Zenning out in Zagori

I have an injured Achilles and am not supposed to be hiking….. but the lack of outdoors and exercise is making me grumpy, so I persuaded my physio that some ‘gentle’ hiking in Greece, with long spells reading a book in the high mountains would be beneficial. So I am off to Zagori … to hopefully climb Tymfi and wander down the Vikos Gorge

Day 1 – Vikos to Vitsa – about 18km

My plan had been to head up to the mountains but the forecast at 2400m was for 30cm of snow and 105km winds, and my intended campsite was at 2200m. Hmmmmm. Change of plan and I decided to wander down the Vikos Gorge from Vikos to Vitsa.

Vikos village trail head
View south down Vikos Gorge

I left Vikos at 9 and wandered down the hillside with a local sheepdog. The view was amazing down to the Voidimatis springs (which I missed somehow, so will have to get it on the return journey). The gorge is stunning with the Astraka Towers looming over the fall leaves and the dry river bed

View down the gorge descending from Vikos village
Inside the Vikos Gorge
Astraka towers
Midway down the gorge

I saw very few people in the gorge, only three until the springs at Klima where I stopped to make a coffee. The rain kicked in shortly after as a mooched up the hill. A badly injured Achilles and a steep hill are not great companions so it was slow going with quite a lot of wincing.

Klima springs – brewing a coffee
Climbing to Monodhendri

I made it to Monodhendri around 2.30pm and was pretty soaking wet. I stopped at Kikitsa’s for huge serving of outstanding feta and flour pie – it was amazing. I then wandered down to see the view from the Agia Paraskevi. Apparently it is normally busy, I didn’t see a soul.

View down Vikos Gorge from Ayia Paraskevi

The rain let up so I took a slippery shortcut down to Vitsa, and managed to land on my butt. While I had planned on camping, the 40mm of forecast rain even at this altitude didn’t make that seem sensible so I ended the day at 4pm with a hot shower in a junior suite in the Kores hotel (it was the only room they had left :-)) . I then snuggled in bed listening to the thunder until dinner time – lamb chops! Yum. Then back to bed for the thunder and lightening show

Day 2 – Vitsa to Vradeto about 15km and 1000m ascent

The morning started off well with a hearty feta and tomato omelette and several cups of coffee. I then headed down the Vitsa steps as the sun was breaking through the clouds and I stopped for some excellent views over Missious bridge from the chapel above.

View from Vitsa
View down to Missious bridge
Vitsa steps
missious bridge

After that I wandered along the river side around to Kokoros bridge, one of the most famous in the region. And then the rain started. The river was high and the walk along the riverside wasn’t advised so I found a route around the road passing some lovely views and the Plakidis bridge

Kokoros bridge
View down to Vikakis river
Plakidis bridge

I arrived in Kipoi dripping wet in my poncho to the amusement of a cafe full of old Greek men smoking, drinking coffee and occasionally passing comment.

Two coffees and an hour of torrential rain later there was a break in the weather so I headed up the Vikakis stream through the forest and up a steep hill to Kapesovo. The rain started again fairly promptly and by the time I arrived in Kapesovo I couldn’t feel my fingers and it was still pissing down. I hadn’t seen a single hiker all day. I optimistically tried calling all of the three hotels in town but no one was home – they were all in the city

Kontidomous bridge en route to Kapesovo
View back on the climb up to Kapesovo

Oh well, nothing for it then but to continue up the Vradeto steps to Vradeto. The steps were stunning but hard going with an Achilles injury that doesn’t like incline. I was a great source of amusement to the two hunters I met when I rolled into town still soaking wet. They took me to the local ‘tavern’ (three tables and a lady cooking food in the corner) and bought me souvlaki and tsipouro.

Vradeto steps zigzagging up the hill in the background
Vradeto steps
Vradeto steps

The plan had been to pitch the tent but there were more thunderstorms forecast and there was no local hotel. So I used the great hiking invention (my phone) and found someone to come get me and take me back to the excellent hotel I stayed in the previous evening – the only amusement being I wouldn’t have carried all my gear if I knew I was going backwards. So I had another excellent dinner and an epic long sleep in the junior suite

Day 3 – more bridges and some strolling

I slept in and tested my heel gingerly when I got out of bed. Hmmmm. Suspect the physio was right about not overloading the heel. Oh well. I had an excellent breakfast and then went and recovered my rental car from where I left it in Vikos (still intact)

I mooched around for the day, driving my ‘cool’ rental car (a Seat Ibiza) around the windy roads singing along to bad 80s classics on my phone, punctuated by stops to stroll.

Astraka towers

I checked out the Voidamatis river and sat on the river bank soaking my heel

Voidimatis river

I then backtracked to Kipoi to see some more bridges

Kokoros bridge
Vikakis river
Kontidomous bridge
Petsioni bridge
Mylos bridge, kipi
Captain Bear bridge
Ayios Mina bridge

I adore this part of Greece. Driving around with the windows down, there are very few people and those that are there are hunting (men with big guns in fluoro orange overalls) and picking blackberries (old ladies in crapped out cars who drive slowly along the kerb hunting out the next patch). It’s a gorgeous sunny day made better by the smell of woodsmoke in the villages.

