A journey ends… in Veria! In our last article from our great travel tribute to Western and Central Macedonia we drink cocktails at the Elia complex, visit the Byzantine and Archaeological Museum of Veria, try the awesome cuisine of Vergiotiko, eat breakfast at Kriaras, learn about Dryas truffle products and make one last stop at Panagia Soumela before returning to our base in Athens.
Read the first part of our article about Veria:
We left you at night in the first part of our article about Veria and at night we will find you again, since our night had a continuation, for a drink at the Delante Bar in the Elia complex in Elias Square.
Delante Bar has the most beautiful view… It is located on the “balcony of Imathia” and the whole plain of Imathia stretches below it. At night the lights create a romantic atmosphere, which in combination with good music and quality cocktails was unforgettable! At Delante you can drink your coffee early, with many choices of espresso and cappuccino and later choose between beer, wine, drink, classic cocktail or even some signature cocktail of the store; we chose among them and they were fantastic!
Luna Roja with vodka, sanguine syrup, fresh lime juice, strawberry puree and grapefruit soda and Jack Sparrow with rum, passion fruit puree, ginger, apple puree and fresh lime juice are our choices!
In the complex, where the Delante Bar is located, we were welcomed by the kind daughter of the owner and manager of the complex, Mr. Efi Ziambouli. She explained that the complex consists of individual shops, Kori, the summer restaurant Balcony, the cafe Panorama, the 24 hour with bougatsa, sweets and take away, the winter restaurant Masna and an event hall inside which birthdays, weddings, baptisms, speeches, etc take place.
Delante is a modern bar, with a summer character, since it is located in such a privileged position, but also with an elegant interior, which will definitely be wonderful in winter, when evenings with guest DJs are organized. It is a really quality place for an evening drink that will have everything: enchanting atmosphere, good drinks, rhythmic music that captivates you, comfortable seats to relax in the evening hours, incredible views and friendly people that make you feel comfortable and happy!
Leaving the Delante Bar, late at night, we walked the streets of the city until we reached our hotel, the Kokkino Spiti Boutique Hotel, and made a stop to admire a historic church, the Old Cathedral of Veria. It is one of the largest mid-Byzantine temples in the Balkans, as we have learned, built in the decade 1070-1080 by the bishop of the city of Nikita. The figure shows similarities with the early Christian church of Agios Dimitrios in Thessaloniki.
The church has a very impressive architecture: it incorporates early Christian elements, giving the impression of an ancient church, with a great mural decoration, with some of the most important Byzantine paintings of the 12th, 13th and 14th century.
After a quarter walk from the Elia complex to our hotel, we arrived at the Kokkino Spiti, which is very nicely lit at night. We quickly headed to our own building, one of the three listed buildings that the Kokkino Spiti has restored, and enjoyed a deep and restful sleep after a day full of acquaintances, experiences, images and tastes.
The next morning the Kokkino Spiti breakfast awaited us, in the elegant, beautifully decorated area of its dining room. With old furniture, wooden floors and ceilings, small wooden tables and a large fireplace in the main area, the atmosphere was friendly and warm, perfect to start your day.
The Kokkino Spiti offers an elegant breakfast with local and seasonal products: bread, butter, homemade jams, honey, cheese, turkey, smoked pork, egg, tomato, olives, homemade cake, yogurt, nuts, cereals and fruit. The hotel offers an online service, where you choose from the previous day what you want to include in your breakfast. We, of course, chose them all!
The continuation of the day had history and archeology. We visited the Byzantine and the Archaeological Museum of the city, but unfortunately we are not allowed to publish our photos, so we will give you an image through photos from the internet.
The Byzantine Museum is housed in an industrial building of the early 20th century, the water-powered flour mill of Stergios Markos, since 2002. Through the permanent exhibition, but also periodic exhibitions, it promotes the history of Veria in the Byzantine, post-Byzantine and Ottoman times. Museum-pedagogical programs also take place in the museum, which during the pandemic are done for schools remotely.
