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From a distance, it looks like an Impressionist painting: houses, churches, trees seen through a haze, their reflections shimmering in the lake. The Macedonian landscape is magnificent. Come closer and you see impressive aristocratic lakeside mansions surrounded by clusters of tall trees, interspersed by Byzantine churches. Come closer still, and you’ll see the locals sipping coffee or promenading by the lake, with the fishermen in their flat-bottomed boats offshore and pelicans keeping hopeful watch alongside. Outside town, the old Mavriotissa Monastery and the Dragon’s Cave await discovery. And it’s just the beginning of what Kastoria has to offer.
Kastoria is famous for its fur, not only in Greece but around the world. The town’s furriers have been masters of the art of seamlessly stitching pelts into attractive patterns for centuries. Having learned the trade in Constantinople, they soon founded companies supplied by Kastoria workshops in all the major cities of Europe. You’ll find shops and showrooms all over town, mainly on Kolokotroni, 11th Noemvriou and 3rd Septemvriou streets, some in imposing stone buildings. Take a look at the Fur Centre in the Chloe district, where thousands of examples are on display. You’ll be astounded by the craftsmanship.
Think of it as a gigantic 10 million-year-old mirror, framed by imposing Grammos and Vitsi, two of Macedonia’s imposing mountains. Willows and plane trees bend towards the surface, where swans, silver pelicans, herons and other water birds make their home. Lake Orestiada, designated a place of special natural beauty, gave life to the region as early as the Neolithic Period, as attested by remains found at Dispilio. The wetlands host at least 150 bird species.
These two strange names belong to the city’s most beautiful quarters. The manor houses here, representing fortunes made in the fur trade in the 18th and 19th centuries, were built by the renowned stonemasons of Epirus. Architecturally superb, they combine elements of fortified urban dwellings with vernacular features.
Depending on your time and energy, you can walk, cycle or drive around the lake from the south to the north shore. On your way, plan to stop at least twice – once to venture into the Dragon’s Cave and marvel at its stalactites and stalagmites and then to view the superb paintings on the facade and inside the Panagia Mavriotissa Monastery. It’s considered the oldest such complex in western Macedonia. The name means The Dark-skinned Virgin.
Tavernas and ouzeris, restaurants, bars, cafes and clubs set the tone for the city’s nightlife. And when you’re ready to turn in, there are plenty of excellent hotels, from atmospheric, restored mansion houses to modern establishments with pools and spas – always with the lake in plain sight.
Every year, after Epiphany, Dionysian revels take place in the streets of Kastoria. The pre-Easter carnival begins early here and brings with it 30 bands with traditional brass instruments from all over Macedonia, costumes and processions, free wine for visitors, food, song and dancing …. non-stop for three days.
Outside Kastoria you can visit five clay huts that are exact replicas of dwellings of a Neolithic settlement first discovered in the 1930s.
A memorial to Kastoria and Byzantine Greece, the name Koumbelidiki originates from the time of the Turkish occupation and comes from the word koumbes, which means dome. The church is the only one in Kastoria to have, you guessed it, a dome. It is in remarkable condition given that it dates back to the 9th or 10th century.