For beginners and those in the know
A winter getaway to a destination that, despite changing with the times, has managed to retain its charm.
by Vassiliki Kerasta
LET ME INTRODUCE YOU
It may be that fur vests and fur-lined boots, the main elements of the classic “dress code” for Arachova, central Greece’s most popular winter destination, are still de rigeur, but it’s clear that this place has gradually been adopting new trends and shedding its folksier side, judging by the steady closures over the past few years of the little shops selling souvenirs, fur rugs and woven tapestries.
Crowded cafés, stores, restaurants and bars line Delphon Street – the village’s main thoroughfare – as well as a number of side streets. The café-bars characters in Lakka Square – from Bonjour, with its “sinful” chocolate soufflé, located on one corner, to Sehre, standing on another – are packed from early in the morning until late at night, small tables set up outside and outdoor heaters working to the max. There are a few (but very fashionable) stores for a bit of shopping – or just window-shopping – which might catch your eye and slow you down a bit as you discover the village. This initial exploration is ideally followed by a shot or two of tsipouro (a pomace brandy) at one of the kafeneia (traditional cafés) or tavernas in Papaioannou Square. There are several options, including the well-known all-day bar-restaurant Oistros by Aktida (Tel. +30 22670.328.86), which knows better than most just how to get its patrons in the mood to have some fun, and the kafeneio Zambas (Tel. +30 22670.310.48), which this year expanded into the building next door and, as a result, has a new atmosphere and fresh energy. Across from these is Le Sapin (Tel. +3022670.311.08), which kicks off the day with a rich brunch featuring eggs Benedict and fresh croissants – among other menu items – and keeps going till late at night with mostly French dishes and Greek music. The tunes get louder as the hours go by, because this is what the majority of visitors to Arachova want: Greek music and a good time!
The leading winter holiday destination on Mt Parnassos, Arachova still has a party reputation – although things have quieted down a little in recent years. There was a time when the holiday traffic in and around Arachova was even worse than what you’d find in Athens! Now, thanks to two new parking areas situated on the edge of the village, coupled with the steady tourism development of the village of Livadi (some 6km away), the traffic situation isn’t nearly as bad as it once was. As for the madding crowd, even on peak days you can still find peace and quiet in front of a lit fireplace in the comfortable lounge of some hotel, such as, for instance, the hall on the first floor of the Domotel Anemolia, where you can also enjoy a view of Parnassos’ eastern slope. As for the once popular nightclubs such as Snow Me, their day has passed, with visitors now preferring the numerous new all-day hangouts. Reservations are necessary for dinner at the restaurant Panagiota Plus (Tel. +30 698.640.4606, 22670.292.26), and at the restaurant-bar Akouarela (Tel. +30 22670.326.60), which, for the past few decades, has been a firm favorite among those wishing to combine dining with loud music (and a high probability of partying into the wee hours). As for the gallery-bar Isidora (Tel. +30 694.437.8448) – where the wine is reasonably priced – you have a good chance, even without a reservation, of finding a spot at the bar or a seat at the dining hall’s refectory table, next to the ever-roaring fireplace.
A TASTE OF ROUMELI
A few steps down a stone-paved lane will bring you to a traditional taverna called To Kalderimi (Tel. +30 22670.314.18), for coq au vin with hilopites (Greek egg noodles), lamb fricassee, fasolada (bean soup) and other local dishes prepared with homestyle care. Many other tavernas in the area also lend homey, comforting notes to dishes, with dolmades (vine leaves stuffed with rice) frequently making an appearance on local menus, along with formaela, an exclusively local cheese to which the European Union has granted Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status, and which is available practically anywhere you go. Formaela is particularly well-suited for light grilling or pan-frying, when the hard cheese becomes soft and sticky, and is usually served with lemon and freshly ground pepper. You can buy it from village cheese producers and in shops around the center of the village; be on the lookout, too, for Parnassos feta cheese, sausages, packaged hilopites and other local products. Another taste of Arachova to take back home is a bottle of Vasilia tsipouro, available at a number of shops in the village. The low temperatures and culinary traditions of this part of central Greece, or Roumeli, as it’s also called, combine to encourage the consumption of meat, which usually appears prepared in traditional ways; one favorite is kontosouvli (spit-roasted pork chunks) at Dasargyris (Tel. +30 22670.312.91) – one of the oldest tavernas in Arachova – or you can try the lamb chops at Zahos (Tel. +30 22670.321.59), one of the more upmarket eateries in Livadi.
