The day started with bright sunshine, as we climbed higher through beech woods and meadows sparkling with flowers. Veryan and I bounded from one new flower to the next, exclaiming at each discovery: orchids, foxtail lilies, little purple pansies. “Not more flowers”, commented Alan.
Then as we climbed on, over a thousand metres, higher than Snowdon, it got colder and started to drizzle. By the time we reached the third and highest peak along the Vitsi ridge, it was raining hard. Coming down towards the Vigla ski resort was like walking through English parkland: spreading trees, beech copses – and rain. This wasn’t the Greece of the tourist brochures at all. “Why didn’t you tell me it would be cold?” grumbled Alan.
We hoped we would find shelter and a hot drink at the Vigla ski centre. Alas, it was desolate and abandoned, except for a caretaker couple as gloomy as their surroundings. No, nothing was open, there probably wouldn’t be anything open in the nearby village of Pisoderi either, and there was no bus. Our best bet was to phone for a taxi back to Florina.
Camping didn’t really appeal. It was still raining, and we were already cold and wet. Alan and I might have managed, but Veryan has coeliac disease, so she’s really thin and feels the cold more than most. She set off at a fast pace down to Pisoderi village, hoping we’d find somewhere to stay there. Alan and I trailed despondently behind. As we came into Pisoderi, it had that same out of season air of abandonment, with all the houses and guesthouses firmly closed.
What were we going to do? Go back to Florina with our tails between our legs? The weather had closed in over the mountains, and it was a day’s walk to the next village of Agios Germanos. We hadn’t seen a single car, and our chances of hitching a lift were slim. I love the excitement of heading off into the unknown, not knowing where I’m going to sleep that night, but maybe we’d just taken on too much. I felt responsible for dragging Alan and Veryan off into this miserable situation.
Suddenly, there was a shout, and Veryan emerged from a roadside taverna. Inside was a blazing log fire. Mrs Vasso, a motherly lady clad in the traditional black, was slightly bemused to see us, but quickly took charge, made hot drinks, hung our wet things up to dry and phoned a neighbour to organise a bed for the night. She apologised that she didn’t have much food in stock, as she didn’t expect visitors at this time of year, but she made us a brilliant meal of omelette and home-made sausage.
Only three people lived in Pisoderi, except in the ski season or during the summer holidays. Ninety year old Kostas ran the Eleni guesthouse, where we stayed the night. There was a blazing log fire in the sitting room there too. Kostas cranked up the wood-fired boiler and we soon had hot water and warm radiators in our rooms. He told us tales of his time in the Resistance during the war, when at the age of 16, he’d hidden out in the peaks for five years, barefoot and cold. We felt humbled.
The route: A little above the church, the E4 headed off South, while the E6 footpath, well waymarked, climbed west along the Vitsi ridge up to 1929 m. As we came down to the Vigla ski resort, we were once again on dirt tracks. Easy walking through lovely scenery. From Vigla, the deserted tarred road led down to Pisoderi. Kilometres: 14.5. Ascent: 728m. Descent: 472m. Map: Anavasi 6.2. Prespa Vitsi Voras.
Facilities: Mrs Vasso’s taverna and the Eleni guesthouse (tel 23850 23852) in Pisoderi are open all year. Other hotels and restaurants in Pisoderi and Vigla are open in the ski season and summer holidays only.