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Stopping off at the villages
Stopping off at the villages
One of the villages
What a view!

Zagoria

Thursday, March 24, 2005
Brendon takes a leisurely walk through one of the most picture perfect Greek countryside villages.

Greece has so much to offer the traveller. History, culture, beauty, rugged mountains, pretty villages and a myriad of islands sprinkled around the Aegean, Ionian and Mediterranean Seas.

Getaway went on a self-guided walking tour of the remote area of Zagoria where evidence of human existence goes back more than 40,000 years BC. The area forms part of the expansive Pindus Mountain Range which starts in central Greece and spills into the Balkans.

There are 46 villages in the region and they remained autonomous in Turkish times and their own culture flourished. Houses are built of slate from surrounding mountains and winding, cobbled streets give a storybook appearance. Sadly, many villages are depopulated, often with only a handful of elderly people remaining. Some however, such as Papingo, Monodendri and Tsepelovo, are beginning to thrive on the new-found tourism. It should be said that even though the area is attracting many visitors, it is totally unspoilt.

Zagoria, a Slavic word meaning "behind the mountains" is a World Heritage site and part of the Greek National Park system. Most villages have remained unchanged for centuries and those which look different are the result of rebuilding after being burnt in WWII and having been rebuilt before preservations laws were introduced.

People are attracted to Zagoria for several reasons — the architecture of its stone and wood buildings, the arched stone bridges, village churches with beautiful wood carvings and the surrounding Vikos-Aoös National Park. It is all beautifully untamed and remote.

The area is thick with forests of hornbeam, maple, willow, fir, pine, cedar and oak and is home to bears, wolves, wild boar, cats and goats and rare Rissos quadrupeds. There are rivers, streams and waterfalls and the exciting geography has an amazing diversity. Semi-nomadic Vlach and Sarakatsani shepherds tend their sheep and goats, taking them to high grazing grounds in summer and in the valleys in cooler times.

Most walkers like to pay a pilgrimage to the 15th century Moni Agias Para-Skevis monastery. While it is no longer formally used, visitors are welcome to make a blessing. Apart from its religious significance, it gives excellent views of the Vikos Canyon, the world's steepest.

The Vikos Gorge begins at the village of Monodendri and is well-trekked and does not require any special expertise. But it does take around seven-and-a-half hours to reach one of the twin villages so good walking boots are highly recommended! Klima Spring provides the only drinkable water along the way, so take plenty with you.

The moonlike landscape around the Dragon Lakes, high in the mountains, offers an interesting contrast to the gorge's sedimentary rock walls which are tinted orange-pink due to the rusted iron deposits.

Spring brings a burst of colourful wildflowers, butterflies silently add their colour in summer and autumn foliage adds its own beauty as winter looms.

Just past Metamorfosi you will see a sign to Kipi. It is worth the 8km diversion to see the superb high-arched bridges, thought to be Turkish and built for packhorse caravans.

As you can imagine, transport is thin on the ground, but it is quite the norm to hitch a ride in a passing vehicle.

Pension and hotel accommodation is available. George Papaevangelou's Hotel is in Papigo Village and Pension Monodendri is run by Marios Daskalodoulos. George and Marios speak very good English and are most helpful with their information — usually given over cups of real Greek coffee.

Location

An hour's flight north-west of Athens.

Cost

George’s Place (Hotel Papaevangelou) starts at around $135 a double a night.
Mario’s Pension (Pension Monodendri) starts at around $60 a double a night.
Qantas flies daily to London with British Airways connections to Athens starting at $2938 from Melbourne, $2954 from Sydney, $2980 from Brisbane, $3100 from Perth, $3104 from Adelaide and $3683 from Darwin, per person. Prices include charges/taxes and are current at time of writing but may vary at time of booking. Seasonal surcharges and conditions apply.

More information

Hellenic Tourism Organisation
Ph: (02) 9241 1663
Hto@tpg.com.au

George Papaevangelou's Hotel
Papigo Village
Ph: 06530 41135
Fax: 06530 41988

Marios Daskalodoulos
Pension Monodendri
Main Road, Monodendri Village
Ph: 30 653 071 300
Fax: 30 653 071 410

Qantas: Ph: 13 13 13

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