Greece is full of villages. Essentially a village is a small town or a small section of a larger town, but ‘village’ evokes a different picture in my mind: authentic, untouched, pure. Seaside villages, like the towns on the Greek islands, typically rely on tourism and may center around a port. Mountain villages have few inhabitants; those who live there make their living in agriculture.
This last weekend, we spent time in and around Mina’s village in Central Greece, about 2.5 hours north of Voula. Her mother’s family is from this area and her parents, and some aunts/uncles and cousins have homes both here and in Athens. We left Saturday morning. We arrived, changed into bathing suits and thought we’d spend an hour or two at the beach just south of Kamena Vourla while the sun was strong. Instead, we spent the next 4-5 hours taking turns on the paddleboard, swimming and chilling on the deserted beach. The water was cold and the sun felt great. We had dinner that night on the way home in Kamena Vourla. The next morning, Mina made a lovely breakfast, and Theodoris and Demetri picked a bunch of pomegranates from the trees. We packed up and headed out. Our first stop was Thermopylae, which translates to ‘hot gate’ because of the many thermal springs in the area. Greek mythology says Thermopylae was the entrance to Hades. There’s also a story that Hercules jumped into the river in an attempt to wash off the poison that was in his cloak’s lining — a curse put there by the centaur who fell in love with Hercules’ wife — and the river became hot and has stayed hot ever since.
Thermopylae is primarily known for the epic battle in 480 BC in which a very outnumbered Greek army of 5000 led by Leonidas of Sparta fought a 150,000 strong army of Persians, led by Xerxes. (You know, 300?). Xerxes told Leonidas and his army to lay down their weapons; Leonidas responded, ‘molon lave,’ which translates from ancient Greek to ‘come take them if you dare.’ The Greeks held the Persians off for three days before they were betrayed by Ephialtes, who told Xerxes about a back way to get around the mountain and behind the Greek lines. Interestingly, the modern Greek word for ‘nightmare’ is efialtes – this was a way to shame his name. The Greeks lost, but not before they managed to kill 30,000 Persians. Thermopylae was a moral victory, and years later the Greeks finally defeated the Persians. There’s a cool monument and statue of Leonidas at the battle site. We bought some honey from a local artisan selling it from her car and hiked up to the hot springs. The Sulphur gives the water a greenish-white color. Surrounded by plants and grasses that are turning colors, it was sure a pretty view.
From there, we headed to the mountain village of Pavliani. Theodoris has explored every inch of Greece and knows so much about its ancient and modern history and knows all the best beaches, villages, hiking trails, islands and restaurants. I want to see all of Greece with him. Pavliani is a typical mountain village – small stone houses, pretty little yards and a taverna or three. Across the road from the village, though, is the most awesome hiking path that stretches for 9 kilometers along a river. The whole thing is a giant playground. There are swings hanging from huge trees, a bridge that looks like piano keys, an old metal cable with seats that serves as a zip line, a trampoline, a tree house, a human foosball court, a ‘gym’ with broken weight benches and chair soccer, forest bowling, and a little area with wooden picnic tables and lounges. Every 100 meters there’s a new thing to play on. It is absolutely brilliant. People of all ages were hiking and playing and at the bottom there was a group of old and young having a dance party. I think our little group hummed the Macarena at least halfway up the path after watching them. We came down around 6 to rest and eat in one of the village tavernas. This village is the most ‘fun’ place I’ve seen in Greece. It has adorable artwork not just along the hiking path, but on the houses, garages and garbage bins in the village town itself. It was a great weekend. We drove home through some other mountain towns before picking up the national road to head back to Voula, carrying sleeping kiddos to bed.