Tables and chairs were set out around the walls of the little taverna in Dipotamia, while the band was setting up at the end. The cafe owner was tending the barbecue on the porch, looking out at the torrential rain, while his wife rushed round serving the food and drink. We sat down next to the village priest, Father Petros, snug in his woolly hat. At the next table was his daughter, gossiping with a couple of women friends, all of them tucking into a vast plate of kebabs. His young grand-daughter drifted from one table to the next. The whole village was there to celebrate Whitsun, from the three young sisters who ran the supermarket and their childhood friends to the taciturn old men drinking and watching.
“Zorba’s tune for our guests!” cried Father Petros to the bouzouki player. He’d been a singer himself on the Kastoria circuit before he became a priest, and knew the musicians well. The bouzouki player was a local boy who’d spent years playing for tourists on the islands, where Zorba’s tune was a favourite. The two singers joined the keyboard and bouzouki players, and as people finished their meals, the dancing started. The night was just getting going, but we were tired and slipped away early, about midnight. It was still raining.
We were lucky to be there, and it was all thanks to the three supermarket sisters. The taxi from Kastoria had dropped us off near Pteria early that morning, and we’d walked through an English landscape of lush green fields and rolling hills, with wheat, barley and hay rippling on either side. “Very Chelsea”, remarked Veryan.
We stopped at the little Chionato cafe, with an old-fashioned woodburning stove in the centre of the room and pictures of boar hunting on the walls. A few men were playing backgammon. As we entered, they all stopped to stare. Kostas, who’d lived in Melbourne for years, led the welcome and the questions. They were a village of Greeks from the Black Sea, settled there in 1912 after one of the traumatic population exchanges of the early twentieth century. They said there was a guesthouse in the village, but it was still early, so we pressed on despite the gathering rain clouds.
By the time we reached the next village of Dipotamia it was raining hard. We dived into the nearest cafe and sat watching the rain. The villagers rallied round. “There isn’t a guest house but you must stay. There’s live music tonight!” The three sisters in the little supermarket phoned round to find somebody with a spare room. Success – it was a downstairs flatlet, and the owner was away. It smelt a little of tobacco, and his belongings were hanging up everywhere, but there were three beds and somewhere to make coffee in the morning.
The route: Taxi to the Kalochori turn-off on the main Kastoria-Konitsa road. It’s still a tarred road to just beyond Pteria, but it’s lovely scenery and there’s little traffic. From there, rather than continuing on the tarred road, we took the dirt road south to Akodio, then west to Chionato, and the main road again to Dipotamia. This is not an official walking route and there are no waymarks, but it is open country and easy to pick out villages and tracks. Water at village springs. Kilometres (from near Pteria): 21.3. Ascent: 578m. Descent: 513m. Map: Anavasi 3.3. Grammos Smolikas Voio Vasilitsa. Digital edition only. The paper map does not cover the area north of Grammos village. The only paper map is the Anavasi 1:250,000 one of all Macedonia.
Facilities: Cafe and (reportedly) community guesthouse at Chionato. Tavernas, cafes, shops including two mini-supermarkets at Dipotamia, but nowhere to stay.