Greece: From Meteora to Itea and Delphi
After few days in magnificent Meteora, it was time to move on towards Athens. We decided to make still one stop on the way, and spend Christmas in coastal town of Itéa. This small town is located in Phocis regional area and Delphi Municipality in Central Greece, on the north coast of Gulf of Corinth. The main reasons to pick up Itéa as a destination was its proximity to the ancient sanctuary of Delphi and Mount Parnassus with great hiking possibilities.
Road trip from Kalabaka to Itea
To reach Itéa from Kalabaka, we needed to drive through Central Greece. Somehow we thought that the snowy drives were over after we had crossed the Pindus Mountains up north, but no, there are quite some mountains in Central Greece as well. It had been snowing for couple of days in a row, so there was blanket of fresh snow also in the valleys, but luckily the main roads were clean and dry.
To avoid road tolls on road E75, we took an exit from E65 near Lamia and chose a smaller road. It wasn’t a bad idea until Iraklea, where we should have taken the route back to main road in the intersection of E75 and E65. “Shortcut” leading more straightforward to E65 looked just fine in the map, but it was not that long after Iraklea, when it started to climb up a steep slope. And then there was snow also on the road, and things got interesting. We decided to give it a try and continued up, but then in one hairpin turn we got stuck in snow… Whoops. I was already imagining myself pushing the car and slipping on the icy road, but luckily it was still possible to roll down and turn around. Lesson learned; if all the locals take the other route, there is a reason for that 🙂
Back on road E65 to south, we still needed to drive over some snowy mountain regions, but luckily the maintenance had done their thing and the road was in good condition. Scenery up in the mountains was beautiful, and roughly 20 kilometers before the coast we were still in the middle of perfectly white winter wonderland. But then, when descending to Itéa, flowers were blooming, citrus trees heavy with fruits and olive harvesting ongoing. So basically from tossing snowballs to walking on the seashore in a T-shirt in half an hour, amazing!
Itea - where to stay and eat
Most of the tourists who come to Itéa are on their way to Delphi, and only shortly pass by this peaceful seaside town of around 5 000 residents. But if you are not in a hurry, it’s not bad at all for few days longer stay. In winter there is not that much to do in the town, but summer is more busy with beach life, cultural events and water sports like windsurfing. As it was Christmas time, there was a lot of lights and decorations bringing some Christmas spirit, but for us the Christmas holidays didn’t feel much different to any other days. When not working, we were just strolling around and enjoying the sun during the days or the lights on the evenings, and having runs along the waterfront of Itéa and neighboring Kirra.
For such small town, there is surprisingly lot of restaurants in Itéa. Most of them are situated along the promenade by the sea, and there are several places with nice outdoor terraces. In late December the evenings were quite cold, so the warming fireplace was one reason to choose a restaurant called Gia Souvlaki more than once, which is quite uncommon for us. Recommendation to this place; food was delicious but inexpensive, and staff was really helpful and welcoming.
For affordable accommodation, we recommend to check the options from Airbnb. We stayed five days in Thanos' place. We had a basic but still comfy room in a bigger apartment, with access to kitchen and enough space for working. Nice place for few days stay in Itéa. Our host kindly gave us some delicious, traditional Greek Christmas cookies; kourambiedes and melomakarona, that actually tasted distantly like ginger-breads back home, probably because of cinnamon that is part of the recipe.
Delphi: mountainous landscapes and ancient history
Small town of Delphi, less than 20 km from Itéa, is famous for its history. Delphi on the slopes of Mount Parnassus is an ancient sanctuary, and once considered as the center of the world by Greeks. The famous Oracle of Delphi consulted with important decisions and had influence throughout the Greek world. The Archaeological Site of Delphi is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and home to significant ruins and structures, like the Temple of Apollo, as well as Archaeological Museum. It’s one of the most important archaeological sites in Greece, and receives a lot of visitors especially during the summer months.
As usual when on mountain areas, we were more interested in the outdoor activities than ancient ruins, so we drove up to Delphi mainly just to hit the trails (not that the archaeological site would have even been open the day we visited). One interesting option for hiking is the old pilgrimage route from port of Kirra to Delphi, but to be able to walk a circular route it was better to start from Delphi and head up to the slopes. There are some marked hiking routes and bunch of unmarked paths to choose from, and views from up are pretty awesome. To get even better angle, you could try paragliding in Delphi area, that looked like a lot of fun! For those more keen on motors than hiking or jumping off the cliffs, there are also tour operators offering off-road vehicle rides on the mountains roads. And for those into really long treks, the E4 European long distance hiking path from Portugal to Cyprus goes through Delphi. You could follow it north over the Parnassos slopes to Eptalofos; this section of E4 is said to be very scenic.
More to see and do in Municipality of Delphi
- Kirra just next to Itéa is an ancient seaport, and the place where the pilgrims started their walk up to Delphi. It’s home to beautiful seafront, medieval tower and ancient “Nereo”, meaning shipyard.
- Amfissa is the capital of the municipality, and the biggest city in the area. Home to an ancient castle, archaeological museum and Byzantine church to mention some of the sights.
- The huge Olive Grove of Amfissa has more than 1,5 million olive trees, and olive products are provided all over the world from there. There are routes and paths crisscrossing through the grove.
- Skiing is not something that comes to mind when thinking about Greece as a holiday destination. But if you are in the area during snowy winter months, why not to head to the Ski Center of Parnassos to enjoy skiing with beautiful mountain views and sunshine.
- For the ones after sporty adventures without snow, in addition to hiking and paragliding there are possibilities for mountain biking, climbing and horse riding for example.