The exhibits of the museum are of unique religious, artistic and historical value. The exhibition spans three floors, with each floor being a separate unit. The exhibits, icons, murals, sculptures, mosaic floors, coins, manuscripts and much more, emerge with a modern museological approach, with few showcases and a carefully designed lighting that differs depending on the exhibits, creating a sense of contemplation to the visitor.
After spending some time inside the museum, we continued our wandering in the streets of Veria. Near the Byzantine Museum, we came by Saint Savvas of Kyriotissa, one of the most important Byzantine monuments of the city. As we read, it was built in the middle of the 14th century and underwent successive reconstructions until the beginning of the 19th century. From the original temple, only the eastern wall has been preserved, the dividing walls of the area of the intention and the deaconry, as well as the niche of the sanctuary with the impressive exterior ceramic decoration.
Continuing our walk we reached the new Holy Temple of Agioi Anargyroi, a newer church that was built from 1957 to 1962, as we learned.
Walking to the Archaeological Museum of Veria we passed a very interesting open-air exhibition, in the courtyard of the museum, free for the public. The exhibition was set up in June 2021 with findings from the area, we were later told at the Archaeological Museum. It is a “wall of memory”, as they used to have in the villages in the good hall of the house with souvenir photos, which in this case are tombstones dating from the 4th century BC until the 4th century AD, “Ancient photographs” carved in marble that tell the story of the people of Veria, men and women.
Then we arrived at the Archaeological Museum of Veria, from which we are still not allowed to publish photos. The Archaeological Museum was founded in the early 1960s to house antiquities from the law of Imathia, and was renovated in 2009. In the permanent exhibition the visitor can see findings from the Neolithic era to the Hellenistic and Roman periods, with the majority coming from the period of prosperity of the Macedonian Kingdom.
The museum exhibits are stunning and reflect the huge history of the place. We hope through some photos from the internet we can mobilize you to visit the museum, if you are in the city!
After a trip to the archeology and history of the city, all we needed was a cup of coffee and a dessert. That’s why we decided to sit down to rest in one of the shops of the Elia complex, the Kori cafe.
At the Kori cafe bar we could choose from a wide variety of coffees, mainly espresso and cappuccino, freshly squeezed juices, soft drinks, and for later hours beers, wines, drinks and cocktails. We chose coffees and the dear Mrs. Evi Ziampouli offered us their wonderful handmade ravani to sweetly accompany our coffee, and we thank her warmly for the warm hospitality in their shops!
In Elias square, where the complex is located, the element of olives is dominant. We photographed an olive tree that was planted in 2004 and is part of the World Olive Wreath that surrounds the planet along the 2004 torchlight procession. We also read that very recently, in November, after our trip, an age-old and a centuries-old olive tree were planted in this area. A wonderful initiative!
Such a pleasant day had to end in the best way: a special meal in a great restaurant. That’s why we visited Vergiotiko, where we became friends with the chef and owner Nikos Malliaras. The chef sat at our table for a long time after we finished our meal, and we had a very long conversation, in which he spoke to us with great love about his restaurant, his life, and the chefs, Greeks and foreigners he admires.
Vergiotiko opened in Veria in 1997. Its philosophy is based on fresh meat and local products, with a Mediterranean cuisine based on tradition, harmonized with modern reality. From 2018 it is awarded as one of the 8 best meat restaurants in Greece according to the FNL guide. The restaurant is housed in a very impressive space, in the recess of a large rock under the old city walls. It also has a very nice courtyard, with a watermill in the background and fantastic views.
Mr. Malliaras told us that the restaurant was opened by his father-in-law, Mr. Antonis, who was a chef, one of the pioneers in Macedonian cuisine. His wife is the third generation of cooks, her grandfather was also one of the greatest cooks. Mr. Malliaras’s father-in-law in the restaurant combined Greek-French cuisine and worked a lot with good wines. When he came to work in his restaurant he was very impressed by the quality of the ingredients and the way it worked. The shop is now operated by Mr. Malliaras and his wife. He is a butcher, but he also cooks.
