Arachova Greece - Travel information, Arachova hotels, villas, tours, restaurants, beaches, archaeological sites, nightlife
Arachova is an extraordinary and charming town on Mt. Parnassos, featuring picturesque old districts, beautiful grey stone houses and magnificent mountain views. The town itself is extraordinarily charming and especially during the quiet weekday mornings has a quaint side to it. Walking around the main town and taking in the scenery will undoubtedly be part of your daily routine. Venture into the side streets and discover the amazing local cafes, pastry shops and restaurants that will enrich your senses.
Arachova: The Chic Mainland Village
There is no denying that the Greek islands have emerged in recent years as the image and destination of popular tourism, and there is equally no denying the appeal of these islands. But the Greeks themselves, from time immemorial, have also been drawn to the mountains that dominate so much of their land. Every schoolchild knows that the Greeks located the home of their gods on Mt. Olympos, the highest peak in Greece. Fewer modern visitors are aware that the second highest peak in Greece is located on Mt. Parnassos and that this mountain was regarded by the ancient Greeks as a home of Dionysos and his female followers, the Maenads (in their ecstatic abandon, the Maenads were the antithesis of the orderly Olympian gods). The Roman poets later made Parnassos the home of the Muses, but it was on the rocky slopes of Mt. Parnassos that far back in time certain Greeks–in awe of the dramatic peaks and springs and caves and the reputed “exhalations” from a chasm on the site–established the world-famous oracle of Delphi.
Delphi and the various sites around Arachova
In ancient times Delphi eventually became so influential in Greeks’ affairs that they regarded it as the “center of the earth,” signified by the navel-stone (omphalos) found here. Today, Delphi is one of the most spectacular and resonant archaeological locales in the world, and a visit to the site provides a fascinating encounter with a side of ancient Greece different from the Classical image of white-columned temples. Complementing this will be a visit to the medieval Monastery of Osios Loukas–Christian rather than pagan, a retreat for individuals as opposed to a gathering place for crowds, but expressive of the same sense of awe inspired by this mountainous environment. Moreover, by using the mountain town of Arachova as a base, you have the opportunity to experience the authentic life of Greek towns and villages, freed from the overlay of mass tourism, especially on weekdays. And finally, after descending from the mountains you can round out this phase of your time in Greece by making your way to the Peloponnese along the Gulf of Corinth.
Leisure in Arachova
Arachova is a lively mountain town with a permanent population of some 3,500 people. Until the second half of the 20th century it was known only to the relatively small numbers of people who made the journey up Parnassos to visit Delphi. Although there are a few remains of the prehistoric settlements and Classical town in the area, those provide nothing of interest for the average visitor. In dramatic contrast, it is the mountainous setting that will immediately attract your attention–the terraced slopes supporting gray-stone houses with their red-tiled roofs, the streams of water often running along the village, or the narrow streets that may remind you of times past. And, of course, your eyes will be caught by the colorful rugs and embroideries that the local people make, but the best part comes when you try the various tavernas and restaurants in or around Arachova. It is then that you will be inevitably impressed by the local wines, cheese, meat delicacies or honey that accompany the local cuisine.
Because Arachova is now frequented year-round–by visitors to Delphi during the extended tourist season and by (mostly Greek) skiers during the winter–it is undeniably a prosperous town with more than its share of restaurants and hotels to make the visitor comfortable. The principal ski center–where the lifts to the ski slopes begin–is actually at Fterolakas, some 16 miles (26 km) further up the mountain. But even if you do not have the opportunity to ski here, you will enjoy the experience of walking around Arachova, taking in the sights and sounds and activities of a vibrant Greek community. The main street is lined with shops selling the textiles and handicrafts for which this town has long been renowned and which you can certainly admire even if you are not in the mood to purchase anything. When you have had your fill of these shops, you can ascend the stairs to the upper town and observe the more “domestic” life of Greek mountain villagers and visit the fine old Church of Agios Georgios (St. George), or settle in one of any number of cafes for a refreshing drink. All in all, there is something very special about relaxing in Arachova: taking in its clear air and its mountainous terrain, you can feel that you are experiencing the natural realm of Greece that inspired those ancients to locate their gods here!
Monastery of Osios Loukas
The other major historical destination of visitors who have come to Arachova is the Monastery of Osios Loukas (“Blessed Loukas,” but often referred to in writings as St. Loukas), some 16 miles (26 Km) southeast of Arachova. This monastic complex is regarded as one of the most impressive in all of Greece–both because of its natural setting and its artistic workmanship. This Luke is not the Biblical Evangelist but a local Christian hermit/monk who died here in AD 953. The smaller church on the site, the Theotokos, is evidently on the site of a church built here before Loukas died. But the larger church, the Catholicon, was erected in 1011-1048 and although considerably enlarged and renovated over the centuries, it remains a most impressive work of medieval ecclesiastical architecture. In particular the mosaics and the frescoes “speak” to even those not familiar with such works. Although there are only a few monks here now, more like caretakers, Osios Loukas still exudes a sense of spirituality, and people of all faiths and from all over the world have felt that a visit to the monastery of Osios Loukas is a moving and rewarding experience.
