A friend’s wedding in Partas, Greece’s third-largest city, brought us back to Greece at the late August. Still summer, sunny and hot, the plan was to share with our friends their wedding day joy and happiness, and then to take a short road trip while enjoying the beach and sun. We left Athens early in the morning and instead of taking of the fast motorway, we chose the old national road. It is longer than the motorway but it runs along the coastline through small seaside towns and picturesque villages. It is therefore, more interesting. That is, after you pass through Aspropyrgos and Elefsina. The region around these two cities, about 20 km from Athens, is one of the biggest industrial zones in Greece, home to petroleum refineries, quarries and steelwork plants.
Our first break was in the Ancient Corinth, an important city-state during the Hellenistic and Roman times. The most remarkable monuments in the archaeological site which lays on the northern foothills of the Acrocorinth hill, are the temple of Apollo and the Ancient Agora. It certainly worth a visit.
Our next break was in the seaside village of Derveni about 140 kilometres from Athens. Derveni in the Turkish language means narrow passage and indeed the village is located in a narrow strip of land between the mountain and the Corinthian Gulf. In the interwar period, Derveni was a prosperous town and the central station of Greece for the transhipment of goods abroad by trains and boats to Itea. The visitors can still admire the view of traditional houses built of stone, wood and red tiles.
We arrived at the outskirts of Patras, late in the afternoon. Patras is a busy, chaotic city. Because of its position and its port, it was called Greece’s Gate to the West. The heart of the city is the enormous central square, Plateia Georgiou, named after King George I of Greece. The square was built under the Ioannis Kapodistrias government as a part of the 1829 plan to rebuild the devastated centre of Patras after the Greek War of Independence. The low town and the square was designed by Stamatis Voulgaris, one of the first architects of modern Greece, in the form of a European city, and reflected the commercial and intellectual life of Patras.
We chose to stay in Psathopirgos, a small, quiet village with a long beach and clean waters, located just 8 kilometres outside Patras, facing the amazing Rion-Antirion bridge, one of the longest cable stayed deck bridges of the world that connects Peloponissos with Sterea Ellada.
Axaia Clauss winery
You cannot leave Patras without visiting the oldest winery in Greece. Around 1860, the Bavarian Gustav Clauss purchased 60 acres of land in the area of Riganokampos just outside Patras. Gustav’s initial interest was in blackcurrants, but he also planted a few black vines, indigenous in North Peloponnese, as a hobby. The local history says that Gustav fall in love with a beautiful young lady, with dark (mavro in Greek) eyes and hair. Her name was Dafni. Unfortunately, Dafni died very young and when the inconsolable Gustav produced his first sweet, fortified wine, he named it Mavrodafne (Mavro and Dapfne). The winery’s beautiful old stone buildings provide a lovely setting and a magnificent view of the surrounding countryside and the city of Patras.
We preferred to take the ferry to cross the narrow stretch of sea between Pelopponesos and Sterea Ellada. Not only because the toll fare in Rio-Antirio bridge is expensive (€13.20), but it was also a good opportunity to enjoy the fantastic view of the bridge from below. The ferry costs only € 6.50 and it takes about 35 minutes to do the crossing.
Our next stop was Galaxidi, a historical small sea-side town, and one of my favourite little corners in the world. Galaxidi, with its beautiful stone houses, and its small two harbours, is one of the prettiest sea side towns in the mainland Greece. In the past few years, and due to its proximity to Athens, Galaxidi has become a popular weekend destination, but it is still a tranquil place, even during the summer months. Walking around in the narrow cobblestone streets you get the impression that time ceased at the time of its prosperous period, between 1830 and 1910, when Galaxidi was a major maritime power.
A Day in Delphi
Tell ye the King: the carven hall is fallen in decay;
Apollo hath no chapel left, no prophesying bay,
No talking spring. the stream is dry and had so much to say
Delphi is about one and half hours away from Galaxidi. It was thought to be the centre of the world, the site of the omphalos, the ‘navel of the world’. According to the legend, when Apollo slew the monstrous dragon-serpent Python, his body fell into a fissure at the centre of Delphi. The Oracle of Delphi – the priestess Pythia – sat over the fissure and the fumes that arose from the decomposing body of the Python brought her into a trance-like state. Recently, the scientists have learned that the fumes were actually ethylene, a gas with hallucinogenic effects, coming from a chasm in the intersection of two major fault lines. The temple of Delphi lies exactly on the intersection of these two fault lines and the nearby rift of the Gulf of Corinth, one of the most geologically active sites on Earth.
The pantheon of gods and goddesses had a powerful presence in the lives of people. The Greeks honoured and feared them. The magnificent temples represented their desire to pleased them. Delphi was the chosen place of Apollo.
The archaeological site is situated in a magnificent natural setting between two rocks in the Mt. Parnassus. The view from the theatre down the mountainside is truly spectacular.
Mt Kallidromo – Molos – Lichadonisia
From Mt Panassus in Phokis we drove to Mt Kallidromo in southeastern Phthiotis. Kallidromo is beautiful and interesting mountain with particular aesthetic values and ecologically sensitive areas. We crossed the narrow mountain pass of Kallidromo, between the villages of Modi and Reggini and we found ourselves on the other side of the mountain, at the Maliakos Bay.
We spend a couple of days in Molos (disclosure: I was born there), a village between the mountain of Kallidromo and Maliakos bay, exploring the surrounding small villages, the beaches, and the thermal springs of Thermopylae, known for the treatment of rheumatic conditions.
If you ever find yourselves in the area do not neglect to visit the Folklore Museum of Molos, housed in the old elementary school (also my school when I was young). It is a small treasure with material that has been gathered with the constant effort of the Cultural & Folklore Society and the kind contribution of the citizens and families of the village and of the wider region.
Our last destination, before we return to Athens, took us to Lichadonisia, a cluster of seven volcanic islets in Maliakos bay. Lichadonisia, according to the legend, took their name from Lichas, the friend and servant of Hercules.
Deianeira, the wife of Hercules, was very jealous of him. One day while she was walking alone across the river, the centaur Nessos, attacked her sexually. When she shouted for protection, Hercules shot a poisoning arrow into the Centaur’s chest from across the river. While he was dying, he told Deianeira that a robe anointed in his blood would work as a love portion for her husband. Deianeira believed him and saved some of his blood.
One day that Hercules was preparing for a trip to Cape Cenaeum, the northern cape of Euboea, Deianeira gave him as a gift a tunic poisoned with Nessus’ blood. When Hercules wore it, it stuck on him and caused to him pain so horrible that went mad and in his anger he killed Lichas. Lichas body pieces fell around and Neptune transformed them on islets.
It is a wonderful story, but in reality Lichadonisia emerged after a big earthquake thousands of years ago. The main feature of the islets is the black rock that encloses the small sandy bays with the crystal clear waters. Nowadays, Lichadonisia are uninhabited, nevertheless until the 1970s three families lived in one of the two biggest islets, Manolia. The second biggest isle is called Strongyli. Remains of ancient settlements also found in couple of the isles. There are no hotels or other facilities in Lichadonisia; the visitors can spend the night in Kamena Vourla or in the fishing village Agios Georgios, in Euboea.