Kastoria Greece: The Forgotten Lake City of Central Macedonia

Lake Orestiada, Kastoria
Lake Orestiada, Kastoria

Kastoria is a beautiful lake city that sits in the foothills of the Pindus Mountains in Northern Greece. Quaint pastel-coloured houses and stores cascade down the hilltops, making Kastoria feel like a Hellenic version of the Amalfi Coast – sans tourists. 

The city encircles the tranquil Lake Orestiada, and the scenic walking paths that run parallel to the lake are the perfect place for a morning stroll. Kastoria is far from a popular travel destination – evident in the fact that the hotel options here are very limited. If you are travelling through Northern Greece, you may want to consider spending a day or two enjoying the nature of this beautiful place. 

About Kastoria  

Lake Orestiada, Kastoria
Lake Orestiada, Kastoria

Once upon a time, Kastoria was an important furrier city, particularly during the Byzantine era. “Kastoria” in Greek, means beaver. Many of these animals once lived on the shores of Lake Orestiada, and they were used for their fur. The art of transforming pelts into garments was learned in Constantinople, and Kastoria quickly became renowned across Greece – and the world, for its involvement in the fur industry.

Today, this industry is in decline, though you will still see numerous fur stores scattered around the city. The garments are mostly exported to Russia. 

Kastoria is the capital city of the Kastoria regional unit of Greece. Despite that fact, it has a very laid back, small-town ambiance about it. Kastoria is characterised by emerald lake waters, impressive mansions, and ornate Byzantine churches. Considering its history and natural beauty, it seems surprising almost that no-one has really heard about Kastoria. 

Things to do in Kastoria 

The city sits close to the Albanian border in Northern Greece
The city sits close to the Albanian border in Northern Greece

With more than 60 ancient Byzantine churches, pleasant hiking trails, and pristine natural scenery, Kastoria is a pleasant place to spend a couple of days. Northern Greece is particularly special during the Fall and Winter months.  

Stroll Along Orestiada Lake 

Walking and cycle paths run beside the lake all through Kastoria

Kastoria rests on the banks of Orestiada Lake. Follow the cobbled waterfront promenade and take in the views, as you bypass local fishermen trying their luck in the emerald waters, and locals kayaking on the lake in all seasons. 

Starting at the Northern edge, near the monument to the Macedonian struggle, you can enjoy your morning freddo cappuccino and pastry with a view, as you sit in one of the many coffee shops that line this pedestrianised street. 

Heading south on Νίκης street, the atmosphere becomes much calmer. Pass by grand old mansions and crumbling Byzantine churches as you make your way to the wooded area that surrounds the mysterious “Dragon’s lair” cave. The area where Νίκης meets Sougaridi consists of dense woodland and hiking paths. 

Venture into the Dragon’s Lair 

The Dragon’s Lair is a cave complex that sits in the woodlands on the eastern side of Kastoria. The caves were not discovered until the 1940s, and are a relatively newly opened tourist attraction. Within the caves, there are seven underground lakes, and dramatic cavernous rooms filled with various types of stalagmites and stalactites. 

Locals created a legend about a fire-breathing Dragon that once resided within the cave protecting hordes of gold. The best way to access the Dragon’s Lair, and to explore the woodlands that surround it, is to rent a bicycle. 

Explore the Various Neighbourhoods 

Worn Byzantine frescoes in ancient churches. The eyes were scratched out during the Ottoman occupation.
Worn Byzantine frescoes in ancient churches. The eyes were scratched out during the Ottoman occupation.

Kastoria is a city steeped in history. Various civilisations and cultures have resided here over the centuries, leaving their mark on the city and its architecture. In Kastoria, you can see ruined Ottoman mosques and marketplaces, sitting beside colourful Ottoman houses and grand Byzantine homes. 

When you arrive, embark on a self-guided walking tour of the city’s unique neighbourhoods. Apozari and Doltso are two of the most spectacular areas. The grand stone mansions here were constructed during the 18th and 19th centuries, as elegant homes for those who made their fortunes as furriers. The vast majority of these buildings (370 of them) are listed buildings. 

Seek Out Ancient Byzantine Churches 

Ancient Byzantine churches occupy virtually every street corner
Ancient Byzantine churches occupy virtually every street corner

There are more than 60 old Byzantine churches scattered throughout Kastoria. As you glance at the city map, you will notice that there are churches on practically every street. Many of these are decorated with beautiful, vibrant frescoes. It is worth wandering up to random churches that are marked the map and see what you find there. 

Unfortunately, a great deal of Kastoria’s Byzantine churches are abandoned and have fallen into disrepair. Look out for how the eyes of the Saints have been scratched out on the paintings – a custom during the Ottoman occupation. The Panagia Mavriotissa monastery is particularly interesting and is widely regarded as being one of the most impressive, as well as the oldest monastery in Central Macedonia. 

Drive to the Abandoned Village of Gavros 

If you have your own transport, and spooky abandoned places are your thing, you might want to consider paying a visit to the abandoned ghost village of Gavros. The village sits 23 km north of Kastoria. From a distance, Gavros looks just like any other cute traditional village, but as you get closer, you will notice that the village is empty. 

In the 1950s, residents just left their homes in Gavros and rebuilt a new village some 50km away. Nobody is entirely sure as to why the village was abandoned, but it is believed that the residents would have problems with bears and snakes. There isn’t a bunch to do here, but it’s worth a visit to walk around and take some photos. 

Indulge in a Relaxing Spa Break 

Many Greeks come to Kastoria for the weekend to enjoy a slice of R&R at the luxurious spas that sit on the outskirts of town. Limneon Resort & Spa is very well regarded, but you will find many spas and hotels with spa facilities, in the area. 

