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