Ahead of us loomed the Mesochora dam: the mountain slopes were scarred with roads and tunnels. It’s a breathtakingly ambitious project, funded by the EU, to provide hydro-electricity as well as irrigation to the plains of Thessaly. Yet there had been environmental protests, and it has never been commissioned. Below it ran the tranquil waters of the Acheloos, a reminder of the original solitude and beauty of the valley.
We had a more immediate practical problem. The map showed an old stone bridge below Armatoliko, which would cut off a long walk via the dam to Mesochora. But was it still passable? We stopped in the Armatoliko cafe to ask. The Sunday service in the church opposite had just ended and the place was full, mostly of older people. The young families had already returned to the plains for the start of the school term. No, we would have to go round the long way, was the verdict, until they realised that we didn’t have a car. On foot, it was another matter. The consensus was that we’d be OK.
When we reached the bridge we weren’t so sure. Much of the old stone bridge had been washed away, and the new modern one built on top of it wasn’t much better, with the metal frame buckled and twisted by the winter floods. We could see a ford further down, but it looked too deep to cross easily: more of a summertime option. In the end we trusted to luck and inched gingerly across.
Three cafes were open for Sunday lunch when we reached Mesochora, with tables overflowing out into the street. Even better, the guesthouse was open. Stella, the hotel owner, was lunching with neighbours as we walked down to it, and called over to us from their verandah. “It’s not luxurious,” she said, as she led us up the steep metal staircase to the attic rooms. There was a balcony with a table, leading to a bathroom and a simple bedroom. A single light bulb hung over the double bed and on the wall was an ancient picture showing a couple in sixties flared trousers. Beyond the usual mishmash of telephone wires, we looked out over the forests and mountains all around. It was perfect.
The route: Dirt road to Armatoliko and down to the bridge, then tar on the final stretch into Mesochora. Water in Armatoliko. Kilometres: 10.5. Ascent: 184m. Descent: 216m. Map: Anavasi South Pindus 4.2.
Facilities: Cafe in Armatoliko. Several cafes and tavernas in Mesochora, but most only open seasonally. Guesthouse, shop with limited supplies.