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Old Mesolongi is in search of new opportunities March 29, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Mainland, Nature.
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Famous for its lagoons, writers and politicians, Mesolongi city is now looking to move into the modern era

29-03-08_mesolongi1.jpg  The Mesolongi lagoon is one the most important wetlands in the Mediterranean. It is formed by six lagoons that are part of the Natura 2000 network. Modern cafes line the streets of the city next to the few remaining fishmongers. The young travel on bicycles, which is the main form of transport, not only for students but also for the local residents, thanks to the flat terrain.

Finding employment in this historic city, however, is far from easy. Twenty-five-year-old Thanassis Ninis said: «We have our history and the lagoon to be proud of, but only those who have the right profession will stay in Mesolongi. As an agronomist, I found a job and fish farmers can also find work. But someone who has studied information technology will not find employment here.»

29-03-08_mesolongi2.jpg  It is not uncommon to find qualified teachers working in cafes or doing jobs unrelated to their qualifications. One of the few factories in the city, which produces avgotaraho, a kind of pressed caviar, was opened by Stelios Kotsaris, who decided to take up his father’s trade rather than do odd jobs.

The town that became renowned throughout Europe for the heroic mass exodus of its people after two months of siege in 1826 and their subsequent massacre by the Turks in the Greek War of Independence has produced five Prime Ministers, Spyridon Trikoupis, Epameinondas Deligeorgis, Harilaos Trikoupis, and Zinovios and Dimitris Valvis, and numerous writers, Palamas, Malakasis, Drosinis, Travlantonis, Golfis, Lyberakis, Giannaras, Kasolas, Zalakostas and Griparis, but today, apart from its cultural heritage, it has little to be proud of in terms of economic development.

29-03-08_mesolongi3.jpg  The town was initially founded by Dalmatian pirates and fishermen who took refuge in the area. It was later called Mezzo Lagi, literally meaning “between the lakes” by Italian sailors.

Mesolongi could in fact be considered the eighth island of the seven-island group of the Ionian Islands. In the 1960s, fishing was the main occupation in this picturesque and quiet city. Large sections of the lagoon were drained at this time and the fishermen slowly abandoned fishing and became general workers. There was a large population shift, as over half the town’s residents left while others came and settled from nearby villages.

Today the young frequent the cafes and complain about the lack of opportunities in the area and the high rents. Landlords charge as much as 300-350 euros a month for a damp bedsit. Among the ultramodern cafes, the legendary ouzeri Potopoieia Trikene, run by Pantelis and Eleni, is eye-catching. Upon entering, visitors feel as though they have entered a different era, as though the store, built in 1901, has been untouched by time. The characteristic old floor tiles, clock, marble counter and awards won in Thessaloniki fairs all have their own special place. The store used to be a popular haunt for the town’s artists and writers. Its owner complains that little of the cultural spirit of bygone days now remains. Nevertheless the pedestrian zones in the center and the cafes and bars have brought with them a renaissance of a kind.

The Mesolongi lagoon is one the most important wetlands in the Mediterranean. It is made up of six lagoons that are part of the Natura 2000 network set up by the Ramsar Convention. The islet of Tourlida is connected to Mesolongi by a causeway stretching 5 kilometers long. Unfortunately, the edges of the lake have been used as a dumping ground. The rows of old wooden fishing huts that stand on stilts have now been turned into summer homes and are connected to the electricity grid, albeit illegally, to secure votes for politicians. The well-known natural fish farms or ivaria are located here and are the main form of fishing in the lagoon. The ivaria serve as traps into which the fish are herded. The leasing of the ivaria, however, has been controversial, as they are divided between the Mesolongi Municipality and the Prefecture of Western Greece which apply party criteria and charge exorbitant fees. Illegal fishing, trawling and drag nets in the Gulf of Patras are a major problem, as they prevent the fish from actually reaching the ivaria. Greece, though, is a country where everything is allowed and everything is forbidden.

For years, an incineration site on the southeastern bank of the Kleisovas Lagoon was in operation with disastrous consequences. Fortunately, the establishment of a waste treatment plant closed the site and recent water samples have shown that the lagoon is not polluted, though human activity has damaged the area. President of the Friends of the Lagoon Association Haralambos Gogousis highlighted: «The area is known for its fish, salt and eels. What people don’t know about is the tincture of iodine, a red iodine found only here, in Mesolongi and Japan. Phosphorus is also abundant but we do not exploit it. The lagoon is a reflection of Mesolongi and we are unfortunately destroying it with garbage and overfishing.»

