Ο Gerald Thomson περιηγήθηκε στην Ελλάδα τις δεκαετίες 1960 – 1970. Καθ΄ όλη τη διάρκεια των ταξιδιών του, κατέγραφε λεπτομερώς το περιβάλλον και τις εμπειρίες του σε έναν μοναδικό πολύ προσωπικό τουριστικό οδηγό, για να μπορεί να ζωντανέψει τις αναμνήσεις του και να τις μοιραστεί με άλλους.
In Lefkada found the early 1970, since even the island's tourism industry took its first steps. Based on Royale initially and then Karya, allow the magic of nature and Lefkadian looking, as that would bring together the maximum number of experiences.
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CHAPTER XIV: THE IONIAN ISLES (2)
Lefkada is said to derive its name from the white cliffs that rise 200′ sheer from the sea at the island’s most Southern cape of Lefkata, a word which clearly has its origin in the adjective ‘lefkos’, meaning ‘white’. It was here, according to a well established tradition, that the poetess Sappho leapt to her death when suffering from a violent but unrequited passion.
Both Cicero and Strabo bear witness to the fact that in their day the 'kill or cure' remedy was successfully applied with the help of birds' wings attached to the victim's back, and dinghies placed strategically at the foot of the precipice!
As a walking island Lefkada ranks highly in my estimation, if only because the relatively late construction of roads has led to the preservation of many paths in a comparatively good state of repair. But the island seems to me also to be on a more human scale than the other Ionian Isles, and moreover to have made conscious efforts to ensure the survival of its unique, lively traditions and precious local heritage.
The outstanding beauty of its landscape, which is compounded of a perfect amalgam of mountain and sea has inspired two of Greece's most celebrated poets, Aristotelis Valaoritis (1824-1879) and Angelos Sikelianos (1884-1951), both born and bred on the island . Despite long periods of tenure by the Venetians and Turks, beginning with the Orsini family who fortified the Santa Mavra fort guarding the NE approaches to the island at the beginning of the fourteenth century, the 'foreign' influences in Lefkada appear to be confined almost exclusively to the capital, which in consequence seems an almost alien appendage to the rest of the island.
Most tourists will reach Lefkada by road either N. from Preveza or S. from Agrinion, passing over the artificial canal by means of a strange raft hauled over from the mainland by a chain. It is more than likely that originally the island was connected to the main land-mass of Acarnania, and there is a tradition that it was the Corinthians, who colonized the island in the eighth century BC, who first dug the canal.
By Thucydides' time, however, it appears to have silted up, since the Peloponnesians are recorded as dragging their ships over the isthmus in 427 BC (LII 81). The bus journey from Athens via Patras is long and tedious, lasting 7 - 8 hours, so that those averse to enduring such hardships might be well advised to avail themselves of the daily flights to Actium (v. Previous chapter, page 260). On the other hand visitors coming from Cephalonia or Ithaca may sail, weather permitting, on an ageing World War II landing craft renamed the Kostas Kavafis, which leaves Vathy in the late afternoon and Fiscardo at 7.30 pm until September, when it is re-timed to depart from the latter at 1 pm
The crossing thence to Vassiliki, Lefkada's most Southern anchorage, takes 2 hours, and if the seas are tranquil the voyage is a sheer delight. Be warned however that a slight swell can soon transform the journey into a nightmare! It was my good fortune to enjoy ideal conditions, and to explore the island from the S. upwards, using Vassiliki and the village inland of Karya as my main bases.
Those whose main preoccupation is with the sea may well prefer to use Nidri, a once peaceful fishing village about half way down the East coast and facing the rugged Acarnanian shore. Stretching along its sinuous bay and gazing out upon a strait studded with well wooded islets, including the fabled Scorpios, home of the late Aristotle Onasis, Nidri commands a view which is claimed to be one of the most lovely in all Greece.
During the last decade it has undergone rapid development; but it is still worth a short visit, not only because of its delightful bathing and scenery, but also because it was until his death in 1940, the home of the celebrated archaeologist Dörpfeld, Schliemann’s most gifted pupil and devoted assistant.
