Destination Zagori is a region near the mountain range of Pindos, in Epirus, northern Greece. There are 46 settlements nearby, called the Zagorochoria, which are scattered in the foothills of Pindos and cover an area of about 1.000 square kilometers. […]
Destination Zagori is a region near the mountain range of Pindos, in Epirus, northern Greece. There are 46 settlements nearby, called the Zagorochoria, which are scattered in the foothills of Pindos and cover an area of about 1.000 square kilometers. The southern side reaches all the way to the capital of the region, the city of Ioannina, while the northwestern side consists of the Mitsikeli Mountain (1.510m). The Aoos River and Mount Tymphi signal the northern border, while the southeastern side follows the Vardas river in Mavrovouni (2.100m) near Metsovo. The population of the area is around 3.700 people, which translates to a population density of 4 people per square kilometer, as compared to the average of 73.8 people per kilometer throughout the rest of Greece. The word Zagori derives from the Slavic preposition “Za”, which means “back”, and the noun “gora”, which means “mountain”, that is actually an altered version of the Greek word “oros”. In ancient times this region was called “Paroraia”, and its citizens “Parorians”, which means “those who live behind the mountains”. Zagori is a place of immense natural beauty, with impressive geology and two national parks, one of which includes the Aoos river and the Vikos Gorge, while the other includes the area around Valia Kalda on the east side of the imposing, snow-capped mount Tymphi.
The 46 villages of Zagori were connected with mountain roads and traditional arched bridges made of stone until the creation of new, modern roads during the 1950s. The arched stone-bridges were built with donations from expatriated merchants during the 1980s, and they replaced the older wooden ones.
This is a fairly mountainous region, and quite rugged and tough to navigate in, with its steep canyons, the thick forests and the endless mountains. And that unique and rough scenery was a deterrent for foreign people, tribes or empires to invade and/or settle in the area. It is a great advantage for the region, as thanks to that the locals didn’t ever have to face war, plundering, looting or be ousted from their homes. As a result, it is believed that a large percentage of the population kept their ancient rites and traditions intact.
It is also believed that the “Sarakatsanoi”, many of whom are still living in the area and are using a lot of words from a northern-Greek dialect that is not using anywhere else in Greece, are actually the descendants of the ancient people of Zagori.
The Municipality of Zagori was created after the 2010 reform that merged the following 5 ex-Municipalities that were turned into municipal units: Central Zagori (Aghios Minas, Ano Pedina, Aspraggeli, Vitsa, Dikorfo, Dilofo, Dipotamo, Elati, Elafotopos, Kaloutas, Kato Pedina, Manassis, Mesovouni, Monodendri), Eastern Zagori (Aghia Paraskevi, Anthrakitis, Greveniti, Dimati, Doliani, Elatochori, Itea, Kavalari, Karyes, Kastanonas, Makrino, Petra, Poamia, Tristeno, Flambourari), Papigo Tymphis (Vradeto, Vrysochori, Iliochori, Kapesovo, Kipi, Koukouli, Lesta, Leptokarya, Negades, Skamneli, Tsepelovo, Fragkades, Vovousa.
One of the characteristics of this region is without a doubt it’s unique traditional architecture. The villages are all built around a central square, that is usually called a “mesochori”, or the center of the village, that also features a big church, a plane tree and a public water spring. Cobbled streets and pathways connect the entire village, and each neighbourhood has it’s own church.
Most churches in Zagori are dated back to the 17th and 18th century but there are also foundations of even older ones. In most villages the central church consists of a large, stone-built basilica covered with slates. The churches are usually decorated by Epirot iconographers according to the Byzantine tradition. The entrances of the churches are protected by peristyles and covered walkways, and the bell towers are usually in a different building.
