The sweet trip of Eat Dessert First Greece to Epirus is being continued! Off we go to Ano Pedina!
Ano Pedina village used to be called Ano Soudena, a Slavic name that meant “cold place”. The village was named this way because of the cold currents of Vikos Gorge. It is one of the villages of Central Zagori. The name Zagori has a Slavic origin too, meaning “behind the mountains”. We got these information from nun Evfimia, whom we will talk about later.
In Ano Pedina village, at the traditional guesthouse Oresti’s House, a warm, elegant room, exuding art and culture with its posters and décor, was waiting for us.
The owner, Ms. Eleni Pagratiou, architect-geographer and President of the Association of Zagori Tourism Enterprises, welcomed us with a traditional dinner with gourmet touches and told us her story. Oresti’s House operates as a traditional guesthouse since 1987. It is a preserved building, over 250 years old. We asked her what is the difference between a traditional guesthouse and a hotel and she explained that a business can get the title “traditional guesthouse” only if it is housed in an old building with some architectural value. Her mother had inherited the building from a distant relative, Orestis.
We continued our discussion with a very interesting story about the evolution of tourism in our country. In the end of the 1980s, when Oresti’s House opened, there was nothing touristic in Zagori. Only Papigo village had five guesthouses. Ms. Pagratiou gave us an insight into the historic framework of the times: in the mid 70s Greece signed international contracts for the protection of architectural heritage and a decree that defined which places where considered traditional settlements. The great architect Aris Konstantinidis had conceived the idea of preserving and promoting traditional settlements. In this spirit, the program for the traditional settlements of the Greek National Tourism Organisation (GNTO) was born.
One of GNTO’s initiatives in ma y places was the preservation of old houses and the change of their use, in order to constitute a good example of how we should treat our architectural heritage. Practically, as Ms. Pagratiou told us, the owners of old buildings could give their houses to GNTO for ten years to operate them as guesthouses. When the ten years had passed, GNTO would return the buildings to the owners. The benefits for the owners were the preservation of their buildings and the option to continue to operate them as guesthouses if they wanted. Otherwise, they could make them their homes again. For Ms. Pagratiou, this project was one of the most successful state initiatives.
However, local architecture is in danger of deteriorating today, as Ms. Pagratiou notes. One of the reasons is that local stone is no longer used, as there are no quarries left in Zagori and stone comes from elsewhere. In the past they would take it out by hand, but this is too expensive. Also, foreign artisans, even if they are good, they aren’t locals and this makes a difference. Artisans must know the local rules, they need special education.
Ms. Pagratiou analysed another worry of hers… She told us, for example, that in Zagori take place a lot of projects from the European Union, but in a pilot form, for a specific period of time. After their completion, what has been done has to be preserved and developed further, which unfortunately rarely happens.
A big success that Ms. Pagratiou shared happily with us is the registration of dry stone technique in UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list. It is the technique of building with stone without a binder, without mud, an ancient method that exists all over the world. Streets, walls and roofs are made this way in the villages of Zagori. People from Ioannina had a saying, “people from Zagori never get mud on their shoes”, as all the streets are built in stone, with no mud.
Ms. Pagratiou has been on the frontline of another matter too, the submission of a proposal to the Council of Europe for the certification of the Dry Stone Routes as European cultural routes. The routes are designed in accordance with the Wine Roads and the Routes of the Olive Tree, which Greece participates in. The effort is in the phase of preparing the application file and we hope it is realised soon.
The second running subject this period, as Ms. Pagratiou told us, is the resurgence of the matter of the inclusion of Zagori region in UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites. If this initiative succeeds, Zagori will become much more known worldwide.
Ms. Pagratiou has also been on the frontline of the effort to include Zagori in a project on the gastronomy of different regions of Greece organised by George Pittas. He is the inspirer of the Greek Breakfast certification that Oresti’s House also has. As Ms. Pagratiou explained, the Greek gastronomy project is an effort to promote local products and local cuisine, to motivate restaurants and hotels to cooperate and turn to local producers for their provisions. The newly established Zagori part of the project made its first appearance at Expotrof 2020 exhibition in Athens. There, people could see the new guide of the region and try local food and sweets.