Dörpfeld had a theory that Homeric Ithaca was in fact Lefkada; and in his eagerness to promote it he even went to the lengths of erecting a concrete pillar on what he believed to be the correct location of the Crag of the Nymphs. But whether or not you accept the theory, I certainly recommend a visit to his house and grave which are to be found on the peninsula immediately opposite Nidri.
A small rowing boat may be hired to take you over, and a delightful path, well shaded from the sun by tall cypresses, will lead you back around the gulf, whose still waters, varying from azure to turquoise as the depths change, reflect the high peaks of the mountainous hinterland.
An equally attractive seaside resort which is reputed to possess the finest beach in all Greece is Agios Nikitas, situated on the NW coast not more than 10 miles from the capital.
A: Based on Vassiliki
Fifteen years ago Vassiliki was a simple, unpretentious fishing village, but more recently it has undergone considerable development as a wind surfing centre, the local conditions being ideal for that particular sport.
There is a very good hotel, the LEFKATAS, (Tel 0645.31305) offering full board and comfortable accommodation in double rooms with private showers and balconies for very reasonable prices. But in addition there are simpler pensions and many rooms to let, while the bay is fringed with a considerable variety of tavernas.
Buses leave for the main town at 7.30 am and 1.45 pm daily, travelling both clockwise and anticlockwise along the W. and E. coasts of the island respectively and simultaneously, so as not to meet on the narrow, tortuous roads.
The following 3 walks make use of paths or tracks very little frequented by vehicles, and will give the walker a fairly representative view of this quiet, charming corner of the island.
- Mt. Stavrota - 1158 metres, via Sivros and Agios Elias.
At an altitude of well over 3½ thousand feet, Stavrota is easily the highest mountain in the island. Despite this it is very seldom climbed, perhaps because although one enjoys a fine panoramic view to the S., the Northern aspect is severely limited by the presence of other mountains not much lower than Stavrota.
Due to the distance, one is obliged to return by the same route: but this is a positive advantage in that it has the attractive opportunity to obtain refreshment in the villages of Agios Elias and Sivros, and even transport if needed, in the form of and a small local bus that leaves the former village at 3 pm for Vassiliki.
It is advisable to depart no later than 9 a m., Leaving Vassiliki by the main road to Nidri which turns off the main street right, just after the Hotel Lefkata. In about ½ mile take the minor road on the left running NE to Sivros, and wonderfully shaded by huge, gnarled olives with an abundance of silvery foliage.
The gently rising plain is well watered and on either side there stretch rich fields of maize, plentiful vineyards, almond trees laden with nuts, and orchards of plump quince, ruddy pomegranates and luscious pears. In about ½ hour, after crossing a small bridge, look out for a sign indicating that Sivros is 3 kilometres distant.
In a further 2 minutes a quite broad track on the right leads up to a wonderful spring gushing with abundant, cool water, and thence irrigating the whole valley. The path continues up, reaching the village in only ¼ hour, thus saving one at least 20 minutes, provided that one has no objection to the surface, which is strewn with loose, irregular stones.
Just after the sign for SIVROS you have the option of either continuing on the main road or taking the back lane on the left, which passes many houses where I saw huge piles of freshly picked almonds being shelled, maize being stripped of its attendant foliage, and lemons squeezed to preserve their juice in bottles for the winter.
It was here that on my return I sampled village hospitality at its best: first a delicious kourambie – a seasonal pastry dripping with tasty almonds and liberally coated with icing sugar, accompanied by a sweet aromatic Turkish coffee, served in the best delicate bone china by an old lady wearing the long, bulky brown dress which is immediately recognisable as traditional Lefkadian costume.
Next, a little further along the lane, a jovial cooper busy constructing new barrels for his new vintage invited me in to meet his daughter, who promptly responded to the compliment by offering the customary courtesies reserved for honoured guests, viz. a spoon of vanilla suspended in a cool glass of water, a liberal measure of ouzo, soon to be followed by yet another cup of viscous, black coffee.
My host also informed me that the village celebrates on September 7-8, the main church being dedicated to the Nativity of the Virgin, whilst across the valley S.W. of the village there lie the celebrated caves of Karoucha.
If you have avoided the back lane, and proceeded through the village via the main road, you must turn left opposite the ‘pantopoleion’ – the village store, and again left almost as soon as you regain the road. About a mile further on you may again avoid the road by proceeding along a path which runs through the olive groves on the right, following the line of the telegraph poles.
