The undiscovered village of Vamvakou, a gem nestled in Parnonas, warmly welcomes us. Our base is the enchanting guesthouse “Rouga” in Vamvakou, where we embark on a journey through the magical Parnonas, exploring its charming villages, magnificent forests, and rich history.
Is Vamvakou truly a reason to venture into the mysterious beauty of Parnonas? After our initial impressions and a delightful drive from Karyes through fir, cedar, and pine trees, we spotted the village in the distance, bathed in the late afternoon glow. However, as we approached, it seemed we were veering away.
Lost in the woods at a junction with a sign, we paused, trying to find our way to “Rouga.” Like a guardian spirit, Panagiotis appeared, anticipating our late arrival and guiding us. We lit the fireplace and stepped out onto the small balcony, inhaling the mountain air—a blend of nature, fir, and the comforting scent of burning wood from the fireplaces.
Everything echoed “village” at that moment.
A profound silence enveloped us, broken only by the distant call of an owl, lazily reaching out to its mate.
Our room, named “Marigo,” www.rugaofvamvakou.gr/rooms/marigo/) was truly exceptional. Spacious, with a double bed and two single sofa beds, it embodied what they describe as quiet, simple luxury. It mirrored my vision of a countryside retreat—warm wooden floors, unassuming furniture, a roaring fireplace, and a classic wooden ceiling from yesteryears, adorned with beams in soothing beige tones.
I strolled around “Rouga” and marveled at the old traditional houses transformed into a guesthouse of exceptional architectural beauty, thanks to an exclusive donation from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, a key component of the “Vamvakou Revival” initiative. Each room bears the name of a woman from the village’s history.
Marigot, Vgena, Stamo, Tsevoula, Annio, and Potoula stand gracefully, each adorned in their finest, extending a warm invitation to immerse ourselves in their space and savor the authentic Greek hospitality of the countryside.
I awoke as if in a dream, greeted by the lively banter of two roosters vying for the honor of announcing the correct time—it was half past six! Meanwhile, my companions, cocooned in warm quilts, purred contentedly like blissful cats.
The prospect of the morning excursion to “Rouga”, literally meaning small narrow road, heightened my senses. Stepping outside, I could feel the invigorating rush of oxygen filling my lungs, and my eyes were treated to the spectacle of the first sunlight piercing through the fir trees, casting a warm glow on the surrounding tiles.
In this tranquil morning scene, most fireplaces still emitted a gentle wisp of smoke, a testament to the cozy warmth they had provided the night before. The low-hanging clouds delicately brushed against the edges of the fir and pine trees.
Embarking on a photographic journey, I captured the essence of the village—stone corners, roofs, weathered wooden doors, wisps of smoke, trees, narrow alleys, and cobbled streets. Each element transported me to a realm of unique nature, embodying the serene and representative charm of the Greek mountainous province. As I strolled through the narrow streets, the lyrics of an old song echoed in my mind, and a smile played on my lips: “Here in this neighbourhood, in the above rouga (alley), a little partridge built its nest…”
Listen to the song here
We lingered at the “Rouga” making it our temporary haven—a neighbourhood that embraced us, allowing us to live the dream and savour the essence of this unique place.
I return, drawn by the enticing aroma of breakfast served in the lower hall, with a terrace that beckons towards the forest of fir trees across.
And Yes, before me lies a breakfast that I wish to encounter in every guesthouse, every hotel, and every rental. A feast of local delights unfolds—fresh bread and jams, regional cheese, locally sourced sausages, and even smoked cured meat from nearby Sparta, infused with the delightful scent of orange aromas. The honey carries the essence of Taygetos, and the fried eggs are delivered fresh from the neighbours!
The anticipation heightens as warm doughnuts, a cheese pie, and local tiropitaria make their entrance, all featuring the richness of local cheese. As you can imagine, a delightful battle ensues for these delicious delicacies, prompting Panagiotis to make a second serving to satiate the eager travellers. The breakfast, a true celebration of local flavours, becomes a memorable highlight of our stay.
The “Greek Breakfast” is a concept of the Hellenic Chamber of Hotels, aiming to connect the country‘s gastronomic wealth with the visitor‘s experience and to promote the gastronomic heritage of each place through a program designed to distinguish products from each region.
The aim is to place quality, local products of Greece at every stage of the visitor‘s travel experience. Taste the intricate flavours of each region, which will tickle your senses and inspire you to discover its gastronomic heritage and local delicacies.
Gastronomy Tours strongly advises you to book hotels holding the certification of “The Greek Breakfast”. A list of them you can find at the Hellenic Chamber of Hotels website by pressing here
Angeliki and Panagiotis, who bid farewell to Athens and embraced a new life in Vamvakou, breathe vitality into Rouga, ensuring it exudes warmth and meticulous attention to detail. Their commitment is evident in the impeccable condition of the guesthouse and the award-worthy breakfast they present to us each morning.
