Thessaly and Central Greece – Monasteries, mountains and everything is sooo green!!

Thessaly and Central Greece – Monasteries, mountains and everything is sooo green!!

Travel

After we’ve said good-bye to our friends with a heavy heart, we continued our trip further into the incredibly diverse center of Greece …

As our Trip to Hellas came a bit surprising as we canceled our plans to visit Turkey next by short notice after the military coup in July 2016,  our research about what to do in Greece was a bit poor and we didn’t have a clue what was waiting for us in this country. But what we’ve then discovered in the regions of Thessaly and Central Greece was just amazing!

Coming from Theassaloniki we took the road westwards.

Next stop was Vergina or the ancient Aigai! We and probably most of you had never heard of this place before…. and that’s no wonder, because without a  discovery made in 1977 the place would probably have remained always one among many, historically interesting and equipped with excavation sites, but this is an almost boring fact in Greece. But 1977 Manolis Andronikos discovered graves, untouched by grave robbers, equipped incredibly rich, of which one could be assigned to the mighty Macedonian ruler, Philip. II.. Between 359 and 336 BC the Macedonian king  conquered almost the whole area of Greece, laying the foundations for the probably greatest military leader of all times, his son Alexander the Great!

The museum “Royal Tombs of Aigai” (admission 12 €), which has been constructed underground in the large tumulus / grave-mound, is absolutely worth seeing! Even for museum grumps and people who are not particularly interested in history, because it is a) extremely well done and b) houses great masterpieces of Macedonian art (filigree gold jewelry, detailed frescos, impressive armor) and last but not least the excavation of the graves!

Photographing unfortunately is forbidden in there and is also strictly supervised, but I have on the quite shot a single photo, of Philipp’s grave …

In Vergina we’ve met again with Detlef and Lennart, father and son, whom we’ve made acquaintance with in Thessaloniki and who’s pathes we’ve cross again and again since then.

Detlef is a professional traveler and has been running a travel portal (www.alaturka.info) for a long time as well as the project „Journey of Intimacy and Culture along Roman roads” and by his knowledge and experience he makes every trip even more exciting. And his son is of the same opinion and joins his father’s travels as often as possible.

And with the two of them we followed the winding roads through the foothills of the mountains north of Mt. Olympus, until we arrived at the mountain of the gods in Litochoro. Litochoro is the ideal starting point to explore the Olympus and the surrounding nature reserve which is an UNESCO biosphere park. You can either start your hike from here or drive by car up to Prionia at 1100m.

The gods had something to hide this day, because the peaks were covered in clouds every now and then. But somehow it evokes a feeling of grandeur to be standing at this mountain and to recall the stories of Zeus and the 11 other gods of the Olymp!

And like that we actually had planed to climb it… But the heat, the masses of people coming downhill at Prionia and the fact that the whole hike takes at least 2-3 days with intermediate over-night stay and the next possibility to get a bed in the shelter was only in 3 days let us postpone this plan to the bucket-list! Best outside of the high-season…

Instead we had a very nice meeting with Nikos Papadimitriou and 2 of his friends in the evening. Nikos leads the bio-dynamic winery „Gilali“ in Rapsani, a mountain village, that displayed that evening how picturesquely one can drink liters of local red wine under plane trees, while cultivating the Greek-German friendship!

Rapsani is located above the stunning green Tempe Valley and on the fertile slopes of Mount Olympus. In the valley you’ll find marvelous, fairy-tale plane trees forests in which one could easily forget time. And the Ossa Mountains bordering in the South are still unspoiled and offer a lot of adventure potential.

But we were strongly drawn on to a place that definitely belongs to one of the absolute highlights in Greece, the Meteora Monasteries!

In an area which probably doesn’t exceed 5km², bizarre rock formations, which would be worth seeing in itselves, rise into the sky. The highlights are the orthodox monasteries built on top of these rocky towers, which can only be reached via steep stairs or daring elevator constructions. Originally there have been 24 monasteries and hermitages, which were errected at the beginning of the 11th century, of which 6 are still inhabited and can be visited.

