Arachova and Around!
Part 1 – Arachova, Distomo, Delphi and Antikyra in Spring
My husband said most people who came to Greece for holidays, they often would visit the acropolis in Athens and then onto one or two islands but what they didn’t know was that mainland Greece had a lot to offer too. I was very lucky to have traveled to Arachova, Distomo, Delphi and Antikyra with my husband during his work trip last spring.
Arachova is one of the villages on Mount Parnassos which is a popular ski resort area, and is only about 2 hours’ drive out of Athens. It looks like a Christmas town, with fairy lights decorating the cute main street for the whole year. It was rather quiet during our visit in April but there was this festive air about the place. In fact, it’s lovely to visit any time of the year.
In the main street there are many cute little shops selling everything from souvenirs and local produce to trendy clothes and accessories. There are of course many restaurants and cafes too, and some have outdoor sittings with heaters, lovely for both hot and cold days.
However, one evening we drove up the steep hilly village to a restaurant called Panagiota for dinner. Panagiota was a kind and generous lady who was like a local legend. She had this establishment since 1930s. At the beginning she was selling clothes while feeding everyone who would come to her. She would use any ingredients that she could find to cook up the most delicious meals. People went to her not just because she was an amazing cook but because she was the most generous hostess who gave her best to all she did.
When our host Yannis came to live in Arachova, he got his first job working at Panagiota. The people who were running the restaurant at that time unfortunately didn’t share Panagiota’s enthusiasm and Yannis couldn’t bear working for them for long. Few years later as he walked past the restaurant, Panagiota called to him from above the restaurant, told him the good news that those people were leaving and asked Yannis to run the business for her. Yannis gladly accepted her proposition and till this day, Panagiota remains the local’s favourite restaurant and has made many visitors (us!) happy too.
In front of Panagiota is the main church of Arachova, Agios Georgios, which has another legendary story. During World War II when the Nazi was invading this village, a general ordered his troop to destroy the icon that was on the top of the back wall of the church. No matter how many times the bullets had hit it, the icon remained as it was. All of a sudden a flash of bright light came out from the icon and hit the general face on. He was unharmed but greatly shaken. He had since then took up the Orthodox faith and returned to this church every year till he passed away. The bullet holes are still very visible all around the icon.
My husband was commissioned to photograph the local museums and a monastery. First stop was the Museum of Nazi Victims in Distomo, which is about 15km from Arachova. The museum is split into two parts. On the ground level there is a display of textiles and household items that were most common for this region in Greece about a century ago. They used to make their own clothes from scratch, including making their own fabrics. I enjoy seeing display such as this as I get to have a glimpse of how people used to live. However the main part of the museum on the first floor is a lot harder to digest.
The portrait of a woman at the entrance hall said it all. It was featured on the Life magazine back in 1944 soon after the massacre in Distomo. According to this article, during the German occupation in Greece, 450,000 people were left starved to death. The German troops destroyed over 2,000 villages in the most atrocious ways. I don’t want to repeat what I heard but you may learn about it in this video. The part that really touched my heart in this video was from a exert of a book ‘My Odyssey’ written by Sture Linner who was the Head of the International Red Cross in Greece at the time. Mr. Linner and his wife Cleo witnessed the aftermaths of the massacre and were expecting that the Greek people would like to take revenge on the German soldiers. He wrote: ‘When we reached the outskirts of the village, we were met by a committee led by the elderly priest. He was an old fashioned patriarch, with a long, wavy, white beard. Next to him the guerilla captain, fully armed. The priest spoke first and thanked us on behalf of everybody for the food supplies. Then he added: We are all starving here, both us and the German prisoners. Now, though we are famished, we are at least in our land. The Germans have not just lost the war; they are also far from their country. Give them the food you have with you, they have a long way ahead.’
Photographs filled up the wall of a vast room. These are all portraits of the people who died in this massacre. There are many more victims but they didn’t leave behind any photographs. Our guide pointed out his grandfather and great grandfather to us. We didn’t ask him details of their death as he didn’t seem to want to say any more.
I flicked through the visitors’ book. Most of the comments were in Greek with a few in German, French and English. My Greek language is very limited but I can see the word Γιατί (Why) everywhere. That was exactly what I was asking in my mind.
Our guide also took us to the Distomo Massacre Memorial. It is situated on a hilltop which has the most spectacular and yet peaceful view of the mountains. The names of the victims were inscribed on the monument and there were men and women, young and old and some were only a few months old. I would like to think that they are now all resting in a peaceful place now.
Next, we went to Osios Loukas which is located about 10km from Distomo and is simply magical. I felt I was in a period movie setting. The monastery was built in the 11th century and is listed under the UNESCO World Heritage site. The structures of the churches, the stone wall and the other buildings are very strong but pretty as well with different shades of light brown and grey. When we walked around the site, we felt we stepped back in time on the stone paved ground.