Occasional red spots mark the route, and if successful you may enter the hamlet of Agios Elias again by the back lane which runs parallel to the main road and on the left.
The total time required to reach this, the highest village of Lefkada, from Vassiliki will be somewhere in the region of 2½ hours. At the time of my visit the church was being extensively renovated, and the prominent new cafe was also closed.
But the smaller, older one which snuggles in a hollow behind the church on the left was still offering refreshment and helpful advice on the best way of reaching the church of Agia Paraskevi, one's last visible landmark before reaching the final summit of Stavrota, which is now hidden from view behind the broad shoulder of the mountain.
Perched high on a beetling crag to the N.W. of the village, the church’s glistening white belfry will have long since riveted your attention. N.E. there rises another bold peak, designated on the map as ‘syngrosema elatis’ i.e. ‘fir plantation’. Unfortunately the majority of the forest was destroyed many decades ago by fire, leaving only isolated dark clumps which stand out boldly etched against the luminous silver-grey of the surrounding rocks. Enquire for directions to the cemetery – to kimitirion – which is situated on the N.W. fringe of the village, and a few minutes after which you will pass a small shrine on the left.
Two minutes later where the path divides take the left fork which climbs up quite steeply to reach in c. ½ hour the prominent belfry of Agia Paraskevi. From this vantage point one enjoys a fine view S. down the valley to Vassiliki: the chapel itself is situated slightly N. in a small hollow, where sheep were sleeping peacefully, sheltered from the fierce midday sun by a huge spreading plane tree. Just by the church is a well where you would do well to take your last drink before reaching the final summit.
Continue N. climbing gently by the path which runs on the right side of the gully, crossing in about 20 minutes a small dry streambed issuing from Vouno on the right, and in a further 5 minutes another one coming from the same direction. Just after this point turn left (W.) and begin to scramble up the loose scree between two scree-shoots.
In some 10-15 minutes the path, poorly defined, turns S. to reach the triple summit in about 5 more minutes. The total time from Vassiliki is in the region of 4 hours. The vista is all-embracing, although the adjacent peaks block the view of the sea. As you descend, the large saucer-shaped military installations located due to N. on Mt. Prophetes Elias has a helpful guide, until in 10 minutes one turns E. towards the square tower marked on the map as Pano Pyrgos - the Upper Tower.
Those who are suitably shod and proficient in the art may hasten their descent by using one or other of the two scree-shoots: alternatively cross over, then proceed with caution until you reach the col, whence the comparatively easy path due S. to Agia Paraskevi and your homeward road.
- Circular walk comprising the villages of the plain – Nikoli, Agios Vasilios, Komilio and Agios Petros.
This more relaxing ramble passes through the fertile Western sector of the plain, climbs gently into the foothills of Stavrota, and finally returns to base from the substantial and attractive village of Agios Petros via the main road. The total time required is from 4 to 5 hours, allowing plenty of time for exploring the hamlets at leisure.
Leave Vassiliki on the main road to the W. coast, and in a kilometre, after crossing the second bridge, turn right up the valley. Through a canopy of olives one admires inspiring views of the steep W. face of Mt. Stavrota, where beetling villages and boundless greenery finally give way to cascading scree and solid walls of uncompromising grey rock. In about 2 miles, and approached by a track on the left you will find a refreshing spring: simply look out for the water on the road.
On either side prolific orchards of lemons, oranges, mandarins, narangis, pomegranates, quinces and figs are interspersed with fields of maize. Returning to the main track, where it divides take the right branch, for a while doubling back S. in the direction of Vassiliki before veering again to the N. At the next junction avoid the right fork which cuts across to Sivros, and keep left , soon passing on the left another gushing spring, from whose freezing water much mineral nutriment is derived.
At this point one begins to rise quite steeply to reach the forlorn hamlet of Nikoli, 450 metres above sea level. On the right stands the church of St. George, and here too one may descend by a path to the stream, where multitudes of playful frogs are plopping in the mossy pools. Continue by the main track climbing towards Agios Vasilios where one must choose between three possibilities.
The first and longest is to continue downhill by the main road which crosses to the opposite side of the valley to serve hamlets higher up the mountain, and finally emerges on the main coast road at Hortata. The second possibility is to ascend steeply by the second track on the left, which zigzags its way up to Komilio. The third and shortest option involves taking the first track on the left which will land you safely in Agios Petros in c. ½ hour.
