Zagorochoria

Information

In northwestern Greece, in the district of Ioannina, in particular at Pindos mountain range, is the area of Zagori with the picturesque villages named Zagorochoria. These are 46 very well preserved villages, of unique historical value and traditions and that’s why stand out worldwide. The population of the area is about 3700 inhabitants in an area of 1000 square kilometers. The houses are built of gray stone in central and eastern Zagori and white in the west. There is generally a lot in common with each other such as the main square of the village where all the public events are gathered, the church, the school, the cafe where only men used to gather, and the fountain where women got water for their households. The villages are densely built amphitheatrically, in an untouched natural environment with special climatic conditions at the foot of Pindos, which is why they are a unique combination of cultural and natural heritage.

The natural environment in the area, especially in North Pindos, has steep ravines, deep gorges, alpine lakes, rivers and streams, each one forms its own valley with completely different ecological and climatic characteristics. The rich flora of the area, stands out for the variety but also mainly for the strong medicinal properties of the herbs, on which the people of Zagori once relied for their treatment of various diseases.

Rare and endangered species of fauna such as amphibians, reptiles, birds and several species of mammals such as the wolf, bear, roe deer and others are protected in the Vikos-Aoos National Park, therefore no human activity is allowed, except for leisure. Below we will mention some of the villages we visited, along with various interesting sights of the area. 

What To See...

Papigo

Papigo or Megalo Papigo, is built on the slopes of Tymfi at an altitude of about 1040 m. with 280 permanent residents. Together with Mikro Papigo (Small Papigo) , they are the most popular Zagorochoria as they stand out for the traditional Zagorian architecture and the well-preserved stone buildings. In the picturesque Papigo, visitors will find many options for accommodation, food and patisseries that are perfectly harmonized with the environment and the architecture of the settlement. The village is located within the Vikos-Aoos National Park, a protected area with great diversity in flora and fauna, and is an ideal destination all year round for nature loving travelers.

One of the most important attractions near Papigo is Kolimbithres. These are natural pools that were created by the passage of the Rogovo stream, which over the years eroded the stone masses and formed Kolimbithres. If you travel to Zagorochoria during the summer, do not forget to visit them and take some cool dips in the enchanting landscape. 

Mikro Papigo

In less than 10 minutes drive, you will be at Mikro Papigo. The village is located in a beautiful location, just below the imposing Tymfi mountain range at an altitude of 980m. This is a traditional preserved village where apart from the maintenance of the buildings, no architectural intervention is allowed. Mikro Papigo has 56 permanent residents, but because it is a favorite destination, it has a large number of tourists all year round. Taking a few walks in the narrow stone alleys of the village, between old mansions and churches, you will travel in time, hundreds of years back to the medieval era.

If you have experience in mountain activities, you can discover the beauties of the area by hiking, mountaineering and climbing. The most famous hike is the one to the shelter of Astraka lasting about 3 hours and if you have the strength it is worth continuing for another 1.5 hours to the alpine Drakolimni lake (Dragonlake) or for 2.5 hours to the highest peak of Tymfi, Gamila which is located at an altitude of 2,497m.

Vikos

The famous traditional village Vikos is located in Central Zagori at an altitude of 770 m. and has only 26 permanent residents. In the center of the village is the large paved square with the old school, the church of Saint Tryphon and a little further a traditional cafe that is a little bit of grocery store. Although it is a very small village, it has a lot of traffic as it is popular for the wonderful views and the hikes that anyone can enjoy. From the observatory that you will find in the village, you can admire the beauty of the homonymous gorge located in the heart of the Vikos-Aoos National Park. This is an extremely valuable area, where a wide variety of rare herbs and wildlife are protected. Just below the village is a dreamy natural landscape, starring the springs of Voidomatis river and the Vikos Gorge with a total length of about 20 km.

Aristi

Aristi is another traditional village of Zagorochoria, which you should definitely visit. Aristi is located at an altitude of about 650 m. on green slopes where 128 permanent residents enjoy a wonderful, simple but high quality life. From the first moment you will reach the village, you’ll feel the hospitality of this place. The first images, such as the paved square with the huge plane trees, offer coolness, the picturesque narrow alleys with the stone houses with the chimneys, the church with the imposing bell tower, will really impress you and make you feel what we call life in the village. If your stay in Aristi is short, choose to enjoy your coffee in one of the traditional cafes where you’ll definitely relax and feel the slow rhythms of the locals life.

