Route 1: The town and the ski resorts
Your first impression of Arachova may be that of a developed town with plenty of accommodation choices, traditional or modern restaurants and tavernas, and countless ski shops in the winter; in summary, a town always full of people and energy, especially on winter weekends. True enough, but its most fascinating aspects lie far beyond that first impression.
The town itself is extraordinarily charming and–especially during quiet weekday mornings–has a quaint side to it, featuring picturesque old districts, beautiful gray-stone houses, magnificent mountain views, and historical churches, such as the dominant Agios Georgios church at the top of the town. Walking around the main town and taking in the scenery will undoubtedly be part of your daily routine, and we encourage you to venture off into little side streets or stairs off the main road, discovering picturesque alleys and open spaces with breathtaking mountain views, blending in with the Greeks while sipping hot chocolate or Greek coffee in the local cafes, or dining on tasty Greek food in one of the main town’s tavernas and restaurants. Those are the simple pleasures that Arachova grants to its guests, and the town’s culture will draw you to discover them almost immediately upon your arrival.
The trademark of Arachova is its central road splitting the town in half, filled with shops that sell hand-woven goods, rugs, embroideries, and various souvenirs. Within the many local groceries you will find the local specialty food products, such as chilopites (a traditional kind of pasta), honey, sausages, and local cheese. Arachova’s famed delicacy is called formaela: a variety of cheese that is especially tasty when baked. Since customs officials may object to some of these fine food items entering your home country, you are lucky that a lot of the wonderful local tavernas offer dishes made out of those local products (not to mention the fine meat you will find in the area). Of course, access to the international press could not be missing from Arachova: you will find a variety of foreign newspapers at the cozy News Stand on the main road.
Arachova and the other villages of Mt. Parnassos have been hit by a massive construction wave in recent years, especially over the past decade. Today, you will see various villas, mansions, and wooden houses that have joined the dark pine forests of the mountain: those are the weekend getaway houses of wealthy Athenians that have chosen this beautiful area as their private retreat. Other than Arachova’s inherent beauty, the other reason for its development has been its proximity to Parnassos, the biggest and most popular ski resort of Greece. The most frequented ski slopes are located in Fterolaka and Kelaria, with a total of 20 ski slopes and 14 lifts, chalets, as well as all necessary infrastructure, cafes, and restaurants. There is also a smaller skiing area at Gerontovrachos with 3 ski slopes. Simply by asking the locals or the hotel staff, you are certain to pick the slope that is right for you, as long as the weather is on your side and snow has filled the slopes! Close to Arachova on the way to Parnassos, you will pass by Livadi (Field), an area on a small valley that has flourished in recent years and now hosts several tavernas, villas, and cafes.
Even some Greeks may be fooled into believing that Mount Parnassos is all about its ski slopes and colorful crowds, but after seeing the wonderful scenery it will come as no surprise to you that one of the ten National Parks of Greece extends into this mountain. Established in 1938, its vegetation includes black Kefalonian fir tree forests and many rare plants, especially in its higher parts. Exploring the routes and tracks of the park is a true joy, and most enjoyable during the spring and summertime.
Arachova may be the most developed village in the area, but there are plenty of equally picturesque small villages scattered around the mountains: Eptalofos, Lilea, Mariolata, Amfiklia, Polydrossos, Davlia, or Tithorea – all following the same pattern of traditional stone houses and cozy village tavernas. For those of you who have chosen to rent a car, those villages are worth exploring during your daily leisure time, as is of course the Monastery of Osios Loukas.
Route 2: The archaeological site of Delphi
Delphi is only some 7 miles (11 km) beyond Arachova, an easy day’s excursion. It may come as a surprise that the village of Delphi is a modern one – the old village of Delphi sat on the ancient site and so had to be relocated here when serious excavations began in the 19th century. Today the Delphi village is almost exclusively designed around the tourist trade, with little else except numerous hotels, restaurants, and gift shops. The general opinion is that the restaurants of Delphi are of no particular distinction, geared as they are to serving a transient clientele, and that the bus and car traffic during high season can be overwhelming. However, one thing Delphi village and the archaeological site can boast of is a superb view down onto the great plain covered with olive trees and with the Gulf of Corinth in the distance. Most visitors will want to make sure they take at least a few moments to enjoy this dramatic vista.
So we shall head straight for the site of ancient Delphi. If you come here during a quiet time of the day and sit on a stone under the breathtaking titanic rocks, the Phaedriades Petres (“Shining Rocks”), you may feel a certain power or silent energy coming out of the magnificent scenery. And this feeling is not unique or modern–ancient Greeks felt exactly the same way! As mentioned above, they believed that in Delphi lies the center –the “omphalos”– of the earth and they maintained that place as one of the most sacred sites of the ancient world. It was the god Apollo who came here and killed the dragon Python, then establishing a sanctuary near the Castalian Spring that eventually became the most famous oracle of the ancient world. Needless to say that its prophecies influenced decisions by both the famous and anonymous!
As Delphi’s role and influence in Greek society increased, it became the site of increasingly more ambitious structures–the great Temple of Apollo; a large stadium and an impressive amphitheater used for the Pythian Games; the Temple of Athena Pronoia; the Tholos, a rotunda of unknown function but considered one of the most beautiful of all ancient Greek structures; the bouleuterion (seat of the Senate); and numerous treasuries, the small temple-like structures dedicated by Greek cities and islands usually after military victories–the finest being the Treasury of Athens, said to have been built with the spoils after the Battle of Marathon. Many of these structures are in the Temenos, or Sanctuary of Apollo, home to the famous Sacred Way. Visiting these major attractions –and the nearby Castalian Spring– does require a certain amount of climbing up and down the slopes but nothing so demanding that millions of visitors have not been able to handle it. Just take your time to enjoy the total experience of the scene: we are certain that you will find the effort rewarding.
