Nestled amid the stunning Vardoussia mountain range, Nafpaktia is a thriving resort area redolent of classy hotels and tasty restaurants, but still characterized by peace, tranquility, and breathtaking views.
Traditionally one of Greece’ poorest regions, the Vardoussia mountain range has been off limits to all but the hardiest visitors until just recently. The population of Nafpaktia, a town nestled amidst these mountains, had dwindled towards extinction in the face of the “better life” promised by the growing urban centers and the shores abroad. Though the snow-capped peaks and dense chestnut forests have always been picture-postcard gorgeous, the region’s villages lay moldering from neglect. Some families would return in August to escape the heat of the cities, but otherwise Nafpaktia was about to be pronounced clinically dead.
But then, the vision of a former emigrant reversed this grim diagnosis. Closing his hospitality businesses in both Cleveland and Athens, Yiorgos Papaioannidis returned to Ano Hora, the largest village in this district, to begin the construction of a hotel. He lived to inaugurate twenty rooms and baptize his establishment “Crystal” before his untimely death. Since then, this seemingly preposterous venture has expanded to include sixty rooms, while several more hotels have opened in the area to house the overflow.
The first guests were hunters, hoping to track down the boar, deer, and game birds that still thrive in the region’s sprawling wilderness. But no hunting lodge ever had such a plush décor, welcoming ambience, or delectable menu. The brawny hunters were delighted to feast on wild boar in all its manifestations, for example – stifado (a Greek onion stew), spare ribs, or chops, to name a few – or a chicken soup thicker and creamier than anyone’s grandmother had ever prepared.
Today’s Crystal is all this and more. The rooms are lovelier, the cuisine more exquisite, and the services more extensive. The staff is extremely knowledgeable with regards to the plethora of activities and day excursions that the mountain range offers. Crystal will never disappoint. For a more rustic refuge, try the Xenios in Kato Hora. The hotel is comprised of cozy log cabins, a wood-paneled living room with a superb fireplace, and a spacious terrace for either sunny lunches or tai chi in the snow. During the winter, its guests and staff are the only inhabitants in this tiny village, apart from the forest ranger and his wife. The peace and tranquility are indescribable. The view up to Ano Hora is even better than the view down from it, and there will be no need to find a taverna, given that the Xenios only hires the region’s most talented cooks.
But many tavernas do exist in Ano Hora and they are well-worth patronizing. The village’s eateries are located on the main street, lined by stone houses with cheerfully painted balconies. Be on the look out for Vasilis’ place – it’s the one with no name, a fireplace, posters of Switzerland (which could just as well be Vardoussia), and probably a smiling Vasilis wandering among the tables. The restaurant’s hortopitta (wild greens pie) and cabbage dolmades are both superb. To Platano, a taverna located under a plane tree at the end of the street, also features sumptuous home cooking in front of a large fireplace. Between meals, a stylish espresso bar attracts the young and the restless.
If you grow tired of eating and lounging by the fire, you might think to explore the stunning Kakavos Gorge on foot. Or take the paved road above it to the Ambelakiotissa monastery where a miraculous icon is believed to have made its way, unaided, from Ambelakia on Kissavos.
Oreini Nafpaktia is on the cusp of turning trendy, but for now it is just a peaceful, beautiful spot. It is getting a new lease on life, but soon it will be brimming with tourists.
It seems more remote than it actually is. You can get there via Rio-Antirrion, the Galaxidi-Nafpaktos coastal road or over the hills past Lidoriki and the Mornos Dam.
Crystal Guesthouse, Ano Hora, tel. 2634 041555
Xenios, Kato Hora, tel. 2634 041111, www.xenios-katohora.gr