Aitolo-Akarnania

Dreamy lakes and gurgling rivers, lush greenery and ancient civilizations, curvaceous shorelines and hidden subcultures, Aitoloakarnania (a joint word arising from Aitolia and Akarnania) represents a true convergence of heritage, wildlife and natural beauty.

Aitoloakarnania is pretty much off the beaten track, especially the inner parts away from the coast which are not always easily accessible (but well worth the effort). Even the coast is popular with Greek tourists, and has not become a magnet for foreign ones who tend to prefer the islands and other better-known areas.

The bounty of this prefecture is fed generally by the Acheloos River, dotting the landscape with lakes and lagoons. It is no wonder that the area has been inhabited since the Palaeolithic period. Castles and ancient theatres stand witness to the passage of time and peoples that have inhabited this rich land, now sparsely populated in comparison to its rich history.

Photo: Πετρούλας Χρίστος

Perhaps the lack of population today is why nature has been so kind to the area, with the many lakes representing ecological havens with a variety of fauna and flora. Eco-activities such as canoeing and kayaking are popular around Lake Stratou and the Bania Evinou Bridge, while paragliding takes place from the slopes of Mount Panaitoliko and Arakynthos.

Nafpaktos is a must-see little city, considered one of the oldest towns in Greece with a history spanning three and a half millennia. It boasts a Venetian castle and port, which was home to the famed battle of 1571 that caused the destruction of the Ottoman fleet. Old churches and a mosque await the historically curious, so do the tower of Botsaris and the remains of ancient temples at Asklipion.

Photo: linmtheu

If you’re in an exploratory mood and head inland from Nafpaktos, you’ll find yourself in thick forests of fir and spruce, until you reach Platanos. You may also come across simple little villages in and beyond these woods, idyllically lying at an altitude between 700 and 1000 meters above the sea, such as Ambelakiotissa, Ano Hora, Arahova (not to be confused with the snow resort in Viotia), Dorvitsia, Elatou, Hrissovo, Perkos, Simos, Terpsithea and more.

Back on the coast, some seven kilometres southwest of Nafpaktos is the village of Platanitis overlooking the grandiose Rio Antirio bridge which connects the mainland to the Peloponnese. Platanitis is truly a picturesque village if ever there was one, with crystal waters that are perfect for swimming.

On the other side, only 12 kilometres east of Nafpaktos is the seaside village of Monastiraki (in the Efpalio municipality which actually lies in the neighbouring prefecture of Fokida). It offers a pebble-laden beach and some trekking options. Kastraki is another close village in close proximity to Monastiraki and the beach of Chiliadou. The surrounding Nafpaktia mountains with their 60 odd villages are a haven for forests of oak, plane, chestnut and fir trees, with diverse fauna such as hares, ferrets, squirrels, foxes and even wild boar.

The long coast also features a number of beaches, some popular while others very quiet, while the mountainous area of Nafpaktia is a verdant escape from civilization. The Mesolongi lagoon is another stunning natural attraction right next to the capital of the prefecture. The historic city of Mesolongi where the Greeks besieged themselves from the Ottomans for a whole year before trying to escape its walls in a bittersweet exodus that took many lives yet saved others, today stands as a reminder of its troubled past and days of glory. The Garden of Heroes and the monastery of Agios Simeon from the 17th century are particular landmarks that are connected to this historic event. Yet even from nature’s perspective, the city of Mesolongi is significant for its wetlands. It was established during the 16th century on three little islands that were later united, at the mouth of the Evinos and Aheloos rivers. Across its coast the little island of Etoliko lies 13 kilometers away, connected to the mainland by an old stone bridge that stood the test of time. In fact, both sides of the bridge form the town of Etoliko, although the island side constitutes the older, more traditional part. Noteworthy is the sweet water in the Etolikos lagoon among others, making it ideal for fishing. Consequently, there are fish taverns around the lagoon that are perfect for seafood lovers. The sunsets around the lagoon are also extraordinary.

Photo: Messolonghi Municipality

The village of Evinochori (or Evinohori) near Mesolongi which got its name from the adjacent Evinos river, is luckily untouched by mass tourism. Its fabulous local restaurants, amazing views all around and nearby archaeological site of Kalydona (or Kalidon) add to the mystique.

Another village within close proximity to Mesolongi is Galatas, with quaint accommodation and easy access to Varasova mountain, which is excellent for mountaineering and caving. Not far off are the water-sports-friendly Evinos river and the beaches at Krioneri, another locality that attracts campers and climbers.

