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Peaks of the Pindos and Jewels of Ioannina: 9-19 June 2012
The Pindos mountains in Epirus are more reminiscent of Switzerland than the Mediterranean. Towering peaks, alpine meadows carpeted in flowers, mountain lakes, wooded valleys and gushing turquoise rivers make for one of the most spectacular walks in Greece. This region is one of Europe’s last great wilderness areas, and is home to wild boar, wolves and even brown bears, as well as some rare birds and an abundance of butterflies and flowers. This is a challenging trek which leads us along ancient stone mule paths, across arched bridges spanning deep river gorges and up to the spectacular snow-capped peaks of Gamila. We sleep in the traditional stone guest-houses of the Zagorohoria, where we will enjoy delicious home-cooking (superb meat dishes and a surprising variety of fruit and vegetables, considering the remoteness of these villages) and some interesting local wines.
We then move down to the fascinating lakeside town of Ioannina, which still retains a distinct Turkish feel (it only became independent in 1913), where we have free time to visit the mosques and byzantine museums, take a boat trip out to the island, and shop for exquisite metalwork and jewellery. There is also an optional excursion to Dodoni, site of the oracle of Zeus.
Day 1 There is a lunchtime flight to Ioannina from Athens with Aegean Airlines. This would mean you could connect from an early morning flight from London. From there we have a one hour transfer to our charming guest house in Monodendri, on the edge of a beautiful village in the wooded foothills of the Gamila massif.
Day 2 After visiting a spectacularly situated monastery overlooking the Vikos gorge, we take a mule path down into the rocky riverbed, and follow it upstream below soaring rock faces and pinnacles to the picturesque village of Kipi. Here we stay in traditional village rooms, and there is an opportunity to visit the fascinating folk museum before dinner in the village taverna. (6 miles)
Day 3 Following a track through woods with occasional extensive views south, we continue on through the foothills to Tsepelovo. The largest of the Zagorohoria villages, this marks the start of the Vlachpopulated highlands. There is time to soak up the tranquillity of mountain village life beneath the central plane tree or explore the winding cobbled streets before dinner. (6 miles)
Day 4 We head off early for a long and demanding hike into the heart of the Gamila range, carrying our own lunch and the bare essentials for our night in the refuge. Almost immediately leaving the tree line and we walk on into vast deserted mountain uplands, punctuated with deep gullies, flowery alpine meadows and the occasional shepherd’s hut. Arriving finally on a spectacular saddle at 2,100 m, we find the simple refuge of Astrakas, where we spend the night in small dormitories with bunk beds. There is no hot water, but the bathrooms are spotless and there are plenty of blankets. Our tour manager will carry up our sheet sleeping bags and a change of clothes for the evening. (11 miles)
Day 5 There is an optional morning’s walk over grassy hillsides to Dragon Lake, a small glacial lake perched on the lip of the Aoos Gorge, teeming with newts and unusual butterflies. Returning to the refuge for our picnic, we then descend to Mikro Papingo, a picturesque village of stone houses and cobbled lanes, set beneath the soaring “towers” of Astrakas. (6 + 6 miles)
Day 6 Free day to enjoy a well-earned rest on the terrace of what is usually the favourite hotel of the trip, explore the charming villages of both Megalo and Mikro Papingo, or take a refreshing swim in the series of rock pools which range in temperature from icy snow melt in the shade of the gorge to balmy warm in the sun.
Day 7 Today we walk down through flowery meadows, forests of giant shrubs and past fairy tale rock pinnacles down to the springs of the Voidomatis river in the lower Vikos gorge. A steep and winding path leads us up to Vitsiko, with spectacular views back up the canyon where we enjoy a wellearned lunch under the village plane tree next to the church. From there a lane contours the hillsides to Aristi, where we spend the night in another charming guest house. (8 miles)
Day 8 A small (and very overgrown!) wooded path brings us back to the river Voidomatis, where we will visit a beautiful C15th monastery built into the cliffs, and walk a short way upstream to get views back to Papingo and perhaps see some rare orchids, before lunch by an idyllic turquoise river pool. We then follow the river downstream among giant plane trees. The braver walkers can “cool off” in the freezing waters en route. Emerging from the valley at an arched stone bridge, we then travel by van back to Aristi for our final night in the tranquillity of the mountains. (7 miles)
Day 9 After a short drive north towards Konitsa, our last days’ walk takes us up the Aoos gorge to the monastery of Stomiou, with its lone caretaker monk. Situated on a forested bluff overlooking the bright blue ribbon of the river Aoos, and dwarfed by the serrated peaks of Gamila, the monastery occupies an aweinspiring position. The return walk follows a different track, with opportunities for bathing in the relatively warm waters of the Aoos. (10 miles) At the end of the day we then transfer by van to Ioannina, where we stay in a restored mansion within the walled medina of the old city. Tonight we will try a typical fish dinner on the lakeside.
