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Lake Plastira, brought into existence in 1960 when the Tavropos Dam was built, has quickly developed into an international playground for visitors looking for a true Greek experience. The dam created a seven-and-a-half mile long reservoir in this high Agrafa Mountain valley and a wealth of economic and recreational benefits for local residents. The reservoir prevents flooding of the Tavropos River which used to regularly devastate the region. It now provides irrigation water, hydroelectric power, and drinking water. Lake Plastira's natural landscape and general atmosphere of serentiy give the lakeshore the feel of an unspoiled, sparsely-settled forest, with much national history thrown into the mix.
Lake Plastira offers two public swimming beaches and places to rent small boats, canoes, kayaks or 'sea-bikes'. Fishing is allowed from shore in selected areas. The villages of Neochori, Kryoneri and Kalivia are the most developed for tourists, while many of the other villages are quietly residential and often partially deserted. The area is noted for excellent local cuisine, and local cafes often serve fresh trout. The local form of evening entertainment revolves around the many neighborhood taverns which offer their own specialty local wines and Greek version of 'fast food'. Many of the villages produce local festivals annually, often focused on religious holidays.
The Tavropos Dam, operated by the Public Power Corporation of Greece, is a massive arch; a building nearby holds a museum of educational exhibits explaining the building of the dam. At one end of the dam, a number of small shops and stalls have been erected by local artisans selling locally-made handicrafts and foods. This small marketplace is the best place to purchase unique souvenirs before returning home.
What Lake Plastira has in abundance is fantastic scenery and local flavor. Surrounded by mountain peaks blanketed in snow during winter, the many small villages are home to small resort hotels, pensions and guest houses specializing in romantic getaways, local cuisine, and scenic vistas. Several mountain reserves enclose the mountains nearby, offering mountain trekking and climbing, while dozens of trails welcome mountain biking, horseback riding, and nature viewing. At least three fire look-outs are accessible to hikers, and a 'mountain retreat' offers overnight bunk space for longer-distance hikers. Some of the hikes are quite strenuous, but the rewards are worth it when the target is the beautiful Anthohori waterfall above the Anthohori Mill. In winter, the Lake Plastira area is where people come to ski and snowboard. Of special interest in the area is the Gaki Cave. So named as the reported hiding place of Thymios Gakis in the late 19th century, the cave has a river running through much of it and displays an impressive panorama of stalactites and stalagmites. Visitors must have a tour guide, and much of the cave has remained unexplored due to the water. Several other caves in the area can also be visited.
To understand the long history and struggles of the people of the region, visitors must look up; a large number of ancient and architecturally-significant castles and monasteries grace the mountains overlooking Lake Plastira. Some date to the Byzantine Empire, with the Fortress of Fanar the only preserved Byzantine castle still existing in western Thessaly. Partially in ruins, the castle was used during the era of the Ottoman Turks as barracks and again by the Greek Army after liberation. In the ancient past, the castle controlled the passage from Epirus to Thessaly. The Holy Monastery of Korona was built in the early 12th century overlooking the Plain of Thessaly. Castle-like, imposing and massive, the monastery contains murals and paintings dating to the 1500s. An entrance under a pew hid a secret passage that sheltered believers during the Turkish occupation of the Ottoman Empire. Behind the monastery, the monks have created a recreation area with a small aviary where they celebrate the 'Descent from the Cross' on Good Friday. Also impressive is the Holy Monastery of Panagia Pelekiti, perched at an elevation of 4600 feet. Other famed monasteries in the area include the Monastery of Agia Triada Drakotrypa and Petra Monastery.
This area of Greece is well-known for its patriotism and sacrifice during centuries of invasion, occupation and attempted subjugation. The people of the Agrafa Mountains say here lies the beating heart of a free Greece. They were never under the complete control of the Ottoman Empire, and the area was a noted center of Greek Resistance during the Nazi Occupation. A location now submerged under Lake Plastira was the site of a secret Allied airstrip constructed by the locals and hidden by felled trees by day, only to be cleared and lit by bonfires at night so small aircraft could land. Lake Plastira itself is named for General Nikolaos Plastiras who first envisioned the project in 1925 to alleviate flooding in his home locale. By the time the project was finally approved, hydroelectric power possibilities were added to the plans. Now, the area's patriotic impulses are channeled into providing environmental education, preservation of the past, and eco-tourism in the area. Discussions are now underway to develop an organized plan for competing water use which will limit the unscheduled draw-downs of water to provide for all interests in the area.
A Botanical Garden near Neochori features many of the most important floral elements in the region. A fully-equipped Environmental Education Center is housed in the old stone school in downtown Neochori. Other small museums in the area focus on the history of shoes and local flora and fauna. Located near the city of Karditsa, Lake Plastira is about 150 miles from Thessaloniki and 200 miles from Athens, making this a popular weekend getaway for many Greeks. This is the perfect place to experience the Greek mountains and a far different experience than the resorts and beaches along the coast. Bring your cycling gear and rent a mountain bike, take a spin on a sea-bike, and spend a few evenings in the local taverns soaking up the local atmosphere. This is Greece, largely unspoiled, wild and beautiful. You simply must come to visit Lake Plastira and get your fill of beautiful mountain scenery overlooking a wide expanse of peaceful water. Ask for a room with a fireplace; many local lodgings have them. Lake Plastira can provide the scenic and serene vacation you'll never forget.
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