Easy to drive and filled with diversity best describes this 73 kilometer route, which traverses the lowlands of Serres and ends near the border with Bulgaria. You will be driving in the shadow of Mount Beles for almost the entirety of this route, which will either be straight ahead, or on your left. This mountain forms the natural border between Greece and Bulgaria and its peaks, reaching an altitude of 2000 meters, are both impressive and imposing.
Begin your exploration at Lithotopos village; the dam that was constructed here in 1932 retains the waters of the Strymonas River, creating Lake Kerkini, one of the most important wetlands in northern Greece, protected by international treaties. Rare and beautiful birds, such as cormorants, herons and Dalmatian pelicans, find refuge here. Follow the road on the left of the dam to go around the lake. As the serpentine road follows the perimeter of the lake, your co-passengers will notice the clouds reflected on its surface. Keep a low, steady speed because this particular country road is often being crossed by local fauna as they approach the lake – from horses and foxes to rabbits and tortoises.
In Kerkini village, follow the signs to the little harbor on the lake where you will find traditional boats. as well as horses running in the fields. The setting changes at Mandraki village and the harbor, with the landscape becoming darker and more melancholy. The edges of the lake are blanketed in water lillies and in the distance you will see a patch of land on which an entire village was constructed in 2001. This village of course no longer exists, as it was made for the film “The Weeping Meadow” by Theo Angelopoulos.
Turn right at the center of Vironia and keep going until you see the Strymonas River and the large bridge. Buffalo often graze near the river here. Even though these bulky bovids are usually friendly towards humans, it would be best to keep your distance. After Vironia you come to the village of Neo Petritsi, built on the foothills of Mount Beles. The Soultanitsa stream that springs from the mountain crosses the valley of Lontza on the northern side of the settlement, creating impressive waterfalls. The valley is wonderfully arranged with small bridges and footpaths just beside the waterfalls. As you cross the Strymonas River you enter the Serres-Promahonas road and just before reaching the border, turn left to Agristro. The village’s thermal springs and baths have been in operation since Byzantine times; today they are open 24 hours a day, and visiting them in the evening in the freezing cold is a truly unique experience. From temperatures close to zero you bathe in waters that naturally spring from the ground at a temperature of 38-40°C.
Do not miss
The opportunity to try freshwater fish caught in the wider area, particularly delicious when fried. At Mirovalis taverna (tel. (+30) 23250.513.40) in Hrisohorafa village, the family catches fresh carp every morning.
On the way, at the village of Livadia, you will find Boras’ butcher shop (tel. (+30) 23270.311.09), one of the first in the area to showcase the flavor and nutritious properties of buffalo meat. Stock up on sausages, sujuk, salami and kavourma.
Right beside the running waters in the valley of Neo Petritsi you will find Oasis taverna (tel. (+30) 23230.313.30), which serves exceptionally-grilled meats as well as trout.
Reservations are required to visit Agristro thermal springs (tel. (+30) 23230.414.20), The duration is 30 minutes and costs 6 euros per person. Go for the old stone-built Byzantine hammam bath, if available.