Christmas in Kastoria, Nymfaio and Prespes

The wedding of a family member promted us last year to spend 4 days in Thessaly and Western Macedonia.

Our main destination was Kastoria, a 2000 years old aristocrat with 13,000 children !!! A beautiful, quiet, clean and fascinating city, built on a peninsula sticking out in Orestiada Lake.


We arrived in the late afternoon of Christmas Eve and stayed in a hotel in Dispilio, an area overlooking Kastoria and the villages of the eastern shore. At night, we squeezed ourselves in “Tsipouradiko tou Thoma”, together with other wedding guests who had just arrived from Athens, and ate delicious “poikilies” listening to live music.

On Christmas Day, before 08:00, dressed like onions, we took breakfast in the hotel yard, right in front of the lake, before departing for Nymfaio and Prespes. Evening drink at cafe-bar 63, a quiet, recently restored place in a neoclassical building with a balcony, with beautiful decoration and fine cocktails.

The next day, I took a walk along  Kiknon Avenue and Alexander the Great Avenue, all alone with swans, geese, ducks and gulls … it might have been the date and time  (a holiday for some of them and just after 07:00),… it might have been the cold or simply their way of life… There was absolutely nobody around.


Strolling around the old town, which at 07:45 is still asleep. Intense smell of burning wood from their fireplaces, panoramic view of the lake, narrow stone alleys, traditional architecture, few “ready to collapse” buildings, Byzantine and post-Byzantine churches…

Wandering at around 08:00 in the picturesque neighborhood Doltso, still alone, admiring its famous magnificent mansions, many of which have been renovated or restored.


I was so distracted, I almost forgot I had an appointment with the hairdresser and a wedding ceremony to attend in Mavrochori, at the eastern shore, followed by lunch at “Nisi ton Kormoranon” right “on” the lake. That was a simple wedding, where all preparations, from wedding dress to photography, music, church decoration were overtaken by friends of the couple.  Later, we had coffee and ice-cream in a beautiful, cosy cafe at Profitis Ilias, with amazing view of the city and drinks at Nautical Hall, a famous nightlife spot.

More photos of our stay in Kastoria, you will find here.

I want to come back for all I did not have time to do: watch the sunset at the “Nisi ton Kormoranon”, enjoy the breathtaking view from Agios Athanasios, visit the Dragon Cave, stay in one of the mansions in Doltso..and other walks and activities we missed, as we decided to explore other places nearby.

Kastoria is actually a great gateway for day trips or longer excursions. 55km northwest of Kastoria, at the borders, at 850m altitude, you will find Megali (shared among Greece, FYROM and Albania) and Mikri Prespa, the largest part of which lies within the Greek territory. The area is a National Park and included in the Natura 2000 network.



We visited its highlight, Aghios Achilleios, a tiny island in Mikri Prespa, with just 20 inhabitants and 11 houses. Here you will find the ruins of a Basilica, a guesthouse and a tavern serving fish from the lake, meat from their own free-range animals and vegetables from their garden. We had their Christmas lunch menu…delicious pies and salads, fantastic trout cooked with their local recipe… for 12 euros only (!) and took coffee in the veranda in the company of lake birds.


On our way out, we supported the local salesmen, waiting for us at the end of the footbridge of the island with a huge variety of beans, which due to the rich soil of the region are known for their excellent quality.

I am planning to come back in Spring, stay overnight at the island’s guesthouse and hike or cycle in the surrounding area! Information about marked paths can be found here.

Earlier we had visited the settlement of Nymfaio at an altitude of 1350m, in the prefecture of Florina (just 1 hour from Kastoria and 1.5 hours from Prespes) after an interesting drive passing from the ski resort of Pisoderi. Nymfaio is considered by UNESCO one of the ten most picturesque villages in Europe. Stone houses…alleys surrounded by beech forests… and only 1 km from Arcturos Bear Sanctuary. Unfortunately, our stay did not overlap with its opening hours. Remember to check this out here, when planning your visit.



More photos from this excursion can be found in the Prespes and Nymfaio albums.

There are many other places you will come across on the Athens-Kastoria route or by making a short detour. We stopped at Kalambaka, Meteora, Venetiko and Siatista. See the respective post here.

Within 4 days, we enjoyed a combination of natural landscapes, history, architecture and good food without spending much or exhausting ourselves. It was a beautiful trip and our first one with my niece, who is now 60cm tall but back then was less than 0.2mm. Another embryo, 2 months older was left behind! His parents gave us the opportunity to get to the borders and see all these wonderful landscapes in wintertime. He will bring us back in Spring for his baptism.


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