Florina to Panagia church: The first day

Stinging caterpillars on first day hike from Florina “Help!” There was a creepy crawly on my neck and I was getting stung. What was it? How serious was the sting? We were already in trouble. We’d taken a shortcut through the forest, the footpath had petered out into the undergrowth and we were lost. I blamed Alan for charging ahead rather than looking for waymarks. We were arguing already, and we’d only been walking for a few hours. Would we really make it down to the far South of Greece?

Veryan extricated a caterpillar from my neck.   I knew where it came from. We’d stopped for lunch at an idyllic spot in the forest, with a spring, a little shrine to Saint John, picnic tables and even a barbecue. But then, like some horror movie, the caterpillars started dripping down from the trees above, all over the tables, our backpacks and food.  We could see the cocoons with the wriggling mass inside hanging from the branches.Shrine above Florina

We’d left the lovely little town of Florina late that morning, its cafes bustling with students celebrating after exams. The road out of town was bordered with roses and snapdragons. There were ducks and a succession of duck houses all along the river. The sky was clear blue, but it was pleasantly cool for walking. At last, after all the waiting and planning, we were on our way.Duck houses in Florina

Caterpillars weren’t the only hazard we encountered that day. As we reached the little church of the Virgin Mary (Panagia), high above the forest miles from anywhere, three dogs erupted out to meet us. They were big and fierce, their collars spiked with nails. We retreated rapidly, forgetting our plans to camp there. Luckily, we found a good campsite ten minutes’ walk away, and sneaked back quietly to get water from the church spring. As the sun set over the plains beyond, we sat and cooked our supper. Despite dogs, caterpillars and getting lost, it had been an idyllic day.

Campsite above Florina

 The route: The E4 and E6 footpaths followed the same route out of Florina, west along the river out of town, then south west up along dirt roads through deciduous forest to the Panagia church. E4 waymarks from the edge of town, with some footpaths cutting off the zigzags of the forestry track. Water at the shrine, the Aghios Georgios church and the Panagia church. Map: Anavasi 6.2. Prespa Vitsi Voras.  Kilometres: 9. Ascent: 589m Descent: 120m.

Facilities: Shops, banks, guesthouses, tavernas at Florina. Regular bus to Thessaloniki.

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