Monodendri

Monodendri is one of the oldest and most beautiful villages of Central Zagori, at an altitude of 1.060 meters with a unique view of the slopes of Tymfi. Many hikers and tourists visit the village to enjoy beautiful routes in the gorge of Vikos, the incredible view from above, but also the picturesque village with stone alleys and traditional shops. While it is a small village, it’s quite developed in tourism, so that nothing is missing from the visitors who all they want is an enjoyable and relaxing stay. In the square of Monodendri is the Rizarios handicraft school which was founded in 1979 with the aim of preserving the traditional arts, the educational, cultural and social development of the area of Zagori. Visit the exhibition centre of the school, which is housed in the renovated and landscaped Pantazis Mansion.

With a short walk of 10 minutes from the centre of the village, the signs will lead you to the stone monastery of Saint Paraskevi in a breathtaking location, above the gorge of Vikos. Another point with a wonderful view of the gorge, is located about 6-7 km from Monodendri and is called Oxia viewpoint. It is worth noting that a little more attention is needed at this viewpoint, as depending on the weather conditions, the path may be slippery or there may be landslides. After enjoying the view, return to the paved square of the village, to try Greek coffee and some local traditional pie.

Kipi

The village of Kipi (Gardens) is located at an altitude of 750 meters in Central Zagori and has about 70 permanent residents. Through the village passes the tributary of Vikos named Bagiotikos, which for hundreds of years now maintains the rich gardens with trees and flowers of the inhabitants. Some of the characteristics of the village are the cobbled streets, the wonderful Zagorian architecture, and the many bridges. In the Gardens, apart from the village itself that you should visit, it’s worth visiting the Folklore Museum of Agapios Tolis to see up close the rich object’s collection of the daily life of Zagorian’s people. In the region around the village, you’ll find many stone bridges of the 18th and 19th century, which were built during the development period of Zagori. The Gardens in those years, were an administrative center for Zagori and so with the construction of the bridges they facilitated the safe crossing of the rivers for visitors and goods all year round. Some of the most popular are the Bridge of Kontodimos at the western entrance of the village, the Bridge of Plakidas in the west just before the village, the Bridge of Mylos just after the eastern exit of the village and the Bridge of Pitsionis 1km. east before the village. 

If you love hiking in nature like us, be sure to visit many of these bridges and neighboring villages such as Dilofo and Koukouli. For your accommodation in Kipi village we recommend Mahalas Hotel. This is a wonderful complex with fully equipped traditional apartments, with unique decoration such as thick Persian rugs, traditional handmade furniture made of wood and iron. 

Tsepelovo

Tsepelovo village is located in central Zagori, has 261 inhabitants, the largest population of all Zagorochoria. The village is built at an altitude of 1.080 m. on the southern slopes of Tymfi, with traditional architecture based on stone, uniquely preserved over the centuries. Tsepelovo impressed us from the first minutes we arrived there , that summer morning. The images and smells of nature will be unforgettable. Wonderful picturesque streets between tiny houses with roofs, chimneys and colored wooden windows, a setting that looks like taken from an old Greek movie. From all the trips we have made in Greece, I think that we found there the most beautiful square of a traditional village. A wonderful cobbled square under the shade of 2 massive plane trees with rich branches and leaves. There is also the church of Saint Nikolaos with the impressive hagiographies of the famous Kapesovites, a work of theirs from 1753.  The Tsepelovo village, like all the other Zagorochoria, stands out for its unique hospitality, so don’t forget to spend the night or even stay several hours for walks and enjoy a meal.

Nearby Excursions

The gorge of Vikos is located in the core of the Vikos-Aoos National Park area, a geopark not just outstanding but official UNESCO World Heritage Site. From scientific researches of the geomorphology of the gorge, it was found that it was excavated millions of years before by the crossing of the Voidomatis river and the tributary Aoos,  back in time around to the ice age. It’s a natural monument of unique value because it’s the deepest gorge in proportion to its width in the world, thus gaining a place in the Guinness Book. The length of the gorge reaches about 20 kilometers and the depth ranges from 550 to 1750 meters. Every year, hikers from all over the world aim to cross the impressive gorge with its steep slopes, steep cliffs and beautiful nature rich in fauna and flora. This is an extremely valuable area, where a wide variety of rare species of flora is protected, which until the beginning of the 20th century was used by the so-called “vicosdoctors”, for therapeutic purposes.

