Karpenisi: One of the Most Unique Places to Visit in Greece
There are many beautiful places in Greece to visit, but if you’re looking for something unique and a little off-the-beaten path, look no further than Karpenisi! For a taste of traditional Greek life set against a breathtaking natural backdrop, head on over to this alpine paradise in the heart of Evrytania – a paradise for the outdoors- and culture-enthusiast, and one of Greece’s best-kept secrets!
A Hidden Gem in Central Greece
Karpenisi, one of the most beautiful places in Greece, is a charming small town in Central Greece filled with quaint stone houses and surrounded by the mountains of Kaliakouda, Helidona and Timfristos. In fact, this part of Evrytania is known as Greece’s Switzerland!
A popular tourist destination during the winter months, few visitors truly appreciate the beauty of its winding cliff-hugging roads and dense pine forests the rest of the year – but they should! At less than 8000 residents, this quaint town perfectly blends the traditional with the modern.
Given that it is less than 300km away, we recommend hiring your own car to make the 4-hour drive from Athens to Karpenisi. It is possible to get to Karpenisi by bus but then you will essentially be stuck, as there is almost zero transportation between the villages.
Travelling from Athens by car, you’ll head out on what at first seems like an ordinary route via the National Road. The easiest route is to go via Lamia, and then follow the signs to Karpenisi from there. As soon as you leave Lamia, you’ll begin to notice the change in scenery. Before you reach Karpenisi (about 1 hour from Lamia), stop by one of the last remaining historical inns. You’ll feel like you stepped back in time as you enjoy some of the local delicacies, with views of ancient forests and the sounds of the Sperchios river babbling in the background.
From there, follow a winding route through the Bakoyiannis Tunnel. Here the temperature falls sharply and you will know you’ve arrived to Karpenisi, the capital of Evrytania.
A word of warning about travelling by car! There are several toll booths between Athens and Karpenisi, so make sure to bring plenty of change.
What to Do in Karpenisi
After passing the village of Agios Nikolaos, you will soon arrive at the Karpenisi town centre. Though perhaps not the most scenic, downtown Karpenisi still holds its own charm.
Your first stop? The central café for traditional Greek coffee! Enjoy a delicious coffee and a treat of Greek doughnuts (loukoumades) with honey and cinnamon under an old plane tree (called, platanos in Greek). On the other side of the plane tree is another mountain-fed spring. You’ll enjoy watching the water flow through the stone-carved lion heads that adorn the spring!
More Things to Do in Karpenisi
Taking the road to the town’s outskirts, you will find yourself in Kefalovriso, an area that is well known for one of the most important battles during the Greek Revolution, during which the hero Marcos Botsaris was killed. The Kefalovriso park is full of plane trees, and also features a duck-filled lake and a monument to this historical Karpenisi battle. This is also where the Karpenisiotis River flows, creating a magical, picturesque scene. In Kefalovriso, you should definitely pay a visit to Mrs. Marica’s famous fish farm! This fish farm has a vital role to play in what is an otherwise mountainous region, providing some diversity to the local diet.
A bit further away, the foothills of Velouchi mountain meet the Wild West: Saloon, an adventure park designed to perfectly replicate an authentic western saloon, complete with horses, deer, and endless green fields with streams and lakes. Definitely one of the must-see places in Karpenisi! Make sure to try their hot chocolate, test your wall climbing and zip lining abilities and – weather permitting – take a ride on one of the park’s friendly horses!
Karpenisi is a hiker’s paradise, with dozens of walking trails through the verdant hillsides that surround the village. Head towards Panta Vrechei and you will be rewarded with hidden gently-flowing waterfalls and stunning scenery. The most famous of these waterfalls leads to the cave of Mavri Spilia. For a bit more adventure, you can check out Dipotamo, the point where two rivers (the Krikellopotamos and Karpenisiotis rivers) meet to flow into the Trikerioti river. This is a popular spot for white water rafting!
Village-hopping in the Mountains of Central Greece
As great as the town is itself, the true highlight of visiting Karpenisi are the quaint villages that surround it. Each village has its own charm, and no matter how many you visit, you’ll always find something new to love in the next one.
At the top of our list is Megalo Chorio, which means “big village” in Greek. Touristy but beautiful, this village has maintained its traditional character. Small shops selling traditional products line the streets, friendly people are there to greet you, and tasty treats await you when you visit Megalo Chorio. The friendly Mr. Karvelis, for example, typically serves sweet galaktoboureko (a local delicacy made from phyllo pastry and semolina custard) straight out of the oven, which you can enjoy along with Greek coffee and views of Mt Velouchi in the background.
