Take the path less travelled and head to Zagori
Modern life is rubbish, so escape to Zagori and let the towering mountains and virgin forests restore what the daily grind takes away.
When you think of Greece, one of two images probably comes to mind: the classical art and architecture of Athens, or sunny islands like Mykonos or Santorini.
But Greece has about 200 inhabited islands, so rather than of following the tourist throngs why not go off the beaten track to the wildlife, adventure and untouched terrain of Zagori.
Take a deep breath of the fresh air as you explore the Vikos Gorge, drink straight from the cleanest river of the Balkans, and let Zagori restore your lust for life.
WHAT TO DO
Take a hike and feel your anxiety float away
Maybe you’ve never hiked in your life, and maybe you even occasionally get lost in city parks, but that’s okay because Zagori Outdoor Activities have a range of outdoor activities suitable for adventurers of all abilities.
An experienced local guide will take you along the Vikos Aoos National Park, telling stories of the region’s fascinating, dramatic history. The park is dotted with ancient bridges, all built to last with stones from the mountains and other natural materials.
It’s well-known that nature walks are a brilliant stress relief, so while you’re getting your adventure fix you’ll also notice your stress levels disappearing.
Along the way, you can munch on garlic leaves from a forest that the locals call the “natural pharmacy”, because its diverse and abundant flora has been used as medicine for centuries.
Go rafting in the cleanest water in the Balkans
The Voidomatis river has water so clean and clear, you can see right to the bottom. We’re talking sparkling, Disney-cartoon blues and greens. You can dip your hand right in and take a drink as you glide down this calming, pristine river, all while taking in the unique wildlife of the region.
Alpine Zone offer a range of tours and experiences which really make the most of the pristine landscape of Zagori. They take care of everything: gear, transport, safety, making sure you’ve got pics so you share the experience with all of your friends and frenemies on the gram. You know, the important stuff.
Take a looming workshop
Saita is a fully functional loom workshop run by the indomitable Lena Gerothanassis. Situated in the village of Elafotopos with breathtaking views of the Vikos Gorge, it’s easy to see why is a place where nature inspires creativity.
Lena sources wool from her own sheep and other natural fabrics from local suppliers. She actually makes and dyes her own fabrics from scratch, and if you think that’s impressive, just wait - because she will show you how you can do it too! On-site!
For those of us under the age of 80: a loom is a hand-operated machine used to make fabric by weaving yarn or thread. It’s an ancient art, and Lena was drawn to it from a young age. There are three looms on-site, two of which belonged to local women who gave them to Lena on retirement. Have a go at creating your own rug and feel the satisfaction of making something with your own hands.
If rugs aren’t your thing, how about a felt flower made entirely from wool and water? The possibilities are endless, the only limitation is your imagination, and the satisfaction level is tops.
There’s a kitchen downstairs run by Lena’s mother in law, where they cook delicious meals using ingredients grown in their own garden. Do yourself a favour and try the sweet goat’s cheese pie as you admire the masterpiece you’ve just created.
Explore the charming stone villages
There are 46 villages built into the mountains, each with breathtaking views, delicious food and local craft shops available to explore. There are actually no road signs in Zagori, but the villages are easy to navigate. As long as you know which village you need to be in you’ll be fine, and if you get lost the locals will point you in the right direction.
Papingo boasts stunning views of the Vikos gorge, ancient stone buildings built with rocks from the mountains, and its very own antique store full of curios of days gone by. There are gorgeous little shops where you can pick up locally made teas, herbs, and tsipouro - a traditional (and very strong) brandy made from grapes.
Take a seat in one of the charming cafes, order a hortopita (filo pie), and while away the hours taking in the majestic mountain views.
FOOD AND DRINK
Enjoy a tipple or two from the local brewery
It’s no surprise that a country that enjoys so much sunshine and heat has a vibrant social drinking culture, but Greece isn’t really known for producing a wide range of beer. So when beer-loving friends Annie, Sakis and Alex grew tired of drinking lager, they decided to brew a revolution. Epirus Brewery produces unique, hand-crafted beer in the village of Rodotopi, in a microbrewery right next door to the house that Annie’s grandfather built in 1953.
The beer they produce is unfiltered and unpasteurised, giving it a full taste and feel. Best served chilled, accompanied by food, friends and banter.
Go on a mushroom journey (not that kind you freak)
Zagori has the perfect climate for growing a vast array of wild mushrooms, and Kanela & Garyfallo is dedicated to making the most of this. The food here is unique, innovative, and most importantly: delicious.
The menu includes classics like mushroom soup, which is served in a mug so you can drink every last drop (you will want to) with a side of crusty bread.
Chef Vassilis Katsoupas’ unique “Dolce” salad is a game-changer: it’s made with beets, carrots, oranges, olives and mint is so filling and juicy, it will change your idea of what salad can be. You won’t have to pretend to like salad anymore, or trick yourself into thinking that you’re full as you silently forge a plan to sneak a few crisps in the kitchen afterward! You will actually feel like you have eaten actual, delicious food!
If you think that’s wild, wait until you try the mushroom dessert.
No need to check your eyes, you read that right: Mushroom. Dessert.
Apparently, mushrooms are way more versatile than we’ve been giving them credit for. Do not leave the restaurant without trying the ice cream with the mushroom spoon sweet topping. Spoon sweets are small fruit and vegetables preserved in sugar and served (as the name suggests) on a spoon. The type of mushroom that chef Katsoupas uses for this dish has a glutinous texture, so when it’s cooked in syrup it tastes like a gummy bear.
It’s a vegan gummy bear. You’re welcome.
The restaurant is cosy, and if the weather’s right you can even go on a mushroom safari with chef Katsoupas to appreciate the treasures of the forest.
Lithos / Taki’s place
Situated in the village of Dilofo with idyllic views, Lithos/Taki’s Place is a labour of love. The comfy vibe is the perfect setting to enjoy the delicious food cooked by chef Taki himself.
The grilled mushroom appetiser is unreal. These are not the mushrooms you buy in cardboard or plastic bottle from your supermarket fridge. Chef Taki seasons them with fragrant garlic, olive oil, herbs, and probably magic.
If you’re a vegan or a vegetarian, don’t be shy about it - while most of their menu items feature meat, the talented cooks are more than happy to whip up a delicious vegan or vegetarian meal made from their fresh, seasonal produce.
You will leave with a full belly and smile on your face.
PLACES TO STAY
After an adventure-filled day, you’ll want to relax in a place combines luxury with the comforts of home - but like, a home that’s way nicer than your actual home. Gamila Rocks Mountain Hotel is just the place. Comfort, luxury, and gorgeous views - what more could you want?
The answer is food. Breakfast is the most important meal, and at Gamila Rocks the continental breakfast will set you on course for a perfect day.
They also have a Hydropool, gym, sauna, on-site massages and the corridors are lined with portraits of dogs for maximum happiness.
By Maha Albadrawi
MTV Travelled With... Discover Greece. For more information please visit www.discovergreece.com. AEGEAN AIR. AEGEAN fly direct to Athens with AEGEAN from Gatwick. AEGEAN is a Star Alliance member and winner of Europe’s Best Regional Airline for the 8th time in a row, 9th time in all. It offers direct flights from 3 UK cities to 1 Greek destination and onwards to over 31 domestic destinations. For further information, fares and reservations contact: 0871 200 0040 or visit: https://en.aegeanair.com/. Gamila Rocks Mountain Hotel. Room rates start from €66.50 per night. Please visit www.gamilarocks.com for more information.