A curvy road winds its way through an olive tree-covered mountain. The cicadas are chanting the holiday anthem. The sun is beating down but the sea breeze makes the heat bearable and even pleasant. On the horizon, an endless sea hints at the existence of silent islands and hidden lands. Pure serenity.
In the distance, I can see a small village of whitewashed houses. I continue making my way down to the small port to settle down on the terrace overlooking the beach. I order freshly caught mussels, cooked with mountain herbs and spiced with a simple squeeze of lemon. The waitress, all smiles, brings me a few slices of ripe tomatoes bathing in virgin olive oil. She introduces herself and asks me where I come from. We chat a little. The mussels are delicious.
Waves crash gently against the low wall of the tinkered embankment. I don't feel like moving anymore. The small, quiet port seems to be the meeting place for the natives who come to enjoy grilled fish with their families. Not a tourist. Family atmosphere. Children swim and fish with their grandfather. Nothing overrated or sophisticated here. The architecture is a little outdated and cobbled together with few resources. Anyway, it feels good. The place probably hasn’t changed in years. I feel like I'm traveling through time. Carpe Diem.
It's time to go back up to the village to meet Alice and Kat, the owners of the hotel where our next soaping retreat will take place. We chat by the pool and exchange ideas full of hope and enthusiasm to perfect our October program. I have brought back small pieces of soaps that Kat proudly distributes to her intrigued guests. I am asked dozens of questions about soap making and about our retreat.
Our program, as you may recall, was designed for the month of June. Now, if all goes well, we will all meet by mid-October. Here, as in many other place of the planet, mother nature always has the last word, and we will have to listen and adapt. The bees will be preparing for Winter. They will probably have changed camp. Some will have started to hide, the others will be a little less hardworking. Kat explains that she will have to talk to Mixalis, the beekeeper, to find out where the hives will be at this time of the year.
The terrace where we will make our soaps, with its panoramic view of the sea and the mountains, is also lulled by a light wind that refreshes the atmosphere. Perhaps in October, in the evening, the wind will blow a little stronger than in June. Kat has thought of everything: if there is a little too much Meltemi (the local wind), we will work in the courtyard at the back of the hotel, where the garden is, our eyes immersed in the green of the olive fields.
It is also here that Alice makes objects and jewellery entirely from recycled materials. She taught me that it was called « upcycling », which I personally actually have been doing for decades without knowing the exact appellation. She and Kat made all the hotel furniture with recovered and reworked objects. It took them 1 year to finish the decoration, which is, you'll see, absolutely charming and relaxing. This hotel is a gem, a haven of peace. The message is clear from the moment you pass the hotel’s gate: "You are now entering a stress-free zone". It couldn't be put better.
The swimming pool is huge, and as the sun sets over the village, caressing it softly with its last rays of the day. I felt like taking a dip.
Alice brings me a cocktail, her specialty. She runs the pretty little bar that embraces an open landscape on the horizon: mastic liqueur, fresh basil leaves and lemon. Sparkling, light, just the right amount of sweetness. It tastes so Greek that each sip takes me on a still journey to the sound of cicadas, again.
The mastic - or mastiha in Greek - was born on the island of Chios. It has travelled all over the world. It is a natural product that has been widely adopted and used in different ways by the peoples of the Eastern Mediterranean. It is a unique product that still today arouses the interest of the international scientific community and is renowned for its many virtues. Its consistency is as unusual as its taste. Coniferous, of course, with a slightly bitter touch at first and then a refreshing one. With positive effects on breath, in addition to its antiseptic qualities. It would be wrong to deprive ourselves of it.
Read more about mastic here: https://www.nytimes.com/1998/10/14/dining/an-elusive-flavor-of-greece.html
« What if we added a mini-recycling workshop to our program to make original soap dishes? ». Alice is brainstorming and comes up with a whole bunch of ideas. Kat is also thinking about her friend, a ceramist in Thrapsano, a small and quiet traditional village 30km away from Heraklion. He still works the clay in the Minoan way. She will find out if he can let us work in his workshop. I jump with joy at every new idea. At this rate, it is not a week that we will have to stay but 15 days at least! We'll choose what's best. I feel that this workshop will make us want to stay in Crete to open a beautiful soap factory all together!
I call Leila to share this happy moment with her. She looks at what I show her with big round eyes and grunts with envy. I give her a tour of the hotel by phone.
When I hang up, Kat calls me for dinner. I've already eaten just a few hours ago but the smells coming out of the kitchen make my mouth water. The meal is served in front of the sea, just above the swimming pool which has now been illuminated by nice design white lanterns.
It is also in this exact place that we will have our evening video sessions, to see, on a giant screen, what everyone will have done in class, and commented by Leila.
Tzatziki, dolmades rolled by hand in the morning with the local vine leaves, stuffed zucchini flowers, a light Cretan wine, chilled mineral water. I am enjoying all these ultra-fresh dishes while looking at the stars.
Kat comes back a little later with a « spezofai ». Packed with fresh, seasonal bell peppers, juicy tomatoes and meaty sausages, this rustic one-pan dish is a specialty from Pelio, another fabulous and somewhat unknown place in central Greece. Everything is local and homemade.
What a joy for the senses. The potatoes taste like those I used to eat I was a child (ages ago that is !). I hadn't tasted such tasty potatoes in years. The meal ends with a yoghurt dessert (Greek yoghurt, of course), accompanied by a « raki » (the Cretan digestive par excellence) revisited by the house. Today it is pomegranate, yesterday it was lemon.
I think of you and our next meeting in October. Let's keep our fingers crossed that the world will get better and let us travel in peace. So that you too can fall in love with this enchanting place and perfect your soap making skills in paradise.
In the meantime, HAPPY SOAPING!