In the mountains of Epirus (I)

What do you think about when you think about Greece? I guess people think of the sea. It is indeed such a great part of Greece, such a beautiful part of it  – all that blue.  And yet, Greece is so much more than that – and that’s what we set out to discover on our last road trip. So, after warming up with stops at mount Pelio and the Meteora rocks, we headed deeper into the mainland towards the albanian border, all through Thessaly and into Epirus, an area that is possibly the farthest from what people imagine Greece to be… Here’s a sneak peak:

Zagori is a staggeringly beautiful mountainous area in Epirus (“Zagori” is apparently Slavic for “the area beside the mountain”, named by the slavic tribes that came down through the area in the 6th century!), where 46 villages compose what we call the “Zagorochoria” (the Zagori villages).  About 500 km northwest of Athens (a mere 5-6 hour drive  –  a very comfortable one, though, especially if you, like us, stop absolutely everywhere on the way :-) ), the Zagorochoria are wonderfully preserved little villages lost in the northern part of the Pindos range (also known as the backbone of Greece…).

 The villages are lovely: it’s actually a very inspiring example of what communities can do with collaboration, hard work, and respect for local traditions and the environment – because yes, the villages are lovely indeed, but what makes this place so incredibly special is its location: humbling mountains, two rivers (Aoos and Voidomatis), three fascinating canyons (Vikos, Vikaki and the Aoos gorge), and lots of  (not so little) secrets to discover: crystal-clear water pools hidden  in the rocks, alpine lakes crawling with little dragons (or alpine tritons, if you want to get technical :-) ), amazing natural trails that reward you with some of the most stunning views you’ll have ever encountered. We couldn’t believe our eyes!

 After a first night in Aristi, we headed deeper into the mountains – our first stop was at the little village of Vikos. As is the case with most of the Zagorochoria, this village is the end of the road… It lives in the heavy shadow of Mount Timfi (or, as the locals call it, “Gamila” = “camel” in greek, since it looks a bit like a the back of a camel):

 .. and seems to dangle on the rocks above its namesake canyon.. Can you see the little village on the left?

We had the worst greek coffee and possibly the worst tyropita EVER in the only place that was open when we arrived at about 8 in the morning (i think the locals thought we were a bit weird),  then happily set out on the first hike of the day…

A few meters past the center of the village, a little trail takes you down into the gorge, towards the Voidomatis river. The trail is a very well maintained, quite comfy stone path that winds onto the canyon wall.

(Can you spot me in the picture?? Hint: look for the red hat!)

It’s a short trek down to the river – only about half an hour. But in reality it takes quite a bit longer, because you can’t help stopping every few minutes to admire the view:

See that little church next to the river? We hiked all the way down to it and were amazed by the beauty of the place.

We went into the chapel (see the hobbit-sized door on the left?). It was so quiet, and derelict, and chilly, and also somehow beautiful:

 We walked along the river for a bit – the water was crystal-clear, but also freezing cold. I can’t wait to go back there in the summer –  can’t think of anything better than being able to dive in after a hike in the greek summer sun…

 The hike back up to the village was a bit more strenuous – but that descent into the gorge was certainly worth it. We left Vikos feeling elated, and couldn’t wait to take the winding road that would lead us even further into the mountains, towards the village that was going to be our next stop:

Papingo! But more on that later…. :-)

Tell us what you think!