The central part of Lefkada makes you forget that you are on an island.
The changes of the scenery are also present in this region, with different colours and different landscapes. Visiting the mountainous villages during autumn and spring is of particular interest, because nature offers unique colours which combine with the stone houses, the paved streets, the scattered small churches, the windmills’ ruins, the “volti” and the old settlements. They all offer the right scenery to make the guests keep the island in their minds and hearts, to make the guest want to revisit Lefkada very soon.
Apolpena is, once more, the gateway that leads to the mountainous part of Lefkada. It is necessary to make a first stop at the church of the old monastery of Odigitria, one of the oldest religious monuments. It is said that it was built in the 11th century AD and it is closely connected with Helene Paleologos that not only renovated the monastery during the 15th century but also lived and died there as a nun.
The ascending towards the central villages will make the visitors stop several times to photograph the view of the plain of Lefkada. At the site of Mpoza, on the right side of the road, there is a monument dedicated to the uprising of the Lefkadian villagers against the English, in 1819, because of the unbearable taxation that was imposed for the widening of the channel between the island and the Acarnanian coast.
That is about the spot where one can start enjoying the route that runs within the canyon of Melissa, a mountainous location with springs, small bridges, abandoned small settlements and windmills, distinctive fauna and flora that all nature lovers will appreciate.
The villages of Sfakiotes are the next ones to welcome the visitors. It is said that the first dwellers of the villages came from Crete, although there are also different theories about their origins. Asprogerakata, Kavalos, Lazarata, Spanohori, Pinakohori, five unique villages, where stone and vegetation are dominant. Consecutive small hills, olive groves, vineyards, orchards and the colours that each season generously offers, amazing view of the northeast and the west of the island. Villages that preserve their traditional architectural character, churches with exceptional bell towers, windmills and watermills that are evidences of the agricultural labour, wells, springs and smaller or bigger torrents, numerous pathways and routes are characteristic of the land of Foteinos, the hero of the homonymous poem by Valaoritis that proudly replied to the Venetian conqueror Graziano Giorgi: “I come from here… I am from Sfakiotes”.
What is worth seeing in these villages? It is hard to choose or to suggest! Where could one start from…
From Spanohori you can follow the uphill paths to reach the small churches of Agios Ilias (that was built in some point during the Ottoman Rule of the island) and Agios Stefanos that is built in a cave, to gaze at the coasts of Epirus, the plain of Lefkada and the eastern coast of the island.
All the churches of the villages are beautiful both in the interior and the exterior and they all deserve a visit. Also, it is worth to mention specifically the church of the monastery of Genisi tis Theotokou (the Birth of Virgin Mary) at Episkopi, which was once (from the 14th century until 1689 AD) the seat of the Archbishop of the island.
In Kavalos, the Kontomihio Folkloric Museum of Sfakiotes offers the visitor, through its exhibits, the whole picture of the everyday life and the tradition of Lefkada, while the churches of Agia Ekaterini and Agios Nikolaos are really impressive. Just outside the village, the windmill of Kospetos, next to the chapel of Pantokrator, with ancient parts that form its gates, the wells a little further away and the view of the north of the island are surely worth noticing.
And then there are the Turkish styled wells of Fryas in Asprogerakata that provide water for all uses since the 18th century, beneath the plane trees that are centuries old (it is said that they were planted in 1845). Near them there is the church of Analipsi with the beautiful bell tower and the cafés where you can enjoy soumada, traditional sweets or coffee.
Next, the route leads to Pigadisani, a village that is located above the plain of Karya, built almost at the edge of the cliff. There, every summer during the Wine Festival, many people taste the island’s wine. The view from the chapel of Panagia, just above the village, presents you with the beauty of the island. A little lower, at the site of Markous, the small old bridge with the same name, the water mill and the spring create an ideal scenery.
It is worth mentioning that this is the village where the hero of the National Resistance, namely Apostolos Santas, and the world famous soprano Agnes Baltsa came from.
