Zagoria is in the north west of Greece in the region of Epirus, and is one of Greece's best kept secrets with very few people outside of Greece knowing of the region. Zagoria is about 30 km north of Ioannina, the capital of Epirus and about 25 km from the Albanian border.
Zagoria is made up of 45 villages in the Pindus mountains and is one of the most remote places in Europe with only a population of 5,000 people over an area of 1,000 sq. km (5 people every sq. km). The mountains and valleys of Zagoria still have parts of the giant ancient European forest and animals like Wolves, Bears, Vultures that have become extinct in other parts of Europe. The area also has two national parks the Vikos-Aoos National Park and the Pindus park.
The villages and people of Zagoria are also unique, the population of Zagoria is made up of two tribes - the Vlachs and the Sarakatsani both originally nomadic shepherds. The Vlachs are believed to be descendants of Roman colonists from further north in Romania and the Sarakatsani are original Greeks dating back to Neolithical times. In one of the villages there is even a small museum that shows the small straw tent/houses that the Sarakatsani used to live in.
Zagoria is also famous for it's stone masons, and this can be seen in the stone built houses, some look more like mini castles than houses. The many mountain rivers are crossed by huge stone built arch bridges and the cobble stone roads which also make the region unique.
With huge grand houses and beautifully stone-paved streets the Zagorian villages are not what you expect from such a remote place. These timeless villages are all built to a similar design, all built around a Meochori - a stone paved square shaded by a large tree. The houses are all made of stone with slate-tiled roofs, testimony to the expert stone masons of the region who also built the many stone-arch bridges that link the villages. Other unique features of the region are the Arakontikas, huge stone mansions that look more like mini fortresses than homes; built by rich merchants to protect their families from bandits. Many of these have been converted into guesthouses.
Some of the more popular villages in Zagoria are: Skamneli in East Zagoria, it's built into a forest and has the remains of the ancient Pelasgian wall; Vrysochori, with its beautiful alpine scenery; Kipi, famous for its stone arch bridges; Vradeto, it's reached by a 15th century path carved into a cliff face; Monodendri, for its views of the Vikos Gorge.
The Vikos gorge is a 20km long gorge between the villages of Monodendri and Vikos, and is in the Guinness book of records as the deepest gorge in the world (calculated from width:depth ratio). The average depth of the gorge is 700 metres, but its highest point is 1,600 metres, the width varies from 450 to just a few metres.
The Vikos Gorge makes up the majority of the Vikos-Aoos National Park and has the Voidomatis river running through it, which is also the cleanest river in Europe. The gorge is very important to scientists as it has some unique eco-systems and endangered wildlife and plants. The gorge is popular during the summer months for hiking, the full distance of the gorge doesn't have to be walked, you can enter and leave the gorge at different points along the way.
The Vikos-Aoos National park is named after the two Gorges in its boundaries the Vikos gorge and the less known Aoos gorge which is about 10 km long. The Aoos gorge, like the Vikos is popular with hikers and has a number of stone built arch bridges dating back a few hundred years which cross the Aoos river flowing through the gorge.
The Vikos Aoos National park has much more than just the two canyons, the amazing mountainous landscape has many rivers, mountain lakes, ancient coniferous and deciduous forests, caves and a unique ecosystem. It is one of the last places in Europe to have wild Brown Bears, the park also has wild Cats, Eagles, Egyptian Vultures, and all kinds of rare plants. There are even Wolves as well, these are actually spread out across most of Epirus and parts of north Greece, but don't worry they are not a threat to humans.
Zagoria and the Vikos-Aoos National park are becoming more and more popular with tourists, especially with the boom of eco-tourism. The many set walks through the gorges or treks from village to village crossing the many stone bridges, virgin treks through the mountains, all this is making Zagoria irresistible to hikers.
The white-water rivers are now being used for rafting and canoeing and other activities like this. Mountain climbing and caving are other activities being organized in Zagoria. If adventure holidays is your thing then Zagoria shouldn't be missed.
Although Zagoria is in Greece it is in the mountains so the weather can be unpredictable, it is usually snow covered from November until April. Most hikers and visitors come in spring and early summer, like I said it is in Greece so the middle of August will be very hot.
It is best to book rooms and hotels in advance as there are only so many hotels in the region. It is is very difficult to find rooms during the Christmas period, as it is very popular with Greeks at this time, I suppose all the snow gives it a much more Yuletide feeling than say Athens!
Traveling to Zagoria can be difficult, the nearest airport that flies to Europe is Preveza, in the south of Epirus. Ioannina has a small airport but only flies to Athens and can be a bit expensive. From Athens you can take one of the KTEL buses which leave Athens every hour for Ioannina, from Ioannina you then take a local bus up into Zagoria. The other option is to rent a car and drive, but a set of wheel chains during winter is advised.
Zagoria isn't that well known outside of Greece, and yet is has one of the best places in Europe for hiking and other outdoor activities. There is also the Vikos-Aoos National park which is home to such rare animals like the Brown Bear. The park also has Vikos Gorge, which according to the Guiness book of records is the deepest gorgr in the world.
Location - Zagoria is in the North-West of Greece in Epirus, about 25km north of Ioannina up until the Alabanian border.
Getting to Zagoria: The best way to get to Zagoria if you don't have transport is from Ioannina, there are lots of local buses that go into the villages in Zagoria. Although there is a small airport in Ioannina the nearest international airport is Preveza.
Tips:The best time to visit Zagoria is in the spring, the snow should be clear and the temeratures shouldn't be too hot as they are in the summer for walking and hiking. If you do visit in winter be prepared for snow.