According to Ms. Pagratiou, the aim of such initiatives is to bring the visitor in touch with the identity of each place, its history, culture, architecture, nature, gastronomy. We must bring the two worlds together, she said, the small local businesses and the special client who is looking exactly for what those businesses have to offer.
Also, it is important for businesses to work together. Ms. Pagratiou told us that for example, if a guesthouse doesn’t have rooms available, it shouldn’t be indifferent, but instead it should suggest another guesthouse nearby so that the visitor stays in the region. In Zagori there is a base for the mutual support of businesses. Ms. Pagratiou believes that there is room for everyone, since each one has something different and personal to offer.
Of course, we had to ask Ms. Pagratiou about her relationship with cooking also. She shared with us her memories of how she started cooking as a student in Paris. There, she got very lucky… She lived in an attic and in the adjoining attic lived a handicapped elderly lady. Young Ms. Pagratiou would help her neighbour with housework and she would invite her to lunch on Sundays. The elderly lady in her youth was a cook in a noblemen’s tower. So, she tought Ms. Pagratiou to cook.
She may have learned French cuisine, but she cooks all the cuisines of the world. In Oresti’s House the idea is to use local products to cook world cuisine. Ms. Pagratiou told us that Zagori used to be a multicultural and cosmopolitan place. The residents would travel and bring back influences from all over the world. For example, Ms. Pagratiou’s grandma, who lived in Kipi village, Zagori and was raised in Pergamos, Minor Asia, would cook cuttlefish in their ink at home, an ingredient that wasn’t found locally and a dish that one wouldn’t expect to taste in Zagori. It is a particular characteristic of the region, as Zagori at its peak was inhabited by rich, educated and cosmopolitan merchants.
At the guesthouse’s restaurant, Ms. Pagratiou makes local cuisine with international touches, using local products. Upon request, she can prepare dishes from all over the world and she also gives cooking lessons.
The next day started with a local breakfast at Oresti’s House, with a variety of handmade jams, quince, kiwi, grapefruit, tangerine, wild cherry, sloe… Something that impressed us also was a preparation called Asure or Varvara, a sweet porridge made with wheat, dried fruit and nuts. A nutritious start for the day and the cold that awaits us!
We got the energy we needed, dressed up warmly and went down towards the village’s square.
We absolutely wanted our first stop to be the Holy Monastery of Evaggelistria in Ano Pedina. As soon as we arrived, we met nun Evfimia, who lives in the monastery since 2010. She comes from Minor Asia but was born and raised in Athens. We asked her if she is always alone in the monastery and she said that the winter is tough in Ano Pedina, but she is now waiting for two nuns to come. Nun Evfimia is an artist… Although she never admitted to that, we were told that she is one of the best artist of mosaic in Greece and we saw it with our own eyes too. You will see also… Nun Evfimia is a graduate of the Athens School of Fine Arts and studied for three years in Paris on a master’s degree.
First of all, the nun talked about the history of the monastery and gave us a tour to its parts. We want to note that the nun’s historical knowledge was so huge and rich that all she said can’t fit in this article, so we will paint a brief picture of everything we discussed. But we have everything saved for the future! The tour the nun gave us was incredibly detailed and interesting and she told us that even if there is only one visitor, she will give him the same tour! She impressed us even more with that!
The first year of establishment of the Holy Monastery of Evaggelistria is unknown, while the second in 1630. Nun Evfimia told us that the entrance to the monastery shows that it was built during the period of Ottoman rule in Greece, as then they used to make the entrance low and the stairs slanting so that the Turks’ horses couldn’t pass. The sultan prohibited churches to be erected higher than mosques, and so they used to give hight to the temples by creating underground spaces. The Holy Monastery of Evaggelistria was built this way.
