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Arachova

Arachova clings to Mount Parnassus 950m (3,116 ft.) above sea level. For a long time, the adjective most often used to describe this tiny mountain village 10km (6 miles) east of Delphi, was "sleepy." In those days, Greek and foreign tourists paused here en route to and from Delphi to drink a coffee and buy the fluffy hand-loomed wool flokates (thick rugs and spreads) and tagaria (brightly colored wool bags) made from wool of the local sheep. A number of shops on the main street still sell authentic local crafts, including woodcarvings, copper, and weavings (some still sold by the weight of the wool used). Other shops have local honey, cheese, and herbs, including mountain tea. Anemi (tel. 22670/31-701) often has nice antique reproductions.

That said, the development of the Mount Parnassos ski center has transformed Arachova into what might be thought of as a "boutique village." Nearly every one of the modest stone buildings in Arachova now conceals an après ski boutique, cafe, restaurant, or hotel -- some with sauna facilities where a family's looms were once housed. If you come here in ski season, you can enjoy watching the beautiful people (many from Athens) lounging in cafes in their après ski togs -- but if you want to spend the night, don't show up without a reservation!

Although winter is now Arachova's big season, when several tour buses choose the same moment to make a stop here in summer, this small village can be seriously overcrowded. Don't despair: Come back in the evening. The shops are still open, and the cafes and restaurants give you a chance to escape from the tour-group dominated world of Delphi to the village world of Greece. Locals often take to the streets in the evening for a volta (energetic stroll) on Delphon, the main street. If you climb the steep stairs to the upper town, you'll find yourself on quiet neighborhood streets, where children play and families sit in front of their homes.

For lunch or dinner, unless you just graze on some veggie dishes, you should be prepared to pay from 25€ wherever you eat -- and the tab could easily go well above that, especially with alcohol. Try the simple family fare at Taverna Karathanassi, by the coffee shops in the main square with the lovely freshwater springs. Brasto, a rather bland broth with gray chunks of boiled goat meat, thought to be very restorative by many Greeks, is often on the menu. That may be why I often end up nearby at the venerable Taverna Dasaryiris, which specializes in loukanika (sausages), grills, and -- are you ready? -- delicious spicy kokoretsi (stuffed entrails). The homemade chilopites (tasty little square noodles) are terrific, as is the house red wine. If you want a meal with a view, head uphill on the stepped street and try either the Panayiota or Kaplanis restaurants, both with excellent spitiko cuisine (home cooking). Emboriko is another upscale restaurant very popular with Greeks; reservations at both Kaplanis and Emboriko are almost always necessary on weekends. If you're here in winter, try two fine places, Fterolakka or Agnandi; both are in the center of the village and are usually closed in summer -- which certainly drives home the point that winter is the time to be here for Greeks! Try something with the excellent skordalia (a garlic-potato sauce that the novice may suspect is almost 100% garlic). If you want to dance after you lounge, see what's going on at Snow Me (tel. 6944/341-317), a lively (and loud) disco cafe (often sporting a doorman, unusual in Greece). Snow Me Petit (same phone), an offshoot of Snow Me usually has almost all Greek music.

Low season for most Arachova hotels is summer; winter weekends, when nearly every hotel room is booked well in advance, is the most expensive time to stay here. For a room with a view, try the Anemolia (www.anemolia.gr; tel. 22670/31-640; fax 22670/31-642), with 55 rooms, a restaurant, and a heated pool on a hill above the Delphi road just outside Arachova. Originally a member of the Best Western chain, with American-style bathrooms, it has large, comfortable rooms, many with balcony views down to Delphi and the Gulf of Corinth. Doubles go from 150€, chalet-style suites (fireplaces, balconies) from 300€, except on popular winter weekends when prices can be double that.

If you want to be in town and don't mind parking your car and then walking perhaps 10 minutes through Arachova's narrow lanes to your car, both the Paradisiakos Xenonas Maria (www.mariarooms.com; tel. 22670/31-803) and the Generalis Guesthouse (www.generalis.gr; tel. 22670/31-529) occupy handsomely restored 19th-century arkontika (town houses). Doubles at the Maria, which has seven rooms, start at 75€, although most are 150€ and up; doubles at the Generali, which has a subterranean indoor plunge-pool and sauna, start at 200€. The Maria gets consistent raves for friendly efficient service, which is not always the case with the Generalis.

If you want a room (or suite, or villa) with a Jacuzzi in a "boutique retreat" on the slopes of Parnassus that aims to re-create a "private village," with two pools, a spa, tennis courts, and fitness center, head for the Santa Marina Arachova Resort and Spa (www.generalis.gr; tel. 22670/31-955); doubles start at 250€ in summer, 350€ winter weekends. Guest rooms are light, bright, and spacious. Their sister hotel, the Santa Marina Arachova (www.santa-marina.gr; tel. 22670/31-230) in the village, has doubles from 150€ (summer) to 280€ (winter). Rooms are perfectly comfortable but slightly somber, and could use some sprucing up. Guests here, including many Greeks and Germans, can use the resort hotel's spa facilities.

