By Marc R Jager
Τhis is the most mythical and mountainous regions in all of Greece. It has been inhabited since the most distant historical past, after all, the mythical city of Thebes is located here, and the greatest ancient writers of Greece, Sophocles, Euripides and Aeschylus were so inspired by this land that they wrote the most dramatic and tragic poetry about it. Also, the famous Oracle of Delphi is here, where throughout antiquity Greeks arrived to seek advice from the gods and to worship their presence in their lives. And to this day, modern tourists will travel the same route to the region, though for other reasons.
All the great ancient battles have been fought in this very region, such as the Battle of Thermopylae, which the ancient historian Herodotus described in detail. The name Thermopylae is taken from the hot springs in the area and Central Greece is known for its natural hot springs which attract thousands of health-minded visitors each year.
Some of the most brilliant personalities of ancient Greece were from the regions of Central Greece, including the poets Hesiod and Pindar, the Theban statesmen Epaminondas and Pelopidas, and the historian Plutarch.
Because of its geographical location, Central Greece, enjoys a variable climate which is dry and alpine in the mountains and mild and Mediterranean on the coastal areas. The landscape is full of the most diverse surprises, full of wavering contours and thick green slopes covered in pine and oak and poplar trees. Interspersed between the mountains are crystal clear streams of water. The landscape seems to be forever changing with mountains becoming plateaus, streams becoming lakes and bays, and rugged terrain becoming peaceful and idyllic.
The region of Central Greece is often dismissed by first-time visitors to Greece, who will choose destinations that are much more popular, and better advertised, tourist attractions, such as the Cycladic islands. But Central Greece is evocative and offers excellent facilities for tourists, as well as unsurpassed natural beauty, the most varied landscape, opportunities for ecological tourism and sporting tourism, and, of course, a history that cannot be met by other regions.
In Central Greece, there are five prefectures, each with their own unique character, and all of which are perfect choices for both summer and winter holidays. These are Etoloakatnania, Evritania, Fokida, Fthiotida, Viotia.
Etoloakarnania is situated on the western part of the region and combine the beauty of mountains and the sea. The historic Messolonghi is its capital. Here marks the spot of the great revolutionary battle for the War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire, where locals resisted a Turkish siege and battled until they could no longer and, exhausted, they left the city in the "Exodus of its Guards." The city was since crowned as a Sacred City (Irea Poli) for the brave stance against the Ottomans, and even the poet Lord Byron had struggled with them in their battle for independence and finally died there.
As such, Messolonghi is full of the history that documents the beginnings of modern Greece, which can be viewed at the Museum of the History and the Art of the Holy City of Messolonghi.
Apart from history and the picturesque city, the greater landscape is covered with woody and green trees and there is the pleasant sound of running water throughout. And then, other surprises, such as the historical 17th century monastery of Agios Simeon, again a place of battle and siege. But there are idyllic getaways here too, such as the north-western islands of Etoliko and Astakos, two thriving summer resorts with folkloric town centres. There are endless beaches here at Agios Yorgis, Asprogiali and Vela and the coastline continues through to Mitikas, where there are some idyllic fishing villages and more beaches.
For a taste of a bustling central city, Agrinio is modern and practical, but with limited picturesque appeal. But Agrinio is interesting for its tobacco-producing industry, making it a rich city with good facilities for travellers, as well as an archaeological museum, and a panoramic view of the city from the hill at Agios Christoforos.
There are Byzantine monuments in Angelokastro, Venetian monuments in Nafpaktos, and the landscape around the Aheloos Lake is stunning and a perfect destination for travellers with an environmental conscience.
This prefecture of often called the "Greek Switzerland" for its Alpine climate, thick woody mountains and rich waters. Karpenissi, the renowned ski-centre, is the prefecture's capital, and Mount Timfristos hovers over the landscape with its imposing altitude of 960 meters. Karpenissi has excellent facilities for tourists, especially for those with winter skiing in mind, and plentiful restaurants, cafés and tavernas, where cheeses, goat cheese and grilled feta especially, are specialities.
There's the impressive church of Agia Triada (Holy Trinity) and the historic mansions of Korishades, and ancient ruins, quite possibly the remains of Oichalia, the ancient capital of Evritania.
Two great summer vacations in the prefecture can be had at Mikro Horio, which literally means "small village" or Megalo Horio, "large village." The beauty of these areas lies in the natural surroundings, which are full of orchards and forests, but also in the relics and monuments of the Byzantine era, the church of Agios Athanassios, for example, or the monastery of the Virgin Proussiotissa, which was built in 1754 and is renowned for its icons and woodcarving craftsmanship. A museum in honour of the War of Independence hero Karaiskakis is also interesting to visit.
In Proussos, a village which rises to a height of 800 metres, there is a lesser known oracle at the Black Cave or "Apokleistra." There are numerous churches scattered throughout the prefecture and background reading on the Byzantine period of Greece will make them all the more interesting to see.
A fascinating and remote village is Agrafa, which is buried in snow during the winter months, but in the summer it is a great destination for the fisherman who fish at the Agrafiotis River.
