The Mediterranean diet, with its abundance of vegetables, whole grains, fish, fruit, olive oil and wine, has blessed people in the south of Greece with some of the lowest rates of heart disease and longest life expectancies in the world. But does it work anywhere else? The latest research indicates that it does. One 2002 study published in the British medical journal The Lancet showed that a Mediterranean-style diet helped prevent heart disease in high-risk Indians. In the same year, researchers at Monash University in Australia found that Greek immigrants in Melbourne who ate a traditional Greek diet—defined in the study as lots of leafy green vegetables, figs and olive oil—were less likely to die of heart disease. They also had high antioxidant levels, which help prevent cancer.
Yogurt & Health
Yogurt plays a key role in making the traditional Greek diet one of the healthiest in the world. Yogurt contains 50 percent more protein and calcium than low-fat milk; it's also rich in B vitamins and zinc. Greek yogurt is thick and creamy, even in low-fat and fat-free versions sold in the U.S. under brand names like Total. According to researchers at Tufts University, active yogurt cultures have significant health benefits: They boost the immune system and may reduce the risk of some cancers. They also make yogurt easier for lactose intolerant people to digest than most dairy products.
Travel Details MT. PELION, GREECE
Travelers looking to tour hilltop villages, taste homemade phyllo pies and stay in old mansions converted into lovely hotels should head to the untrodden region of Mt. Pelion. Its capital, Volos, a port town at the foot of the mountain, is a winding four-hour drive from Athens. The most comfortable and scenic way to reach Volos, however, is by train; rent a car once you're there. Since most places don't have addresses—or even phones—ask a local for directions.
Where to Stay
Archontiko Michopoulou A renovated 300-year-old château, this hotel overlooks olive groves, which extend almost to the sea (doubles from $80; Vyzitsa; 011-30-24230-86860).
Despotiko A beautifully restored 19th-century mansion with stables (doubles from $75; Portaria; 011-30-24280-99046).
Where to Eat
Kostas Set on Malaki beach near Kato Gatzea, Kostas is the perfect place for tsipouro-meze—grilled or fried shrimp, calamari and other seafood from the Pagasitikos Gulf.
Tou Papa This tavern in Pinakates offers pites—phyllo pies stuffed with cheese and wild greens or other seasonal vegetables. On Sundays, Tou Papa serves kokoretsi, charcoal-grilled baby lamb's liver flavored with oregano.
What to See
Museums The Archeological Museum in Volos displays exhibits of the Neolithic settlements at Thessaly. In Anakasia, the Theofilos Museum features murals by the eponymous folk painter.
Church Agia Marini, in Kissos, has wood carvings and folk frescos.
Perched villages Makrinitsa, Pinakates, Promiri, Pouri and Trikeri offer views of the Aegean.
What to Bring Home
These regional products are sold at roadside stands and shops throughout Mt. Pelion.
Fruit preserves Vatomoura (wild berries) and firiki (a small, local, oblong apple) make wonderful toppings for yogurt.
Pickled wild pistachio shoots Called tsitsiravla, they can be eaten as a snack or added to salads, pasta and omelets.
Olives and dried herbs Look for plump, black Mt. Pelion olives, lime blossoms and oregano.
The Greek Pantry
F&W tasted 30 different Greek foods to find these favorite brands.
Divina specializes in estate-grown olives, like the juicy, earthy, black Mt. Pelions from the western slopes of their namesake mountain. The dolmas—Sultana grape leaves stuffed with long-grain rice flavored with lemon, dill and mint—are exceptional (FoodMatch; 800-350-3411).
Morea makes a peppery, fruity extra-virgin olive oil from Koroneiko olives hand-picked in the south of Greece. Its olives include green Halkidikis, purplish black Kalamatas and rare blond Hondroelias (World Pantry; 866-972-6879 or worldpantry.com).
Mt. Vikos offers baked gigandes—giant white beans slow-cooked with tomatoes and roasted red peppers. The company also sells fabulous cheeses: luscious, creamy manouri and kefalotiri, a hard cheese with a caramel-like flavor (Salumeria Italiana; 800-400-5916 or salumeriaitaliana.com).