Where to hunt the delicious wild edible mushroom species that thrive in the lush forests of Macedonia, Epirus and Thessaly.
1. VALIA CALDA
The name Valia Calda, which means “warm valley” in the Aromanian language, refers to the area’s unique microclimate; indeed, when the rest of Grevena freezes over, the valley’s temperature remains higher, allowing fungi to keep growing.
Different varieties of mushrooms can be spotted amid the dense vegetation comprising black pine, oak and shrubs; those that prevail, however, are the porcini and parasol mushrooms in shrubby areas and the meadow mushroom in mountain plains.
Here, one particular species stands out: the rare tricholoma – a type of matsutake – which is only found here and in the region of Florina, thanks to the presence of red pine (Valia Calda has the southernmost population of this species in the Balkans).
The nicest path: Valia Calda is accessible by car from the village of Perivoli via the Stavros or Krania crossing points. Once you descend into the valley from the dirt road, you’ll find mushrooms in all directions. Nevertheless, if you wish to explore an interesting hiking path, take the one along the Arkoudorema stream leading to the village of Vovousa.
What else you’ll see: The entire region makes up the Valia Calda National Park, which constitutes the core of the Pindus National Park. In a valley confined by mountains reaching heights of more than 2,000 meters, with rich vegetation (that erupts in color in the autumn), dense forests, streams, rare plant species, birds, reptiles, amphibians, mammals – including wolves and bears – the best thing to do here is to take endless strolls in nature, either by car or on foot. – Olga Charami
Due to the absence of industrial activity in the region, Zagori – and, more generally, all of Epirus – could lay claim to the title of the purest area in Greece. As such, its land yields mushrooms of excellent quality (fungi are known to absorb pollutants from the atmosphere and soil).
The great variety of mushrooms found in the region reflects the size of its forest and the diversity of its vegetation. Some of the mushrooms are more special than others, such as a few uncommon chanterelle species and the famous lion’s mane (Hericium erinaceus), a rare, medicinal fungus that grows in mature oak forests – which have generally suffered degradation in Greece, but not in Zagori.
The nicest path: The trail that begins outside Kipi village and goes East towards Fragades is an easy one. Walking along this path you will find a great variety of mushroom species – even in the summer, too.
What else you’ll see: As you enjoy endless walks around the villages in Zagori, you will encounter wonderful architecture, stone bridges and beautiful small churches. In the central part, visit Dilofo, Koukouli, Kapesovo, Vitsa and Monodendri. In the west, make stops at Aristi, Mikro Papigo and Megalo Papigo. – Olga Charami
In Pilio, the local knowledge of mushrooms is impressive: fungi form part of its inhabitants’ daily lives, and even small children can differentiate the most common edible species. In autumn, mushroom and chestnut picking are combined, as wild mushrooms grow around the trees in mountain chestnut groves.
The first mushroom of the season that emerges here is the parasol mushroom (Macrolepiota procera, or gourgouliana to the locals), followed by Caesar’s mushroom and porcini.
More species can be found in the villages of East Pilio, from Zagora and Aghios Dimitrios to Mouresi and Tsagarada. Thanks to the high levels of precipitation, the region’s dense forest favors the growth of mushrooms.
The nicest path: Pilio brims with paths and, depending on weather conditions, you can spot mushrooms anywhere in the woods around the villages of eastern Pilio. The path that goes from the villages of Hania to Makrirrachi is worthwhile, as are the Tsagarada-Mouresi and Mouresi-Kissos routes.
What else you’ll see: This is the ideal season to visit Zagora and stock up on fresh Pilio apples at Zagorin, the Agricultural Cooperative of Zagora–Pilio. – Lina Kapetaniou
Vitsi is filled with porcini mushrooms, and you can also find morels on the other side of Kastoria, close to Argos Orestiko.
Of course, mushroom pickers are like fishermen: they never reveal their richest hunting grounds. However, the members of the Kastoria-based Association of Mushroom Friends of Western Macedonia are willing to share their secrets. Founded in 1999, the association has developed a rich range of activities that includes festivals, seminars, meetings and thematic events.
An old habit in the area, mushroom picking is practiced by many locals. The region also holds a record: in October 2010, the then association president Giorgos Setkos discovered the first white truffle in Greece; as a result, Greece joined the small list of countries known to be home to one of the rarest and most expensive kinds of fungi.
