Visitors to the Greek islands and the mainland holiday resorts may feel they are seeing the most beautiful parts of the country, but the more adventurous travellers who find themselves in towns such as Kastoria may disagree.
It has a magnificent location around a headland that juts into Lake Kastoria, though in typical Greek fashion this also has an alternative name: Lake Orestiada. There are cobbled streets and hidden alleyways, and the geography of the town, with water surrounding it and almost turning it into an island, means that it is very easy to get lost or disorientated.
Near Kastoria in Winter
Getting lost is no bad thing as some of the town’s best features are hidden away, like its numerous Byzantine churches. There are 54 of these, some of them over 1000 years old, such as the 9th century church of Taxiarkhes tís Mitropoleos, which is the oldest in the town. It has some good frescoes, added over the centuries, while in the 10th century church of Agios Stefanos there is an unusual women’s gallery.
Most of the churches are normally locked and to see inside them you will either have to be lucky and be there when there is a service or they are being cleaned, or track down the keys normally held at the Byzantine Museum.
Byzantine Church in Kastoria
The Byzantine or Archaeological Museum
The Byzantine Museum is only small but is worth seeing as it has some beautifully detailed and coloured examples of icons from Kastoria’s churches. The museum is situated at the top of the town just off the main Platia Dexamenis, but if asking the way bear in mind that many local people refer to it as the Archaeological Museum.
The Folklore Museum
The town also has a Folklore Museum that merits a longer visit, not least for the building that houses it, the Aïvazi Mansion. This is a 17th-century mansion which was lived in until 1972 when it was converted into this fine museum containing household items, costumes, agricultural implements and a restored kitchen and wine cellar. There are also good displays on the fur trade to which Kastoria owed its former wealth.
Kastoria also has a couple of smaller, specialist museums, worth seeking out if you have a little more time. There is a Costume Museum and a Monuments Museum.
Kastoria Fur Trade
The very name of the town comes from the Greek word for beavers, kastoria, and it was their fine fur which made Kastoria the centre of the Greek fur trade from the 17th century onwards. Even though these had sadly been hunted to extinction by the 19th century, the furriers continued to import fur, and still do so today. Scraps and offcuts come in from various countries and are turned into coats, gloves, hats and other items which you will see for sale in some of the shops, although a lot of the material is immediately re-exported.
The wealth that was created over the centuries resulted in some very handsome mansions being built, and in addition to seeing inside the one that is now the Folklore Museum, there are other impressive examples around the town, which can be viewed from outside. Several of these are located in the streets within the vicinity of the Folklore Museum. Look for the Skoutari, Natzi, Basara and Immanouil mansions. They are typically built of stone on the ground floor but with more elaborate upper floors with wooden balconies, sgraffito plasterwork and occasionally stained glass in the windows. The living quarters are on these upper floors, the ground floor being used for storage, as you will see in the Folklore Museum.
If you take a stroll along the lakeshore, which is a very pleasant walk especially in the spring or autumn when the many trees are at their best, you will see the unusually-shaped local boats tied up at the water’s edge. The lake’s waters are rather polluted, but nevertheless still harbour some wildlife, such as frogs and terrapins. A walk all the way round the headland would take you past another of the town’s attractions, the Monastery of Mavriotíssa. It is no longer a working monastery, only two churches remaining, but these date back to the 11th and the 14th centuries and have well-preserved frescoes that are worth seeking out.
Where to Stay in Kastoria
Sunset over Lake Kastoria
Other Macedonia pages
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The Greek city of Thessaloniki in Macedonia has an array of wonderful museums and art galleries, and here's twelve of the best.
The archaeological site of Vergina in Macedonia is famous for the royal tombs which were the burial place of King Philip II, father of Alexander the Great.
The capital of Macedonia and Greece’s second city, Thessaloníki has a lovely situation by the water, a wealth of history, many good museums, and good food.
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Philippi is an ancient archaeological site near Kavala in East Macedonia and Thrace and is famous for being the place where the apostle St Paul was imprisoned.
Pella in Macedonia is famous for its mosaics and was also the birthplace of both King Philip II and his son, Alexander the Great.
The Bradt Guide to Northern Greece is a detailed guide to Thessaloniki, Halkidiki, Macedonia, Thrace, The Pelion, The Sporades and the rest of Northern Greece.
Mount Olympus is the highest mountain in Greece and is in the Mount Olympus National Park in Macedonia, with Litochoro being the best base.
Visiting Mount Athos in Greece requires a permit, but you can see the monasteries on a boat trip around the peninsula, known as the Monks' Republic.
Mount Athos boat trips are very popular with visitors to Halkidiki in Greece, as they are the only way most people get to see these spectacular monasteries.
Macedonia and Thrace are the regions in Greece where travelers will find Thessaloniki, Mount Athos monasteries, Halkidiki and sites like Dion and Pella.
The city of Kavala in eastern Macedonia is the area's major seaport and the base for ferries to the islands of the North East Aegean, including Thasos.
Dion is a rather wonderful archaeological site in Macedonia, not far from Thessaloniki, with an archaeological museum nearby in the town of Dion.
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