Meteora comes from “Μετεωρος” and means “floating in the heights”. Strictly speaking, the monasteries can be understood as a means of propaganda to demonstrate lived asceticism and hermitage of the monks and nuns to the world. Similar to the christian pillar dwellers or so called stylites. And even if monastic life still takes place here and one has to follow a “moral” dress code when visiting the monasteries (which means that revealing clothing is not allowed, but also that women are not allowed to enter in trousers and have to borrow scarfs to simulate a dress!) I would dare to say that this  seems hypocritical considered that the monasteries are living of the mass tourism. And as often in the face of ecclesiastical magnificence, we ask ourselves what golden jewlery and rich fresco paintings etc. have to do with asceticism and renunciation, but this of course is a controversial topic.

In many monasteries, as well in Bulgaria, the monks are called to prayer with special rhythmic tapping on special planks, one of the things that still appear to be traditional.

The views of the monastery and the ones down from them are sensational and despite the many tourists the area has an extraordinary energy. And one can understand that in such an environment, believing in a superior power is not difficult, no matter what one may call it and whether one is associated with a religious or ideological group.

For us the area is definitely one of the must-sees in central Greece!

As we head south, in the area around Lamia on the East coast for the first time during the trip we bump into signs of the floods of fugitives that have made their way from the East through the Aegean or via Athens to the North. Hidden behind earth embankments various, extremely poorly tents and barrack settlements are squeezed together by the roadside and on the property of ​​a closed thermal bath a quite chaotic refugee camp has been established. (In a motorhome guide from 2014 the place was listed as a quiet, idyllic parking space.) The access roads are controlled by police cars, children are playing between the trees in the unfortunately abundant garbage and some young couples take their babies out for a walk in a pram in the surroundings of the camp. And our feelings are quite ambivalent, on the one hand glad for these people that they have escaped with their life and on the other once again simply horrified about what is happening in the world, to lead to such misery and how helpless we all are!

The area between Lamia and our next destination Karpenisi seems incredibly fertile. For the first time in our lives we see pistachio trees, huge plantations! In addition, of course, the inevitabel olive trees, that seem to cover the complete greek surface, fig trees, peach and apple trees and again and again signs for kiwi plantations, which unfortunately we couldn’t spot!

Karpenisi is located in the southern foothills of the Pindos Mountains, built into the slopes and it is the main town for the small skiing resort on the highest mountain of the area, Mt. Tymfristos (2315m). And that’s where we plan to enjoy a few days of cool air, time to work in peace and of course climb the mountain! The car park at the ski resort is completely deserted in summer and you can settle down with a fantastic view over the southern mountain chains.

You can hike up to the peak of Mt. Tymfristos (or Mt. Velouchi) from the parking lot in about 1h 15min, if you follow the diretissima, climbing straight on the steep face…. Alternatively there is a serpentine path, which is to prefer for the descent. But of course we take the direct path and on top catch up with our breaths with the fantastic view of the surrounding peaks!

After some wonderful cool nights, in which we finally could sleep with a blanket again, we set off for the Peloponnese. But as often the way the goal and it leads us through the idyllic, fertile valley of the Tavropou.

The landscape is overflowing with green vegetation and in the small traditional tavernas along the road, in villages with no more than 10-20 houses, you can get delicious Greek home-cooking in an idyllic surroundig. And they also serve homemade wine that flushes away all the negative prejudices about Greek wine with its fruity taste on your taste buds…

And after leaving the valley the narrow road, which is once in a while strewn with scree, rises higher through fantastic landscapes, we pass by mountain villages, which appear to have been glued to the steep, repellent slopes as if by magic and in the end we are really happy to have made this exciting section without having experienced rockfall!

As we work our way down the mountains in the setting evening sun, the largest natural lake of Greece, Lake Trichonida, appears in the distance. We find a cozy place under a large oak tree with a view on the lake and once again we are simply happy to have chosen the life that has brought us here tonight!

Sights:
Outdoor:
  • hiking or rock-climbing around the Meteora Monasteries
  • hiking Mt. Tymfristos 
  • stroll through the  Tavropou Valley
  • relax at Lake Trichonidas
  • climb the mountain of the gods, Mt. Olympus or hike in the surrounding national park
  • scout out the still unspoiled Ossa Mountains
Camping:
  • Have a look at our extra article here!
Food & Drinks:

Gavros / Tavropou Valley:

  • TAVERNA TO SPITI TOY PSARA: with beautiful views into the valley and on the mountains you will find delicious home-cooking and  home-made wine!