Florida-based traveler Colleen Nelson packed up her family and brought them to the small Greek isle of Ikaria, land of good eating and even better living.
It all started with a recipe I found online. It was for making a dish called Spicy Black-Eyed Peas and Greens with Smoked Herring, and it called for an insane amount of olive oil. I mean, two cups insane. I remember thinking, This must be a mistake. But I make it a rule to always follow the recipe exactly the first time I cook something, so I did it. It created this rich bean stew that you can eat with rice or bread—and it was delicious. I was so intrigued, I looked up Diane Kochilas, the author of the cookbook the recipe had come from. Then I found out she did summer cooking classes at her home in Ikaria, Greece.
Her cookbook is more than a book of recipes; it’s an homage to the Ikarian way of life. There are six rules: 1) Eat locally, 2) Live deliberately, 3) Enjoy sleep, 4) Let things go, 5) Let your body heal itself, and 6) Walk. It sounded like a great vacation from my hectic U.S. lifestyle.
I signed up with my husband and our two teenagers, who were 16 and 18 at the time. I always want our travel to be more than just seeing the landmark sites. It was an even better family trip than I’d imagined. We cooked daily, but it didn’t feel as though we were in a class. It felt like we were visiting our Greek friends’ home. My son and Diane’s son hit it off and hung out around town or went surfing together. We ate multicourse meals we’d cooked that day in Diane’s kitchen with vegetables picked fresh from her garden, dining alfresco on her patio.
We got ingredients from outside Diane’s garden as well. I milked a goat—which for me, a city girl, was a lot harder than you might think. We visited a beekeeper and learned about all the types of honey he harvests; each has different properties depending on which plants the bees visited. In Ikaria, honey is important not just for its taste but for its medicinal properties.
We also got to dance in the streets of the village, where one night people were spilling out from a restaurant and enjoying the live music. In just one week, we felt we truly experienced the island’s way of life. It’s a Blue Zone, known for its people’s longevity, but what I noticed most was people’s appreciation for their lives and generosity with their time. The residents are industrious and hardworking, but there’s not this hunger for more material things like you see in the United States. People don’t rush, and they live deliberately. —as told to Sarah Purkrabek
Make your dream come true: Diane Kochilas’s weeklong Ikarian cooking courses cost $3,250 per person. For more info, visit dianekochilas.com.