The first part of our article based in Nymfaio included our first full day of the two days we would stay in the village. Now it’s time for the second day!
Read the first part of our article based in Nymfaio:
In the second part of our travel article, while still staying in Nymfaio, we get to know the ecological NGO Arcturos and its bears, try the famous Greek champagne of Domaine Karanika, tour the La Moara guesthouse of Mr. Ioannis Iatridis and Mrs. Argyro Felesaki, take a walk in the village, seeing the church of Agios Nikolaos and the Nikeios School, and have lunch at the very good restaurant Diporto of Mr. George Boutaris in Nymfaio.
For the second day of our stay in Nymfaio we continued to stay in the hospitable Argyro Guesthouse of Mr. Ioannis Iatridis and Mrs. Argyro Felesaki. We slept on the soft bed of our neoclassical room, drank coffee in the courtyard with a wonderful view of the surrounding nature and the village, and once again enjoyed its rich, handmade breakfast with savory and sweet delicacies.
Mrs. Argyros’ breakfast impressed us once again! A different pie every day, a different freshly made dessert, different flavors of handmade fruit jams from fruit of the area, but also the classic and now favourite pancakes, the omelette and the fried eggs, the village bread, the local honey, the fresh fruit, the freshly squeezed juice and whatever coffee we wanted… Just perfect!
Taking a short walk outside to digest, we entered another warm and picturesque space, an enclosed room with a fireplace and a wood stove to drink one’s coffee in winter and enjoy the view…
Having loaded our batteries for another special day in Nymfaio and the surrounding area, we headed to our first destination, one of the most important sights of the village, the Arcturos Bear Shelter, a place dedicated to the protection of the European brown bear. Arcturos, as we read on its website, is a civil, non-governmental and non-profit, environmental organization founded in 1992, that aims to protect wildlife and the natural environment in Greece and abroad. The rest, we would learn up close!
In addition to the Bear Shelter, Arcturos also has an Brown Bear Information Center, which we visited later in the day but was unfortunately closed, as well as the Wolf Shelter in Agrapidies, Florina.
To reach the Arcturos kiosk and the Bear Shelter, drive to a point in the village and from there continue on foot for about ten minutes on a easy trail. The route is simply magical: a rich beech forest with lush, tall trees, dense and shady, and various birds flying around us. We were already excited!
After walking for a while, taking our green photos, we arrived at the Arcturos kiosk. There one can buy souvenirs and financially support the organization. We saw, in fact, that one can adopt one of the bears we would get to know in the shelter and financially support its daily care. In return, Arcturos sends an adoption certificate, printed and photographic material, as well as regular news of the bear!
Outside the kiosk we met our tour guide, Mr. George Moustakis, who would talk to us about Arcturos organization and guide us to the Bear Shelter. So we headed to the first stop, a kiosk where the initial information of the visitors takes place. There, after introducing us to the NGO Arcturos, Mr. Moustakis told us that the Bear Shelter is part of the first National Bear Action Plan in Greece of 1993-1999, part of which concerned the captive bear, the one that used to dance at festivals.
This custom was born in India and was brought by nomads to Greece and all of Europe 200 years ago. The man took advantage of the bear’s upright posture and made it a street spectacle. They killed their mothers, caught young cubs and raised them under torture. In 1969, the possession of wild animals in Greece, the torture of a bear, exposure to public view and its murder were banned by law. During 1993-1996 the Police, the Forest Service and the Prosecutor’s Office undertook the detection and confiscation of such bears.
From 1996 until today, the bears that Arcturos has received are from zoos that close, pseudo-parks/pseudo-shelters, private ownership, from Greece and abroad. There are also some orphan bears that have never been part of their natural habitat.
As Mr. Moustakis told us, a bear can give birth from one to four times in the 25 years of its life. When the cub is young, the female operates as a single-parent family, training it for about 2.5 years, based on acquisition learning, with the aim of protecting it from another despotic bear in the area.
The bear in nature is a solitary species, which displaces or gets displaced, and has the bear as its only opponent. Classically it belongs to the carnivorous animals, consuming in a percentage of 88%, however, plants. For the bear it is complementary to turn to animals; as a superpredator it chooses those that require the least waste of energy and can be chased for a while, the sick, old, injured animals, especially turtles in our country, and animal carcasses. Therefore, in nature it helps sanitizing and leaving more food available to younger and healthier animals.
The Bear Shelter hosts a total of 16 bears, very carefully placed in five different sections, based on which ones fit together harmoniously. The bears are neutered, as as ex-captive or untrained animals they could not train their cubsj. They mate every May-June, as they should, without giving birth. In the fall they are given more food for fattening and hibernation for about 2.5 months, which they did not do in the places where they were.
The bears, therefore, come to this shelter to spend the rest of their lives there, in a natural environment and with natural behavior and adaptability. There are artificial houses in the area, but the bears have also dug earthen creations on their own, as they do when they are free in nature.
