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  • Writer's pictureGreen Traveller

Outdoor adventure in West Macedonia and Thessaloniki

As we launch our Green Traveller's Guide to West Macedonia and Thessaloniki, Sarah Baxter selects a range of outdoor adventure activities in this beautiful part of northern Greece.

Photos: Richard Hammond


Horseriding, Sklithro, Florina

Nikos Voglidis has been riding horses in the lush countryside around Sklithro since he was a boy. Now, with his father Dimitris, he runs Artemis Tours, and enables visitors to explore the region in the saddle too. The family keeps a herd of well-behaved Pindos horses at their rural Swiss-chalet-like base camp. From here you can head out on guided hacks into the surrounding meadows and hills; these range from 30 minutes to five hours to overnight adventures, and can be tailored to all levels. Rides will likely include crossing streams, clopping through villages, galloping though wildflower fields and eating fresh damsons straight from the tree. Artemis offers other activities too, including excellent guided hikes through the beech and oak forests to hunt for mushrooms and herbs, gentle canoe trips on Lake Zazari and mountain-bike rides on lakeside and forest trails. artemisoe.gr


Photos: Richard Hammond


Truffle hunting, Prespa National Park

Finding precious truffles is pretty easy in Prespa National Park – if you know where to go. And if you have an expertly trained dog at your side. Those with neither expertise nor hound should head out with Nikos Tsilis. Nikos and the boundlessly enthusiastic Avra make great company for foraging walks in the oak, beech and ancient juniper forests. The precise locations will vary depending on time and season – whether you’re searching for black summer truffles or the more greatly prized white winter variety, or perhaps wild mushrooms too. Nikos is young and self-taught but has accrued a wealth of knowledge about these pungent fruiting fungi; he’s even discovered a few new species. He’s also started making his own products including truffle butter, truffle oil, and, his next project, truffle honey. With luck, he may give you a truffle to take away. instagram.com/nick_tsilis


Photos: Richard Hammond


Birdwatching, Prespa National Park

More than 275 bird species have been recorded in Prespa National Park, including the largest colony of Dalmatian pelicans in the world. To help visitors spot as many as possible, six walking trails have been created, which open up access to the best birding sites. For example, Trail 1, a 12km loop from Laimos, gives a great all-round intro to Prespa, passing through a mix of forest, agricultural and wetland habitats – woodpeckers, pelicans and sparrowhawks are all commonly seen. Alternatively, 5km-long Trail 3 takes in Agios Ahilios island and Krina Hill, the latter affording a great vantage over one of the best wetland areas where you might see pelicans, several types of heron, pygmy cormorants and glossy ibises; visit in the late afternoon, when the angle of the sun is better. Information leaflets can be picked up from the visitor centre in Agios Germanos. spp.gr


Photo: Richard Hammond


Cycling, Prespa National Park

A trio of cycling routes has been designed to encourage visitors to get out of their cars and explore Prespa on two wheels. All three are on the flatter, eastern side of the park, so none are too tough. The 36km loop from Laimos to lakeside Mikrolimni passes small villages, cuts through farmland and skirts Kale Hill to reach the water’s edge, with a short detour to the ruins of 12th-century Agia Anna church. The 10km Lakeside Forest Trail also starts from Laimos and follows the lush Agios Germanos River to its mouth, through stands of poplar, willow and silver birch trees. The 12km Beech Forest Trail, which weaves from Agios Germanos up around the forested lower slopes of Mount Varnous is a little more challenging but offers magnificent views. Bikes can be hired from Ecotourismo, based in Laimos. Download the Prespa Trails app for details. ecotourismo.gr


