6th October, 2021
I’m sure you know the scene.
It’s the first in a new series of ‘Doctor Who’ and the Tardis, throbs its way into the middle of some unsuspecting landscape. The door opens and the Doctor steps out, slightly confused, trying to work out where he (or she) is, what the locals are like, and primed for the next adventure. To be honest, arriving on a new Greek island by ferry is a pretty similar experience. You see, coming by sea, you really land right in the middle of the action. There’s no airport limbo, no bags on a carousel, no bus transfer to your accommodation. You’re there, walking straight into the heart of another place, straight into other people’s lives.
And it’s always quite chaotic as loaded lorries, cars, motor bikes and pedestrians pour out of the boat’s belly, right into the life of the island’s main town. And just like Doctor Who, you quickly have to get your bearings and suss out the lie of the land… Of course, here you don’t have to worry about any Daleks – well not that I’ve seen…
Driving out of Tinos’ main town in early October has been a real surprise. The island is unbelievably beautiful but not in a soft, glamorous way; it is rugged and incredibly dramatic. The palette of the landscape would be the envy of Farrow and Ball – every shade of grey and brown and green. Even at the start of autumn, the backdrop is a cloudless cobalt sky.
On Tinos the villages teeter on the sides of mountains, and all the slopes, however sharp the gradient, are terraced to create fertile, cultivable land where actually none should be. Each terrace is retained by a dry stone wall. There must be thousands and thousand of metres of them all over the island, and that’s what immediately made me think of home.
Finding a similarity between Yorkshire and a Greek island isn’t necessarily the thing that first springs to mind, but travelling around Tinos, I’ve started to think these places have more in common than you might think. Both are very mountainous, although I think Tinos wins in ‘the height above sea level’ category. The notoriously hilly city of Sheffield seems almost flat in comparison to some of the inclines we had to access. Unsurprisingly, I haven’t noticed too many cyclists on Tinos.
The building material of choice in both places is sandy, ochre stone, and both places are bare, wild and windswept. It is sobering to consider the tenacity, resolve and sheer guts people had, and still have, to try to tame these rugged, rocky landscapes into vibrant communities and productive farmland.
Until recently, Tinos hasn’t been the obvious choice for most tourists. It’s main claim to fame for many years was as a place of religious pilgrimage. A miraculous icon of the Virgin Mary was found there in the 1820’s. Eventually a very elaborate, Renaissance-style church was built in the town as a shrine. The main time for pilgrims to make their way to Tinos is for 15th August, when the town becomes something like Lourdes. As remarkable and moving as that is, Tinos is much, much more than that.
In a quiet, modest and naturally elegant manner, Tinos revels in being totally genuine – it is very much ‘Real Greece’. Of course there are tremendous seaside spots – but nothing that has been developed to the point that you’d describe as a ‘resort’. The crystal clear sea and sandy beaches speak for themselves. The villages have their shops and cafés but they aren’t just addressing tourists.
The gorgeous mountain village of Pyrgos is home to several museums, including one dedicated to the life of the renowned, Greek sculptor, Yannoulis Chalepas – Pyrgos’ most famous son. In this picture-postcard location there is an active, university fine art department, specialising in sculpture. Wandering the narrow streets, you find some seriously stylish boutiques and shops, but there’s an excellent hardware store too, and a traditional kafeneio. It is a real community – not just a tourist spot. It is a very remarkable place.
Tinos has embraced its local food culture with pride. Tinian produce, capers, sun dried tomatoes, the cured meat, lountza, unashamedly form the basis for both traditional recipes and new ones. The food served everywhere is incredibly good and totally authentic.
Tinos is beautiful villages, endless beaches and hidden, rocky bays. It is breathtaking vistas, green valleys and sandstone houses. It is dovecotes and marble. It is mountains and mountain people.
It is artichokes and chickpeas, sun-dried tomatoes and pickled caper leaves. It is fourtalia and lountza, sea-fresh fish and fennel doughnuts.
So come with me to Tinos.
Here’s a recipe to help you get the taste for it.Jump to Recipe
Fennel 'Doughnuts' - Marathokeftédes Tinos Style
- 1 bulb fennel keep the wispy fennel fronds to add later
- 1 shallot or small onion
- 125 gm self raising flour
- 1 tbsp grated parmesan or hard mizithra
- 1 tsp fennel seeds
- 3-4 spring onions
- salt and pepper to taste
- reserved fennel fronds, finely chopped
- Approx.150 ml Chilled sparkling water
- Sunflower oil for frying
- Coarsely grate the fennel bulb into a colander, and leave to drain for a few minutes. Finley chop the wispy fennel fronds and keep for later.
- Finely chop the shallot or onion and place in a medium sized bowl.
- Finely chop the spring onions and add to the bowl.
- Now with clean hands, take the grated fennel and squeeze out as much of the moisture as possible. Add the squeezed fennel to the bowl.
- Now add the self raising flour, the fennel seeds, the grated cheese and season to taste. Be careful when adding salt, as the cheese is salty. Add the chopped fennel fronds that you
- Now slowly add the chilled sparkling water very gradually (you may not need it all) mixing all the time. The mixture needs to have the consistency of fairly thick porridge.
- Now take a medium sized saucepan and put in enough sunflower oil to fill it about half way. Heat up the oil until it is pretty hot.
- Now carefully drop into the boiling oil dessert spoonfuls of the fennel mixture. Try not to make them too big, as they will puff up a lot as they cook. Turn them over from time to time while they are frying. Don't do too many at a time, as they won't cook properly if they are overcrowded. From time to time you will need to adjust the temperature of the oil so that the fritters don't burn.
- When golden, remove from the oil and drain on a piece of kitchen roll. Repeat the process until you have used up all the mixture.
- Serve as a starter or as part of a mezé selection.