ATHENS – People who discover little-known places for vacations have mixed feelings: they want to tell the world how wonderful it is there – but they want to keep the world at bay too. Epirus is one of those places, the northwest corner or Greece, filled with gateways to wild nature, history, mythology, and gastronomy – and the color of the day, throughout the year, is not Hellenic Blue, but… green! Yes the sky is as deep and lovely a shade of blue as any other part of mainland Greece, but it is a marvelous thing to behold the slopes of pine-covered mountains and hills cascading down into the enchanting sea – whose blue also blends with…green.
The combination of blue and green embracing one another at the seashore and around tiny nearby islands, as well as the dance in the sky of those evergreen hills with the brilliant blue heavens has earned the coastal region the moniker ‘Caribbean of Greece’.
There are numerous towns and villages on the Ionian coast: breathtaking Preveza, delightful Parga – and a place called Maras – which may be the ancestral home of Yankees great Roger Maris. The famous slugger changed his name from Maras, and his family has some Greek origin memories, although its more firmly-planted and better-remembered roots are farther north up the coast in Croatia.
Here we will spotlight three places beloved of natives and visitors alike: Sybota, Igoumenitsa, and Paramithia.
The town of Sybota is on the coast, right opposite the southern tip of Corfu, 24km south of Igoumenitsa, which, we will also ‘visit’. The third locale is the quaint town of Paramithia and its most famous nearby resident, the Acheron, mythology’s ‘River of Woe’.
Sotiris Mitsis, a native son of Sybota and president of the municipal water services company, was the first to share the ‘Caribbean of Greece’ nickname with The National Herald. “Because of its beautiful seacoast, and the green land goes right down to the sea, with capes, fingers stretching into the Ionian, and several little islands just off the coast, like little fjords.”
The picturesque village is built in a bay with five nearby green islands – Agios Nikolaos, Mavro Mountain, Megalo Mourtemeno, Mikro Mourtemeno, and Hoironisi. And there are seventeen (17!) beaches in the area, including Mega Ammos – a Blue Flag beach – Mikri Ammos, Bella Vraka, and Zavia.
The picturesque harbor offers many spots for relaxation and enjoyment, with restaurants, taverns, and cafe-bars overlooking the Ionian Sea.
Mitis points out that “tourism investments are moving forward, including additional 5-Star hotels. “We are very pleased with tourism’s development. It’s a small place, but its beautiful and we love it, and you should come visit us,” he said.
Ioannis Karagiannis, a bank manager by profession, is the proud mayor of the town of Paramithia – a municipality with 10,000 people and 33 communities, seated in a classic agricultural region that grows corn, wheat, and more recently… asparagus. There is some livestock too.
The curious name (it sounds like ‘paramithi’, fable or tall tale) is derived from the famous church of Panagia Parigoritissa – Our Lady of Mercy – via its other name of ‘Parigoria’.
The area’s tourism magnet, however, is the Acheron River. When modern man thinks of ‘other worlds’, he thinks of outer space, but in ancient times, the closest ‘other world’ was the ‘underworld’ of religion and myth, which in some spots was not far away reality for people at all – figuratively and literally – the river being 15 minutes west of Paramithia, at the border with the Parga municipality.
“The river Acherontas is fed by the tears of the loved ones of the dead when Hades took them away to his realm,” Karagianis explained. The majestic mountain overlooking the town also triggers a bit of fear – at least in the sense of what its name evokes: Mount Gorila.
Apart for the names and myths and some history, however, the area is a delight.
Giannis Lolos is the mayor Igoumenitsa, a town that is increasingly in the news – for good reasons.
“It is a city at the edge of Greece that connects Europe and Greece,” he told TNH, “and it is a newly built city – it does not have urban riches, but there is a rich shoreline – and the port is older. There are remains of a castle built by the Venetians around the beginning of the 15th century – but it was also destroyed by the Venetians in 1685.
The town is surrounded by pine forests and the river Kalamas, which leads to the Ionian Sea, however, the glory of Igoumenitsa are its beaches. Again: “where green blends into the blue,” Karagiannis says, adding that there are plenty of enjoyable and affordable accommodations.
“Whoever visits has a wonderful time,” the mayor assures.
Karagiannis was trained in forestry – understandable given Epirus’ imposing mountains – but he developed an appreciation for public service and is happy to be serving the community. “It is good to be involved with the place where you live, when you work for the improvement and progress of your town and region. You develop a sense of duty that gives you the energy to keep moving forward and to love your work.”
Like its sister port of Alexandroupolis, contemporary events and trends are increasing Igoumenitsa’s significance – for Greece as well as for Europe as a whole. For example, there are plans to create LNG facilities. The city is located at the western end of the Egnatia Odos highway that extends across all of northern Greece and ultimately connects to the major north-south routes of the Balkans. There are also good airport connections nearby, including on Corfu and in renowned city of Ioannina, perhaps the jewel in Epirus’ crown – but more on that another time.
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