Europe in My Region

Nikos, our host, is concerned about the weather – we are on a trip to Almopia, invited to explore its picturesque landscape and cultural heritage. He wants nature to be at its best, and it’s gray, drizzling, raining outright, dark and moody sometimes, pearl gray like an oyster others. The sun does not show, not even once in three days. It turns out, this is best – perfect, even.

This is a repost of The Lushness of Greece in Springtime – Hiking along the Picturesque White River, originally published by Amber Charmei (@Provocolate) and submitted to the Europe in My Region 2016 blogging competition.

Anything can shine in the sun. Rain reveals what’s truly beautiful; I will find myself longing for the lushness of a damp day in the forests of Almopia every bit as much as I do a swim in Crete.

This region has good bones – a raw beauty surging up from the earth. Aridea is the main town. Loutraki (“Baths”), or Pozar – about ten minutes away – is by far the best known destination. Warm, silky, therapeutic waters draw visitors 24 hour a day, all year. (Really- you can book a private bath at 4:30 in the morning). Steam rises from the outdoor pools. I would love to come in the snow. The thermal spring is next to a river, and this is our morning’s destination – exploring the Bellitsa with our mountaineer guides, Alexandros Mylonas and Dimitris Bozinis. It’s a special river. In local dialect, “Bellitsa” means “the little white one”- named for the white stones and sand at the bottom. It’s surprising. A slice of pale turquoise Caribbean cutting through a dense deciduous forest, it turns the landscape into a Japanese woodcut:

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For the stark drama of bare trees in the whiteness, we usually have to wait for snow – the Bellitsa glows with the fresh brightness of winter, even in Spring:

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The woods are anything but silent. There may be birds, but who knows – rains of the last few days and the melting snow from the mountains are coursing through our ears.

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It’s an easy hike truthfully. Our guides are there to keep us out of trouble, and keep us company. Alexandros also shows us what we can eat – a purple flower guides us to a crisp bitter root – volvi – that is delicious slightly pickled and eaten alongside a glass of grappa. It’s not mushroom season – if it were, he would show us the ones he forages to make into a sweet preserve (reall y- mushrooms in a dense sugar syrup!). He also knows all the greens and herbs (and how you know it is spring in the forest: when the leaves of the plane tree are the size of duck’s feet). Even though we are never more than a couple of hours from civilization, being with someone who has this skill is primally comforting:

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Dimitris easily persuades me that macaroni, a bouillon cube, and melted snow cooked over a gas burner is the most delicious thing in the world after climbing to 2,180 m to cook it:

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and our host – Nikos Tsimas – forwarding the vision of intertwining nature, history, and art (LhiLna- Living History, Living Nature) that has brought us here:

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Honestly, everyone comes to this spot for the spa. Bringing us here for the river was an inspired choice: in all the steam and drama, it’s easy to overlook the luminous Bellitsa feeding the crashing waterfall. But I’d come for the river alone, to walk for an hour or two, climbing over a fallen tree, balancing on the smooth pale rocks. Not that I wouldn’t be glad to drench myself in luxury when I return:

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(Walden meets Breakfast at Tiffany’s.)

 

 

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