The nicest path: Starting out in Kastoria and heading towards Vitsi Ski Center, you will crunch through thick layers of dry autumn beech leaves. Make a stop at Oxia and Vissinia villages and follow the forest tracks that lead off from the main road.
What else you’ll see: Lake Kastoria, the traditional Dolcho neighborhood with its Macedonian mansions, and the town’s many Byzantine churches. – Lina Kapetaniou
Grevena is without a doubt the Greek mushroom capital: Aside from being home to a great number of mushroom lovers, it also has a Mushroom Park where related events are held.
In Grevena, however, mushroom picking and consumption are not a recent trend. Locals have always collected mushrooms, and they could be found in all homes, fresh or dried. Indeed, they were a particularly crucial part of the diets of the locals during World War II and the Greek Civil War.
For some years now, thanks to the work of different mushroom associations and local authorities, mushroom picking has been developed as a tourism attraction, and the number of species known to collectors has increased.
The nicest path: The easy route that goes into the Kastraki urban forest, on the outskirts of Grevena, is ideal for families. In this pine forest, mushrooms grow both in autumn and spring. Alternatively, you can take the wide path that starts just outside Zakas village in the old summer camps and reaches the top of Mt Orliakas (1,464m.)
What else you’ll see: Many stone bridges in the villages of Grevena, such as those of Zakas, Portitsa and Liatissas close to Spileo village, and the Kagelia and Aziz-Agha close to Trikomo. – Lina Kapetaniou
Metsovo is a popular destination for mushroom lovers as nearly all edible mushroom and truffle species can be found here. Its dense beech forests and high elevations attract mycophiles even in the summer.
Porcini, chanterelle, morel and red pine mushrooms – in other words, particularly delicious mushrooms – grow in abundance both in Mestovo and in the wider region of eastern Zagori. Most of these emerge twice a year – in spring and in autumn – depending on the rain, temperature and elevation. Special mention should be made of the golden trumpet mushroom, which thrives in Metsovo’s pine forests and to the truffles, too, which owe their abundance to the presence of wild boars, which spread the fungus via their droppings.
The nicest path: On the path that connects Metsovo itself with Aoos Springs Lake, chances are you will encounter a plethora of fine species, first in the pine woods and later in the beech forest.
What else you’ll see: Walk around in the village’s alleys of solid stone houses. There you will meet elderly locals who often wear traditional dress. Visit the Metsovo Folk Art Museum (Tel. (+30) 26560.410.84), the Averoff Museum and the Katogi Averoff Winery, which organizes mushroom excursions together with the Troufa Club and which, among other things, is a pioneer in the development of the first Greek truffle trees (where the fungus is cultivated along with specific species). – Olga Charami
7. CHANTERELLES AT THE MUSEUM
The award-winning Mushroom Museum, which shares a location with the equally remarkable Natural History Museum of Meteora, seeks to let visitors in on the secrets of the most exceptional fungi, ranging from the impressive and toxic fly agaric (Amanita muscaria) to common morels and white truffles.
Natural-color, precise replica sculptures of the mushrooms in three different phases of their biological cycle are housed in corresponding artificial ecosystems. Visitors can have direct access to information about the various mushrooms on their mobile phones or tablets by scanning the different QR codes in the museum halls.
The brand-new wing, which was built with the contribution of the University of Thessaly, is even more impressive: 12 of the most therapeutic species, as well as 23 edible ones, are exhibited here, in a 3D display that uses spatial augmented reality. Additionally, this lively museum organizes strolls, tastings and seminars; it also hosts a cafeteria, as well as a shop selling mushroom products (Tel. (+30) 24320.249.59, meteoramuseum.gr, open Tue-Fri 10:00-16:00, Sat-Sun 10:00-17:00).
The Mushroom Museum in the village of Lavda, Grevena, consists of a small exhibition of mushroom replicas but also of real, fresh ones, which are changed every week. Its experts will tell you all about the area’s fungi; however, the museum is open to groups by appointment only. Contact the Lavda Cultural Association (Tel. (+30) 698.749.7201, Dimitris Bolis). – Olga Charami