However, the true secret of this village lies in the surrounding nature. Just a few feet away from the stone houses of central Megalo Chorio, you will find a path that leads to (a different) Kefalovriso where you can admire a complex of wooden bridges, trees, streams and a peaceful river that completes the experience. Just steps away from civilization, you’ll feel like you’ve left it behind completely as you immerse yourself in the fresh mountain air and captivating natural landscapes.
Next you can visit Mikro Chorio, the “small village” to Megalo Chorio’s “big village”. Mikro Chorio is divided by a road into two sections, Palaio (old) and Neo (new). Palio Mikro Chorio (as it is sometimes also called) is where you want to focus. A large part of the town was destroyed during a landslide in 1963, the result of extreme rainfalls over the course of 13 days. In fact, this is why Neo Mikro Chorio needed to be built! Since the landslide occurred on a Sunday morning, most of the town’s residents were in church at the time; as a result, only 13 lives were lost. You can still visit the church, Agios Sostis, today, or any of the other fresco-painted Orthodox churches with their colourful roofs.
From the town square, you can admire the six springs and enjoy coffee under a 250-year-old plane tree. In the same coffee house (which also doubles as a taverna), you can taste traditional Greek food cooked in terrines with a view of Chelidona mountain. But be forewarned! Some tavernas in Neo Mikro Chorio are closed during the weekdays.
Panagia Prousiotissa Monastery
Last but not least, it’s worth the hour drive from Karpenisi to the Panagia Prousiotissa Monastery, also known as the Proussos Monastery. The Monastery, which dates back to 829 CE, features beautiful murals of the saints and is one of the most important monasteries in Central Greece. Sadly, it is also one of the last out of what used to be dozens of monasteries filling the Evrytania countryside. (For a fascinating glimpse into another rapidly disappearing piece of Greek culture, check out our post on sfyria, the ancient Greek whistling language!).
You should definitely take the time to visit the cave where the icon of the Virgin Mary was hidden in the year 829. This was during the Second Iconoclasm, when religious images were banned by the Eastern Church authorities. Many icons were destroyed during this time.
The journey to the Proussos Monastery itself is worth it for the views of Lake Kremasta from above, the natural rock formations around Kleidi and the verdant forests. The Kleidi rock formations are footprint-shaped marks said to belong to Panagia (Mary), the Mother of Jesus, and are considered to be miraculous by believers. In Greek, they are known as Patimata tis Panagias – the “Virgin Mary’s footsteps”. Many observant Greek Orthodox followers make the trek to the Proussos Monastery every year to celebrate the Ascension of the Virgin Mary.
Just a short ways away is the Proussos village, and worth a stop despite its small size (just 15 elderly residents live there now). Here you can enjoy a traditional Greek coffee under the shade of a beautiful old plane tree, while admiring views of the Monastery and the valley below.
Half-way between Mikro Chorio and the Monastery is Gavros, sometimes referred to as “the town with all the tavernas”. It’s an ideal place to stop for a meal on your way back to Mikro Chorio after visiting the Monastery, where you’ll be able to enjoy traditional regional dishes (see our recommendation below!).
Thanks to a 1980s program run by the Greek National Tourism Organization (abbreviated as EOT in Greek), Koryschades (also spelled Korishades) has preserved its traditional architecture. You can stay in one of its five traditional guesthouses if you travel here.
For a taste of Greek history, check out the old elementary school next to the main plaza! It now houses the National Resistance Museum – a very appropriate choice given the history: that very school’s classrooms were used for sessions of the National Council in May, 1944 (the National Council was a legislative assembly created during the Axis occupation of Greece, following secret elections).
Where to Eat in Karpenisi
One of the best things about dining in Karpenisi is how fresh the ingredients are. You won’t find a cuisine that is more “100-mile-diet” than this one, I’m sure! Karpenisi itself, as well as its surrounding villages, are chock full of family-run tavernas. It’s not uncommon for these restaurant-owners to hunt their own meat and grow their own produce! Unique regional dishes of wild boar or rabbit abound.
A must-visit for anyone who loves traditional Greek cuisine! Extraordinary taste combined with the best ingredients and warm hospitality. If you find yourself in this taverna, you should definitely try the traditional herb or zucchini pies, the fresh-cut fries, their famous goat soup or any dish with lamb. Don’t forget to ask about the daily specials as they always have great options. You can also reserve a plate for the next day!
Agios Athanasios Taverna
Located at the entrance of Megalo Chorio and across from the beautiful small church of Agios Athanasios, this taverna is a great option if you are travelling with children as it has a big garden and a playground. Dishes on your list should include babanetsa (a traditional herb pie with feta – pictured), their delicious sausages, pork chops and tasty steaks.
