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Nevrokopi basin

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Leaving behind the township Prosotsani, we follow the path that leads through narrow passages, between the slopes of Mount Falakro – the mountain area of Kato Nevrokopi.

This place is mainly known for the harsh winter, with temperatures up to -20 Calcium degrees, where the snowy peaks of the surrounding mountains and the snowcapped trees on the slopes, delight our senses and compete in beauty with the lush landscape of spring on the mountains. However, this place remains unknown about the natural beauty, the history, the very beautiful churches of the 19th century and its unique experiences that are provided to the visitors.

After the junction that leads us to Volakas, we visit the picturesque village Granitis, 31km far from Drama.

Built in the namesake creek, the village is full of green pine, fir, beech, walnut and fruitful native hazels. In the old village, on the left of the road, we see houses of traditional architecture and the Church of Taxiarches (1873) with wooden sculpture of the 19th century that still remain. The streets of the area, known as «Kalderimia», are covered with material from the old Granitis quarries. Through a path of lush vegetation, we reach the country church of the Virgin Mary. This is a place where many dwellers and immigrants of the region are gathered in the mid-August. It has been opened a hostel in the village – an ideal one – in order to offer a pleasant stay and delicacies in local taverns, which can easily be found. The visitors can also find winter mountain tea, honey and walnuts.

We continue our journey towards Nevrokopi basin, which is just in front of us, among the fogged mountains. Our first stop is Ochyro, 40km far from Drama, where we find the church of St. Georgios (1882). The village and the surrounding mountains are known, because of the famous Forts border of the Second World War and the heroic resistance of a few Greek soldiers against the German forces in April of 1941. On the hill, near the community of Ochyro, we can visit the impregnable Fortification of Lisse with the labyrinthine underground galleries, pill-boxes and the small museum on 6 April or the first Sunday of the month, when the place is opened for public’s celebration. In other eras the place is opened, especially to groups, after an agreement with the competent military authorities.

We take the road from Ochyro to the seat of Kato Nevrokopi municipality, 42km far from Drama, at 560m altitude. In the historical town – due to the national struggles - which is an administrative and economic center of the region today, dominates the magnificent church of Agios Demetrius (1866). Inside the church, there are murals and an impressive bell tower in the courtyard. Among the pictures of the temple, which are probably created by the famous local painter Georgios – from 1870 decade - we stand out the image of St. Demetrius - be in golden luxurious costumes.

Kato Nevrokopi becomes a very lively place every Wednesday, due to bazaar, the popular market, where the visitors can find local products of high quality, such as the exquisite potatoes and the delicious beans of the region. There are many cultural events; however, the most popular is «Akritia» - 25-27 of July – and the «Potato Days» in the fall, with musical performances and delicacies – based on potatoes. There are hostels and taverns, which make our stay in the place much more convenient and pleasant and give us the chance to meet the treasures of the countryside. We continue our way, towards the northwestern part of the area and our next station is Dasoto, which is amphitheatrically built, into a verdant hillside with breathtaking views over the valley – 8km far from Nevrokopi.

In Dasoto, «we are welcomed» by an old fountain. There are also a few dwellers nowadays. In the church of Virgin Mary Dormition (1870), we see the small false-dome and the temple icons of the 19th century. On the way to the Bulgarian border, we will meet the forest of Kastania (chestnut) - which is a verdant place and properly formed by the nature - to welcome the nature lovers. As we ascend the road of groovy turns, we can take some rest in the location «To Kryo Nero» (cool water), with the imposing trees and crystal-clear water. We can also visit an abandoned outpost there – not far – named Stragats, where we can enjoy the lush vegetation and the magnificent view. In the village, takes place a feast of various events, the weekend of mid-August. We enjoy the fresh air and the natural environment, as we travelling south, 4km till the historic Perithori – «Souli of Macedonia», as they call, because of the National Struggles of the Greek people. It is built at the foot of a hill and it is famous for its traditional architecture. In Perithori we can see the church of St. Nikolaos (1835), which is decorated with brick exterior crosses and an impressive bell tower of 1911. We also find another church in the village of historic and artistic interest – the church of «Zoodochou Pigi» (1876), with a vaulted roof and pictures of the hagiographer Stergios Georgiadis, from the 19th century. The depiction of the divine eye on the ceiling refers to influences from the laboratories of Mount Athos, where the local, prominent, notable artist of the Greek Nevrokopi community, studied.

Continuing our journey south, we find Kato Vrontou - 7km far from Perithori - which is built at 650m and it is surrounded by Vrontou Mountains with dense vegetation. The village is in a prominent position, where dominates the church of St. Theodori (1835). Inside the three-aisled, basilica church, there is a chagiati (porch), a women’s loft and preserved images of 1839 and 1863 on the central wooden temple.