St. George's Day in Arachova -- Arachova's main feast day, April 23, honors St. George, the patron saint of shepherds. Locals and visitors celebrate by eating vast amounts of roast lamb washed down with the local red wines and dancing to folk music until the wee hours. (If Apr 23 falls during Lent, the feast day is observed the Mon after Easter.) Make a hotel reservation well ahead if you want to join them. Also be sure to wish everyone, especially anyone named George, Chronia Polla (Many more years).

Parnassus (Parnassos)

The good news is that you can drive 23km (14 miles) from Arachova to the ski resort at Kelaria, or 27km (17 miles) from Arachova to the ski resort at Fterolakka, in about an hour. Each resort is about 2,200m (7,216 ft.) up the mountain, whose highest peak rises to 2,459m (8,065 ft.); information is available at www.parnassos-ski.gr. The bad news is that the road and several incipient hamlets of ski lodges (the Santa Marina Resort is one of the more tasteful developments) have eradicated much of the mountain's isolation and beauty. All in all, Parnassus is an odd mountain: It's difficult to see its highest peaks from either Delphi or Arachova, although if you approach from the north, you'll have fine views of its twin summits.

If you come in winter, you can rent ski equipment either in Arachova or at the resorts. Keep in mind that fog and high winds often sweep in suddenly. When this happens, the ski lifts close and the road down the mountain is often also closed, stranding day-trippers until it reopens. In fact, fog can close this road at almost any time, even in summer -- something to consider if you decide to drive up for a look around. I was glad to have a bottle of water and cookies in the car when this happened to me one May afternoon and I had to pull over for several hours.

In summer, don't expect to find the shops, cafes, and restaurants (not to mention the dozen ski runs) open. If you want to hike Parnassus, there are two possibilities, both with trail markings. The Hellenic Federation of Mountaineering and Climbing, 5 Milioni, 10673 Kolonaki (tel. 210/364-5904; www.sport.gov.gr), and the Mountaineering Club in Athens (tel. 210/323-4555) have information on both routes. In Arachova, inquire about guides and weather conditions at the town tourist office, Plateia Xenias, open most days at least from 9am to 6pm (tel. 22670/31-630; depta@arachova.gr). As always in the mountains, it's not a good idea to make such an excursion alone and it is always wise to check the local weather forecast.

If you begin your climb in Delphi, head uphill past the Sikelianos house and keep going, bearing left above the sanctuary and following the trail markers. Four hours will bring you to the upland meadows known as the Plateau of Livadi, where shepherds traditionally pasture their flocks. Want to keep going? Past the meadow is the Corcyrian Cave (known locally as Sarantavli, or Forty Rooms), where Pan and the Nymphs once were thought to live; beyond are the summits. It's also possible to begin your ascent from Arachova, where it is best to get directions locally. The Road Edition map of Parnassos (no. 42 in the mountain map series) is an excellent investment at 6€, as is Tim Salmon's The Mountains of Greece (Cicerone Press). However, nothing substitutes for a companion, especially one who knows the terrain well.

The Monastery of Osios Loukas

You'll probably want to see Osios Loukas (www.osiosloukas.gr) en route to or from Delphi. You can also do the 96km (60-miles) round-trip via Arachova as a day excursion, although when I last did this, battling against steady phalanxes of tour buses in both directions, I vowed never to do so again. If you go to Osios Loukas via Levadia, pause at Schiste (Triodos), where three roads intersect. This is the spot where the ancients believed that Oedipus unknowingly slew his father.

The splendid mosaics of Osios Loukas (Monastery of St. Luke) are rivaled only by the mosaics at Daphne outside Athens and in the churches of Thessaloniki. Much of Osios Loukas dates from the 10th and 11th centuries and commemorates not the better-known St. Luke the Evangelist, but the Blessed Luke, a revered 10th-century hermit, perhaps born in nearby Delphi. Much more than a tourist destination, devout Greek Orthodox visitors consider it a holy spot. This is not the place for sleeveless shirts or shorts: The tomb of St. Luke in the Katholikon (main church) is an important pilgrimage destination and taking photos is usually discouraged.

Osios Loukas perches on a steep slope, with sweeping views over the surrounding countryside. The monastery's buildings are lavishly decorated with brick and a wide variety of jewel-like polychrome marbles. If you are lucky enough to be here when the Katholikon isn't too crowded, enjoy the changing play of light and shadows on the marbles and mosaics. Mosaic scenes from the Bible, including the Nativity and Baptism, glow overhead. You may see visitors handing their family icons to a monk, who takes them off for a special blessing. Next, head to the smaller Church of the Theotokos (Mother of God), with a wall fresco showing Joshua as a warrior and a fine mosaic floor. If you have time, visit the fresco-adorned crypt, and then sit in the courtyard. Imagine what Osios Loukas was like when, rather than today's handful of monks, hundreds of monks lived and worshiped here. The monastery's former refectory (dining room) now serves as a small museum of sculpture and fragments of architectural ornament.

Admission to Osios Loukas is 3€. Summer hours are daily 8am to 2pm and 4 to 6pm; winter hours are 8:30am to 3pm. (Note that these are the posted times; they are not always observed.) A shop sells icons and other religious goods as well as local oil and honey; the small cafe (not always open) offers soft drinks, coffee, snacks, and local delicacies. Allow at least an hour for your visit.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.