The houses were small rectangular buildings until the 18th century, with only a ground floor and some times with utility spaces in the basement that were used as stables. Indeed, this seems to be the preferred building style of the houses in the digging site of Molossoi near Vitsa. The houses are built from local stones and the roofs are made of slates. The slates are held together without the use of concrete or any other substance, but only by the weight of the overlying slates. However, slate roofs require frequent maintenance as they are exposed to heavy snowfalls during the winter months. The older type of housing evolved into more complex forms during the 18th and 19th centuries. A lot of these houses are behind a yard or a garden that is surrounded by walls. The entrance of the yard is a construct itself, covered in slates and connecting the house to the rest of the village. Apart from the house there are other utility buildings, like a cook-house, or a kitchen, an outdoor restroom (at the furthest point from the kitchen), and stables. The main house is built with walls up to one meter thick, that usually had internal compartments filled with sand that worked as insulation from the cold. The entrance of the house takes you to a hall, called “hayati”, that leads to the neighbouring rooms, called “ontas” and “mantzato”. The “hayati” was originally, and sometimes still to this day, a partly open space in front of the house. The name probably derives from the Persian word “hayat”, a type of Persian garden with kiosks or other buildings. The “mantzato” is the main room for the winter months, with a fireplace, a “tavla” (table) and sitting spaces that can also be used as beds, called “basia”. Across the fireplace there is a cupboard built inside the wall, the “mesantra”. In order to fulfill its purpose, the “mantzato” usually faces south. Often a wooden staircase will lead you from the “hayati” to the entrance of the upper floor, called “krevata”, between the bedrooms. In rare cases the “krevata” leads to a small balcony with a wooden roof. The “glavani” is the small entrance to the attic. The basement usually has wine cellars and is used for storage space, but can also be used as added housing for livestock. Only few of the old noble houses still exist to this day, while most of them are in rubbles. In those that still stand, the “ontas” room is the most spacious, with a large fireplace and wall paintings of flowers and it was used to greet guests.
The heart of the Vikos-Aoos National Park, the Vikos Gorge, is the largest and most picturesque of all the Zagorian gorges. The Vikos Gorge collects the water from numerous small rivers that lead to the larger Voidomatis river that flows inside the gorge. The Vikos Gorge is 990 meters deep and is one of the deepest in the world, in reality it is the biggest in relation to its width. It is also a place of great scientific interest, as it is still in virgin condition. It is a paradise for endangered species and contains numerous and diverse ecosystems. The gorge expands at a length of 12 kilometers and has been introduced to the Guinness Book of World Records as the gorge with the less width in the world.
Impressive cobbled streets that are following the natural angles of the region, squares that are surrounded by huge oak trees, houses made of stone and rooftops made of slates. Traversing through the villages of Zagori is a real architecture lesson. The most famous is the Big Papigo to the west, which is the first village that became a tourist attraction. It is really appealing due to its place under Astraka, especially when the sun sets and dyes the famous towers in a crimson color. The Small Papigo offers a more genuine type of architecture and also a charming spot. In the so-called Central Zagori the most famous villages are Vitsa and Monodendri, with the latter offering a really easy walk around the village. The smaller villages of Koukouli and Dilofo are also great destinations but have very few inhabitants. You can walk in their serene paths and take a look at the ruins of old noble houses, and go for a warm beverage or a liqueur from local herbs in the coffee-house “Vikogiatros” (the “vikogiatri” of Zagori were practical healers that created potions from medicinal herbs during the 17th-19th centuries). Don’t forget to visit Vitsa, and not only for its mushrooms, and the loved Kapesovo. If it weren’t for Thoukididis Papageorgiou, Kapesovo would just be one of the Zagorochoria. But today it is a small depiction of the entire region and offers everything in moderation and with the utmost respect to the local tradition.
There are nearly 100 stone bridges in Zagori, built in the 18th and 19th century and were used to facilitate trading routes, as well as the movement of the population. They were usually donated by a rich citizen and they were often named after them – that’s why so many of them have both a name and a surname. With either circular or peaked, and one or many, arches the bridges are monumental. One of the most pretty and easy to access is the bridge of Noutsos (or Kokkoris, or Kokkoros), on the road from Dilofo to Koukouli. Another famous one is the three-arched bridge of Plakidas, or Kontodimos, at the entrance of the Kipi village. Walk in their grassy banisters and observe the wise architecture as you ponder about the role they had in their time.
The temples and monasteries in Zagori are all considered as works of art, and most of them were built, or renovated, during the 16th and 17th century. That was under the Turkish rule, but Zagori remained self-governed. The whole region grew wealthy due to the trade rush at the time. The wooden or gilded temples and the icons created by the Kapesovites or Chioniadites painters are unable to be accessed, as the temples that hold them remain out of bounds. But you can visit other village temples during the Sunday mass. You should definitely visit the great temple of Taxiarches in Small Papigo, and the temple of Saint Vlasios in the Big Papigo – both built in the 19th century. In the outskirts of Aristi you can follow the road to the monastery of the Holy Mother of Taxiarches (16th century) with illustrations by a Kapesovitis painter. At Monodendri you will find the Monastery of Aghia Paraskevi (15th century), which is built at the edge of the Vikos Gorge and is definitely worth a visit.
The words “gorge” and “canyon” seem minuscule in the sight of the Vikos Gorge. They should probably come up with a new word to describe it, after all it’s one of the deepest gorges in the world. Crossing the 12 kilometer route will take you about 6 hours and can be done between April and October, but during the winter it is advised to see it from above. The view is stunning. Oxia and Beloe are located at the narrowest and deepest point of the Vikos Gorge (1.200 meters according to the Greek Agricultural Forum for Geo-parks). Oxia can be approached from Monodendri in a stunning 6-kilometer route through rocky formations, while Beloe takes a 20 minute hike from Vradeto. Another excellent spot is Spitalia, right after the Aghia Paraskevi Monodendriou monastery, that requires a 15-minute hike. Hike at your own risk though, as there is a risk of rock-slides.
