It’s early in the morning. I stand on the narrow balcony and watch the village climb up the mountainside. The sun in the east illuminates the stone-paved facades in shades of beige, red and brown. In the chimneys faint smoke curls up towards the blue sky. Somewhere a dog is barking. The exhaled air turns into steam when it meets the clear cold. I am in Aráchova, a village that breathes history, age and power and that will be my home for the next few days. I am in Greece to go skiing, skiing on Mount Parnassos.
I see this trip as a kind of three-course dinner where the starter consists of a short visit to Athens, where the main course consists of the stay in Aráchova and where the dessert consists of skiing on Mount Parnassos. A complete dinner where each part is impeccably tasty and where the whole creates a perfect dinner party.
I arrive in Athens in the early evening and take the usual steps towards the exit to take a taxi into the city. I recognize the smells and the sounds. The feeling of well-being is immediate and the few words I know in Greek roll easily on my tongue when I meet the taxi driver.
It is the first time I visit Athens in March and apart from the cooler temperature, the difference is not that great compared to other times of the year. The outdoor terraces are crowded with people, the drums sound at the square at Monastiraki and the heart rate is slightly higher than normal. The temperature is around 15 degrees and the jacket can stay in the hotel room.
The only night I stay in Athens I stay at the Royalty Suites Psyrri (link) located in the Psiri area. The hotel is new and was inaugurated as late as September 2022. I have the privilege of staying in the Queen Studio Acropolis View with perhaps Athens’ best view of the Acropolis directly from the hotel room. I could stay in the room and gaze at the Acropolis at all hours of the day, but the focus of this trip is on the main and dessert, Aráchova and Mount Parnassos, and I travel further after a nice night out at A for Athens, Beer Time and King’s Theater Wine Bar.
Aráchova (Main course)
I put down the appetizer cutlery to take up the most vital meal of this journey, the stay in Arachova. I arrive late in the evening and the last part of the journey takes place in pitch black darkness and it is difficult to form an idea of the landscape that surrounds us. The ear-block is a witness to the ascent towards Aráchova’s 1046 meters above sea level. Through the car window I see the flickering lights of Aráchova from the houses that have begun their climb at the foot of Mount Parnassos.
The road goes right through the village and the stone houses on the side of the road consists of shops, bars, taverns and restaurants. Everything that the better-off Athenians could wish for is offered here. For Aráchova is a village that has long attracted well-to-do metropolitans, metropolitans who, during my stay, are nowhere to be seen. I arrive the next weekday after the big carnival weekend and most of the people I meet are villagers in the middle of their everyday life.
My immediate sense of Aráchova is genuity, a basic sense of life and vigor combined with a cosmopolitan feel. I feel like I am in the middle of the different elements of nature with the snow-clad mountain towering like Aráchova’s torso, the very clear and crisp air, the smell of the smoke that warms the aged stone houses mixed with the spring’s attempt to arrive with blooming almond trees along the slopes. I feel alive.
Aráchova’s history stretches back to Antiquity and there are remains of settlements in the area dating back to 20th century before Christ. Over the centuries, Aráchova has been the battlefield for several conflicts and as recently as World War II, the villagers fought the Germans along the road to Delphi.
Around 2700 people live here today and I am told that the village cannot grow much more given the ancient remains in the area. My reflection is that this is probably precisely what allows Aráchova to retain its genuine feel. What exists today is what will also exist tomorrow. We, who visit her, must humbly take in what exists right here and now.
In Aráchova you can get everywhere on foot. I stroll around and enter winding stone-paved alleys where people have walked for centuries, where contemporary everyday life is in full swing and where the houses have primarily been built based on a need and not according to an urban architect’s desire for straight lines. I really enjoy these environments. I let my hand feel the texture of the stone facades and the dampness of spring and winter, I stop and study the loving lack of symmetry of the buildings. Why would you want to be anywhere else?
It’s March and the battle between summer and winter is obvious. My traveling party and I enjoy the outdoor seating and sometimes the sun heat up so much that I only wear a t-shirt on my upper body. Sometimes a cold wind comes and forces a jacket. The sun and the wind bet on who is the strongest and the fight is initially as even as in Aisopos fable.
Despite the fact that Aráchova has just had one of its most intense weekends, I am met with curiosity and interest. The Greek hospitality, Philoxenia, is evident with fine meetings and generosity. Not least the meeting with Mrs. Ahtida Koritou at restaurant Oistros shows this kind-hearted generosity and consideration. It is at times like these that I wish my Greek vocabulary was bigger than just ten words.