Next up is the city of Agrinio, which while not the capital, is the biggest town in the prefecture, situated between Amvrakia and Trichonida lakes. The city and environs are best visited for the archaeological museum, folk art museum, old train station, ancient theatre of stratus and the early Christian church of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary (Kimisi tis Theotokou). The artificial lake of Kremasta and its spectacular dam are also a sight to behold.

Photo: Diimitris Plastiras

More inland, somewhere behind Lake Trichonida lies the village of Thermo, a bustling town and gateway to the Nafpaktia mountains. The town also boasts a sophisticated Centre for Environmental Training. The ruins of ancient Thermo – once the capital of Aetolia – are of course nearby, with remains of temples of Apollo and Artemis, among other noteworthy elements and an archaeological museum.

About 50 kilometres away from Mesolongi heading in a north-westerly direction, you will come across some fabulous sandy beaches at Astakos, particularly the beaches of Asprogiali, Agios Giorgis and Vela. (From Astakos you can hitch a boat ride to Ithanki or Kefalonia).

Further down the coast is Mitikas where you can catch a boat to the small islands of Kastos and Kalamos that boast exquisite beaches, or visit the nearby remains of the ancient city of Alizea. There too is another great beach at Paliomagaza, as well as further down the road at Paleros. Continue on to Vonitsa with its ruins and medieval castle, or to the Venetian citadel at Aktion. East of Vonitsa is Thirio, which is home to a decent archaeological museum that offers an interesting stop before reaching Amfilohia.

The seaside town of Amfilohia is known for its large shrimp and dairy products, but also for its churches and ancient sites of Limnea and Olpes. Be sure to visit the phosphorescent waters of the Ambracian Gulf (Amvrakikos in Greek). Around it are many beaches to pick and choose from, after which you can continue back inland and discover enchanting woods and mountains, rich in biodiversity.

Off the road between Amfilohia and Agrinio pass by Katouna, right on Lake Amvrakia, for a special nature-filled experience. Overall, at every fork or turn in this prefecture, you’ll find a small settlement, a village or a natural attraction that will fill your visit with wanderlust. Enjoy!

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Location - Aitolo-Akarnania

Nafpaktia Mountains

The climate and morphology of this area, including soil conditions and abundant water, has given rise to incredible flora. Forests of beech, cedar, chestnut, fir, oak and plane trees dominate these mountains, boasting 190 mushroom species (out of which 70 are edible). Also noteworthy are the beech woods of Mount Saradena, considered the southernmost such forest in Europe. Birds of all kinds are particularly abundant here. As a result, these mountains offer a great opportunity for some serious birdwatching.

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Aitoloakarnania is probably the best place for bird-watching in central and western Greece! There are some Ramsar-protected wetlands and lagoons that harbour many species of birds, the top five being the Dalmatian Pelican, Griffon Vulture, Imperial Eagle, Isabelline Wheatear and Spur-winged Plover.

The area around Mesolongi is truly considered one of the most important wetlands in Southern Europe. The Mesolongi lagoon, which is 11,600 hectares large, is the focal point of the wetland, although there are many smaller lagoons, marshes and ponds that are home to over 40,000 ducks. A whopping 32 out of 38 European kinds of raptors can be seen at one point or another around Mesolongi, with a healthy variety of other birds. Depending on the season, bird species that could be seen, above and beyond the top five mentioned earlier, include the White Stork, Greater Flamingo, Black Vulture, Osprey, Botted Eagle, Spotted Eagle, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Goshawk, Oystercatcher, Collared Pratincole and more.

Also very interesting for birdwatching is the oak woodland of Xeromero. It boasts 127 species of birds, 26 of which are protected species. This includes four interesting species of woodpecker, as well as the abundant Middlespotted Woodpecker. Some of the important breeding birds are the Short-toed Eagle, Honey Buzzard and Lesser Kestrel among other Balkan species. The woodland is very close to Lake Ozeros and the Aheloos or Acheloos Delta, both wetlands of significant ornithological importance.

