I must admit that I had not heard off Preveza(1) before I was invited there by one of my European Cultural and Activity Tours partners, Nicopoli Travel. We wanted to put together diving and sailing tuition holidays and an adventure camp in the Preveza area. Preveza is situated on the west coast of mainland Greece, south of Corfu. The photos of the town and surrounding area impressed me. Preveza looked more Italian than Greek and the coastal scenery was a beautiful contrast of the green land and the turquoise sea.
Map of the area with reference
There is not a great choice of charters to Preveza, I had to go to Manchester for a charter with Excel Airways. Luckily my flights were on a Saturday when I knew that the traffic would not be too heavy for the drive down from central Scotland. Also the outward flight left around lunch time so I could drive down that morning and the inward flight arrived back around lunchtime too, so I could drive straight back that afternoon. It always seems a bit of a waste to have to pay to stay in an airport hotel when you have to get up really early to check in for your flight. However a night drive to or from Manchester airport is equally unappealing.
|Harry of Nicopolis met me at the airport and took me to the hotel he had booked, the Kalamitsi. We went under the new tunnel, which makes the journey from the airport south of Preveza very fast compared to the past when you had to wait for a ferry. It was so relaxing to go for a swim in the pool that evening. The hotel owner thought I was a bit mad and kept saying it was cold but I found it really refreshing after all the sitting in the car and the plane. My room was very clean, comfortable and well equipped with a fridge and two rings. The balcony faced the pretty garden and the pool. The Ionian sea was a few minutes walk down a path from the hotel.|
In the morning I picked up the hire car. It was necessary with the location of the hotel, a few kilometres outside Preveza, and in order to see a bit of the Epirius area. That first day I drove to Lefkada(2), which although it is an island, is joined to the mainland by a bridge so it is easily accessible.
I stopped in Lefkada town, just on the other side of the bridge. It was pleasant enough for a short stroll. There was the traditional town square with pavement cafes and a sea front walk. However I most enjoyed walking around the town, the narrow street bursting with flowering bushes and potted plants in such vivid colours. There was even a house with a hand painted mural on the exterior walls. I drove down the west coast of Lefkada to Nidri. Nidri itself was rather small and commercialised. I saw a sign for some waterfall outside the town so followed it and had a lovely shady walk up to the waterfall. On the drive back up Lefkada I stopped at a small bay for a swim. I am not a great swimmer but the sea looked so alluring and calm (I hate big waves going over my head and making me swallow the salt water). It was such a catharsis to swim in that sheltered bay, feel the water supporting and surrounding you, look up and see the cloudless blue sky and the mountains. It was so long since I'd swum in the sea that I'd forgotten about buoyancy and my feet were coming out of the water while doing the breast stroke.
Although it was mid May it was too hot for me, so I appreciated the air conditioning in the car and tried to stay out of the sun during the day.
|The next day I drove south down the coast to Paleros(3), to meet Harry's partner, Christos. Paleros is an extremely pretty quaint Greek village with a small harbour, where the boat used for the diving tours was docked. Christos suggested that I drive further south down to Mitkas, which is the ferry point for one of the diving sites near the island of Kalamos. I could see Mitikas in the distance on the drive, it appeared to be floating on the sea, roughly surrounded 300 degrees by mountains. As I drew nearer the village I lost sight of it and in fact drove past it, as it didn't appear to have been clearly signed. I sat on the beach and had a picnic of yoghurt, bread and fruit juice while admiring the panoramic views. It was so peaceful, deserted and beautiful.|
As I started the drive back, I mused that this coastal drive really did rival the Pacific Highway in California, which I had driven in December 2002. I decided to stop for a swim and hid the key under a stone marked by my wrap. I noticed that it was becoming rather cloudy and a thunderstorm began. It was weird being in the sea when there were enourmous drops of rain falling. When I came out of the water, I walked over and put on my wrap, suddenly realising that I should have picked up the key before I moved the wrap. There were a few panicky minutes of frantic stone upturning and visions of being stranded but I was soon on my way. I wasn't sure whether to have the slight detour to visit the village of Vonsita, on the southern coast of the Amvrikos Gulf, as I knew it would involve some night driving on windy roads. I'm glad that I did go as it had an attractive tree and flower lined prom and it was ideal for a stroll in the warm evening sunshine.
On Tuesday I drove north to Parga(4). I'd seen photos of it and it looked really pretty. It was picturesque but too commercialised for my liking. I had lunch at a seaside restaurant where all the other customers were English tourists. I drove a bit further north to Sivota(5), stopping at a cover for a swim on the way there. It was quite a steep climb down from where I had parked the car. As I turned to walk along the beach I realised that it must be an unofficial nudist beach and the scattering of sun worshippers were all naked. I just marched over to the other side of the beach and went for a swim, clad in my costume. I thought after I had climbed down that I wasn't going to leave until I'd had my swim, nudists or not.
The bank of the Acheron river
The Acheron Plain with Ammoudia in the distance
On the return journey I stopped at Ammoudia(6), where the River Acheron flows into the sea. There were attractive cafes down the riverside and I was intrigued by the waves appearing to come right up the river.
