Kastoria is not an easy city. The cold is bitter, the streets are confusing and even the lake doesn’t help you navigate. I got lost many times; each time I thought I’d found my way when I reached the lake only to discover another part I hadn’t seen before. A huge glass-like surface, frozen by the cold, seemed to constantly reappear in front of me.
Lake Orestiada has been designated by the Ministry of Culture as a natural monument, and Kastoria has risen around it. Anglers sit on the shores with fishing rods, waiting for hours for something to bite. Many others take to boats to fish on the lake. Along the promenade, adolescent girls ride bikes, elderly gentlemen wrapped in their thick coats stop to rest on benches, mothers chase their children, shouting at them to stay away from the water, vendors sell nuts and Russian tourists enthusiastically take photos in fur hats.
THE OLD TOWN
Doltso, the old quarter of the city is a place to lose yourself in. Dozens of mansions stand here, some dilapidated and others proudly restored either as private residences or traditional guesthouses. Thanks to these mansions and no less than 70 churches (Byzantine and post-Byzantine), Kastoria is a popular destination for historians and researchers. The city’s wealth of monuments has not yet been assessed in its entirety. Hopeful researchers circulate among the age-old buildings, patiently looking at walls, hoping to scrape the plaster and find a huge mural underneath. They dream of opening up an old stone basement and discovering forgotten family heirlooms and treasures.
FUR’S LONG AND LUCRATIVE HISTORY
Along with religious and historical tourists, the city also receives visitors who come for something else: fur. Kastoria has long been famous for its furs and the trade remains a significant draw, particularly for affluent Russian tourists.
The history of fur in Kastoria goes back to the 16th century. Kastorian furs travelled around the world, and the fur traders became rich, building the mansions that now lend grace and charm to the city.
The trade peaked in the 1970s when around 6,000 small and large companies operated in the region employing about 15,000 workers. Kastoria had one of the highest per capita incomes, not only in Greece but in the world. The descent began in the 1980s and continues today. The global economic crisis, the rise of the Chinese fur market and the anti-fur movement contributed to a decline in demand. Today, the market has shrunk considerably, although there are still shops selling fur garments and visitors seeking to buy them.
Vlachodimos (11 Alexandrou Street, Tel. +30 24670.83.850). In this small shop you will find products from around the region and beyond: beans of all kinds, pies and pastas produced by women’s cooperatives, Macedonian and Kasseri cheeses and local sweets to name a few.
Amalthea (17 Alexandrou Street Tel. +30 24670.23.955). The two owners know everything about each local product on their shelves. Mushrooms, pies, legumes, jams, pasta – all the goodness of local products in an elegant space that also features a lounge to relax in. It also operates an online store that delivers throughout Greece: www.amaltheia-kast.gr.
VILLAGES OF KASTORIA
On the road to Vitsi Ski Center at a height of 1,200 meters, Oxia village lies in a magnificent location and features a warm and cozy tavern, “Petros”, with delicious food. Definitely try the mushroom soup. • 19km from Kastoria
Most people say that from Sidirochori you have the best views of Kastoria and the lake. Apart from the view, in the “Stous Kalous Dris” restaurant located in the Loggas hotel, you will be able to sample traditional dishes. (Tel. +30 24670.72.424). • 11km from Kastoria
Amphitheatrically built over the river Aliakmonas, Nestoria village is famous for the river party held there every August. A very beautiful village with guesthouses and taverns. • 25km from Kastoria
Historic Klisoura was once a rich and flourishing village. Learn more about its history in the folklore museum. • 31km from Kastoria
The village of Nea Kotyli is not among the most well-known, but worth a visit. It is built on a plateau at an altitude of 1,500m.
Kastoria is 482 km from Athens and is reachable by the Athens-Lamia national highway and then via the Trikala, Kalambaka and Grevena route. From Thessaloniki the distance is 190 km, via Egnatia Odos.