The remains of these and countless other structures can occupy as much of your time as you are willing to devote to them, and their functions are made clear by the names. But everyone will want to know something more about the Temple of Apollo. It was here, in the inner shrine, an underground chamber known as the adyton, that those who wanted to consult the oracle would be admitted and have their questions on lead tablets read by a male attendant of the female Pythia. It was actually here, over the entrance to the shrine, that the oft-quoted “Know thyself” was inscribed. Pythia, perhaps originally a young woman but for most of the later centuries an older peasant woman, would chew a bay (laurel) leaf, drink water from the nearby Castalian Spring, and then, in a sort of trance, she would deliver her answer in what was virtually gibberish. Supposedly the words direct from the gods, these would be “translated” into Greek (often into poetry) by the attendant. But the answers of the oracle have given rise to the English word “delphic,” meaning obscurely prophetic, for they were usually open to different interpretations. Perhaps the most famous is that given to Croesus, the king of Lydia, who was about to engage Persia in a war: told by the oracle that “he would destroy a great kingdom,” he plunged into the war–only to discover that the kingdom he would destroy was his own!
One could spend many hours – or even days – at Delphi seeking out all remains and just taking in the setting and views. But however many hours you spend there, you must set aside at least an hour for a visit to the Delphi museum, which contains one of the world’s finest collections of sculptures from temples of the Archaic Period (the pre-Classical phase, c. 650-480 BC) and the treasuries of the Classic age. There is also the Omphalos, a 4th-century BC sculpted egg-shaped stone found in the Temple of Apollo and said to have marked the center of the earth, as well as a large silver-plated bull donated by the legendary King Croesus of Lydia. And if you see nothing else in this museum, you must stand before the great Charioteer, a life-size bronze of a man guiding his chariot: a work of c. 475 BC, it commemorates the Sicilian-Greek Polyzalos’s victory in the chariot race of the Pythian Games. Gazing at the Charioteer, you are looking at one of the world’s great works of art.
Route 3: Galaxidi and the road to Nafpaktos
Leaving Arachova by car and following the road to Amfissa, Itea and Galaxidi, driving through the famous olive plantations of Amfissa, and passing through the big harbor town of Itea, you will eventually end up on the rocky coastline of one of the most beautiful and picturesque towns of central Greece: Galaxidi. Galaxidi is built on a quiet small gulf next to a pine forest, and the small town long prospered due to its proximity to the Gulf of Corinth that gave it access to the seas beyond. Galaxidi’s magnificent mansions that you see today along the waterfront, dating back to the 19th century, remind visitors of the historically famous Galaxidi shipbuilding area, home to many brave sailors, ship-owners, and merchants. The mansions you see are built in the famed neoclassical style, with beautiful pastel colors, perfect tiled rooftops, and small yards with orange and palm trees. As impressive as the town’s mansions are, arguably one of the most impressive buildings of Galaxidi is the church of Agios Nikolaos, the holy protector of sailors. And on the edge of town, in a lovely setting and with a superb view, is the restored Monastery of the Metamorphosis.
The maritime history in Galaxidi comes to life on every step you will take through the wide roads or on the waterfront: you will inevitably observe reminders of this past such as an old anchor, the painted mermaids at the tavernas, or the traditional caique boats sitting quietly on the crystal clear waters. You can of course learn more about Galaxidi’s ties to the sea by visiting the Naval Museum, which features a rich collection of old paintings of naval themes, catalogues of the Galaxidi ships, old charts and naval instruments, wood carved decorations of old ships, caiques and much more. Of course, you should not forget that a big part of your travel experience is eating in one of the famous waterfront tavernas of Galaxidi. Fresh mussels, fried calamari, and fresh fish are among the more attractive selections on the menu, and since seafood is certainly of a variety you will not find in Arachova tavernas, your stop in Galaxidi is an ideal chance to enjoy some of the finest and tastiest seafood Greece has to offer.
The central road from Galaxidi to Nafpaktos has many beautiful secrets that you will probably miss if you are in a hurry. The scenic route passes by green fjords and adjacent to the less known sea-side villages including Agii Pandes, Eratani, Tolofona, Agios Nicolaos, Marathias, and Monastiraki. At the little harbor of Glifada you can take the short boat ride that brings you to the tiny islet of Trizonia, a truly authentic and quiet place with the distinct characteristic of the absence of cars or motorbikes. Of course you cannot stop and visit all the coast villages, but making a short stop to taste some ouzo by the sea may be one of the highlights of your trip.
The rest of the route to Nafpaktos is certainly an enjoyable one, and as you move on you will be able to take in the magnificent views of the Gulf of Corinth and the Peloponnese mountains across the gulf. Nafpaktos itself is a charming town with a 15th century Venetian castle as well as a beautiful Venetian harbor, filled with small kafeneia (traditional coffee shops) and with direct view of the old fortifications. After sipping your Greek coffee, tasting some of the traditional Greek sweets at the local kafeneia, or having a fabulous meal at a local restaurant, you may continue to Antirio and cross over the most modern and spectacular bridge in Greece, reaching the coast of the Peloponnese for a journey to an entirely different Greek culture from the one that you have already experienced.