Photos: Richard Hammond


Hiking, Prespa National Park

There are ten hiking trails, ranging in length from 4.5km to 12km, spidering across the park. These open up areas that are otherwise impossible to reach. Plus the slow, quiet nature of walking makes wildlife sightings more likely – on foot, you might come across crawling tortoises, grazing roe deer, the prints and scat of bears and numerous species of birds. Top picks include the route from Psarades to Cape Roti (5km), which runs from the bay and through the forest to a panoramic lookout over Great Prespa Lake; you can also make a short, steep diversion to the 13th-century Metamorphosis Hermitage. Or take the trail from Mikrolimni (10km), following the old pack-horse route to the abandoned village of Kranies, one of the least-visited spots in the park. Trail leaflets and maps are available from the Visitor Centre in Agios Germanos. spp.gr


Hiking & Cycling the Paths of Peace, Florina

Backed by the German-Greek Fund for the Future, the Paths of Peace project was inaugurated in 2017 to support slow, quality tourism in a region that suffered at the hands of the Germans during the Second World War. There are two waymarked circuits, both designed to take in the rich woodland, dramatic viewpoints, historic sites, lakeshores, riverbanks, churches and cafes in and around the settlements of Lechovo, Asprogeia, Nymfaio, Agrapidia, Sklithro and Limnochori. The 42km route is for hikers, using a mix of forest trails, shepherds’ tracks, cobbled paths and small lanes; there are some steep ups and downs but it’s graded moderate overall, and doable over three or four days. The other route is for cyclists, using quiet country roads; measuring 73km, with a total of 2,394m of ascent, it’s advisable to complete it over two days. Download the free app for information. pathsofpeace.gr

Kayaking, Mikrolimni, Prespa National Park

There’s nothing official about the kayaking offered at Ta Psaradikia tavern in Mikrolimni, but co-owner Kiriakos is happy to lend out his sit-on kayaks for free in exchange for visitors picking up any rubbish they find out on the lake. facebook.com/groups/psaradika


Mountain biking, Prespa National Park

Ecotourismo runs guided mountain-biking trips across the remoter western side of the park. Novices could try the 10km route from Pyli, along the banks of Great Prespa, to Psarades. More challenging is a 100km circular via the mountains of Varnoundas, Vici and Triklarios and passing through 16 mostly abandoned villages. ecotourismo.gr


Photo: Richard Hammond


Hiking, Nymfaio, Florina

Six waymarked walking trails have been created in the countryside around Nymfaio, which take between 30 minutes and five hours to complete. An English-language guidebook (called Six Antidotes to Technology) describes the routes in colourful detail. Buy a copy from the Arcturos sanctuary. arcturos.gr


Boating, Prespa National Park

Taking a boat trip on Great Prespa Lake is the best way to see some of the park’s birdlife up-close – from flocks of pelicans to elegant egrets, fishing herons and spread-eagled cormorants drying their wings. It’s also the only way to access some of the fascinating cave-churches built into the lakeside cliffs. Germanos at the Syntrofia Tavern runs excursions that leave from the little marina in Psarades and head out past the gnarled rocks (where he’ll point out ancient frescos), around Cape Roti and into the main part of the lake, with stops to disembark and climb up to the impressive 14th-century Hermitage of Panagia Eleoussa. It’s possible to book a sunset trip. Alternatively, join Germanos and this crew on an early-morning fishing trip to learn about local traditions and get hands on with the hard work. syntrofia-prespes.gr

Paragliding, Prespa National Park

For a unique view of the lakes, and a chance to soar with the pelicans, take a paraglide flight. No experience is necessary – you’ll be strapped into a two-seater rig with an experienced pilot. Ecotourismo, based in Laimos, runs trips. ecotourismo.gr


Wildlife and cultural walks, Prespa National Park

Prespa Lakes Wildlife & Culture Stories offers various excursions that get to the heart of the park, including guided nature hikes, gastronomy days, foraging walks and tours that delve into the complicated history of this crossroads of countries. en.wildlifeandculture.com


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The Google map below shows the location and details of all the places to stay, eat, nearby attractions and activities in our Green Traveller's Guide to West Macedonia and Thessaloniki:


Green = Places to stay Blue = Local food & drink Yellow = Attractions Purple = Activities


For more information, including nearby places to eat, places of interest and local outdoor activities, see our Green Traveller's Guide to West Macedonia and Thessaloniki

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