Sweat it out in a hammam (traditional, Ottoman-era sauna), then treat yourself to an indulgent massage and a facial – all while overlooking Lake Orestiada. 

Sail Across Lake Orestiada 

Lake Orestiada, Kastoria, Northern Greece
Lake Orestiada, Kastoria, Northern Greece

It is possible to take a boat tour across Lake Orestiada, and admire the scenery of the Kastoria municipality from the water. More than 200 species of birds reside around the oval lake – many of which are endangered. 

During your trip, you may be able to catch a glimpse of wild herons and pelicans nesting in their natural habitats, or relaxing beneath the canopies of Kastoria’s plane trees. You can also consider renting a kayak or a rowboat to enjoy the lake. 

Visit the Arcturos Bear Sanctuary 

The Epirus region of Northern Greece is one of the only places in Greece where you can find brown bears still living in the wild. Sometimes, lost bears have even found their way into Kastoria

Arcturos is a local charity that exists to protect the bears of Northern Greece. It is possible to visit their bear sanctuary in Nimfeo, where vulnerable and injured bears reside at an altitude of 1,350m amidst pristine mountain scenery. 

Enjoy Evening Cocktails in Elegant Settings

The nightlife scene in Kastoria is sparse, though there are a handful of elegant places scattered around Meg. Alexandrou street. Bouquillon and BACCARA are popular haunts among locals for when they want an evening tipple or two. 

Learn About the History of the Region 

Kastoria in December
Kastoria in December

If you have a little extra time to spare, there are a handful of interesting museums in Kastoria. The Byzantine Museum of Kastoria contains a collection of artifacts that were recovered from the region which date back to the Byzantine era. It also discusses the rise of Kastoria’s fur trade. 

Meanwhile, the Folklore Museum of Kastoria is a “living museum” housed in the former residence of the noble Nerandzis-Aïvazis family. Its rooms demonstrate how the upper classes lived in Kastoria. 

Where to Eat 

Sampling local delicacies is as much a highlight of a Greece travel itinerary as seeing the sights. Unfortunately, Kastoria is not quite like a lot of other Greek cities, in that dining options here are rather limited. There are a small handful of beloved local tavernas and eateries, though the best places are a little away from the centre.

For wonderful traditional food and service, head to Old Town on Orestiados 51. This was the best place I ate in Kastoria, and they serve up generous portions of traditional food at a reasonable price. Ntoltsó Restaurant is also very well-regarded, though the place was empty when I visited, and I found it a little overpriced. 

Is Kastoria Worth Visiting? 

Kastoria is very pretty. These photos make it look like something off of a postcard! With that said, large parts of the city have been abandoned and are very run down. Whether this is due to the economic crisis and the decline in demand for the furrier trade, I’m not entirely sure. 

Entire streets are abandoned in the town centre of Kastoria – their shops are all boarded up and derelict, some with old stock and displays still inside. You are also very limited on places to go for coffee and dinner. Some parts of Kastoria felt a little creepy, on account of how abandoned/derelict they were. At night, the streets are very dimly lit and there are a lot of stray dogs. It’s worth keeping all of this in mind. 

Where to Stay

Accommodation options in Kastoria are limited. Check the precise location of hotels on the map before booking, as the majority of the “best” places in town are set 2-3km outside of the city limits.

Walking to and from the town is not really an option due to bears, snakes, and dim street lighting. If you don’t have a car, make sure that you reserve a room in the town centre. 

Limneon Resort & Spa 

Limneon Resort & Spa is the ultimate luxury choice in Kastoria. The hotel sits 2km outside of town, where you can truly enjoy the peace and tranquility of Epirus. Rooms are spacious and tastefully decorated with elegant, contemporary furnishings. 

The on-site spa includes a well-equipped gym, an indoor pool, and indulgent spa treatment facilities. Rooms start from $90 per night, and breakfast is included in the room rate. Click here for the latest prices and availability.  

Orologopoulos Mansion Luxury Hotel 

For luxury in the heart of old Kastoria, consider reserving a room at the Orologopoulos Mansion hotel. The hotel is set just a few yards away from the waters of Lake Orestiada, and the Kastoria Folklore Museum. 

Rooms are designed with a fabulous combination of vintage and modern styles – think exposed stone walls, wood beam ceilings, and antique touches paired with contemporary art and furnishings. Rooms start at $65 per night including breakfast. Browse the latest rates and availability here. 

Guesthouse Filoxenia 

Guesthouse Filoxenia is a great budget choice for your Kastoria trip. Rooms are cozy, homely, and clean, and start from just $35 per night including breakfast. The best part? Enjoy incredible panoramas across Lake Orestiada from your room. Browse the latest rates and availability here. 

Getting There 

Kastoria sits 575km north of Athens and 219km from Thessaloniki. The best way to reach it, if you are not renting a car, is to take a KTEL bus. 

Buses between Thessaloniki and Kastoria run daily. There are also twice-weekly services between Ioannina and Kastoria. Expect a three and a half hour journey between Ioannina and Kastoria, and between Kastoria and Thessaloniki.

Opting to rent your own transport gives you a lot more freedom to explore some of the abandoned villages and national parks that sit on the outskirts of town. 

Have any more burning questions about visiting Kastoria? Don’t hesitate to reach out to me via the comments below. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. Safe travels in Greece! Geia sou! Melissa xo 

Disclaimer: This Kastoria travel guide may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase through some of the links enclosed here, I may obtain a small amount of commission. This comes at no extra cost to you. Thanks for understanding. 

Melissa Douglas

Melissa Douglas is a British Travel Writer and Blogger based in Athens, Greece. She writes for numerous high profile travel publications across the globe - including Forbes Travel Guide, Matador Network, The Times of Israel and The Huffington Post.

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