Milia For Lunch

Many visitors to Paleochora will have been to, or maybe even stayed overnight, at the ecological village of Milia, but fewer will have reached there on foot, ideally the correct way. Katsomatados, at the southern end of the Topolia Gorge (see ‘Explore’ July 2012) is a 32km drive from Paleochora ; the walk from there to Milia, an hour or so depending on fitness, with a steep initial climb of 250m, will guarantee an appetite for lunch.

Park at the Oasis taverna (formerly Panorama), and walk back, past a spring, to a gate with a sign to “Milia”.

Katsomatados Spring

Katsomatados Spring

After just 50m on the track, go left, below an olive tree, then follow yellow waymarking on a narrow path up the hillside, eventually (through a smaller gate) to join a wider track, and turn right. Continue steeply upwards, pausing to enjoy views into the Topolia Gorge, across to Leventies summit, 623m, and close all wired stock gates behind you.

Topolia gorge

Topolia gorge

When you reach a surfaced road, walk right to, then left through a gate (you will later return here by the road.) Now the track winds downhill, with distant views of the Gramvousa peninsula on the west of Kissamos bay. After a sharp bend, note a path to the right (signed to ‘Kastelos’) which you might (or might not) decide to take later.

Kastelos sign

Kastelos sign

On reaching the chestnut trees at Kato (Lower) Milia, keep ahead, left of an empty house. Now following red waymarking, a path winds up below the trees, through a gate, and on to a second gate. Go up left here, to join the wide road into Milia.

Milia taverna

Milia taverna

Milia was inhabited from medieval times, but abandoned in 1948 ; restoration and renovation, using local materials and workers, began in 1982, and the new Milia “village” opened in 1993. It’s open all year round, with simple cottages to rent, and a restaurant open daily, serving organic food grown or raised here, with a wide reputation for its Greek and Cretan cuisine. Sit on the terrace in summer with a salad, kalitsounia (cheese & spinach pies) with fresh vegetables, or by the log fire in winter with bean soup and chestnut ‘stifado’. (Note, there are many alternatives to my vegetarian favourites!)

Local Chestnuts

Local Chestnuts

After the inevitable ‘raki’, return by the path to Kato Milia, and to the “Kastelos” sign ; now decision time, either to return by the same route to Katsomatados, or – to walk off lunch – a longer, maybe two hours, alternative. Let’s go this way and lose some calories. Take the narrow path, leading to a fine ‘kalderimi’, a paved mule trail which climbs gently (with now white waymarking) to a small plateau.

Way to Troulu

Way to Troulu

Above left are the rocky slopes of Troulu, which means “dome”, its summit at 550m. There’s a waymarked route up (red paint dots), but be warned, it’s not easy, especially near the top, where a “head for heights” is required, and some rock-climbing experience. But the view is superb, out over Kissamos Bay, and if clear, to the island of Antikythira, 55km to the NW.

Kastelos summit

Kastelos summit

Continue north, the path later giving way to a track, which in turn leads to a surfaced road. En route, look back to the now clearly ‘domed’ peak of Troulu, especially with pride if you’ve climbed it.

Kastelos from Milia

Kastelos from Milia

Turn right along the road, uninteresting but with distant views to the White Mountains which will take you back to the gate to Milia, and then the route returning down to Katsomatados.

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The Vikos Gorge

Vikos Gorge 2The Vikos Gorge

“Greece has two great and unforgettable gorges ; the gorge of Samaria in Crete, and that of the Vikos in Epirus.  It is hard to decide which is the more beautiful of the two, since each is unique in its way.  In my view, however, Vikos takes the prize … “ George Sfikas  –  ‘The Mountains of Greece.’

I’ve descended the Samaria Gorge to Agia Roumeli many times, but never the Vikos, and a visit to the Pindus Mountains in Northern Greece last summer gave the opportunity to walk through the gorge as part of a 4-day trek in that area.  We had arranged our trip with ‘Walking Holidays *’, were met at Thessaloniki airport by our guide, Thanasis Pantes, and after an evening meal and brief tour of the city, next morning drove to Ioannina, in the region of Epirus, for lunch.  Then a short 30km drive north to Vitsa, one of the Zagori villages and, since 1973, part of the Vikos/Aoos National Park.

Vikos Gorge 3

The Zagori villages consist of 46 “traditional settlements”,  dating from the 17th century or earlier,  built of local grey stone, where commercial development is forbidden except for limited eco-tourism.  Until roads were built in the 1950s, they were linked by stone-laid paths and beautiful arched bridges, now part of a network of way-marked trails.

Konitsa bridge

Konitsa bridge

Our accommodation in a small, family-run hotel was excellent, as was the evening meal and substantial breakfast.  Then a quick transfer to Monodendri, from where we would descend into the Vikos Gorge, following it N and NW before a sharp climb to Vikos village, a walk of around seven hours.

Vikos Gorge signA sign informed us  (Guinness Book of Records 1997) that the gorge is the World’s Deepest Canyon, at 900m, with just 1100m between the rims.

 

With all day to reach Vikos (where our luggage would be waiting for us), we took our time and many photographs, enjoyed a picnic lunch by the river (Voidomatis), and admired the spectacularly sheer walls rising high above us.  The path is straightforward and, in contrast to Samaria in June, we met only a handful of other walkers.

Descent to Vikos 2Thanasis had told us that here, in the Pindus Mountains, is the last European stronghold of the brown bear, although he admitted to only ever seeing a distant glimpse of one.  We walked warily, heard many birds, but the only wildlife was a slow moving tortoise next to the trail.

Vikos tortoise

Vikos tortoise

A warm welcome awaited us at Vikos, in a simple village taverna with “all-home-produce” meals, comfortable beds, and at dusk, a memorable view down into the gorge we had walked through.

Vikos taverna

Vikos taverna

Next morning we re-descended into the gorge for an hour or so, as far as the Voidomatis Springs, where the water, refreshing but ice-cold, had dropped quickly from snow level.  Then a short, but steep ascent to the delightful village of Mikro Papigo, where Thanasis has a dream of building a home for his family.

Papingo Towers

Papingo Towers

It’s dominated by the impressive Towers of Papigo, below which we would walk, a day later, on the climb to spend a night at Astraka Refuge, a mountain hut situated at 2000m, below the peak of Astraka itself, 2436m, part of the Gamila range.

Mt Astraka

Mt Astraka

Our last day in the high mountains was from the Refuge to the stunningly beautiful “Dragon Lake”, or Drakolimni, and from there a long and far from easy descent into the Aoos Valley, to spend the night at Konitsa.  And the following day, a pleasant walk along the lower reaches of the Voidomatis river, now placid and tree-lined, before it joins the Aoos.

Vikos lower gorge

Vikos lower gorge

*  ‘Walking Holidays’ was excellent in every way, our experienced guide Thanasis very knowledgeable, informative & looked after our every need.  Details from http://walkingholidays.gr

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