I had a well deserved break after Easter, a road trip from Athens all the way up to Florina. Once you leave Athens, it takes a good 7 hours drive to reach destination. Perhaps a bit of a short break for 4 days, but an excursion, no matter how short, helps clear your mind and recharges these batteries. On the plus side, the company was fab and the place magical. Florina, is our North-westernmost city, routed deep in the Balkans, the place where Greece begins.
Florina is the land of lakes, it is surrounded by 6. I managed to visit 3 of them and gasp at a couple of more from high up. The lakes majestically feature in Theo Aggelopoulos films, as is Florina itself. It is also the land of sweet red peppers, famous throughout the country. Local cuisine has a lot to offer and I believe I savoured some of the best local treats thanks to my lovely host, Panayiotis, who showed us around some of Florina’s finest places. So, let the tour begin.
The city is compact and most functionally accommodates its student community along with 17K inhabitants who busy themselves with growing the famous red peppers, drying the seeds into spicy boukovo flakes – very similar to chilli flakes – and wonderful Amyntaio wines amongst other things. The scenery is truly magical and unlike the typical sunbathed dry hilltops of ours, Florina shows off its lash greenery, crystal clear waters, lakes and guess what: temperatures can drop to -20 oC in winter and give you plenty of snow to ski on during winter.
Florina itself is build in a wooded valley and river Sakoulevas runs through it, giving a lovely riverside walk dotted with small cafes and eateries. The heart of the city, though, beats on the pedestrian road, Pavlou Mela, where the numerous cafes turn into clubs and keep the party going – it is a student city after all. Truth to be said, I am not one for clubbing but I immensely enjoy my cocktails, wine and well, food!
My radar was on for yummy treats and I was not disappointed. Gionis, Γκιώνης, is a lovely little tavern specialising in mezze and they prepare lovely local dishes. We loved the pickled cabbage and wonderfully earthy mushrooms. They also make little kebabs in Florina: kebapia (κεμπάπια) as they affectionately call them. At Gionis we savoured some of the best, imagine a small kebab, the size of soutzoukakia, kneaded with the rich flavours of the orient and complemented by spicy boukovo flakes. Yum!
We also loved Mayio (Μαγιώ), the effort of two brothers teaming up to create an extraordinary place for both desserts and cocktails. The first stop at the establishment was for coffee and a huge success it was! We had to fight over the last banana & chocolate dessert but the chocolate mousse with biscuits was equally pleasing. Both were creamily divine and entirely homemade!
But dessert was only the beginning, Magio being a pastry & cocktail bar, we had to go back for Saturday drinks; there was an 80’s party on too. Music was fab but the cocktails were divine, we tried them all! My personal favourite was Island, based on Mastic liqueur with a hint of lemon and lavender bitters. It is however seriously competing with another creation of theirs, Orange blossom: rum based with hints of sherry and of course blossoming orange. The guys seriously know how to have fun up there!
Florina is definitely worth a shot if you are into nature and alternative activities. For precise travel details, have a look here, it’s the official Greek travel guide website. If stuck you can drop me a line too, I might be able to help.
Of course I didn’t leave without doing some shopping. I got a little vase of their traditional spoon sweet karidato: white pumpkin flavoured with bergamot orange and an extra walnut crunch.
Along with the peppers, Florina is also the perfect place for pulses as they are grown locally. I got my fair share along with the famous boukovo flakes.
Quite a few pictures of my lake excursions and of course recipes will follow soon, stay tuned!
With love from Athensby