Greece: The Enchanting Mountain of Ziria

Ziria is the mountain that rises from the shores of the Gulf of Corinth above Xylokastro. The word is Slavic, meaning "acorn," and perhaps that is what it looks like if you gaze at it from a considerable distance. The other name for it, Kyllini, is an ancient Greek word that means "cavity,” a reference to the high plateau that separates the mountain’s two main peaks. As a massive range, Ziria has eight peaks, all of which exceed 2000 meters.

If you drive up from the coast, above the damage of past fires, passed the olive groves and vineyards, you eventually come to three unpretentious villages with the same name: Trikala – Kato, Mesaia and Ano (Lower, Middle and Upper). Their original "tria kala,” which translates from the Greek to mean “three good things” was a reference to the unlimited water, rich soil, and healthy climate that the region provides. But you will soon find that the Trikala villages have even more to offer.

That there is a spectacular view from here goes without saying, but for beautiful walks and drives you could hardly find a better starting base. Until a few years ago, you would have been forced to choose between a handful of cement eyesores masquerading as hotels. But today, Mesaia Trikala boasts two attractive small pensions, both built of stone, as cozy and friendly as any mountain retreat could be. Both Helidorea and Mysaion, the larger of the two, have a warm fireplace in the welcome sitting room, but Mysaion has one in every bedroom as well. 

Mesaia also offers two delicious tavernas. Not surprisingly, in this land of shepherds, the specialities of both tavernas are meat – rabbit in wine sauce and lamb with homemade noodles at "Ta 7 Aderfia" (meaning "The 7 siblings"), while lamb chops, boiled kid, and sautéed liver at "Ta 3 Platania" ("The 3 plane trees") across the street.

Either hotel will provide a hiker’s map, highlighting particularly beautiful spots like Lake Dasiou, the Flamouritsa Gorge, and the cave where Hermes was believed to have been born. Paths lead through forests of impossibly tall black and Mediterranean pines. Golden tulips gleam even at the road’s edge, along with hundreds of other known and unfamiliar wild flowers.

If you have more time, drive across the mountain and down the other side to the Feneos Valley. You’ll wind past Karya and its walnut groves into scenery that looks like it was lifted from an old Clint Eastwood movie, along with a trio of pretty villages before you see the valley itself. Here, the goal of your explorations should not be the ancient site of Feneos because, apart from a signpost, it doesn’t seem to exist. Instead, look for Lake Doxis. Man-made, it is a very recent addition to the landscape, but nature seems to have accepted it gladly and the chorus of appreciative frogs is literally deafening.

Their croaks, in all registers, reach as high as the monastery of Agios Georgios, a complex comprised of red and blue walls that shine merrily through the fir trees. While its frescoes and 17th century buildings certainly merit sincere inspection, the monks’ exquisite rose petal jam alone is worth the trip. The jam won’t take the place of lunch, but near Archaia Feneos, on a hillside with a view of the lake, To Koutouki tou Staikou (tel. 2747 061166) will more than quell your hunger pangs. The owner-chef Staikos offers imaginative dishes with local cheeses, sausages, and grilled meats, as well as salads, and pitchers of delicious wine.

In this neighborhood, the recently renovated Xenia Hotel at Kastania is one of the few places you can spend the night. Otherwise, take the road back to the Corinth-Patras highway via Lake Stymphalia, where Hercules killed the nightmare birds with iron beaks and claws. Sadly, a plan to divert its water to Corinth may threaten the future of the 140 non-mythical varieties of birds that make their homes there.

Getting there
You can either drive up to Trikala (30 km) from Xylokastro or turn inland from Kiato for Stymphalia and Kastoria.

Accommodation
Mysaion Hotel, Mesaia Trikala, tel. 2743 091141, 6977 431697
Helidorea Hotel, Mesaia Trikala, tel. 2743 091444/5
Xenia Hotel, Kastoria, tel. 2747 061283/5