co-capital”, a reference to its historical status as the “co-reigning” city of the Byzantine Empire alongside Constantinople! We headed directly to the gorgeous coast to Avaton Luxury Villas Resort, an all villa Relais & Chateaux property.
The property is idyllic and quiet and ideal for those that are wanting a longer stay in Greece in a place that is truly relaxing, unhurried and frankly, quite affordable.
An all villa property is perfect for families or groups of friends.
A warm welcome with delicious local wine and fruits –
Most with private pools –
Expertly crafted cocktails and delicious Greek wines are a treat at the bar at Sunset –
The restaurant is completely al-fresco and set up on the hill in tents overlooking the sea.
Avaton Luxury Villas is a place for those that enjoy exceptional food and I would say that the best meals I had throughout my travels in Greece were indeed here! Spectacular seafood and the freshest of produce played a starting role in each meal from breakfast through to dinner, all expertly and creatively prepared by a fantastic culinary team and served by a professional staff. The fish specialities were simply sublime!
The buzz and setting was delightful which guests set up in their own private tented dining arrangement. Makes for a very romantic setting as well as perfect for families to congregate on their own. Service was exceptional throughout!
I am not a breakfast person however in Greece, yogurt is king! You will never find a household without Greek yogurt in the refrigerator, as it is a staple and served at most meals. At Avaton the simply delectable creamy yogurt served with local organic cherries, honey and nuts each morning was my absolute go to!
The beach at Avaton is private and un-hurried – a wonderful place to lull the day away!
My favorite meal however, may have been the most simplistic, the greek salad with the most flavorful tomatoes, feta, olives, cucumbers, capers and olive oil – I could live on this for the rest of my life and be happy!
This is not the place for those seeking night life, a lot to do, or have a hard time chilling out. Area historical highlights include taking a ferry or private boat around Holy Mount Athos.
I love to try the local beer wherever I am!
Local fisherman –
The Tower of Prosforiou in Ouranoupolis –
The village or Ouranoupoli is charming and ideal for an evening stroll or dinner by the sea –
A recommended spot for dinner-
We caught a rainbow on the beach at Avaton –
Just 90 minutes North, we crossed the border from Greece into Bulgaria and to the beautiful and fertile wine region of Melnik. Wine tours, culture, sports and nature make this mountainous area an attractive combination with the Thessaloniki area of Greece. Rafting, cycling, hiking, fishing and horse riding are all options on the estate and nearby.
Sites along the drive from Greece into Bulgaria –
Southern Bulgaria feels more Greek than Slavik, and more Tuscan than Cold War remnant.
The Zornitza Wine Estate is a sumptuous Relais & Chateaux boutique luxury hotel and spa owned and managed by an affluent Bulgarian family with a long history in hospitality in the country.
The boutique property has a fabulous spa and is quite popular with Bulgarians who enjoy the more moderate climate and wonderful spa facilities during the cold winter in Sofia, the capital.
Beautiful grounds and ponds for idyllic picnic breaks –
A stunning place for a lunch with a view –
The rooms are exceptionally spacious and modern with superb amenities. Rooms in the main building have views and the cottages have fireplaces.
The wines produced on the estate are outstanding!
The estate wine maker and sommelier was very glad to share his knowledge. He was the first master sommelier in the country of Bulgaria.
Fresh wine country produce and meats and cheeses were absolutely delicious!
Small wine cellar tours on the estate and in the surrounding vineyards makes for a fantastic day! Two-hundred year old wineries are all located within thirty minutes of the estate and develops small batch production of excellent wines from classic varietals.
The area has beautiful nature and active pursuits –
Melnik is located only five km away from Zornitza Family Estate – the smallest town in Bulgaria, famous for its unique architecture, winding cobblestone streets, and its fruit-soft wine of Broad-Leaved Melnik Vine. The most popular houses are the Kordopulova House, Pashova House, Litova House, Bolyarska House (also the oldest standing house in Bulgaria).
From a cultural and historic perspective, the most notable sight in the Melnik region is the Nativity of the Virgin Mary Monastery in Rozhen. This is the largest orthodox monastery in the Pirin mountains and a century old spiritual center. The icon in the Rozhen Monastery is a replica of the famous wonder-working icon Panagia Portaitissa of the Iveron Monastery on Mount Athos.
Back at the Estate, a fantastic last evening barbecue awaited where we enjoyed vast amounts of delectable locally raised meats and produce –
With so much of Europe truly “over-subscribed” with tourism these days, many of my clients are asking how they can get off the beaten path and explore a bit of the unspoiled Europe. I can definitely recommend Macedonia and help you to enjoy the authenticity and calm of the region.