Travel & Life Digest

Zarouchla - Olympian Gods & Jazz in the Snow

The drive to Zarouchla is a real-life Narnia adventure. There are nymphs and deities involved.

Zarouchla is a lady - the word is treated as female in Greek.
This lady stands proud, amongst tall, dark green fir trees that carry a good amount of snow on their branches. It's all so quiet and still. The only sound on the main road comes from the nearby stream, which despite the -3C temperatures, isn't frozen yet.

Of Nymphs & Olympian Gods...
When we left the northern Peloponnese coast behind us, on a sunny December morning, we could still see the sea and the sun shining over the coastal villages, up until the first dustings of snow appeared on the roadside.

Then gradually, little by little, we were leaving the buzzing world behind, entering this wondrous gorge that leads up to Zarouchla. Half way up is Tsivlos lake - one of the youngest lakes in Europe.
It was formed roughly 100 years ago, after a landslide of the neighbouring mountains into Styx river.

Leaving the northern coast of Peloponnese behind
Fir trees covered in fresh snow, a majestic sight

Styx river
If that doesn't awaken ancient Greek myths in your mind, nothing will!
And so the legend begins: Styx is the river that bridged this world to the underworld, according to ancient Greeks. The Olympian gods swore by drinking the waters of Styx; Achilles was dipped in it to become immortal - he was held upside down by his heel, the only part of his body that didn't get dipped in - it became his weak point.

See, you are not all the way up Mount Aroania yet and ancient myths have already overtaken your trip!
Utter peace and quiet around Tsivlos Lake

The spectacular setting around Tsivlos lake
The dirt road leading to Tsivlos Lake was covered in fresh snow.
We opened the windows; not a sound...just the cars sliding slowly through the snow, amongst the overhanging branches.

We were aiming to have lunch at "Paradise", a lakeside restaurant, with traditional dishes, like rooster cooked in a red sauce served with pasta (kokoras makaronada) or traditional wild greens pie (hortopitta). We didn't stay long enough to have lunch. My dad and my husband were both keen to get moving and reach Zarouchla, before it got dark, in case the roads were closed, due to the snow.

But we did take a few minutes to stand on the shores of Tsivlos lake, observing the calm waters. You don't even have to look up because all of the gorgeous colours of the surrounding mountain peaks, the trees and the sky are all mirrored in the still waters. Absolute peace for a moment. Not a sound.

Arriving in a snow-covered Zarouchla, we are here now so...let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!
Mountain breakfast - fried dough puffs (loukoumades) dripping with honey, cheese, ham and stone baked bread, alongside these old Nescafé mugs, blast from the past!

Stay at... 
We stayed at Aroania Hotel, which is right at the end of the Main Street, easy to walk down to the restaurants.
The view from our balcony was mesmerising; through the opening of the surrounding mountains, we could see the fog travelling back and forth, bringing light snow along. We didn't care. Once we had made ourselves comfortable in our warm hotel, we wouldn't drive anywhere for the rest of our time.
Breakfast is a treat. You get an almost retro spread of sliced ham and cheese, bread, butter, orange juice and loukoumades, that is a mountain hug concealed in a light puffy fried dough covered in honey!

There is a more opulent option, that is hotel Styga Mountain resortbut it's a bit higher up and if you are driving in the snow, getting there might get challenging. To be fair the hotel's 4x4s were roaming around the village to ensure that guests were comfortable moving around.
It must be amazing in spring though, sitting by the pool surrounded by dark green for trees.

Old stone houses around Zarouchla
Maxairas Taverna in Zarouchla
Lamb Giourbasi (cooked in a steam-tight parcel), full of cheese and herby flavours

Eat at...
"Mahaira's" for an array of well-cooked traditional Greek mountain food, next to a gorgeous fireplace.
Make sure you chat to the chef, who happens to be the owner's wife too. She's witty and funny and a very adventurous cook! She made this lovely salad of fresh uncooked beetroot, grated, topped with simple red vinegar vinegret and crumbled feta.
For starters get some Cheese Saganaki (baked cheese) and for main "giourbasi" slow-cooked lamb wrapped up in a neat little parcel full of garlic and melting cheese, heaven! Amongst the chef's welcoming tone and the lit fireplace, there isn't much else you need really; oh, maybe seeing your parents giggle might be something, wondering how these carafes of red wine keep disappearing.

For a simpler even  dinner, that is pure barbecued meats in this part of the world, try "Yianni's" taverna. Go for lamb chops, wild greens and fries - Greek mountain staples. This is where skiers come after a whole day on the slopes, in their ski attire to eat and warm up.
So it's a very simple place, with an old fashioned wood burning heater in the middle of the room!

Keep warm inside with some hot raki and honey

Gorgeous view of Zarouchla, from the place with "no name"!

Of Jazz in the Snow...
In the evenings you have two options: Jazz in the snow or warm raki and stone-baked pizza in lux surroundings with he most amazing view!
"To Rema", meaning "the stream" in Greek, is a Jazz Bar, right by the stream that runs through Zarouchla. It's a wood cabin, serving drinks and fabulous brownies, alongside Jazz vibes and collector's memorabilia.

Of Luxury pizza and honeyed Raki...
If you carry on the same little path, past the Jazz bar and the school house, take a left turn into a building that sits on top of Zarouchla's most houses and offers an impressive view of the whole gorge.
For some reason, it has no name! But you can have stone-baked pizza and warm raki with honey, lounging in the endless sofas, surrounded by floor to ceiling windows with an excellent view of the snow-covered slopes.

Log fire, family all around and warm raki - you might want to come to Greece this winter!

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