Of course a few days in Aráchova do not do the village and the area justice, but what I primarily take with me from there is the elementary feeling of power, curiosity and genuineness.
Sights in Aráchova
The region in which Aráchova is located is well known for its textiles, woodwork, dry wines and the local cheese, called “Formaela”. Just being a guest in Aráchova for a few days does not give a complete picture of what you can experience, perceive and appreciate, but below are a couple of sights you should definitely not miss when visiting the village.
Church of Agios Georgios
The church of Agios Georgios (St George) stands like a watchful father over Aráchova. It is said that there are 264 steps up to the church from the main road that leads straight through the village. I never counted the steps but it is definitely worth the effort to climb up to take in both the church and the view of the village and valley below.
The site in front of the church is part of the historic Battle of Aráchova that took place in April 1826 between Greeks and the Ottoman Turks. The Greeks finally won the battle led by Georgios Karaiskakis who freed Aráchova from the Ottomans.
In honor of Georgios Karaiskakis, later Agios Georgios, a very popular three-day festival is held every year starting on April 23rd. If you are curious to take part in a Greek celebration like no other, this is a great opportunity to experience it.
The clock tower of Aráchova
A clear characteristic and perhaps the most photographed object in Aráchova is the clock tower on the rock of Tirias. The clock tower dates from the beginning of the 18th century and was then part of a church, the Cathedral of the Virgin Mary, which was destroyed in an earthquake in 1870. It was after the reconstruction that it got its current shape and form.
Before electricity arrived in Aráchova, the rock was used as a natural refrigerator for preserving cheeses and during the German occupation, Tirias also served as a hiding place for the resistance movement.
You reach the clock tower by entering through the gates of the Ethnographic Museum, take an immediate left and go around the building on a narrow paved walkway.
Restaurants in Aráchova
If you want genuine, traditional and local Greek food, restaurant Oistros is the obvious choice in Aráchova. People I meet during my journey are happy to tell me about the fantastic meat dishes, prepared with love, that Oistros serves.
The local Formaela cheese, sausages, bifteki, wild boar and dolmades are served together with local wine and the local Tsipouro, in this case flavored with honey. Aráchova’s mayor, Mr. Ioannis Stathas, joins the dinner, as does his cousin and then the restaurant’s owner Ahtida Koritou with daughter Dimina. The conversations move between the tables and, as far as I understand, they discuss, among other things, what musical entertainment will be held during the upcoming festivities. The opinions are strong and as numerous in number as the amount of people in the restaurant.
Restaurant Panagiota Plus
Another of Aráchova’s restaurants is Panagiota Plus where the walls are adorned with natural stone and wood, a fireplace warms the room on chilly days and crystal chandeliers and candelabra break the rustic setting. I am told that the dinners at Panagiota Plus often turn into dancing and partying so Panagiota Pus is more than a restaurant, it’s a place for dancing.
At Panagiota Plus, the food is based on traditional cuisine but with a modern twist. I eat veal so tender it melts in the mouth, mashed potatoes, I taste their tartar with truffles and of course let the bread take a swim in fava with caramelized onions.
The Lakka square
The central Lakka square is filled with outdoor seating and is a natural gathering place in the afternoons and evenings. My traveling party and I visit the square during the afternoons to talk about the day and the upcoming evening.We watch the other guests conversing in Greek and we “chatter” with the restaurant staff about our trip and about what Aráchova has to offer. It’s really enjoyable!
Mount Parnassos/ Parnassos Ski Center (Dessert)
I love desserts. I love to add color to a main course with something that surprises and with something that creates a sinless whole. In this case, the dessert is something I’ve been craving for a long time; skiing in Greece.
Skiing in Greece is perhaps something that most people don’t think of when they think of a holiday in Greece, but the fact is that there are several different ski systems on the Greek mainland and Mount Parnassos, which I will be enjoying, is Greece’s largest ski resort with 17 lifts and 23 slopes with a total length of 34 kilometers.
Mount Parnassos is about 40 minutes by car from Aráchova and as the ski resort lacks accommodation, it is likely that you will stay in Aráchova when you visit Parnassos Ski Center.
The first morning I go up Mount Parnassos, I go with the Parnassos Ski Center staff a couple of hours before the lifts open, but otherwise you need to get there by car. The bus driver meets up with a great smile at the intersection at the taxi station, the bus stop and the best coffeeshop of this trip, helps loading the ski equipment, pats us on the shoulder welcomingly and informs us that he has spoken to the right people about our “lift” up the mountain.