29-03-08_mesolongi4.jpg  The town became famous for the heroic mass exodus of its people after two months of siege in 1826 and their massacre by the Turks in the Greek War of Independence. In the cemetery, this “Daughter of Greece” marks the grave of independence hero Markos Botsaris.  The capital of Aitoloacarnania prefecture is 248 km from Athens, 523 km from Thessaloniki, 198 km from Ioannina and only 49 km from Patras. There are 15,000 permanent residents, 18,000 counting students.

What to see > Historic Gateway, Garden of the Heroes, cemetery and tomb of Markos Botsaris, the Palamas Museum, the Trikoupis home, the Zinovios Valvis family home, now a library, the old Town Hall with the Museum of Art and History, the Christos and Sophia Moschandreos Art Gallery in a renovated 1835 building and the house of Razis-Kotsikas.

What to taste > sea bass, spaghetti with eel or avgotaraho.

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Ideas for cycling trips in Greece’s natural surroundings March 24, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Cycling, Greece, Greece Mainland.
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Greek roads and drivers might not be cyclist-friendly, but the countryside is. Those who venture forth are rewarded by the experience of beautiful landscapes and villages.

24-03-08_cycling.jpg  As Greek roads and drivers are not cyclist-friendly, why not load your bicycle onto your car and drive somewhere you can enjoy cycling in natural surroundings.

Route One > A 4.2-kilometer ride at Doxa Lake. The lake is an artificial one in the mountain range outside Corinth, near Goura and Feneo. The peaceful landscape is a lush green, full of firs, black pines and oaks. The road around the lake is sealed all the way, and there are few cars. The beautiful monastery of Aghios Georgios lies just above the lake, and the sign Pontikonisi tis Korinthias leads to a strip of land and the Church of Aghios Fanourios or Paleomonastiro.

Route Two > This is a longer ride, 37 kilometers, but not a difficult one, 22 km on an easy dirt road and 15 km on asphalt. It’s best to start around 3 km out of Elati, at the crossroads for Vlacha. Leave your car, and cycle through the dense fir forest on a gentle uphill gradient of about 2 km to Vlacha. There the road flattens out for the spring and cafe, then descends into a pretty valley. At the bottom, the road goes left to Stournaraiika and right to Neraidohori-Pyrra. Turn right, keeping the river on your left. The road is mainly flat; the scenery and the sound of water are magical. This route is called “Dromos tou Xylogefyrou” or the Wooden Bridge Road. About halfway along, cross the bridge. With the river on your left, continue to the bridge below Neraidohori. You’ll hardly meet a single car. The 2.5-3 km near the village are the only part of the route where you’ll need to pedal hard. At the village, the road turns to asphalt and is flat or downhill on the way back back via Livadion Pertouliou.

Grab your skis, it’s time to hit the slopes > part 2 February 2, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Mainland.
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Kalavryta, just 203 kilometers from the heart of Athens > Located on the northwest side of the Helmos mountain range in the Peloponnese, just 203 kilometers from Athens, the Kalavryta ski center is by no means the largest of Greece’s resorts but has become a mecca for serious skiers and snowboarders in recent years.

The season got off to a great start regarding the white stuff, with Kalavryta opening its lifts on December 16 – this author being one of many snowboard enthusiasts battling to be the first on the slopes to make fresh tracks.

In operation since 1988, there are 12 trails with a range of difficulty from beginner to the very difficult Stiga 1 and 2 trails from the 2,340-meter-high summit – where on a clear day skiers are treated to a sea view – as well as excellent off-piste skiing and snowboarding among clusters of pine trees.

Kalavryta also offers free lifts for beginners as well as student discounts, while the always lively chalet at the base of the mountain often hosts memorable parties in the evening.

The town of Kalavryta itself – just 14 kilometers from the ski center – has its place assured in the hearts of Greeks for its association with the struggle against Turkish occupation in 1821 and the Nazi massacre of over a thousand villagers for resistance activities during WWII. An old schoolhouse has been converted into a museum dedicated to the memory of those killed and is also well worth a visit.

Equipment can be rented on the mountain but there are several rental outlets in and around the town where prices are more reasonable. A range of accommodation can be found via the website www.Kalavryta-ski.gr, while those seeking a more luxurious option can look to the recently opened Castle Resort perched just above the town www.castleresort.gr.

