Some secrets really are worth keeping. Clean beaches, crystalline waters, verdant forests and intriguing ancient sites are only a few of the myriad reasons why a small but growing number of selective travellers are keeping their lips sealed when it comes to the prefecture of Preveza.
During Archaic times however, it was no secret that the region was widely known to contain the entrance to the underworld, Hades. People came from all over Greece to visit the 'Nekromanteio' or 'Oracle of the dead' in order to communicate with the deceased. Today visitors can travel up the same river said to be used by Charos to ferry the dead to Hades. It eventually leads to the site of the oracle and travellers can see what is left of the ruins and descend into the underground chambers to get a glimpse of what people in antiquity perceived to be the gates of hell.
For travellers looking for a way to get their heart pumping amongst the living, the Achertontas River offers one of the best white water rafting and kayaking scenes in the country. Birdwatchers and nature lovers will also enjoy the wetlands of the Acherontas river delta, which is home to a spectacular array of wildlife and flora, many of which are rare or endangered. Nature enthusiasts can also spot over 290 species of birds within various wetlands of the Ambracian or Amvrakikos Gulf. The region’s large number of rivers, gulfs and wetlands welcome thousands of migrating birds each year.
Preveza is also an important stop for the multitudes of travellers heading southward towards the Peloponnese or the Ionian island of Lefkada. It is home to the country’s only underwater tunnel which links the city to the small village of Aktio on the south shore of the Amvrakikos Gulf. Unfortunately unlike the birds, most tourists don’t take the time to stay and enjoy the simple pleasures Preveza has to offer.
Aside from being a key port along the Ionian coast, the city of Preveza also lies at the mouth of the Gulf, making it seem as though it’s surrounded by water. This is probably why so many visitors claim that walking along the picturesque harbour and narrow alleys of the city gives you the impression that you’re on an island. Venture further into the city and you’ll encounter vibrant examples of Venetian and Ottoman architecture, demonstrating how the city has succeeded beautifully in preserving its mixed heritage without losing its Greek identity.
One aspect that’s undeniably Greek is the cuisine. As is the custom throughout Epirus, Preveza serves up some of the best pitas in the country. Here the women prepare these succulent pies the traditional way, taking hours to roll handmade dough into paper thin sheets. It’s a long, tedious process but without which that golden flaky crust just wouldn’t be the same. Filled with anything from apple to zucchini makes it unlikely that you’ll ever taste them all (though there’s no harm in trying!). Pitas may be a top culinary choice among the locals, but there’s no denying that fish and other seafood dishes take centre stage on the tables throughout Preveza.
Blessed with ample fishing grounds in both the Ionian Sea and the Amvrakikos Gulf as well as a lucrative fish farming industry, Preveza takes its seafood seriously. So much so, that it has been hosting the annual Sardine Festival around August since 1975, with attendees numbering over 15,000 in recent years. Though it may sound quirky, it’s one of the best times to visit the city if you truly want to experience the local culture. However, no matter what time of year you visit, the residents of the area will be sure to make you feel welcome. Travellers have named the exceptional hospitality of the locals as one of the reasons they continue to vacation here year after year.
The city of Preveza is the capital of the region, but everyone knows that the jewel in its crown is the small seaside resort of Parga. Situated along the Ionian Sea in the north-western corner of the prefecture, this unassuming fishing village has been a beloved tourist getaway since the 60s. In fact, it was here that one of the first Club Med complexes was built. Over the years, the town has gone from hidden hideaway to burgeoning summer hot-spot among travellers in-the-know. Its popularity among German, Italian, and Scandinavian visitors gives it a somewhat cosmopolitan air, though its faithful tourist following of Greeks has allowed Parga to remain true to its Hellenic identity.
The town is built amphitheatrically around the harbour and is literally enveloped in green from every angle. Perhaps it is this stunning contrast of picturesque white houses with orange-tiled roofs amongst the deep green pine trees and turquoise waters of the Ionian that casts its spell on all who visit the area. Other highlights include the stylish yet simple cafes and tavernas encircling the pier as well as the Castle of Parga, which is the unofficial emblem of the town. It was first built by the Venetians and then destroyed by the Turks, then rebuilt by the Venetians only to be destroyed again. The Venetians finally perfected its design, but it was later taken over by the Ottoman Turks, where the regional ruler Ali Pasha used it as both his personal harem and baths.
Today, most of the bathing takes place right below the castle along the popular Lichnos beach. It’s a lively place to enjoy a swim, but veteran visitors know that the best beaches around Parga are just outside the city. Numerous small coves of emerald water entice swimmers willing to venture beyond the town in order to discover them.
If the bars and beaches of Parga leave you seeking some peace and quiet, head eastward towards the Lake of Ziros just 5 kilometres west of the village of Fillipiada. Thick forests, beautiful wild flowers and snow-capped mountains provide the backdrop to some of the best hiking and mountaineering routes in the Preveza Prefecture. Another wonderful way to enjoy the beauty of the lake is by canoe, which is a popular endeavour here.
A great place to end a visit to Preveza is the settlement of Anogeion tucked in the Northeast corner of the region. The quaint village literally sits at the top of the prefecture and offers a panoramic view of the entire region. Those who visit during the winter and early spring may find themselves in a snow-filled winter wonderland, thanks to its altitude and the generally cool climate it enjoys. The area is also home to several hot springs known to treat ailments such as rheumatoid arthritis and various dermatological problems. Not far from Anogeion are the Cave of Markos Botsari (a prominent fighter in the Greek War of Independence) and the archaeological site of Orraon, both of which are worthwhile stops on the map of any inquisitive traveller.
Don’t be one of the many who miss out on this land of emerald coves, winding rivers, thick forests and diverse nature. Like the thousands of migrating birds which stop here, those who make the effort to discover Preveza's many hidden charms will find themselves making a journey to the region year after year.