Greece Beyond the Beaches: the Undiscovered Epirus

The hustle of vibrant Athens faded once we left the city and headed for Epirus on the northwest side of the Greek mainland. Multicoloured concrete culture switched into green-blue stone villages, ancient arched bridges, ramshackle castles, quiet mountains topped with snow, and clear river gorges.

Greece is considered to be a top European destination when it comes to beautiful beaches, and for a good reason. Sadly, travel agents don’t usually add mountainous destinations to their itineraries, if at all.

Epirus, Greece
Stunning Pindus mountain range.

The region of Epirus in Greece is underrated for a few reasons:

1. It’s pretty rugged and was not easily accessible for many years (even now, the only way to reach it is by bus or car.) New motorways have now made it easier to travel to the region, but the ideal means of transportation when travelling around Epirus is by car.
2. The tourism industry started developing only a few years ago, when abandoned houses were renovated and turned into hotels and guesthouses for tourists.
3. The elevation of Epirus is extremely high. It is famous for its frequent rainstorms, and because of that lots of travellers don’t consider the area for a holiday destination.
4. The absence of reliable maps has made the region less attractive for tourists.

Finding the right model of tourism business in Parga.

Currently, the situation in Epirus is evolving and more tourism related businesses have emerged along the seacoast. In small towns like Metsovo however, souvenir shops have started to occupy the town centre. Hopefully, this model of tourism won’t be the only one in the area, where ecotourism could thrive as a sustainable model of business for many unemployed locals there.

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undiscovered Epirus

Terrain of arch-shaped bridges and stone villages

When you arrive in Athens, you’ll see that the city is still recovering from a recent economic collapse. Abandoned buildings are still awaiting new owners, and those that are inhabited long for restoration.

Epirus, Greece
Kalogeriko stone bridge on the river of Voidomatis.

In Epirus, though, you’ll feel like you’ve entered a realm where the past is charmingly present . 75 beautiful arched bridges used to connect these small villages to each other, and have the ability to quickly transport visitors to a bygone era.

Epirus, Greece
A café in Kalarites brings life to the village.

The stone mansions in nearly empty villages whisper their ancient stories of desertion. Built from limestone from the nearby mountains, and resistant wood from the forests in the surrounding area; the buildings are speechless, yet powerful mementos of Epirus’ history.

Epirus, Greece
What’s the story of this bridge?

Every bridge has a story; some happy, others tragic, because their construction wasn’t always strong enough to hold the heavy carts crossing them.

Epirus, Greece
The ancient Moni Tsoukas monastery.

Besides the residential buildings, you’ll stumble upon Byzantine churches and monasteries from ancient times; and walking through them will give you an authentic picture of how the lives of monks isolated in the mountains looked.

Magic at the Dodona oracle

Epirus, Greece
Getting closer to Gods in the Theatre of Dodona.

Secluded from masses, embraced among the mountains, and so close to Gods, Epirus used to be home to an ancient oracle where priests and priestesses looked for signs that would lead them in the right direction. Currently, the site is under construction, but you can still walk around the theatre of Dodona and its nearby ruins.

Pristine and rough nature of Epirus

If there is any advantage to Epirus’ poor infrastructure, it is definitely the pristine surroundings, where one barely notices the sparse human touch. The majority of the terrain is rough, often only marked by a path that belongs to the official national (O3) or international (E6, Z, P, EPPER) network of hiking trails.

One of the areas with the most stunning views, hiking trails, various animal species, and diverse vegetation is Pindos National Park. The highlight of the park is the 20km Vikos Gorge (its deepest point is 1600ft (490 m.)

Unfortunately, we didn’t manage to go for a trek in Epirus, but we did some research on the most recommended and interesting hiking trails in the region.

Recommended hiking trails in Vikos Gorge (Times are round-trip)
* Mikro Papigko – Gkamila: 7 hours
* Vradeto – Drakolimni of Timfi: 6 hours 45minutes
* Monodendri – Vikos: 6 hours
* Vradeto – Beloi: 30 minutes
* Mikro Papigko – Astraka: 5.5 hours

Epirus, Greece
The Stone Forest of Monodendri, Epirus.

Other than mountain trekking through Vikos, you can explore village life, cross ancient bridges, and swim in waterfalls near the 45 villages known as Zagoria.

Recommended paths in Zagoria (Times are round-trip)
* Dikorfo – Kipi: 4 hours
* Kapesovo – Vradeto’s Skala: 1hour 45minutes
* Dilofo – Vitsa: 1.5 hours
* Aspragelli – Holy Monastery of Aspragelli: 1 hour
* Iliohori – Waterfalls of Iliohori: 1 hour
* Kipi – Koukoli: 45 minutes

Beach escape in Epirus

Epirus, Greece
Turquoise heaven of Parga.

After hiking time through the gorges in the Greek countryside…it’s time for the beach! Arriving to the west coast of Epirus, you’ll find some of the finest beaches of the country. The majority of them are located around the charming town of Parga.

