As we look back at 2017 and our highlights – Eastern Europe is going to always stand out to us. Whilst we love Western Europe, our curious souls sought more cultural education and east was where our hearts took us.
Greece, Bulgaria, Romania and all too briefly, Hungary. What delights these countries were with history, nature, cultural diversity and a world that has been teetering on the edge of communism into the European Union. What a fabulous six months we had.
To bring our experiences to life, we have produced an interactive map that shows not only all the camping spots we stayed at during our tour, some of the highlights too. Combining our videos, Drone footage and blogs, you have one resource all in one place.
So if Eastern Europe is calling you for 2018 – then this interactive map complete with pictures and co-ordinates is all you need to ignite your plans. We hope that it gives you some seriously entertaining travel inspiration.
Click on any of the icons on the map for more information about each place we visited. Please bear in mind that we started from Italy, headed over to Greece, then had a short trip to Crete and then headed north through Bulgaria and Romania before having a short period in Hungary.
Our penultimate destination of 10 weeks in Greece and it’s a belter. Home to the Cambridge and Oxford rowing crews for their winter training Kastoria is a wealthy town due to it’s historical fur trade. Yaff come here…
So Greece has offered us plenty of eye-leaking beauty from the minute we left the ferry from Igoumenitsa on 11 April 2017 and in a very short time, a love affair blossomed with this incredible land. Around every corner some new delight greeted our curious eyes. And then there was Crete, which is a serious contender for one of our best memories of the last 15 months. So you would be forgiven for thinking that surely things couldn’t jump up the scale of impressiveness – although you’d be wrong.
Northern Greece is so far removed from the Holiday Brochure images of iconic azure seas, golden beach coves and white washed houses strewn with bougainvillea. Yet its understated existence on the Greek agenda gives it even more reason to visit.
Holy Trinity Monastery
First there is Meteora, where the ancient Monasteries float in the air with the presence of spirituality. Then as you head deeper into the mountains you enter a land only trodden by traditional goat herders and bears trying to pillage the local’s bee hives.
Aoos Spring Reservoir, Metsovo
The Aoos Spring reservoir is one of the most peaceful places we’ve ever stayed and to watch the mountains change their colour with the movement of the sun, is a beauty to behold. Alas no bears and no wolves, although a few suspicious bone remnants and carcasses suggest their presence at one time or another. Such is the privilege of calling this place home. (39.834456 21.065472)
With more time, there is no doubting that we would love to have ventured further into the Pindos heartland, with, if I’m honest the tiniest desire to search out the elusive bear. Alas Bulgaria was calling. So in our journey east, we decided to miss the Halkidiki peninsulas and stay in the mountains, as this always feelings like a nurturing home for us. The drive from Metsovo to Kastoria is not breathtaking compared to others, although it is quick on the new motorway (€6 toll) and within 90 minutes you drive into the most welcoming of sights. Picking up a young backpacking couple made the last 45 minutes so much more interesting, as Portuguese Rico and his French partner Rosanne shared their hitchhiking stories. Travel is so much richer when you share experiences together.
Kastoria’s mirrored lake
A mirrored lake greeted us, which took my breath away. It was definitely a sight to rival New Zealand’s lakes. Fringed by the most charming town, Kastoria reflecting back its splendorous image to the skies above. This attractive town is known across south-eastern Europe for its fur trade, which is centuries old and has brought a certain wealth to the area. This is evidenced by the magnificent 17-19th century mansions that proudly stand along the water’s edge, holding secrets of the furriers from a golden era of prosperity. The ‘kastori’, Greek for beaver, which gives its name to the town, were hunted to extinction by the 1900s and now only a few beaver farms exist, with a majority of trade now being sourced with scraps from Canada and Scandinavia. Interestingly, there seem to be more Fur and Leather shops in Kastoria than tavernas and that’s saying something for Greece.
Sadly the key historical fact that is often pushed aside by conversations of fur, is Kastoria’s Byzantine history. There are around 50 chapels that are in various states of repair and yet they still stake their claim amongst the community, often times nestled in between homes. The frescos and architecture are completely different to anything we’ve seen around the rest of Greece.
The local pelicans
Beyond the fur and history, Kastoria is also famed for her lake, that supports not only a flock of some 100 pelicans, 200 swans and many more cormorants and geese. This place is teeming with wildlife, so if like me you love your photography or bird watching, then this place has your name written all over it.
