Kalarites was one of the prettiest, most unspoilt villages we stayed in. The road only reached it twenty years ago, and we could still see the old mule track snaking up from the valley below. But even better, the Romanian cook at Napoleon’s cafe produced some of the best food we tasted on the trip. We’d taken the wrong fork at Peristeri and landed up on the higher level route, which was longer and with an unforgiving tarred surface for the last six kilometres. I hadn’t slept well the previous two nights, either. My sleeping mat had sprung a slow leak, and I’d wake up cold to find it deflated with no insulation between me and the ground. I couldn’t get back to sleep until I’d blown it up and started to warm up again.
So we were glad to while away the afternoon sitting outside the little cafe over a long lunch: maize meal and spinach patties, with fried cheese and aubergines. In the street below, three mules were delivering grocery supplies, carrying them down along the cobbled paths from the car park on the edge of the village. The local ladies soon found out that we’d walked from Metsovo, and called out to tell everyone that passed.
We’d met several Romanians in the area, who arrived recently after Romania joined the EU. It was relatively easy for them to settle in, since this was Vlach country, the home of the largest ethnic minority in Greece, and the Romanian and Vlach languages both share the same Latin roots. But although the cook was Romanian, it turned out that the cooking wasn’t. These were Vlach specialities, she told us, not Romanian.
We checked in at the guesthouse next door, and returned in the evening for a dinner of local mutton – a rich dark pile of meat, which even defeated Alan, the committed carnivore. But what else could one eat in a shepherding village? Home-made cherry tart followed, with the compliments of the house. By this time, the little cafe was humming, and most of the tables were taken. Napoleon the owner was playing dominoes with his friends in the corner. Overhead hung a caged songbird, while along two walls were shelves of basic goods for sale.
The route: Choice of two routes from Peristeri, both along dirt shepherds’ roads. The lower route is shorter and avoids the section of tar. Not an official route of any sort, so no waymarks. Water at sheep pens. Kilometres: 12. Ascent: 172m. Descent: 662m. Map: Anavasi: South Pindus 3.2.
Facilities: Good selection of hotels and cafes in Kalarites, most open only in summer. Many of the houses, too, are closed except in August , when the population rises from a wintertime low of twenty to over a hundred. Napoleon’s guesthouse and cafe, where we stayed, is open all year.