After you have reveled in the beauty of Athens, the energy of the city, and the delights of the Greek kitchen; contemplate following the road less traveled. Of course, the islands can easily snatch your attention with azure seas and slow breezes, but consider heading north. I spent four amazing days exploring the main land. A road trip in Greece.
Road Trip – Greece!
The first stop was the height defying monasteries of Meteora. Meteora which translates roughly to “suspended in air” or “in the heavens above”. Six Greek Orthodox monasteries stand sentry on towering, sandstone pillars. Byzantine hermits discovered and began to populate these caves during the 11th century. The current monasteries were constructed during the 14th and 15th centuries. At its height, 24 monasteries flourished during the 17th century, only six survive today. Four of them remain active today with monastic communities.
These monasteries hover and balance on the stone towers at minimum heights of 1000 feet. The first hermits scaled sheer walls to isolate themselves in dank caves. Over time religious structures were built, from a simple wooden hut to the magnificent monasteries that can be seen today. Today, access is simple. In the 1960s, roads were carved into the mountains; staircases brought you the final distance.
After absorbing the beauty of Meteora, consider relaxing with an oaky red. The vineyard, Katogi Averoff, began life in the late nineteen fifties, when Evangelos Averoff planted Greece’s first Cabernet Sauvignon vines on the steep slopes of Mount Pindus and bottled the wine. Local, wild bears also partake, enjoying the grapes on the sloping hills. The Katogi Averoff winery is in Metsovo, a mountain village built at over 3000 feet. Enjoy the cellars and the atmospheric tasting room surrounded by a cellar that boasts over 1200 oak barrels.
A tour of stone bridges? Usually, I would pass on this offer. Thankfully, I went with the flow and spent time visiting a series of ancient bridges. Another impressive feat of architectural prowess dating back centuries.
Korkori Bridge, 13th century
Kalogeriko Bridge, early 1800s
Plakas Bridge, mid 19th century
The Vikos Gorge is found in Vikos–Aoös National Park offers majestic views. The gorge extends approximately 30 miles and has a depth of over 1500 feet. The area in the Pindus Mountains offers a multitude of hikes.
The Dodona Theater, the largest of ancient Greece, fits approximately 18.000 people. The theater is over 300 feet wide and is divided in three sections. This well-preserved landmark dates to the 3rd century BC. The original Greek orchestra area was converted into an arena for wild animal shows under the Romans.
Kalarites Village sits at over 2400 feet, and lords over the surrounding hills. Stone houses provide sentry for the villagers that number around 200 but shrinks during the winter. Visions of slurping Greek coffee and munching baklava fill my mind as I discovered the nearly deserted village at sunset.
Parga is an idyllic village that lazily lounges on a hill overseeing the Ionian Sea. Its 4000 residents are lorded over by the Castle of Parga. On a clear day you can see the island of Corfu. While away sipping cappuccinos and savoring wines on the sea side cafes. Days could slip by as you absorb the sounds and smells of this village. This village dates back to the 14th century. And for many years this hamlet was wrestled back and forth between the Venetians and the Ottoman Turks until their final independence in 1913. Today, the village still captures a timeless essence.
Nafpaktos, meaning boatyard in Greek, sits on the bay of the Gulf of Corinth on the west coast of Greece. Its history dates back over 2500 years. This area has been at the crossroads of history being under the control of everyone from the Romans to the Albanians to the Venetians to the Ottoman Turks and finally under Greece with their independence in 1829. Today this sleepy hamlet of 20,000 is also home of the Maria Loi restaurant. The Maria Loi restaurant rests on the water and is helmed by celebrity chef Maria Loi. She has published several cook books and had appeared on Greek TV for years. Highlights included savory moussaka and fresh Greek salad, washed down with red wine.
The meal at Maria Loi was a fitting way to end an incredible four day road trip to Greece. Great food, warm hospitality. Greece. A road trip in Greece.