Grebes teach their young to feed on the lake snakes, green frogs croak their songs in a perverse melody and reed warblers compete with each other for musical supremacy. Then after dark the fireflies dance around you, lighting up the bushes like a Christmas tree adding a magical energy to the darkness’ realm. The dawn chorus here is like nothing I’ve heard before; it is choral heaven and a beautiful alarm clock. If you’re very lucky you may even catch the Oxford and Cambridge Blues taking a practice run out on the lake with their oars in tow or is that row! This is big rowing country and they were preparing for a competition of some sort the weekend we left.
Kastoria’s jewel is her peninsular that invades the lake’s tranquility, protruding out to the watery wildness. It offers mythology, ancient history and awe-inspiring underground geology. There is a one-way track around the peninsular, which is a perfect 10km round trip on foot or bicycle, giving you a different vista of the neighbouring mountains. At its neck, Kastoria has crept stealthily up over the rise and her influence on both north and south faces of the lake is clearly evident. Either side, lines of traditional fishing tenders line up against the shore, accompanied by a small flock of eagerly awaiting pelicans looking for a cheap meal.
Don’t miss Dragon’s Cave, which is the third longest in Greece, the longest of which is in Seres, just east towards the Bulgarian border. Albeit it a small peninsular, as you enter the underground world, you will be amazed by what is hidden beneath its rock; a whole new world, only recently discovered. For €6pp you get a 20 minute tour through this underground wonderland, with calcium formations I’ve never seen before and emerald green pools that are fed by the lake outside of its darkened doors. A worthwhile trip to add to your visit.
And just around the corner about 5 minutes drive, you will arrive at your home for the night. The monastery with its incredible Byzantine frescos still very much in tact, will offer you two or three permitted camper spots, as long as you remain 100m from the site. Underneath the shade of the trees you have beautiful views, a musical chorus day and night and an uninterrupted stay, where the locals are more intrigued by your presence, than bothered. There’s water and toilets too, so anchor up and explore this stunning town. (40.510208 21.29158)
A shaggy dog story?
As you regretfully leave the Kastoria’s shores, your route east will take you through fertile plains that keep the agricultural industry alive. Not in an obscene sense. Just land pocketed with squares of maize, barley and red poppies that rival France’s Provence, under the watchful eye of the rolling hills. And then you climb and wind up to the heavens, taking in the distant vista of Kastoria’s realm. The string of lakes in this area are well worth exploring and whilst some are prettier than others, they offer that synergistic perfection of water and mountains.
Lake Vegoritida and her town Agios Pandelimonas are, it’s sad to say, a poor relation after the joys of Kastoria, although sweet in her own right. You will be puzzled by the street lights submerged in the water and the permanent fisherman on a pontoon with no bridge to the mainland. What an interesting little place. Sadly our memories here will be somewhat coloured by a human’s cruelty towards their dog, who they trapped, in full summer heat behind a barrier with a football net. So in her vain attempts to escape she had tangled herself and was minutes from death. We managed to save her, although she was already emancipated and uncared for, so with water, food and some love we hope she found a way to survive beyond our little sojourn. It was all we could do as none of the locals cared. This has been the only blot on Greece’s copybook; they really have very little care for their animals and it is heartbreaking, although part of their culture.
That aside another lovely wild spot just outside the town, offered a lovely view from one of three terraced parking areas and although plagued by flies and mosquitoes, the spot is quite charming, yet lacking the charisma of our previous bedfellow.
And so our journey towards Thessaloniki and the Bulgarian border sets its course and new adventures await us, although what a devine surprise this mountain area of Greece’s Macedonia region, has been. We will return to uncover more of your treasure. Kx
Dave’s gloves are off as he flies again. Sneekily snook into Ms Moneypenny’s last post, if you haven’t seen it here’s Dave taking on the awesome sight of Meteora and her Monasteries in northern Greece.
When you come to Meteora, northern Greece, be prepared for an experience and not just a visit. This is a very special and spiritual place that needs time, space and respect. Mother Nature and Spirituality fuse together in a symbiotic relationship to create a truly magical adventure. Whether you walk, cycle or photograph, this place will talk to you.
Check out our 13 point Guide that is shaped by our four days here. We hope it will help you make the most of this wonderland that will feed your eyes and nurture your soul. Click on the link below to download your FREE PDF Guide.
