Strolls along the esplanade by the boats, ouzo and assorted sea-flavored meze dishes, castles and ancient quarries, all located just an hour away from Athens, make for a tantalizing holiday or getaway prospect throughout the year.
Situated at the foot of Mount Ochi, where, according to legend, the gods Zeus and Hera met for the first time, and wedged between the Euboic and Aegean Seas, Karystos is justifiably a popular attraction over an extended period. It ranks among the top early spring attractions and late autumn weekend getaway attractions for Athenians.
The population here numbers 5,000, including about 100 persons who have settled from other parts of Greece and 300 foreigners who chose to move here. It is not that small a percentage. “Just look at the light,” noted Manuel Theodore, an American art conservator and painter, who relocated to Karystos with his wife, Elizabeth Nead, also an artist. Their studio is hidden amid the side streets of this gridded city with ancient roots. Its modern-day redevelopment began in the mid-19th century following an order issued by Otto of Greece, the country’s first modern king, based on a grid street plan by Bavarian architect Birbach.
Located close by, Tassos Syntelis, a Greek artist who spent many years living in Manhattan, New York City, first visited Karystos ten years ago for an exhibition and ended up staying for good. “It’s the energy coming from the earth. You can’t resist. It captivates you,” he remarked.
Most exhibitions are hosted at the active Hovoli café and, in the summer, at the Bourtzi waterfront castle, the town’s signature monument, which has ruled the port area since the 13th century. The Archaeological Museum and city library are located opposite the castle. Statues and inscriptions from the wider region as well as discoveries from the drakospita (dragon houses) – megalithic sacred ancient buildings at the summit of Mount Ochi and Styra – are worth paying attention to. If interested in seeing a recreation of a traditional Karystos home visit the folklore museum run by Harilis Deligiorgis.
Cycling, horse riding and a fabulous winery estate
The esplanade at the port is an attraction for all. Stroll all the way to the seawall, including at sunset, for nature’s glorious colors at this time. Numerous ouzeri (meze dish and ouzo spots) and café-meze bars on one side and fishermen on the other are prevalent in the area. Trying some ouzo and meze is essential. Over 100 people are employed in the local fishing industry, which, along with livestock farming, are the main professions here. Strolling through the city, visitors will see a certain number of neoclassical buildings, the Town Hall at the main square being an outstanding example. At the lower (Kato) square, by the sea, the mulberry trees make for an ideal place to sit under and relax. Karystos bikes, a venture that rents out bicycles and also provides information on worthwhile routes in the wider area and bicycle excursions organized throughout the year, is located here.
If you prefer galloping instead, head to the Filippi Equestrian Club, whose offering includes therapeutic riding. Deep Sea lovers should visit the local diving club for information on five ancient shipwrecks in the regions.
Operating at the ancient town of Karystos (Palea Chora), the renowned Montofoli Estate, a winery offering guesthouse accommodation, is recommended. Young Danae Karakosta and her husband Konstantinos Papadimitriou are worthily continuing the venture launched by entrepreneur Pavlos Karakostas back in 1986.
Four grape varieties, Asyrtiko, Athiri, Aidani and Liatiko, which produce a high-quality, award-winning sweet dessert wine, are cultivated at the estate’s vineyard, measuring 1.6 hectares. Also, age-old citrus trees are maintained on the property for marmalade production.
It is believed that the estate occupies an area where Karystos was located during Hellenistic times. An impressive staircase numbering 157 steps dates back to antiquity. The estate’s main building with the arched windows is from 1500. Its Red House (Kokkino Spiti) is a 19th-century neoclassical building, while the Pigeon House was constructed in 1870 over the remains of Roman baths. The estate’s cellar served as a church in Byzantine times and was transformed into a stable during Ottoman rule.
Karystos is also a great launching pad for worthwhile excursions in the wider area. Definitely visit Castello Rosso, the Red Castle, located close to Karystos. It was built in 1030 by the Byzantines and, in ensuing years, was successively controlled by the Franks, Venetians and Ottomans. If fond of trekking, visit the ancient quarries from where the renowned green marble, or Karystos stone, was extracted to dress Roman buildings as well as Hadrian’s Library in Athens. An uphill path begins at the end of the village Myli and offers a fabulous one-hour trek. The view offered from the top is sensational, while visitors will also be impressed by five ancient columns measuring twelve meters in height. They were abandoned during antiquity. Besides the quarrying activities that took place in the area during antiquity, extracted stones were carved out and fully developed into gigantic columns that were then transported to the port, ready for export in finalized form.