The villages of Arnea and Varvara are vibrant communities that treasure the past. This is where you should go to get a real feel of what life is like in Halkidiki’s mountains, to see examples of traditional architecture and to find out more about old-time crafts such as weaving.
Arnea (which was called Liarigova until 1928) is one of the 12 historic communities known collectively as the Mantemochoria (“Iron villages”), because at one time, they were obliged to provide workers for the area’s mines. Before the 1821 Greek Revolution against the Ottomans, the Mantemohoria had formed their own federation approved by the Sultan, which allowed them a greater degree of freedom.
Today Arnea has a population of around 2,300 and is renowned for its architecture and a beautiful church, dedicated to Saint Stefanos. Its winding roads take you past tiled-roof stone houses with colorful walls and wooden balconies adorned with pots of flowers. Nevertheless, while the village exudes history and character, it is a lively, vibrant community that looks ahead even as it honors its traditions and its past.
“Today Arnea has a population of around 2,300 and is renowned for its architecture and a beautiful church, dedicated to Saint Stefanos. ”
“To complete your exploration of the area’s cultural heritage, visit the Historical and Folklore Museum, which reveals details of everyday life in a bygone era. ”
The Weaving Museum of Arnea is dedicated to the local weaver Harikleia Dimitrakoudi, a true mistress of the art, who died in 2003 at the age of 90. A photograph of her in a simple checkered dress, standing among sheets of white fabric, lets the viewer see the austere strength that so many women of her generation possessed. Because of the high quality of her work, Dimitrakoudi has become associated with local weaving, a craft for which Arnea was particularly renowned and which served as a means of subsistence for many of its residents. Women spent their days either weaving or stitching intricate needlework, while men peddled their wares all over the region of Macedonia – itself famous for its textiles – and beyond.
Exhibits such as rugs cross-stitched with a pattern of three pink roses and six buds, intricate kilim carpets, clothing and blankets made of wool, cotton and silk are all evidence of Arnea’s once-thriving cottage industry, which has all but disappeared, pushed out by industrialization. The museum itself is lovely, housed in the residence of a prominent old family, and many of the exhibits are from Dimitrakoudis’ personal collection.
To complete your exploration of the area’s cultural heritage, visit the Historical and Folklore Museum, which reveals details of everyday life in a bygone era. Among the exhibits are tools and hardware donated by residents; items include baking utensils, agricultural and beekeeping tools, tubs, coffee kits, carpenter tools and textiles.
The green village
Varvara is another village in the area that has not been transformed by mass tourism. Built right in the middle of a forest, it is embraced by its yews and wild hazelnut tree and boasts abundant fresh water springs and a number of nearby waterfalls that are always a hit with visitors. It has a particularly active Agritourism Association, Dryades, run by local women who promote the sale of regional products such as apricot marmalades, ‘spoon sweets’ (fruit preserves) and sour bulgur trahana to wider markets.
Even though Varvara lacks the architectural charms of Arnea, it has a welcoming, lively atmosphere of its own. This is mainly due to the fact that – unlike many rural parts of Greece – a lot of young families still live in the village. Take a stroll and you’ll see their kids hanging out around the square or riding their bicycles through the narrow alleys, bringing life and laughter all around.
“Even though Varvara lacks the architectural charms of Arnea, it has a welcoming, lively atmosphere of its own. ”