Something very interesting that our guide also told us is that in Europe for the wild animals the dominant mammal is man; that is why they have learned to avoid him and have become nocturnal since 200 years ago. If, of course, you are in a place where you can meet a bear, it is important to first inform the wildlife that you are coming, by being a group and talking lively to each other, have whistles and wear bright clothes. If you finally see a bear, you must show it your peaceful intentions and return to where you came from with gentle, calm steps. The bear must be the one that will have the initiative of the movements. 9 out of 10 times it will leave first and 1 in 10 times it may ask you
At Arcturos Shelter, of course, we were not in any such danger, since the bears are in a controlled area, so we could observe them at our own pace. Let’s see some more together!
Closing the very interesting tour, Mr. Moustakis told us that Arcturos offers accommodation to volunteers who wish to contribute to their work, something that would definitely be a unique experience! After learning all this, we observed the bears and took our photos, and then took the road back. We really could not get enough of the beautiful landscape! The rest of the day, of course, was just as tempting, since we would visit the Domaine Karanika and taste its famous champagne!
Our next destination was Domaine Karanika, which is located in the village of Levaia, at an altitude of 630 m. It is interesting that the village was named Levaia from the ancient city of Levaia, the first capital of the Macedonians. In fact, important archeological finds have been found in the village.
Domaine Karanika produces one of the best champagnes in our country. Sparkling wine is, of course, not a traditional Greek product. The success of this is due to the passion and know-how of the oenologist Mr. Laurens Hartman-Karanikas, whom we met outside his winery.
The first thing that Mr. Karanikas told us is that Xinomavro of Amyntaio is a grape that makes excellent wines. Domaine Karanika does not use any pesticides, but they take care to clean the vines themselves. So we could taste the grapes directly from the crate!
Mr. Karanikas told us that he considers grapes a very “lively” product, which can not have specifications. For example, this year there was no rain at all, so the grape will be very different from other years. In general, the production of Domaine Karanika is smaller than other estates, 40,000 bottles per year. This is because all work is done manually.
Entering the winery, Mr. Karanikas told us that the people who visit it come because they know about good wine and love champagne. He explained to us in detail the whole process of its preparation, starting from the fact that a champagne is a white or rosé wine with fizzling foam. Foaming can be done in a simple and economical way, inside the tank. At Karanika’s winery they apply another process, during which the foam is born inside the bottle. This is achieved by a second fermentation.
The winery’s tanks since the grapes’ picking until May-June are full of wines, which do not foam. Once they are bottled together with sugar and yeast, a second fermentation is caused in the bottle. The yeasts eat the sugar and in this way they make alcohol -the process of alcoholic fermentation- so the alcohol from 10% goes to 11-11.5%. In this process they also produce carbon dioxide.
To see the process up close we went down to the cellar of the winery, which was all full of bottles.
Mr. Karanikas told us that the yeasts, after eating all the sugar, die. This results in wine lees, which are very important for the aging and quality of the wine. Ideally they would like all the wines to be in the basement for seven years in contact with the wine lees. But because this is not possible, they sell the rosé after 12-16 months, the simple Cuvée Spéciale after 24 months and the special one after 5-7 years. Thanks to the method they apply the foam remains and the wine retains its aftertaste.
Turning a bottle, the wine lees created a very beautiful effect, which we photographed of course!
As soon as the bottles are ready, they put them on wooden surfaces and start turning them, one by one by hand. The goal is to push the lees out.
In order for the wine lees to come out, they freeze the bottle, open it, take them out and close it, and then put the cork and seal it. Then the champagne is ready to go on the market, which consists of award-winning restaurants in Greece and abroad, with Michelin stars. The sparkling wines of Domaine Karanikas travel to Europe, Australia, some states of America… One can also find them in specialized liquor stores. Half of the production is sent to Greece and the other half abroad.
Then we went to the upper floor of the winery, which has a wonderful view of the vineyard. We were very much looking forward to try the special champagne of the winery!
So, the time for the tasting had come … Mr. Karanikas served us two glasses of the dry sparkling wine Karanika Extra Brut Cuvée Spéciale, made from Xinomavro. The champagne had a small, very elegant bubble and a distinct, delicate taste, with the obvious acidity of Xinomavro, a taste we had never tasted before. A unique experience!
While we were enjoying our champagne, Mr. Karanikas told us a little more about his business and life. He told us that Domaine Karanika is a family business, run by him, together with his wife Annette. He himself came to Greece from the Netherlands, but is originally from Greece on his mother’s side. He is a winemaker and started the winery in 2008, during the financial crisis. The product he offers, however, is special, because it has a history behind it and because in Greece no one does it that way. It is highly regarded as a special alternative to French champagne. We wished him only success for his business and family!
Another goal had been achieved: we had tasted the famous Karanika’s champagne! So we returned to our room for a while and got ready for a walk in the village, in the direction of the church of Nymfaio, Agios Nikolaos and the Nikeios School. On our way, we passed the luxurious La Moara guesthouse to which we will also dedicate a part of our article. Of course we decided to go down to the village on foot, to enjoy the route!
