Area of Aspropotamos
In the very heart of South Pindus Mountain Range, through the bowels of mount Lakmos (Peristeri), springs the river Achelous. Its crystal clear waters abandon the warm hug of the ground and follow an adventurous current crossing deep canyons and dense forests, flowing under rocky ridges and snowy peaks, forming foaming waterfalls and serene lakes, meeting old stone bridges and forgotten picturesque villages, irrigating green meadows and vast plains, watering wild animals and stiff-necked humans. The perpetual roar of its rushing waters reverberates up to the steep slopes of the surrounding mountains as a farewell song to the land that gave birth to it, continuing its long journey till the Ionian Sea.
The natives call it Aspropotamos, meaning “white river”, due to its foaming rushing waters. Many stories have been written, many legends have been told and many songs have been sung about the impetus, the power and the magic of its waters. And if some of them include perhaps a degree of exaggeration the truth is that Achelous is a “divine” river having designated the evolution of human presence and civilization in the areas of its course.
In the ancient years, Achelous was worshiped as a god and people, horrified by the dash and the force of its waters, made ceremonies to placate him. According to mythology, he was considered son of Ocean and Tethys (Earth) or, based on another theory, son of Ocean and nymph Naiada as well as father of the Sirens and the nymphs Kalliroi, Korinthos, Kastalia, Dirki and Peirini.
Achelous had fallen in love with the pretty Deianeira, Oineas’ daughter of Calydon and had kidnapped her. Hercules had been sent to the girl’s rescue and after a fight with Achelous, who had transformed into a large bull, he beat him by eradicating one of his horns. Then Achelous, admitting his defeat, claimed his horn back and Hercules demanded in exchange the horn of Amalthea, the Gods’ goat, symbolizing the abundance.
Achelous or Aspropotamos is the second longest river in Greece with a length of 220 kilometers which, crossing the districts of Trikala, Karditsa, Arta, Evritania and Aitoloakarnania, empties in the Ionian Sea, close to the Echinades Islands.
Traditional arched bridges over impetuous streams, old chapels nestled among dense forests, wood sheepfolds perched on remote plateaus and stone springs scattered in different alcoves, are all traits of the surrounding area. Moreover, along the river, numerous picturesque villages stand proudly in complete harmony with the natural landscape, guards of traditions and defenders of past. They are connected together not only via the river but also due to their residents’ common Vlach origin.
Vlachs, or Aromounoi, are a Greek bilingual tribe, descendants of the Latin-speaking Greeks of the Roman Empire, found mostly in the mountainous areas of Thessaly, Epirus and Macedonia. During the previous centuries their main occupations were livestock, trade and transportation, demanding continuous movements therefore they lived in a nomadic way having build numerous settlements in different areas.
In the area there are luxury resorts, cozy guesthouses, restaurants, traditional taverns, coffee places and stores with local products and souvenirs.
The main villages
Gardiki gazes Aspropotamos from an altitude of 1100 meters in the southeast slope of Kakarditsa (2469 m.), the highest mountain of South Pindus Range. It is one of the largest villages of the area numbering about 850 houses most of which however, are inhibited only during the summer, when its population reaches the 4000 people. Part of the village is also the settlement of Paleochori or Kerasovo. Gardiki is located 80 kilometers from Trikala and 62 kilometers from Pyli and it is accessible through the impressive Bridge of Alexiou.
It took its name from the Vlach word “gardisti” a corruption of the Latin word “garda” meaning “fort”. This is because the village, surrounded by imposing mountains, looks like a stronghold and is noticeable only from the main street passing opposite it. In the area of Paleochori have been discovered the ruins of the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Athamania as well as coins with the inscription Athamanes. The first king of Athamania was Athamas. The earliest recording of the village, with the name Gardiki, was in the first official census of the Turks in 1454, after the fall of Constantinople and the collapse of the Byzantine Empire. After the liberation of Thessaly from the Turks in 1881 Gardiki has evolved to a large village and has served as the seat of the former Municipality of Athamanes, which was abolished in 1912.
