A Village Called Mariolata

Last weekend we visited a little village on the northern slopes of Mt. Parnassos, thanks to a generous invitation from Sue’s cousin to stay at the house he’s built there.  Parnassos is the huge mountain we see to the north, looking straight off of our balcony in Sykia.  If you followed that line north, you’d arrive first at Delphi, then you’d cross the top ridge of Parnassos, and finally descend the other side to Mariolata, about 45 miles away.   Of course, the Gulf of Corinth is a big part of that 45 miles and, without a plane or an amphicar, it took us 3.5 hours to drive around the Gulf to his house.

Mariolata is on the floor of a high valley, about 400 meters above sea level, between Parnassos and Mt. Kallidromo to the north. If you continue north across the valley and cross over Mt. Kallidromo, you quickly arrive at Thermopylae, the site of the Spartans’ famous battle against the Persians in 480 BC.  (Geographically inclined readers will wonder how going north from Parnassos would take one to the shore of the Aegean, site of Thermopylae. The answer is that the Aegean shore takes a huge westward diversion at that spot, forming the Malian Gulf, the body of water at Thermopylae.)

Sue’s cousin built in the upper part of the village, at about 500 meters, and enjoys this spectacular view of Mariolata, and across the Kifissos valley to Mt.  Kallidromo.


Mariolata traces its history back to ancient times and, after the Persians slaughtered the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae, it was one of the villages they destroyed on their way down to Athens.  Ancient ruins can be seen in the town today.


Until about 1960, Mariolata was sited up on the mountainside in a deep gorge served by a lovely mountain stream. That’s when Mother Nature  dealt Mariolata another savage blow, turning that stream into a raging torrent that destroyed the village again.


The government provided the village funds to rebuild, and the villagers decided to move the village out of harm’s way, down to the valley floor.  Remnants of the old village can still be seen on the mountain side.  This old house is now used as an animal pen.


New arrivals in Mariolata, including Sue’s cousin, have built up on the mountainside but well clear of the gorge that flooded.  The upper part of the village includes this pretty plateia and the church of the nativity of Mary.  That feast day is September 8, and Sue’s cousin tells us the entire village treks up the mountainside to participate in the celebration.


One of the great joys of visiting the village is taking advantage of the opportunities it offers to walk in the countryside.


This nice gate encloses a vacant lot, the house, I suppose, having been relocated below.


Spring was just beginning when we visited Mariolata, and there were wildflowers blooming all along the roads and footpaths.  We were especially happy to see the almond trees blooming.


Sue’s cousin took us to an abandoned monastery, high up the mountain on a forestry road (I’d estimate the altitude at about 700 meters).  The monastery’s church, dedicated to Mary “Queen of All” (Pantanasa), dates to the 15th century.



The interior is completely covered with period frescoes, which were badly damaged in 1942 when occupying Italian troops shamefully set the church ablaze.


The church is unusual in that it features two domes.  At first it appears that the church was built in two phases but indeed it was intended to have double domes from inception.  In this photo, the lower dome’s central fresco depicts Mary Pantanasa and the other dome, above the nave, depicts Christ Pantocrator, the usual subject of orthodox domes.


I peeked through the open door of the iconostasis, and found sunlight streaking through the slit window in the sanctuary.


There was no snow at the elevations we visited although plenty was visible along the summits and high ridges of Parnassos, and meltwater was streaming down the mountainside everywhere.  One night the temperature dropped to freezing, reminding us that snowfall is a regular feature of winter in the village.

Mariolata is one of a string of 4 villages along the road that skirts the big mountain on its northern flank.  Sue’s cousin showed us all of them, each prettier than the next, and gave us the opportunity to sample the region’s food and wine as well.  It was the ideal way to say farewell to winter while spending precious time with our family.

State of the vines


One of the great pleasures of our time in Greece is watching Spring arrive, and nowhere is that more evident than in the vineyards.  Taken today, this photo of a vine in lowland Nemea shows the growth stage we’re used to seeing when we arrive; carefully pruned back, dormant, and ready for the return of Spring.  In just a few weeks, vines here and all over Korinthia will be showing long green shoots and, just a few weeks after that, leaves over the entire vine.  While we focus on wine, Korinthia is also famous in Greece for its table grapes and raisins.  The region is checked with vineyards, producing fruit we enjoy, in one form or another, year round.

