“You probably do not need a cap,” snaps at me a smiling concierge at the reception lobby of Galini Spa hotel, in Kammena Vourla, in Central Greece, seeing my almost shaved head. I… always appreciate a good quality humor …I think as I am entering the restricted pool and sink gently into the hot soothing water.
The spa at Kamena Vourla is a very old case… Here, In the 1920’s there was a small village. In 1926 the activities around thermal-radio water starts and soon the otherwise deserted landscape becomes a cosmopolitan spa between the Wars. You might think the baths here are an old case since then? No… It is even older… The thermal radio-springs were known to the ancient Greeks; even a sulfur spring was named after Aphrodite because in Greek mythology the goddess took her cosmetic baths there. The ancient historian Strabo discovered in the near-by area many ancient healing “clinics” and ancient temples which worshiped the Healer-Medicin god Asclepius. All of these places were situated around the ancient city of Thronio which existed close-by the modern town of Kamena Vourla.
One such altar was discovered at the foot of Mount Knimida which is rising above the spa- thermal resort. Apart from the radio-thermal springs, the area has places for mud-sinking, sand and steam baths. Many of the water springs located in the region are also good to drink. Moreover, in the village of Asproneri there is indeed a water-spring and pundits say that the water there is equivalent in quality to the French world famous … Evian!!!
The coast is deserted and painted in the colors of winter. The rain and the low clouds have shed a metallic gray light over the quiet village. The coastline cafes and restaurants are empty. A stroll in the otherwise busy beach road is becoming a little sad during the winter months. The summer season is better but nothing like the glorious days of the past.
I guess the fault is that the new highway now passes out of the settlement. Previously the highway passed through. It was a classic stop for all travelers to Kamena Vourla to have their donuts and hot coffee by the sea. Amidst the dense smell of smoking fireplaces of the village and the aroma coming from the bitter flavor of green olives from the nearby mill, I continue my long walk towards the back of the settlement.
Only few people come at this side of the settlement. A wonderful pine grove, filled with big poplar trees, sedges and plane- trees all stretching in the shade of the mountain Knimida. The slopes fall vertically drowned by vegetation mixed with innumerable caves and rocks full of holes. Around this grove spring are the ruins of the old baths: Hotel “Radion”,the Baths “Asclepius”, other old hotels, all now deserted and devastated with wonderful neoclassical architecture and paint which has peeled away from the once glorious era: purple, ochre, sepia, warm yellow and shades of charcoal gray.
Among them small dirt paths form spiral rings like snakes among the thick vegetation. Scents of damp wood and yellow leaves seeping in the afternoon rain, surround me. I am constantly thinking of what the old guard in the café told me a few hours ago: Why these paths in the woods were called in the old days “paths of love”… because here,in Kamena Vourla, in the heyday of its cosmopolitan highlight the bathers were entagled in so many idyls. “Paths of love therefore blended in a magical way with Aphrodite’s Springs …”Well,… much love has been manifested in this region’s history, I keep thinking and smiling.
As night is falling in the small port all lights are turned-on in the near-by taverns. The north wind blows the antennae of the boats and the sea surface is wrinkled and a tint of dark silver gray prevails. Down at the pier some Egyptian fishermen on their boats clean their nets from dried seaweed and starfish before heading out for the evening looking for bream, thick bass and a special kind of bream of the northern Euboean Gulf. They are wrapped in thick scarves, hats and glistening wind-break coats.
“Where are you from?” they ask me while I am trying to photograph them… “From Athens …” I answer softly “When you go back, send us some girls. Here we don’t have any…” tells me the youngest kid from the group… bursting with laughter. I shared his laughter but I had to leave. Unfortunately I was not in a position to help him. I could only wish him and his companions… “a good catch”…
Where am I?
Kamena Vourla is located to the south of the city of Lamia, shortly before the archaeological site of Thermopylae, and right next to the National Highway Athens – Lamia– Salonica.