It’s time to leave the picturesque town of Ioannina with its authentic restaurants and sophisticated little cafés, and head for the Zagori region high up in the Greek mountain range of Pindos. Zagori is part of the Northern Pindos National Park.
Think of mystical forests, majestic mountains, pristine springs, turquoise blue rivers cutting through steep gorges, awe-inspiring rock formations, centuries old monasteries and stone arch bridges, traditional villages, hospitable people, and hearty Greek food made from local ingredients. Zagori is nothing less than a feast for all senses.
How to get to Zagori
From Ioannina take the National Road towards Konitsa. Exit at Mesovouni and continue towards the village of Aristi. From there you can either drive towards the villages of Papigo and Mikro Papigo, or continue towards the village of Monodendri.
Our trip from Ioannina was smooth and uneventful up until Mesovouni. Then the landscape changes abruptly to mountainous and the road gets curvy and very narrow. The whole driving experience was nerve-breaking to stay the least, but I managed to put a brave face.
On the way to Aristi, we experienced a couple of standstills, caused by herds of cows and goats blocking the road. Some of the animals came as close as to lick our car, while staring at us suspiciously. My daughter and wife seemed pretty amused, but I was all sweaty imagining obese cows on heat mistaken our white colored car for a mating partner.
We eventually reached Mikro Papigo in one piece. I suppose its pretty needless to say who rushed to the hotel’s bar as soon as we arrived at the lobby.
Hiking in Zagori
Zagori has an extensive network of hiking trails ranging from easy to difficult. We chose to stay in the village of Mikro Papigo at about 1.000 meters above sea level, an ideal starting point for many hiking routes
One of the most demanding and rewarding trails leads to the alpine lake of Drakolimni. It takes 3-4 hours to get there from Mikro Papigo and there is a mountain refuge on the way.
Another worth-trying option is to follow the path that connects the villages of Mikro Papigo and Monodendri, along the Voidomatis River, that cuts through the Vikos Gorge, one of the deepest in the world.
It should take around 7 hours to reach Monodendri. We met a group of French teenagers that had just arrived to Mikro Papigo from Monodendri carrying their full-scale camping equipment, and they were still not in need of First Aid. I am not an expert but I suppose this could be a sign that the trail is not too demanding?
And for those that have traveled to Zagori bringing only their loafers and stilettos, there is a Gucci-friendly path that leads to the springs of Voidomatis River. In about 90 minutes and 5 blisters later, you would be back to the comfort of your hotel’s terrace sipping martinis.
Activities for kids in Zagori
In the proximity of Mikro Papigo are the rock pools or “Kolymbithres”. Although the water is freezing cold, kids love them. We arrived at “Kolymbithres” early in the morning, only to find a few people lying on the rock formations, enjoying the sun. By noon, the place was packed with children, jumping in and out of the pool and having the time of their lives.
There is also horse riding available, but I think that what the kids would enjoy the most is being close to nature. Being able to run freely, climb trees, play hike and seek is a real treat for the young and young at heart alike. Parents should also know that there are no cars in Mikro Papigo. At the entrance of the village there is a parking lot, where visitors leave their car, and from there on it’s all walking.
Having said that, Mikro Papigo and Zagori in general, might not be an agreeable destination for persons with disabilities due to the many stairs and steep elevation differences.
Where to stay and eat in Mikro Papigo
For affordable luxury, magnificent views and impeccable service try the Mikro Papigo 1700 It only has 15 stylish rooms, and some of them come with a fireplace, others with a balcony or a jacuzzi. The hotel’s junior and master suites have the best views over the valley. This is pure mountain chic!
What makes Mikro Papigo 1700 Hotel & Spa even more special is its indoor pool and spa, created by Austrian craftsmen specialized in alpine building techniques. Can you think of a better place to relax after a day full of mountain activities?
Finish the day in style with a dinner at the hotel’s Veranda 1700 restaurant watching the sun setting over the mountains. The chef uses only organic and locally produced ingredients to create traditional dishes of the region with a contemporary twist. Their savory Greek pies and desserts will linger in your thoughts for weeks.
Mikro Papigo 1700 is a family run hotel. Elsa, the manager, loves children (she has two herself) and will be more than happy to give you advice on family friendly activities.
Listening to Elsa calling out her daughter who was playing at the church’s yard on the other side of the village, made me feel nostalgic. It reminded me of my childhood, when all the neighborhood children were playing together in the alley. “Playdates” were unheard of those days.
There is no nightlife in Mikro Papigo, but the buzz at Dias (“ΔΙΑΣ”) Tavern makes for a good alternative. Apart from being a meeting point for locals and travelers alike, Dias kitchen is fresh, unpretentious and inexpensive. Greek food is delivered to your table with a smile and a big heart, making this restaurant’s reputation almost unbeatable.
Zagori in our hearts
Zagori captured our hearts and minds with its authentic people and unparalleled beauty. Would I ever go again? Definitely, but next time I will leave the loafers at home and bring my hiking shoes instead. 🙂
While at Mikro Papigo remember to visit the Information Centre. The people working there are extremely informative.
(Traveller’s Tree is NOT affiliated with, endorsed, or sponsored either by Mikro Papigo 1700 Hotel & Spa or DIAS Tavern)