Undoubtedly, Rouga of Vamvakou stands out as one of the best and most unique guesthouses I have encountered in my recent travels through undiscovered Greece.
As we embark on our exploration of this quaint mountain village in Laconia, we find ourselves amidst a community with only a handful of permanent residents. However, fueled by the support of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, a determined group of young individuals harbours dreams of revitalizing the village. Their vision includes the sound of the school bell ringing once again, filling the playground with the laughter of children, and infusing life into every corner of this charming mountain retreat.
Wandering down the cobbled road to the main street, we pass between charming old stone houses adorned with vibrant traditional colours. As we reach the square dominated by the church and the sprawling plane tree, a serene quietness envelops us, as though we’ve entered a tranquil wilderness.
Suddenly, the Voureiko café and restaurant, a testament to the entrepreneurial spirit of the village’s youth, appears before us. Open and lively, a few young individuals are diligently preparing stews for the evening, anticipating the arrival of villagers.
The impact of the “Vamvakou Revival” organization, backed by the Niarchos Foundation, is evident in the vibrant scene. We learn about an extensive art activity that caters to all age groups, as well as numerous events at the school, including cinema, games, and even a robotics workshop. These initiatives mark a concerted effort toward the complete revitalization of Vamvakou, leveraging its rich history, human capital, and natural wealth, all made possible with the moral and financial support of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF).
Despite the calendar marking Christmas, the sun persists in its warmth, and summer lingers with a balmy 17 degrees, encouraging us to linger, relishing the village ambience. A handful of tables are strategically placed in front of the church beneath the shade of the venerable plane tree.
Here, beneath its protective branches, we indulge in the simplicity of a Greek coffee, surrounded by the serene embrace of the square.
Adjacent to us stands the magnificent village church, a testament to the shared devotion to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, Agia Paraskevi, and Agios Charalambos, crowned by its lofty bell tower. As we absorb the spiritual ambience, another group joins us, animating the square with newfound vitality.
Panagiotis and Angeliki, eager custodians of Vamvakou’s spirit, share their dreams for the village. They extend a warm invitation to fellow young entrepreneurs, encouraging them to invest in the area’s potential. The village square buzzes with continuous events catering to both children and adults, thanks to the unwavering support of the Foundation and the tireless efforts of “Vamvakou Revival.”
The vision for Vamvakou is swiftly evolving, and an air of optimism, infused with the earthy scents of the forest, now permeates the village, symbolizing the promising future ahead.
Now, it’s time to journey to our next destination, Tsintzina, now known as Polydrosos, embarking on a brief riverside walk along the Oinounda River, meandering just beyond the village. This tranquil stroll allows us to savour the water’s essence—a source that will nurture the dreams of the village’s resilient few inhabitants in the times to come.
On your journey to Polydroso, it is highly recommended to make a stop at the mountain shelter conveniently located along the way. Take advantage of this opportunity to indulge in a short stroll through the lush forest paths of Menalon. The vibrant beauty of nature in full bloom is sure to captivate you, leaving you anything but indifferent!
In just under two and a half hours from Athens, you can immerse yourself in the enchanting beauty of Parnonas—a verdant mountain offering a rare tranquillity. Parnonas is a haven for travellers, hikers, nature enthusiasts, outdoor lovers, philosophers, and those seeking serenity, not to mention a gastronomic paradise!
Here in the mountainous Lakonia of Taygetos and Parnon, the roosters boast their distinct dialect! Each morning, their robust crowing serves as a natural wake-up call, akin to reliable Swiss alarm clocks.
These resilient and stubborn day labourers, with their tough demeanour, require a hearty treatment to tenderize their meat and give a culinary delight at Areti’s renowned tavern, “Koukounari,” celebrated throughout the entire region and especially for the Bardouniotikos rooster—a culinary delight that surpasses any rooster you might have tasted before.
Hailing from the village of Bardounia, nestled in the North-Western ranges of Taïgetos, the Bardouniotikos rooster takes centre stage in a stew richly infused with local flavours. The dish incorporates a medley of local cheese, onions, Messinian cheese, and Kalamata olives. Accompanied by rustic hilopites or thick orzo sourced locally, the meal attains a unique character.
Cinnamon, cloves, and bay leaves impart an impressive flavor, harmoniously complemented by the inclusion of sphela cheese and olives. Indulge in the Bardouniotikos rooster, and you’ll find yourself forgetting all other roosters you’ve encountered before—truly a culinary experience that captures the essence of this picturesque region.
The magic of Parnonas truly unfolds amidst the chestnut and walnut trees, reaching its peak in October. However, I recommend experiencing its unique charm during Easter or shortly thereafter, when nature takes on a different light.
Enhance your journey by attending one of the numerous events that grace almost every weekend, creating memories that will stay with you.
Texts and photos GiorgioGrigor