“Would you like to go on an expedition with a group of Greek seniors?” my friend asked. I was visiting Athens for a few weeks last summer and the word “expedition” piqued my interested. “Why is it called an expedition?” I wondered. My friend Carol is an English woman who lives in Greece. “The reason they call these ‘expeditions’ is because they explore places that bus tours usually don’t visit,” she explained. They are to remote places, like safaris into unknown parts of the country. This trip will take us across central Evvia, through the mountains, to the eastern coast.” Carol, who is a senior like me, had gone on several of these tours.
Evvia (Euboeia) is the second largest island in Greece after Crete. Thanks to a bridge that connects Evvia to the mainland, it’s accessible by car as well as ferry. Evvia is not a popular tourist destination, in fact lots of times people ask “Where is Evvia?” so the chance to see more of the island intrigued me.
The central region of Evvia is home to many famous towns and some archaeological sites and the coasts are noted for their beautiful beaches. The island has an interesting history but it has largely remained out of the mainstream of tourism. In the south, there’s a marked Albanian influence; stone-built Frankish watchtowers are scattered across the island. The Ottomans, who conquered the island in the 1400’s have left their mark as well, especially in the north where there is a strong Turkish influence seen in the some of architecture.
Our expedition began in Athens where we boarded the tour bus along with a friendly group of Greek seniors and the woman who was to be our tour guide. I worried that the tour would be conducted only in Greek, but my friend assured me that the guide spoke English. It was a seething hot July day so we were glad the bus was air conditioned as the bus traversed through the dense Athens traffic heading toward the coast.
The journey over the bridge to Halkida makes travel to Evvia convenient and quick. Halkida is a charming, modern city and a good base for anyone wishing to explore the island. The city is built at the narrowest point of the strait of Euripos where the bridge connects it to mainland Greece. Halkidas’ charm lies in its old Ottoman Kastro district where there is a 17th century old fortress dominated by a 15th century mosque now a storage place for Byzantine artifacts. In front of it is a beautifully carved Ottoman fountain.
Along the stretch of waterfront you’ll find tavernas and cafe bars overlooking the channel whose strong currents have baffled scientists for years. Halkida was a prosperous city during Classical, Hellenistic andRoman times. The city was conquered successfully by Athenians, Macedonians, Romans, Byzantines, Franks and Venetians. It came under Turkish rule in 1470 and was liberated in 1830. In addition to its interesting history, it was the home of several prominent personalities of Greek art and literature.
Our first stop was Nea Artaki, a pleasant sea-side town 5 km north of Halkida where we stopped for refreshments at a waterfront restaurant. The area is noted for its seafood, especially shellfish so we sampled a plate of fresh kalamari and a refreshingly cold Mytro beer while we enjoyed the view of the busy little harbour with its colourful caiques (fishing boats) arriving with the day’s fresh catch.
Our bus expedition headed north-east embarking on the road least travelled — at least by most tour busses — passing through various small non-descript towns and villages. Evvia is a green, fertile island, producing corn, cotton, vegetables, fruit, olives and livestock. The classical name “Euboeia” means “rich in cattle” and in ancient times the island was popular as a summer retreat for wealthy Athenians who had estates there. The central region of the island is unique and varied. From the mountains down to the sea, the scenery and landscapes are most impressive. The region is home to some unique historical sites, churches, monasteries and other places of interest. For those who enjoy adventure, the central region of Evvia is ideal, with its natural setting making the area perfect for trekking, mountain biking and other activities. It is often referred to as the crossroads between the north and south regions of the island. And from Evvia, you can venture out and explore other parts of Greece as well, as on the east coast there is ferry service to the islands of the northern Sporades.
The bus ventured farther eastward through dramatic mountain scenery, stopping first at the town of Psachna. We had a short rest stop here and visited the stone-built church of Metaforfosi (Transfiguration). From Psachna, the road snakes steeply over the forested ridge of the Dherveni Gorge. At the town of Kontodespoti we visited the National Museum Anastasios Liakos. This is a folklore museum that houses a vast collection of colourful costumes, rural farm implements, weaving looms and old photographs dating to the early 1900’s. There are tableaus of models dressed in traditional clothing and demonstrations of the exquisite weaving. The informative displays gave a good insight into what the rural life was like in the region.
Outside, we enjoyed a stroll around the fountains and square. Right across from the museum is a beautiful Byzantine church, Agiou Nikolaos, where a couple of villagers and two pappas (priests) sat enjoying an afternoon frappe (iced coffee). The lavish interior of the church with its gold decor and painted icons was a sharp contrast to the modest village that surrounded it.
Past Kontodespoti, the bus climbed higher into the mountains and the scenery became more dramatic. Greece is known for its honey and at one turn in the road, high in the mountains, we passed a large apiary with dozens of wooden hive boxes. The narrow highway wound up the steep mountainside. Deep gorges afforded amazing vistas of the valleys below. In the distance Mt. Dhirfys (5,725 ft), Evvia’s highest peak, loomed majestically. There were lots of scary twists and turns and heart-stopping moments. In one word,“Breathtaking!” We intended to stop at one of the many monasteries high up in the hills, but it was closed. So we continued on, winding our way down the serpentine highway to a small beach resort called Limnionas where we stopped for a pleasant four hour rest break.
The east coast of Evvia has some gorgeous remote beaches. The beach at Limnionas is pebble and sand, the cherry brown colour contrasting to the brilliant turquoise of the water. There are little caves formed in the rocks farther along that offer shelter from the sun and because of this, the beach is a favorite for divers. After a refreshing swim, we had lunch at one of the beach tavernas, savouring plates of chicken souvlaki and a refreshing carafe of wine. We then did a little exploring around the tiny village. There are a couple of small hotels and rooms to let on the beach as well as some camping, although that is not in a supervised area. What makes Limnionas so unique is the natural beauty of the area that offers isolation and tranquility, contrasting with the more popular, busy beach resorts of Greece.
Happy and relaxed after our afternoon in the sun, we boarded the bus for our return trip. The tour stopped at Halkidi so we could view the Euripos Channel’s tidal bore. I watched in fascination as the roiling water swirled and gushed, and wondered how this freak of nature makes it possible that every few hours the current reverses. Six or seven times a day, the current flows north then reverses to south for about three hours at six knots. The flow of water subsides after a few minutes of quickness, then suddenly changes direction. It may change fourteen times in a day depending on the phases of the moon. The philosopher/scientist Aristotle once threw himself in to see if he could figure out what caused it. Some historians say he drowned while testing the tidal bore. Since then lots of other scientists have tried to explain this phenomena and failed.
Our expedition to Evvia was exciting and informative, a rare opportunity to see some of the beautiful countryside of the island and enjoy the company of a group of Greek seniors. Even with our limited language skills, and though we were the only English speaking guests on the tour, my friend and I enjoyed every minute of it. All for only 25 Euros and a wealth of memories. A pretty good deal for a day tour!
Written by and photos by W. Ruth Kozak for EuropeUpClose.com