Your starting point to cross the gorge is in the village of Monodendri and the end of the hike is the village of Vikos with a 45 minute acsent. The duration of the route is about 6-8 hours and the distance of the trail is 13 km with a moderate difficulty. If you have not experience and you feel insecure, we suggest you choose an organized trip all year round, with an experienced and trained guide. For more information you can contact your hotel or trust the experienced team of Trekking Hellas which designs and implements exciting programs in Zagorochoria for the whole family. 

The city of Ioannina is located at a distance of 65 km, about 1 and a half hours drive from Zagorochoria. This is the largest city in Epirus (northwest part of Greece), with a rich cultural tradition, large market and nightlife. Some impressive features of the city are, the Lake of Pamvotida which also sounds like Ioannina lake, with a small island somewhere in the middle, which hosts a traditional settlement of about 219 inhabitants. Of course you can visit the island of Ioannina, to see the beautiful village, to try and buy their traditional products and visit other historical sites. The castle of Ioannina is another historical attraction worth visiting. It is a historic fortified city that is an emblematic monument. We also recommend you to visit museums of the castle. In general, Ioannina is a city with positive vibes that you will love to stroll around from its traditional cobbled streets to the most modern shopping streets.

 

What To Eat

The northwestern part of Greece where they are located along with other areas and Zagorochoria, is called Epirus. Apart from the natural beauties, the area is generally famous for its delicious traditional cuisine with the purest ingredients, as the main occupation of the locals has always been animal feeding and cheese making. More specifically, in Zagorochoria you will try the popular Zagorian pies but also the local meats, all well cooked and delicious. The variety of pies is huge and you may find it hard to choose. Pies stuffed with greens, cheese, or sweet cream, mushrooms, and meat are just only few of the ones you’ll find in menus.

The local meats also stand out for their taste which is definitely due to the quality but also to the traditional recipes that have been passed down for centuries now, from generation to generation. Some of the most popular meat dishes in taverns are pork leek, grilled lamb, but also some oily dishes with legumes and vegetables such as oven giants beans, and briam, which is a summer dish that includes chopped vegetables with garlic, herbs and plenty of olive oil. As for the lovers of desserts, you will really get lost in the many options. The orange pie and the ‘’spoon’’ sweets over yogurt, are among the most common treats that will be offered to you after your meal in the taverns. The sweets that you will find in traditional patisseries, in addition to the above, are mainly syrupy such as walnut pie, baklava, galaktoboureko (cream pie), almond and apple pie, all cooked with fresh eggs, fragrant butter and much of love

How to move

The nearest large city in Zagorochoria is Thessaloniki, so you can manage your arrival at Thessaloniki’s International Airport “Macedonia” and then rent a car for your ideal flexibility. To further reduce the distance you can fly from Thessaloniki or Athens to Ioannina as the city has an airport for domestic flights. The distance from Thessaloniki to the shortest road is about 4 and a half hours, while from Ioannina is about one and a half hours. If you plan to visit all the villages, car rental is necessary in order to organize your own travel route as you want.

Where to stay

In Zagorochoria we stayed in 3 different hotels, where in all we had the best accommodation. In the village of Monodendri we chose the hotel of Konstantinos & Eleni. Upon entering the village it is the first hotel on your right. A wonderful accommodation with traditional décor and comfortable rooms. 

In the village of Mikro Papigo we chose the wonderful hotel of Papigo Towers, which owes its name to the beautiful view of the 5 peaks of Tymfis mountain range. This hotel has a restaurant where you’ll try excellent traditional recipes for any meal of the day you wish. 

For our last stay, we chose the village of Kipi and spent the night at the Mahalas Hotel. This is a large complex of traditional apartments, which are fully equipped with fireplace, kitchen, spacious bathroom and central heating. 

Accommodation in all these 3 hotels, really exceeded our expectations. The owners were all very kind to us, willing and available in whatever else we needed. In general you will find great hotels in all the villages, either simpler in facilities or richer, with spa, swimming pool and massage services. An average price range for a simple double room with breakfast is 40 to 80 euros per night. A key factor in setting prices, is the season of your visit, as it is usually prices are higher in the winter. You can make your bookings via Booking.com

Booking.com

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