After the trip, south of the area, on the way back from Kato Nevrokopi, towards the western end of the municipality, we reach Vathytopo – 14km far from Nevrokopi – and Katafyto – just 1,5km far. Villages are very close to the Bulgarian border and visitors have the chance to enjoy the glory of the nature – both in the Forest of Kykla at south (between Vrontou and Vathytopo) and in Orvilo of the rich flora - at north. The Forest of Kykla (20,000 square metres at least), is full of beech trees and a variety of broadleaf deciduous trees, which gives the great opportunity to the visitors to relax appropriately in that place - plenty of water. There are preserved churches of 19th century here – as in the whole area – with illustrations of popular artists. We are going to visit the church of St. Nikolaos in Vathytopo, built in the mid-19th century. Only the interior decoration is imperishable. The wooden iconostasis (icon screen), with icons from 1813 till 1869, have been also preserved. We find nowadays, the church of Taxiarches – built in 1848, except for the bell tower (1884) – in the isolated Akrino village. This is 22km far from Nevrokopi (the last 6km - on an earthen road), close to Bulgarian border. In this church, we stand out the interior murals of 1860. These specific murals tend to imitate the post Byzantine standards, which are different from the level of the folk art of other churches. Many orthodox visit this place, even from the neighboring Bulgaria, on the feast of Taxiarches on 7 and 8 November.

We leave this region - having been very impressed – to reach Nevrokopi. We are ready to make another route north, from the border station of Exochi. There, in the hamlet of potato cultivators, which is 9km far from Nevrokopi, we find Christian and Muslim

Monuments to coexist peacefully. However, they have been distorted by posterior interventions. We will also see the church of Agios Athanasios (1866), a three-aisled, wood roofed, basilica church and the remains of the Muslim Temple, with interesting interior decoration – despite the ravages that have been done, when they changed the use of the building. We keep going till the Greek outpost – where the view is magnificent – and then, towards the interior of Bulgaria, 4km far from Exochi. There, it works again the Customhouse after decades. When we arrive at the road that leads us to Nevrokopi, we make a route of 10km at east and reach Lefkogia. It is a village of refugees from Asia Minor and the majority of them are potato cultivators and livestock farmers. There, we find the church of Agios Ioannis Prodromos (St. John the Baptist - 1836), with iconostasis (icon screen) and icons from the end of the last century and a steeple of 1887. The widespread area has changed significantly, after the construction of a dam, which created, as a result, the technical lake of Lefkogia. People have opened a Visitors’ Center and new paths, so that visitors can enjoy more easily the natural beauty. It is worth to see the memorial, created in this place, where the Patriarch Vartholomeos of Konstantinoupolis, planted a tree, during his visit in 1999, right on the lake shore, declaring his respect for the environment.

Continuing our course to the east, we take the road from Nevrokopi towards Pagoneri. After 15km, we stop for a while to the inhabited today Livadaki, at an altitude 720m, to visit the church of Theotokos Assumption (Virgin Mary, 1870), which takes place in a verdant area. We will see the original illustrations of 1876 on the woodcut iconostasis and the frescoed ceiling. The church is decorated outdoors by a bell tower of 1890. We will drink the cool water of a fountain in the abandoned today Livadaki village and then, we follow the curvy road, towards Nestos and reach Achladia – 18km far from Nevrokopi.

In the neighboring desolate Krithara village today, still remains - into the dense vegetation - the church of St. Georgios, which is the only cross-formed church with a dome, of the area - from the mid-19th century. This church retains a part of the frescoes and has excellent stone-reliefs decorating at the west entrance. A feast takes place in Achladia and Livadaki - the weekend of the mid-August. We find the traditional village Pagoneri, 2,5km to the east. We see stone-built, two-storey houses with comfortable «chagiati» (loggia) and large courtyards. The village was burned on May of 1944 and the dwellers were moved hostages in Bulgaria, as retaliation for the Greek victory of the historic rebels’ battle in Papades. In the center of the village, we find the church of Virgin Mary’s Entrance (1835). Among other parts of the temple, are still preserved the pulpit and the despotic throne.

On the banks of the lake – which was created by the waters of Nestos, after the construction of Thisavros dam – we visit Potami, 27km far from Nevrokopi. We can also find – not far from the village - a very beautiful, unexploited cave till today.

The region has been inhabited, since Prehistoric to Byzantine Times – according to archaeological findings. Even nature has endowed with water and lush vegetation, near the two residences, Perasma and Delta 8km (the first one) and 4 km (the second one) far from Potami. There, nature lovers, hunters and fishermen of freshwater, will enjoy the verdant area of the exceptional fauna. Each visitor can taste fish – from the river and the lake - in local taverns. The today dwellers organize cultural events, dedicated to emigrants, the first Sunday of August.

Our final destination - on the border of Kato Nevrokopi municipality – is the easternmost village, Mikromilia - 38km far from the municipal seat. The verdant area attracts loads of nature lovers and hunters, who can stay in the guestroom there and eat in the tavern of the village.

We leave behind us the villages and we attempt to make another excursion, this time a different one, to the Birch Forest, along the route of 20km from Potami towards the worksite of Panagia (Virgin Mary). It is the only real Birch Forest all over Greece of 10,000 square metres. The other 15,000 acres are covered by birch, beech, oak and pine trees. The road network improves after spring, thanks to the ongoing maintenance works. This tour in the municipality of Nevrokopi, offers memorable experiences to the visitors. This contact with the nature and its monuments, the pilgrimage tours to the churches, the acquaintance with the hospitable dwellers, their morals and customs, the activities on the mountains and near the river waters of the area, hiking trails – such as the E6 European Path from Kato Vrontou and Perithori, till Volakas and Falakro Mount, the delicious local food and the relaxation in small hotels, are simple life experiences, which can satisfy all the visitors of the Greek countryside.