My summer of 2018 was somewhat unpredictable. So, I decided to spend the few days of holidays and rest, in the mountains. First came a short trip to the Italian part of Switzerland, on the occasion of the Locarno film festival, including day trips to my beloved Como and the city of Milan. To cover the cosmopolitan part…
I then spent the week of August 15th in Epirus and Zagorochoria. This was the fifth (!) time I was visiting the area (in just 3 years). You can guess how much I enjoy going there… Staying at Apeiros Chora at the village Kato Pedina is for me like returning to my very comfortable country home. Being pampered and not having to care or worry about a thing!
We took a different route this time as Georgia, my travel partner, complicit and passionate hiker wanted to walk the Valia Kalda in Pindos. Do not be mistaken, I only do the occasional walk in the forest for truffle hunting purposes! (Georgia’s detailed personal descriptions of her many expeditions follow in this article).
We left on Saturday morning and leisurely took the route to the direction of Vovousa in East Epirus. After a couple of short stops on the highway, we headed to Metsovo for a late lunch. Metsovo is rather touristy, but generally well maintained and worth a detour. Galaxias is a good place to eat, a chalet-style place in a relaxed, green garden. The area is famous for its meats and very famous for its cheese.
Instead of returning to take the main road to the direction of Vovousa, largely by mistake, we took the “scenic” route. The route along the lake formed by the Aoos river sources, followed by a glorious forest. “Scenic” in this case is an understatement! I was left speechless gazing at the beauty of the scenery we encountered at every turn! A canvas of colours & light…a setting for dreams. And totally unspoiled… (I do recommend to drive by with optimal weather and not during winter time as it rains and snows a lot).
We arrived at Vovousa around 19:00 in the afternoon. Vosousa is located on the river Aoos and is one of the easternmost villages of Zagori. The single-arched stone bridge of Misios was built in 1748 with a donation by Alexis Mitosis from Vitsa. Vovousa was considered among the largest villages in Zagori. After the submission of Zagori to the Turks in 1821, following the fall of Ali Pasha and the Greek War of Independence, Vovousa became impoverished due to Albanian raids and was nearly deserted. Most of its inhabitants moved in the 19th century to the vicinity of Serres in Macedonia. It was burnt by the Germans on 23 October 1943. It is nevertheless, a beautiful mountainous village.
We stayed overnight at the charming guest house Kerasies, had a delicious BBQ dinner at the village square and enjoyed coffee overlooking the river and the stone bridge.
Kato Pedina & Papingo
The following morning Georgia left for her hiking expedition and I drove all the way via another “scenic” route, to familiar Kato Pedina and cosy Apeiros Chora. We spent the next five days enjoying familiar surroundings and as always, the gracious hospitality of Athina & George!
We were refreshed a couple of times by summer storms. I just love them…Everything was vibrantly green. Apparently it has rained a lot this year so far. We drove all the way up to Papingo for a lovely lunch accompanied by a chilled rose and a glorious view at Astra Inn, followed by desert, coffee & some light shopping at charming Sterna.
The hiker went to another 7-hour climbing all the way up to Smolikas mountain. I mostly enjoyed “indoor” activities, including daily meditation, a massage and a steam bath and did some walking in the village. LOL!
We returned refreshed and relaxed, wanting for more and already looking forward to the next visit!
My Zagori hiking journal (by Georgia Sypsi)
I could never resist the call of the trail…
For the mountain lovers, the region of Zagori is ideal in many ways, as it offers a wide range of activities for everyone to explore according to their interests. I always hit the road from the village of Kato Pedina and the guest house Apeiros Chora, which is my most charming and elegant home base. This summer, I decided to climb to Smolikas, the second in height mountain top in Greece (2,637 m), after Olympus. I began my hike from the lodge in Palioseli, accompanied by my trusted guide from the team of Trekking of Ioannina.
At the beginning, the landscape is forested and the quite steep. At the end of the uphill though, the climber, looking back, discovers a panoramic view of Tymfi mountain, while ahead the top of Smolikas begins to emerge. Along the way, the surprising Drakolimni appears (named after the small amphibians swimming in it, that look a bit like tiny dragons). According to local lore, two enemy dragons once lived within these mountains (no word of Daenerys Targaryen though…). The location offers the perfect excuse for a short break to rest. The landscape is enriched by large flocks of sheep, guarded by splendid Greek shepherd dogs (a protected species in Greece because of their rarity) and wild goats that graze in the distance.
Up to this point, climbers can arrive with their children, since the level of difficulty is moderate. Following the lake, the landscape becomes alpine and the route to the top takes special skills and attention.
Arriving at the top, the climber is taken aback from the breathtaking beauty. Looking around the horizon, one can see, as far as the eye can reach, almost half of Greece!
The emotions are very intense… provoked by attaining the target, by the unparalleled beauty of the landscape, the absolute silence, the sense that you can touch the sky, just by stretching out your hand…
Using as a starting point the village of Vovousa in East Zagori, the center of the park must initially be reached by a four-wheel drive car, in order to begin the trek on foot. Within a very well-marked path (E6), the climber walks in a landscape dominated by towering beech trees and bushes.
There are several routes, with Arkoudorema (tributary of Aoos) as the more well-know one and the one along Flegga lakes. I chose to walk Arkoudorema (14km) as the scenery changes often and crossing the river is mandatory at various points, making the climbing fun and challenging. (One occasionally meets a mama bear and her little ones…).
The route is of medium difficulty, since most of it is smooth. In a few areas however, the ground is rough and steep and it requires special attention. What is most extraordinary here are the splendid sounds of the forest; the chirping of birds, the flowing of the river, the rustling leaves in the trees.
The perfect surroundings for finding your true self!
Vikos gorge, River trekking & Expeditions in the snow
There are many classic activities to experience for the hiking and trekking enthusiasts and the lovers of the outdoors when visiting Zagori. Such is the climb to the Drakolimni of Tymfi and the crossing of the famous Gorge of Vikos.
The route to Drakolimni starts from Megalo Papingo in a forested landscape, ending in an alpine scenery upon arrival at lake that surprisingly appears.
This is a demanding hike as there are several climbs and slopes. In contrast, the crossing of the Vikos Gorge is easier, with the exception of some challenging parts at the beginning and towards the end. During the trek the hiker can admire various rock formations and the special flora of the canyon leading up to the exit in beautiful Vikos village.
River trekking is another possibility for the more adventurous climbers. This spectacular trek takes place in Voidomatis river. A special outfit is required, as the water of the river is very cold and in some parts swimming is the only way to cross the river. The hike starts from the village of Vikos, ending at the beautiful bridge of Aristi. After the first cold shower the route is amusing and refreshing (in Summer!).
For those that are not big fans of skiing, a stimulating and challenging activity are the walks with snowshoes. They consist of walking long distances in the snow, with the help of the special snowshoes (or snow-rackets), that do not allow the feet to sink in the snow, thus making the trekking easier. Trekking of Ioannina that organize the expeditions, also supply the relevant equipment. Incredible feelings for the hikers who can enjoy their hobby in an enchanting snowy landscape!