The basis of the restaurant is the beef; it is one of the first shops to mature. They have influences from French techniques, and they have the materials in the foreground. They work on the basis of the “100 miles diet”, ie they procure their raw materials from nearby places, thus helping the producers. It is also one of the first restaurants in Greece that operate based on the philosophy “nose to tail”, which means that they utilize the whole animal, aiming at sustainability. Many times the tail, for example, can be tastier than the steak. The restaurant serves close to 12 to 14 cuts – it is one of the few restaurants in our country that does this. The menu is limited to 25-30 dishes every day and their goal is to make people aware of the various cuts that exist.
As for wines they have close to 70 labels, from 100% Greek vineyard, with 85% being local production starring Xinomavro. The utensils they use are handmade ceramics and wine glasses from leading companies abroad, but also from a Greek creator.
Mr. Malliaras told us that he is quite influenced by Basque cuisine, since he has done some stages in San Sebastian. He is a fan of this cuisine, as well as French. In Vergiotiko they use modern techniques, such as sous vide, smoking and dehydration. The restaurant has come out second best in Greece and this year it was a candidate for the Chrysos Skoufos, which it of course deserves it! The restaurant’s customers come again and again to eat its dishes, and that for its people is the greatest reward. The main thing is for people to be happy! Their main desire in Vergiotiko is to train the new generation of cooks and to contribute to Greek gastronomy.
After 14 years abroad, Mr. Malliaras thinks that our country is at an excellent level in terms of quality-price and our parts are not inferior to any of their counterparts abroad. In Greece it has many favorite restaurants – in Corfu, for example, which he recently visited has 3-4 amazing shops. And in Athens he has restaurants that he has visited and remembers for years. Abroad, his favorite destination is Paris with its Michelin-starred bistros.
Then Mr. Malliaras spoke to us about the chefs who have influenced him. For example, he learned many things about maturation from a Florentine chef and Mr. Aris Vezene. In Paris, one of his favorites is the bistro Le Chateaubriand, with chef Iñaki Aizpirtarte. From San Sebastian, his God is the chef Victor Arguinzoniz of Asador Extebarri, who specializes in smoking.
The table that Mr. Malliaras made for us was really fantastic. Especially his meats were something else, one of the most delicious we have tasted, something that shows that they are prepared with great care and respect for the raw material, combined with love and passion. But what can we say, see for yourselves!
Our beautiful conversation was accompanied by the rosé wine of the Fountis Estate from selected vineyards of Macedonia, and of course our favorites, the wonderful sweets of Vergiotikos. We have to admit that we were so absorbed in our conversation that we forgot to take pictures of the fantastic sweets we tasted! Fortunately, Mr. Malliaras sent us his photos and we can share them with you!
And so, after another enjoyable sleep, came the last morning of our trip… We felt a sadness that it was ending, since we had an honestly incredibly good time in Macedonia, but at the same time we were full of joy for so many beautiful things we did and the good people we met! We had not eaten Macedonian bougatsa yet, however, and this should not be left as a pending… So, we went to Kriaras, for a hearty traditional breakfast…
Kriaras is a chain of cafes / patisseries in the city of Veria with quality pastries, delicious bougatsa, coffees and other breakfast items that has been operating in the city since 1971. In its shops you will find a wide variety of bougatsa: with cream, cheese, spinach , minced meat, ham, chicken, spicy and fasting. From traditional sweets, tulubes, lukumades, curcubinia, triangles, cornets, babas, tarts, rice puddings, cakes, ravani, baklava, kadaifi, saragli, galaktoboureko, but also more modern sweets, a great variety really.
We chose bougatsa with minced meat, spinach and cheese, and for sweet tulubes. It was all delicious!
It was time to leave the beautiful city of Veria, but we wanted to make another stop. In the city there is an excellent company with truffle products, the Dryas Greek Truffle. In their workshop we met the owner, Mr. George Mediroglou, who told us about their business, and his wife, Mrs. Daphne Branioti, an agronomist.
