ZAGOROHORIA | MAINLAND GREECE | EPIRUS
One of the most beautiful places in Greece to explore all year round
The whole region between Ioannina and the Albanian border is one of the most beautiful places in Greece to explore winter and summer: from Lake Ioannina and its historic island to the fascinating Perama cave, the exquisite traditional Zagorohoria villages and the Vikos gorge. If nature, tradition and history are among your passions, then you’ll be delighted with this trip. In order to do it justice, you will need at least four days, but a week would between better in order to leave time for some walks we suggest. Make sure to reserve your hotel room before you set out, since there are only a few good hotels and they are all small.
ABOUT ZAGOROHORIA & HISTORICAL INFO
A chain of 46 traditional villages in the mountains north of Ioannina, whose natural boundaries are Mts Mitsikelli and Gamila and the Aoos river. Thick pine and fir forests, crystalline streams and stunning scenery — this district never fails to awe the visitor with its majestic virgin natural beauty, impregnable to modern encroachments. The human element, in complete harmony with the environment, is expressed through superb arched stone bridges, imposing mansions built in the austere local style, and lovely old churches. The villages, as far as we know, seem to have been founded around 912. But the area really developed during the Ottoman occupation, because of the privileges awarded to its inhabitants by the conquerors. In 1430, after an agreement with a representative of the Sultan, it was annexed to the Ottoman Empire, but retained certain self-governing powers. Influential merchants and craftsmen, the men of Zagori became even more prosperous and well educated when they emigrated around 1600 to Romania and Russia. Some of those who stayed behind, the so-called Vikos physicians, also made their mark by utilizing the herbs and therapeutic plants of the Vikos Gorge to cure illnesses. The region has given birth to a good number of Greek philanthropists.
WHAT TO SEE & DO IN ZAGOROHORIA
FROM ELATI TO SKAMNELLI
If your time is limited, stop this excursion at Kipi, so as to leave room for the next two extraordinary drives.
Take a moment to enjoy the panoramic view of the whole Zagori district.
A traditional hamlet with picturesque stone lanes and impressive, well-preserved mansions; a perfect place for a walk. As you leave Dilofo, take a look at the Kokkori bridge.
One of the prettiest villages in the area, it has remained totally untouched. It has a folk art museum, with exhibits of local traditions from Agapios Tolis’ collection. Nearby you’ll see the unusual triple-arched bridge of Plakida and the eight old stone bridges over the Voidomatis river.
Stop here and taste the delicious Epirot cheese pies.
The largest village in central Zagori, the birthplace of the actress Marika Kotopouli. Visit the famous Rongovou monastery, built in 1050, and its interesting frescoes.
A delightful little village with chapels and traditional houses, many of which contain naif paintings of the 18th and 19th c. painted over it. In addition to the main church, there is also a chapel dedicated to St. John the Baptist.
FROM VITSA TO MONODENDRI
One of the most important villages in central Zagori, it has a wonderful view, many old mansions, a lovely kiosk and churches whose architecture is typical of the 17th and 18th c.
A beautiful traditional village in central Zagori, with superb stone mansions and picturesque stone paths, Monodendri overlooks the Vikos gorge.
Visit the monastery of Agia Paraskevi, built in 1412, on the rim of the gorge. The fabulous view from the top of the steep precipice to the floor of the gorge, 600 m below, will literally take your breath away. The daring can follow the narrow path along the cliff side to Megali Spilia, a large cave used as a hideout by many Greeks during the Ottoman years. For an even more spectacular view, visit the natural “balcony”-observation post at Oxia, 7 km north-west of Monodendri, where there is a succession of enormous rocks protruding from parallel layers of stone, some thousand metres above the Vikos gorge.
FROM ARISTI TO MIKRO PAPINGO
A delightful village above the Voidomatis river, with a fertile valley that squeezes through the Vikos gorge and extends into neighbouring Albania.
Perhaps the most beautiful village of all the Zagorohoria, with traditional stone houses, flagstone lanes and charming churches with wonderful belltowers. It has several tavernas, places to stay, bars and cafes, since it attracts so many of the district’s visitors.
This picturesque little village sits in the foothills of Astraka, in the shadow of some stunning high rocks from which unusual grey “towers” project. The clear waters of a small river flow next to it, forming a pool, but only for members of the “polar bear club”.
HIKING AND SPORTS IN VIKOS GORGE
The Vikos-Aoos national park, founded in 1973, has an area of 126,000 sq. km.
The park lends itself to walks, hiking, rock climbing and mountain climbing, while the rivers are ideal for the exciting sports of kayaking and rafting. Hang gliding and gliding can be done from two take-off points in the mountains of Konitsa. The best months for such adventures are between July and October.
Mountain climbers from the area’s clubs organize treks with guides, which ensure safe passage over the dangerous and often unmarked trails in the mountains and gorges. These sports require special training and equipment. We propose simple solutions to help you start exploring this wonderful region and ideas for more daring excursions.
