Kaimaktsalan

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Winter Wonderland

Skiing, soaking in hermal waters, walking through forests and around lakes, or just relaxing in front of roaring fireplaces… The area around Paleos Aghios Athanasios of fers outstanding experiences.

by Olga Charami

SLALOMING ALONG THE BORDER

It was thanks to the Voras-Kaimaktsalan ski center, constructed in the 1990s, that the village of Paleos Aghios Athanasios was revitalized and developed for tourism, as Thessalonians rushed to purchase or rent holiday homes there. Mt Kaimaktsalan forms part of the natural boundary between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM); its ski center is the highest in Greece, with the Kremasma lift reaching an elevation of 2,480 meters. It offers another five lifts, nine runs, an artificial snow system, a snowmobile run and the opportunity for a bit of snowkiting. Those not into skiing can opt for an enjoyable ride in a snowcat as far as the chapel of Profitis Ilias, which is situated at an elevation of 2,524m, right on the border with FYROM, and offers an absolutely stunning view (Tel. +30 23810.320.00, kaimaktsalan.gr).

EDESSA AND ITS WATERS

You may have heard a lot about the waterfalls in Edessa, but chances are that the sight you’ll behold when you get there will outdo any expectations you might have – and this by a wide margin. Walk through the Waterfall Park, following the flagstone-paved roads, one of which passes behind the 70m-high Karanos Waterfall; make sure you take some snapshots here, as they will certainly be memorable. From there, you can either proceed as far as the second waterfall, or you can take a stroll through the picturesque old district of Varosi, with its lovely Macedonian-style homes, as well as the outdoor water museum with its watermills, reconstructed industrial buildings and aquarium. Continue as far as the old hemp factory, which used to manufacture twine and rope. The park with the cascades isn’t the only interesting place where you can see water; the Edessaios River, which runs through the town, is crossed by a number of bridges. One of the prettiest of these is the stone-built “Byzantine Bridge,” pictured above. Despite its name, it dates from the early 20th century. You’ll find it in Kioupri Park, west of the waterfalls.

INVALUABLE WETLANDS

Lake Vegoritida, which lies along the border with the regional unit of Florina, offers visitors plenty to do. The lake, which has an area of 54km and a 50km shoreline, is part of the Natura 2000 network and is teeming with wildlife. The whole area is full of birds, plaves (local lake boats without keels), fishermen and sleepy villages. In and around Amynteo, you can visit renowned wineries and vineyards. Aghios Panteleimonas is the most built-up of the villages in the area, and it’s where you’ll find an exceptional restaurant and mezedopoleio (an eatery serving small, appetizer-like dishes) at the lakeside, both run by the Naoumidis family. Also here is a small business where they make select food products using Florina peppers as their basic ingredient – which they themselves organically cultivate and process (Tel. +30 697.339.0993, piperiesflorinis.gr).

WARM WELCOME AT POZAR

At Pozar, you’ll find indoor and outdoor thermal waters at temperatures that reach 37°C – even when it’s snowing, raining or bitterly cold. The Pozar baths offer a unique experience that revitalizes both body and soul. The outdoor pools and waterfalls in the verdant Aghios Nikolaos ravine are open until two in the morning; the indoor facilities are open around the clock. They say that the secret to wellness is to alternate between the hot water pools and the freezing falls right next to them. Now that’s a real contrast shower! (Tel. +30 23840.913.00, loutrapozar.com.gr)

NATURALLY IMPRESSIVE

The dense forests of beech, black pine and fir trees that abound on the slopes of Kaimaktsalan are magnificent. At lower elevations, the lakes are ringed with lush vegetation, while the vast flatlands of Edessa and Almopia are filled with cherry and apple trees. The landscape changes throughout the year: multicolored in fall, snowy in winter, verdant in spring and summer. Exploring by car or on foot is a joy in any season. One of the nicest driving routes takes you uphill to the ski center and then descends to the village of Kerasia. The road cuts through the famous Mavro Dasos (“Black Forest”) where it passes by two holding pens for animals, once used by the Sarakatsani, traditional transhumant shepherds, as well as a rest area where you can stretch your legs.

BASKING IN THE WARMTH

Restaurant fireplaces in Paleos Aghios Athanasios see their first use in autumn, and stay busy for quite some time, as snow comes early to Kaimaktsalan and takes a while to melt. Tables are set up in front of the fire and piled high with local wine and delicious dishes, or, in the case of cafés, with mugs of hot chocolate and board games. Game or other meat simmers for hours atop wood-fired ovens; steam rises up from bowls of trachanas (fermented cracked wheat) and fasolada (bean soup) and cooks roll out dough for homemade pies. The area’s cuisine makes the most of local ingredients and time-honored recipes to create dishes that fortify the body against the cold. Choices of eateries abound in the village; one of the standouts is Petros (Tel. +30 23810.317.95), located in a traditional old house with a homey dining hall. There, Eleni and Petros Douitsis take care of customers as if they were houseguests. Be sure to try their slow-cooked lamb, trachanas, pies and lachanosarmades (stuffed cabbage rolls); after finishing your meal, chances are good that you’ll be treated to some fluffy, homestyle loukoumades (fried, honey-covered dough balls). In the village of Panaghitsa, be sure to stop at the restaurant Petrino (Tel. +30 23810.340.33), where Evi Iordanidou prepares great Asia Minor dishes, including hunkar begendi (eggplant with lamb), soutzoukakia (meatballs in tomato sauce), giaourtlou kebab (grilled ground meat with yogurt), Caesarea pie (filled with meat and cheese) and prasokimadopita (leek-and-ground beef pie).

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