To go on a birdwatching tour:

Contact Spyros Skareas and his birding colleagues on +30 6978180387

BIRDLIFE
Around 290 bird species have been observed in the region of Mesolongi Lagoon. Some 60 species of these are considered protected species.
More specifically:

Wintering birds and wading birds
• Shanks (Tringa)
• Migratory wading birds (Calidris)
• Eurasian curlews (Numenius arquata)
• Plovers (Pluvialis)
• Pied avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta)
• Slender-billed gulls (Chroicocephalus genei)
• Great Egret (Ardea alba)
• Red Kite (Milvus milvus)

Rare endangered bird species:

  • Eastern imperial eagle (Aquila heliaca)
  • Dalmatian pelican (Pelecanus crispus)
  • Eurasian spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia)

Migrating Birds
Glossy ibis (Plegadis falcinellus)
Black-winged stilt (Himantopus himantopus)
Black tern (Chlidonias niger)
Plovers (Charadrius)
Nesting birds
Collared pratincole (Glareola pratincola)
Eurasian oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus)
Kentish plover (Charadrius alexandrinus)
Redshank (Tringa totanus)
Little tern (Sterna albifrons)
Common tern (Sterna hirundo)

Nafpaktia Mountains

The climate and morphology of this area, including soil conditions and abundant water, has given rise to incredible flora. Forests of beech, cedar, chestnut, fir, oak and plane trees dominate these mountains, boasting 190 mushroom species (out of which 70 are edible). Also noteworthy are the beech woods of Mount Saradena, considered the southernmost such forest in Europe. Birds of all kinds are particularly abundant here. As a result, these mountains offer a great opportunity for some serious birdwatching.

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At the bridge of Bania Evinou over the Evinos River, there are some amazing places for canoeing and kayaking. The river is well known as an ideal destination for these activities almost all year round. Rafting is recommended between October and May, while kayaking is recommended in February, March and April. Going down the river will usually take two to two and a half hours. Note that the water level becomes more challenging in some years, requiring skilled sportsmen to negotiate the river.

Photo: agriniovoice.gr

The bicycle is a great way to discover the splendour of the Evinos River, with decent paths and some stunning nature. A good place to start is Trikorfo and the paths that lead into its forests. You can also ride towards higher ground with many suitable paths for all.

With so much coastline in this prefecture, it is no wonder that excellent seafood is the order of the day. Smoked or salted Avgotaracho – a caviar-like delicacy from flathead mullet – is especially good served in tavernas beside the Etolikos lagoon in the Mesologni area. The same goes for the smoked eel and trout dishes served fresh. To be fair, the seafood tavernas all over the coast and the Amvrakikos Gulf are quite good.

Photo: www.argiro.gr

On the sweeter side the local honey is delicious, particularly around Nafpaktos, so are the almond and walnut spoon sweets (preserves). Grain products such as local hilopites (pasta) and trahana (cracked wheat and dehydrated dairy used for soup) are also tasty and can be bought from local stores (they are not usually found in restaurants). Nafpaktos also has excellent yogurt and feta cheese, in addition to good wine and strong liqueurs such as tsipouro or tentoura. The latter is made with clove and cinnamon, then served as a digestive someties with ice or soda water.

Many of these products can be bought at the women's cooperative of Nafpaktos in the village of Lykias (+30 26340 38533). This includes jams made from plums, oranges, kiwi, almond, apple, and bergamot as well as more original varieties such as carrot and pumpkin.

Hiking: Arakynthos, Varasova

1.   Mount Arakynthos: Hounista – Portes – Agia Paraskevi – Hounista

Great views of the lagoon and Arakinthos forest in a Natura 200 protected area. Length: 6.12 km, Level: easy. Around 4 hours.

2. Mount Arakynthos: Ellinika – Greveno – Ai Symios

Walk by a stream and into a forest, an asphalt road for 500 meters, and then dirt road through Ai Lia and up to the hiking refuge on the summit of Greveno. Pass by an oak forest with great views of the lagoon, Aitoliko and Ionian islands. Length: 18 km, Level: medium. Around 7 hours.

3. Varasova: Caves

Head through thick greenery to a well and then to the summit of Varasova before you get to the caves with remains of old churches inside. Fantastic views towards Patras and the Rio-Antirio bridge. Length: 7.7 km. Level: easy. Around 3 hours 15 minutes.

4. Mount Arakynthos: Kefalovriso – Kato Ambelia

Gorgeous ancient route with a fantastic view of the Mesolongi lagoon and Aitoliko. Pass by the cave-church of Agios Nikolaos and the waterfalls. Length: 4.33 km. Level: easy. Around 2 hours 40 minutes.

Astakos Beach

Here’s a picturesque and quiet coastal down built on the mountainside, with a wonderful beach below. This is not a busy beach generally, and the town is close enough for a meal, a rest or even a calm, beach-side stay for a couple of days. Remains of Venetian castles, ancient Astakos and Cyclops cave are a plus.