I’ve always loved being in Orthodox churches. The interiors are always adorned with icons and wall paintings of various saints of story settings from the bible. Even though I was by myself I felt this warm and loving presence. The relic of Osios Loukas is inside these two churches that are joined together. Some people believe that his relic has healing power and people can be healed by being near the relic and to stay there overnight. I would love to have a chance to stay inside these churches overnight to absorb the loving energy.
The magical feeling wasn’t only because of the historical buildings or the history behind Osios Loukas (oisos/hosios means hermit); it was also because of the site it was built on. The monastery is tucked away on the side of the mountains with magnificent views overlooking the valley. While my husband was photographing the site, I sat in the shade and let all my worries dissolves into the breeze. If you ever have the chance to come here, give yourself plenty of time to relax in this beautiful place.
Our next stop was Delphi. It’s another picturesque village on the mountain, although usually people refer Delphi to the historical site in the area. In Greek mythology, Delphi is believed to be the centre of the world. Honestly, I cannot fathom what ‘centre of the world’ is, but I do feel some sort of energy vibrating in this area. When we were approaching the historical site (another UNESCO World Heritage site), my ears started buzzing and I became somewhat light-headed. For me, this usually means my body is tuning into a higher vibration. When my body settled, I felt very connected with the surroundings; every colour of the nature seemed to stand out more. It was a wonderful feeling!
We admired the ruins and did a meditation at this ancient site. There are many websites that offer information on Delphi but we preferred to let our imaginations take our minds for a walk. What kind of scenes appear in your mind when you look at these ancient ruins?
There is an ancient theater too but we got there too late and it was closed. When you plan to visit some historical sites in Greece, do check the opening hours because some places can close as early as 3pm depending on the time of year.
On the side of the road next to the ruins, there is a water fountain that has free flowing natural spring water. We washed our hands and faces and filled up our water bottles. My hands automatically wanted to switch off the ‘tap’ but then my mind realized that this refreshing water is not only free but in abundance as well.
We saw some locals trekking back and forth along the road. One stopped by to have a chat with us and pointed us where to go to have the best views. Off we went to the perfect viewpoint and as we sat there relaxing in the scenery once again, my husband told me that the sea that we were looking at was just a short ride from where we were. I thought how wonderful to be on the mountains and yet so close to the ocean and wish we could be there now.
My wish came true the next day. When we saw our guide in Distomo again, he suggested that we drove to the seaside village Antikyra for seafood lunch. Antikyra is only 10km from Distomo, about 15 minutes’ drive through the winding road. We parked our car and took a walk by the long pebbled beach. My husband couldn’t resist taking a dip in the water while I enjoyed the sunshine and the gentle sound of water hitting the shore. Our guide then took us to a restaurant by the secluded harbour. The seafood dishes were all fresh and tasty as expected but the level of tranquility was out of this world.
Part 2 – Arachova, Mount Parnassos, Livadia in Winter
We just came back from another trip to Arachova. Since it was the winter skiing season and many visitors came to Mount Parnassos to ski, the Arachova village was a lot more bustling. We didn’t have time to ski though since it was another of my husband’s work trip. We did however drove up to Livadi village where it was all white with snow and it was fun. I’m now wishing for yet another trip that gives us a bit more time in order to check out the mountains. My local friend told us that there is a whole forest up there and how I wish we could go and have a look. She also said some locals believe that there is a tunnel that links Delphi to the forest. I love that this adds to the magic of this whole area.
We bumped into a Canadian Greek friend who was working there for the season. I asked him if he thought Mount Parnassos was a good place to ski. He said definitely – although the ski runs are not as good as those he had experienced in Canada, it is a lot cheaper here. I think this is good news for those of us who are not pro-skiers and just want to have some fun with a different kind of nature.
On the recommendation of another local friend, we decided to stop for lunch at a town called Livadia on the drive back to Athens. We knew we could trust him because he lives in Distomo which is surrounded by lovely scenery and he thought Livadia was worth a visit. It is so often better to ask a local where to go next than to google.
Livadia (pronounced as LivadiAH with the stress at the end) is a town that has a mountain as backdrop. There is a beautiful river from the mountain that flow through the town. We took a leisurely walk after lunch and we were already planning our next visit there. We saw a little church built into the mountain and would love to take a walk up there next time. I had never seen any town so beautifully built around a river. My husband said Greece is full of lovely places like this. I think we need to travel more!
When you are planning your next holiday to Greece, don’t forget that Greece has a lot more beautiful places than just the islands with white houses! If you are planning to explore the places mentioned in this post, you might like to look up Itea, Amfissa, Nafpaktos, Galaxidi, Agoriani, Elikonas and Agia Anna too. After our second trip I had a search for other places in the same region and each of these places has its unique beauty and history that might interest you.
I would love to know where you have traveled to, and enjoyed, in Greece, too so I can add onto my wish list!
All photography by Konstantinos Anastasakis (except the ones with him in it obviously!)