The Old-Style Greece

Another Mediterranean as it once was

By Žikica Milošević

Epirots and Thessalians are proud people, considering themselves one of the “hearts of Greece” and its essence. Yet, tourists are more fascinated by some “more glamorous” destinations. However, with the help of the Greek National Tourism Organization and CK Strategies agency, we set off one sunny day in May to explore Preveza and the Meteora, discovering the hidden gems of the Greek coastline and Ionian Riviera.

Gastro heaven for fish lovers and ouzo enthusiasts

Preveza was under Turkish rule for many years and was the westernmost port of the Ottoman Empire until 1912 when it was liberated and joined Greece. As a cosmopolitan port, it housed numerous consulates, and some of these palaces now serve different purposes but remain grand, mostly along the waterfront.

In addition to the beautiful waterfront lined with taverns and marinas where yachts of wealthy foreigners bask, Preveza is an ideal place if you enjoy seeing dolphins and pelicans in the wild. Cruising the Ambracian Gulf is one of the best activities and offers access to remote and fantastic beaches.

Preveza may be less known among Serbian tourists compared to neighboring Lefkada or Parga, but it is charming and very important in two respects—both related to seafood. Sardines here are among the best in the world, and seafood restaurants along the coast and in the old town are top-notch in the Mediterranean if you’re a seafood lover. Prawns are the best in the world and so famous that even James Bond ordered them in “For Your Eyes Only” (1981). In one scene, Roger Moore says, “I’ll have Preveza prawns…”, and the rest is history. Tripadvisor lists Roubou Distillery as one of the Top 10 distilleries in Greece worth visiting, ranked at number 6. The friendly owner allowed us to taste and gave a brief history of the distillery.

The old town is a maze of charming streets with many restaurants and old churches, offering choices between bodily pleasures, i.e., gastronomy, or spiritual ones, i.e., church visits. Many Orthodox churches have unusual characteristics as they were initially Venetian or Catholic.

The City of Victory lasted only a thousand years

The abandoned city of Nicopolis was founded in 29 BC by Emperor Octavian Augustus to commemorate his victory over Mark Anthony and Cleopatra two years earlier and forcibly settled with Roman colonists (truly the “Game of Thrones”) after Caesar’s assassination, along with surrounding Greek tribes, cramming 150,000 people into what was then a huge city, he never imagined that only 1,000 years later, the city would be reduced to ruins. Sic transit gloria mundi! The Nicopolis Museum provides an excellent overview of the city’s history, and the guide gave us a great explanation of why statues from the ancient era don’t have heads and who, after all, was cutting off their heads. Well, it’s “ancient Photoshop,” the guide told us. Since empresses, queens, and other famous figures changed over time, they usually sculpted a perfectly attractive statue (because not all noblewomen and empresses were attractive) and simply changed their heads whenever someone new took over.

Monolithic Monolithi or the last glimpse of the Ionian sea

It didn’t occur to me that the longest beach in Europe could be right on the Ionian Sea in Greece, but it is. Monolithi Beach is exactly that. Stretching over 22 km, it got its name from the “monolith”, i.e. “one stone,” from an outcrop about ten meters high, visible from the beach until it was destroyed by German and Italian artillery fire in 1942. Today, the rock exists only as an underwater reef just 10 cm below the surface, so… be careful with swimming. This is the last swim in the Ionian Sea before heading inland to the Balkans. Hotels, bars, etc., are not allowed on the beach except for beach bars every few hundred meters, even a kilometer apart. The forests are protected, and this will never be “Copacabana.” I packed my swimsuit, but it suddenly became windy and cold, and the waves prevented even the bravest of us. Open sea. Ah.

On the stone that floats, moss does not grow

And then – Meteora! Unique and miraculous, beautiful and awe-inspiring at the same time, the landscape of stone pillars heralding entry into another world… Along the way, we encounter several other rocks similar to those of Meteora but slightly lower and more secluded. One of them houses the Theopetra Cave Museum, caves where cave dwellers lived, featuring a fascinating collection of artifacts and skeletons.

The prawns from Preveza are the best in the world, so famous that even James Bond ordered them in “For Your Eyes Only”

We arrive in the city of Kalambaka, as the Turks renamed it immediately after conquest, meaning “Mighty Fortress.” Your breath is taken away immediately: what must it be like to live at the foot of these rocks? Rocks are likened to “stones floating in the air” because “metheora” in Greek means just that. It’s hard to imagine that a city could be so alive in the heart of the Greek mainland, far from the sea. Yet, the city exudes a distinctly “seaside vibe.” It feels as though just around the corner there might be a path to the beach, but the nearest one is over 100 km away. But it is full of restaurants, with cats roaming underfoot seeking food and affection, with smiling people and sunshine. Perhaps the magic lies in being close to this sacred place.

Meteora paradise, give me wine

Let’s visit a vineyard surrounded by rocks and monasteries. Once we find ourselves amidst the vineyards, we feel the triple magic of this place – the very rocks rising from the Thessalian plain are surreal, just as I dreamt of them as a child. At the tops of these rocks lie 6 active monasteries out of the once 24, adding a religious dimension to the unearthly landscape. Here are wonderful vineyards with brilliant wines crafted by the Theopetra winery, which we had the pleasure of tasting and taking a bottle home (along with rakija). I have never drunk wine in a more magical place, and I used to think that wine by the sea was the most enchanting thing during sunset. But I was wrong.

We had the opportunity to visit the women’s monastery of Saint Stephen, from where you can see Trikala and the plain, and we hurried to catch the sunset. Sunset? Why? Well, sunset is particularly popular for photographing Meteora, and then crowds climb onto the rocky plateau and gaze westward, which we did too. The rocks for photography, or viewpoints, are crowded with people. The Instagramized world demands spectacular proof of your existence and your visit, so not only did we not resist the experience, but we also joined the trend.

Preveza will charm you with its allure. And the Meteora will take you on a journey to the heavens

In the “photography valley” where the most beautiful photos are taken, the monastery of Holy Trinity stands out. Interestingly, a pop culture tidbit: the monastery “starred” in the 1981 James Bond film “For Your Eyes Only”. Now everything fits together seamlessly. Let’s add that the band Linkin Park named one of their albums “Meteora”, fascinated by this place. It’s truly hard to find people who are not fascinated. I believe even Roy Batty, who “saw things you people wouldn’t believe,” like C-beams or Orion, would be fascinated by Meteora.

Like it used to be…

Preveza is an ideal place for a family vacation, with lovely beaches nearby, and plenty of restaurants and entertainment for children. If you’re in for youthful madness, perhaps the islands are a better choice for you. But Epirus will give you the peace you’ve been craving, and the Mediterranean as it once was, echoing the slogan used by Croatia, but applicable here too. And don’t bypass Preveza when heading to Lefkada or Parga, or anywhere in the Ionian region. Preveza will charm you with its allure and reward you richly for your kindness and trust. And the Meteora will take you on a journey to the heavens.

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