Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Heading for the Greek Mountains ..... July 2009

06 -11 July 2009

***Vicos Gorge, famous in the 1997 Guinness Book of Records for being the Worlds Deepest Canyon. 2950ft deep and 3600f wide between its 2 rims***The beautiful stone bridges of Zagori***One of the surviving monasteries at Meteroa***Another monastery, famous as the backdrop in the James Bond film "For your Eyes Only"

After rather a pleasant short sail up from our jinxed stop in Levkas Town we entered the channel into Preveza. The large free town quay had plenty of room but the boats attached seemed to be jolting around a little in the sea breeze although it was very sheltered. We had a look in the unfinished marina and found just the spot for us, easy to side tie up at the end of one of the quays. We couldn't quite ascertain if it was free or not, or if we could actually tie up there but no one said we couldn't so if in doubt, stay! And we did, for 5 nights.

Preveza is a pleasant spot, mainly visited by Greek tourists, it has a long waterfront quay bustling with visiting yachts and lined with some very upmarket cafes and backed inland with a pedestrian mall.. It's quiet by day but buzzes from early evening till the wee small hours.

We wanted to visit the monasteries of Meteroa, which claims to be Greeces most visited tourist attraction. After the crowds at Santorini it was likely to be very busy! We hired a car with Sheryl and David on Samsara and headed for the hills.

We had also read in our trusty Lonely Planet about the area of Zagori, an area consisting of 46 traditional stone villages lying just south of the Albanian boarder. Although this was a detour north it was certainly worth it. The region is highly wooded covered in pines and firs, it boasts bears and jackals (all taking a siesta while we visited). The Vikos Gorge carves through and the crystal clear rivers are criss-crossed with an network of ancient arched stone bridges. It is a truly beautiful, remote spot, and one that warrants a longer visit in spring or autumn to enjoy the many walking trails leading from village to village along mountain paths and over the bridges.

After a lunch of local chicken pie, which was missing the chicken, we headed back south towards Ioannina, but didn't quite translate the Greek signs in time and missed the entry to the newly opened motorway that heads east, this ultimately will connect Mediterranean Greece with Istanbul in Turkey, an enormous engineering project, and guess what ...... billions of euro funded by the good ole EU. We got to enjoy the very windy but scenic mountain road instead for a few miles until we found the next on ramp. We turned off at Metsovo, partly because there were no signs indicating the next exit and exits were about 30 kilometres apart, and partly because it sounded like a worthwhile place to stop. It was lovely, set atop the highest pass in Greece, surrounded by towering peaks it is a summer hiking destination and a winter ski resort. Unsure of just how we were to get to our evening destination of Meteroa (yes we did have a map - two actually but they didn't show the new road!) we asked a coach driver who told us to wait two minutes and follow him, so we did. Back on the winding road to the motorway then off at the next exit, we wound down through the mountains onto the plains watching the huge boulder like landscape of Meteroa drawing us closer.

We arrived just in time for the soft late afternoon sun and after finding a bed for the night got straight back out and drove up to the monasterys to capture them in the perfect light with hardly a tourist in sight, magic.

We stayed in the smaller village of Kastraki, tucked in under these imposing boulders. We had wondeful views from our rooms at the ???(the memory has gone at last) for 50Euro including breakfast and had a very good meal out at the Taverna Paradisos. Next morning it was time to join all those tourists, but it wasn't too crazy. We went first to the Moni Megalou Meterorou (The Grand Monastery) built in the 14th century on the highest rock in the valley. It is in excellent repair and houses a couple of museums and shows how life would have been in those early times for the monks. We spent a couple of hours wandering through then moved onto Moni Agiou Stefanou. Immediately you notice the 'womens touches' as this is home to an order of nuns instead of the monks. It is small and compact after the Grand Monastery but worth the visit. Visiting two was ample, the aura of the place is more the settings with the monasteries perched high on the boulder tops, some almost inaccesible more than the monasteries themselves.

We travelled the motorway back, across viaducts and through 19 tunnels (we had a sweepstake with 17, 18, 20 and 21 as our picks!!!), right through to Dodona and visited the ancient 4th century BC ampitheatre and ruins there, we have seen some spectacular examples but this wasn't quite up there.

We stopped for a supermarket run on the way into Preveza, never missing an opportunity of having transport and filled the car to the brim. We even had another top up the next morning, filling the lockers with goodies before we took the car back. On our last night in Preveza we strolled the promenade along with hundreds of others, then were lucky enough to get a couple of vacant seats at a waterfront concert featuring an 'International Choral Festival', we sat under the stars listening to choirs from Bulgaria, Poland, Romania, Slovenia to name just a few. What a magic life we sometimes lead.

Cruising Info for Preveza:
Anchorage - Preveza unfinished marina ... 38 57.61N 20 45.40E 2.9m side tied. Water on dock. We didn't get charged but some docks are individually 'managed' so may be small charge. Some are used by charter companies. Its all very hit and miss. The big long town quay is free, either side or stern tie, quietest and less slop as far towards marina as you can get. Water on town quay from taps in middle of lawn
Internet - Locked signals available from various cafes. Go have a drink, people watch and take your laptop.
Money and Provisions - Plenty ATMs. Supermarkets, bakery etc one block back from quay
Formalities - Again didn'y do any or see anyone. Advised not to visit port police as not too friendly!
Sightseeing - 2 car hire companies by marina were 60Euro per day for small car. Got a brand new VW Polo from Kapa Rentals via Jenny at Karyatis Travel ph 0030 2682100232. She was very helpful, speaks good English, office right down the far (south) end of quay about 2 shops back on a side street but sandwich board on quay. Cost 44Euro for fuel.
Monastries are 3Euro each entrance fee, they close on different days so always some open.
On the road into the 'Bridges of Zagora County' there is an excellent tourist information.
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