We spent two amazing days in Western Macedonia based in Nymfaio, but our journey was still in the beginning! We packed our bags and got in the car in the direction of Old Agios Athanasios of Pella, now passing to Central Macedonia. However, because there were still places that we wanted to see in Western Macedonia, we would use Old Agios Athanasios as a base for our nearby travels that would reach as far as Florina!
Read in the two parts of our article about everything we did while based in Nymfaio:
In the first part of our travel article while based in Old Agios Athanasios we stay in the picturesque Metohi Inn and drink coffee with a unique view at the Peri Anemon cafe, learning about the Edessa Gliding Club. George also goes hiking on Mount Kaimaktsalan, aiming to reach the Serbian Church, and at the end of the day, George and Eliza have lunch at the excellent Kalyva Tavern in Old Agios Athanasios.
Old Agios Athanasios is located in the Regional Unit of Pella of Central Macedonia, on the border with Western Macedonia. It is 54 km from Nymfaio, from which we started, that is, a one-hour drive. The route was amazing with fantastic views and green nature, culminating in the part of the route next to Lake Vegoritida, the third largest lake in Greece.
Shortly before reaching our final destination, we passed the area of Arnissa, which is located at the foot of Mount Vora (Kaimaktsalan). There we saw large areas with apple trees full of red, delicious apples, the famous Kaimaktsalan apples, as they told us later. We also saw green apples and peaches. In our subsequent discussions, we were told that in the area 90% of the inhabitants are farmers and work a lot with cherry and peach, while now was the apple season.
And so, we arrived at the “stone village” as Old Agios Athanasios is called and we immediately found out why. Old Agios Athanasios is a traditional preserved settlement at the foot of Mount Kaimaktsalan, at an altitude of 1200 m. What at first glance characterizes the village is a uniformity in its buildings, examples of local Macedonian architecture made of stone and tile, which creates a harmonious feeling. We were sure that we would spend three completely relaxing and unique days.
Wanting to learn a few things about the history of the village we visited a GNTO (Greek National Tourism Organisation) website dedicated to Old Agios Athanasios. There we read that the village was built at the end of the 16th century, probably by Epirus cattle breeders and builders and was the eastern border of the zone that was under the control of Ali Pasha of Ioannina. From the late 1950s, due to harsh weather conditions, lack of medical care and lack of transportation, residents began looking for a location to create a new village. In the early 1980s they created the settlement of New Agios Athanasios, at a distance of 5 km from the old village.
The people of the Metohi Inn that would host us later told us the continuation of the story. Thanks to the creation of the Kaimaktsalan ski centre in the 1990s, the village came to life again. Picturesque guesthouses, good restaurants, cafes and bars started operating. So it gradually became a cosmopolitan mountain destination.
We would also stay in one of the most beautiful guesthouses. For the next three days we would be hosted by the Metohi Inn, in the center of the traditional settlement. Part of the guesthouse is housed in an old mansion, while the whole is completely renovated, with three mini suites, two double rooms, three standard rooms and three independent maisonettes.
We were awaited at the guesthouse by the owners, Mr. Nektarios Voliotis and Mrs. Ioanna Arseniou. They welcomed us to the village and their guesthouse and accompanied us to one of its maisonettes.
Our maisonette was a delight! With a strong traditional “rustic” feel, bright warm colors, stone and wood, the spaces had a wonderful, welcoming feeling. Downstairs there was a beautiful living room next to an energy fireplace that would definitely be a treat on cold winter nights. Of course, there were also modern amenities, TV, refrigerator, but also a surprise – a hydromassage bathtub in the bathroom! What else could we ask for?!
We went up to the wooden attic of the maisonette and tried directly the comfortable bed with the cool sheets and the soft blanket, which we would need since, as we would soon find out, the night is cold even in September in this area! The house was so beautiful that we could spend the whole day relaxing inside, but of course we had so much to discover outside, so we postponed the resting for the night…
So we left our things in the room and got ready for our first day in the village. Mr. Nektarios and Mrs. Ioanna, in addition to the Metohi Inn, have other businesses in Old Agios Athanasios, one of which is the cafeteria – and future guesthouse – Peri Anemon, which we would visit immediately after.
