Preveza: Drop-dead gorgeous

A site of significant naval battles, heroic acts and natural beauty that is full of surprises

By Haris Argyropoulos

The small, picturesque town of Preveza, 370 kilometers from Athens at the entrance to the Amvrakikos Gulf in western Greece, is so unassuming these days that visitors are surprised to learn that it hosted six foreign consulates at the beginning of the 20th century, while under Ottoman rule.

This curious fact was a reflection of the importance of its position, militarily and commercially, also indicated by the naval Battle of Actium across the strait, in 31 BC — when Octavian scored a decisive victory against Antony and Cleopatra — and the Battle of Preveza in 1538, in which the Ottoman admiral Hayreddin Barbarossa defeated a joint Spanish-Venetian fleet, claiming their supremacy in the Mediterranean for over 30 years.

Established toward the end of the 11th century, the town of Preveza was conquered several times over the course of its turbulent history by Visigoths, Goths, Bulgars, Turks, Venetians and French.

Today the district is worth visiting more for its archaeological and natural attributes than for the town itself, which nevertheless deserves a visit, at least for its quaint remnants and its attractive seaside promenade. The fishing and sailing boats give it a strong island character.

The place has been significantly upgraded in the last decade or so, finally relegating to history a rather depressing image owed to the suicide there of notable poet Kostas Karyotakis in 1928.

A valiant effort to preserve the character of the old town with its narrow streets and the traditional small shops has been relatively successful and the Saitan Pazar district is full of attractive tavernas worth stopping at to sample the ouzo and seafood delicacies.

Visitors will also see the old Venetian clock tower in the center of the old town as well as a number of old mansions. The disappointment stemming from the aesthetically unimpressive new part of town — rather common of Greek cities — is ameliorated by the large number of cyclists.

Seven kilometers outside Preveza, on the road to Arta, the sprawling and impressive ruins of ancient Nikopolis (Victory City), built by Octavian to celebrate his victory, can be seen. Some claim its population numbered up to 200,000 in its heyday in the 6th century but it was abandoned in the 11th century. There is a museum, with a rich array of exhibits.
Farming and fishing are the main occupations of the residents of Preveza. The area is second only to Crete in the production of fresh vegetable produce. Tourism is still in its infancy.

All the seemingly endless beaches along the Ionian Sea north of Preveza are marvelous, with crystal-clear waters. An absolute must is a visit to the Acheron River, for the rare beauty of both its sources and its estuary. It starts from the wildly mountainous region of Souli, which became known for its resistance to Ottoman authority, and meets the sea at the Ammoudia Bay — 35 kilometers from Preveza — with the nearby village named after it. From there, you can take a wonderful boat trip upriver to the village of Mesopotamos.

About 15 kilometers from Mesopotamos is the village of Glyki, where you will find the source of the river. The landscape is enchanting, as the cool water gushes from the riverbed and the rock cavities. The water is so cold, in fact, that even in August it is difficult to traverse but a little further upstream the temperature becomes more tolerable.

Make sure you stop at the Necromanteion of Ephyra (Oracle of the Dead), which, according to the ancients, was one of two entrances to Hades, or the underworld. It is one of the strangest sites in Greece, an edifice with impressive Cyclopean boulders. Some 26 km from Preveza is Kamarina and the Monastery of Aghios Dimitrios. Some 410 steps up is the Zalongos Rock, from where the women of Souli plunged to their deaths in December 1803 in order not to fall into Ottoman hands.

Where to stay

Preveza City (tel 26820.27370), a good option in the town center; Margarona (tel 26820.24360-4), refurbished and quiet, on the edge of town, with garden and sea views, good for business travelers. On Kanali beach: Almare (tel 26850.52355), fully equipped apartments on the water; Constas (tel 26850.52119) and Seirios (tel 6974.295.362). In Ammoudia: Spyros (tel 26840.41505), clean and spacious rooms on the beach. In Glyki: Cleopatra (tel 26660.49003), a fine traditional guesthouse near the source of the Acheron River.

Where to eat

Preveza is one of those places where your options range from the good to the exceptional, especially when it comes to seafood. There are many tavernas in the center of town, all within sight of the clock tower. A selection: Psatha (4 Dardanellion), Panepistimio (tiny kitchen at 26 Christou Kontou Street, west of the clock), Rebetiko Steki (6 Andrianoupoleos, popular with young people) and Ouzeri Kaiktsis (9 Papageorgiou). In Glyki, Petrino and Panorama (grilled trout). In Kanali: Myriounis (family taverna).

Things to see & do

The Archaeological Site of Nikopolis (for which there are ambitious upgrading plans), open 8 a.m. – 3 p.m., and the museum (tel 26820.41336), which houses an array of Roman sculpture; the town hosts the Women’s Carnival in February, classical and traditional music concerts in May-June, an international choir festival in the first 10 days of July and the Sardine Festival during the first 10 days of August (tel 26820.28120); the Fort of Aghios Andreas in the center of town and the Fort of Aghios Georgios at the nearby Kyani Akti beach.


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