Most people don’t stray far from the coast when they visit Fiscardo and you can understand why. Its hot, the sea is warm, there’s a taverna right there.…
But if one day, you wake up early and decide to take a walk before the sea starts calling and the sun seducing you, well, not only can I tell you of a good walk, I can tell you a story too.
On the forest side of Fiscardo village there’s a path through the forest heading inland. If you want to find it, ask the way to the Kastro Club (more about that another time). You will pass Kastro on the left and then you are in the forest proper, walking on the remains of what used to be the only road connecting Fiscardo to the rest of the island.
The path leads to the abandoned village of Psilithrias, once the biggest and most important village in the area, today a picturesque ruin – roofs fallen in, gardens overgrown by feral fruit trees, streets filled with rubble. Yet here and there a glimmer of once was – rusting but beautiful wrought-iron gates, a graceful entrance. You can tell it was not a poor village.
When I first discovered Psilithrias many years ago I was told the Great Earthquake of 1953 drove the people away and that seemed like a perfectly reasonable explanation to me.
It was only recently that I learned the truth. It seems that 150 years ago the authorities decided to build a proper road between Fiscardo and Argostolion, the island capital 52 kilometres away. This was something that was about 100 years overdue so it was the cause for considerable rejoicing… except in Psilithrias.
When Psilithrias residents discovered that a road was to go right past their village, they freaked out. The road would bring strangers, they said, their women would not be safe, they said, they wanted no part of it, they said. They lobbied so ferociously against this new-fangled idea that the island government capitulated, at which news the villagers killed a goat in celebration.
The road was redirected through the tiny village of Antipata. As predicted the road did indeed bring strangers and they needed food and a place to drink coffee and buy shoelaces, cigarettes and similar items. Antipata met those needs and grew, while Psilthiras, cut off from the road, wasted away to become just another Greek ruin slumbering in the Mediterranean sunshine.
Once you have explored the village keep walking on the new tar road (if only the Psilithrians had waited another 150 years!) You will see a church and the village graveyard with tombstones recording names you still encounter locally among the living. From there it’s a gentle stroll to Antipata where you will rejoin the main road. That part of the walk always startles me because the forest path, the ruined village and the church have taken me back a few hundred years and I am slow, relaxed David. A busy road with cars and buses is an abrupt jolt back to the present.
You join the road right next to Picnic, owned by former Zimbabweans Liz and Joe. Liz is a wonderful cook, Joe very good at front-of-house and they make wonderful breakfasts.
There’s another walk extending from here to a great beach called Lafnoudi, but if you decide it is time to return to the village, head down the hill and you will soon be back in Fiscardo.
As you walk you might reflect, just for a moment, on the moral of this story. Be careful of what you wish for; you might get it.
I went on this walk yesterday and to my enormous astonishment, my eye fell upon.. a swimming pool. Someone has renovated one of the old houses and put in a pool. Psilithrias is coming back to life!