LAKE KERKINI: BOAT RIDES & BIRD-WATCHING
Celebrated Greek filmmaker Theo Angelopoulos, renowned for his carefully composed scenes, chose Lake Kerkini as a location for what was to be his final film, The Weeping Meadow. Nature lovers from abroad visit the area for its protected wetlands and the bird species they attract, including great white pelicans, fish eagles and great black cormorants. Lake Kerkini was created in 1932 as an artificial reservoir following the construction of a dam on the Strymon River in the area of the village of Lithotopos. Today the lake, and in particular its northern wetlands, has developed into a favorite spot for both migratory and non-migratory birds. The undergrowth, the swampy waters and the climate make the area an ideal place for birds, and its protected status means that it will remain a bird haven. Over 300 bird species have been documented, including the Dalmatian pelican and the pygmy cormorant, both endangered species.
In addition to its avian population, Lake Kerkini also attracts many fish species, primarily common carp and wels catfish. Wolves, jackals, hares and wild boar also roam the area. Boat rides around the lake, usually requiring about 90 minutes, are the best way of becoming acquainted with the lake. Boats approach bird’s nests at a respectful distance, while a rundown of the lake’s history is offered along the way – unless passengers prefer to gaze silently out at the still waters. Boats are available for hire at the small port in the village of Kerkini. Oikoperiigitis (Kerkini, Tel. +30 23270.41450) organizes various activities, including bird watching, trekking and bicycle exploring. The company also operates a hostel in the area. At the village of Chrysohorafa, the family-run Myrovalis (Tel. +30 23250.51.340) taverna operates its own fishing boat and serves fresh fish caught that day from the lake.
1. Ano Poroia: Age-old plane trees and a superb view
Situated at the foot of Mount Belles, just south of the Greek-Bulgarian border, Ano Poroia enjoys a privileged view of the Serres plain and Lake Kerkini. The water from the mountain flows all year round, not only through the main square of the village with its gigantic plane trees, but also at other points around the settlement. A fish farm where trout is cultivated operates in the forest at the top of the village. A taverna (tel. +30 23270.51.500), open only on weekends outside of summer, is also located here, while the Ano Poroia Women’s Cooperative Shop (tel. +30 23270.51.550) is a good source for products such as traditional marmalade, sweet preserves, pasta and pies.
2. Authentico, a grocery for Serres treats
Food production in the Prefecture of Serres is abundant and is primarily provided by small family-run units. Authentico (24 L. Papapavlou, Serres, tel. +30 23210.52.220), a stylish and hospitable butcher shop/grocery store, is stocked with top-quality local goods, including: En Afthonia eggplant-based sauces; local peanut butter made by Fystikovoutiro Serron; Boras brand buffalo meat products; locally brewed Voreia beer; and delicacies from other parts of Greece, as well as fresh meat and cold cuts from Nigrita.
3. Stroll around the city of Serres
Enjoy a stroll around the town, beginning at Eleftheria Square and continuing along Merarhias Street, now a pedestrianized shopping strip that ends at the Prefecture Hall (Nomarhiako Megaro), a 19th-century neoclassical building. Explore the surrounding streets as well. A stop at the city’s Archaeological Museum, housed in an old Turkish indoor market, is essential. If you’re here on a Wednesday, don’t miss the city’s weekly outdoor market, referred to by locals as the pazari.
4. Cycling in the valley
Locals commonly refer to the Agion Anargyron Valley as the Karamanlis Valley – in honor of the late statesman Konstantinos Karamanlis, the country’s first leader after the 1967-74 dictatorship. The valley area, close to the city, includes creeks, small bridges and walking paths, as well as bicycle lanes. This location draws both young and old in the afternoons, and during the warmer summer months is an evening destination as well.
5. Iraklia sausages
Iraklia is renowned for its Iraklia sausages, or Tzoumagia, as the town itself was once known. Visit its weekly bazaar, held on Fridays, try the sausages and buy some to take back home. The produce of Vassilis Kokozis (tel. +30 23250.22.219) is highly recommended.
The old bridge across the Strymon River that leads to the village of Vyronia always attracts a crowd, including buffaloes, cows and sheep which typically gather along the river banks next to the bridge to create a charming pastoral scene, made even prettier by Mount Belles in the distance. Upon entering the village, look for signs indicating the way to the local railway station, defunct since 2000 but of major historical importance. This was where a truce, which led to the Bucharest Treaty that ended the Second Balkan War, was signed in July of 1913 by Eleftherios Venizelos, the Greek Prime Minister; King Constantine I, the leader of the Greek forces; and Bulgaria’s leaders. The truce’s terms, it is said, were negotiated under the ancient plane tree which still stands there. A café-snack bar operates at the railway station.
7. A visit to the cave
Alistrati Cave, 50 km from the city of Serres on the road towards the provincial city of Drama, ranks as one of Europe’s most impressive caves. Discovered in 1958 and opened to the public in 1998, it features a stunning display of stalagmites and stalactites. Open 09.00-17.00, tel. +30 23240.82.045.
8. Sunset from the Acropolis of Serres
The Acropolis of Serres, an ancient fortification located on Koulas Hill (signs indicate the way from town), offers the best view of the city. The remains of the Byzantine Acropolis, built in the 9th century AD, may be seen. Sunset is the best time to visit.
9. Fairytale-like Lontza valley
The village of Neo Petritsi, located at the foot of Mount Belles, offers a green paradise. The water flowing down from the mountain converges here with the Soultanitsa, the stream which irrigates the Lontza valley. Perennial plane trees, cafés, tavernas and small bridges create a fairytale-like setting.
10. Waking up to a view
Erodios Hotel (tel. +30 23250. 28.070), which stands on a slope near the shores of Lake Kerkini close to the dam, offers a truly remarkable view. All its rooms feature large windows, providing guests endless vistas of the lake and valley from dawn to dusk. The scenery is equally spectacular from the hotel’s café-restaurant on the top floor.