What to do in Arta, Greece
So where is Arta?
You probably haven’t heard of Kompoti (pronounced Koboti) if I told you that’s where I went in Greece. Kompoti is a quiet village in Arta, North-Western Greece which is part of the Epirus region. It's surrounded by nature and away from tourists (my Greek friend living in Kompoti even said I was probably the only tourist around).
The mountainous Northern Greece isn't too far from Southern Albania and the Ionian Islands. This was the kind of place I wanted to visit; one undiscovered by the mainstream traveller. I had the pleasure of experiencing life with my friend's family, travelled to nearby towns, beaches and went island hopping. Life here was peaceful. People were friendly and it was a great escape from London. I had fresh, organic food every day from their farm, saw the biggest tomato that I’ve ever seen (more on that in my next post), learnt more Greek history and explored the local area. My impression was that Greeks were proud of their culture and loved their history.
How do you get to Arta?
I travelled to Arta from Athens by car and this is the best way to travel from Athens. Arta is 346.9km from Athens and it took us approximately 3.5 hours by car but be aware that there will be tolls on the motorway. The other option would be to take the bus from Athens. This is the longer route and would take approximately 6.5 hours. If time is not an issue for you then this option would also be cheaper. I’ve never taken the bus in Greece before so I cannot comment on the reliability of the bus services. The bus is operated by KTEL and their website is in Greek only but you may find this website helpful: https://www.rome2rio.com/map/Athens/Arta-Station-Greece
In this post, I'll be sharing the places I visited.
The Archaeological Museum of Arta
Arta is full of history. It's part of the town known as Ambracia in ancient Greece, which was the capital of Epirus. Ambracia was founded in the 7th century BC as a Corinthian colony and has been under Byzantine and Ottoman rule. This museum is a great place to learn more about this and you can find local excavations, jewellery, coins and many other daily artefacts. We were the only visitors at the time so we had the place to ourselves and a friendly man who worked there volunteered to be our private guide.
Church of Ayios Georgios
Greece was ruled by the Byzantine Empire for a thousand years before the Ottoman Empire. The word ‘Byzantine’ comes from ‘Byzantium’ which was an ancient Greek colony. It then became Constantinople, and now Istanbul today. Today, Byzantine architecture can be seen everywhere.
Arta has many Byzantine churches and monasteries under such rule in 1340. This church was built in 1741 when Arta was under Turkish occupation. A wealthy man named Efstathios Gerostathis from Kompoti donated money for it to be built as he believed it was important to keep Christian Greek Orthodox alive. Today, this church is only opened for special occasions as there is now a modern church of Ayios Georgios in Kompoti’s centre which is used. Check out the view from the old church where you can see how much greenery there is in the area!
Church of Panagia Parigoritissa
Located in the centre of Arta is another unique Byzantine church. We didn’t go inside this one, but upon further research when writing this post, I found out that the Church of Panagia Parigoritissa was one of the most important Byzantine churches in Arta. Part of the building is also used to house the Archaeological Collection of Arta.
Church of Agia Theodora
The church of Agia Theodora is located in the centre just a few metres away from the shops. It is a well preserved Byzantine church founded by Theodora of Arta which is also where she is buried. Her tomb became a pilgrimage sight as apparently there were miracles attributed to it.
The Bridge of Arta
This was my favourite landmark of Arta and the one I looked forward to the most. Prior to my arrival I had researched Arta and saw many photos of this bridge online. The beautiful stone Bridge of Arta sits on River Arachthos and is definitely worth a visit. All the Greeks know the famous folk tale where the head builder had to sacrifice his wife to make the construction of the bridge possible. As builders were building the bridge, it would still collapse every night. The head builder was informed by a bird that in order to prevent the bridge from collapsing, he should sacrifice his wife. The bird told his wife to come to the bridge and when she arrived she said "Greetings, builders, and greetings to you, apprentices but what's wrong with the chief mason that his looks are so dark?" the builders told her that her husband’s wedding ring had fallen into one of the chambers. She volunteered to go inside the chamber to search for it but she could not find anything. She said "Pull me up, dear, pull the chain, I've looked everywhere but can't find anything!" no one helped her and she was then buried alive in the foundations of the bridge. “May the bridge ever shake, as carnations shake, and may those who cross it ever fall down, as leaves fall from trees" she cursed. She was later informed that her brother would be passing the bridge so she reversed the curse to a blessing.
With a couple of euros you can visit the museum by the bridge. I saw ancient photos of the bridge, learnt about its history and heard the folk ballad. Again, we were the only visitors at this museum and a lady decided to give us a full explanation of the history and showed us around. Be careful when walking down the bridge as we found the cobbled floors to be slippery! Also don’t forget to take a moment to enjoy the natural views from the bridge. There is a cafe on the other side where you can sit outside and enjoy the views.
Over the Hill Restaurant and Cafe
For panoramic views of Arta, visit Over the Hill restaurant and cafe and ask to sit on the balcony. This restaurant sits on a hill and from the outside it looks like a small church. During our visit the restaurant was fully booked up for a function but luckily the cafe was still free. It was a hot summer day in Arta and we sipped ice cold chocolate milk whilst enjoying the gorgeous views.
I realised how lucky I was to be in mainland Greece seeing how the locals lived. The way of life there was very different from my life in London and I had learnt so much from my visit. Arta is a lovely place full of history that not many people have heard of. It isn’t on the tourist route but you should spend at least a day here to experience authentic Greece (I would recommend hiring a car). It isn’t too far from the beaches (e.g. an hour drive from Preveza) and the Ionian islands (e.g. a 2 hour drive from Lefkada).
So next time you plan to visit Greece, why not spend some time on the mainland as well as on the islands?