By Haris ArgyropoulosAccording to the celebrated late novelist Menelaos Lountemis, Edessa, the main town in the border region of Pella, Macedonia, was “a stepping stone for God to the heavens.”
Best known for its waterfalls, including Greece’s highest at 70 meters, Edessa might be dubbed a “water city,” as it is criss-crossed by canals and aqueducts, resembling a mini-Amsterdam and making it a cool place in more ways than one: Surrounded by running waters and rich greenery, the locals follow an unharried pace of life, which invariably impresses visitors. Edessa is also the center of a fruit-growing region, notably cherries.
Sitting at the northern foot of lush Mt Vermio, the city flourished in the interwar period mainly as a textile center, with factories powered by its abundant waters. Since the early 1990s, Edessa has been rediscovered by mortals as a stepping stone to a haven for nature lovers and outdoor activities in the wider area.
The center of Edessa is dominated by a six-clock tower. Nearby, in Kioupri, is a fine single-arched old stone bridge over the river. The waterfalls can be seen from several angles, including from a narrow pass behind it where the roar is loudest. The waterfalls park includes the outdoor Water Museum, where visitors can see how the old factories were powered, plus an information and recreation complex for visitors.
The city is more than a millennium old and features a number of restored old churches and mansions, particularly in the old Christian neighborhood of Varosi -- the historic center of Edessa. At the end of Varosi is Psilos Vrahos (“High Cliff”), which offers a superb view of Vermio and the surrounding villages.
Pella prefecture abounds in opportunities and facilities for outdoor activities throughout the year, including rafting and kayaking, cycling, paragliding, gliding, motocross, archery, skiing, snowboarding and horseback riding.
Six kilometers from Edessa are the artificial lake and wetlands of Agra, covering an area of about 600 hectares, which periodically host more than 130 bird species, some of them rare and protected, and where organized facilities for boat tours and bird watching are available.
Further north, 32 km from Edessa, in a wonderful setting deep in the lush slopes of Mt Voras (Kaimaktsalan), near the village of Loutraki, is the Pozar spa -- famous since antiquity. Nearby, the Black Forest on the slopes of Mt Voras is rich in flora and fauna. November and May are especially recommended for scenery.
Returning south from Pozar and continuing on the road west, 23 km from Edessa, is Lake Vegoritida, one of Greece’s largest and most beautiful, at an altitude of 600 m. Near the picturesque town of Arnissa -- on the shore of the lake -- is what is reputed to be one of the best glider ports in Europe, thanks to excellent air currents in the area. The port, operated by the Edessa Gliding Club, draws die-hards of the sport from many countries.
Further west, a right turn on the road leads to the very attractive, unique village of Palaios Aghios Athanasios, reminiscent of mountain resorts in central Europe. The road continues to climb up the mountain, ultimately leading to the modern ski center, which has 16 trails of total length 13 km for skiing and snowboarding and a 5-km trail for cross country skiing, at elevations ranging between 2,070 and 2,390 meters. The center has accommodation facilities, which can also be found at Aghios Athanasios and Panagitsa.
Northeast of Edessa, in the area of Aridaia and on the slopes of Mt Paiko, is the village of Notia which has yielded numerous archaeological finds, dating from the era of Alexander the Great and the Roman conquest, attesting to a rich historical past.
Finally, 50 km east of Edessa and 40 km from Thessaloniki is the archaeological site of Pella, the ancient Macedonian capital.
Getting there & basic info
Area phone code: 23810. Edessa (population around 20,000) is about 560 km from Athens (via Katerini and Veria) and 89 km from Thessaloniki. There are three intercity bus departures daily from Athens (Kifissou 100, 210.515.2548) and 11 from Thessaloniki (2310.516.104). Train stations: Edessa, 23510; Athens 210.529.7777; Thessaloniki 2310.517.517/8. Trains from Thessaloniki about every two hours. The journey, taking just over one hour, is recommended for scenery and photos. Edessa tourist info office: 20300 (www.edessacity.gr), bus station (for local connections): 23511, police: 23333.
In Edessa: Four-star: Xenia (29706, fine views), Aigai (29888). Mid-range: Katarraktes (22300); Varosi (21865, www.varosi.gr) and Hagiati (51500, www.hagiati.gr) are traditional guesthouses in the historical center; Varosi Four Seasons (51440); Olympia (23544). Agritourist: Kerasia Chalet (92301). In Palaios Aghios Athanasios: Four-star: Siantsis guesthouse (31455); Rouga (31608). Rented rooms: Arhontiko (31898); Voras (31456); Eleftheria (99139). At Loutraki (code: 23840): Four-star: Four Seasons (91500); Asteras (91458). Mid-range: Alexandra (91069); Galini (91067); Refuge on Mt Voras (9 rooms, 32001).
Food & drink
Good ouzo place by the Kioupri bridge and others dotted around Edessa. Lunch at Psilos Vrahos and around the waterfalls. Fine traditional cuisine at Stathmos, outside Edessa train station. Petrino, at Flamouria, 7 km from Edessa, excellent fusion cuisine and wine list – a must. Tzinos, a small traditional taverna in the center of Edessa, with classic Greek cuisine (try kebabs with fries). Kalyva, the first taverna as you enter Aghios Athanasios, offering excellent Greek cuisine and service. Delicious trout at Nisi (7 km from Agra). Local specialities: pies, aubergines with beef, pork.
What to see & activities
Edessa’s open-air Water Museum (20300) has impressive old machines and is very interesting for kids. Folk Museum (28787). The Folk and Paleontological Museum at Loutraki (91300) includes the remains of a bear found locally and estimated to have lived 110,000 years ago. Opportunities for outdoor activities abound, including trekking, mountain bike, paragliding, gliding, rafting, motocross, archery, skiing, snowboarding and horse riding. For details, call the well-organized municipal tourism office: 20300. Ski center: 32002. Edessa and Skydra train stations are fine old buildings.