Customarily Greece puts forth her public face in the form of spectacular and well known islands and cultural sites to enrapture people from afar. But there is another side to Greece; one that is eagle-nested high up the mountains of Pindos and Macedonia, and low under the tourist horizon in small coves of fishing villages that pepper the coast like tiny unspoiled gems.
The Ambracian Gulf does not pretend to have much to offer to the average tourist that seeks luxuries and excitement. Nor does it aspire to achieve the riches of the other more popular tourist destinations. The Ambracian Gulf is the humble dwelling of fishermen and farmers making a living among the rich nature of the shallow bay and the surrounding marshlands. Wildlife of all kinds are the most populous visitors here, and those who have know the land in intimate detail prefer it this way.
The quiet demeanor of the land is not conducive to nightlife and rich cultural events. The celebration of the sardines (h giorti ths sardelas) is probably the largest cultural festival around these parts, and the rhythmic murmur of the small fishing boats are the loudest variety of human manifestation. The estuary around the Ambracian gulf with its twenty natural lagoons (two of the largest are the Logaro, and Tsokalio or Rodias lagoons) are the refuse for a wide variety of birds and aquatic animals many of which adorn the endangered species list with their perennial presence.
The majestic Dalmatian pelican (Pelecanus Crispus) makes its home in these parts of the world. About 70 Dalmatian pelican pairs out of an estimated world population of 4000 (*) pairs nest in the Ambracian Gulf lagoons, while migrating birds of all kinds recognize the lagoons as their annual resting stop during their travels. Small populations of Caretta Caretta turtles, Spotted Eagles (aquila clanga), Lesser Spotted Eagles (aquila Pomarina), Pygmy Cormorants, and Bitterns honor the estuary with their presence and transcend it to a special site.
The shallow waters of the Ambracian gulf sustain the local populations of small villages with their riches. Most families around the area make their living by fishing and farming the fertile lands around the sea. The fact that the area exists well below the tourist agency radars contributes to a genuinely traditional Greek environment. There are no large hotels to accommodate visitors around these lands, and one can find a few quiet rooms for rent in Koronisia. Alternately, staying in Preveza or Arta and making daily trips is a good option for the visitors who seek solitude and serenity.
While the area remains undiscovered by tourists, by no means has it been immune to the spoils of western civilization. The construction rate, the ever present rumble of mopeds lacking mufflers, and the speeding cars in the interior of the villages around the gulf testify to the affluence of the local populous. Most of the locals have taken advantage of modern farming and fishing techniques to create a more affluent future for themselves and their children, and have been able to escape the poverty and high mortality rate of the recent past.
For those who plan a visit around Preveza or Parga, a daily trip to the northern end of the Ambracian gulf can provide a rewarding and relaxing experience. The water of the gulf, while not the best in Greece, is a good cooling agent for the hot summer days, and those who relish wildlife and bird watching would do well to stroll around the shallow lagoons with binoculars and cameras handy.
On the southern coast of the bay, the small town of Vonitsa is also worth a visit. It has a well preserved castle on it's acropolis, a quiet beach to the east, and a lively promenade lined with restaurants and caffeterias It is a popular yachting anchorage and lately it has been transforming into a trendy youth destination thanks to a few trendy bars and cafeterias.