Agios Petros, the second village largest of Lefkada, boasts some 400 families, a variety of shops, and even one Phrontisterio - a private school of foreign languages. You will approach it via a comparatively modern housing development created some 5 years ago when several families from Roupakias, a hamlet a mile to the E. abandoned their ancestral homes, rendered unsafe by many an earthquake, and availed themselves of a government grant to set up house in Agios Petros.
The main church possesses a fine bell tower with a huge clock, and an air of prosperity emanates from the surrounding stone-built houses with their charming slate roofs and overhanging balconies festooned with colourful flowers.
A large central spring assures a plentiful supply of water, and the return journey by the main road, being downhill all the way, can be accomplished in little over an hour.
As one approaches Vassiliki there are extensive views over the broad, peaceful bay, where dozens of holidaymakers spend happy hours falling off surfboards into the refreshing, shallow waters of the Ionian Sea.
- Agios Nikolaos, Kontarena Agios Dimitrios.
This short morning or evening stroll should take no longer than a couple of hours. Its first objective, the chapel of St. Nicholas, appears as a brilliant white speck amid the dense, dark forest SW of Vassiliki. The path begins at Odos Miaoulis, named after the famous admiral of the War of Independence, which begins by the side of the patisserie on the harbour.
It is at first rather difficult to follow, as it swings through the overgrown and often abandoned terraces; but a few abortive attempts, accompanied by a rash of superficial scratches, will generally end in success, and lead you to the chapel in about ¼ hours.
From here the track continues, now well defined, at first a little downhill, but thence ascending the wooded hilltop, whence it follows the line of the telegraph wires downhill to the nearby village of Kontarena. One of the most attractive features of this bustling hamlet is its fine, whitewashed houses with their typical overhanging gables and colourful pantiles.
A new 'demosios dromos' leads up through the village to reach the chapel of St. Dimitrios in about ½ hour. Where it takes its first acute sweep to the left, search out the old mule track on the right, which has, alas, been converted in its initial stages to the village refuse dump. So much for progress! In about ten minutes you will emerge onto the new track, and a further ten minutes will land you at your goal, the chapel of St. Dimitrios.
The interior is kept locked, so that the key for admission must be sought from the priest below: but outside above the main entrance is carved the following inscription: ‘This is the House of God, and the Fount of Heaven. Loose the strap of your shoe; for the place whereon you stand is hallowed ground’. In theory by proceeding due N., one should reach very shortly the chapel of St. Saviour – Agios Sotir – whence the round trip could be completed by continuing N. to Vassiliki, but being short of time I opted for the safer course of returning by the same route.
B: Based on Karya.
The afternoon bus for Karya leaves at 1.45, and one must be careful to catch the bus travelling to the capital, Lefkada, via Agios Petros and the West coast, rather than that travelling to the same destination, but in the opposite direction along the East coast. The journey to the village of Asprogerakata, where one must alight, takes approximately one hour; thence it is a gentle 3 kilometre walk uphill to Karya via the adjacent village of Pigadisani.
On the occasion of my visit the bus ride proved quite eventful, the bus almost demolishing the roof of a shop with which it became embroiled while negotiating a tight bend in Agios Petros, and a little further along the road colliding with a car on a blind corner just N. of the village of Hortata!
Karya, Lefkada's largest village, hangs on the edge of an extensive inland plateau at a height of about 1000 'above sea level. At present the only accommodation available is in private homes, and I must admit that it took me two whole hours of patient inquiry before I finally secured congenial lodgings down the hill at the house of Kyria Ourania.
However, a large and tastefully designed hotel with 40 beds - Tel 41303, Theodoros Katopodes - is currently being built up the hillside, and it is expected that it will be open by Easter 1986.
A large swimming pool and a subterranean disco are listed among its appealing features, and the bedrooms are designed to command superb views across the plateau and over the strait to the high mountains of Acarnania on the mainland beyond. The hotel is to be equipped with a restaurant: but in any case there are two tavernas, as well as cafes in the village.