The first thing that strikes me when the dessert is served is how modern the ski resort is. There is no ski resort in Sweden that I have experienced so far that corresponds to this. I feel safe and secure. The first person I meet in the facility is a man in a red jacket who curiously asks me where I’m from. He works at the facility and makes sure that all car-borne ski enthusiasts park correctly. He is happy and gets even happier when he hears that I come from Sweden. “If you need anything, just ask me”. Philoxenia again.
During the night a decimeter of fresh snow has fallen and when the slopes open at 09.00 I am greeted by fresh slopes that sparkle against the clear blue sky. Mount Parnassos measures 2457 meters above sea level and when I get to the top I feel so close to heaven that I can almost touch it. Once again, I feel alive in a way that my everyday life does not offer. Why haven’t I done this before? Why haven’t I combined what I love most with skiing before?
The ski system on Mount Parnassos is divided into two areas, Fterolaka and Kellaria, with Kellaria being the area you primarily come to when you go up from Aráchova. The slopes start at an altitude of 2,260 meters and cover all degrees of difficulties and all skill levels. For those who are looking for a little more adventure, there are several off-piste areas as well as a Snow-Funpark at Kellaria.
A Ski Pass for one day on Mount Parnassos costs 21 Euro (March 2023) in comparison with a Ski Pass in Sälen (Sweden) which costs 46 Euro (March 2023).
When the lifts close, the entire facility closes and even though there are restaurants, bars and a DJ, the after-ski takes place down in Aráchova.
Read more: Parnassos Ski Center (link)
Accommodation in Aráchova
During my days in Aráchova, I stayed at White Hills which is conveniently located in the middle of the village, close to the main street and Lakka square with its taverns, bars and shops. The bus and taxi station in Aráchova is only a few minutes from White Hills, which also makes it easily accessible when you arrive in Aráchova.
Read more: White Hills (link)
Rent ski equipment for skiing on Mount Parnassos
If you, like me, are not particularly fond of “towing” ski equipment, there are several operators to rent ski equipment from. Along the road from Aráchova to the ski resort is the village of Livadi where there is a ski rental called Snow Port. Snow Port also has one of the largest ski schools on Mount Parnassos and in its shop there are also products from the most famous ski brands.
Alexandros Papaioannou and Sofia Kompou who run the business are really nice people and we came to talk about both winter and summer activities in the area. At the courtyard they have a canteen that serves food and drinks and why not order a cheese and charcuterie plate or one of their tasty soups and make a toast with Tsipouro when you return the ski equipment?
If you’ve never been on a pair of skis, Snow Port has a unique practice track on the courtyard where you can try “the apostle horses” on a pair of skis without exposing yourself to beginner risks.
Read more: Snow Port (link)
Do not miss
The cheese Formaela
You can not leave Aráchova without enjoying their specialty, the cheese Formaela. This traditional cheese has a protected designation of origin and is made from goat and sheep milk from animals that graze on Mount Parnassos. The cheese has a special cylindrical shape based on the molds in which it is stored, and it is easy to cut the centimeter-thick slices of the cheese that are made before cooking.
I would say that the texture is a bit reminiscent of haloumi but at the same time not as it is more smooth. It has a mild taste and should be cooked in a hot pan without oil. Serve with lemon.
Over the years I have become increasingly fond of Tsipouro which you could say is Greece’s answer to grappa. Wherever I go I try to find a local Tsipouro and luckily there is also one from Aráchova, Βασιλιάς (= king). It might be one of the best I’ve tried in Greece. Another reason to go to Arachova.
Travel to Aráchova
The nearest international airport is Elefthérios Venizélos Airport in Athens, but you can also fly to Thessaloniki and travel to Aráchova from there. I fly to Athens with Agean Air (link) as the onward journey to Aráchova is significantly shorter than from Thessaloniki.
Aráchova is about 170 kilometers from Athens and a drive takes around one hour and 30 minutes. You start on the National Highway in Athens going north to the exit towards Kastro. Then you drive in the direction of Livadeia and from there you turn off towards Aráchova.
If you are traveling from Thessaloniki, the drive is longer and covers around 375 kilometers and takes around four hours.
The train between Athens and Thessaloniki stops in the village of Livadeia from where you can take a taxi or bus to Aráchova. The drive from Livadeia takes about 30 minutes.
You can also take a bus from Athens, Liosion bus station, directly to Aráchova (or to Livadeia). The bus journey to Aráchova takes about three hours.
The World Heritage Site of Delphi is located about ten kilometers from Aráchova and is one of the places in Greece that I admire the most. It is incredibly beautiful and the ancient remains create mystery and a longing for more knowledge. Add a day to your trip to also enjoy this environment and let it enrich your senses.