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Travel: Metsovo, Ionnina, Nafpaktos -Greece 4/28-29/2019

View from Nafpatos


Once we escaped the bus caravans unloading tourist mass and creating big congestion at every Meterora's vista point, we enjoyed the hour and a half drive from Meteora throughout the mountainous area to Metsovo. Surrounded by inspirational high snow capped peaks, the landscape below was freckled by gorgeous spring bloom, some vineyards, and many many sheep, that had kept crossing the roads while herded by guarding snarling dogs.

David's encounter with this peaceful harmless animal, started his reflex drooling saliva, imagining the lamb in a form of Roasted Tack on a plate... (more on Lamb meat from David at the end)


Metsovo - A Traditional Mountainous Village

This most lively picturesque alpine -like  popular destination village, on the slopes of mountain Pindos in Epirus is situated at an altitude of 1156 m. It is a mountainous community of ~6000  surrounded this late April, by beautiful snow capped summits.   

It  attracts tourists all year around, as it has been offering colorful traditions, quaint stone and wooden houses, breathtaking scenery, lush vegetation, walking trails, ski slops and wine tourism.

Due to its strategic position, Metsovo served as a crucial military corridor during Ottoman times, offering its forces safe passage from Epirus to the regions of Thessaly, Macedonia, and  Constantinople.

A storage facility for woven fabrics, silverware and gold was developed in the early 18th century, establishing Metsovo as a prominent manufacturing and trading center.

The Folklore Museum a three-level building, formerly a mansion belonging to the family of Tositsas, was restored in 1954 and offers a cultural traditions and collection of woven fabrics, bridal jewelry, costumes, rare books and famed Ioannina silverware .

We stayed at this small charming hotel in center of the village

Kassaros Hotel Metsovo   030 2656041800 030 6944383131

A more upscale beautiful hotel away from the village center is

40 minutes of an early morning drive, from mountainous Metsovo landed us at the city by the lake - Ioannina, which its Jewish past and "Old Synagouge" captured our interest.

Ioannina (Yannena)

The city's formal name, Ioannina, is probably a corruption of Agioannina or Agioanneia, "place of St. John", presumably linked to the establishment of a monastery dedicated to Saint John the Baptist.

The city is the capital and largest city of the Ioannina regional unit and of Epirus, and is situated at an elevation of ~ 500 metres (1,640 feet) above sea level, in North-Western Greece, on the western shore of the charming Lake Pamvotis.

The Coffee places by the lake promenade, were full of visitors

and the tranquil atmosphere, reminded us of that in some of the Italian vacationing lake destinations..

Known to be founded by Byzantine Emperor Justinian in the 6th century AD, however archaeological research, has uncovered evidence of prior Hellenistic settlements. Ottomans ruled from 1430 and until 1868, Later the city also was a major center of the modern Greek Enlightenment, and has been home to a University and 2 hospitals.

Inside its fortified walls in the old center called "Kastro" right by the lake's edge, a Synagogue is still standing.

Entry to the synagogue needs to be pre-arranged with

Alegra - (6977405744  or 6932476665)

At the back of the Synagogue within the old center by the lake, we spotted a small boutique Hotel - a nice place to stay in

According to the local Greek scholar (Panayiotis Aravantinos), a synagogue destroyed in the 18th century, bore an inscription, which dated its foundation in the late 9th century AD.

 The existing "Old synagogue" - architecturally typical of the Ottoman era, is located at 16 Ioustinianou street.

The large 1829 building made of stone, is hidden behind a tall white wall. Since the gate was locked, and Alegra was out of town, we unfortunately could not go in, nor see the interior.

A Romaniote Jewish community lived in Ioannina before World War II, in addition to a very small number of Sephardi.  Most of the Jews of Ioannina were traveling merchants, laborers and shop clerks, and some of them were store owners and importers, others worked in industry, and in the production of kosher wine and cheeses.

~1,950 Jews were living in Ioannina in April 1941. Of these, 1,870 were deported by the Nazis to concentration camps on 25 March 1944, during the final months of German occupation. Almost all of the people deported and shipped to Auschwitz-Birkenau were murdered. Only 181 Ioannina Jews were known to have survived the war, including 112 who survived Auschwitz and 69 who fled to join the resistance leader Napoleon Zervas and the National Republican Greek League (EDES). Approximately 164 of these survivors eventually returned to Ioannina.

The names of the Ioanniote Jews who were killed in the Holocaust are engraved in stone on the walls of the synagogue.

Hardly 50 mostly elderly people of "Kehila Kedosha Yashan Synagogue" are left, thus the place remains locked,  and only open for visitors on request. Emigrant Romaniotes return every summer and open the old synagogue.  A monument dedicated to the thousands of Greek Jews who perished during the Holocaust was constructed in the city in a 13th-century Jewish cemetery. In 2003 the memorial was vandalized by unknown antisemites. The Jewish cemetery too was repeatedly vandalized in 2009. As a response to the vandalisms, citizens of the city formed an initiative for the protection of the cemetery and organized rallies.

From Iaonnina,  and thanks to the generous EU loans, we got on the fast Iaonian Toll road, which its shorten road stretch, many long tunnels throughout the mountainous areas, and bridges, delivered us smoothly, pass  Arta, Agrenio and into our destination for the night - Nafpaktos

The Iaonian Hwy (onia Odos) E 951/E55

Ionnian Moterway which was completed in 2017, is the second major North-South fast Road connection after Motorway 1, and is also part of the trans-balkanic Adriatic–Ionian motorway and the European routes E55 and E951 or Hwy 5.

It starts at Ioannina and it follows the western coastline of mainland  down to the Gulf of Corinth. At Rio, it crosses the gulf via the grand Rio–Antirrio bridge.

