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Here is how a New York Times travel story, written in 1853 about the Greek village of Arachova, begins: "At Arachova … a little village of stone, windowless houses … we exchanged our horses for donkeys, and struck into a steep path winding through vineyards along the precipitous sides of the mountain …"
The name Arachova translates to "place with walnut trees."
Arachova has certainly changed since then, although the village still retains much of its Old World charm, despite the appearance of several Internet cafes. It is located some 100 miles from Athens, going west on the superhighway E75. However, visitors are warned not to travel the roads at night due to the unpredictability of the local drivers.
The village clings to the side of Mount Parnassus, one of the more important areas in ancient Greek mythology, and it is only six miles from Delphi, said to be the birthplace of Apollo. Delphi was considered to be the omphalos or "navel" of the earth by the ancient Greeks. In Greek mythology, Zeus was said to have sent two eagles in opposite directions around the world, and when they finally met, it was at Delphi.
Arachova (its name means "place with walnut trees") makes no such earth-shaking claims for itself. Indeed, it is a sleepy little village by day, except in the winter when it becomes overrun by Jeep Cherokees and other 4x4s adorned with ski racks and wealthy-looking skiers from Athens and the international jet set. That is because some of the finest skiing in Europe is said to be found on the nearby slopes of Mount Parnassus, in places like Kelaria, 17 miles away, or Fterolakka, about an hour away by car if the roads are not blocked by fog.
But in the summer, when the crowds have gone, the town reverts back to its tradition-bound past, when it was known for its fine, brilliantly-colored weaving — the women of Arachova are said to be experts — olive fields and black wine. Actually, the off season, with no downhill aspirations, may be the best time to visit.
Clients should start with a stroll down the main street, Delphon, where small shops, or at least those still open after the ski season, are packed with wool bags, rag rugs and blankets, mostly locally made and all hand-loomed. One caveat, however, is that some of the local weaving has recently been supplanted by cheaper imports from as far away as China, so clients who want to buy authentic goods are advised to check labels carefully. Such is the price we pay for globalization, but bargains are still to be had.
Walking in Arachova can be an adventure. Clients might start out with a hike up the 265 steps to the St. George church, a small gem at the top of the town from which the spectacular views stretch out to the glistening Mediterranean far below. In either direction, you will often see fluffy white clouds that appear to be at eye level, giving you an idea of what it must have been like to be a Greek god surveying all that lay below. The church, like so many in Greece, is filled to the brim with icons, which the two friendly church attendants will be glad to show you. Also worth a visit are the town’s pair of freshwater springs, off the main square, which add to the distinct charm of this town.
Naturally, evenings are given over to eating with a wide variety of Greek cooking featuring stews, grills and mezedes (small mixed plates, much like tapas in Spain). Restaurants vary from the super chic to the basic Greek taverna. The traditional specialty of any good taverna is lamb, roasted or stewed, along with a Greek salad and a sampling of the famous local cheeses. Among the best: Myzithra cheese, made from ewe’s milk. Other regional specialties include kokoretsi (stuffed entrails), loukanika (sausage) and chilopites (tasty square noodles).
It is not unusual in some of the smaller tavernas to find that it’s still a family affair, with the mother running the grill, the kids acting as waiters and the dad out in back chopping up the meat.
The town seems to come alive in a special way after dinner, when the local inhabitants take to the streets for a post-prandial stroll or volta. This "energy walk" occurs mainly along the main street, but people stay out until late at night (the shops reopen after being closed during the mid-afternoon), and it’s a good time to mix with the locals in a less formal way.
Of course, one of the main attractions of Arachova is its close proximity to Delphi, which is the second-most visited site in Greece after the Parthenon and the Acropolis. In addition to Delphi itself, there are two stops along the way that are worthwhile. One is the Monastery of Osios Loukas, which devout Greek Orthodox visitors consider a holy spot. It is most certainly not the kind of place where sleeveless shirts or shorts are welcome.
The other spot is on the road leading to the monastery from Levadia. There, three roads converge, and the Greeks believe that this is the place where Oedipus killed his father, as is so tragically portrayed in the drama "Oedipus Rex."
Where to Stay: Arachova boasts some beautiful small inns and bed-and-breakfasts, as well as several luxury hotels. Among the best is Santa Marina Resort & Spa, with its traditional red terra-cotta roof and attractive wood and stone interiors. There are hand-woven rugs that soften the decor. In the winter, there is nothing better than curling up in front of the fireplace with a steaming cup of coffee and a good book. Rates start at slightly under $250 in the summer, based on double occupancy. www.santa-marina.grCommission: 8-10 percent
Tours: Tour operator TrueGreece runs several packages that include Arachova. The nine-day TrueAntiquity escorted tour begins and ends in Athens, with an overnight stay in Arachova and a stopover in Delhi. Packages start at $3,500 per person, based on double occupancy, and include hotel accomodations, tours, activities and transfers. Customized itineraries can also be arranged with travel agents. 800-817-7098www.truegreece.comCommission: 10 percent
TrueGreece’s itineraries offer something for just about any travelerBy Skye Mayring
TrueGreece, specializing in custom and prearranged tours of Greece, has a number of itineraries to showcase the best of the country from island nightlife to ancient architectural feats. Most packages include professional local guides, personalized service provided by a TrueGreece concierge, some meals and high-end accommodations.
Clients who opt for the True Elegance itinerary will explore Athens Crete and Santorini over the course of 10 days. Upon arrival, a TrueGreece Concierge will meet guests at the airport and bring them to the Electra Palace hotel, which is in close proximity to the Acropolis. Clients will get a guided walk through Plaka’s ancient streets and see the Parthenon.
In Santorini, clients can enjoy the dramatic red and black sand beaches, in addition to taking a sailing trip from the south side of Santorini, snorkeling and visiting the hot springs.
Perfect for those who enjoy their freedom, the TrueRepose itinerary visits Athens, Spetses and Syros, with a focus on the Greek island lifestyle. Scheduled tours are minimal, to allow plenty of free time, and accommodations have the feel of bed and breakfasts.
On this trip, clients will catamaran to Spetses on the second day and stay at the family-run, boutique hotel, Orloff Resort. Also on the itinerary is a stop at the Archaeological Museum and Miaoulis Square in Syros. Depending on the time of year and availability, clients can end the day with a performance at the opera house.
The TrueCulture tour is ideal for those who wish to learn about religious, folk, historical and architectural traditions. Clients will visit Rhodes, the island famed for its medieval main town and beautiful beaches, and Patmos, where St. John was said to have written the Book of Revelations.www.truegreece.com
Scroll down to read about more of TrueGreece's itineraries within Greece