“Six souvlaki and two beers .” The smoke from the grills of Agios Prodromos village (famous culinary stop for travelers), at the mountainous Halkidiki , left behind along with hundreds of kilometers of driving from Athens and Thessaloniki . Along with my fear that the enormous equipment of my photographer would not fit in our small jeep: thankfully it was not small at all.
We followed the new road to Arnea village crossing the northern foot of Holomondas mountain going up into low hills with greyish wheat fields and oak . We enjoyed lively driving, and great views of the Koroni and Volvi lakes. We saw a red tiled print on the lush green Mountain : Arnea . A small town that looks new and with no interest, if you pass from here in a hurry… And you will miss it!
Arnea is not new at all. It is actually one of the historical villages of Halkidiki region . Of course its name – which is reminiscent of the ancient cities Arne and Avgaia which were located around here – replaced the – suspect of Slavic origin but most popular – Liarigovi . Once a property of Konstamonitou Monastery (from Mount Athos) Liarigovi belonged to Mantemochoria – a group of villages which exploited the mineral wealth of Halkidiki – and was destroyed by the Turkish Haci Bayram Pasha in 1821.
It was rebuilt though. And it was built beautifully . We saw the picturesque square, the perfectly restored old inn – Alexander‘s House pension today – and the old school (now the Town Hall). The church of Saint Stefanos is next door. A fire in September 2005 burned the roof and everything wooden in the temple. But a surprise awaited archaeologists when they came to make test cuts for the new mounting . Four new building phases were discovered , four temples under the existing . “Two Byzantine churches , an early Christian basilica and the previous Postbyzantine which in 1812 was extended to the present church ,” told me Helen Stoumpou and archaeologist from the excavations .
We ascended to the upper neighborhoods, leaving the bearded monks of Mount Athos stuck on the crystal windows of the bus (the main road that connects Thessaloniki with Mount Athos passes from Arnea since ages…), staring silently the plane trees and the people in the village square.
Arnea has maintained its great historical center and about 90 % of the old town is saved! Many fine mansions were recently restored. Those houses preserved the traditional Macedonian architecture with porches, wooden walls bagdati style, stone walls, facades painted indigo blue, purple, cobalt blue, wooden frames with deep brown color. “Most houses date from the mid 19th century and they are typically Macedonian. They survived because in Arnea there was not any economic interest for pulling them down and built new ones with cement. Those locals who left now are coming back and remake their homes “said us the architect Dimitris Alexandrou . The nice Arnea village is living a second youth . This was a surpise.
At a higher part of the village yards with pergolas , hibiscus , sloes and honeysuckles, orchards with beans and figs surrounded the old houses, ruined with fallen roofs and rusty blue walls. “They want a lot of money … ” yelled laughing Mr. Savvas Milopoulos who was tampering his manor . “… For 30 years I am putting nails . Little by little, every day . The next house fell because no one came to put a nail on it … “. He showed us the rooms, his household… We talked with him about the old mansions, about their lost soul , their old tenants. We left him in a soft afternoon light to continue his job…
Late in the afternoon we drove into the forest’s trails, just to dust the new tires of the jeep. The car was running predictably over the powder of the dirt track and swallowed softly any vibration. As it was getting dark we were reaching Geroplatanos small village .
Nice. Nice … The adventure had just began …
Where am I ?
Arnea village is located in the central , mountainous Halkidiki in central Macedonia. The fastest way to get there is from Thessaloniki following the road to Thermi, Galatista and AghiosProdromos. The new road to Arnea passes from Paleochora village. The old starts from Paleocastro and has nice turns through the forest.