The Vale of Tempe Ambelakia

326km (202 miles) N of Athens; 27km (16 miles) N of Larissa

The Vale of Tempe ($, a steep-sided 8km (5-mile) gorge between Mounts Olympus and Ossa has been famous since antiquity as a beauty spot. According to legend, this is where Apollo caught a glimpse of the lovely maiden Daphne, bathing in the Peneios River. When Apollo pursued Daphne, she cried out to the gods on nearby Olympus to save her—which they did, by turning her into a laurel tree (daphne in Greek). Apollo, who didn't give up easily, then plucked a branch from the tree and planted it at his shrine at Delphi. Thereafter, messengers came to Tempe from Delphi every 9 years to collect laurel for Apollo's temple.

To this day, there are laurel, chestnut, and plane trees growing in the Vale of Tempe. Unfortunately, since virtually all north-south traffic in Greece now passes through the Vale, this is no longer the sylvan spot that was once the haunt of nightingales. Still, if you're lucky enough to be here off-season, the sound of the gurgling river may be louder than that of tourists' footsteps on the suspension bridge over the gorge. The car toll is 1.50€. If you park and walk through the Vale, allow at least an hour for your visit.

Keep an eye out for the remains of the Kastro tis Oreas (Castle of the Beautiful Maiden) on the cliffs above Tempe and the little chapel deep in the gorge. Unfortunately, you won't have any trouble spotting the souvenir stands throughout the Vale, or the signs advertising a "Love Boat" cruise on the river.

If you can, take an hour or two to visit the mountaintop village of Ambelakia fjp, some 6km (4 miles) southeast of the Vale of Tempe, with spectacular views of Mount Olympus. The village is one of six in Greece to have formed the National Network of Tradition, Culture, and Community Life to attempt to preserve their traditions and base economic development on local crafts.

Ambelakia, whose name means "vineyards" in Greek, is perched amidst old oak trees on Mount Kissavos. Astonishingly, this tiny village was an important center of cotton and silk production in the 17th century, with offices in far-off London. Today, little remains of Ambelakia's earlier wealth, but what does remain is well worth a visit: the handsome late 18th-century Schwartz House (S. (It's open somewhat unpredictably, but is usually closed Mon and open Tues-Sun 9am-2pm; admission 3€; no phone) The Schwartz brothers were two of Ambe-lakia's wealthiest merchants, who lived and worked in Austria, hence the name "Schwartz," a translation of their Greek name "Mavros." Their handsome wooden house, with its overhanging balconies and elaborately frescoed interiors, is an absolute delight—and it is a delight to see it so carefully restored and cared for. Allow an hour for the guided tour of the house.

If you want to stay here, it's a good idea to call ahead to the charming little Nine Muses Hotel (& 24950/93-405 or 2410/550-774), which has 12 rooms at 40€ to 50€ double, but is not always open. If the Nine Muses is full, ask for help finding a room in one of the local "rent rooms" bed-and-breakfasts. There are several small restaurants on the main square serving simple grills and salads. If you want a break from tourist Greece, spend a night or two here, and experience village Greece—and spectacular views of Mount Olympus.

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