On the borders of Thessaly and Epirus, in the shadow of the imposing mountain Lakmos or Peristeri (2295 m.), where Aspropotamos springs from, lies Chaliki. Built in an altitude of 1160 meters, it is the western village of Trikala and Thessaly. It distances 97 kilometers from Trikala, through Pyli, and 66 from Kalabaka while, its population is 150 inhabitants, a number that increases in summer. Crossed by the foaming waters of Aspropotamos, the banks of which are linked with two stone arched bridges, this picturesque village with the traditional mansions, the paved alleys, the old churches and the stone springs constitutes a human-made gem hidden deep in the heart of South Pindus.
The village took its name from the characteristic small white stone that exists in abundance in Achelous, called “chaliki” in Greek. According to another explanation, it is a corruption of the word Chalkis, an ancient city existed in the current region which was part of the Kingdom of Athamania. Also, the district is mentioned as Chalkis in the bull of the Byzanitine Emperor Andronicus Paleologos in 1331 and it was regarded as one of the greatest cities of Pindus. During the Ottoman possession, Chaliki was the seat of Vlach-pasha Dimakis, who ruled the area with cruelty putting high taxes to the residents. It is said that Kosmas of Aetolia had visited Chaliki and after officiating at the service, he had blamed Dimakis for his actions and had predicted his unfortunate end.
Built in an altitude of 1140 meters, among the mountains Trigia (2204 m), Boutza (2144 m.) and Kaltsa (2058 m.), Krania is a beautiful village with great history and rich cultural heritage. Kraniotikos, tributary of Aspropotamos, which is formed by the plentiful accumulated waters of the nearby mountains, divides the village in two while, it serves as an ideal habitat of trout. Moreover, Krania is surrounded by rich forests of fir, pine and beech in which survive some of the rarest species of Greek fauna such as, the brown bear and the wolf. Its population is 360 inhabitants however, during the summer it exceeds the 3000 people, including the settlements Doliana, Konakia and Koukoufli. It distances 89 kilometers from Trikala, through Pyli, and 58 from Kalabaka.
The village owes its name to the endemic presence of the fruitful tree called krania. The first written mention of the village with that particular name was in 1520 in the historic records of the Abbey of Transfiguration in Meteora therefore, it is believed that the village was erected between 1460 and 1520 numbering about 30 families. The next recording was in 1614 in the historic documents of the Abbey of Varlaam in Meteora including the names of the residents that donated money to the monastery. In 1720 the village was temporarily abandoned because of a plaque to be reoccupied later on by a greater number of families. It reached its peak between 1885 and 1943, numbering 4000 inhabitants, with a large production of livestock goods, developed cottage industry, great commercial activities and transportation. Also, it was known for its hand-woven materials called “skoutia”. Krania was repeatedly ravaged by Albanians, Turks and Germans, though the first one was in 1824 by the Greek chieftain of Agrafa Karaiskakis who subsequently, became one of the most significant heroes of the Greek revolution. However, one of the most tragic chapters of its history was in October of 1943 when the German troops invaded the village and after discovering the mass graves of the German soldiers had been killed during the earlier battles in the area, they burnt the whole village and executed the 7 unique elderly residents for revenge.
Anthousa dominates the wooded slopes of Kedros mount in an altitude of 1100 meters, 97 kilometers away from Trikala, through Pyli, and 62 from Kalabaka. Its population is 300 inhabitants, the great majority of whom reside the village only during the summer. It is a picturesque village with traditional mansions, such as the Mansion of Papastergiou (1877) being the most distinctive one, old churches, paved alleys, and arched bridges, surrounded by dense fir and beech forests while, the numerous stone fountains are one of the village’s main trait.
