Heartland of the interior
Lefkada – Odigitria – Sfakiotes – Pigadisanoi – Karya – Aghios Donatos – Englouvi - Monastery Asomaton – Vafkeri – Nydri – Lefkada
From Lefkada town as starting point once again, we head towards Sfakiotes. On the way, the surrounding hills are blanketed in rich vegetation: olive trees, cypress, broom, lentisk, sage and even wild vines (remnants of the extensive viniculture of the past). As we proceed, the panorama becomes truly amazing: a sweeping vista of Gulf Alexandros, Mt. Xiromerou, the towns of Astakos and Mytikas and Meganissi, Kalamos and Kastos Islands. On the right hand side is the site of Boza, where in 1819 there was a clash between the rebelling peasants of Lefkada, indignant at the imposition of extortionate taxation, and the British occupying forces. Following the asphalt road, it is strung with the houses of one scenic village after another , built close to one another on the hills, constituting the municipality of Sfakiotes: Spanohori, Lazarata, Kavalos, Asproyerakata and Pinakochori.
Spanochori is the first village to be seen on the hillside to our right. On the left, Episkopi was until 1697 the seat of the bishops, and until 1513 of the archbishops of Lefkada whom the Venetians had displaced from the town in their effort to convert the locals to Catholicism.
Continuing along the asphalt road we reach the triple crossroads, which the locals call Barakes. It has since older times been the most frequented place in the area, nowadays re-designed as a square with plane trees, grill-houses and cafés. We are now in Lazarata, and passing through see the village of Kavalos on a hill to the right.
The signpost indicating that you are entering Asprogerakata stands in the square, a spot the locals call ‘Frya’ , the name deriving from the word for well - frear - for the great well which has been there for centuries and until a few years ago supplied the villages of the municipality with water. Like Barakes, the square with its cafés and its grill-houses is another meeting point for the inhabitants of Sfakiotes. The Ascension Day (tis Analipseos) village celebration is held here in this square. Up until the 30s, at the crossroads we come across a little further on, there were traces of the last Anathema (curse) in Lefkada to be laid on a place. Stones stacked one next to the other and one on top of the other by the peasants were a reminder of a murder committed there. At that crossroads, we take the left hand to Karya; the other direction leads to western Lefkada.Pinakochori, the last of the Sfakiotes villages is perched on the hill to the left; the level plain (kampos) of Karya (a fertile plateau) is spread before us. The road crosses Pigadissani (the locals pronounce it ‘Spiatsani’) a village of stone-built houses which in the past produced good builders, and will soon bring us to Karya, built in a crescent on the slope. It is the largest and one of the oldest villages on the island.
Karya is prosperous, with an excellent climate, well-maintained streets, fine houses, cafés, shops and a splendid central square shaded by huge age-old plane trees. The sight from here is to the plateau that the inhabitants’ hard work over the centuries has made fertile meadowland. Its produce (mainly pulses) is renowned for its quality.
The two gems of churches are the pride of the village: the church of Aghios Spyridon, in the central square, with its graceful belfry, built in the late 19th c, has notable iconography, and the church of Aghia Paraskevi, situated in the upper part of the village, built at the beginning of the 19th century, with an exceptional Baroque wood-carved iconostasis, the work of the renowned painter Prosalentis. To be in the village on 11 August is a fortunate coincidence as this is the day on which the church of Aghios Spyridon celebrates, the village's annual festivity (the panegyri).
This is when with every solemnity the tradition of the Lefkaditikos gamos (the Lefkada wedding) is revived with great pride and attention to fidelity, an event taking place here for decades, reproducing the ceremony of marriage of the past, absolutely true to life as it was.The village is known throughout Greece and countries abroad for its woven fabrics with their pleasing motifs, and especially for its ‘Karsaniko embroidery’, in the unique ‘Karsaniko stitch’. The monastery of Aghios Ioannis tou Prodromou stands on a slope of the plateau, surrounded by greenery and in a particularly beautiful landscape, also known as Ai Yannis sto Livadi. It was founded in 1605 and flourished in the early 19th century, when it was the wealthiest of the island with the most monks. It has notable mid-18 century frescoes, some by Tommaso Zen. It is closed nowadays, but its situation is in such a beautiful and peaceful environment, into which it blends so successfully that it truly rewards those visiting it. The 1821 freedom-fighter Simos Bouas-Grivas is buried in the church. To continue our route, we return to the entrance of the village and follow the signposts to the right leading to the airbase. We pass the Museum of Maria Stavraka or Koutsoheros, famous for her embroidery, an artist of the Karsaniko technique. The road up to the airbase is not in good condition, without however being hazardous for us or the car . The panorama unfolds on the right of Lygia Bay, Akarnania, Lefkada town and Preveza, with the Epirus mountains in the background.
Not far from the crossroads, radar installations can be seen on the slope to the right: this is now a military zone. The camp is in a plateau overlooked by radars and - the now disused - dishes behind. If we are in luck we might glimpse the odd hare or fox scampering along. A small sign to the right points up a dirt road to the white-washed chapel of Ai Lias which, at a height of 1,012 metres, keeps watch over the surrounding area. The scenery from there is well worth enjoying. Continuing to the right, after a short distance we come to the beguiling chapel of Aghios Donatos on Englouvi’s plateau, with wells in front of it and stone-built huts around it called voltos, built with exceptional craftsmanship and where until a few years ago farmers and shepherds could shelter. The remains of a substantial pre-Roman tower stand on the plateau, from which, according to tradition, Bishop Donatos was flung to his death in one of the persecutions of Christians. There are vineyards around, but even more abundant are the famous Englouvi lentil fields whose produce has been awarded prizes in many agricultural exhibitions. The celebration of the saint’s day of Aghios Donatos, on 7 August coincides with the lentil harvest, which is also celebrated. The housewives of the area cook them on the spot, out of doors on the plateau, in the traditional way, in huge cauldrons, and serve them, accompanied by olives and salt sardines, to the throngs of guests.
To continue towards the Asomatou monastery (see alternative route below), turn left and follow the road sign to Englouvi.
The road snakes uphill, with glimpses of the village from above; it is particularly appealing with its red-roofed farmhouses framed by greenery. It is one of the oldest of the island’s villages at high altitude. The few elderly inhabitants who live there year round are farmers, mainly cultivating vines and the lentils of which Englouvi is the ‘capital’. The hills around are carefully terraced, with supporting stone walling built by the inhabitants in an effort to utilise every inch of soil. Once in the village, turn left, past the church of Ai Giorgis, leaving Englouvi behind, and head towards the monastery of Asomatou. The road winds through the abundant wild plant-cover. Rarely will another car be encountered, the road is all ours and we can give our attention to the surrounding nature. Some few kilometres further on look out for an ancient ivy-cloaked stone wall to the right: this fences in the monastery’s handsome building. You should not miss seeing this, one of the island’s best, dedicated to Asomatos (the archangel) Michael.The dirt road descending to the village of Vafkeri reveals its leafiness and flowing waters, here a variety of trees and bushes flourish: plane, almond and olive trees, fruit orchards, oaks and holm-oaks surround the dwellings of the few permanent inhabitants and the peace and quiet is so enjoyable amid the beauty of the landscape, and in summer especially, the coolness. If you find yourself in Vafkeri as evening falls and some well grilled meat would be welcome, then a stop at the village taverna is indicated. From Vafkeri the road goes down to Nydri, winding along with a view over Vlychos Bay. It makes an idyllic route, particularly at sunrise with spectacular displays of colours, also on moonlit nights when the bay is a glitter.