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Zagori villages (Zagorochoria or Zagorohoria) is a constellation of 46 all stone-built villages, some among the highest in Greece ( 1340m in Vradeto village), literary hanging above the rocky spectacular Vikos Gorge (considered one of the deepest gorges in the world, indeed the deepest in proportion to its width). The landscape is outstandingly special crossed by the river Aoos (Aristi village), formed by deep gorges, Vikos itself- (outstanding view of Vikos at Beloi near Vradeto)- , the robust mountainous mass of Tymfi (2.497) with its alpine peak Gamila and alpine lake (near Papigo Village) deep fir woods (towards Laista and Gyftokampos) home of a very special Mediterranean form of trasnhumance pastoralism . Welcome to the national park and Unesco Geo-Park of Vikos-Aoos: a haven for endangered species, many and varied ecosystems and exquisite even pharmaceutical flora, area of great natural beauty and striking geology.
The 46 or so villages of Zagori form the human and cultural geography of Zagori which is as exquisite as the natural. They are basically built high for fear of conquest and love of autonomy from ottoman serfdom. All villages are interconnected with a dense network of mountain roads and stone paths and traditional uniquely beautiful arched stone bridges- before modern roads were opened in the 1950s. (The path network is well preserved so do not miss the chance-we recommend hiking the Skala-Vradeto from Beloi and Vradeto- for me the most beautiful path in Greece- only do it downwards, for it is a 1.200 stairs vertical but ethereal “stone stair to heaven”. The several stone arched bridges were built by benefactions from expatriate merchants in the 18th century and replaced older wooden bridges. In full harmony with the environment the lives of people here developed diverse ways of autonomous getting on with the harsh rock and the surrounding isolating mountains. They became famous merchants in the Balkans and North Europe and developed the love of culture and art. In modern times they basically followed the ups and downs of the history of the whole region Epirus.
Culture: from 17th-18th century byzantine monasteries and the school of iconography to painting to stone bridging to the traditional straw huts of nomad pastoralism (‘the light home structure of the regions soul’) the place overflows culture in every step you take.
Alternative travellers: if you are an alternative traveler you can do almost everything: from hiking to climbing to kayaking to mountain cycling to mountain marathon running (Zagori mοuntain running every July) to horse riding, to river swimming, to mountain/backcountry skiing. For conventional skiing you will have to drive some 100km off the national park. There are plenty of associations (Ioannina Mountain Climbing Association) and extreme sports companies to offer you pleasure and safety alike. Don’t miss Gamila (6 hours walk from Papingo) the alpine peak and stay at the hut (Asraka-Tymfi Mountain Refuge Website).
For the laid-backers: If you are more relaxed you can enjoy the landscape from one out of the plenty quality accommodation boutique hotels, mainly stone-built mansions renovated mostly (thank god) with respect to the virgin surrounding beauty and the tradition of painting of old wood masons and crafters. Some perform excellent quality cuisine- the local well included- using all sorts of wild mushrooms and flora and excellent quality local dairy (all sorts of cheese is an absolute must). Handmade pie crusty very puffy or of every kind and sort can wrap up all those extra-virgin products at any one time. Lit fireplaces, hospitality and love of chatting (yes they love talking whether-younger in English as well) will keep you good company; offer you local sparkling rosé wine or harder spirit (crystal clear ‘tsipouro’); they will try to make you friends if travelling alone, drag you to a workshop of wool felt-making or photography or knitting to the point of exhaustion.