The village was built in the first quarter of the 18th century (1700-1725), called Lepenitsa and during the period of its prosperity the art of goldsmithery and the animal breeding flourished in the area. Also, it had a considerable contribution to the Greek Rebelion of 1821 since it is the birthplace of heroes Mitros Simos, henchman of Athanasios Diakos, and Theodorakis Grivas while, the hero Katsantonis had taken shelter and had acted in the region. According to the Turkish census of 1820 the village had 60 houses. After the liberation of Thessaly, in 1881, it became part of the Municipality of Lakmos counting 318 residents while, in 1928 it was renamed Anthousa, meaning “in blossom”.
The Church of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross
This particular church is the symbol of the whole area of Aspropotamos due to its astonishing architecture that constitutes it unique in Greece. The nave is a three-aisle basilica with three semicircular arches on the east side and three arches on every long side. The temple has a slate covered roof above which rise twelve domes of different sizes which, according to tradition, are dedicated to Christ’s disciples. Externally there are embossed representations. The interior of the church is not covered with masonry thus, there is no hagiography, highlighting in this way its stone’s appearance while, inside the sanctuary is formed a synthronon and a bishop’s throne.
Its construction period is estimated about in the second half of the 18th century, most probably in 1770. According to written evidence, between 1792 and 1924 it operated as a monastery while, in 1943 it was destroyed by the Germans. Based on a stone relief inscription, the founder of the church is Gianousos Gkougkouzis from the village Ventista (Amarados) of Aspropotamos. It is located nestled in a small plateau, surrounded by tall fir-trees, 1.5 kilometers away from the settlement Dolania and 2 kilometers from Krania and it has been declared a protected monument by the Ministry of Culture.
Panagia Galaktotrophousa Monastery
The Monastery of Panagia Galaktotrophousa lies in the confluence of Chalikiotikos and Lepenitsiotikos, tributaries of Achelous, in a green site 3 kilometers northeast of Anthousa village. It was erected in 1799 and it is dedicated to the Mother of God, the icon of whom was transferred from Venice to Anthousa in 1761. Over the seraglio there is a chapel in the memory of the beak-head of John the Baptist, celebrated on August 29th.
The monastery took its name, meaning “diary-nurse”, from the fact that the stock-breeders of the mounts Lakmos and Tzoumerka joined their flocks in the monastery every spring and autumn and after lighting a candle to their protector Virgin Mary, they continued all along their common and hard way to the mountains. In 1943 it was destroyed by the German troops to be restored later on while, nowadays it has been declared a monument by the Ministry of Culture.
A few meters outside the village of Anthousa, over the river Aspropotamos, the bridge of Michos stands proudly. It is an impressive stone bridge with two arches connecting, via the old path, the village with the Monastery of Virgin Mary Galaktotrofousa. The development of its two arcs is 12.5 meters for the large and 3.7 meters for the small one. There is no information concerning the period of its construction.
Erected in the middle of the 18th century, it is located in the entrance of the village of Anthousa, bridging the banks of Lepenitsis, tributary of Aspropotamos. It is a beautiful stone bridge with an arc development of 7.3 meters.
It lies over Aspros, a tributary of Aspropotamos, in the entrance of the village of Chaliki. It is a stone bridge, built in the 14th century on a rock, with arc development of 6.7 meters.
It is a traditional stone bridge erected around 1500. It is located in Chaliki, over Kapraria, tributary of Aspopotamos, connecting the village with the Church of St. Georgios.
In a beautiful location, 2.5 kilometers away from Chaliki, where Aspros, a tributary of Aspropotamos, flows, lies the bridge of Filos. It is a stone construction, with an arc development of 8 meters, erected in the 18th century by Michalis Filos, resident of Chaliki, to connect the village with Metsovo.
Located in the entrance of Krania, connects the two settlements of the village which are separated by the river of Kraniotikos. It is a traditional stone bridge with an arc development of 15 meters that took its name from a spring close to the area.
It is a small stone construct with an arc development of 7.6 meters, bridging the banks of Kraniotikos River. Erected in 1887, one kilometer away from Krania, next to the watermill of Doulas Gkikas, to whom it owes its name.
