Geography & Orientation
Metaxochori, located very near the town of Agia (just 1.5 km), is an old village known for the production of silk, as its name reveals (Metaxi=silk, Chorio=village). Metaxochori is built at the slopes of mountain Kissavos (Ossa) at an altitude of 300 m and has a population of about 600 inhabitants. The closest city to the village is Larissa, which is 36 km away.
The oldest recorded name of the village, Retsiani, is a Slavic appellation meaning “river village”. Slavic tribes have settled in the area since the middle Byzantine era, so many place names here had Slavic names, which of course changed later to Hellenized ones.
During the ottoman era, the village keeps this name and only in 1923 is renamed to Melissi (=hive).
Just five years later, in 1928, the village changes name once more to its present one. Obviously, this name was given to the village due to its mainly industry of those days: sericulture.
The mansions and rich houses of Metaxochori reveal the wealth of the village on account of the silk trade. The development of synthetic fabrics in the 60s resulted to the decline of the silk trade. The mulberries replaced by apple and cherry trees and silkworm rearing disappeared altogether.
In April, when apple trees are blossomed, the whole area turns “snow white” because of the abundance of them. The period from April to June is the best time to visit the area, when nature is at its best. In early June, the village celebrates the production of cherries. During the “Cherry Festival” people celebrate with folk music, dances, painting and photography exhibitions, demonstration of agricultural products and lots of good food.
Today, Metaxochori is a very serene village, which managed to preserve its old charm and traditional architecture. Its impressive wood and stone mansions, built mainly in the second half of 19th century by skillful Epirot masters, have attracted many artists in the area. This is the reason the village unofficially is called the “village of the artists”.
During my visit to Metaxochori, I stayed in one of those restored mansions, the traditional inn “To Archontiko tou Soulioti” built in 1850.
Other notable mansions are the one of the writer Gianni Vatzia and his painter brother (Marios) built in 1871 just in front of the main village square, and the house of Ierotheos Kokkalis, which functioned as the first School of Girls (today it functions as a Cultural Center and hosts lectures and exhibitions). The artistic creations of Epirus masons are also the houses of Daniloulis (1850), Karpetis (1890) and Karavatopoulos (1875).
The village has the planning of the settlements of the area, which places the square in the middle of the village, from which spoke-like cobbled roads lead to the 'mahalades' (quarters). A stream flows next to the main square dividing the village into two. The stream flows into Amyros river, which flows into Lake Karla.
There is nothing more relaxing than sitting in the traditional café of the square, under the huge plane trees, listening to the purl of the stream.
Besides the café, there is also a restaurant on the square, but if you fancy some very good cooking head some 200 meters uphill to the Taverna Keramidi. The square is the center of all activities. Come here for the Cherry Festival or the 15th of August celebrations to see by yourself.
At the position called "Keramidi", one can see the rock where it is said that Kosmas of Aetolia, the famous Greek scholar and church person, spoke to the residents in 1765 (according to a note in an ecclesiastical book of the village), and where a tree called “Gkavtzia” sprang up from the rock.
Just some meters away from here, is located the "Keramidi Taverna". The tavern is very nicely decorated and has a cosy room inside for the winter, and a huge sitting area next to Amyros river during the summer months.
When we had dinner here, during our first visit in 2018, the food was very tasty, but during our 2019 summer visit, food was rather disappointing.
Tourism & natural wealth
Besides agriculture, tourism is the other sector which contributes to the sustainability of the area. The area’s long coastal line provides clean seas and its beautiful sandy beaches attract thousands of tourists. But the real asset of the area is ecotourism and the alternative forms of tourism which promote the love and respect of nature.
The natural wealth of Agia region is great. Forests with dense vegetation, springs, lakes, streams, waterfalls ... they all provide shelter for many species of plants and animals.
The area provides the means for activities like hiking, mountaineering, climbing, birdwatching, canyoning, rafting and canoeing. The area and especially Kissavos is endowed with high peaks, rich natural environment and beautiful villages making it enticing for hikers, climbers and all visitors.
The most known trail in the area is the one that connects Agia to Megalovriso village: a coble stone trail that passes through post-Byzantine monuments.