ACTIVITIES: WEATHER PERMITTING!
It is an indisputable fact that Arachova owes its tourism development to its ski center (25km from Arachova). In recent years, this facility has been upgraded and fitted with modern chairlifts and lift stations. To find out about current conditions at the center, be sure to consult the center’s website at parnassos-ski.gr. In addition to skiers, Parnassos has also been attracting large numbers of hikers. Giorgos Korodimos, manager of Trekking Hellas Parnassos (Tel. +30 22670.319.01, trekking.gr) is your go-to person, whether you’re set on conquering trails such as the challenging no. 22, or just want to plod around the mountain in snowshoes. The Mountain Ice skating rink (Tel. +30 22670.318.82), which usually opens up just ahead of the Christmas holiday season, never fails to win over the kids. Located nearby is the family-friendly café-snack bar Poliko (Tel. +30 22670.327.07), while the Paramount (Tel. +30 22670.324.00) – another all-day coffee bar-restaurant in the wider area – always makes for a fine après-ski stop. The ΑΤΙ horse riding center (Tel. +30 22670.312.98) has ponies and horses and offers riding lessons for young and old alike. Its café also operates as a taverna. Bolder visitors might opt to explore Parnassos from above, indulging in a bitof paragliding. Equipment, instruction and guidance are all available at Paragliding Fun (paraglidingfun.gr, Tel. +30 694.206.3154), which is based in Itea, with take-offs either from Livadi or from the ski center.
12 MINUTES FROM ARACHOVA
Even though Arachova lies only 10km from Delphi, the two destinations are generally not promoted together, probably because they belong to different regional units. They do, however, complement one another perfectly. In winter months, the archaeological site of Delphi, with its temples of Apollo and Athena Pronaia, exert an even more compelling charm on visitors. Combined tickets (for the archaeological site and the museum) are priced at €6; note that the opening hours differ slightly between November 1 and March 31. The museum is open 09:00-16:00, and the archaeological site 08:00-15:00 (Tel. +30 22650.823.12-3, e-delphi.gr). For a coffee or a meal with a beautiful view as far as the Corinthian Gulf, consider both the Agora Café (Tel. +30 22650.831.16) and Ihor (Tel. +30 22650.829.71). A good taverna with a view is To Patriko Mas (Tel. +3022650.821.50), located at the end of the main road; the same goes for Vakhos (Tel. +30 22650.831.86), which is situated a little further up and offers tasty homestyle dishes.
RENDEZVOUS WITH TRADITION
The well-preserved village of Chrisso is less than a half-hour drive from Arachova. In antiquity, it was an important stop for pilgrims who, after arriving in Itea by boat, would pass through on their way to receive a prophecy from the Delphic Oracle. The Ethnographic and Folklore Museum of Chrisso (Tel. +30 22650.832.03, 694.668.1060) is definitely worth a visit. It’s housed in a renovated building that once served as the village school and was designed by the renowned architect Ernst Ziller. Today, the museum holds the very interesting Ilias E. Daradimos Collection, which features the authentic traditional dress of Fokida and many other parts of Greece, as well as jewelry, needlework, copper utensils, engravings and furniture, as well as firearms from the period of the Greek War of Independence (1821-1829). Those interested in visiting are advised to phone in advance to make sure that someone is on hand to open the museum, as the village is not really a tourist center and the opening hours are not always strictly observed. After your rendezvous with folk art, be sure to head down to the village square with its stone water spouts, and take a seat at a traditional kafeneio, or enjoy a meal at the well-known taverna Fourlas (Tel. +30 694.889.9382).
A BYZANTINE STOP ON THE WAY BACK
If you’re returning to Athens by road, bear in mind that ice sometimes forms on the road surface, especially near the village of Zemeno, a few kilometers east of Arachova. Further along, in the vicinity of Distomo, you can take a slight detour in the direction of Mt Helicon and make a “Byzantine stop” at the Monastery of Hosios Loukas. Widely considered the best-preserved Middle Byzantine- period monastery in Greece, it attracts tourists from all over the world. The monastery has two churches: the smaller one, the Panaghia, dating to the second half of the 10th century; and the Katholikon, the main church, built in the early 11th century to house the relics of a beatified local hermit, the Blessed Luke. They are surrounded by monastic cells and auxiliary buildings. The wonderful mosaics that you’ll see on the walls of the Katholikon rank among the great masterpieces of Byzantine art (osiosloukas.gr)