At 3pm I was starving so I returned to the excellent Kikitsa pies in Monodhendri for their awesome pie which is across between pizza, pie and Yorkshire puddings – it’s just flour, butter and feta but it’s amazing

Kikitsa flour pie

After my late lunch I headed up to see the Stone Forest and the view from the Oxia viewpoint north of Monodhendri.

View from oxia north up the Vikos gorge
View up Megas Lakkos which intersects Vikos gorge
View of south Vikos Gorge from Oxia viewpoint
Stone Forest

Day 4/5 – Aristi and Papigko hanging out

So it was raining and raining and my foot hurt! So I did something quite uncharacteristic, I read books, drank tea and enjoyed the view. And managed to have an excellent lunch and dinners. I love Greece

Exceptional deconstructed moussaka for lunch
Dinner – entree of fried metsovo cheese with cucumber jam
Local lamb chops
Epic custard pie

I had another moochy day and popped up to Papigko for lunch, largely because the road is so much fun to drive up. Koukounauris has excellent carrot cake and an awesome spinach pie. I had a lovely chat with George who works there, and apparently I was the first Māori he had ever met. I am loving the locals here, and everywhere I go, people keep paying for my coffees and teas. The hospitality is delightful. Often the hospitality is accompanied by a ‘where is your husband’. I had a wander around the Papigko and up to the rockpools. And then the rain came rolling in so I retreated for some more tea and enjoyed the view.

Papigko rock pools

Day 6/7 hike up to dragon lake

I had a day and a half of clear weather before I had to get back to the airport…. so I decided to take my tent up dragon lake. I left Mikro Papigko around nine. The trail was all up but very gentle with graceful switchbacks, with increasingly lovely views of the valleys below with the morning mist still resting. I am injured and going slowly but I must have passed at least 30 young Greek hikers, most of whom were entirely in the wrong gear.

I stopped at the krouna springs after 90 mins for coffee and breakfast and then wandered the final 30mins to the refuge and had another hot chocolate.

Making coffee at Krouna

The views are amazing from the refuge and it is proper alpine territory. From the refuge I meandered the final hour to Dragon Lake, past the Xerolimni lake. It was quite crowded by the lake but George, Iannis and Alex lent me some hot water and we talked about restaurants, mountains and why it’s not bonkers to hike by yourself. Iannis is a mountain leader working on the Pindos way so I got some tips for future routes in the region.

Astraka towers from below
Xerolimni lake

By 14.30 the crowds had disappeared and I had the mountain and the lake to myself. Stunning views up to Gamila peak (one for next time). I pitched the tent (I have never pitched so early in the day), drank tea, enjoyed the sun and contemplated life.

Dragon lake from above
Gamila peak
Glad I took my winter tent

I had the place to myself until just before six pm when two Greek guys showed up, and I could tell they were disappointed I had taken the best pitch (excellent view and the most sheltered). They wandered around the other side of the lake and then I didn’t see them again until morning. I had a quiet supper, watched the sun go down and was asleep by 9.30

Sun going down

It was cold during the night (I am guessing minus 5), and I did hear some rustling around my tent at 3am. Best guess it was the mountain ibex I saw at sun up. Either that or it was the rare Greek bear (either way I didn’t stick my head out of the tent)

Astraka towers
Making my breakfast coffee and watching the sun come up from bed

The sun came up around 7.30 and after making a coffee in bed I wandered up to take a look down the Aoos Gorge and across to Mt Smolikas. It was a view worth climbing the hill for. I know some people don’t understand why I camp. It isn’t for my love of canvas (though I do love the self sufficiency of hiking), it is so I can wake up in epic places like this and have them all to myself

View to Smolikas across the Aoos gorge
Ice on my tent
Dragon lake at dawn

I headed back up to the refuge but was stuck in a cow traffic jam for a while. For no good reason about 50 cows (with horns and babies) were blocking the narrow path along the hillside up to the refuge. I tried to scramble around them and bypassed a few. After about 20 minutes I was rescued as two hikers came from the other direction and the cows en masse started stampeding back towards me on the trail. I stepped up out of the way and off they went. I couldn’t help chuckle at how unimpressed I would be if I ended up dying because a cow pushed me down the hill, especially after some of the adventures I have been on

Cow trail jam

I had an excellent Greek coffee at the refuge and then skipped down the hill to Mikro Papigo where I grabbed some pie, coffee and cake from the wonderful Koukounaris and headed back to the airport.

Xerolimni lake

I have absolutely loved hanging out in Zagori, the scenery is spectacular, the food delicious, and the hospitality immense. I’ll be back for more hiking.

Goat road block as I was leaving

Mikro Papigko, 18 October, 2020

Additional notes

  • Flew direct to Preveza from London and rented a car to drive to the region (£15 per day for the car). It’s an easy 2.25 hour drive from the airport.
  • For getting from place to place, you can negotiate a ride with most locals for considerably cheaper than london cabs, there is no public transport
  • Stayed at the excellent Aristi Mountain Refuge in Aristi and also the lovely Kores hotel in Vitsa
  • I used the cicerone guide books for Zagori and the Pindos Way. I also downloaded the avenza maps but didn’t find them that much more useful than gaia.
  • Best food was at Salvia (in the Aristi Mountain Resort). Eat the Zagori pie at Kikitsa and the carrot cake and coffee at Koukounaris

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