Karditsa (Lake Plastira)
There's a stunning contrast to be experienced in the prefecture of Karditsa, from the continuous plains of Thessaly to the mountains of Agrafa and the villages dotting the shores of Lake Plastira. Apart from the peaks and endless views of unspoilt nature, adventure lovers will also be lured by the Acheloos river and the massifs of Argithea.
The whole region is equally ideal for rest and relaxation thanks to idyllic nature walks and fabulous natural spa: the curative effects of the Smokovo springs, which date back to 1662, combine sulfur and alkaline properties with water temperatures between 29-40 degrees Centigrade. Nature-wise, cedar forests, chestnut forests, venerable oak trees, abundant plane trees and a plenitude of beautiful fir trees will captivate you, offering a very different landscape from the olive groves and pine forests of other parts of Greece.
The people in this region are friendly and welcoming, backed by their hearty foods, good wine, strong spirits (e.g. local tsipouro) and a laid-back life. Even the region's capital, the city of Karditsa itself, is biker-friendly and relaxing. Once in Downtown Karditsa, you must stop for a coffee in the central Pafsilipo park with its many free-roaming peacocks, then stroll through the Municipal Art Gallery to admire the work of powerful local painters, not to mention the Municipal Folk Museum and church of Zoodohos Pigi Kaminadon. But don't stay in the city too long as there's lots to see in the outlying regions. One interesting village only 12 km from Karditsa and declared a protected historic site is Agios Giorgios, featuring stone-built mansions, narrow roads, two stone bridges in the vicinity and a historic watermill.
The Fanouriou Castle, considering a magnificent Byzantine specimen, lies at the foot of Agrafa and overlooks the plain of Thessalia. Two other-worldly monasteries must also be part of your visit, those of Panagias Pelekitis and of Koronis near Plastira lake (just call ahead to enquire about opening days). Other monasteries such as the Spilias Monastery in Argithea and the Assumption of Virgin Mary at Rentina also stand witness to the area's importance in history.
Lake Plastiras might be an artificial lake officially, but there's nothing artificial about the fauna and flora that surround it, the biotope it created and the wellbeing that it brought to the people of the region in numerous ways. The dam area is impressive to walk through, before driving on to the secluded villages. Check out the view of the lake from the village of Neochori, visit the simple village of Agios Georgios, the fir-drenched village of Neraida, the museum of Portitsa and the Petras Monastery near Katafygio. The choices for discovering the enchantment of rural life in this part of Greece are endless. Stop by any friendly taverna in the village squares to sample the hearty local cuisine.
For truly historic communities, head to Kanalia, where the stone-built architecture hints of Epirus, then stop by its folklore museum, before moving on to Fanari or Agrafa whose buildings also reflect the architecture of nearby Epirus – an area known for its stonemasons. Other traditional communities include the hillside village of Hellonpyrgos and the beautifully forested Hellinokastro. The agricultural and commercial centre of the Argithea region is Mouzaki, complete with an Environmental Education centre featuring amazing flora and fauna, an upscale spa hotel (Mouzaki Palace) and an interesting folk museum.
The whole area is full of stone bridges such as the Trizolou footbridge in Karya from the 13th century, the Katafylliou bridge from the early 20th century, and the Vlasi bridge from Ottoman times, to name only three.
In winter the ski resort of Karamanolis at 1,536 meters will offer snow adventures, while the same spot is ideal for hiking during the rest of the year. Eco-friendly adventures also include hiking in the Belokomiti forest with almost 40 kilometers worth of paths, as well as rafting, kayaking and canoeing on Lake Plastria and Mega Rema in Mouzaki. The same area has a gorge some 20 minutes away from the village of Pezoula, with a hiking route around the gorge of 4-6 hours. You can also try your hand at horseback riding in Morfovouni, or paragliding from the summits of Tembla or Agonas in Neraida, Koufologos/Kryoneri in Mouzaki, as well as in the areas of Agios Giorgos and Ellinopyrgos.
Tradition and nature are found everywhere in this region. One notable resort village at 800 meters called Kastania lies on the northern slope of mount Itamos almost at the peak of Tsouka. The village – known for its traditional craftsmen who make tsarouhia (traditional wooden shoes) – boasts a heavenly climate and gives way to oak and fir forests, as well as waterside escapes at the lake of Plastira. Within the lake there's a small island called Niaga, which can be reached by boat.
Another interesting village is Neohori meaning 'New Village' built on the site of an older one which was abandoned by plague during the Middle Ages. In 1525 Neohori was declared the capital of the Agrafa region and was a major market town. Having played an important role in WWII, the village today charming old houses with their their original wood-carved balconies – an important example of the local architecture. Within the village is the single-chambered Church of Agios Nikolaos (Saint Nicholas) with a portico and frescos of the 16th and 17th centuries.
In the Agrafa region, the village of Karvassaras lies at an altitude of 1200 meters and was a caravan stop during Ottoman times. Today, its stone-built houses, springs and natural landscape lure adventurers and relaxation-seekers alike. The Karitsiotis river is nearby, emanating from the areas of Kaimakia and Bouni, while the peak of Lakos at 2000 meters offers an unparalleled view of the Plain of Thessaly. The fir forests of Bouni and Mavrologos are also a sight to behold.