Explore the quiet northwest of Zagori, mainland Greece
- Time-trapped Ioannina and cruises on Lake Pamvotida
- Hikes in Vikos Gorge, an incredible canyon reckoned to be the world’s deepest
- The Zagorochoria, 46 beautiful mountain villages dotted around a natural playground
- Gaping at the Meteora, six ancient monasteries somehow positioned atop natural rock needles
- Foodie tours, balloon rides or day-trips from Thessaloniki, Greece’s beguiling second city
From Preveza it’s a short drive to this longstanding city, which offers a plethora of sightseeing activities. Stroll through the centre, past cafes and time-trapped stone houses, or sail on handsome Lake Pamvotida to the No Name Island. Slightly further afield are Ottoman castles and the ancient theatre of Dodoni, where Greek tragedies were once performed to crowds of 18,000 over two millennia ago.
Most awe-inspiring is Vikos Gorge, about 12 miles from Ioannina. Considered to be the world’s deepest gorge at 490m, and yet only a few metres wide at certain sections, Vikos is an epic place of diverse ecosystems and awe-inspiring views. Eagles patrol the air, while steep paths take in pine-forested flanks, stone steps and springs. Hiking here is a sheer thrill.
Vikos is actually part of Zagori, a 1,000-square-kilometre realm where two national parks and 46 quaint, beautiful mountain villages – the Zagorochoria – linked on roads which criss-cross rivers via arched bridges (although in many cases these now stand next to newer bridges in the name of preservation). It’s a wonderful, pristine place. You’ll visit some of those villages, including Metsovo, home to traditional mansions, gardens and the Averoff Museum of Neohellenic Art, and Kastraki, whose spectacular, 16th-century monastery lines the Vikos-bound Voidomatis River.
Your base is just outside Aristi, another such village, at the soulful Aristi Mountain Resort. Numerous activities are possible, depending on your preference. Up to 140 species can be glimpsed while birdwatching in alpine meadows, gorges and oak forests. There are photo safaris led by a professional local snapper, wine-tasting in Zitsa, cookery lessons teaching the filo-sheeted pies for which this area is known or trekking and rafting tours along the Voidomatis.
A word about the food: the unusual soil in Zagori allows for a great variety of local product, including cheeses and wines, which you won’t find elsewhere in Greece – but which inspire Aristi’s excellent al-fresco restaurant.
‘Meteora’ means ‘suspended in the air’, and when you see these extraordinary buildings, you’ll immediately understand the name. The six surviving monasteries here sit, quite incredibly, atop spindly natural rock pillars. From early Christian times, the sheer Meteora cliffs were regarded as the perfect place to achieve absolute isolation; to discover peace and harmony. These exquisite pillars are impressive enough in their own right, but the sense of 2,000 years of Christian Orthodox history renders the site extra-magical.
Hiking is one of the best ways to enjoy this unique geo-cultural phenomenon, and to learn the history of a UNESCO World Heritage site. Walking hidden trails which only locals know, you’ll learn how the original monks here climbed the Meteora via perilous rope ladders. Staircases and pathways cut into the rock now make the ascent far less perilous.
Lining the Thermaic Gulf, Greece’s second city is eminently strollable – especially along its seaside promenade path. Cosmopolitan and historic all at once, Thessaloniki is best explored by a guided tour.
There’s several tours to choose from during two full days here, including a walking or even running tour of the main sights such as the majestic White Tower, a hot-air balloon ride atop it all, or a food-focused trawl around Greece’s gastro capital, wandering local markets, sampling freshly-baked snacks from bakeries, or stopping for an ouzo and meze. Day cruises head out onto the Gulf for lunch above a shipwreck site, while day trips go to the ancient Greek capital of Vergina and Alexander the Great’s birthplace, Pella.
We can also arrange wine-tasting trips, a tour of Thessaloniki’s key Jewish or Ottoman sites, and country hacks from a nearby horse stables.