The plateau below is intensively cultivated, producing multitudes of grapes and olives, and the womenfolk are renowned for the fine quality lace which they still manufacture. Perhaps the best view of the whole area is obtained in the evening from the path which climbs steeply SW to the almost deserted hamlet of Rekatsinata.
From here one can see as far N. as the main town of Lefkada, while due East, inspiring vistas of the majestic Acarnanian peaks fill the distant horizon. Far below, Karya itself glistens in the brilliant evening light, refulgent like a jewel in the crown of the rich plateau over which it presides with royal splendour.
Women of the older generation stride around the cobbled streets erect and slender in their elegant brown crinolines, very models of a regal poise, best illustrated in their graceful dances performed with large bronze cooking pots skilfully balanced on their heads!
Although a high percentage of the population supports the communist parties, they are all acutely aware of and determined to preserve at all costs their precious heritage; and as part of the celebrations for the Dormition of the Virgin on August 15 a mock marriage is staged annually in the village square.
In every way Karya would make an ideal centre for walking, and the following two circular walks, each occupying about 4 hours, are only a foretaste of the rich delights in store for those who will subsequently explore this delightful region of the island.
- Circular tour of the villages surrounding the plateau.
To obtain the best advantage from the light this walk is best done anticlockwise, beginning at about 3.30 pm Leave Karya S. on the main road to Englouvi, but after a mile turn off left down a minor road well shaded by tall cypresses and firs to the village of Platystoma. Shortly before arriving you will pass a crossroads not marked on the currently available maps. T
he new road on the right, signed Vafkeri, bypasses Platystoma and leads down eventually to the coast at the popular resort of Nidri. The roads opposite on the left are newly constructed, either to serve the needs of the farming community, or as access to the pylons carrying hydroelectric current from Epiros all the way to Cephalonia.
Continue on the main road to the brow of the hill, where Platystoma, astride the saddle between the ridges, catches all the wind as it is funnelled through the gap, and hence earns its name – Widemouth. On the left, and approached by a new concrete stairway, is the church of Agia Paraskevi which celebrates annually on July 25. The village is on the opposite side of the road, and there I observed typical cottage industry – women weaving colourful carpets from locally produced cotton.
The main road continues round and over the hill before descending NE in about ½ hour to Alexandros, a rather desolate hamlet used by migrant shepherds, most of the original population having migrated E. to the coast at Nikiana in the hope of making a better living from tourism. Yet a little wheat and copious vines still grow in abundance. On the left as you leave the village you will enjoy a fine view of the Meganoros, whose summit is crowned with saucer-shaped installations.
On the right as you reach the crest of the hill a surprise view of the strait and the distant peaks of Acarnania is suddenly revealed to the observant visitor.
The road descends, and just before it begins to rise again, a zigzag track descends on the left to the floor of the valley, whence it climbs steeply up to Karya. But continue uphill towards Lazarata and Pinakochori.
As you approach the latter, a new road on the left gives you the option of excluding the former village and going direct to Pinakochori via the cemetery.
The village derives its name from ‘pinaka’, which means ‘picture’ – apparently because the charming landscape in which it is set has inspired many local artists to immortalise it in their paintings. Continue to Pigadisani, and thence over the great chasm which plunges dramatically into the depths of the plateau to return to Karya.
- Mt. Prophetes Elias via Engluvi.
Englouvi, the second village highest in Lefkada, is reached in about 1 hour by the main road running S. from Karya. The charming village was burned down by the Germans, thus destroying all the wooden barrels used for storing the excellent local wine.
More recently the superb vintage is under threat from the EEC who are offering the local farmers tempting financial inducements to rip out the indigenous vines, which they claim are of poor quality, and replace them by a more acceptable stock.
In the past Englouvi has always exported a certain percentage of its grapes to the French and the Italians, who use it as colouring and flavouring for their own allegedly superior wines. Only when some natural disaster has befallen the French and Italian vineyards has Lefkada succeeded in selling all its grapes, which are surplus to internal requirements.
I had a good opportunity to sample the outstanding quality of all the local produce, liquid and otherwise, being by chance invited in to share the tail end of a marriage feast. Bridegroom and bride had already departed, but the closest relatives and friends still remained and some dancing still continued, although in a somewhat desultory manner. Attracted by the sound of music I found myself urged to participate, and was offered several glasses of the potent ‘kokkinelli’ as a reward.
