Road trips are my favorite kind of travel. Contrary to airplane travel, reaching your destination is gradual, allowing for anticipation and excitement to build and, unlike travelling by ship, the landscape changes constantly as you move along. Of course, it all depends on where you are going; but with road trips, reaching your destination is actually part of the fun.
This post is meant as an introduction to (hopefully) a series that will cover travelling by road in the Western Macedonia region in Northern Greece.
I feel a clarification is in order here, due to the elephant in the room that is the country known as “Macedonia”, officially known as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The term “Macedonia”, since ancient times, has been used to describe a geographic region spanning three historic countries: Greece, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia; of these three, the two are still existing but the last is not, having been succeeded in 1991 by several smaller countries, including F.Y.R.O.M..
This post is about the Greek part of Macedonia, therefore any reference to the term Macedonia should not be mistaken for the country going by the same name.
Back to my actual topic now, the Western Macedonia region in Greece, especially the area around the town of Amyntaio, is home to some of the most fascinating Greek wines, reds especially. The vineyards here are numerous and some of them even date back hundreds of years. Even though I am no expert on wine (I focus mainly on consuming it), I believe the wines of this region are of premium quality and can withstand any comparison with their famous foreign counterparts.
Wine is not the only reason for visiting this area; I only mention it first as it was the excuse that brought us here originally. The main reason to be here is to experience Nature, in its purest form.
This is a land of lakes, with seven of them, large and small, starting from the Prespa lakes on the country’s North West border, towards the East, through the towns of Florina and Kastoria, built around a lake, until lake Vegoritida near Amyntaio. The lakes sustain and give life to rich ecosystems all around them, while the densely forested mountains surrounding them are home to some of nature’s most feared predators, namely the wolf and the brown bear. Considering that both these species are in danger of extintion, it is no surprise that this area is the center of activity for Arkturos, a Greek NGO specializing in their protection. There are two Arkturos refuge locations here, one for each species.
People in this part of the world are warm and hospitable, they can appreciate good things in life and are used to relying on each other; they need to, since they are located far away from major cities and their facilities, in mountain villages with access that is often restricted due to weather conditions. The Egnatia motorway, developed in recent years, has contributed greatly to this part of the country becoming closer and more open to the world, with all that this includes.
Admittedly, we all look for different things in places we visit. So you might not care much about lakes, mountains, forests and bears. However, I would find it hard to believe, if your path does bring you to this little part of the world that you would not find something here that will resonate so deep in you, that you would want to come back for more. I did, in any case, and I do promise to keep writing about it.
For a more detailed account of our first road trip in the region, I invite you to take a look in the photo book compiled with my better half here.