Fokida (or Phocis) is a luscious area known for its olive groves, but also for its beaches. Amfissa is the capital here, with varied architecture of Byzantine and Frankish elements. The Folk Art Museum has an interesting exhibit that documents the local Roumeli traditions. Of course, the big tourist attraction in the area is Delphi, for the Oracle of Apollo, the mythical mountain of Parnassos. the Phaedriades rocks, and the Gulf of Itea.
The atmosphere at Delphi is truly magical, what with the sanctuary of Athena, the ruins of the Apollo temple, the Gymnasium, the Stadium, the fourth-century theatre, and the museum which exhibits all the important artefacts found in the area, such as the famous fifth-century bronze statue of the Charioteer. This is truly the "Navel of the World."
Apart from ancient past, the area is a friendly one for tourists seeking relaxation and sun. The beaches on the Itea coast are stunning and the best thing in these regions is that sandy beaches are lined with luscious green and woody forests. The seaside town of Itea is a flourishing commercial centre with many facilities for tourists, while the harbour at Galaxidi, to Itea's west, is full of action on the seafront with the best seafood tavernas in the region. For a the history buffs, there's a worthy Archaeological and Naval Museum here with exhibits documenting the War of Independence and its battles, amongst other things. Easter is always a good time to be in Galaxidi, because locals here are faithful to both the spiritual traditions of the Greek Orthodox church and the pagan traditions of their ancestors.
Again you will find mountains and beaches here, just the perfect combination of idyllic and rugged terrain. There are numerous summer resorts in the area, but you may find yourself drawn to the mountains instead. Best of all in the area are the thermal springs, excellently organised with good facilities for tourists. These healthy springs renowned for their therapeutic powers are located at Ypati, Kamena Vourla, and Platystomo. Greeks flock to them for their yearly dose of nutrients and if you are travelling in the area, they are a must.
Lamia is the capital of the prefecture and it is a busy city, with its public squares and imposing municipal buildings, which is built into the stunning mountain slopes of Mount Othris. The skyline is dominated by the castle on the acropolis, and also by the church of Agios Loukas, which was built in the 18th century. There is an excellent museum in the area, which includes artefacts that document the prehistoric era of the country all the way through to the Classical and Hellenistic periods.
The legendary Thermopylae is only 18 kilometres south-east of Lamia. You can see the statue of Leonidas and his 300 Spartans, testament to the heroic battle over 2000 years ago. The name of the city refers to the ancient thermal springs there, which are popular to this day, attracting hundreds of visitors each year.
For a perfect summer vacation, there are numerous coastal towns, such as Agios Konstantinos and Arkitsa, with the best beaches in the area, Aspronero, Agios Serafim and Agios Nikolaos. Blending Byzantine history and beach culture is the beach at Livanates with its Agios Theodoros church in the background. Of more historical interest are the Agios Athanassios catacombs near the town of Atalanti, and the archaeologically rich area of Elatia and Tithorea. The last stop in this prefecture must be Ypati, or Ipati, and not just for its famous spas or loutra, but for its historical interest and the 15th century Agathonos Monastery.
Viotia or Boeotia
Viotia is the region where you will find the best ski resort in all of Greece at Mount Parnassos and the ski town of Arahova, the mythological river of Lethe (Forgetfulness) and Mnemosyne (Memory) in Livadia, the Oracle of Zeus Trophonios, the medieval castle of Profitis Ilias, and even Plutarch's birthplace in Chaironia.
The capital of the prefecture is Livadia, situated snugly between two mounts and the gorge of Erkina. The climate is Mediterranean and dry and the landscape is mainly bare and dry, with few lush and fertile areas in the region.
There is, however, much archaeological interest in the area, such as the Church of the Dormition of the Virgin in Orhomenos, a 9th century Byzantine church. In Orhomenos there are many ruins, including a tomb of the Mycenaean age, temples, and an amphitheatre. For a more folkloric appeal, visit Arahova, even if you don't intend to ski. This little village seems timeless and static, and a great place to see folkloric Greece and to buy traditional handcrafted items, such as rugs, bags, fabrics, as well as, fresh and homegrown produce. Of course, you can't go very far without more history and archaeology and this is what happens only 10 kilometres from Arahova at Distomo (Two-mouthed), another historic town which also had a brave appearance in the War of Independence. Here you should definitely visit the most famous of the Byzantine monasteries in the area, the 11th century Ossios Loukas, known for the divine mosaics and frescoes.
But the real gem of Viotia, lies in ancient Thebes. Visit the archaeological museum, see the Mycenaean tombs, the temple of Apollo and the fountain of Oedipus. And simply enjoy the atmosphere of the land that inspired the dramatic and tragic stories of Oedipus and Antigone, written by Greece's best tragedians, Sophocles and Euripides. Their stories will linger with you even after you have concluded your visit to Thebes and Central Greece. For they are the essence of this country of the mountain and the sea, the myth and the legend, the spiritual and the pagan.
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