Also, he prohibited churches and monasteries to be decorated more beautifully than mosques on the outside, while they didn’t care what happened inside, as the Turks wouldn’t enter them. A part of the monastery nowadays is collapsed. The part that is salvaged is very tall, used to play the role of defence walls and has embrasures.
The Holy Monastery of Evaggelistria has important rare frescos, such as a rare depiction of the Pantokrator in white clothing inside the dome of the temple. Also, there are frescos painted in cadmium red, one of the most expensive colours. During Ottoman rule, as nun Evfimia narrated, it would cost its weight in gold. She explained that in Zagori during Ottoman rule people occupied with commerce with Danube countries and mostly with Egypt. This is why the buildings in the villages of Zagori are mansions, with furniture they would bring from abroad.
In the Holy Monastery of Evaggelistria lived as a monk for a period one of the seven great teachers of the Greek nation of the Greek Enlightenment era, Neofytos Dukas. We owe him the name Ellines (Greeks) instead of Greki, the name Adamantios Korais and others supported, which in the times of Roman rule meant enslaved. His mother had brought him to the monastery at the age of ten, out of gratitude for his miraculous cure of a fatal disease when he was two years old. The miraculous icon of Virgin Mary in the temple’s iconostasis, with the silver cover, is undergoing preservation and the nun was very kind to show it to us.
Nun Evfimia also gave us extremely interesting information about the relationship between Christianity and Greek philosophy. Ancient Greek philosophy, according to the Fathers of the Orthodox Church, is the base and forerunner of Christianity. The nun told us that it is not random that countries which didn’t get in touch with Greek philosophy couldn’t comprehend Christianity. The ancient philosophers never believed in the twelve Olympian gods, but believed that God is one and is a spirit.
Something we didn’t know is that there are churches in which Ancient philosophers are depicted, such as in Mount Athos, Kaisariani in Athens, Meteora, Cappella Sistina in Vatican City and Santa Maria in Siena, Italy. On a fresco in the Holy Monastery of Evaggelistria we saw Thucydides, Plato and a female figure, the Erythraean Sibyl, to whom God revealed the coming of Christ, because of her good intentions. In Antiquity sibyls were priestesses in Apollo’s temples, and Pythia was one of them. These days, with the contribution of nun Evfimia, a historic book about the monastery is getting prepared, that will contain all the frescos of the monastery, as well as the rare ones such as those with the Ancient philosophers.
Another opportunity to talk about the relationship between Greek philosophy and Christianity was nun Evfimia’s drawing of Saint Aikaterina. She was also called the Wise Aikaterina, as she knew all the known sciences of the times. Saint Aikaterina lived in Alexandria and was a Christian. She was also very pretty… When a lord wanted to marry her and bring her back to idolatry, he invited 150 wisemen from all the known world to persuade her. But the opposite happened, she turned them to Christianity, by quoting only Greek philosophers and the Sibyls. The lord got so angry that he burnt them all in a huge fire.
After the extremely interesting talk, nun Evfimia showed us her workshop. She opened the door and a huge mosaic appeared, in the phase of its completion! Thousands of small pieces formed a gorgeous icon of Saint Panteleimon, made with admirable detail and skill! Nun Evfimia is preparing this awesome mosaic for a church outside Ioannina.
Nun Evfimia explained to us the process of making a mosaic. The mosaic can be made on the spot on the wall, by placing the coloured pieces straight on the mortar. Because the mosaic the nun is preparing will be placed on an outside wall of the church, it wasn’t possible to make it on the spot because of the cold. So, she chose the second method: making the mosaic in the workshop and then, when it is ready, transfering it to its final position. She analysed the procedure in detail:
As soon as the mosaic is completed, it will be transferred on the wooden board, that had been placed below the textile, to the church it will be positioned. There, it will be placed into mortar, which will fill the joints between the mosaic pieces. When it is fully dried and stabilised, the textile will be removed by brushing with water and the amazing mosaic will make its appearance. We can’t wait to see it in its church on a future trip!
