Only a few know that Greece is 80% mountainous since apart from Athens, the most advertised parts of this country are the islands. Going off the beaten track has always been what attracts me the most of a country and although I wish to visit the Greek islands, I am not looking forward to the crowds. This photographic adventure has been planned (thanks to the help of Danae Tsadila) to experience Greece in a different way, by visiting the remote villages in the Zagori mountains and the raw beauty of the Epirus region. This was our itinerary for the next few days:
This area is great for trekking and outdoor activities like rafting and the best time to visit this area is in Spring as the weather is good on average yet not too hot. That is what I had thought when I planned this trip, however as we left Athens and started travelling North to lake Plastira the weather changed drastically. From the blazing sunshine, in a couple of hours it all changed to thunders, wind and rain. The first views of the lake were dark and gloomy, the exact opposite of what I had imagined. However luckily the weather changes quickly here and after some time we got to see the sun setting behind the snow capped peaks. The morning dew on the lake was one of the best moments of this trip and the only sounds we could here were those of the birds waking up to the first rays of sunlight.
Our next stops were the Vikos Gorge and the nearby stone bridges that connect the tiny villages that are scattered in the area. We visited Vikos Gorge starting our trek from Vradeto, a ghostly village that did not seem inhabited by anyone. Going around this area felt like travelling back in time, since I am sure that 50 years ago the villages were exactly the same as they are today. Our local guide told us that the roads here were built only after the second world war and before the stone bridges where the only means of travelling from one village to the other. The view over the Gorge was impressive as this is the highest Gorge in Europe. The base of the Gorge is covered with lush green trees and shrubs and once again here you hear nothing but the wind whispering as it winds along the gigantic rocks. Apart from Vradeto we visited Kipoi and Vitsa, where we stayed for the night.
Another impressive location was the cliff-hanging trail following the monastery of Agia Paraskevi, near the village of Monodendri. From this trail you get to see another perspective of the Vikos Gorge. The villages of Mikro and Makro Papigo are other nearby stops worth a visit, which offer a dramatic views over the Astraka towers. The name is derived from the shape of towers (I counted up to 12) that form the mountains behind Mikro Papigo. Another curious fact is that all the villages in the area are characterised by a huge plane tree in the main square of the village. These trees are hundreds of years old and are of the same age as the village.
Near the villages of Papigo there are the Ovires pools with fresh water from the mountains travelling downwards from a pool to the other until it reaches the Voidomatis River. This river is the clearest I have ever seen in my life. Another highlight of this trip was rafting across this river as the views are absolutely amazing. The river has stone bridges crossing it, making the views even more spectacular. This was the northern we’ve been in Greece as we were just around 25km away from the border with Albania.
We started our way back down to Athens stopping in Metsovo and Kalampaka along the way. Metsovo was perhaps my favourite village, located at an altitude of around 1,200m and surrounded by the mountains. The cobbled streets of the village are aligned with several shops selling local products and souvenirs as well as restaurants serving local food. We happened to be here on Good Friday and I was impressed by the religiosity of the Greek people. However I will be writing a more in-depth post about this in the next days. Our trip ended in Meteora, which is a must for anyone visiting the Greek mainland. The stone pillars alone are already surreal, let alone the monasteries built on top of them! Stay tuned for the next post featuring the Orthodox traditions of the Greek and the monasteries of Meteora.