Three aged crones were contentiously engaged in mixing a large bowl of local 'halvas', into which handfuls of unground whole grain were thrown - doubtless a survival of a timeworn fertility rite. A plateful was shortly presented for my approval, and soon afterwards the table was set for the midday meal.
First a tasty dish of macaroni prepared in the soup of the ritual lamb; then the lamb itself, accompanied by salads and home made cheese: and finally large platters of succulent grapes - all of which confirmed my original suspicion that the EEC's suggestions were disingenuous, and as such should be resisted at all costs!
From the centre of the village take the narrow path up to the spring - i vrisi - on its Northern edge. Continue right along the road built to serve the American Air Force base on the shoulder of the mountain: but after 280 yards, where the road takes its first wide sweep to the left to reach the huge Radar installation, continue straight on along the old path by the icon which stands at its junction with the road.
On the left looms the ominous saucer - a part of the NATO early warning system, while on the right the final pyramid of the mountain rears its head defiantly against the dark blue of the sky. After some 20 minutes the path joins a track where several quarries have been dug in an attempt to find water. The track has been recently extended to reach the summit of the mountain by a certain Mr. Thermon, who undertook the work, completed in July 1985, in memory of his parents, wife and uncle, as is recorded on a plaque set into the wall of the chapel.
If your visit happens to coincide with the celebration of the illustrious prophet's miraculous ascent to heaven - July 19-20 - you will retain undying memories of the lavish local celebration of the event. But in any case the effort of climbing up is always well rewarded by the superb panoramic view which awaits you on attaining the summit, which is the third highest on the island. Karya itself is hidden from view by the bulk of the mountain, but much of the plain is visible.
The white buildings of the island’s capital stand out clearly on its Northern tip, whilst opposite one can even discern the town of Preveza, and beyond the dim outline of the Gulf of Amphilocia. S.E. one distinguishes the slightly higher mount Vouno with its by now familiar tower, and in a more Easterly direction lie the islands of Sparti, Scorpios and Mega Nisi, the second owned by the family of the late Aristotle Onasis. Due South there sprawls the Stavrota range, and in the W. the vast level of the Ionian Sea disappears into a haze indistinguishable from the sky.
The view is at its best in the late afternoon; but take care to leave yourself at least 1½ hour's daylight for the return to Karya by the Western route. Descend by the same track until you reach the point where it is joined by the path you took from Englouvi.
Now follow the track round to the right, passing the other installation once used by the OTE and resembling camouflaged golf balls. In some 35 minutes from the summit, just after the pictorial sign forbidding photography, take the small path on the right which picks its uncertain way through the loose scree to the deserted hamlet of Rekatsinata and thence to Karya.
The necessity of proceeding with caution will give you the chance to absorb the entrancing views, whether of Lefkada and the mainland mountains shimmering in the distance, or of the roof tiles of Karya burnished with gold, as the sun sinks to its rest in the Western sea. The total walking time is in the region of 4 hours.
Several buses in the course of the day wind their tortuous way down through the villages of the plain to Lefkada, which so often shares its name with that of the island. The city is a most curious and incongruous amalgam of three opposing styles. Of the greatest architectural merits are the many stone-built churches, unctuous in their decoration both external and internal, and bearing the unmistakeable stamp of Venice. The cheek would be with these miniature masterpieces there standing ramshackle edifices whose light, improvised structures and irregular angles evince the repeated wrath of Poseidon the Earthshaker.
Finally, in the undistinguished and homogeneous security rise, the modern, antiseismic luxury hotels, most of them with their backs turned contemptuously on the shanty town behind, gazing out on the peculiar, square lagoon which is as bleak and uninspiring as their architecture. The waters of this lagoon and the narrow channel separating the island from the mainland on its East are devoted to commercial breeding of fish.
More worthy of exploration and situated to the E. and W. of the main town respectively, are the Santa Mavra fort guarding the entrance to the channel, and the Monastery of Phaneromeni.
Five or six miles on the coast road beyond the latter, one finds the roadstead of Agios Nikitas, arguably one of the best beaches in the whole of Greece. Lefkada boasts two museums, one archaeological and the other folklore, a brass band, accommodation in either luxury hotel or simple antique pension, and a great variety of restaurants.