Zagorochoria, Epirus & Ioannina: A travelogue

The decision

This summer, I made one of the best holiday decisions in some time! I chose to spend my days of leisure at Zagorochoria in the Epirus region. This was a first for me, as I consider myself a sea & beach lover. However, while doing some research at the beginning of the season, I started panicking at the thought of the millions of tourists (both International and Greek) that were expected to embarque on the shores this summer. Not to mention the sky high prices during the months of July and August! Now, don’t get me wrong, I will always love the beach, the deep blue and the scenic architecture of  the smaller islands, but not during the high season!

I had already spent last Easter at the enchanting Guest House Apeiros Chora at Kato Pedina (a dedicated article will follow) and realised that 3 days were only enough to get a glimpse of the area and that there was so much left to see and do! So, with a dear and adventurous friend (who has among other things been to mountain Everest 3 times!), we decided to spend there another 10 days this summer. We also made an agreement to choose our individual activities and spend time freely and as we each prefered.

Friends and family thought we would be bored, spending so many days at the mountains…but that could not be further from the truth! In reality, there is so much to do, whether you like hiking, climbing, weaving, hunting truffles in the forest or simply relaxing and enjoying a Thai massage! I am listing below some of the activities and places one can visit. Then it all depends on the time you have available and wish to spend. The area is beautiful to visit during all seasons, each of them having an extraordinary charm…

Itineraries & Activities

Vikos village for the stunning view from the vantage point and coffee break.

Picturesque Papigko for the drive up and the views. Very popular with Greeks, with a number of guest houses, tavernas and coffee shops. Not very conveniently located to explore the area. On your way back make a stop at Aristi village, have a coffee & desert at Aristi Mountain resort and enjoy the view.

Monodendri village, a must visit, centrally located. Visit the monastery of Agia Paraskevi over the cliff with views over Vikos gorge. Eat flour pie at Kikitsa. Visit the photography museum (currently featuring an exhibition of incredible black & white photos of monks’ life in Agion Oros). Drive further up through the impressive stone forest to enjoy Vikos gorge from another point of view.

Go to Elati village for lunch at Taverna “Ta Riza”. Great food, amazing views, shining clean place. Head towards Dikorifo village. The route through the forest is simply beautiful.

Trekking Hellas and No limits organise all kinds of activities in the area such as: Hiking to Drakolimni (a 9-hour round trip), Trekking to Vikos gorge, river Trekking in Voidomatis, Rafting at Voidomatis & Aoos Rivers, Horse riding next to Voidomatis, Monoraft, Hot Dog and Rock climbing and a lot more…All of these activities can be done privately or as part of a group.

I also learned how to weave with Lena at Elafotopos, who has all the patience to explain everything about the wool and the loom! I made myself a clutch bag from scratch and was so proud of it! Talk about stress relief activities!

Venturing further North

If you have more days or are visiting the region again, you could take a day trip further north, to Konitsa, a lively village with coffee shops, ATMs, a pharmacy, etc. I then strongly suggest you visit the 13 centuries old  Monastery of Molivdoskepasti, dedicated to the Domitian of Virgin Mary, located  just a few metres away from the Greek-Albanian border. It is quite and experience! The monastery was built according to the Byzantine style with a dome, a carved in wood chancel screen and with hagiographies. In the past, the abbey had a roof covered with lead. The Greeks took it in order to make bullets to fight the Turks. Dont forget to buy honey made locally by the monks! On your way back, make a stop at Konitsa bridge. The characteristic of this famous bridge, which was built in 1870 by the Foreman Ziogas Frontzos from Pyrsogianni, is its enormous unique stringer that may also be the biggest in  the Balkans. Its opening is 40 meters and its height is 20 meters. The location where it is found is captivating with Aoos river flowing under its arch and Aoos gorge impressing with its incredible natural beauty. This bridge, which still preserves under its arch the bell that warned for the powerful winds that rendered the crossing dangerous, is a genuine work of art and links the human culture with the wild nature in a magical way. In 1913 when the Turks left from Konitsa, they attempted to blow the bridge, but they did not succeed and thus the bridge of Konitsa stands in its place full of pride and waits for you to visit it.

The truffle hunting

One of the highlights of our holidays was the truffle hunting experience at Mitsikeli, that dear Athina helped us organise with Katerina and Christos of Aroma Troufas. Yes! You can hunt for truffles in Greece! On an otherwise very  hot day, we were lucky enough to walk in the woods with the cutest dogs, that would sniff the mushrooms and indicate their position. After a couple of hours of this pleasant wandering around and an impressive crop (see photos!), Katerina escorted us to an opening where Christos had prepared a table complete with a table cloth, napkins, red wine, local liqueur and all! We then enjoyed a tasty mushroom soup, an omelette and oven potatoes with truffles and a delicious desert. An unforgettable experience!

A glimpse of Ioannina

We visited shortly Ioannina during our Easter break. Believe it or not we did not have the time to return this time although we would very much like to do so. Ioannina is the capital of Epirus, an atmospheric city,  on the shores of lovely lake Pamviotis, known as a significant trade center in the past. Most noteworthy,  I was very impressed by the Silversmithing Museum, definitely worth a detour. Located in Ioannina Castle it showcases the city’s extensive history and skill in the silver industry.  In addition,  within the Castle you will find the Byzantine Museum, also a must. The rest of the sites are on our to-do-list for the next visit!

Some tips

  • Travelling time from Athens to Kato Pedina via the completed highway: Approx. 4 1/2 hours (including a short stop).
  • Take walking & hiking shoes. Pack a jacket even in the Summer. Dress well in Winter. Pack a swimsuit to swim in the rivers.
  • Avoid venturing to  near by Parga and Syvota in July & August. Too crowded.
  • Watch a performance at the ancient theatre of Dodoni, one of the largest in Greece.
  • Drink Vouzada (non alcoholic) and good quality Tsipouro (alcoholic)!
  • Take a book. Switch off!

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