Summer vacation in Greece is usually synonymous with picturesque islands spread across the crystal blue waters of the Aegean or the Ionians seas, but Greece’s mainland is a treasure trove for those willing to explore it. One of the country’s best-kept secrets, Epirus is home to spectacular beauty, quaint and tranquil sea resorts and mountaintop villages. Here are 10 reasons why you should explore this underrated region.
Since many tourists associate Greece with the islands, summer in the mainland and especially in Epirus means uncrowded beaches, empty natural reserves and the sense of being alone in the world for a few moments. With hot days yet cool nights, the region is the perfect getaway for those in need of a sense of escape and tranquility.
The capital of the Epirus region, Ioannina is a humble and relaxed university town on the shores of the Pamvotida Lake. With its relaxed atmosphere, this town boasts a stunning historical heart featuring old monuments, museums and traditional houses as well as cool cafés and plenty of delicious eateries. Last but not least, Ioannina is home to a lovely lake ideal for leisurely strolls at the end of a day of sightseeing.
Tucked in the Pindus mountain range, Zagori, or Zagoria, is a spectacular region consisting of 40-something traditional villages, interconnected by arched stone bridges built in the 18th-19th centuries. You will revel in the beauty of those hamlets, of which Monodendri and Papingo (or Papigo) are the most popular, but you should take the time to explore the lesser-known villages, such as Dilofo or Konitsa.
The Zagori region is also home to the Pindus mountain range, which includes two national parks that provide a habitat to a world of fauna and flora, rivers where visitors can enjoy some rafting, kayaking and dense forests ideal for hikes. Let us not forget the spectacular Vikos Gorge, the second deepest gorge in the world, behind the Grand Canyon in the USA.
Located near the resort town of Preveza, the archaeological site of ancient Nicopolis (or Nikopolis) was built in 31 BC by Roman ruler Octavianus Augustus. Associated with the romanization of Greece, the city was the capital of the region and richly adorned with imposing monuments. A crossroad for the western and eastern worlds, the city declined under the Byzantine era and was completely abandoned in the 13th-century. The site is home to a theater, an odeon, Christian churches, Roman baths and included a series of monuments in honor of the Roman emperor.
Though Epirus is known for its high, rugged peaks, it also has an extensive coastline dotted with tranquil sea resorts. Syvota, often dubbed the Ionian fjord, Parga, a windsurf and SUP capital, the beach paradise of Karavostasi or the laidback town of Preveza, with its marina and picturesque old town, are all places where you can enjoy refreshing dips in the Ionian Sea. Rent a boat to explore the nearby islets or take advantage of the proximity (and the ferry-free accessibility) to Lefkada to enjoy some beach fun.
With high mountains, Epirus is also home to three ski centers. The most popular one is Anilio Ski center, only a mere six kilometers from picturesque Metsovo. Sitting at an altitude of 1,850 meters, Anilio has five ski lifts for some skiing and snowboarding fun but is also adequate for fun with the children with sleighs for rent. End the day with a stop at the two-storied chalet before taking the road.
Cheese fans unite. There is more to Greece than feta cheese! Meet metsovone, a semi-hard, cow milk cheese which is naturally smoked and reminds of provolone. This is not by chance, since metsovone was inspired by the Italian cheese. With a rich and full flavor, this cheese is perfect for grilling but can also adorn any cheese platter. You will find it in the picturesque hamlet of Metsovo, hidden in the verdant peaks of northern Epirus.
According to Greek mythology, the Acheron river was the gateway to hell, from where the souls of the departed were transported into Hades. You will have a hard time believing this once you see the limpid waters of the river, perfect for wild swimming and kayaking. The village of Ammoudia often serves as a base, while transfer to the starting point is ensured by the kayaking company.
Whether you are visiting Epirus as a family, a couple, a group of friends or solo, you will love it. With a plethora of activities, outdoor and beach fun, cultural enlightment or delicious food, there is something for every single one of us in Epirus. From bustling cities to quiet villages, mountaintop lakes and calm rivers, there is always something to see and do in this off-the-beaten track corner of Greece.