Our trip today took us to the Skouras Estate, a fine winery in a beautiful setting.  Just as a level-set, climate-wise, here’s a shot of a lovely magnolia in front of the winery.  Back in wilds of Maryland, our magnolia won’t show like this for another 6 weeks.



Oinorama at the Zappeion


Every year about this time, we’re preparing to travel to Greece and catching up on the latest Greek news when we read about the just-completed magic that is Oinorama, and it makes us wish we’d booked our flight for just a few weeks earlier so we could have caught it. Well, this year we finally did.  Oinorama is a 3-day wine tasting that features, as near as I can tell, every Greek vintner —  something like 170 wine-makers pouring samples of virtually their entire production.  Saturday and Sunday are open to the public, Monday is trade-only.  We went on Saturday, and it was glorious.  We visited the stands of all of our favorite wine makers, had a chance to see and talk with some of them, and sampled some of the products of vintners that had been recommended by friends or wine writers,  We confirmed our opinions of our favorites, discovered some exciting new offerings by wineries we know well, and found a couple of wineries we’ll have to investigate further.  Great fun, and it gave us new respect for people who do this sort of thing for a living.  The owner of the local wine shop told us he samples at least 70 wines at Oinorama, and the wine staff at Zatinya said they sampled 85 wines a day, three days in a row when touring Greek wine regions.  We tasted, I would guess, 36-40 different wines in a couple of hours, and our palates were dead when we left.  But what a way to kill one’s palate!

Oinorama is held at the Zappeion, a conference and exhibition center in the Public Gardens near the Parliament building and the Panathenaic Stadium.  In was built in 1888 by generous Greek citizens Evangelos and Konstantinos Zappas, and was used as the fencing hall during the first modern Olympics in 1896, as well as the press center during the 2004 Olympiad. We’d visited the Zappeion as a Athens site — the entrance hall and atrium are gorgeous, and a tremendous improvement over any other exhibition hall I’ve seen — but never imagined we’d attend an event there.  The exhibit space is a chain of connected rooms arranged in a semi-circle around the huge circular atrium.  This phone photo was taken in one of the rooms.  The keen-eyed will notice the G’aia stand on the right, and the Ktima Alpha stand across the aisle.  Those are two of our absolute favorites…we spent a lot of time in that room.

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Stormy weather


After a day of rain and declining temperatures, the clouds parted just enough at sunset to produce this dramatic view of Mt. Helicon, directly across the Gulf.  The sun was setting behind me, completely cloud covered, and the break in the ceiling on the other side of the Gulf was just enough illuminate the south side of the mountain and the clouds roiling above it.

Full Moon in Sikya


We went out just now to see the first full moon of our time here. We’re used to seeing the moon rise over Mt. Gerania, to the east, so this winter moon rising directly across the Gulf was a sweet surprise.  This is just about where the sun rises in mid-summer.

Not quite visible are the clouds gathering on the horizon.  They are heralding an end to the run of gorgeous weather we’ve enjoyed the last 4 days, and are forecast to bring us cooler, wetter weather through the weekend. Good thing we’re caught up on the laundry.

Snow on the mountains and oranges on the trees


Ah, winter in southern Greece. In addition to the half-dozen wind surfers in wet suits at the nearby Beach Connection bar (alas, closed for the season), we saw a couple of ladies out for a swim today here on the Sikya beach as well. “Winter Swimmers” are a thing here, and while New Englanders might think the conditions perfectly reasonable for swimming — air and water both about 60 degrees– it’s a bit chilly for the two of us.  Nearly perfect for everything else, though.  And, after that miserable February in DC, our delight borders on ecstasy.


Every year, I’m amazed again by the crazy hyper-abundance of oranges and lemons in Korinthia this time of year.  The trees are groaning with fruit, and everyone seems to have several, so these sidewalk trees in Xylokastro go unpicked.  An overloaded truck (or two) invariably spills a few bushels negotiating a sharp turn here in Sikya, and as a result each year I’m treated again to the heretofore un-thought-of experience of driving over lemons.  It’s hard to resist the temptation to stop the car and shovel a few dozen into the back seat.

The wind was fresh and from the west today when we walked the Pefkias (pine forest), and our jackets felt good on the way out to Xylokastro.  Turning for home was a different story, though, and we soon peeled off the jackets and rolled up our sleeves for the hike back.  Winter here is winter as it should be — restricted to the ski slopes.