Parnassos, the largest ski center in the country > The largest ski center in Greece is located 180 kilometers from Athens at Parnassos. The official website’s claim that the ski center is “the best organized in the country” is a valid one with 13 lifts and 18 trials covering 22 kilometers in total stretching down from the 2,200-meter summit in two sections. While much of the mountain features wide open pistes with plenty of easy and intermediate runs, for the more adventurous, the mountain also boasts 12 off-piste trails, such as the challenging Sahara trail on the Fterolakka section of the mountain. The nearby town of Arachova just 17 kilometers away is a hub of activity during the ski season, with many visitors choosing to use it as their base rather than stay in the many smaller and more cozy chalets and hotels on the route toward the ski center. While the claim that Arachova is the Myconos of winter is a little far-fetched, what is an attractive winter resort town in a spectacular setting at an altitude of 960 meters draws many Athenians at weekends. This makes it the winter resort to be seen in and ensures a lively atmosphere. Useful websites > http://www.parnassos-ski.gr, http://www.arachova.gr.

Vasilitsa’s superb off-piste trails > What has been in recent years arguably one of the country’s most underrated winter sports resorts, Vasilitsa now rightly stakes its claim as one of northern Greece’s star attractions.

Situated in the prefecture of Grevena, the resort is 250 kilometers from Thessaloniki in the heart of the Pindos mountains in the northwest. Due to the quality and quantity of snowfall, Vasilitsa boasts some superb off-piste trails deep among clutches of towering pine trees, hugely popular with snowboarders.

Boasting majestic views from several vantage points around the mountain – the summit of which is approximately 2,700 meters – Vasilitsa boasts three chalets, seven lifts and 16 trails in total, offering a wide range of difficulty from beginner to advanced.

The two most difficult trails can be found at the 2,113-meter summit of the Alexander the Great lift.

The first lift (Elimeia) was built in 1975, however, the resort has since undergone two major expansions, one in 1993 and the second in 2000, both of which have contributed to making it one of the best ski resorts in Greece.

As well as the three chalets close to the mountain – of which Distrato offers cosy accommodation with magical views of the slopes – there is plenty of accommodation available in the small picturesque village of Smixi nearby, which also boasts wonderfully traditional tavernas and restaurants to while away the evenings beside roaring fires after a hard day on the slopes. At 417 kilometers from Athens, it may be a tough ask for capital dwellers to make the trip but it is a journey definitely worth taking. Useful websites > www.vasilitsa.com, www.snow-vasilitsa.gr/modules.php?name=Chalet_Distrato.

Mt Pelion’s small but beautiful resort is ideal for the family > Well known all over Greece for its spectacular natural beauty, the Pelion region is also home to one of the country’s smaller yet beautiful ski resorts.

Located in the prefecture of Magnesia on Agriolefkes, the Pelion peninsula’s highest peak, the resort’s setting among dense beech trees is as stunning as would be expected. The resort has six pistes tailing down from the 1,471-meter summit which caters mainly to beginner and intermediate levels, making Pelion an ideal option for families.

There are plenty of accommodation options in the charming village of Hania just 2 kilometers away, and further down the mountain at Potaria (12 km).

Pelion’s proximity to the city of Volos (27 km) makes in obviously popular with residents of the city as well as day-trippers from the surrounding area during the peak season. Weather permitting, the center also offers the unique experience of night skiing on Saturdays.

Being at a lower altitude than most ski resorts in Greece, Pelion can tend to suffer from a lack of snow on occasion so check the snow reports carefully well in advance of any trip. Pelion is a year-round tourist attraction, however, so there are plenty of other options, including hiking trails, walks and over 20 villages dotted around the mountain all retaining traditional Pelian architecture to explore. Useful websites > http://-www.skipilio.gr/home.htm, http://www.pelion.gr.

Kaimaktsalan: Up in the clouds > Greece’s highest ski resort, Kaimaktsalan, is known as the “Arachova of the north” due to its stunning setting, organization and charming village abodes. If that’s not enough, its location between 2,040 and 2,524 meters means it has the best snow in the country.

Perched on top of Greece’s third-highest peak – the other two being Olympus and Smolikas – Kaimaktsalan also features a quaint chapel, Prophitis Ilias, at the summit. The resort features wide open pistes and some challenging off-trail opportunities, making it an ideal place to test and improve your technique. The previously abandoned settlement of Aghios Athanassios has been transformed into one of northern Greece’s most picturesque mountain villages boasting beautiful, cozy hotels, spectacular villas and quaint boutiques. There are plenty of equipment rental options available on the mountain as well as some luxurious accommodation in the chalet with suites on offer featuring jacuzzi’s and the all-important fireplace.

Appealing attractions nearby are the hot springs of Pozar, also known as Loutra Loutrakiou to southern Greeks, where tourists and locals visit during the winter months. The town of Kerasia, featuring traditional houses, a park and cherry trees, is also well worth a trip. Useful website > http://www.kaimaktsalan.gr.