Day 10 An optional early morning excursion to the little-visited Dodoni, site of the oracle of Zeus and with an ancient theatre. The rest of the day is free to explore this fascinating town, seat of the infamous Ali Pasha. The citadel, mosques, museums and synagogue are all within 5 minutes’ walk of our hotel. Or take a boat to the tranquil island of Nissi with its frescoed monasteries. Our last dinner will be in a charming courtyard in the old town, where we will sample Greek haute cuisine and fine wines.
Day 11 Ioannina is famous for its metalwork and jewellery, so your last morning is free for shopping in the bazaar and many fascinating shops. Transfer to Ioannina airport in time for the lunchtime flight to Athens with Aegean Airline.
General information In June the weather should be fine and warm (Ioannina will be hot), with an abundance of wild flowers - some quite rare, and for the brave there are several occasions to swim. However, being mountainous - there is often still snow on the peaks of the Gamila mountain range - you will need warm clothes for the night in the refuge! It is important to be fit for this trip: although only 1 day is really long, the route is steep and demanding, and in a couple of places it is vertiginous (NOT dangerous). The terrain is very rocky, so boots are essential, and some of the paths can be quite overgrown with prickly undergrowth, so it is a good idea to have trousers to slip on over shorts if necessary. In the alpine pastures where there are animals, there can be a lot of insects, so I would advise bringing a spray repellent. A medium sized day pack is essential for carrying PLENTY (at least 1 litre, and on some days, 2) of water and on a couple of occasions, a packed lunch, plus layers i.e. jumper and waterproof. We eat in a mixture of local tavernas and the hotels themselves, none of which are formal. Accommodation The accommodation on this trip is consistently good: small mountain hotels generally with a restaurant attached. They are all traditional, comfortable and extremely welcoming. Food and wine We try to encourage “granny’s home cooking”, which will hopefully dispel the myth that Greek food is inferior in quality. There are some tantalising specialities from this area, such as cornbread and smoked cheese, and substantial stews. In Ioannina we will have fish, and maybe the local speciality: frogs legs! We will also try out some interesting Greek wines, some of which are good enough - I think - to bring home! Picnics include healthy salads, local meats and cheeses, fruit and local wine. Insurance Please ensure that you have comprehensive insurance for every eventuality. Visas etc A valid passport is required. No visas, inoculations or vaccinations are required by citizens of the UK and Ireland for travel to Greece. It is advisable, however, to check with your doctor before departure. If you do not hold a UK passport, you must inform me of this fact when booking and contact the Greek embassy to see whether this is required in your case. It is your responsibility to ensure that you have the correct and current visa documentation. Cost Money-wise, everything is included: i.e. all your meals are paid for from dinner on day 1 until breakfast on day 10 (except for lunch on days 6 and 10 when I will not be with you), as well as wine with dinner. However, any extra pre-dinner drinks, ice-creams, coffees etc. are not. Greeks tend not to have coffee/tea after dinner - in fact you cannot usually get these in a taverna - so these are not included either. Entrance to Dodoni, churches etc. whenever you are with ME are all covered, except on your free day in Ioannina, where everyone’s interests may vary. Price of trip: £1,975 (unavoidable single supplement of £190). This trip runs with a minimum of 6 and a maximum of 12 people. You will be able to book this trip through Sunvil, who is my agent in the UK - they ensure full AITO bonding and liability insurance and take credit cards. Recommended Reading Eleni - Nicholas Gage Roumeli - Patrick Leigh Fermor The Unwritten Places - Tim Salmon Zagorohoria (Explorer guide)
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