Ioannina city is built at the western side of Pamvotida lake opposite Mitsikeli mountain.
It has about 130.000 inhabitants and because of the university thousands(more than 18.000) of students give mood to the nightlife with many cafes, pubs and taverns full of people all the time. The castle, the museums, the cozy promenade molos by the lake, the old houses and the mosque are some of the reasons that I like this picturesque city but also the small island in the middle of the lake (take the boat there, lot of local restaurants but also nice architecture, museums, monasteries and a lovely stroll around the island).
The local cousine is great especially if you like meat but the vegetarians will find interesting plates like the famous pies of any kind (yes, they have meat pies also…). The sweets are also great similar to the Turkish sweets (baklavas etc). And above all the famous local tsipuro, a strong alcohol similar to raki from crete or ouzo but much more stronger. Don’t forget that the locals drink it always with food and good company so beware :)
Inside the castle you can visit an old mosque, a byzantine museum and see the old part of the city (there are some lovely hotel/pansions inside the castle too). Walk down the central square of Ioannina, at the heart of the modern city at Averof street where many jewelery shops and buy unique silver items, the city is famous for the traditional handmade products of this material
Winters are really cold here, the Ioannina has the highest of amount of rain in Greece so yes, bring an umprella. :)
Syrrako is a very impressive historical village on Tzoumerka mountains. With its twin village Kalarites they are no doubt a must if you are in the neighborhood. They are just one hour drive from Ioannina, 42 kilometers southwest, at an altitude of 1200meters. They are built on the rim of a deep ravine and is an example of traditional architecture of the area. As you are approaching you can admire both villages built entirely of stone, on each side of the ravine. Plenty of natural and man made monuments are spread in this place. Syrrako is the native place of several important men of politics and literature, such as the well known Greek author and poet Kostas Krystallis and the first Prime Minister of Greece Ioannis Kolletis. Your visit will be unforgettable as the village manages to connect the present and the past in a very harmonious way and with respect to the natural environment. No cars can get into the village which is connected to the road with a long stone staircase.
If you are a nature lover and like trekking you will find hundreds of enjoyable hikes and will see plenty of amazing things!
The best spot is the central square shaded by huge trees and having nice views.
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Hundreds of stone bridge are symbols of Zagori. Some have been rebuilt many times but keeping the old style and architecture. "Kalogeriko" or "Plakidas" bridge is one of the most impressive ones. It was once made of wood. In 1814, the Superior of the nearby monastery built the today's stone bridge thus it took the name “Kalogeriko” meaning “of the monks”. Its second name "Plakida" was given after Plakidas, an eminent native of Koukouli who rebuilt it twice. It is a three-arched bridge and is located on the road to Kipi. All passers-by stop to see it as it is conveniently located by the road in a beautiful scenery. It is worthy of a visit.
Another picturesque bridge in the area is "Misiou" which you can be easily accessed from the main road to Kipi through a wonderful path among a superb green route. You should walk about 20-30 minutes. Make some marks for your way back...!
And last but not least is "Kokori" bridge. You will see it on the side of the main road as you are going towards Kipi.
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Tsepelovo is the biggest and one of the most picturesque villages in Zagori. It is built amphitheatrically on a steep slope of Mount Tymfi, at an altitude of 1200m so you can have a view of a big part of the village from the beautiful central square. It is situated in the middle of the National Park of Pindos.
The cobblestone streets, the public pumps, the churches and monasteries, the bridges, the old restored mansions and the traditional houses are built and decorated with great care and give you the feeling that people love their village. The church of Saint Nikolaos right in the square is of historical importance.
I met an old lady who insisted on singing an old traditional song that praised the beauty of the village and the pride its villagers took on it! She was so sweet and impulsive and she wouldn't let me leave her...
Tsepelovo has a substantial touristic infrastructure, with several hotels and restaurants.
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This beautiful village is a good place for a base of your expedition in central Zagori because it is located in the center. It is built at an altitude of 1060 meters 40 kilometers from Ioannina. Its name means “one tree” and it took it from a big fir tree that had been there since 1840. Until 1753 it was one community with the nearby Vitsa , Ano Mahalas and Agios Georgios. Its peak was in the 17th and 18th century, when its benefactors built mansions, churches and schools.