Seli’s stunning panoramic views, a skiers’ paradise > Having installed the very first ski lift in the country back in 1934, Seli is Greece’s oldest resort. Located in the Vermion Mountains in the north of the country, Seli is to Thessaloniki residents what Parnassos and Kalavryta are to Athenians.

Just 95 kilometers away from Thessaloniki, Seli draws many visitors from the city as well as many more from neighboring Balkan countries. It is a skiers’ paradise with mainly downhill runs catering to all levels.

Stunning panoramic views of Mount Olympus – Greece’s tallest peak – and Mount Athos are also possible from the summit of the Efkleia lift on a clear day.

In total, there are 11 lifts and 19 trails, a spacious parking area and plenty of accommodation options at the two mountain shelters as well as in the nearby towns of Naoussa and Veria, which are 20 kilometers and 24 kilometers away respectively.

There is also a small village at the base of the ski center with several cafes, bars, tavernas and ski schools. Useful websites > http://www.seli-ski.gr, www.meteo.gr, www.snowreport.gr, www.snow-forecast.gr.

Grab your skis, it’s time to hit the slopes > part 1 February 2, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Mainland.
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Fresh snowfall perfect for skiers > Greece’s ski resorts are likely to benefit this weekend from the recent cold snap around the country. Let’s take a look at what facilities are on offer for skiers, snowboarders or those just want a closer glimpse of the white stuff.

Greece isn’t just for sun and sea; here are six of the country’s best winter sports resorts, from Kaimaktsalan in the north to Kalavryta in the south.

02-02-08_vasilitsa.jpg  A child learns the basics of skiing at Vasilitsa, in the prefecture of Grevena. More than 20 ski resorts operate all over the country, snow and weather conditions permitting, of course.

So it’s deep into midwinter and the resolutions you foolishly thought you’d be able to keep in 2008 have already been broken. So what next? It’s time to hit the slopes.

It’s the time of year that many of us will be maniacally flicking and clicking our way through winter holiday brochures and websites trying to decide where to go for a week of winter fun. No doubt France, Switzerland, Austria and neighboring Bulgaria – a burgeoning winter holiday destination in recent years – will make it on to many a short list. But hold that thought. If it hadn’t crossed your mind before, your best winter break ever could be right here on your doorstep.

Greece is one Europe’s most mountainous lands, yet the fact that few people realize that this also makes the country a great winter sports destination is baffling to say the least. Such is the popularity of summer tourism that a winter break in Greece barely registers on the radar of the average winter sports enthusiast. Enter the world of what is perhaps one of the country’s best-kept secrets.

During the December-to-April ski season – snow permitting, of course – more than 20 resorts operate all over the country. And while they cannot match the apres ski glamour of their richer and more modern European counterparts, the beautiful settings, reasonable prices and ambience of picture-postcard mountain villages more than make up for it.

There are some fantastic places to hit the slopes and kick back and relax in equal measure. Here are six of the best. Read Part 2 >

A heaven on earth > Mycenae in Greece November 3, 2007

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This post has been moved to our NEW dedicated Travel blog > http://travel.homeboy.gr

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Get walking in the Greek mountains October 3, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Mainland.
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Greece is famous for its beaches, sun, villas, friendly villages and great Mediterranean weather.

The country also makes a great place to visit for an active holiday, whether you are staying on the coast or further inland.

Water sports from jet skiing to windsurfing and kayaking are readily available from many beachside resorts, and sailing holidays Greek island-hopping are also a great way of experience the natural beauty of the country.

However, a lesser known side to the country can be discovered in the Pindos Mountains, located in northern Greece. The mountain range is home to one of the world’s deepest gorges, Vikos Gorge, and a walking holiday is a great way of seeing the cliffs, ravines, rivers and waterfalls of the gorge and the surrounding mountains.

There are more than 50 different varieties of orchids in the mountains, and almost 2,000 varieties of wild flowers. One of the popular trails in the mountains is the Vradeto Steps, a winding series of steps descending a vertical cliff, where you can also see rare orchids and wild herbs.

Dotted around the mountains are the 46 villages of the Zagoria area, where holidaymakers can get the authentic Greek experience, from local culture and pretty stone buildings, to archaeological sites, museums to monasteries.

There are several tour operators offering walking holidays in the Pindos Mountains, just consult your travel agent for additional information.

Related Links > www.visitgreece.gr

Florina the best emerging Greek destination August 3, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Mainland, Tourism.
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This post has been moved to our NEW dedicated Travel blog > http://travel.homeboy.gr

Read the original article at > http://travel.homeboy.gr/?p=131