“You’re going up into the mountains?” said the girl in the little Plati supermarket in horror. “Aren’t you afraid? I’ve never been up there. There’s snakes, bears, wolves and ….,” she paused to emphasise her concern, “Albanians!” We’d stopped to buy supplies at the petrol station on the main road, and were chatting over a cold drink. As we left, she pressed her phone number on us, insisting we shouldn’t hesitate to phone if we got into any trouble. Well, she wasn’t quite right: we never saw any sign of wolves.
Meanwhile, we’d acquired a dog. It appeared as we walked through the little village of Plati, and trotted after us. It was a nice-looking animal, but more of a hunting dog and unlikely to be much use against wolves or bears. Did it think that walkers were a good source of picnic titbits or did it just enjoy the walk and the company? We tried to chase it off with cries of “Spiti!” (home), and from time to time it wandered away, but it always reappeared, especially when we approached other dogs. It was a complete coward, growling and posturing, then retreating behind us for protection. The local sheepdogs didn’t appreciate this at all. They were a scary bunch, with spiked collars against the wolves and macho names like “Leon”. We huddled together and waited for the shepherd to call them off.
We walked through hayfields, pasture and newly planted beans, the beanpoles piled up ready to be inserted next to each plant. At a glance, we could see different ages of farming: modern tractors, small hand held cultivators, and people weeding by hand. As we got closer to the lake, there were more birds: the song of nightingales, an eagle circling before heading off to the mountains, and flights of pelicans. We saw water snakes in the reservoirs at the irrigation pumping stations; the concrete irrigation channels ran alongside the track. A sluice between Big and Little Prespa lakes made sure that the water never ran dry.
The dog was still with us when we reached the little village of Mikrolimni at the southern end of lake Prespa , and stopped for a drink at the Psaradika taverna. It was being renovated by a family originally from the area, but forced out by the civil war and its aftermath. Artemis had recently retired from a senior statistician job in Florina, while her daughter Zenia and son-in-law Kiriakos had both worked in television in Athens.
Did they miss the bright lights of Athens? Not at all. They had decided to practice “Stay-at Home Tourism”, let the world come to them and make a film about all the interesting people who passed through. Unfortunately we left too early the next morning to take part. Supper that night was the best so far, with a more creative twist on local produce: beetroot salad with grated ginger and beans with fennel and ouzo.
We camped beside a little church at the far end of the village, pitching our tents as villagers wandered out to say hello. They offered to open the church so we could sleep inside if it rained, and warned us yet again not to venture up into the mountains for fear of bears, snakes and Albanians….
And the dog? Somebody at the cafe recognised it and Kiriakos phoned for the owner to come over from Plati to collect it. It went reluctantly.
The route: The E6 footpath runs along farm tracks beside the lake shore. Although waymarks are rare, it’s not possible to get really lost – the lake is always in view. Easy walking. Kilometres: 18 Ascent: 91m Descent: 240m. Map: Anavasi 6.2. Prespa Vitsi Voras
Facilities: Supermarket at petrol station on the road near Plati. Ta Psaradika restaurant with excellent and imaginative cooking at Mikrolimni – the Facebook page is in Greek but the photos are worth a look. They no longer rent rooms and there is nowhere else to stay.