Sunday, 20 August 2017

Mount Parnassus in Greece Beckons Off-the-Beaten-Track Travellers

Text by HK Tzanis for Southeast European Times*   
In the world of tourism, the phrase "off-the-beaten-track" is mostly identified with remote and exotic excursions. But in Greece, it can easily mean a way to avoid pricey destinations that often come to mind when considering trips to the country. This is especially true for vacationers from outside the high-priced eurozone.

The answer is the south-central area of mainland Greece in and around Mount Parnassus; the 2,457-metre-high "home" to the mythical muses. Also nearby is Delphi -- site of the oracle and the sanctuary of Apollo -- once known as the "navel of the world."

Featuring distinctive Mediterranean mountain scenery and small winding valleys leading into olive groves, cotton fields and grape orchards, a grand tour of Parnassus is easy on the wallet and a world removed from the hustle-and-bustle of coastal resorts and chic, expensive islands.

There are good times to be had year-round. Greece's oldest ski resorts -- Kellaria and Fterolaka -- are located on the eastern slopes of Parnassus, above the comfortable and easy-going town of Amfiklia. The onset of warm weather also brings paragliders to the Amfiklia cliffs.

According to Mayor Nakos Tsitsipis of Amfiklia, the expanded municipality's comparative advantage is its natural beauty in tandem with locals' emphasis on hospitality as second nature, removed from the strictly commercial sense.

"We offer a peaceful environment that encourages visitors to discover the surroundings by exploring the numerous trails and footpaths, the remote chapels on the mountain sides and to enjoy our festivals and traditions, for which Amfiklia is well known," said Tsitsipis.

Further to the west -- 160 to 200 kilometres from Athens -- visitors can enjoy the incomparable Delphi archaeological site in the off-season, when it is not crowded with tourists from around the world. If a summertime visit is unavoidable, the modestly priced coastal hamlet of Itea lies roughly 10 kilometres to the south on the Corinthian Gulf.

Galaxidi, another laid back coastal town, lies further southwest along the same gulf.

Traditional guesthouses along with trendier, and decidedly more exclusive, eco- and agro-tourism units as well as newer boutique hotels -- particularly in Delphi and Arahova -- offer very competitive off-season rates.

After the Easter holiday and throughout the long summer, the cliff-hanging locale of Arahova is a good value. Directly asking a proprietor for price quotes via e-mail or a telephone call also removes the internet middle man, resulting in hefty discounts. Delphi, just west of picturesque Arahova and on the same road, is an ideal for autumn and spring excursions from surrounding towns as well as Athens.

Amfiklia, in the foothills of the eastern slope of Parnassus, dominates the bucolic Kifissos Valley, with a dozen quaint villages overlooking the valley from the surrounding foothills and mountains, namely, the peaks of Kallidromos, Parnassus, Iti and Ghiona.

Agoriani and Polydrossos are two such villages, both easily reached by the old Livadia-Lamia Highway north of Amfiklia, which host traditional grill houses and cafes frequented by locals and visitors.

"… our area, where the headwaters of the Kifissos River are located, was the primary road for the Delphi temples of antiquity, with altars at the springs serving ancient pilgrims," said Giorgos Georgoussis, the mayor of Parnassus. "Today, our area combines history with notable ancient and medieval monuments, along with natural beauty and a very healthy climate."

Georgoussis noted that the proximity of the main Athens-Thessaloniki Highway, along with solid services for tourism in the villages of Eptalofos and Polydrossos, allows year-round visits by excursionists, climbers and hikers.

The summit of Parnassus and its plateau have long rivaled Mount Olympus for being hiker-friendly. It is replete with well-traveled footpaths, splendid views, abundant nature as well as a mild terrain.

One well-marked trail leads from Amfiklia west toward Arahova across the Parnassus range.

Classicists will recall that it was along this trail that the second-century geographer Pausanias described the Parnassian Corycian Cave, a place of worship for mythical Pan and the nymphs. This cave is massive: 60-metres-long, 26-metres-wide and 12 metres-high. It is one of the geological and historical highlights of the Parnassus tour.

As in other regions of the Balkans, timing a visit to a particular locality to coincide with that village's feast day of its patron saint adds a genuine folkloric flavor.

The pleasant low-key approach to tourism in this region, mostly aimed at urbanites from Athens and surrounding cities looking for extended weekends away from the rat race, puts a tour of Parnassus within reach even in current times of austerity.

*This text is courtesy of the Southeast European Times (SET), a web site sponsored by the US Department of Defense in support of UN Resolution 1244, designed to provide an international audience with a portal to a broad range of information about Southeastern Europe. It highlights movement toward greater regional stability and steps governments take toward integration into European institutions. SET also focuses on developments that hinder both terrorist activity and support for terrorism in the region.

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