On a cloudy Sunday, son, bride, grandmother and niece decided to take another short excursion for a day trip. Looking for places near Athens, we found Vilia village about which we had heard very good comments. So, we put on our jackets and took off!
In our new travel article we visit Vilia village, Attica, built on the slopes of mount Kithairon, discover a beautiful church designed by the great architect Ernst Ziller, walk in the alleys of the village, eat the local meats and dessert too and get to know a local cheese shop and its people, in a full and satisfying day trip.
Vilia used to be called Idylia, a very suitable name since it is a truly idyllic village! As we read in a brochure of the Municipality of Vilia, the name evolved from Idylia to Vyllia, then Villia and now Vilia. At a distance of only 56 kilometers from Athens and at an altitude of 500-600 meters, at the foot of the mountain range of Kithairon, therefore, the village is built amphitheatrically. The houses are surrounded by a green landscape, in which the eye really rests. As we have seen up close, Vilia village has many visitors during summer months and we learned that it also has tourism in winter, when it is covered by snow!
In the brochure of the Municipality of Eidyllia we read some things about the history of the settlement. The history of the place seems to begin in the 12th-13th century A.D. when the inhabitants of Attica, threatened by the frequent attacks of pirates, moved to the mountains and settled in a safe place, today’s Vilia. It is said that the inhabitants, builders, craftsmen and workers, all worked together in solidarity to build houses, temples, a cemetery and a school.
Taking our first walk in the streets of Vilia we found ourselves in front of a beautiful church. Approaching, we saw on a sign that the Holy Temple of the Transfiguration of the Savior of the Holy Diocese of Megara and Salamis was built in 1893 to the designs of the German architect Ernst Ziller. We were very impressed by this, since Ernst Ziller is known for his buildings in Athens, which in the 19th century filled with the buildings of the great philhellene architect, either private or public.
We knew that Ernst Ziller had left his mark in other cities of Greece, but we could not have imagined that we would find a creation of his in the picturesque Vilia! The mystery was solved by the Ploumpi siblings, with whom we spoke later and told us that their grandfather’s brother, Dimitrios Ploumbis Konstantinidis was the first counselor of the Metropolis of Athens and that he had mediated to bring the famous architect to his village, Vilia.
In the square of the church we saw another interesting landmark, a column on which were engraved the names of the people from Vilia who fought in 1940-1941 in World War II and in 1944-1950 in the Greek Civil War. A historical monument that honors the soldiers from Vilia.
Turning again to the booklet of Vilia to learn a little more about the history of the place, we read that Vilia was set on fire in October 1821, at the start of Greek War of Independence. During the war there was close cooperation of the people of Vilia with the great leaders of the Revolution. Athanasios Kon. Ploumbis was in fact a member of the Filiki Eteria (Society of Friends), while Angelos I. Sakellariou, an unwinnable Macedonian warrior, had a close relationship with Stefanos Dragoumis, his son Ioannis Dragoumis and their son-in-law Pavlos Melas. Finally, the chief Stamatis Loukos took part in many battles on the side of Kolokotronis and Odysseas Androutsos.
Continuing our walk, we walked at Dimitrios Dragoumanovic Street, the founder of the Municipal Philharmonic of Vilia, as well as to Elli Lambeti Street, a famous actor who also came from Vilia.
On our walk we saw another monument, the bust of Ioannis Ar. Sakellariou, a subcommander who in 1940 fell heroically at the age of 25 in the area of Zitsa, Epirus, fighting against far superior Italian air forces.
Returning from our walk through the streets and the history of Vilia, it was time for us to eat. We sat outside, in a nice tavern, whose umbrellas and tall trees would protect us from the rain. We were impressed that next to the tavern there was the butcher shop, from which the meat we would order would come! We suspected that we would eat well!
For starters we ordered a traditional Choriatiki salad, a tzatziki, boiled greens and fried zucchini. In addition, we got a white wine. Then we continued with lamb and chicken ribs, two portions of pork chop and a veal one. Traditional, village food, all delicious!