At the exact centre of the island, there is the village of Karya. It is a big village, theatrically built on a green clad mountain side. The central square, covered by plane trees, with many small taverns and cafés, is the heart of the village all year long. This is the starting point of many paved small streets that spread throughout all the neighbourhoods of the village that hold special names and the scattered small churches, the windmills and watermills. There are many churches in the village, the main one being Agios Spyridon, with its imposing bell tower. But there are also scattered chapels all around, such as Panagia in Dafnoplagia, Agios Konstantinos etc.
Way above Karya there is the abandoned village of Rekatsinata that reminds you of times long past. The ruins and the wild vegetation that coexist harmonically, the chapels (namely Agios Andreas and Agios Antonios) that create a sacred atmosphere just by standing there and the view of the plain of Karya are the main characteristics of the village.
However, the church of Agios Ioannis Prodromos at the meadow of Karya that was built in 1605 is a reference point. Inside the temple there are wall paintings and the surrounding area reveals that there was a rich monastery that constituted a great religious centre of the island.
The plain of Karya is fertile and green-clad and offers the unique pulses known as “lathouria” or “lathiria” that are delicious and healthy.
Karya is also famous for the wonderful needlework, the product of the one of a kind knitting technique of Karya that was invented by an extraordinary woman, namely Maria Stavraka also known as “Koutsohero” (Limp-handed). Although she had both hands partially disabled, she managed to prove that the internal strength and the love for one’s work can overcome all disabilities.
In the village there is the Folkloric Museum of Lefkadian Needlework “Maria Koutsohero” that unveils the whole history of the knitting art but also other traditional elements of the village. There is also a notable, newly founded (in the summer of 2015) Phonograph, Gramophone and Radiophone Museum.
Every summer in Karya, the very active local cultural club called “Apollon” organises, with great success, the re-enactment of the Lefkadian wedding ceremony and the “Riganada” Night (“Riganada” is a local dish with oregano). Both events end with traditional feasts. There are also many other cultural events about which you can get information here.
“Apollon” also runs a Folklore Museum that is housed at the building that used to be the village’s elementary school, with a vast collection of traditional costumes and other objects that are related to the history of the village and the club.
The most mountainous village of Lefkada is Egklouvi, a traditional village, one of the oldest on the island and a very active one, since its people were among the pioneers of the social struggles of the 20th century. This was the place where one of the three most important Farmers’ Associations of Greece was founded in 1930. The central square with the plane trees and the traditional little cafés is always ready to offer the visitors some rest accompanied with Greek coffee and homemade spoon sweets.
To the east of the village there is the grand plateau of Agios Donatos, with the homonymous small church dominating the landscape, while around it there are the “volti”(*). The famous lentil of Egklouvi is cultivated on these fields. Its taste is unique and it has fanatic “friends” all over Greece! You can taste it in its natural environment during the “Lentil Feast” every summer, on the 6th of August, the eve of Agios Donatos’s name day which is also the celebration day of Transfiguration of Christ the Saviour, in the surrounding area of the church that is full of wells. The tradition of the feast began from the small chapel that is located on a hill above the church of Agios Donatos. The chapel is dedicated to the Transfiguration of Christ the Saviour and the locals used to treat lentils to everybody on that day. The event is very successful every year and a large crowd gathers to taste the legume of the plateau and to have fun at the traditional feast.
A little further to the north, there is the small chapel of Prophet Ilias, built on the top of the mountain with the same name, a white nest with endless view to every direction.
From the plateau you have the options to return to Karya or reach Exanthia through the road that passes by the old American bases and radar facilities, take the road to Hortata or the road towards the villages of Agios Ilias in the south.
East of Egklouvi there is the ruined monastery of Agios Nikolaos at the site of Thermata
The road will take you east to reach Vafkeri, a very beautiful village built within a dell, with old stone houses but also many newly built ones because it is one of favourite places of accommodation due to the quietness and coolness that it offers. In the older times it used to produce large amounts of wine and this is why you can still see the remains of old trampling pits at central points. Southeast of the village there is the 16th century monastery of Asomatos Mihail, at an idyllic location.
From Vafkeri the road leads eastwards to Nydri. Our tour, though, continues a few kilometres backwards to Karya to visit the village of Platystoma. It is a beautiful and quiet village with both old and new houses and paved small streets, vast open space for the children to play and an amazing view of Prigkiponisia (the small islands between Lefkada and the mainland). Furthermore, from the village you can see the mountain of Elati and Mount Skari, the Homeric Mount Niion of Odyssey, according to the theory of W. Dörpfeld concerning the Homeric Ithaca. The settlement of Perigiali used to be the port of Platystoma.