They started in 2008, Mr. Mediroglou told us, with the cultivation of truffles, then they traded in truffle products from England and Italy -there were no Greek ones- and little by little they started to make their own. Their business is doing very well in Greece and mainly abroad. It produces pure products, without preservatives, with high quality. The truffle they use is also cultivated, but most of it is wild, by hunters from all over Greece, mainly from Northern Greece.
One obstacle they face is that truffle is a special product, which is not easy to get into the diet, especially of the Greeks. Due to its very special smell there is no middle ground, you will either love it or hate it. For us, however, the truffle is our great love!
The company also cooperates with restaurants, which it supplies with large packages of truffle products. Some individual products, such as mustard or truffle mayonnaise are more for consumers. The restaurant will take, for example, a liter of truffle oil and 1 kilo of truffle slices.
Truffle products are not as expensive as people think, because fresh truffles are expensive. Even for the fresh truffle, however, the year and the variety play a role; the cheapest is the summer’s black, then the autumn’s black and in winter the expensive ones, the winter’s black and the winter’s white begin. Also, depending on the year, the price varies: if it does not have a lot of truffles, it will be expensive, if it has a lot, the price will drop a lot. If the year is dry, it does not have much rain, it will have very much truffle. The truffle is difficult to get out and is always sold to order; first they take the order and then the hunter goes out to find the truffle, since in a week the truffle spoils.
Dryas Greek Truffle products can be found, therefore, in restaurants and delicatessens throughout Greece. In summer they send to the islands and in winter to the big cities. We will definitely look for them!
The workshop smelled great, we really did not want to leave! However, it was time to take the road back… Fortunately, however, we had another stop in the program, a place we really wanted to visit, Panagia Soumela. The Holy Pilgrimage is located in the village of Kastania on Mount Vermio, at a distance of 19 km from Veria, 20 minutes by car. We loaded our suitcases and left!
Panagia Soumela is a famous sacred pilgrimage that was founded in 1951 as a continuation of the monastery of Panagia Soumela in Pontos, which for 16 centuries was the center of Pontian Hellenism. The monastery was located in a cave of Mount Mela in Trebizond, at an altitude of 1063 m and was really beautiful, as we can see from the photos. According to what we read, it was founded in 386 AD by two monks after the revelation of the Virgin Mary.
Near the cave we learned that a panoramic four-storey guest house with 72 rooms and other functional spaces for the needs of the pilgrims was built in 1860, as well as a library. Still, small temples were built dedicated to various saints around the monastery. The Trebizond Tutoring Center initially operated in the monastery.
The monastery had the Komnenians as great benefactors, but it also received many attacks from robbers and foreigners. Many of the privileges enjoyed by the monastery from the Komnenians continued during the Turkish occupation. In the monastery they were keeping political documents and ancient manuscripts, such as the first Greek manuscript of Digenis Akritas.
The complete destruction in 1922 by the Neo-Turks was a huge blow… Since 1986 the monastery has been operating as a museum. In 2010, for the first time in the history of the monastery Patriarchal Divine Liturgy took place in which Patriarch Bartholomew excelled. In 2021, Panagia Soumela reopened to the public, after its closure due to the pandemic, and as we learned, parts of the complex that had not been visited before now were opened, such as the secret chapel, which was probably built in the first half of the 18th century. After restoration works, 12 buildings were restored and many tons of dangerous rocks were removed, and also the path leading to the monastery was improved.
In order to honor the Virgin Soumela of Pontus, the sacred pilgrimage in Kastania was built. In 1951 the association “Panagia Soumela” was founded. As the people of the pilgrimage explained to us, it is an institution with a board of directors, which has been chaired since 2010 by the most respected metropolitan of Veria, Naoussa and Campania.
The Holy Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is open to the public every day, and inside it there take place Liturgies and Sequences. It was inaugurated in 1986, on the Sunday of Pentecost.
