The winter between 2016 and 2017 was rather uneventful in terms of travel, so we eagerly planned a trip to Greece at the beginning of June. We managed to drag my parents and sister along, so now my whole family was packed in the car for a very long ride. It took us 12 hours to get from Bucharest to Parga, Greece. Parga is a small town on the North-West of the country, very close to the Island of Corfu, except Parga is on the mainland, occupying a golf and the hills guarding it.
Our stay wasn’t long, but it was packed with activities. The hotel we stayed at was decent and the host, Kostas, gave us a lot of good tips for what to visit or where to eat.
We got there in the morning and so we had a full day ahead of us, which we filled with exploring the town and its beaches. To get to the main beach, we had to go through a labyrinth of tiny streets packed with souvenir shops and gyros restaurants. However, we chose to have a moussaka instead, at a restaurant near the beach and left the gyros for dinner. Near the main beach, we found a cheesecake place that had the biggest diversity I have ever seen and where we stuffed our faces with cheesecake pretty much every day.
For that day, we stuck to the town and its narrow streets. We climbed to the ruins of the Castle of Parga. It oversees the city from its spot at the top of a hill, almost like a sentinel. There’s a beautiful view of the town from up there and you can also see the large sprawling beach on the other side of the hill, the one beach we never got to visit. Not because we didn’t have time, but because, to us, it was very similar to what we had back home, so we were hoping to find something more exciting.
And that we did. The following day, we got in the car, drove for 3km and stopped at Lychnos Beach, a large golf, mostly empty, where we spent the first half of our day. What was different about this beach was that there was no sand, only rocks. Round, colourful rocks, that looked pretty, but hurt your feet. So, if you ever plan to go there, pack your watershoes too. From there, if you’re lucky, you can rent a boat or paddle boat to get to what they call Aphrodite’s cave. However, as it was a Friday and not in full season, the shop wasn’t open, so we were stuck on land. We did, however, enjoy a nice ice-cream at the beach terrace. Coming back to Parga, all sun-soaked and starving, we went straight for a gyros and some of that delicious cheesecake.
On our third day, we took a longer trip, visiting the Acheron River, the one Greeks used to refer to as the River Styx. In Greek mythology, the Styx was the river that acted as a border between the world of the living and the Underworld. The river runs through a National Park and you can even go rafting on it. Don’t worry, it’s not a dangerous business. The waters of the river, though ice cold, do not make for a bumpy ride. And I mentioned the coldness of the river, because i just had to “bathe” in the River Styx, so I dipped my feet in it just enough to have some pictures taken and just enough to have my feet frozen too.
Once my feet got back to a normal temperature, we headed to the Nekromanteion, a sort of temple built in the name of Hades and Persephone, where funerary ceremonies were performed – a House of the Dead, if you will. The writer, Rick Riordan, possibly used it as an inspiration for his novel The House of Hades. Or, well, at least I believe that’s where I first read about it, but don’t take my word for it. Anyhow, the Nekromanteion does give you the creeps a bit. After seeing some of the above ground ruins and the remnants of some huge, ancient pots, we descended into a crypt, barely illuminated and cold. Getting back up into the sunlight, sure felt safer…and warmer too.
After the brief immersion into mythology, we decided we’ve had enough of Hades and turned our attention, and car, towards a more cheerful location. And so, we lost ourselves trying to get to a secluded beach, that Kostas, our host, told us about. I’m pretty sure we drove through someone’s land and crops, though my boyfriend swears that’s not true and that the drive was ‘so much fun!’. The grass reached the car windows and there were rocks everywhere. We clearly have a very different definition of fun. However, we did manage to reach our destination and it was worth it. Our GPS announced that we arrived when we got to a sort of meadow that opened up above the sea, to a beautiful view of a small golf. After taking some pictures, we went down to the beach, called Alonaki. This one also had rocks, and these ones were not round. However, there was sand too, so you could lay down your beach towel and enjoy the view. The water was nice and most people were swimming from the beach to a huge rock in the middle of the golf. They would climb the huge rock and then jump into the water from there. It looked like a lot of fun, but since my swimming skills are next to none, I resorted to basking in the sun, taking walks from one side of the beach to the other and taking many pictures.
When we had enough of this beach and got terribly hungry, we packed and returned to Parga. There, we tried out a small family restaurant, also recommended by Kostas. The restaurant was on a tiny staircase street starting right from the seafront. The owners didn’t speak much English, but when it comes to food, I guess language becomes universal. We had some amazing dishes and I personally enjoyed some shrimp saganaki. This is a dish that contains cooked feta cheese with a red tomato sauce that can be combined with pretty much anything, hence the shrimp.
We ended our day with a walk on the seafront, taking pictures, admiring the view and avoiding the very eager Greek men trying to get you to eat at their restaurants. If you’re not hungry, you might want to walk as far away from the restaurants as possible. Otherwise, you’ll get caught up in several conversations that go more or less like this: “Hello! Welcome! Come! We have fish! Fresh fish! Best fish! Where’ you from? [insert country here] Oh, I know that! Beautiful country! You don’t have fish like this there! Come eat!”
The day before our departure, we separated, as my parents and sister decided to go to yet another beach, a tiny, hidden one in Parga. Though it was a nice, more intimate beach, my partner and I felt we’ve had our taste of beaches for the trip and drove instead to Ali Pasha Castle, or better said, the remains of a structure dating since the times of the Turkish occupation. Once we got enough of the ruins, we drove to a nearby town, called Agia, nestled on top of a mountain. There, after struggling for a bit with the steep, curvy roads, we stopped for a cappuccino at a café that offered a beautiful view over the area. The owners were great hosts that spoke, to our surprise, great English.
In the evening, we all went for dinner at a restaurant near the Castle of Parga, which was slightly more expensive than the ones situated downhill, but where the food was really good and worth its money.
Our time in Parga ended with my dad and I drooling over some delicious-looking sandwiches, that we eventually decided to get for the road. They turned out to taste as delicious as they looked, and boy, were the two of us proud. In case you’re wondering about any souvenirs we’ve brought back, I bought a rock from a little boy selling them at the market, and my parents bought a bag full of onions. I know, weird choices, but the little boy had to be encouraged in his artistic endeavours and that onion was truly amazing – no tears, almost like a Johnson’s Baby commercial.
Bottom line is: if given the opportunity, I would return. There is so much more to the region than just the beachside. You have the atmosphere, the breathtaking scenery and, of course, the food. All in all, it ended up being worth the 12-hour ride.