From the azure waters of the Greek Islands to the spas of southern France, four prominent Australians invite us on a journey to their most beloved destination.
“What joy being welcomed into a Greek home”
Greece first captured the imagination of Maeve O’Meara, Food Safari presenter and director of Gourmet Food Safaris, when she was 20 years old. She has been back many times.
Maeve O’Meara. Photo: Supplied
“As a child growing up in the white-bread suburbs of Sydney, I adored reading books about Greek myths and legends. One book, Tales of the Greek Heroes, opens with the most astounding description of Greece with its ‘towering mountains sloping steeply into the bluest of blue seas’ and ‘valleys green and silver with the leaves of a million olive trees’. It captured my imagination and I couldn’t wait to see it for myself the first chance I got.
By the time I set foot in Greece, aged 20, the daydreaming part of me hoped for nymphs or centaurs to emerge from the quiet forests on Corfu. It never eventuated, of course, but I felt utterly beguiled by its people, its landscape and its food as I travelled on a Eurail pass between islands. Most times, the ferry was met by locals offering rooms in their homes. What utter joy to enter a Greek home and be welcomed into the ebb and flow of Greek island life.
Over the decades that followed, I have returned to the Greek Islands many times, enjoying the freedom of hiring motor scooters and zipping around winding roads to perfect secret beaches, that incredible water so clear and buoyant you feel like a superhero and can swim forever. Santorini was the first island to capture my heart but, over the years, I’ve also grown fond of the tiny island of Folegandros, as well as Limnos.
That said, no matter which island you go to, you’ll get caught up in philoxenia, the Greek spirit of hospitality.
I’ve been taking travellers to Greece now for 20 years, each time introducing them to that special philoxenia across four islands, including Evia, Lesvos, Limnos and Chios. Some of my favourite places to visit? Stay at Fanari Villas in Santorini and the stylish Anemomilos on Folegandros, enjoy lobster folmari at Giannakaros Fish Taverna in Kotsinas, Limnos, and hike around Paleochora on the south coast of Crete. A walking track winds through rocky gorges and takes you to hidden beaches. Swim wherever you can – the colour, the buoyancy, it’s something you’ll remember forever.”
“It’s hard to come by bad food in Venice”
Eating your bodyweight in pasta and pastries is all part of the fun of a Venetian holiday, insists Wentworth and Nine Perfect Strangers actor Zoe Terakes.
Zoe Terakes. Photo: Supplied
“Most people arrive in Venice after years of dreaming and months of planning; I arrived on a whim after my holiday in Paris with my best friend Sophie took on an increasingly negative energy. It was the 10th anniversary of the terror attacks, then-president Trump was in town, and armed police were everywhere. Eventually we turned to each other and said, ‘Why don’t we try Venice instead?’
We got a last-minute booking and, after a series of disasters which saw us get the train to the wrong airport, miss our flight, get crapped on by a bird and sit through a hellish 20-hour bus journey, we arrived in the fabled city.
Sophie and I were ready for Venice, but I’m not so sure Venice was ready for us. We arrived smelling like bird shit, sweat and sadness – not exactly what you’d call living la dolce vita. But once we had checked into our Airbnb and stepped out to explore, I was immediately overcome by just how beautiful the city really is.
Venice had recently flooded and, since it was late in the year, the city was so empty of tourists it felt like we had places like Piazza San Marco and St Mark’s Basilica to ourselves. Had Sophie not been my travelling companion, the trip probably could have been quite romantic. We explored the hidden alleys and winding canals, took a boat ride and made it our personal mission to eat our body weight in carbs.
It’s hard to come by bad food in Venice. Al Merca, a tiny bar in the Rialto area is great for a drink, as is Osteria Alla Ciurma for a quick bite, but my favourite dish was the spaghetti vongole at Osteria La Vedova – the best I’ve ever had (and I’ve had plenty). For dessert, you can’t go past Dolce Vita, Rialto Mercato – the pastries are killer.