In the village, the visitors can enjoy their coffee at a picturesque traditional café that looks like a folkloric museum and visit the churches of Agia Paraskevi and Agios Nikolaos. West of the village, on the road to Perigiali, there is the church of the monastery of “Kokkini Ekklisia” (Red Church), dedicated to the Annunciation to our Blessed Virgin Mary. It was founded in 1478 and was an important religious centre of the island, because it was one of the biggest and richest monasteries in Lefkada. This is the place where the dynamic cultural club of the village organises, every May Day, a grand feast with the participation of youth dance departments of the neighbouring cultural clubs. The area is clad with vegetation and there are lots of springs that are the sources of the river “Dimosaris” with rapid torrents and waterfalls.
From Platystoma you can follow the road to Alexandros and Kolyvata. Both of them are very old settlements that still maintain their traditional features unspoiled. Wonderful preserved and renovated houses, beautiful paved small streets, a square that is famous because of the special events organised by the local cultural club (Friends of Alexandros Cluc “Figos”), windmills and old historical churches (Agios Spyridon, Agios Dimitrios and Kimisi tis Theotokou in Alexandros, Agios Nikolaos in Kolyvata) complete the attractive scenery. Both settlements are located at the western fringes of Mount Skari.
At the mountain of Skari there is the sole oak forest in the Ionian Islands. It is a location of great natural beauty. It is also called “the Mount Athos of Lefkada” because there tens of churches on the mountain together with the aforementioned ones. Most of the small churches are now ruined. In Skari there are two of the most significant religious monuments of the island, namely the monastery of Agios Georgios above Kolyvata, with its main church and ruined cells and the monastery of Agii Pateres where the monasticism in the island reportedly began, with the three Holy Fathers that came there together with the Bishop of Lefkada, namely Agatharhos, after the Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. The monastery is rather impressive amongst grand rocks that form a cave.
There is an annual event of mountain running called Lefkas Trail Running that takes place every October at the mountain of Skari.
You can return to the town through the following routes: Via Platystoma you can head down eastwards to Perigiali enjoying the view of Prigkiponisia, via Alexandros and Mount Skari you can go down the mountain towards Nikiana, via Vafkeri you can go towards Nydri gazing the island complex or you can follow the same road back, via the villages of Sfakiotes.
It is a rare complex of stone domelike structures located to the east of the plateau, mainly in the broader region around the small chapel of Agios Donatos. There are more than 150 “volti” at the plateau. Their name derived from the way of their construction, i.e. as arches, vaults.
Their walls are 60 centimetres to 1 metre and their height is between 2 and 2.5 metres. Their builders used to put smaller stones, dirt and bigger than normal tiles over the arch, fixed with a mixture of sand and quicklime to withstand the winds. Those tiles are no longer in their place. They were constructed with a double wall, the external one made of the mixture and the internal one of stones.
There were three types of “volti”:
The simple (single-chambered) ones had a rectangular door and their height was that of an average person, with stone pillars at the entrance and a single-piece lintel. The entrance used to have a wooden door with a lock, bolts and a horizontal bar. In the interior there were small niches on the walls that used to serve as storage spaces. The simple “volti” belonged to the poorer families and were the fewer ones. In general, they were equipped with a few household items because the families used to spend the summer there, although they usually slept outside on grass beds covered all around with feathers.
The double ones or twins had two consecutive chambers that were not connected with each other. Each one had a different entrance and usage. The one was for the oxen (up to five oxen) with troughs and the other for the animal food. There was also a small lobby on both entrances that was always open so that the farmers could protect themselves from the weather.
The triple ones or triplets had three chambers. The two of them were used in the same way as mentioned above. The third one was used by the farmers. There were also three lobbies. These “volti” were owned by the richer families. Their structure was much firmer and some of them are still in a very good condition although they are more than 150 years old. The “volti” were mainly located near the threshing floors. We do not really know when the “volti” were built for the first time. We are aware, though, that such structures already existed during the first years of the Venetian Rule.