My Rough Guide: Enjoying the sunset at a ruin with a view
Sunday 18 January 1998
North of Preveza on the west coast, ancient Kassopi is unimprovably set on a natural balcony 600 metres above sea level, overlooking the Ionian and Lefkadha island. Though nominal opening hours are in force, the site is unenclosed and at sunset you're likely to have the extensive and well- mapped ruins to yourself - a rarity in Greece.
Another gem is Arta and its environs: liberally sown with exquisite Byzantine churches dating from the 12th and 13th centuries.
Most of the best mainland hotels are housed in centuries-old structures rescued from dereliction. Top two in the Peloponnese are the Malvasia in Monemvassa, a complex of impeccably restored stone structures, the best and highest of which has marble, wood and textile-appointed rooms, no two alike; and the Byron at the quiet summit of Nfplion, a neo-classical mansion overlooking the town and bay.
In spots with a mostly local clientele, far from the package-resort feed- troughs, you're spoilt for choice. Ioannina long neglected its lakefront as a venue for serious eating, but now there's Mezadhiko Syn Dhyo, with a lengthy, reasonably priced menu of mezedhes or starters, several of which can make a meal in itself. For more rustic cooking, with mountain specialities such as alevropites and other Zagorian dishes, look no further than Stou Mikhali, in Kipi village - they have their own barrelled wine as well, almost invariably a good sign of commitment to local tastes. It's worth planning a lunch stop in Arta for the sake of Skaraveos , a Greek rarity - traditional vegetarian fare, not imitation Cranks.
Nymfeo village, halfway up Mt Vitsi east of Kastoria, came much touted in the local press as the perfect all-round resort: riding and hiking in summer, ski-ing in winter. In fact, it's a "hill station" pitched at Thessalonki yuppies and priced accordingly, the Simla-India analogy reinforced by the bizarre lead roofs which are the place's main architectural distinction. The villagers are surly and totally unused to foreigners, accommodation is either grossly over-priced, substandard or both; and distinguished eating venues notably lacking.
The other let-down was the supposedly magnificent bird mosaic at the basilica of yios Akhllios, on the eponymous islet of Mikr Prespa lake. Having missed going in 1991, I was determined to see it this time. No sooner had I arrived on the jetty opposite the islet than the boat-man (or rather boat-boy) appeared and we agreed a price to take me to the ruined abbey. On arrival I scoured the nave and transept - nothing. My guide laconically announced that the image had disappeared in the early Nineties.
Packaged food and drink, especially anything unobtainable in London, or Samos where I live part-time. When in Metsovo I always stock up on hearty winter food like trakhandhes (a sweet or sour dough grain soup base, to be cooked with milk) or khilpites (like tagliatelle, often cut into square sections), as well as the rich, local katyi red wine. That, and just about any other gourmet Greek wine that never reaches UK supermarkets (or most Greek tavernas, for that matter), can be obtained at one of two shops in Thessalonki. Readers may think Greece only produces plonk; a visit to any of the shops listed will serve as a necessary corrective.
Sunvil Holidays (7-8 Upper Square, Old Isleworth, Middlesex TW7 7BJ, tel: 0181 568 4499) and Voyages Ilena, Old Garden House, The Lanterns, Bridge Lane, London SW11 3AD (0171 924 4440) are two of the few companies offering quality packages to the mainland.
Where to stay
Reservations are strongly recommended for all of the following, especially mid-summer or at weekends. Current exchange rate is about 460dr/pounds sterling.
Hotel Malvasia, old Monemvassa (tel: 0732 61323, fax 61722). Approx 13,000 dr double.
Hotel Byron, Pltonos 2, Nfplion (tel: 0752 22352, fax 26 338). Approx 13,000 dr double.
Xenonas O Dhias, Mikr Ppingo, Zagria (0653 41257). Approx 9,000 dr double; slight discount for trekkers.
Ouzeri-Hotel Gripos, Ai Yirgis beach, Ammouliani (tel: 0377 51049). Approx 6,000 dr double.
Marc Dubin wrote 'The Rough Guide to Greece'. Keep up with the latest developments in travel by subscribing to the free newsletter 'Rough News', published three times yearly. Write to Rough Guides, IoS offer, 1 Mercer Street, London WC2H 9QJ. A free Rough Guide to the first three subscribers each week.
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