Another well designed and signed trail is the one between Melivoia and Velika, which crosses wooden bridges and thick forests, passes near the waterfall of Sotiritsa and ends at the sandy beach of Velika.
The area is also crossed by the national trail O2 that connects Olympus mountain with Pelion mountain, two of the most legendary and celebrated mountains in Greece.
Another form of tourism, the religious tourism, is also developed in the area, as there are numerous churches and monasteries whose origin goes back to the Byzantine era.
Unfortunately most of the time the churches are locked, so the visitor cannot admire their interior. During my short visit, I managed to enter only to the church of Saint Paraskevi and the Monastery of Saint Panteleimon.
Within the village limits there are six churches:
- the 17th century hilltop chapel dedicated to Prophet Ilias;
- the Post-Byzantine church of Saint George, which belonged to a 17th century monastery, from which the wood-carved iconostasis of 1663 is preserved;
- the church of Saint Paraskevi with its frescoes dated back to 1843-1853;
- the 18th century church of Virgin Mary boasting paintings by the monk Constantine;
- the church of Saint Nicholas with the imposing silver-painted dome built in 1900 on the site of an older temple of 1841, and
- the church of Saint Efstathios (the church of an old monastery).
A visit to the latter is a must, becuase you'll have the opportunity to admire the 18th century, eight-arched aqueduct, which used to carry water from the Papalvizis spring (Papas Alevizos) for the needs of the workshops dyeing cotton yarns in Metaxochori, and probably for the needs of the Monastery.
This part of the country (north-eastern Thessaly) has a long history spanning from the prehistoric times to the classic antiquity, the byzantine and ottoman eras.
In the region have been found tombstones from the Roman and Hellenistic period, roman baths and classic temples, byzantine monasteries churches and an aqueduct.
At a close proximity to Metaxochori, there are two monasteries worth visiting, if there is some extra time to devote.
A. The Monastery of Saint Anargyroi, located about 3 km from Agia on the road to the coast, was built around 1588 AD. Today only the renovated church (a one-storied wooden-roofed basilica) and a two-storied fortification tower exist of the once glorious monastery.
The church’s elaborate frescoes date back to the 17th century. The monastery is situated among large plane trees and next to a stream. Opposite the street, on the high cliffs, ascetics are carved into the rock: three consecutive halls with frescoes of the period of the 12th to the 16th century.
The church is a cross-shaped building with three domes, the central one and two smaller ones. The most important element is the two-story tower of the entrance, with a chapel on the first floor. The monastery was abandoned for long, till the 1980s when a feminine monastic community established there and rebuilt the ruined western wing. But it was abandoned again till 2005, when a new brotherhood moved in. In 2013 started an extensive restoration program to bring the monastery into its former glory. The results are already astonishing.
Finish your visit around Metaxochori at the Alamanos stone bridge.
The bridge is located on the Agias-Sklithrou road, over the little “potamia” river, and it is very easy to spot it as it is very close to the road. It is a 17 meter single arched bridge, built in 1858 with expenses by the famous doctor Dimitrios alamanos.
Lake Karla, the only lake in the plain of Thessaly, is located only 25 km south of Metaxochori, on the Agia-Volos national road.
Lake Karla was a 180 km2 lake that was completely drained in 1962 to gain land for agriculture. Before its drainage, it was the site of a unique fishermen culture, with the fishermen spending some nine months of the year in reed huts that they built on the lake. The lake fisheries were an important tradition and to some extent a significant economic activity.
The drainage of the lake proved to be wrong, as agriculture was never successful in the saline soils of the former lake bed. Thus, the local population supported an ambitious project to restore the lake. The restoration will reflood eventually only 50 of the original 180 km2 of the former lake. The project started in 2010 and it is one of the most ambitious wetland restoration projects worldwide.
Today, the so far restored lake, is a wonderful wetland, which according to the Hellenic Ornithological Society, hosts over 200 different kind of birds: endangered pelicans, herons, cormorants, flamingos, gulls, coots, mallard ducks and many more. This is a birdwatcher’s paradise during the winter months. During summer most of the birds travel further north to cooler climates.