The next day I returned to that area but further inland near the village of Glyki(7), to visit the Acheron gorge. The water there is the most amazing shade of green, just as breathtaking as the photos I had seen in the brochure. I tried to swim there but the water was too cold and there was a strong current, making it very difficult for me to stand up after my aborted swim. I walked to the top of the gorge, fantastic views down. I drove back down through the Zalago mountains and planned to go back west to the coast for a swim. However when I reached the coast it was too wavy for my liking. It was then I appreciated that all my sea swims had been on sheltered coasts and this was the open sea.
|I was up early on Tuesday morning for the drive inland to Ioanninon(8). I stayed on the main route on way there and the scenery wasn't very memorable. It was my first experience of driving in a busy Greek city and was pretty nervewracking. Luckily I found a parking space near the lake fairly easily and I had a walk along the lakeside, visited the municipal museum and a short stroll around the town before a thunderstorm erupted. I decided to leave Ioanninon as the more scenic route back would be a longer drive and I'd to be back at the hotel to meet Harry at 5pm.|
The hills around Voutsaras
The drive back through via Voutsaras(9) was amazing. I felt was if I was in the clouds driving though the mountains, littered with fertile green valleys and villages perched on green peaks. As I approached the coast towards Ammoudia it looked as though the rock had been sliced through to enable the river to flow into the sea.
Harry had arranged for me to visit ancient Nicopolis, near Preveza, with two of the archeaologists who were working there that evening. Nicopolis was built to commemorate the nearby naval defeat of Anthony and Cleopatra by Octavian (later known as Augustus Caesar, just to confuse us) in 31BC. This victory is said to be one of most important events of antiquity, as it was a heralded the beginning of a new era of dominance of the Roman empire. By 3AD the city had a population of 300,000, mainly due to the fact that all the inhabitants of nearby settlements were forced to move there. What remains of Nicopolis is rather disappointing, very geographically dispersed, a lot of it closed to the public, either as it is undergoing renovation or deemed unsafe. However for me it was the history of the Battle of Actium that I found fascinating. The story goes that Cleopatra was the mistress of Caesar of Rome, and after his death in 44 BC, Rome was split between the rival supporters of Octavian and Mark Anthony. Anthony was married to Octavian's sister, Augusta. However Cleopatra turned to Anthony as protector of Egyptian interests and they became lovers, Anthony abandoned Augusta and is believed to have married Cleopatra in 36BC. This made Anthony deeply unpopular in Rome and intensified the rivalry for the leadership of Rome between them.
The final confrontation took place near the mouth of the gulf near Preveza. It is usually told that Cleopatra deserted Anthony with her ships, when the outcome of the battle was unclear, condemning Anthony to defeat. He then followed her, and they both escaped. Anthony committed suicide the next year and then Cleopatra followed suit. I suppose I must be a old romantic at heart to be intrigued by the story.
The crypt at Necromandia
|Next morning I returned to Nicopolis to visit the museum, there wasn't a lot there but a new larger museum was under construction nearby. It was my last day and I wanted to visit the Necromandio, near Ammoudia. According to mythology, the Acheron plain, starting where the river emerges from the narrows near Glyki, was where the souls of dead dwelled. The river was the channel over which Charon (Death) carried the souls of the dead into the realm of Hades, located in the depths of Lake Acheron. The Necromandia was built on top of a cave on the north-western shore of the lake, where the living could communicate with the dead. This oracle was visited by numerous pilgrims, who were placed on a diet of beans and lupins for a few days to prepare them for communication with the beloved deceased in the sacred crypt. Remains of a crane device thought to have been used to lower figures of the dead into the chamber have been found. Also the walls of the crypt are over 3 metres thick, making it possible to disguise secret passages, so it appears there was a bit of ancient jiggery-pokery. However I did find it a bit eerie in the crypt, especially as I was down there on my own.|
As I was so near the Acheron gorge I decided to have one last walk there, as I found it such an enchanting and magical location.
In the afternoon I wanted to revisit Lefkada and drive down the west coast, which Harry had said was more beautiful than the east where I'd gone on the first day. It was certainly true, the drive to Agios Nikitas was indescribably beautiful. The rain had stopped and the sun was filtering through clouds, forming pools of light in the sea. I tried to capture this in the photo but I have not succeeded. I missed my turning back to the main road and ended up driving further south than I intended to the quaint village of Kalamitsi. The roads in the village were so narrow that I wasn't sure I could get the Punto through. There were yet more breathtaking views on the descent back to Lefkada town.
Pools of light on the sea at Lefkada
The Acheron Gorge
On the way back to the hotel I decided to play it safe and stop at the airport to confirm the time of my return flight the next day. I was amazed that the airport was all locked up. Evidently it is a facility which is shared with the military, it's quite a small airport so it only opens when civilian flights are due to arrive and depart.
Luckily the flight time was unchanged. I'd been instructed just to leave the hire car in the airport car park with the keys in the sun visor, which made me feel a little nervous.
On my return I thought that the area was even more beautiful than I had anticipated. It was not too commercialised and over run with tourists, so I did feel that I had been in Greece. The diving and sailing trips which I would promote for Nicopli were good value and beautiful locations to learn to sail and dive. On a personal level I had really enjoyed the trip, although I had done quite a bit of driving this had afforded me the opportunity to visit and savour a good variety of locations and attractions. In my opinion the Preveza area is well worth exploring. Most of the other tourists I spoke to on the plane home had been headed either for Parga or Lefkada island and had hardly ventured from there, I think they had missed lot.
Flights to Preveza cost £176 from Manchester in mid May with Excel Airways; the price is similar from Gatwick.
The Kalamitsi hotel costs around 60 euros a night for a double self catering room. I liked its location as it was very quiet, back of the main road but you would need to drive the few kilometres into Preveza, for a choice of restaurants and bars. Nicopoli travel can offer other hotels and self catering accommodation around Preveza, Parga, Sivota and Lefkada, as well as in other locations in Greece.
Car hire costs around £200 a week for a Punto size vehicle.
Eating out for lunch or dinner on the set menu was around 12 euros per person. Credit cards are not widely accepted so it is safer to carry euros.