You can work on your suntan on the splendid beaches of Valtos (5 minutes walking distance from Parga,) Lichnos (8 minutes of driving) Sarakiniko (20 min of driving) Bella Vraka (35 minutes driving) Kastrosykia (40 min driving) or Loutsa and Ammoudia (both 25 minutes driving.)

Which places to visit in Epirus

Unless you’re camping in Epirus, you’ll need to stop somewhere to stay overnight. Either that, or you have the option of taking a stroll via the cobblestone streets of some forgotten villages. Here is a short list of places we recommend to visit while travelling around Epirus:

Epirus, Greece
The island of Ioánnina after the sunset.

Ioánnina: the largest town in the region, where you’ll most probably start your trip from if you arrive from Athens.

Make sure to take a boat and visit the island of Ioánnina and its Filantrhopinon Monastery.

Epirus, Greece
Arachthos Gorge, Epirus.

Moni Tsoukas monastery: a serene place with remarkable Byzantine art and gorgeous views of the Arachthos Gorge. Only 17km from Ioánnina.

Epirus, Greece
Silence of the Kalarites village.

Kalarites village: with only 15 households, this place is a unique example of the slowly disappearing inhabited places of the region. Walking through the empty village at sunset, when all sounds of life are melting into the dark sky is indeed a powerful and emotional experience.

Kipoi village: worth a visit for the rare three arch bridge near the village.

Epirus, Parga
Isn’t the port of Parga gorgeous?

Parga: This will be your “beach headquarters,” and you will love cozy feeling of the narrow streets where sea air mixes with the smell of freshly cooked homemade food from open windows.

Epirus, Greece
Can you smell the lunch?

Parga is a quintessential Mediterranean town, where you meet locals sitting in front of their houses chatting, and rhythm of the day is dependent on the heat.

How to travel to Epirus

Epirus, Greece
Kokori, the oldest bridge in the area.

By car
A car is the easiest way to freely get around Epirus. Drive from Athens via Río–Andírrio bridge (direction to Patra) will take you about six hours. At the bridge turn right at Trikoupis Bridge and then drive through Mesolongi, Agrinio, Amfilochia and Arta, which is only 80 km far from Ioánnina. If you travel from Thessaloniki, you’ll arrive to Ioánnina in 2.5 hours.

By bus
You can take a direct bus from Athens to Ioánnina, which will take about eight hours and you’ll pay about $42 for a one-way ticket. The journey from Thessaloniki lasts about six hours.

By plane
There are plenty of local flights from Athens to Ioánnina by Aegean airlines and Olympic Airlines. A flight takes 45 minutes and costs $55 and up.

By boat
From Corfu it’s three hours by a ferry (in a local bus) for $12 to Igoumenitsa and from there you can take a bus to Ioánnina (takes 1hour 15minutes and costs $8) or rent a car in Igoumenitsa.

Epirus, Greece
Rough, yet rewarding Epirus.

Epirus is rough, yet rewarding. If you make an effort and overcome the initial difficulties of transportation, you’ll earn some memorable prizes here: scrumptious food, energetic and curious people, wild and rocky nature, stone-paved streets and… good Greek vibes. This is what Epirus is about.

Have you ever been to Epirus or Greece? Would you prefer to explore the beaches or hike in the Vikos Gorge?

Disclaimer: Our trip to Epirus wouldn’t have happened without the help of Visit Greece. Our opinions, village explorations, bridge crossings, and local smiles are our own.

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7 thoughts on “Greece Beyond the Beaches: the Undiscovered Epirus”

  1. Such an underrated place to go in the winter … thanks for showing the other side of Greece!

    1. Ivana Greslikova

      Hi Meghan, I guess any season will do in Epirus 🙂 Maybe it’ll be even better to visit it in warmer period, especially if you want to go hiking since the paths are not so well maintained there for now.

  2. Katie Featherstone

    I love Greece’s beaches, especially those which are a bit less well known, but Epirus sounds so beautiful. The Theatre of Dodona must have been an amazing this to see and the landscape is gorgeous. Definitely worth a bit of a trek to get there I would have thought!

    1. Ivana Greslikova

      Hi Katie, thanks a lot for stopping by. Epirus is a fantastic spot in Greece and with some beautiful beaches near Parga, too 😉 Let us know if it happens you travel there. We’d love to hear about your experience!

  3. Alex-Wanderlust Marriage

    Beautiful post! Amazing photos that really inspire me to return to this region of Greece. Over a decade ago I took a bus through Epirus as I was travelling to Corfu. I was really struck by its beauty and I’ve wanted to return on subsequent visits to Greece but it’s eluded me (partly because my family is from southern Greece too).

    It was nice meeting you two on top of the acropolis at TBEX by the way. What a fitting place to have a chat! 🙂

    1. Ivana Greslikova

      Hi Alex, nice to connect with you again! I totally understand your desire to return to Epirus 😉 The area is just beautiful and ideal for hiking in an undiscovered area. Hope next time you’ll stop in the mountains on the way to the south!

  4. We couldn’t agree more with your article Ivana! Great article! Greece is only about sun and beaches. There are beautiful places far away from massive tourism that have been remained pure and original. Epirus, Karpenisi and Pelion are our favorite mountainous places!Keep the good job Ivana!

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