Secluded, picturesque, off the beaten track – this is the short description for Zagorohoria, one of Greece’s undiscovered tourist spots; though I am increasingly keen to keep it to myself. It was also a fitting destination for our first long weekend after Greece’s re-opening to tourists.
The 46 Zagorohoria (translation: villages of Zagori) villages are located in the North West of Greece, in the luscious Pindus mountains. They are on average an hour drive from Ioannina (which has an international airport) or a 5-hour drive from Athens.
Dotted around on both sides of the Vikos gorge, the world’s deepest gorge in proportion to its width, they come unexpectedly on the sides of the mountain and its plain. The area is protected by Unesco and the traditional architecture is well-preserved and distinct; house are built of limestone, which is typical of the area and testament to the work local craftsmen who travelled around Europe to spread their expertise.
As a friendly local told us in one of the few open coffee shops, Zagorohoria are an all-year destination. For those who want to snuggle by the fireplace, villages get snowed in around January/February; those who want to enjoy hiking and exploring the local flora May/June is when nature is in full bloom, while in October the forest takes a striking autumn colour.
Getting out of a city after 9 months, we were completely mind blown by the scenery! Crossing the Voidomatis bridge and the wiggly ascent to our hotel in Papingo, heightened our anticipation to drop our bags and put our hiking boots on.
We stayed at Avragonio, a complex of renovated small local houses, very tastefully designed with a stunning view of the Voidomatis towers, and a beautiful courtyard to relax after a long day. We had also been recommended the Papaevagelou hotel, Aristi Mountain resort and the 1700 Mikro Papingko hotel; nevertheless, there is a broad spectrum of options, from rooms to let to boutique hotels.
The area’s two notorious hikes are the ascent to the Astraka refuge and the Drakolimni (Dragon lake, named after the little lizards that live around it – no link to Game of Thrones), and the crossing of the Vikos gorge. Look out for sunny weather, in order to be able to enjoy the scenery, and pack enough water and snacks to keep you going through the 8-9hr hikes.
For the amateurs, there are also easier hikes, including:
- The easy hike from the Voidomatis bridge to the Klidonia bridge (2.3hrs) along the river, with a short detour to the Agioi Anargyroi church;
- The short walk from Mikro to Megalo Papigko – in the summer you can stop half way and take a dip in the natural pools;
- The Vradeto steps for the stunning view of the Vikos Gorge;
- The descent from Vikos Village to the Voidomatis spring;
- The short walk to the Agia Paraskeui monastery from Monodendri, which is built on the gorge’s cliff;
- The hike in the forest to the Balta di Spriga waterfalls near Kapesovo;
- The walk from Vitsa (after enjoying a coffee under the massive tree in the village’s square) to the Kokkoris bridge.
Village-hopping is the best way to get a feel for the area, with the most striking being Mikro and Megalo Papigko, Kipoi, and Dilofo. Take the time to walk through their narrow streets. In May, most felt deserted and eerie, however, the all come to life a bit later in the summer. Driving/Walking from village to village you can also take short detours to admire the local bridges, including the Kokkoris, Plakida, Konitsa ones that connect mountain trails and are testament to the local craftsmanship.
If you are keen to try other activities, there is always the option to go rafting on the Voidomatis, which is believed to be one of the purest rivers in Europe. You can also book horseback riding treks to explore some of the mountain trails.