Spending five days in the prefecture called Epirus was a balance between total relaxation and scaring me senseless! This area of Greece is on the western side of Northern Greece between the Pindos Mountains and the Ionian Sea. We drove here from Kastoria, which took about an hour and a half of rainy weather and some interesting landscape along the way among dotted small villages and farmland.
Ioannina, is the capital of Epirus and that was our destination. It is a big city filled with hotels, museums, restaurants and cafes and lots and lots of shops. It has two key features: the lake and the castle, known as Kastro in Greek. Lake Pamvotis has a long shoreline with a walking path, a cycling path and one way traffic which helps a lot when you are going in that direction; if not, you have to go all the way around the Kastro!
On the lake is an island where Ali Pasha built his home inside a fortress complete with canon holes and other bits of armory. He was the Ottoman ruler from 1740 till Greece’s revolution for Independence in 1821. A ferry boat takes you there and you can visit the house (restored) and the museum with artifacts, costumes, jewelry and documents of that period. There is also a tiny sweet chapel where you can rest and find a little peace knowing what a difficult time it was for the Greek people living there.
The Kastro is the citadel built in 528AD by Ali Pasha as his headquarters and command post. Today, it is a must see place as you go through the enormous gates and wander around the winding cobblestone streets and see the lovely, charming homes; churches and a synagogue can be visited as well as a museum with relics collected dating back centuries.
After we checked into our charming “mansion” hotel, we relaxed with a walk down to the lake. I say “mansion” because that is what they call homes built over 200 years ago and now restored as luxury hotels with much of the remaining original household items of the people who owned the homes over the years on display.
We planned our itinerary around the weather. A bit drizzly one day so we leisurely walked to the shopping area and browsed…most stores were closed due to the lockdown, but we enjoyed just being there and stopping for amazingly delicious ice-cream!
The next day it was rainy again but we decided to head out into the glorious Pindos Mountains. I’ve always wanted to visit a town called Metsovo, on the eastern range, so that is where I went. Absolutely freezing cold! We had seen snow up on the mountain tops of course, but this town is so way up there, there was snow on the ground, on the cars and trees and on the roof tops. Tiny, twisting roads took us so far; I jumped out, took some pictures, and jumped back in the car! I was disappointed that we could not get further into the town as it is built on the side of the mountains with homes strewn from one end to the other and on top of each other. When you see it from a far it is absolutely beautiful.
I thought the climb up that mountain was scary enough – but I was wrong! The next day was even worse!
Pindos Mountain is a series of rugged mountains ranging from 3000 to 7000 feet. This entire region is called Zagori (Zahgoree – with the accent on the ee). It has about 40 villages scattered throughout the highly forested mountains that live among the natural beauty of this area. All the villages together are known as Zagorochoria. None of them are flat; they are built into the mountains at different levels so they are on top of each other with tiny roads intertwining them.
Zaf and I had seen a movie that was filmed in this area and we fell in love with the natural streams, crystal clear rivers, bridges, rocky gorges and breathtaking views. What you think is fog is a light mist that emanates throughout the mountains as the endless twists and turns take you up and up and up and you feel that you are on top of the world. That is when I had my eyes open and not clutching the door handle – the drop down was absolutely frightening and you can only wonder: how do people from this area go and up down these roads to get to the city? Do they go once a week? A month? Holidays? Once a year? But then again, they wake up to magnificent sunsets and get to see the glorious sunsets behind the mountains every day!
Take the shot
Taking pictures here was a challenge. The views were incredible, but where do you stop to enjoy them? Certainly not on the curves! We had to find a small inlay on the road so we can pull over, maneuver the car into place and take the shot. Zaf would often encourage me to take photos while he was driving as we passed so many places where we felt we were in a dream. I would look at him aghast! He was on the inside of the road while I had a bird’s eye view of the drop down into the frightening gorges and canyons below. My hands were in a knot as was my stomach…the camera was just lying on my lap and there was no way I was going to make any moves.
Weren’t we just here?
Getting lost was easy to do, so many turns, not enough signage and keeping an eye on the road leading us to one village after another was confusing. Sometimes I was certain that we were going around in circles – we would take a road, go through some villages and determine we were on the wrong road, so we would turn back to the original point and take another road.
On a wider road, we came to full stop. First we saw the dog walking straight towards us, then further back we saw the sheep. They were coming back from grazing on a nearby pasture. We heard the bells ringing around their neck; we waved at the shepherd who smiled and raised his hand in salute. The sheep merged into one lane (car pool!) and passed us…we laughed at nature’s “traffic” jam!
We got to our destination, Papingo (accent on the Pah)…there is Big Papingo and Little Papingo which are on the same road, one just past the other. They are considered to be the key villages that are popular destinations. Monasteries and churches abound as do quaint homes. We got there, but once again, due to lockdown, places were not open; we turned around and headed home.
Come here often?
What I found most interesting about this mountainous area were the numerous hotels – from small pensions to larger city-style buildings. This must mean that many people come here to rest and commune with nature. Once you get over the climb, you find yourself in a little bit of heaven on earth.
Retire well, Helene