© Konstantis Photography

December 20, 2015

Escape to Grevena

Thick forests, a ‘hot valley’ and alpine lakes: the ideal winter sun holiday in the mountains. The towering Pindus Mountains, jagged rocks and a huge mixed forest of conifers and deciduous trees make up this Macedonian landscape in Grevena. Alpine valleys, rushing rivers and gentle streams. And villages crafted by generations of Vlach stonemasons, with arched stone bridges and tavernas with blazing fireplaces. Grevena is an ideal holiday destination in Greece any time of year for mountain lovers. This area of the southern Pindus mountain range is particularly popular with winter sports fans. Skiers and snowboarders flock to the ski centre at Vasilitsa. But the great outdoors is there for all to enjoy. And by night, invigorated by the stillness of the mountains and the clarity of the air, there’s the vivacious, youthful party atmosphere in Grevena itself. Reasons enough to get out your map and plan a visit.

What to do in Grevena

The city on the route of the caravans
Grevena might seem remote on the map, but in the past it was a key stop for caravans and the hub for traders and the semi-nomadic Vlach herdsmen who travelled through Macedonia, between Trikala and Thessaly, Kozani, Metsovo, Samarina and villages like Vasilitsa in the southern Pindus. Back then they followed the Via Egnatia old Roman road that crossed northern Greece. Today the newly completed modern version makes Grevena even closer. You’ll feel the kefi (joie de vivre) in Eleftheria and Emilianos squares. This city in Northern Greece heats up even the most frigid nights, while the aromas of a roaring fire and grilled meats waft through the chill air, enticing you in.

The Pindus National Park: 101 ecosystems
It’s not just the burbling streams and rare red pine forest that make this area special. It’s the extraordinarily diverse scenery that will captivate you in the Pindus National Park. For starters, there’s the ‘hot’ valley of Valia Kalda, so-called because it’s so much warmer than the high peaks that surround it. Next you’ll find the myriad colours of the autumn leaves, the perfume of the aromatic herbs, the pastures carpeted with hundreds of spring flowers, the snow-capped summits, the two alpine lakes of Flegas, the Arkoudorema or bear ravine, home to the brown bear, and much much more. Plan to stay a while to discover them all.

Travel to traditional Vlach villages
Some say the Vlachs are descendants of Roman legionaries who were stationed in the Balkans. Originally nomadic herdsmen who spoke a Latin language rather than Greek, they eventually settled all over northern Greece in villages that have been called ‘sculptures in stone’. Situated between arched bridges and dense forest, these hamlets keep their traditions alive. Samarina, the most famous of the Pindus Vlach settlements, takes first place in being the highest rural community in Greece that is inhabited year round. It stands at 1,450m near the top of Mt Smolikas, and the beauty of nature here will enchant you.

Vasilitsa: The Snow Queen
Vasilitsa (literally ‘little queen’) was just another peak of Smolikas before it became a regal ski resort. Today, in the nearby village of Smixi, you’ll be treated to all the comforts of a modern winter sports centre, including après-ski fun. And in contrast to its state-of-the-art facilities, it has had little impact on the natural landscape. Here the slopes descend between trees. Skiing and snowboarding in the heart of a forest. What could be more exciting?

Smixi: Traditional yet up to date
The village nearest to the ski centre from the Grevena side, this genuine Vlach settlement in Macedonia evolved from the joining of two older hamlets. Here you can choose between luxury hotels or cosy traditional pensions, while feasting on delicious local specialities in exceptional tavernas and restaurants.

Hidden gems of Grevena

Stone bridges
They are the most picturesque attractions of the area: Every stone in these arched bridges reflects the mason’s skill and pride in his work. They add to the beauty of the riverbanks they adorn. Those at Portitsa and Aziz Aga are considered the loveliest.

Holidays in the land of mammoths!
It’s hard to believe but 200,000 years ago, judging from fossils excavated at nearby Ambelia, Grevena must have been home to mammoths weighing close to 12 tons. The search for more is ongoing.

If you look closely above the Valley of Venetikos, you’ll spot a cluster of houses teetering on the edge of the Velonia ravine. This is another high village called Spilaio or ‘cave’, at an altitude of 960m, which boasts the celebrated Panagia Spilaiotissa monastery, the most significant sight in the region.

Source: http://www.discovergreece.com

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