There are two parts of the village. The lower part is the old village with the typical square and the path to Agia Paraskevi, and the upper part, is the most recently developed where pretty hotels and restaurants are. The center of the modern part is the curve where the restaurant “Haradra tou Vikou” is and several little shops with local handcraft.
Go to Oxia, a few kilometers away where it is the deepest part of the gorge. They say it is mentioned in the Guinness book (1999) as the deepest gorge in the world . I found this was the best views of Vikos Gorge! Also go to Agia Paraskevi to have another stunning view of the gorge.
You start your gorge crossing here if you like. It is not easy because you will have to get down first and it takes about 6 hours to reach Vikos village and 7 hours to reach Papingo.
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The road leading to Megalo and Mikro Papingo has at least 15 sharp hairpin curves but you are rewarded by the awe-inspiring view! Before you start going up you meet the most beautiful river of Voidomatis. The colour of the water is unbelievable! The transparency is inviting for a refreshening swim but it is only for the ...winter swimmers or the very brave... It's so cold!
A hike in Vikos Gorge starts outside the village. The famous "kolympithres", natural rocky pools, between Megalo and Mikro Papingo is also a natural marvel!
As all Zagorohoria Megalo Papingo has its stone houses, its picturesque cobblestreets and the cozy hotels and guest houses. Prices are high but you can cut down expenses if you buy some food supplies before you come. You can also camp free outside Megalo Papingo as I saw many visitors do, just one breath from Vikos gorge.
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When you first have a look at the incredible view of Mikro Papingo and the dramatic rocky tops of Mount Gamila, soaring behind it, you cannot but stop and gaze at the wild beauty. You can hardly make out the small village as its houses are built with local stone which match harmoniously with the environment.
When you come nearer the typical stone roofs and the lush ambient is a joy for your eye. Trekking is the most enjoyable activity in this place. It is amazing! The landscape is dramatically beautiful and the atmosphere in the deep gorges, the kingdom of plants and animals, makes your heart jump with happiness.. No cars can run through the village and this is a good opportunity to breathe the pure mountain air, enjoy the natural sounds away from the ugly urban noise and get some physical exercise with the views as a reward.
Next to the church is “Xenonas Dias” hotel and very near an old school has been transformed to an excellent Museum and Information Center.
It is 160km from Igoumenitsa.
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Vradeto looks pure and rustic and still's got the features of every Zagori village. In the central square there is a simple taverna qith tasty local food and big plane trees. There is a site near it, Beloi, from where you get a view of Vikos Gorge. This village is very quiet and doesn't get much tourism but it still has some small hotels if you decide it is good for your soul!
The views on the way up are fantastic! the best!
After passing Kapesovo, just a few meters after you have turned off the main road for the drive up to Vradeto, you will see a small road going left. Walk on it and you will have another gorgeous view of Vikos Gorge.
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The construction of the houses has retained the traditional designs and materials. Stone for the walls and “shistolyth” for the roofs. Shistolyth is abundant in the ground in the mountains of both Zagori and Tzoumerka. In one of the photos you can see how it looks. These flat stones they use for their roofs demand great skill because no connecting material is used. The builder just needs a lot of experience and personal judgement for the selection of the right flat stone and the way he will locate it on the previous one so that no strong wind or heavy rain might remove it from its place.
I stopped and watched a builder making a roof. He tried at least three of the stone he had in the side and put it in at least four different ways before he went on to the next step. You can imagine how long one takes to finish. It is indeed unbelievable how these stone tiles manage to stay put for years! I asked them and they couldn't explain exactly, they just told me, 'Oh! The good builder knows....!
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Kalarites is the twin village of Syrrako. You will take two different roads to visit them because they are built on different sides of the ravine.
The village was founded in the 13th century probably by shepherds who liked the awe-inspiring landscape and of course they were quite safe from enemies living in such a wild and remote place on the edge of precipitous cliffs! The shepherds changed to successful merchants and skillful workers of gold later. So both villages saw days of riches and fame! They succeeded to trade with faraway places like Vienna, Odyssey and Moscow. Of course there are still local shepherds.