Inside the Holy Temple is kept a great icon, the history of which shocked us. This is the first image made by the Evangelist Luke of the Virgin Mary around the 1st century AD, a miraculous image engraved on wood, in which the signs of time are visible. Think how the Evangelist created the image having seen the Virgin Mary himself! It was a portable image, which he carried with him. In total, the Evangelist Luke painted 74 icons of the Virgin Mary, the people of the administration of the Pilgrimage told us, one of which, the one we have the great pleasure to see at the Pilgrimage of Kastania, together with two others were created while the Virgin Mary was alive.
Initially, the icon was called Panagia Athiniotissa, because after the death of the Evangelist, his student Ananias transported it to Athens. However, in the 4th century AD it miraculously transported itself to Pontus, where it was found by the monks Barnabas and Sophronius after the appearance of the Virgin in their sleep. Then they founded the monastery of Panagia Soumela in Trebizond, building a cell on the rock and then a church.
Shortly before the uprooting of the Greeks of Pontus in 1922, the monks of the monastery of Panagia Soumela in Trebizond buried the treasures of the monastery, the icon of the Virgin, the cross of Manuel III Komnenos with the sacred wood and the Gospel of Saint Christopher, in the chapel of St. Barbara, one km away from the monastery. In 1930, thanks to diplomatic efforts between Greece and Turkey, on the initiative of Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos, they were found and handed over to the Greek delegation, which transferred them to the Byzantine Museum until 1951, when Panagia Soumela was erected in Kastania. The icon was brought to the monastery by the monk Ambrosios.
In Greece there were the Pontians, but there was no Pontus. Pontus came together with the image of Panagia Soumela.Eleftherios Venizelos
The people of the administration of the Holy Pilgrimage had the kindness to receive us in their offices. We were told that the first buildings of the Holy Pilgrimage were the small stone temple and the bell tower. The big temple is much later. The Holy Pilgrimage is not really a monastery, but is called everywhere a monastery of honor, like the Panagia of Tinos; in Pontus it was a male monastery, but in Kastania it has only political staff, it is a Legal Entity under Public Law.
They also told us key points in the history of the Pilgrimage. In 1950 the Association “Panagia Soumela” was established in Thessaloniki and the location was found in Kastania, while in 1952 the icon of the Virgin Mary came. In 1987 came the cross with the Gospel. They wanted the location found to be similar to the location of Trebizond, to be mountainous, to bring back memories.
The historic church that was built with the creation of the Holy Pilgrimage is the small stone one that is located next to the Holy Church of the Assumption of the Virgin, we were told. Of course, we went in to say our prayers and worship.
In the open space of the Pilgrimage is the historic Agiasma of the Monastery of Panagia Soumela, with a stone cross of the year 383 AD. Inside the white marble of the trough, the faithful leave crosses.
Behind the big church, we were told, is the bust of Chrysanthos Filippidis, the last Metropolitan of Trebizond, who refused to swear in the pro-German government in ’42 and was fired for this reason. He died in 1949 and his bones and the bust are in the area. Below are the tombs of Filonas Ktenidis, Panagiotis Tanimanidis and the monk Ambrosios. A tribute has been made to Leonidas Iasonidis, Minister with an important role in the transfer of the relics of the monastery of Pontus.
Panagia Soumela in Kastania is one of the largest pilgrimage destinations in our country, with a large attendance of believers in spring, summer and autumn, culminating in the feast of Virgin Mary on the 15th of August. In winter it is more difficult to access, as it snows. To serve the people, hotels and shops have been set up in the surrounding area, in one of which we sat down to drink coffee. Of course, we also bought souvenirs for our loved ones.
So beautifully ended our fantastic journey. We returned to Athens with really huge material, which we tried to transfer to our articles… We hope we were able to give you a taste of the beauties of the regions of Western and Central Macedonia and to mobilize you to make this journey; we will do it again soon for sure! Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for following us on our journey and we continue dynamically based in Athens, until our next trip…. Christmas in Messolonghi!
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