Peri Anemon is a new project of Mrs. Ioanna. It is located on the road that leads from Old Agios Athanasios to the Edessa Gliding Club, on the site of an older hotel. There we met Mrs. Ioanna, who offered us a coffee and told us about their story.
First of all, we had to admit how wonderful the view was! Mrs. Ioanna told us that the landscape that stretched in front of us was the area of Arnissa and Lake Vegoritida, through which we had passed as we were coming. This view was one of the main reasons why she decided to create this cafe.
So we sat at a shady table and Mrs. Ioanna told us about their lives. She told us that Mr. Nektarios comes from Kavala, while she comes from Thessaloniki. 6 years ago they came to Old Agios Athanasios for 10 days, fell in love with it and stayed! They have been dealing with tourism for 5 years. First they built the Aroma Elatis guesthouse, which we saw at a short distance from Metohi Inn, the next year they opened Metohi Inn, the next year the Konaki guesthouse and now Peri Anemon. They also have a shop with gifts and local products from the Arnissa Cooperative, which is located next to Metohi Inn.
We asked Mrs. Ioanna about tourism in the village and she told us that it is very crowded especially in winter. In summer the guesthouses used to be closed. Mrs. Ioanna, however, thought that the place is wonderful for the summer as well, so she dared to stay open even then. And she did very well, since as she told us she had several reservations from the beginning and we will agree that Old Agios Athanasios is a beautiful, cool place for summer! In the summer, people who prefer the mountain to the sea come there, 80% of whom are tourists from abroad; many visitors are Serbs, who come to visit the Prophitis Ilias Church, the Serbian Church at the top of Mount Kaimaktsalan, about which we will talk later.
A move that will bring even more tourism to the area, Mrs. Ioanna told us, is the operation of the asphalt runway for small planes of the Edessa Gliding Club. There is still the thought of using the lake to land seaplanes. We hope that everything that will help the place and its inhabitants more will be put into practice!
Mrs. Ioanna also informed us that they do extreme sports in the area and suggested that we try. George wanted very much and arranged to do so, but unfortunately that day the weather was rainy and the flights were canceled. Next time!
Of course, we can not miss talking about how fantastic the pools of Peri Anemon are. It was already a bit cold, but imagine if it would be summer and you would lay relaxed in the cool water overlooking the huge lake, as far as the eye can see… Although we did not get in, we enjoyed the landscape and… Eliza plunged her feet for a while!
We loved Peri Anemon so much that we decided to visit it the next day, a little later this time, to see the incredible view at dusk. So, wearing our nice clothes this time, we left the guesthouse that hosted us for another coffee in our favorite cafeteria!
While drinking our coffee at Peri Anemon, we met Mr. Makis Konstantinidis, who spoke to us in detail about the Edessa Gliding Club. He told us that the club operates with the permission of the Hellenic Civil Aviation Authority and can provide graduate pilots with a state degree, after passing the exams of the Hellenic Civil Aviation Authority. There is a very good prospect for the development of the Gliding Club, as clubs, organized groups that ask to do their training there, but also individuals come from abroad.
Everyone can come to the Edessa Gliding Club and enjoy all the beauties of the area with their family. An individual can make a test flight and then enroll in school if he or she wants to graduate. When he does the 40 training flights, he should be ready to fly on his own to go for an exam. He will also do theoretical courses, air navigation, meteorology, technical knowledge, in which he will also be examined.
Mr. Konstantinidis also told us that historically in the region took place the Battle of Kaimaktsalan of World War I between the Bulgarian and Serbian forces. We will refer to it later in more detail when we talk about the Serbian Church!