The magnificent Vikos gorge is impressive with its unspoilt natural beauty, its precipitous cliffsides, the thick vegetation on its river banks and its towering wind-sculpted rocks, not to mention the variety of rare plants and animals that live in and around it. Many species that have disappeared from other parts of Greece have found refuge here, such as bears, wild goat, roebuck and jackals. It takes about seven hours to walk the gorge from Monodendri. The well-maintained but almost vertical path down to the gorge starts on the outskirts of the village to the right (south) and within about 30 min descent, you will reach the path that runs parallel to the Vikos riverbed. Another threeand a half hours will bring you to the shrine of Agia Triada and a well. Two more hours and you’ll reach the source of the Voidomatis river.
From there, a path to the north-east winds back up the precipice, bringing you to Mikro Papingo in about two hours, while if you take the path to the west, you’ll be in the village of Vikos within one hour.
If you want to drive down from Aristi to Papingo, we suggest you leave your car beyond the bridge, on the open space to the right of the road, and once you’ve admired the lovely little pond formed by the river beside the bridge, follow the path along the banks of the Voidomatis. You can walk as far as you like to the south, on an easy path and there are some delightful picnic spots along the way.
Visit Drakolimni (Dragon Lake) on Mt Gamila, at an altitude of 1,200 m. It’s a round lake, 112 m in diameter and 12 m is its greatest depth. Starting out from Mikro Papingo, you will need to walk about 4 hrs to reach it, 5 hrs from Vradeto and 6 hrs from Tsepelovo and Skamnelli. For a more challenging ascent, take the path from Vryssohori, and you’ll be there in 6 hrs. Among the denizens of the lake are two species of salamanders, black and grey with yellow spots. like to the south, on an easy path and there are some delightful picnic spots along the way.
Astraka is the place to go for rock climbing. There you’ll find a refuge at an altitude of 1,950 m, some 3 hr walk from the peak of Gamila. Make sure you call the refuge from Megalo Papingo to secure a bed for the night.
Crossing the Mikros Vikos (Vikaki) from Tsepelovo to Kipi, or the reverse, takes about 2 hrs but should only be contemplated by experienced hikers.
There are two points where one either has to swim or use an inflatable boat.
Going down the Voidomatis in a kayak or rubber raft is fun, once you’ve gotten over your qualms.
Kayaking and rafting are offered on the Aoos river, too. Its swift current arouses all sorts of sensations in those who dare to try them.
Greek Mountain Climbing Association of Ioannina, tel. 0030 2651022138
Greek Mountain Climbing and Skiing Association of Papingo, tel. 0030 2653041138, 0030 2653041115
Directorate of Forests, Ioannina, tel. 0030 2651088040
Ioannina Forestry Service, tel. 0030 2651088080
EPIDAURUS TIPS & INFORMATION
Konitsa is situated 63 km north of Ioannina, near the Albanian border. It lies, amphitheatre-shaped, on a mountain slope of the Pindos mountain range, overlooking the valley where the river Aoos meets the river Voidomatis. The valley is used for farming. Konitsa is a regional centre for many small Pindos villages, and there are shops, schools and a hospital. It is a good starting point for tourists who want to explore the Pindos mountains, or who want to go rafting in the river Aoos or parapenting.
This famous monastery, perched on the Albanian border, took its name from the lead sheets that cover the roofs of its buildings. It has exceptional frescoes, some dating from as early as the 5th c., and 16th c. icons on the icon screen.
A historic spot, this is a private park covering some 120,000 sq. m, traversed by the Aoos river, with lush vegetation and shady plane trees and a hotel, also called Bourazani. Wild animals, such as deer, wild boar and bears, roam here freely. A photographic safari and guided tour through the park in a van takes about two and a half hours.
ZAGOROHORIA TIPS & INFORMATION
HOW TO GET TO ZAGOROHORIA
There’s no question that you’ll enjoy this excursion more if you have your own car or motorcycle. But if you don’t want to drive all the way, you can always fly to Ioannina and rent a car when you get there.
By air from Athens, El. Venizelos airport, with Aegean Airlines
From Thessaloniki, Makedonia airport, with Aegean Airlines
By intercity bus (KTEL), 100 Kifissou Ave., Athens, tel. 0030 210 5129365.
By intercity bus (KTEL) from Thessaloniki, tel. 0030 2310 595442.
HOW TO GET AROUND
You’ll have to have your own or rented transport. Make sure you have the right foot gear.
BEST SEASON TO VISIT ZAGOROHORIA
Spring or autumn, but you won’t be disappointed at other times of year.
LOCAL FOOD & PRODUCTS OF ZAGOROHORIA
In the Zagori villages, almost everything is good, but especially the local meat, bean soup, charcoal grilled cheese, grilled trout, meat soup, home-baked bread, pies made with wild greens or cheese, baked sweets. Drinks include the local tsipouro (a kind of grape-based schnapps) and white and sparkling wines from Zitsa.
ZAGOROHORIA USEFUL TELEPHONES NUMBERS
Municipality 0030 26530 41142
Police 0030 26530 41294