Yamas! On the retsina trail on the Greek island of Skopelos

1 year ago 220

We’re precocious successful the mountains supra Skopelos municipality and there’s not a azygous Mamma Mia! instrumentality successful sight. A lukewarm breeze stirs the trees, filling the aerial with the citric scent of conifer needles arsenic we travel the Retsina Trail, 1 of respective past cobbled paths (known arsenic calderimi) that were utilized by the island’s resin collectors up until the 1990s erstwhile request for the sticky substance declined.


It’s aboriginal October and spike-armoured chestnuts scrunch beneath our feet arsenic we hike done dense wood covering the spine of this lush Sporades island, conscionable an hour’s ferry from Skiathos. Apart from the chestnuts and the occasional clump of tiny rain-starved blackberries, there’s small other to archer america that it’s autumn; with temperatures soaring to 30C by midday we admit the forest’s dappled shade. As we walk, Heather Parsons, proprietor of hiking institution Skopelos Trails, shows maine however the resin collectors would pat the pines by peeling backmost a tiny portion of bark, applying a paste that stimulates the travel of sap, past attaching a container to drawback the sticky substance arsenic it dilatory leaked from the tree. Several tons of resin would past beryllium carried – via this way – to Skopelos connected the island’s north-east coast, wherever it would beryllium shipped disconnected to the mainland for usage successful paints, solvents and cosmetics, and for making Greece’s iconic retsina wine.

One of respective  past  paths that signifier  the Retsina Trail
One of respective past paths that signifier the Retsina Trail. Photograph: Heidi Fuller-Love

Cresting a steep conception of the cobbled path, we intermission to respect the view: connected each broadside the mountains are covered successful the blue-green fur of Aleppo pines. From a region it’s truthful dense it looks similar tropical vegetation and I person the unusual sensation that we’ve swapped the Sporades for determination successful the Caribbean.

The calderimi loops up of us, the cobbles slotted intimately unneurotic similar pieces of a stone-age jigsaw puzzle. Heather has devoted fractional a beingness to redeeming these sadly neglected trails from the encroaching undergrowth. Since arriving connected Skopelos immoderate 30 years agone the British-born circuit usher has spent each her spare clip cutting backmost brambles, removing shrubs that turn betwixt the cobbles and speaking with locals successful bid to question retired calderimi that would different stay buried. Initially she worked connected her own, but present she has a fistful of volunteers who assistance her successful her Herculean task.

“The authorities isn’t funny successful protecting them and my lone backing is from visitor’s donations, but they’re conscionable truthful beauteous I can’t carnivore to wantonness them,” she says, stooping to region a clump of sow thistle increasing crossed our path.

Sap is harvested from trees to marque   the retsina
Sap is harvested from trees to marque the retsina. Photograph: Heidi Fuller-Love

“When I was archetypal present radical were inactive taking the resin and shipping it – the resin-makers lived successful tiny cottages and utilized tins to cod resin. They wore a benignant of bib and they’d determination resin into the bib beneath their chin and past bare it into barrels,” she tells me.

Heather has written a elaborate guidebook with accusation astir the half-dozen trails she has uncovered truthful far. “People tin bash the walks connected their own, but I besides connection guided hikes,” she says. “At astir 12 kilometres, the Retsina Trail is the longest, truthful it’s astir apt worthy having a usher for this one,” she adds.

We halt erstwhile much to respect views implicit to Evia. Wrapped successful candyfloss clouds, the mythical land wherever the Titans erstwhile roamed floats mirage-like supra the Aegean’s cobalt waters. Heather points retired a squat operation made of bricks beneath america successful a field. “That’s a prune oven,” she tells me. “One of Skopelos’s nicknames is ‘island of the plums’ due to the fact that of this effect which is grown here. They adust them to marque prunes and usage them successful tons of delicious section recipes, similar xoirino maine damaskina – pork with prunes – oregon avgato, a benignant of plum marmalade,” she tells me.

A whitewashed location   successful  Skopelos town
A whitewashed location successful Skopelos town. Photograph: Milan Gonda/Alamy

We hike connected on the winding way – isolated from the occasional Balkan partition lizard sunning itself connected the calderimi cobbles up of us, the way – which takes america crossed the island’s mountainous spine from south-east to south-west – is deserted. It’s astir a daze immoderate 5 hours aboriginal to brushwood tavernas and tourists erstwhile much adjacent Milia, 1 of the long, sandy beaches that starred successful Mamma Mia!

Hot and hungry, we extremity our hike astatine Linarakia, a formation taverna overlooking the mirror-clear waters of Panormos Bay wherever the owner’s girl Eleni Stamatis shows america pictures of her gramps who erstwhile lived successful this tiny shack and collected resin successful the surrounding forests to marque retsina.

Once the turpentine-flavoured backdrop to each Greek holiday, retsina was accidentally invented backmost successful 2000BC erstwhile past Greeks utilized resin to seal their porous amphorae and fell successful emotion with the linseed lipid and lime-peel flavours it gave to the wine. Later, retsina was produced utilizing the aforesaid techniques arsenic for achromatic oregon rosé wine, with Aleppo conifer resin added during fermentation. From the 1960s onwards, however, erstwhile accrued request led to a spike successful production, much and much resin was added, not to conserve the vino but to disguise its flaws.

Giannis Vriniotis, proprietor  of North Evia’s lone  accredited winery
Giannis Vriniotis, proprietor of North Evia’s lone accredited winery. Photograph: Heidi Fuller-Love

As the prime of retsina declined, truthful did its popularity. Over the past decade, however, arsenic vintners experimentation with antithetic grape varietals and chopped down the magnitude of resin added to the vino during fermentation, Greece’s best-known resinous vino has been reinvented – often with spectacular results.

Although the calderimi inactive exist, resin is nary longer tapped present successful Skopelos and contiguous retsina is brought successful from elsewhere. Across connected Evia, however, Giannis Vriniotis, proprietor of North Evia’s lone accredited winery, is readying to commencement making his own, sourcing the Aleppo conifer sap locally. Evia is 1 of the 3 Greek regions – on with Attica and Viotia – to person a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), the equivalent of France’s appellation d’origine contrôlée, for retsina.

Since retsina is seldom aged, Vriniotis hopes to uncork the archetypal vessel immoderate clip adjacent year. “It’s clip to bring retsina backmost to its birthplace,” helium tells me. “It’s had a atrocious sanction for decades but present determination are a batch of winemakers who are making crisp and refreshing retsinas that are fantabulous served with our Greek ladera – olive oil-cooked vegetables – and galore different dishes that are traditionally hard to brace with wines.”

One of the archetypal producers to experimentation was Stelios Kechris successful Thessaloniki, whose retsinas are present served successful immoderate of the country’s champion restaurants. Other new-age retsina producers see Vassilis Papagiannakos, third-generation proprietor of the Papagiannakos winery connected the Greek mainland other confederate Evia, and Aristos Spanos, co-owner of Tetramythos winery adjacent Diakopto successful the Peloponnese.

Before I permission Greece I’m keen to effort a modern-day retsina – truthful backmost successful Athens astatine Oinoscent, 1 of the city’s champion vino bars, I bid a solid of Kechris’ Tear of the Pine to travel a crockery of cook Christos Boukas’s semi-cured mackerel. Fresh and light-bodied, it’s a agelong mode from the portion I retrieve fuelling galore an evening connected island-hopping holidays successful the 90s. Perhaps retsina volition person its time again aft all.