Driving down South, the scenery of  Olive groves growing on hilly landscape on one side, and sea estuaries on the other is spectacular.

Arta - founded as a Corinthian colony in the 7th century B.C. is known for its archaeological sites -medieval bridge over the Arachthos River and well-preserved 13th-c Byzantine castle and Churches

And Agrinio - also dates back to ancient times. It is an important financial, cultural, intellectual and transport center. Excavations along with past Tabbaco Industry, (19th-20thc)  agricultural products and trade, constituted the basic source of wealth. Agrinion Olives.

As we were approaching the Gulf of Corinthian - a deep inlet of the Bluish Ionian Sea, (separating the Peloponnese from western mainland) ,

the beautiful Rio-Antirio Bridge (official name is the Charilaos Trikoupis Bridge.) appeared in its glorious full sight. It crosses the Gulf of Corinth near Patras, at the narrowest point, linking the town of Rio on the Peloponnese to Antirrio on mainland.

It is the world’s longest multi-span cable-stayed bridge.

The bridge was inaugurated on August 7, 2004, a week before the opening of the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. Olympic torchbearers were the first to officially cross its length. One of them was Otto Rehhagel, the German football coach who won the Euro 2004.

We didn't cross the bridge today to get to Nafpacatos, but will do so tomorrow on our way to Athens.

Nafpaktos -  Lepanto (Venitina form)

This most charming sea-side town situated on the West North shore of the Corinthian Gulf bay, is one of the best kept secrets, as it doesn't put any effort in marketing itself to the International crowd.

Packed by the locals on today's beautiful sunny Holiday, many  families and youth filled up all its Coffey places, bars and restaurant's, surrounding the ancient small fortified harbor.

Its, proximity to Athens, historical sites, and long beach strip makes it a very popular destination, all year around, to the locals, though I find the beach pebbles much less attractive for beach-bumming, then doing so on a white soft sand which Nafpaktos lacks.

The views from the imposing preserved Venetian fortified castle up the hill, which we toured today, are stunning, and having a drink at one of the places under it, while spectating the views below, is a sheer nirvana, not to be missed

The town was an important Athenian naval station in the Peloponnesian war, a strategically crucial possession facilitating full view of entering vassals and in controlling access to the Gulf of Corinth, In Greek legend, Naupactus is the place where the Heraclidae built a fleet to invade the Peloponnese.

Naupaktos changed hands many times during the Crusades and the Ottoman–Venetian Wars. It was under Venetian control in the 15th century, when it fell to the Ottoman Empire in 1499 and was used as naval station by the Ottoman Navy, remaining under its control until Greek independence in 1829.

Miguel de Cervantes,(Don Quichte) whose statue proudly stands at the harbour, fought here in the famous 1571 Lepanto Battel.

He lost the use of an arm in the battle thus is known in the Hispanic world as el manco de Lepanto (the one-armed man of Lepanto). It was a naval engagement between the fleet of the Holy League and the Ottoman forces. The victory of the Holy League was very significant as it stopped the expansion of the Ottoman forces further in the Mediterranean.

We stayed at this convenient recommended best Hotel in town


Hotel Nafs - right by Nafpaktos - beach and the Harbour  Geor. Athanasiadi Nova 33, Nafpaktos


Psarotaverna Lilopoulos - Fish Taverna at Monastiraki Village

30 263 4052111  Epar.Od. Monastirakiou-Malamata 110, Monastiraki 330 56

This place on a beautiful beach at the next village, was recommended by our guide from Salonike and was reaffirmed by the locals in town, as the best fish Restaurant in the area.

I suggest to eat their during daylight when one can enjoy seeing the sea scenery.

Unfortunately the fisherman were resting along with the rest during this  Easter long weekend , and as demand was greater then supply, a fish shortage at the restaurants was created,and our choice of this evening was very limited.

Tips on Lamb from David

Lamb meat contains a high amount of sulfuric amino acids ( methionine and cysteine ), which give it the typical flavor we like when it is delicate . When lamb is reheated or contains a higher amount of Sulfuric Amino Acids (AA) , the gas H2S develops into a bad off flavor ( like in rotten eggs ) .

Lamb that feeds off green grass and has  fast  growth  like  the lamb raised in New Zealand or Australian lamb, it incorporate a higher amount of Sulphuric AA  and has strong off flavor. Indeed it is the lowest cost lamb . No good restaurant will serve NZ or Australian lamb So the source of Lamb is important .

The  Spanish lamb, the Arabic lamb that eats yellow grass , and the Greek lamb are  my favorites . Sonoma Lamb is excellent and Colorado lamb still very good .

Now that you know to ask what is the source of your lamb , the next question is what part ?

Lamb chops are the best part , but they differ very greatly .

Lamb  usually have either 13 or 14 thoracic vertebrae and a corresponding number of pairs of ribs, and the first 6 make very good chops  . The next 8  vertebrate  are what is called rack of lamb - and have only the loin muscle which are heavenly ( for me ). This is for a butcher the vertebrate after the rib section . There are many other chops from the keg  , the shoulder,  but they are inferior . 

Now that you have the non Australian lamb and got the rack from  vertebrate 6-13 , you need to tell the cook how old the lamb should be .

The best lamb I have eaten is in a restaurant called Botin in Playa Major in Madrid . It’s the oldest restaurant in Spain . We have had their lamb half a dozen times over the past 20 years and it’s perfect.  No fat . The bones are fully edible , as they are not yet calcified . Each portion is one quarter lamb . Reservations a must . Not expensive (30-50 Euro max for two ) . Botin served near  from 3kg baby lambs . The Greeks prefer to serve 12-13 kg lambs - which are also excellent but not quite as good . 

The Arabs have no consistency  in lamb age , but Arabic lamb is usually from an adult and  very good .

To Be continued.....


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