As we mentioned in the first part of our article, La Moara is an emblematic guesthouse, the first to operate when the renaissance of Nymfaio began. It was built by Giannis Boutaris, then passed into the hands of a large company of diagnostic centers, then hit by the crisis and was rented, until 4-5 years ago Mr. Ioannis Iatridis took it. Since then he manages it with great success, making it a standard accommodation for the area. We always wish for the best!
Seeing photos from inside the guesthouse, we were impressed by the decoration, reminiscent of an old mansion, which is combined with an elegant luxury. As Mr. Ioannis told us, 7 out of 10 of the furniture of the guesthouse are antiques which were collected by Mrs. Athena, wife of Giannis Boutaris and restored by the priest of the village, who is an antiquarian. All the lamps are hers, handmade.
In addition to the rooms of La Moara, there are two traditional one and two bedroom maisonettes, at a distance of 200 meters from the guesthouse, in a traditional residential complex at the highest point of Nymfaio, with fantastic views.
In addition to the wonderful interiors, La Moara has a very large courtyard, full of flowers, with ivy on the fences. Many weddings take place there; they rent the outdoor space and rooms for a weekend and set up the space with a catering service. Although weddings are usually planned for summer, they have taken place in the winter in a very different setting, inside the guesthouse with the warmth of the fireplaces.
The La Moara guesthouse is awesome! Continuing our walk, we descended to the church of Nymfaio, the beautiful Agios Nikolaos. Around the church is the cemetery of the village, where we were told that we will see tombs so old that they reach up to the 18th century! In an inscription on the church we read that the surrounding area of the church was designed and built at the expense of Nikolaos Sossidis, one of the benefactors of the village whom Mr. Ioannis had spoken to us about at the Argyro Guesthouse in the first part of our article.
In another inscription we read that the church was built in 1385 and rebuilt in 1867, thus constituting a memorable post-Byzantine monument. It was set on fire by the guerrillas in 1947 and became an “altar of holocaust for its defenders”. In 1951 it was rebuilt with the help of Nikolaos Mertzos, another of the benefactors of Nymfaio. The youngest benefactor, Nikolaos Sossidis, in turn restored and brightened the church, making it the jewel we see today.
We read on the internet that the mosaics outside and inside the church are inspired by the Byzantine frescoes of the Macedonian School, and that is why the mosaics are made of natural materials, marble, stones, pebbles and ceramic tiles made by the hagiographers themselves. Thus, the result is harmonious with the dimensions of the church, the natural landscape and the Macedonian tradition.
We left the tranquility of the surrounding area of the church and continued taking a walk in the cobbled streets of the village. Among the picturesque houses of Nymfaio, the building that dominates is the Nikeios School, the old school of the village.
Arriving at the Nikeios School we saw an impressive building and wanted to learn its history. We read, then, that the Nikeios School was built in 1928 with a donation from the benefactor Ioannis Zan Nikos, to designs that he brought from Sweden. During the interwar period, a Half-Gymnasium, as it was called then, operated at the Nikeios School, with 400 children. The Half-Gymnasium operated until 1941, while until 1980 the Primary School was hosted there.
The Nikeios School was restored with the help and cooperation of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and functioned as a model conference center. Since 1998, the Brown Bear Information Center of the NGO Arcturos has been hosted on its premises, the shelter of which we had visited in the morning.
At the Nikeios School, as our tour guide told us at the Bear Shelter in the morning, there is a more complete presentation of the organization’s work, with exhibits and a video screening.One can be informed there about the evolution of the brown bear, its geographical distribution, biology, ecology but also the dangers it faces as a species and of course the ways in which they can be dealt with. Unfortunately, on the days when we were in Nymfaio the center was closed… Next time!
Our afternoon walk in the streets and points of interest of Nymfaio had pleased us a lot, as we filled our lungs with fresh air and our eyes with calm, beautiful images. So, we went up to our guesthouse to get ready for our night out for lunch. This time we chose to stay in the village and try the local restaurant Diporto. And we did very well!
The cafe-bar-restaurant Diporto is located right at the entrance of Nymfaio. It is housed in a stone-built building complex, together with the Linouria Guesthouse, one of the first guesthouses built by Giannis Boutaris in the village. In the area of the restaurant we were welcomed by Mr. George Boutaris, who is the owner of the restaurant Diporto, the guest house Linouria and the cafe-bar Ati in the center of Nymfaio.
As soon as we entered the restaurant, we were attracted by its beautiful colors, but also a wall with a wolf and a bear, painted with great vivacity. In front of them there were bottles of local wines, which, together with the green nature and the rich fauna, are among the trademarks of the area.
The Diporto restaurant serves grilled dishes, as well as awesome dishes of the day, made with local ingredients. The menu suggested by Mr. Boutaris had everything: salad, appetizers, local wine of the Amyntaio Cooperative, a grilled dish and a dish of the day, and of course dessert. It was all wonderful and we thank them so much for the warm welcome and the delicious dinner!
With our wonderful meal in Diporto we will say goodbye to Nymfaio. Our next base will be Old Agios Athanasios, the “stone village” as it is called, at the foot of Mount Kaimaktsalan. Our next articles are coming and will have many new images, flavors and experiences!
Read first each of our new articles!
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