Christmas in this fabulous village is a unique experience, especially if it is covered in white with snow!
The exceptional, traditional guesthouses in restored mansions, offer the visitor the atmosphere of coziness and luxury holidays.
The pitched red-colored low round dining tables, the stunning fireplaces that do not stop lighting all day long, since it can get very cold here, the picturesque taverns and the cute cafes, in combination with the good company (the key for having fun...) create a warm setting which our soul passionately seeks during these festive days.
Text & Photos: Ioanna Paravalou
How to get there:
Athens - Amynteo 560 km.
Thessaloniki - Amynteo 110 km.
-From the junction of Amyndeo we continue towards Kastoria and at the height of the village Aetos we take the right road to Nymfaio.
A first taste...
We are at an altitude of 1,350 meters on the verdant slopes of Mount Vitsi and the first thing we must do is to leave the car at the entrance of the village and... to forget about it. The best way to explore Nymfaio is walking, or even better on the back of a horse, if we like horse riding.
A large area with horses is already in the place where we have left our car. Although we have not tried this experience before, it's never too late to start something new and surely it is very fascinating to us. The vast meadows and the mild slopes that surround Nymfaio provoke us to discover it on the back of a powerful horse...
In the old days...
The first inhabitants of the village came from Amynteo, bringing with them their livestock and their household linen. Most of them, Vlachs in origin, settled here, they began to dream, and they created their own history with their local mores, customs and traditions with a Latin influence in their language. It also testifies to the name of the place.
Neveska was its first name, from the "Neve-Sta" (= the snow stays) or Niveasta (Nymph of the Forest)...
Around 1930 it was referred to as Nymfaio. Its inhabitants dealt with the systematic process and trade of gold and silver and it did not take long until the place became amazingly prosperous.
They traveled to the big cities of Greece, but also to Europe's most famous markets to sell their works. At that time, the magnificent restored mansions which we admire nowadays in the streets of Nymfaio, were built.
Many of the inhabitants traded tobacco and cotton and they excelled in the markets of Egypt and Hamburg. The impressive Nikeios School that dominates the neighborhoods of Nymfaio, with the Swiss clock on chiseled stone, was made by I.
Nikos, an emigrant to Sweden who became rich there and turned back to his hometown. It currently operates as a cultural and congress center for the Aristotle University. In Michalis Tsirli`s mansion were the headquarters of the Macedonian Struggle.
Today, the Community of Nymphaio is declared as a traditional settlement and historical site, while it participates in the Network of "Greeks`s Communities".
The Lighting of Fire, Babaria and the Babos Celebration...
At Christmas and New Year`s Eve in many villages of Florina revive old customs, such as the Lighting of Fire. In the village Aetos on December 22nd and at Agios Panteleimon on 23rd, they lit up a huge fire and they offered local dishes and wine to everyone.
On December 31st and January 1st, the Varikos Cultural Club organizes the New Year's Carnival, with traditional bean soup, traditional bread, accompanied by music and dance groups.
The traditional "Babaria" Carnival, which is revived in the region of Prespa these days, has its roots in the ancient Dionysian worship. These days the young people in the village go out on the streets and pay visits from house to house. Every group has a groom and a bride.
They visit all the village houses, dressed in peculiar uniforms, making a performance, aiming at exorcising evil from the houses.
Another traditional celebration is held on January 6th by the Cultural Association of Agios Panteleimon. It is the revival of the "Babos Celebration". On this day the residents are masked and play different roles. Thus, according to tradition, they are casting out the evil spirits.
- The Bear Protection Center <Arcturus>, where the brown bears that cannot survive on their own, are protected in large enclosed areas.
- The mansions of Boutari, Missios and Mertzos, Papadopoulos and Sosidas.
- The mansion of Michael Tsirli, who was the headquarters of the Macedonian Struggle.
- The "House of the Goldsmiths" at the Folklore Museum of Nymfaio, where you will learn the history of the traditional goldsmith's profession.
- The imposing Nikios School, which today functions as a conference room for the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.
- The post-Byzantine church of Agios Nikolaos.
- The Folklore Museum of Nymfaio.
- The Urban Women's Cooperative "Nymph".
- The "Information Center for bears" in Aetos.
- Lake Zazari and Chimaditida.
- Megali and Mikri Prespa, Psarades, Agios Germanos and the islet of Agios Achilleios.
- The "Shelter of the Wolf" in Agrapidia.
- And do horse riding on the shores of Lake Zazaris...
In the village of Aetos, at the foot of Nymphaio, there are two idyllic lakes: Zazari and Chimaditida.
On the banks of the first one we all can test our strength, young and older, in the organized activities, such as horse riding on the perimeter road of the lake, in a gorgeous setting that soothes your mind and soul...
We can also ride on a bike or hike by the lake or, even better, rowing with the seat kayaks in the lake`s water. A beautiful route, ideal for children, is the one that starts from the "Bear Information Center" and ends at the starting base of the activities, on the shores of Lake Zazari.
From there we can continue with other activities. The organization of all these activities is provided by Artemis company (www.artemisoe.gr).
Not only a horse riding...
At a short distance from Lake Heimaditida (outside the village of Variko), at the crossroads of the Vitsi and the Florina Ski Center is situated in a verdant environment the Alexandros Zournatzis Equestrian Center. A barn with 10 horses, with living quarters, showroom, large horse-riding court, fenced pastures and parking.
The Equestrian Center program includes:
-Therapies with horseback riding for children and gymnastic horseback riding with the horses (Voltigieren), as well as horseback riding as a sport, such as, jumping over obstacles and horseback riding in the countryside.
-Therapies on horseback riding is a special way of training the patient, always under supervision and it concerns children or adults with mobility or even psychological problems.
Riders get in contact with the muscular vibrations of the walking horse creating a physiotherapeutic condition. Of course and for all those who are engaged in horse riding as a sport, the gain in their mental health and self-confidence is very large.
(Riding Center telephone number: +30 23860 31132)
Hiking in Nymfaio...
An interesting hiking route, short in duration but great in beauty, is the one that starts from the Nymfaio parking area and is heading east to the antenna towers that we see ahead of us. As we get there, we continue hiking on the back of the mountain to the same direction. In less than an hour we reach the chapel of Prophet Elias, at an altitude of 1.475 m. The time to go and return is about 2 hours.
The view we enjoy from here, to Nymfaio, the plain of Ptolemaida and the two lakes Zazari and Chimaditida is just stunning!
Then, after crossing the settlement of Nymphaio, at its end we will meet the stone path with the beeches, which will lead us after a beautiful hike to the Shelter of the Brown Bear. Starting from Nymfaio, it is worth making an excursion to Megali and Mikri Prespa, Psarades, Agios Germanos and Agios Achilleios.