Road Trip to Greece’s North: Sklithro

Road Trip to Greece’s North: Sklithro

The village of Sklithro is located in the South West part of the Florina prefecture, on a plateau, about 700m above sea level and is, in itself, not particularly outstanding. If you make it to this remote corner of the country, though, it is probably because you know what to look for.

Sklithro
Sklithro Village

This small village of 500 residents is renown as home of the restaurant by the name “Thomas Taverna”. Do not be fooled by the term taverna, which usually describes cheap, plain Greek eateries with paper table covers and beer as the drink of choice. This is a proper gourmet restaurant, with an extensive wine list and excellent service and, what’s more, it looks the part, too.

I am ashamed to say I have no pictures of this highly praised restaurant; this is because, when there, I focus mostly on food, drink and having a good time; if you are curious, here‘s their Facebook page with plenty of pictures of the restaurant and its dishes…

Apart from fine dining, Sklithro offers relatively easy access to several interesting places and activities in the surrounding area. One that should definitely make your list is a family-run outdoor activities business by the name of Artemis. Inspired by the ancient goddess of hunting, Takis, village postman by day, has set up this business with his two sons, offering horseback riding, guided hiking tours, mountain bike rides, canoeing in Lake Zazari and pretty much anything else you might request!

Takis is very knowledgeable of the area, the history, flora and fauna and no matter how often you might come back, he’ll always have a new place for you to discover.

Finally, a stone’s throw away from Sklithro you can find two Arkturos sanctuaries: the original one, in the village of Nymfaio, on top of one of the mountains overlooking the plateau, is set up for the protection of the brown bear. My favorite one though was established in more recent years, in the village of Agrapidia, and is dedicated to protect a greatly misunderstood animal, the wolf.

Bears and wolves that have suffered in human hands are protected and cared for in the Arkturos sanctuaries, but one may still hope to catch a glimpse of predators like these in the wild – so far, we have not had the pleasure, but we are not giving up… yet.

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Road Trip to Greece’s North: overview

Road Trip to Greece’s North: overview

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.

Alfa
Barrels of Merlot at Alfa Estate

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.

plateau view
Looking down on the plateau

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.

Arkturos
Bear at the Arkturos refuge

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.

 

Vegoritida 1
Gazing on Vegoritida lake

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.

Serifos

Serifos

Serifos is one of the lesser known Cycladic islands, not nearly as popular as its famous neighbors, Mykonos or Santorini. Situated  close to Attica (a 2-hour fast boat ride from Piraeus), it features the standard Cycladic landscape you would expect, namely, gorgeous beaches, barren rock and white-washed buildings. And a couple of windmills, too…

I should point out from the start that I am completely biased when it comes to the beaches on this island. Even though I have not been to all seventy-two of them, I have yet to visit another Greek destination with a better (or even similar) coastline or underwater environment. But hey, see for yourselves:

For an underwater glimpse, click here.

Apart from the beaches, the island is unique for the remnants of iron ore mines operating during the early 20th century. The Greek labor movement owes much to local mine workers’ demands for better salaries and improved working conditions. Traces of iron are evident on the reddish hue of the land itself, but you can also explore the caves on the hill around Koutalas and watch the sunset behind the rusty loading brigde in Mega Livadi.

From a tourist’s point of view, Serifos is one of the lesser-developed islands (a euphemism, meaning locals are not too thrilled about mass visiting and therefore no large hotel complexes exist on the island). However, in recent years, quality small hotels and rooms-to-let have developed and there are also tasteful homes for sale or rent.

Food is much better than it used to be (would suggest to prefer meat over fish) and goat is abundant, as is common in the Cyclades. Do keep clear from the local wine, which is nothing like its Santorini counterparts. I admit, to me, most of it tastes like vinegar!

Serifos is an island with a short tourist season; everyone wants to visit mid-July and August, so be smart and avoid that period. September is a great time to visit, as the Aegean meltemi winds subside.

serifos light house
Lighthouse at Spathi

I hope you enjoyed these pictures from this beloved gem and will be happy to offer more specific tips in case of interest… For more vivid imagery, I invite you to check out this video.

Images of Samothraki

Images of Samothraki

Here’s some more pictures from beautiful Samothraki… hope you enjoy.

samothraki
The island as seen from the sea
pania
Rock formation

iero_2

Sanctuary of the Great Gods
iero_1
Close-up of Sanctuary of the Great Gods
sheep
Sheep grazing
shore
View out to sea
vathres_3
Hiking to the Vathres
vathres_1
Dipping in the ice-cold water
vathres_2
Crystal clear yet icy pond
fonias
Tower of Fonias (the Killer)
chora
View of Chora (Main Town)

Samothraki

Samothraki

Samothraki is a magical place. It has its own special vibe, which has drawn people ever since ancient times. Today, it stands at the northernmost edge of the Greek side of the Aegean Sea and is popular mostly with younger, backpacker crowds or seniors wanting to treat themselves to hot spring baths.

It was good fortune that brought us to the island,  a long long way from our Athens home. Accessed by a three-hour ferry ride from Alexandroupoli, Samothraki today has something for everyone and is happy to burst any predispositions you may have about summer in the Greek islands.

beach

There are two beaches on the island that are accessible by car. We only made it to one, shown above (Kipoi beach), because there are much more interesting places to be on the island, namely, the sweet water ponds (locally: vathres) formed as spring water runs down from mount Saos towards the sea. Vathres can be found all over the island and typically involve lush greenery, ice-cold waterfalls and white-washed shaded rocks, ideal for relaxing.

Look out for Theodora, the family-run boat , setting off from the small port of Therma for a tour of the island, when the winds allow. Visit the Sanctuary of the Great Gods, a very special archaeological site, home of ancient “mysteria”, i.e. religious initiation ceremonies, which put Samothraki on the Ancient Greek map. Taste local goat or sheep, outnumbering humans on the island by a hundred to one. Take in the breathtaking views towards Turkey from the lone church of Panagia Krimniotissa (sneak preview here). Above all, connect with Nature, whose presence is felt here like nowhere else.

Granted, Samothraki is not for everyone. This is a place to be experienced by body and mind combined. If this sounds like a good idea, by all means, be part of it…