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Psani and Gribovo beaches, Nafpaktos

These are the beaches of Nafpaktos and are considered quite clean, with plane trees around the shore They are organized beaches with showers, yet luckily are not over-crowded, even in summer. Psani has even won a Blue Flag award.

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Tourlida beach, Mesolongi

There are a couple of beaches in the area of Mesolongi – one of which is Tourlida – and they usually don’t get crowded. The beaches are also a great spot for birdwatching, thanks to the nearby lake.

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Nafpaktia Mountains

The climate and morphology of this area, including soil conditions and abundant water, has given rise to incredible flora. Forests of beech, cedar, chestnut, fir, oak and plane trees dominate these mountains, boasting 190 mushroom species (out of which 70 are edible). Also noteworthy are the beech woods of Mount Saradena, considered the southernmost such forest in Europe. Birds of all kinds are particularly abundant here. As a result, these mountains offer a great opportunity for some serious birdwatching.

Find Out More

Ambracian Gulf (Amvrakikos)

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Archaeological museum of Agrinion

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Castle of Roumeli, Antirio

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Fraxos Forest

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Garden of Heroes, Mesolongi

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Lagoon of Mesolongi, Central Greece

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Nafpaktia Mountains

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Small churches around the lagoon

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Theatre Of Makyneia

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Venetian Castle of Nafpaktos

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Alikyrna

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Ancient Alyzia (or Alyzea)

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Ancient Anaktorion

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Ancient Koronta

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Ancient Nafpaktos

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Ancient Oiniades

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Ancient Palaiomanina near Astakos

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Ancient Pleuron

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Ancient Stratos

Dodecanese / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Ancient Thermo

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Archaeological museum of Agrinion

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Archaeological Museum, Thermo

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Cemetary of Stamna

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Ithoria

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Medieval castle ruins at Agios Petros

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Roman Baths

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Theatre Of Makyneia

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Byzantine Fortress at Megali Hora

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Castle of Roumeli, Antirio

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Kyra Rini castle remains

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Medieval castle ruins at Agios Petros

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Venetian Castle of Nafpaktos

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Cyclops (Kyklopas) Cave

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Agios Nikolaos Kremastos Monastery

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Agios Stefanos church, Rivio

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Church of Agia Paraskevi, Mesolongi

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Church of Agia Sofia, Agios Nikolaos

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Church of Agios Kosmas in Megadendro

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Church of Agios Spyridon, Mesolongi

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Church of Taxiarchs

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Dormition Church, Avrakia

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Episkopi Mastrou

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Kimisi tis Theotokou, Agrinio

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Monastery of Myrtia near Thermo

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Monastery of St. Simeon, Mesolongi

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Profitis Ilias Monastery, Karaiskakis

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Small churches around the lagoon

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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St. Christopher Church, Agrinio

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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St. John the Baptist monastery, Vomvokos

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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The Church of Panagia Tis Finikias

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Varnakova Monastery

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Baths of Vezir Tzami

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Byron House

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Fetihe Mosque, Nafpaktos

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Garden of Heroes, Mesolongi

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Nafpaktos Clock

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Palamas & Trikoupi House

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Statue of Anemogiannis of Paxi

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Trikoupeio Cultural Centre

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Valvi House

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Archaeological museum of Agrinion

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Archaeological Museum, Thermo

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Folklore Museum of Aitolikos

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Folklore Museum of Platanos

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Mesolonggi Museum of History and Art

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Mesolongi Town Hall

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Vaso Katraki Museum

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Ambracian Gulf (Amvrakikos)

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Environmental Station of Klisova

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Fraxos Forest

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Lagoon of Mesolongi, Central Greece

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Lake Trichonida, Central Greece

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Nafpaktia Mountains

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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National Park of Messolongi

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Oak Woodland of Xeromero (Threatened!)

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Ambracian Gulf (Amvrakikos)

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Archaeological museum of Agrinion

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Castle of Roumeli, Antirio

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Fraxos Forest

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Garden of Heroes, Mesolongi

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Lagoon of Mesolongi, Central Greece

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Nafpaktia Mountains

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Small churches around the lagoon

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Theatre Of Makyneia

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Venetian Castle of Nafpaktos

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Marpessa Smart Luxury Hotel 4 *

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Ta Petrina 3 *

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Marpessa Smart Luxury Hotel 4 *

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Ta Petrina 3 *

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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Marpessa Smart Luxury Hotel 4 *

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
Book with booking.com

Ta Petrina 3 *

Central Greece / Aitolo-Akarnania
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