Somewhere to the east of the prefecture of Thessaloniki, there is a small river which starts life in Lake Volvi and soon finds its way to the beach of Vrasna, where it tumbles into the Strymonikos Gulf. Going by the name of the Rihios, its journey to the sea only lasts for 8 km and while its flow may seem a touch leisurely, its deceptive force is enough to have created one of the hidden diamonds of Macedonia, the Macedonian Tempi.
No doubt many of you have passed along the old Thessaloniki – Kavala highway and encountered the village of Redina, where you are bound to have noticed a gorgeous, verdant cluster that almost seems to spill over into the road, entreating you to park your car and venture in. It is only a matter of moments before you find yourself in a wonderful, tranquil environment. A vaulted arch of tree, plant and shrub provide natural soundproofing, leaving only the sounds of rustling leaves and water trickling by. Within the quiet, you begin to sense the magnitude of a much-storied past.
Friendly and hostile armies, merchants of all kinds and countless adventurers have crossed this narrow passage. For centuries it connected one side of Makedonia with the other for travelers wishing to avoid the more arduous, rutty trail across the mountains. Indeed, at one time, part of the ancient Egnatia road passed through the vale. In the Byzantine years, its full strategic importance was recognized and the castle of Rentina built to overlook the western entrance. Moving forward several hundred years, marauding invaders have been replaced by flocks of migratory birds and nature has been left to its own devices to create a little paradise, whose only “crack force” today is the ivy, intent on overrunning the centuries-old ane trees which stand in defiant vigil over the valley.
You never quite know what this area, also known as Stena Rentinas, will look like from one year to the next. Subject to the capricious moods of the local weather, its robust and resilient nature takes on a fresh guise whenever it sees fit. The level of the Rihios is influenced by the overflow of the second largest lake in Greece, which in turn preordains this landscape to remain in a state of perpetual change. It is for this reason, perhaps, that Mt Stratoniko and Mt Kerdylio look down so protectively on the valley and its many visitors and that the chapel of Agia Marina, on the western side of the passage, a few hundred metres under the Castle of Redina, extends to passersby the warmest and most reverential of welcomes.
After all this, it goes without saying that this one of my very favourite places for hiking expeditions. The forest roads and trails which accompany the Rihios offer scenes which are like old friends to me now; the impression they made on me as a child has never left. It is a land inextricably bound to the life of my ancestors who came from Vrasna, Thessaloniki. They lived lean times when the river and the riverside forest provided what was necessary for survival in the form of fish and grains. As I stand in the valley, I feel a natural affinity with these people and their simple existence, so in tune with the wiles of nature in a way that is difficult for us to contemplate.
The Macedonian Tempi valley is one of the Volvi Municipality’s most prized adornments, a highlight of central Macedonia. Just 65 km from Thessaloniki, this mysterious land seems practically untouched by human hand, while the nearby cosmopolitan seaside areas of the east Thessaloniki prefecture, such as Stavros, Nea Vrasna and Asprovalta, are ready to welcome visitors throughout the year.