We spent our afternoon with a pleasant chat and cool coffee, until it started to get dark, so it was time to go to the famous restaurant Naoumidis to try his Golden Hat award-winning trout, and not only… these in the second part of our article coming soon!
But let’s go back to our first day at Old Agios Athanasios, since we still have a lot to show you! After drinking our coffees and enjoying the beautiful view and fresh air, we decided to attempt something we really wanted to do: climb Mount Kaimaktsalan, the third largest mountain range in Greece, at 2,524 m, and see the Serbian Church, or else the church of Prophitis Ilias, up close!
We had seen this special church in photos, and we had read its history… We learned that it was built in the 1920s, on the site given by the Greeks to the Serbs to create a monument dedicated to their dead from the battle that took place there in 1916. In this area there are still the skulls of the dead Serbian soldiers.
As for the history, we read that this battle between the Serbs and the Bulgarians took place from 12 to 30 September 1916. During that period the summit changed hands several times, until it was finally occupied by the Serbs on 30 September. The losses were huge for both sides. This is one of the rare times that a military conflict has occurred at a very high altitude. And the result was that strategically the battle did not intensify the Allied Powers’ struggle because of the coming winter which made further military operations almost impossible.
We were informed that the hike to the church takes 1-1½ hours and it was something we really wanted to do. So we got in the car and went up to the ski centre of Kaimaktsalan, from where we would start our hike.
The drive is already incredibly enchanting, even if one does not intend to hike to the chapel. Landscapes like paintings were spreading around us and the higher we went, the more beautiful, but also wilder they became. Cows and horses were grazing on the slopes, looking completely lonely in the silent calmness of the mountain…
After half an hour of magical drive we arrived at the Voras-Kaimaktsalan Ski Center. We were told that we had to leave the car there and continue on foot.
The instruction they had given us was to follow the pillars that defined a path on the mountain. Seeing the somewhat wild landscape, the somewhat past hour and the lack of a marked path, Eliza decided that it was wiser to stay in the car so as not to delay George on the hike, before night came. George started the hike to the top of Kaimaktsalan and the Serbian Church.
A photoreport from George’s hike on Mount Kaimaktsalan:
Having, of course, been left alone in the car with the only company of cows, which in the wilderness of the mountain had begun to look even threatening, one could say, Eliza began to be a little scared. So, she called George and asked him to come back… George was already very close to the church, but he finally came back.
George and Eliza reunited in the car, without either of them reaching the top of the high mountain. It will be an adventure that awaits them next time, and this time they will succeed!
We managed to pass by the cows and returned to the Metohi Inn to prepare for our night out. Since it was our first day in the village, we had decided to try a good local restaurant, Kalyva Tavern. By the way, we took a night walk in the village, which illuminated had another glamor…
A short distance from our guesthouse we found Kalyva Tavern. The tavern is located next to the Archontiko Tarsouna, of the same owners, on the main road of the village. Operating since 1998, it is one of the first restaurants in the area.
The restaurant area is very warm, made of stone and wood, as it suits the settlement in which it is located. Its menu includes tempting appetizers and fine meats on the grill or in the hull, cooked with fresh, local ingredients, with love and passion; that is exactly what one asks for from a good tavern in a traditional village! Kalyva Tavern also has a rich wine cellar with quality Greek wines, as well as their own white, red and semi-sweet wine. We were looking forward to try it!
We know that when you see them you will want to try them too, so we will try to show the rich flavors we enjoyed through our photos… They were all perfect, and especially the meats had a taste that is hard to find! We thank them very much for the delicious dinner and the warm hospitality!
Once again we will close in a sweet way as we like to do! Following comes the second part of our article based in Old Agios Athanasios, which finds us at the Metohi Inn, at the Evora Cafe in Panagitsa and the nearby waterfalls, at the Naoumidis family’s processing unit of innovative products from Florina peppers, as well as at the award-winning Naoumidis restaurant in Agios Panteleimonas. Stay tuned!
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