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  • Writer's pictureGreen Traveller

Local Attractions in Zagori and the Epirus Coast

As part of our Green Traveller's Guide to Zagori and the Epirus Coast, here's our pick of places to visit.

Thoukididis Guest House. Photo: James Stewart

From Unesco-listed Vikos Gorge to arcs of wild beach, from magical villages where time seems to have stopped to the mouth of Hades and a ruined Roman city, Zagori and Epirus are not short of sights. It’s no surprise that Vikos, the world’s deepest gorge, takes star billing in Zagori. Yet centuries of isolation has preserved a distinct human history here, too. Beautiful frescoed chapels in woods, picturesque stone bridges and the region’s 46 villages themselves, the Zagorohoria, reveal a region of living history.

Towards the coast, that historical timeframe stretches back to temples that were considered ancient even by Homer. That they’re a short drive from the beach only adds to their appeal.

We’ve highlighted the best natural sights, the most traditional villages and the key antiquities to visit in this fascinating region. We’ve also selected the best beaches – both the family-friendly and those quiet escapes Greeks like to keep for themselves.

Oxia viewpoint, Monodendri, Zagori, Greece

From the most accessible viewpoint of the Vikos Gorge you receive a leg-wobbling view of the Unesco-listed canyon, officially the world’s deepest (1,000m) in relation to its width (1,000m). Its wall of limestone plummets as a sheer cliff, stained orange by iron and fuzzed at its base by lush forest. A path notched into the cliff on the left provides the best photos if your nerves are up to it.

Ovires natural pools, Megalo Papigo, Zagori, Greece

Villagers cool off in high summer in this wooded limestone gorge which burrows into a hillside between Megalo and Mikro Papigo. The Rogovo stream has carved out a series of interconnected plunge-pools – a lovely place to wallow in natural jacuzzis filled with cool (12–14˚C), pure spring water, sliding from one to the next via weed-slippery chutes. Come for a stroll, too, because the wooded gorge becomes steeper and narrower the further back you go. Park in a layby on the main road opposite the canyon entrance.

Vikos Gorge, Zagori, Greece

In the heart of the Pindos mountains lies the mighty Vikos Gorge – the world's deepest at 1000m – cutting a jagged course for 20km through the Vikos-Aoos National Park. There are some great viewing spots from the villages of Monodendri and Vikos. There is a fantastic viewing point at Oxia, and plenty of trails that lead deep within the gorge for some superb hiking.

Kalogeriko Bridge, Kipi, Zagori, Greece

In a landscape riddled by canyons Zagori residents became expert stone bridge-builders – under the Ottoman occupation, sultans acclaimed local architects the finest of their empires. Six span gorges around Kipi village, the most celebrated being this picturesque bridge (1814) which hopscotches 56m across the river in three arches. Actually, locals acclaim the high, single-span Kokkori bridge (1750) nearby as the more impressive engineering feat.

Monastery of Panagia Spileotissa, Aristi, Zagori, Greece

A monk sought solitude in a cave near the Voidomatis river. Followers arrived, then a tiny monastery was built over his hermitage in 1579, in later decades a refuge from invading Ottomans for villagers. Still, the upshot is the most atmospheric chapel in Zagori, hidden from sight deep in beautiful woodland. The size of a matchbox with the atmosphere of a cathedral, its tiny interior is covered in inky-blue and ruby frescos. Source the key (and request a guide) from En Aristi restaurant. Accessible at all times is a belltower with lovely woodland views, reached by a scramble up beside the monastery’s entrance.

Convent of Agia Paraskevi, Monodendri, Zagori, Greece

Zagori’s most cultural popular sight is this 15th-century convent 500m from the village square. There’s a small frescoed chapel within its tiny courtyard complex yet it’s more impressive for its precarious position clinging to the lip of the Vikos Gorge. Small wonder it served as an impregnable redoubt for villagers during Ottoman expansion in the 1500s. If you can laugh at heights, take a footpath notched around the cliff beside the monastery to reach the fortified gateway behind which villagers picked off any invaders.

Kapesovo, Zagori, Greece

One of the area’s best-preserved hamlets, Kapesovo is the sort of unspoilt backwater everyone likes to stumble upon. Sleepy and built of stone the colour of old ivory, it basks in sunshine on a high southern slope. Park outside the hamlet, walk down to the tiny square with a wonderful café-shop and pocket-sized bar, then explore cobbled lanes built with incorprated gutters to channel winter rain.