As I sit here in the wake of a humid-air-clearing thunderstorm that is reverberating around this natural acoustic arena, I’m thinking about how best to share our Greek, Meteora experiences.
After having a month on Greece’s most southerly island, Crete where we were completely enthralled by her coastline, we decided it was time for mountains onectar back on the mainland. Don’t get me wrong there are mountains everywhere on Crete and you are always travelling in their shadow, although you tend to pass through rather than stay and rest awhile. My love battle between coast and mountains still rages, each one giving me gifts from opposing energy. And so we were ready to get our much needed mountain fix.
So heading off the Anek Lines ferry in Pireaus we headed north, through the Athen’s rush hour towards the famous Meteora in Thessaly, northern Greece. So many people recommended coming here and we did wonder whether to leave it until our next trip. Although grasping life’s eternally fragile nettle, we decided we would do it now. Tomorrow after all is never guaranteed.
So I mention my mountain fix for good reason. As we headed out of Athens to a non-descript landscape and then more coast, there was no sign of mountains. And then out of Lamia we had some inclines and a mountain range in the distance. Ah, at last. Yet to my utter frustration after 45 mins of twists and turns, we ended up on Greece’s agricultural plain. Now for anyone who who has driven across Central Valley in California, then you’ll have a pretty clear image of what we experienced. The teasing image of the Pindos mountains to our left kept us hopeful of our curvaceous friends’ welcome. Except we kept turning right. Would our expectations fail us?
And then on the horizon, our awaiting prize showed itself. Pinnacles of sandstone boulders rising up from the earth like a Phoenix, revealing what everyone had been talking about. Meteora – the magical land of ancient Monasteries built atop fingers of rock as if suspended in the sky in their pursuit of God’s acceptance. Now this is what we’d hoped for.
If you’ve seen the film Avatar, then you’ll have a good impression of what Meteora is like. A region of sandstone megaliths that are 60 million years old, crafted into uniquely shaped fingers by earthquakes, rain and winds, upon which monks built their houses of faith back in the 13th Century. Their lofty position would make an eagle’s nest feel inferior and they give the impression of floating in the sky, casting an air of subtle yet regal dominance across the land.
There used to be 24 monasteries in times gone by, with churches and hermits’ caves built into the rock to allow for the preservation of their holy sanctuary and asylums for persecuted Greeks. Now there are only 6 left that, let me tell you, command your reverence, whether you are religious or not. Many visitors come in pilgrimage, whilst for others it’s donning the latest pose, with the backdrop of the Monasteries as their digital portfolio for family slide shows on their return from holiday. For some, like me, there is a sense of entering into a land that time forgot. Driving through the small village of Kastraki, you enter through invisible gates to a haven of spirituality that balances religion with natural history to create a mesmerising experience. The sunlight shines on these sanctuaries with the artistry of a stage show, with different times of day showing off each Monastery to their fullest potential.
Metamorphosis Monastery, 13th Century
Whilst no longer highly active Monasteries, a small number of monks and nuns still call these heavenly safe-havens, home. Now they tend to be more museums of ancient, religious tales that reveal a tortured time for the Greeks under Ottoman and Turkish rule.
Visiting this place needs more than just a coach trip, in my opinion as spending time here allows you to soak up the reverent vibrations that make this place so special. The acoustics here are incredible and if you can train your ear as you climb the often steep staircases to reach the Monasteries, you will be enthralled by the orchestra of sounds that bounce across the rock faces. Breathing in the magnificence of the human and natural architectural will sooth your spirit and leave you wanting to visit again to really see and feel the place and not just photograph it.
To get the most from your trip here, I would recommend the following 13 pointers in this Guideto experiencing Meteora. Click the blue link for your free downloadable PDF Guide. A Guide to Meteora
Also here is a link to Dave as he does a truly magnificent fly-past of this wonderland. Here’s the link. We think you’ll love his birds eye view.
So there we have it. A little slice of magic in the northern foothills of Greece. A gateway to another world where religion and nature fuse together in perfect symbiosis without much interference from the outside world, save the curious travel eager to appreciate its treasure. Do come, it’s very special.
Hi, Karen & Myles, The Motoroamers here. We are a fun-loving couple travelling full-time around Europe in Scoobie our trusty camper. We're driven to deliver seriously entertaining travel through our blogs, photography and humorous videos. We hope to inspire you too to travel.