Nun Evfimia, as an arts teachers, gives classes to those, students or older in age, who wish to learn the art of mosaic and hagiography. We asked her about her opinion on young people leaving the country and she told us that they shouldn’t get disappointed easily and that with a little patience things can get better…
We leave keeping in our hearts the hopeful and sweet message nun Evfimia gave us, to have hope, feel better and try to stay in our country and build our lives nicely, with faith and love!
It was time to get a cup of coffee, so we decided to sit in the coffee and dessert shop Αlthea in Ano Pedina. It is a family business owned for ten years by sisters Mahi and Vaso, and their mother Dina. Mahi treated us with coffee and desserts and talked about the handmade confections her mother makes for the café and their guesthouse.
Traditional, handmade desserts made with pure ingredients, light and not too sweet, just as much to be able to enjoy the whole piece… and it was large! Walnut pie, orange pie, chocolate cake, ekmek, baklava, ravani, galaktoboureko… spoon sweets, jams and liqueurs prepared with their own fruit from the garden, cherries, sour cherries, plums, figs, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries and many more.
After eating our dessert first -as says our name of course- we went for dinner at the restaurant Sotiria Tsigara (formerly named “Ta Soudena”). We were welcomed by grandma Sotiria, her daughter Amalia and son Kostas. Grandma Sotiria and her children’s families with their seven kids make a warm family business. Each one offers with love his own part to make you feel at home, and even better as you are in their lovely village!
The family has been running this restaurant for twenty years, and people know them and trust them for the quality of their food, the good local products and the traditional recipes. Kostas, like everyone we met on our trip to Epirus, believes that businesses must support each other and work together for the good of their place, whether they are locals or not. In Ano Pedina people who come from other places to work in the village are faced with hospitality by the locals, according to Kostas.
Τhe restaurant opened in 2000 with an agrotourism program that included grants to businesses that owned animals and fields to open guesthouses or restaurants. Back then, on the spot where now this beautiful traditional building stands, there was a field. The building was constructed with local stone in the traditional way.
Sotiria serves a lot of pies, wild game meat, boar, soups, traditional comfort cuisine that fits this place. The food we tried was truly amazing and it warmed our hearts, along with the beautiful, family atmosphere.
The same family owns the café-restaurant Αmalia, where we went later in the evening to have a warm cup of mountain tea to finish our nice dinner.
Because we had eaten a lot, and we wanted to eat more later, we had to take a walk as we usually do. Since it is the middle of the winter and the days are short, and we had passed our day with the extremely interesting interview with nun Evfimia, we couldn’t try the hiking paths of the area… But we went on a light hike around the village, as we do in Athens. Influenced by our yesterday talk with Ms. Pagratiou, we observed the dry stone walls, making our own Dry Stone Route, filled our lungs with clean air and relaxed our eyes looking at the calm, wintery landscape…
On our return to Oresti’s House, a very pleasant surprise was waiting for us: an invitation to a meeting to celebrate the name day of Mr. Yiannis Kirligitsis, owner of the Porfyron Hotel in Ano Pedina village. A meeting of active businesspeople of Zagori that highlights in the best way the message that runs through our articles: cooperation and mutual support will take the place forward!
We warmly thank Ms. Eleni Pagratiou and Oresti’s House for the warm hospitality, breakfasts and dinners she offered us, nun Evfimia from the Holy Monastery of Evaggelistria in Ano Pedina for the tour, interview and books she gave us, the restaurant Sotiria Tsigara in Ano Pedina for the traditional meal they served us, the coffee and pastry shop Althea in Ano Pedina for the coffee and traditional desserts they treated us and all the people who welcomed us and talked to us with love about their place.
Be the first one to read our new articles!
Follow us by submitting your email into the box you will find if you scroll down our page, so that you receive each new article by email as soon as it is online. Don’t forget to confirm your subscription, in the email you will receive! 🤗 For wordpress bloggers like ourselves, just press the follow button.