The university town of Ioannina was not our first stop during our recent road trip through Greece‘s north-western region of Epirus, but it was undoubtedly a destination that made a vast impression on us. Bustling Ioannina with its stunning lakeside position, colorful history that spans over 1000 years, and cheerful student population is a place waiting to enchant your mind and soul. Ioannina is the perfect antidote to the crowded seaside resorts of the Ionian coast. Easily accessible and blessed with mild temperatures, the capital of Epirus is fun for solo travelers and families alike. Be careful, though! You might seriously want to relocate to Ioannina, after you try their locally made, out-of-this-world “baclava” pastry!
A very short history lesson
My intention is not to tire you with too many historical facts. You might though want to make yourself a strong espresso, just in case you start getting drowsy midway. I am not a great fan of eras and chronologies either, but I have to admit that Ioannina’s history is nothing else but monotonous.
The administrative centre and biggest town of the region of Epirus was founded by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I in the 6th century AD. In the beginning it was a rather small town, but this was about to change a few centuries later. In 1204, Constaninople was sacked by the Crusaders forcing many influential families to leave the capital of Byzantium and flee to Ioannina. These families brought with them power, money and skills. It didn’t take long for Ioannina to start flourishing, thanks also to its strategic position on the crossroad of the main trade routes between East and West.
Ioannina continued to be a commercial and cultural centre even after the city fell to the hands of the Ottoman Turks in 1430. Its silver art became famous across Europe and remained in high demand for centuries. An interesting detail I was not aware of until my last visit, is that the famous Italian jewelry and luxury goods house of Bulgari has its roots in Ioannina. The Bulgari family was left with no other choice but to abandon Epirus in the 19th century, when the taxation imposed by the controversial Ottoman-Albanian ruler Ali Pasha, was too heavy a burden for them and other silversmiths. More on Ali Pasha’s flamboyant personality and tragic death in another post.
It should also be mentioned that Ioannina used to have a thriving Jewish community up until World War II, when its majority was deported by the Nazis to concentration camps. One of the many tragical turning points in Ioannina’s history.
Where to Stay
We stayed at Hotel Kastro, which is located inside the city’s old fortress. It used to be the home of an upper-class family, now tastily renovated and converted into a seven room property. It is conveniently situated next to the acropolis of Its Kale and the Byzantine Museum. It is also a short stroll from Lake Pamvotis, restaurants, café and shops.
Should also be mentioned that the owners serve super rich breakfast including local pies, homemade jams and cakes, eggs etc. Food kept coming from the kitchen to a point that there was not anymore enough room in our table for everything. We could not believe our eyes, considering the rate they charge for their rooms. Highly recommended for solo travelers and families alike.
I intend to write more about Things to Do and Places to Eat in Ioannina later on. I hope you liked what you saw and read so far about Ioannina.
(PLEASE NOT THAT I RECEIVED NO COMPENSATION FOR THIS POST FROM HOTEL KASTRO.)