En Route to the Gulf of Corinth
Osios Loukas is situated on the edge of Mt. Helikon, unlike Arachova and Delphi, which are on the slopes of Mt. Parnassos, but all three sit above the Gulf of Corinth. If you descend from the mountain to make your way to the Peloponnese, the large lower half of the Greek mainland to which it is now joined by two bridges, you will pass through three towns along that gulf. The first is Itea (so named from the Greek for “willows,” ities, once prominent in this locale), which sits at the head of its own small gulf off the Gulf of Corinth. In recent years Itea has become something of a resort town and its harbor activity is further enlivened by the cruise ships that dock here so that passengers can make the excursion to Delphi. There is nothing in Itea to engage those of you en route to the Peloponnese; you can comfortably proceed on down to the southern shore of the Gulf of Itea to Galaxidi. This is a far more interesting town, for in the 19th Century it was a thriving port, home of prosperous Greek shipbuilders, sea captains, and merchants who built fine houses here. These have been restored in recent decades and along with a Maritime Museum and numerous churches, they give Galaxidi a sense of being in a place with a history.
Proceeding on along the northern coast of the Gulf of Corinth, the next town of any consequence is Nafpaktos, and this definitely has a place in history. During the Middle Ages, it was known in the West by an Italian name, Lepanto, and it was here in 1571 that the Turks outfitted their fleet preparatory to taking on ships from various cities in Italy and Spain. Led by Don Juan of Austria, this armada was Christian Europe’s all-out effort to stop the Muslim intrusion into Western Europe, and the Muslim fleet–although aided by ships sent by Muslim leaders in Algeria and Egypt to aid the Turkish ships–was soundly defeated. In fact, it was in this battle that a young Spaniard, Miguel Cervantes, lost the use of his left hand, but that did not stop him from writing one of the most admired novels of all time, Don Quixote! Aside from this role in naval battle history, Nafpaktos boasts a fine Venetian castle, a mosque, and a handsome plateia, or town square.
If Peloponnese is your goal, and you are possibly on your way to visiting Olympia, Mycenae, Epidavros, or Nafplion, you will proceed on another 5 miles (9 km) to Antirion, where the Gulf of Corinth comes to its narrowest point. Long a port for the ferries that plied back and forth between here and Rion on the northern coast of the Peloponnese, this is now where you will move up on to the spectacular new 1.8 mile bridge across the gulf. Designed by a consortium of Greek, Canadian, and American engineers, paid for by both Greek government and private funds, the bridge opened in 2004 in time for the Olympic Games. Just as the canal at the eastern end of the Gulf of Corinth fulfilled an age-old desire to bypass the long route around the Peloponnese, this bridge fulfills the dream of joining the western mainland to the Peloponnese. And passing over it is a fitting end to this stage of your time in Greece.
- High Archaeological value
- High natural beauty
- Excellent Cuisine
Only 11 Km away from the town of Arachova stands the spectacular and world famous archaeological site of Delphi. Once regarded by the Greeks of old as the centre of the earth, the navel stone or omphalos still stands as a testament to this belief. It was on these rocky slopes of Mt. Parnassos that in awe of the dramatic peaks, springs, caves and the reputed “exhalations” from a chasm on the site, that the oracle of Delphi was established.
The main attraction and destination here on Parnassos is, of course, Delphi. As you approach it from Arachova, you will see the twin peaks, the Phaedriades (“Shining Rocks”) that hover over the site. There was some settlement here by at least 1400 BC, and Minoan remains of this period have been found. Some Greek myths claimed that, many centuries before the Classical Age of Greece, the site was sacred to the goddess Ge (Gaea), usually regarded as Mother Earth. Her son, Python, a serpent, guarded a cave here, and adjacent to this was an oracle where a priestess, known as the Pythia, delivered the wise words inspired by Gaea. At some point–at least by 800 BC–a cult that worshipped Apollo was introduced here; in some myths, Apollo killed the serpent–suggesting the replacement of the older matriarchal religion by the male-based Olympian religion. In any case, the site soon became known as the Sanctuary of Pythian Apollo, and visits to the oracle became a major goal of individuals from all over Greece and the eastern Mediterranean (much like a pilgrimage today to Mecca or the Vatican). Around the same time, the Amphictyonic League, a confederation of neighboring cities in southern Greece, was founded to administer the sanctuary. Meanwhile, Greeks held the Pythian Games here, one of the four such pan-Hellenic festivals (of which the Olympics is the best known)–combinations of athletic contests and artistic performances that were originally held every eight years but in 582 BC changed to every four years.
Delphi and its oracle remained at the center of Greek life for many centuries–so important that it often provoked wars among Greek city-states to see who would control it. After the Romans took over Greece early in the 2nd century, the emperors showed more interest in plundering the site of its many riches than maintaining the oracle. And about AD 385, Theodosius, the emperor who banished all pre-Christian practices in the empire, officially abolished the oracle: when the Pythia issued her last prophecy, the temple’s lalon idor (“speaking water”) was extinguished forever. Over the centuries the buildings fell into disrepair, and isolated as the site was, it was all but forgotten until it was “rediscovered” in 1676 by an Englishman and Frenchman traveling through the region. More than a century later, in 1812, the famous British poet Lord Byron visited the site and described it as “a landscape full of religious terror.” Intermittent excavating began in 1840, but it was 1891 before the King of Greece assigned to the French the right to commence formal excavations, revealing over the years the site that now amazes visitors from all over the world.
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.