Rizario Handicraft Centre, Monodendri, Zagori, Greece

Beyond some mass-produced products in the foyer there’s fine traditional embroidery and tapestry displayed and sold here. It’s the outlet of a 150-year-old church handicrafts’ school in Monodendri – girls come from nationwide to enroll on a two-year course which maintains Zagoria craft traditions. A small embroidery sampler can take students months to complete, so prices are not cheap. An affiliated gallery in a nearby mansion holds photography exhibitions.

Kipi, Zagori, Greece

While there’s no sight per se, Kipi is one of the most traditional villages of Zagori. Nicely lived-in, with a ramshackle charm, it spills down a hillside in a cats-cradle of alleys full of interesting corners. Wildflowers bloom between cobbles. Jasmine clambers up drainpipes and tomato plants flourish in old oil cans on terraces. One for the photo album.

Sarakiniko, near Parga, Greece

Though busy in peak season due to taxi boats from Parga, Sarakiniko provides a wonderful beach-day at other times. Its crescent of sand arcs beneath a hillside of silver olive trees, stretching between rocky headlands that offer good snorkelling, and there are three tavernas for lunch. If you have toddlers, be aware that the bay shelves steeply in places.

Agia Paraskevi, near Syvota, Greece

Tricky to find – it’s not signposted except by hoardings (look for that of Nisaki taverna) – but that keeps this quieter than many beaches in the area. A strip of sand and coarse shingle, it’s popular with Greek holidaymakers. That the crystal-clear bay is gently shelving and sheltered from waves by a pine-scrubbed islet makes it so ideal for young children.

Monolithi, near Preveza, Greece

South of quiet Kanali resort and kilometres long, the favourite beach of Preveza locals always has space to spare. It’s more natural than most strands in the area, with eucalyptus and pine forest backing its long deep arc of sand, and open waters of Blue Flag quality – expect small waves by mid-afternoon when the wind increases. Facilities include a couple of beach bars providing snacks, drinks and parasols.

Lichnos, near Parga, Greece

One of the most popular beaches in the area, served by regular taxi boats from Parga harbour. Factor in a medium-sized resort hotel, several tavernas with holiday accommodation and a couple of beach bars and it’s no surprise this is busy in peak season. Nevertheless, it’s a handsome swoop of sand, with watersports hire and interesting snorkelling around its high headlands. It gets quieter the further you go.

Nekromanteion of Acheron, near Preveza, Greece

The future was revealed to the dead, believed the ancient Greeks who built this fourth-century BC oracle to Hades. So, for devotees, this mazey temple complex – today sketched out by walls of massive hewn stone – really was the gateway to the Underworld. Homer had Odysseus scarifice a ram on what was an island above a swamp fed by the Acheron river, aka the Styx. At the temple’s core is a subterranean chamber, presumed to be the doorway to the underworld. With its moody lighting and dead acoustic it’s hugely atmospheric.

Archaeological site of Dodona, near Ioannina, Greece

Homer names it in the Ilyiad – Achilles comes here to pray – and Herodotus dates it to 2,000 BC. Sited in a broad valley, the oldest Hellenic oracle retains some of the magic that made it a place of worship to Gaia (Mother Earth) then Zeus – his spirit was said to live in the roots of oak trees and answer questions posed by devotees via priestesses who “slept on the ground with unwashed feet” to remain connected to the earth, Homer claims. The site’s most impressive attraction is the celebrated theatre from the 3rd century BC, added by King Pyrrhus, of victory fame. With a capacity of about 18,000 spectators, it is one of the country’s largest.

Nikopolis, near Preveza, Greece

To celebrate his victory over the combined fleets of Antony and Cleopatra to become Roman emperor, Octavian built a new town on the bay from which his army sailed. Excavated finds of 30BC Nikopolis (literally, ‘Victory City’) are displayed in an Archaeological Museum of Nikopolis on Preveza’s suburbs. Its marble carvings and mosaics are a good primer for a visit to the site itself, a mix of Roman and Byzantine ruins spread over a vast area. Christian basilicas jut from the grass and you can climb on to a section of massive Byzantine city wall with a gate. Beyond it lies the theatre, currently undergoing restoration.

For nearby places to eat, and local places of interest and low impact activities, see our Green Traveller's Guide to Zagori and the Epirus Coast


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