Fisherman’s House Taverna
One of the best tavernas in the village of Gavros, the Fisherman’s House Taverna is a great alternative for foodies who prefer a dietary option that does not necessarily include meat. A must-try is their trout, freshly-caught every day from the Karpenisiotis river, which flows right by the tavern.
Karpenisi Hotels: Where to Stay in Karpenisi
As Karpenisi, Greece is located on a mountainside, we recommend looking for accommodations in the upper part of the village, offering you spectacular views of the village and the surrounding mountains.
Selestina Boutique Hotel
A beautiful and affordable hotel in the center of the town, Selestina Boutique Hotel is a perfect option for travellers who wish to experience the vibe of Karpenisi. You can choose a room either with a mountain or a city view, while the wood-decorated lobby creates a cozy aesthetic.
Oneiropetra Boutique Hotel
In the outskirts of Karpenisi, in Amplas area, this family-friendly hotel is a great place to spend a night or two. It combines an exceptional stay with an ideal location, perfect if you prefer a quiet getaway that is close both to the town of Karpenisi as well as nearby villages. Its outdoor sauna, the beautiful garden with a playground and the amazing scenery will make your stay in Oneiropetra unforgettable.
Forest Suites Boutique Hotel
For travelers wishing to experience life in the villages of Evrytania, Forest Suites (located in Megalo Chorio) is an idyllic mountain resort, perfect for a more relaxing stay. This guesthouse offers a traditional Greek breakfast with local delicacies, a pool and a lounge bar with a scenic forest view. An ideal choice both for couples as well as people looking for an exceptional night’s stay away from the town of Karpenisi.
Epoches Luxury Suites
In Koryschades village, only four kilometers away from Karpenisi, Epoches Luxury Suites offers a luxurious stay in mountain view guesthouses that could satisfy the needs of every guest. The cozy vibes created by the combination of wood and stone make staying in these mountain village houses unique.
When to Go: Karpenisi Weather
Evrytania’s climate can be described as dry and cool for most months of the year. The region is perfect for people with breathing conditions who can benefit from a dry, cool climate.
Karpenisi has four distinct seasons. During fall and winter, the temperature ranges from -1°C as a low to 15°C as a high. For an authentic autumnal experience, the ideal period to visit Karpenisi is in late October to early November, when you can also savour the region’s famous nuts and chestnuts!
For skiiers and snow-lovers, the time to visit is December-February; that’s when you are most likely to find snow. By comparison, the weather is rainy during the fall and spring.
During the summer, the average temperature is between 13°C (the low) to 28°C (the high); perfect for those travellers looking for a cooler summer getaway!
A Favourite Winter Travel Hotspot
Did you think Greece was a summer-exclusive destination? Island-hopping during the sunny summer months may be fun, but real Greece-lovers know that fall and winter are also great times to visit.
Karpenisi (also sometimes spelled Karpenissi) is a great spot year-round, but as the Switzerland of Greece, you can’t beat winter in Karpenisi for skiing and other snow sports. If you are a skier, the Velouchi ski resort boasts 15 slopes, three of which are hors piste. Equipment rental and lessons are available for the less experienced!
The Velouchi Ski Centre is a must-visit, even if you’re more into the après-ski scene. The pure white winter landscape around the Velouchi resort will simply take your breath away. Well worth a stop!
(For live updates about the ski runs at Velouchi, click here)
And also a Great Spring & Summer Getaway
The mountains of Central Greece are also a great option for a cooler destination during the summer months, especially for those who like to stay active. Summer is the best time for Karpenisi to show off its waterfalls, and its picturesque trails offer a great opportunity for adventure.
From kayaking down the Kremasta Lake and swimming in the fairytale-like Megdovas river to experiencing Vothona Canyon with its 11 waterfalls, there is something for everyone. Karpenisi is a great alternative for travelers who prefer wilder scenery for their summer vacations, combining nature with exciting experiences.
Greece Off The Beaten Path: You Can’t Beat Karpenisi
From the best Greek coffee and traditional delicacies to historical monuments and breathtaking sceneries, Karpenisi, Greece – this hidden paradise in the foothills of Mt. Velouchi – is well worth a visit. In fact, this is a place you will want to return to again and again, discovering something new each time, until you explore all the hidden gems Evrytania has to offer.
About the Author
Alexandra is a PhD candidate and a researcher focusing on Middle-Eastern security, regional balance and tribal affairs. She is working in the non-profit sector in the fields of education and employment of young graduates in Greece and has significant volunteer experience, focused mainly on education around disabilities. She holds great interest in Indigenous history and tribal affairs, not only in the Americas but in Europe, Africa and Asia as well.