Koukoufli Forestry Station
The forestry station of Koukoufli is situated in an altitude of 1100 meters, by the main road and the river, 48 kilometers away from Kalabaka and 6 from Krania. Actually, it is a small settlement consisting of wood and stone cots, utility buildings, offices, church, stone fountains, and a picnic area, used for the accommodation of the forest rangers. Moreover, a trout farm operates in the station breeding, every year, approximately 80,000 trout offspring used for the enrichment of the mountain rivers’ fauna. Aspropotamos is an excellent habitat counting the largest trout population in Greece.
Among the imposing summits and the dense forests of South Pindus, in an altitude of 900 meters, there is a place where the magnificence of nature unfolds widely. It is the meeting point of the rivers Kraniotikos and Asprorema to form Achelous, called Tria Potamia which, in Greek means “three rivers”. It is an area of outstanding natural beauty rich in flora and fauna, located 83 kilometers from Trikala, through Pyli, and 50 from Kalabaka. By the river, there is a special recreational spot ideal for relaxation, under the melody of nightingales.
Also, here lies the Environmental Education Center with a clay model pinpointing all the places of interest such as, monuments, churches, bridges and habitats as well as detailed charts and brochures of the entire area. Additionally, there is a small exhibition with various traditional objects and paraphernalia presenting residents’ life during the previous decades. Finally, on the same premises operates also a conference room of 350 people.
Verliga Dragon Lake
As South Pindus welomes spring, the snow surrounding Verliga dragon lake is melting, forming a remarkable mosaic around its serene waters. It’s about time the dragon woke up from its winter sleep.
Verliga is the third dragon lake of Pindus Mountain Rage, since there are two more in the area of North Pindus that does not belong to the district of Trikala. This particular lake is almost circular, characterized by the phenomenon of flushing its waters forming a funnel therefore Vlachs named it Verliga meaning “whirling”. Nowadays, it keeps water only in winter due to the climate change. Dragon lakes on the Greek mountains are a geological phenomenon created thousands of years ago during the ice age.
Legend has it that, there were three dragons living in each of the three lakes of Pindus who were fighting, throwing huge stones to each other thus, they are called dragon lakes. Natives call the lake karvelou, deriving its origin from “karveli”, the Greek word for a loaf of bread. This is because it is said that no matter how many loaves of bread somebody eats, he will be able to digest them immediately provided that he drinks water from the lake. It is located on a plateau on the mount Lakmos (Peristeri), close to Chaliki Village.
The springs of Achelous nestle in a beautiful site on mount Lakmos (Peristeri) near Chaliki. The river waters, descending the mountain, form a series of waterfalls, some of which exceed the height of 5 meters, making an outstanding spectacle. They are easily accessed following the road that leads to Metsovo.
The Waterfall of Demon, with 15 meters height, is the most striking in the area, hidden deep in the heart of a canyon in an altitude of 1000 meters, in the shadow of the summit Kourouna (1988 m.). It is located in a stunning site outside the village Tzourtzia and it is accessed in 2 hours by a path starting from the Chapel of St. George and then crossing the bridge.
The old schools of Chaliki, Krania and Anthousa have been restored and tailored to operate as folklore museums. They house a large exhibition of old houseware and devices, old wooden looms, obsolete tools, traditional cooking utensils, traditional clothing, relics, old weapons as well as black-and-white pictures.
The foaming waters of the Aspropotamos are ideal for rafting and canoe-kayaking while, the trout fishing is possible along the entire river. Also, swimming in the crystal clear waters can be a unique experience. Moreover, the whole territory is offered for hiking in a large network of trails, mountaineering in the surrounding imposing summits, mountain biking and hunting. Τhere are offices with experienced guides, specialized in outdoor activities, operating in the area.
The area offers a great assortment of traditional goods, produced either with pure raw materials according to the authentic recipes of the grandparents, or by the nature itself. The list includes diary products such as, Feta cheese, cream cheese, yoghurt, sour milk and butter, high quality meat and traditional pies. Additionally, there are available goods including pure honey, homemade marmalade, jam suits, frumenty, groats, liqueur, herbs, dried flowers, wooden curved handicrafts and handloom.