We may have finished our lunch, but, as we usually say, there is always room for a dessert. So, we sat in another small shop and ordered Greek loukoumades, the name we have for fried dough, in three versions, with honey and cinnamon, with chocolate and with chocolate and ice cream. They were all wonderful!
Leaving, we thought that a nice souvenir for Athens would be some local dairy products. We also thought that we could learn a few more things about Vilia, before returning to the bustling Athens. So, we stopped at the Ploumbi cheese shop, where we would find dairy products, all of their production as we saw on their label. Entering, we met Mrs. Angeliki Ploumbi. She told us about the village and highlighted that her grandfather’s brother was the man who persuaded Ziller to design the church we had seen. She also told us to continue on our way until we find the main store, where her brother works. He would tell us a few more about their business.
After saying goodbye to the polite Mrs. Ploumbi, we got in the car and after a while we found the central cheese shop, where we would find her brother. Mr. Prokopis Ploumbis welcomed us politely, and after we explained to him that we wanted to know a few things about his business, he opened his heart to us! He showed us his handmade products and allowed us to take photos of his beautiful shop and its quality products. Handmade feta, kefalotyri, yogurt and halloumi, were the gifts he made us and they were all wonderful! We thank him warmly!
We asked Mr. Ploumbis how many years he has been a cheesemaker and he told us that he has studied mechanical engineering and that he has been working in his business for thirty-two years. Mr. Ploumbis expressed his love for traditional products and pointed out the attention that should be given to them. Greece has olive oil, wine, honey, fruit, oregano, herbs, asparagus, cheese and many other local products, which we must support and promote abroad. He also told us that he has traveled to many foreign countries and has seen the support that is given to new small businesses, but also the love for Greek products that he saw abroad.
We referred to his grandfather’s brother, who had brought Ziller to build the church we had seen, and he told us that his grandfather had mortgaged to build the church.
We asked Mr. Ploumbis to tell us a few things about the way his business operates and he told us that he works with local producers to obtain the milk he needs. His shop supplies some restaurants of Vilia, as well as some restaurants and taverns in Athens. It also has a branch in Athens in Korydallos, Taxiarchon and 53 Rhodes street.
He told us that he is famous for feta, graviera and kefalotyri and that he has gone to many seminars and exhibitions all over Greece and to large dairies abroad, in Austria, Germany… He also said that he is the first in the region to make halloumi, the traditional Cypriot cheese, with sheep’s milk, since he had brought a specialist from Cyprus four years ago.
He inherited the business from his father, who made only feta and butter. Mr. Ploumbis learned to make yogurt and rice pudding, he went to Crete and learned how to make graviera, he went to Ioannina, to Metsovo… He has spent two months in a cheese factory in Zoniana. He told us that he was the first in Attica who in 1994 made graviera and kefalotyri. In his shop, Mr. Ploumbis has other products from local producers, such as local wines and pasta, jams and spoon sweets, since he is exclusively a cheesemaker.
Mr. Ploumbis also told us a story: some time ago a journalist came to his cheese shop with some Chinese professors from a university in Singapore, who wanted to go to see the animals up close and milk them. The next day they came to the cheese shop with an interpreter and talked to Mr. Ploumbis, they saw how the graviera cheese is made. The next day they would go to Nemea for wines. Experiential tourism, as we would officially say! Also, Mr. Ploumbis told us that the journalist and the professors invited him many times to the university in Singapore to give some lectures with a translator, on Greek cheese-making, Greek cheeses and their production processes.
Mr. Ploumbis told us that Vilia also has a very nice Folklore Museum. We did not have time to visit it, but we did not want to leave without learning some information about it. We read that the New Folklore Museum was inaugurated in 2016, with the efforts of the members of the Cultural Folklore Association of Vilia, as well as the support of the Municipality. We also saw some photos of its exhibits, and decided to visit it for sure next time!
We returned to Athens with a bag full of cheese products, with new knowledge and experiences, new friends and with a renewed mood thanks to the beautiful nature that surrounded us and the fresh air we breathed. We will come to Vilia again for sure, maybe in the winter to see them covered in the snow!
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