The peak of Tymphi, the Drakolimni (Dragonlake) of Gamila, the Voidomatis springs, the Ovires before the Small Papigo, the staircase in Vradeto, the imposing Chavos canyon in Bokovo, the Sarakatsanian stable in Giftokabos and finally, the water-lily lake in Greveniti.
In these marvelous Epirus villages the architecture is unique and authentic, the tastes are traditional and the hospitality is reputable. They say that one lifetime is not enough to discover Zagori. And it is true: 46 villages, countless kilometers of cobbled paths, 100 stone bridges – works made by famous Epirot masons that brightened the world during the 19th century. The crystal-clear Voidomatis river that meets the impetuous Aoos. The towering mount Tymphi with a dozen peaks that go over 2.000 meters high. The heart-stopping Vikos Gorge, which is part of the Geo-park that is protected by UNESCO, the heart of the Vikos-Aoos National Park. The distances are rather large and each region is divided in the Western, Central and Eastern Zagori. But you can come back again and again.
Each season is totally different here, and each time you discover something new – even during a weekend, as the Ionian Highway has brought Zagori even closer to southern Greece. Rainfall and fog are usual occurrences here, so are rock-slides, and also beware of the ice that lurks in shady turns of the road. More importantly, cars are forbidden in the traditional settlements, while the only gas station in the area is at the Aspraggeli. Thanks to the Epirot climate and the total calmness of this place, you will surely relax in this trip to Zagori.
There are a lot of options and each village features from stone-houses or small apartments to big hotels that can offer even more comfort and services, but always in harmony with the traditional architecture and the environment. Some of our recommendations include: Aristi Mountain Resort, Kipoi Suites, Avragonio, Astra Inn, Mikro Papigo 1700, Monopatia Resort.
The Aspraggeli village, the entrance to the Central and the Western Zagori are 450 kilometers away from Athens, but after the completion of the Ionian Motorway the time to get there is around 4-4.5 hours. The cost for toll booths and gas is around 120 euros for a round-trip.
If you travel from Thessaloniki you will over 280 kilometers through the Egnatia Motorway, with a cost of around 60 euros for a round-trip.
Aspraggeli-Aristi: 21 kilometres, Aristi-Papigo: 11 kilometers, Aspraggeli-Vitsa-Monodendri: 10 kilometers, Aspraggeli-Kapesovo: 15 kilometers.
In the Astra restaurant in the Megalo Papigo you can enjoy homemade Greek traditional food with materials from the family vegetable gardens and enjoy the view of Astraka. Don’t forget to try their home-made wine, Debina. The “Thoukididis” hostel in Kapesovo offers mom-food and exquisite Zagorian pies next to the fireplace. In the Megalo Papigo you can also visit “Sterna” for savory sweets and traditional coffee. In Aristi you must try the traditional restaurant “En Aristi” for mouth-watering recipes and grilled meat. The food in Zagori is marvelous and you can find a different surprise in each of the villages. A few other options are “To Spiti tou Oresti” and “Dizaki” at the Ano Pedina, “Michali’s” and “Margaritas” at the Kipi, and the “Palio Aloni” in Koukouli. Must try Mountain tea and oregano Honey Trachanas Dairy products (milk, feta and yogurt) Fresh butter Meat Debina (local wine) Homemade Zagorian pies Sweets and marmalade.
Hiking is the most popular activity in the region due to the Vikos Gorge. The routes are accessible by any traveler, and they vary in difficulty depending on experience. The best time to hike there is from May to October, as the winter is very harsh and the conditions are forbidding. Hiking in the Zagori region is considered of high priority due to its natural beauty, and hikers from all over the world are choosing this exact region as the first to visit when in Greece.
The beautiful Voidomatis river is born at the exit of the Vikos canyon and it meets the Aoos river at the valley of Konitsa, before they depart together for Albania. The river is considered a calm one, so it’s suitable for rafting during the entire year. The route is great for rookies/amateurs, it starts at the bridge of Aristi and ends at the bridge of Klidonia after one hour and a half of rowing.
Yoga at the Voidomatis river, Mountain running, Horse-riding, Mushroom foraging, Mountain biking, Dirt-bike trails, Wine and food tasting of local products, Cooking classes, Beekeeping Classes, Self-observing and Astrophotography, Scenery Photography seminar.Share this tour
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