It is a very picturesque village with beautiful cobble-stone streets, stone houses, 23 bridges, 20 elaborate public water pumps, and more than seven little churches. It is declared a “traditional settlement” as well as Syrrako of course, and is surrounded by national parks which gives travellers the possibility to do wonderful trekking, rafting, kayaking or just enjoy the superb beauty of nature and the warmth of the local people!
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Konitsa is the largest settlement in the area. It doesn't belong to Zagorohoria but it's a good place to start your exploration of the region. It is built amphitheatrically on a hillside overlooking the magnificent valley of Aoos river and shaded by the hulk of Mount Astraka, that belongs to Pindos mountain. Aoos gorge is also very near and some prefer it to Vikos Gorge. The water of the river is so clear that you can see everything in the bottom as if there is no water! It is amazing! Actually Aoos and Voidomatis are joined to become one river in this area.
It is a pretty town with beautiful sunsets. The town is sprawling along the sharp curves of the serpentine road so almost the whole town has superb views. You can start your trekking of Vikos Gorge here or just visit the river where the nature is amazingly beautiful and pure. People are really friendly, calm and helpful!
If you have a private car climb up the hill of Profitis Ilias to enjoy the stunning views of the mountains and the valley of the river. You have to turn left at a point where there is a sign writing “Pista 4x4” or something like this. Ask the locals too.
Gorgeous views, peaceful atmosphere and all kinds of sport activities are available. And good meat, of course! Delicious meat, juicy and soft!
The journey from Neapoli to Konitsa on the old road, not the Egnatia Highway of course, is dreamy!n the way you will meat the mountain villages of Mastorohoria which deserve a visit,too.
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Koukouli is a village near Kipi, another wonderful village. Historians say it counts 800 years of life. Few tourists visit it because it is one of so many other Zagorian villages but it doesn't lack in beauty or traditional atmosphere. On the contrary it is very pretty and peaceful and a good place to spend some time.
The village lived prosperous days in the 19th century. You can visit the Folklore Museum "Lazaridi", and the church of "Koimisi tis Theotokou", built in 1788. You can explore the old mansions, the most interesting of which is that of Plakida and the old school with its five stone public pumps.
Koukouli is located 38km north of Ioannina on the road to Kipi at an altitude of 900m..
Don't miss some famous old stone bridges, as the "Kokori"Bridge and the beautiful three-arched of Plakida or "Kalogeriko" .
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Vovousa is a little remote but it is worthy of a visit. It belongs to eastern Zagori, which appears to have been inhabited at least for 1000 years, and is located in a majestic green environment near another precious national forest of exquisite beauty “Valia Calda”! It is run by beautiful Aoos river with its interesting stone bridge, built in 1748. It is very picturesque, especially in the winter!
The inhabitants are occupied in forestry and stock raising.
The area offers excellent hiking!
You can reach it if you take the road from Kipi or Tsepelovo, I think. If you have time you can plan a stay in Metsovo which is worthy a visit, too! It will not take you very much out of your way. Vovousa is about 60kms north of Metsovo and the journey through forested land is really scenic!
Vikos Gorge is the second most popular gorge in Greece after the Samaria Gorge in Crete. It is more than 900m in depth and 12km in length, and is found just 30km north of Ioannina. There are several paths along it that join the picturesque villages tucked into folds of the mountains.. You can pick the paths that suit you in length or difficulty. Whatever you choose one thing is certain ..you will be amazed at this natural marvel. Not only the stunning natural beauty and the unique flora and fauna but also the clarity of the river, the odours of flowers and trees and the sweet singing of the birds will never fade out in your mind and heart.
There are bears – don't worry, they don't attack- wild boars, wolves, ferrets, roe, deer and many more.. Aoos and Voidomatis rivers that run along have the clearest and most amazing color I have ever seen in a river! It has been regarded since 1973 as the biggest national forest of Greece covering an area of 126,000square miles.
The best views are said to be in Oxia and Agia Paraskevi, both in Monodendri, where the deepest point reaches almost 1000 meters. I agree!
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Elafotopos (“place of deer”) and Ano Pedina are two picturesque villages, high up on a mountain road. The scenery all along the way is magical! I stopped so many times to admire the breathtaking views. .
They both have plenty of traditionally built houses and look clean and tidy with their cobblestone streets and its beautiful gardens.
Ano Pedina is spreading down a steep slope and you need really good legs to see it all but it's worth at least a short stroll!