Once this COVID nightmare is over, I not only plan to go back but I’m thinking about basing myself there for a few months. There’s still so much to see and do – and eat.
“It’s the perfect representation of French Country life!”
Avène might be famous for its thermal springs, but entrepreneur, author and athlete Turia Pitt is convinced the quaint village should be just as lauded for its indulgent breakfasts and countryside trails.
Turia Pitt. Photo: Supplied
“My partner Michael and I have never really been ‘lay on the beach and drink cocktails’ holidayers, so when we first discovered the town of Avène in southern France we were blown away. We love everything about France – the food, the language – and this place is a perfect representation of the country away from the bright lights of Paris.
Avène is a tiny town, 80 kilometres from Montpellier, that sits high up in the mountains, with the River Orb bubbling and gurgling beside it. More than that, it has a lovely French charm. It’s circular and dotted with 12th-century churches and pretty walking trails among the wildflowers.
What Avène is probably best known for is hydrotherapy – the water has beneficial mineral composition and the town’s springs are famous for their healing properties. We discovered the town when we travelled there for the treatment of my skin at the Avène Hydrotherapy Centre a few years ago. They treat people with burn injuries, but also those with eczema, dermatitis and psoriasis. I recall having an underwater massage during which water is sprayed from the ceiling. I always leave with softer, smoother and supple skin.
It’s not all about the centre at Avène. Breakfast, no matter where you have it, is a highlight, with fresh eggs, crusty brown bread, pats of fresh beurre and smoked trout straight from the River Orb. And bien sur, fresh croissants for those who wish to indulge, such as me!
Food aside, what you’ll also find is a village filled with the warmest, most eccentric characters you’re likely to meet anywhere, and countryside perfect for running, hiking and exploring. Jogging alongside that river through beautiful countryside is one of the most spectacular things I’ve ever experienced.
I’m looking forward to heading back at the first opportunity, but next time I’ll plan my journey a little better as getting to Avène involves various flights and transfers. And take it from me, everyone always benefits from a stopover in Paris.”
“Turkey felt like a holiday from the moment I landed”
From underground cities and cave hotels, Eleanor Pendleton, founder and editor of Gritty Pretty, an online magazine dedicated to beauty, found Cappadocia was about so much more than its best-known image of colourful hot-air balloons.
Eleanor Pendleton. Photo: Supplied
“I’ve been desperate to go to Turkey for as long as I can remember. Now that I look back, I was right to hanker for it; the minute my husband and I landed in Istanbul, we fell in love with the city’s vibrancy and frenetic energy. The culture is so different to anything I’d experienced growing up that I immediately felt like I was on holiday. We got lost in the old city, visited all of the iconic destinations such as the Blue Mosque, and ate mountains of food.
What really drove the push to see Turkey, however, was to visit Cappadocia [located in Asia]. For years I’d been seeing those classic images of colourful hot-air balloons sweeping across this peculiar landscape dotted with fairy-chimney rock formations, not to mention fantastic breakfast spreads on rooftop terraces. I was hooked.
It was a joy to finally experience the region first-hand, but what really surprised me was how picturesque the main town of Göreme was, with its cracked-earth alleyways filled with cave hotels, quaint cafes and boutiques selling traditional pottery and kilim. (I’m probably the only Australian to come away from a Turkish holiday without a new rug and it’s something I’ll always regret.)
We first stayed in Mithra Cave Hotel, then splurged on a stay at Museum Hotel, filling our days with plenty of activity. Obviously the hot-air balloon experience at sunrise is the must-do but we also enjoyed touring the ancient underground city of Derinkuyu, trekking around GÖreme Open Air Museum and even signing up for a Turkish cooking class at Cafe Şafak. It was held in a cave and for about five minutes, I convinced myself I’d mastered the Ottoman classics.
Turkey is a country I’ll return to time and again. It can be done well on a shoestring budget, but next time I go I’d like to stay longer and splurge on the luxury resorts that line the Bosphorus. And I’ll buy the rug. Trust me, it’s on the bucket list.”