Vikos Gorge (Northern Greece), 11-15 August 2017


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Background Information

The map below shows our route around the Pindos mountains, including Vikos gorge, where we hiked for 4 days. The first day we travelled from Iaonnina to Monodendri and walked the length of the Vikos gorge, camping near Papigo. The next day, we went through Papigo and climbed to the Astraka refuge, in the evening we paid the Dragon Lake a quick visit. The third day was relatively short and walked along the Megas Lakos river towards Vradeto. The following morning, we visited the Beloi viewpoint and made our way to Kipi and saw a range of 18th century bridges on our way to Vitsa. On the morning of the 5th day, we walked the last half hour to Vitsa and made our way back to civilisation.

The majority of the route follows the O3 track so was well signed; there are several extra loops which can be done. We would recommend spending an extra night at the refuge, as this would allow the exploration of Gamila and/or Astraka. We camped most nights, but the route can be completed staying in the village hotels each night.

The only photo of all 4 of us.

Travel

When planning this trip, the most difficult part was organising transport due to the lack of information available online. We want to share the information we found to make the region more easily accessible. Hiring a car is the simplest way, but for us that wasn't an option, so local buses were the only alternative, unfortunately, buses are rare.

The following buses are the most useful:

Iaonnina - Monodendri via Elafotopos (Duration: approx. 1:20, Price: approx. €4)

Monodendri - Iaonnina

Iaonnina - Papigo

Papigo - Iaonnina


Apparently, there is a bus which goes to Kipi on Mondays, but we don't know the details. Also, some people claim that during school terms, school buses are happy to take tourists to the region.

The main bus station at Iaonnina has a ticket office where you can buy tickets. We were out of peak season so there were only 10 people on the coach, but would recommend buying tickets the day before if possible, simply for peace of mind.

For our return to Iaonnina from Vitsa, we hitchhiked. The 4 of us got taken in 2 cars within half an hour of waiting, so this is probably a reliable way to return (if not too late in the day). All people leaving the Zagori will travel through Metamorfosi from where there are a few more buses (below), but most will continue to Iaonnina.

Konitsa - Ianonnina (stop at Metamorfosi approx. 45 mins after leaving Konitsa)

Iaonnina - Konitsa

Note that there seem to be buses going in only one direction on Wed-Fri, this could be a mistake on the KTEL website, but also could be true given how bizarre the bus timetables are.

We travelled to Iaonnina from Preveza, also by bus, but these timetables are available online. After camping in Iaonnina, we took the Friday 06:15 to Monodendri and then hitchhiked on the return.

Bus station locations (please check exact locations with locals):

Accommodation

Wild camping is technically illegal in Greece, but we had no issues. As long as you are out of sight of civilisation and set up late/leave early, you should have no issues. In general, we saw only a handful of people each day, however we were out of peak season.

The only campsite in the whole region is in Iaonnina (Camping Limnopoula) and costs around €10 per night. It has showers etc, our only issue was the heat, but that was due to the time of year.

Zagori Villages

There are 46 so called Zagori villages, which are famous for their distinct architecture, most of these villages have churches and some have 18th century stone arched bridges. All the villages we visited en route had hotels and/or restaurants, but we never saw a grocery shop.

Resources

Time of year

We were naive enough to travel to Greece at the start of August, in peak summer. This meant that despite the region being full of rivers and springs, most had dried up, so we were forced to carry our own water (around 5L per person). The temperature in Iaonnina was 35°C, but thankfully it was cooler in the mountains, partially due to the elevation.

There are some springs which are perennial (marked on maps for each day), so we used these to refill water and some cafes in the villages allowed us to refill. Due to the heat, we aimed to wake up around 6:00 set off by 7:30 in order to get a couple of hours of walking in before the heat of the day. By 11:00 it was already hot and it stayed that way until 18:00 (sunset around 21:30). The lower wooded areas gave some shelter, but we would recommend not to go in the middle of summer as there were days when we had to walk in the sun for up to 9 hours.

Food

Do to the lack of provisions in the Vikos region, we stocked up on food in Iaonnina. On several occasions, we had breakfast and coffee in the village restauraunts/tavernas, however these were hard to find before 8:00. The night we stayed in the Astraka refuge, we ate there, the food is good quality and reasonably priced for the location.

Wildlife

In terms of wildlife, there are several animals worth noting. A boar sniffed around our tents on the first night, but no damage was done. After the refuge, there were meadows full of cows, but they were docile. Later that day, we encountered a sheep dog (Molossi), we'd read that these are bred to be vicious and to feared. We followed the advice of being ready to defend ourselves by picking up rocks, but the dog retreated.

Brown bears are known to be present in the region (20-30 live annually in the Pindos), but we didn't encounter any. On the 4th day, we spoke to several people who mentioned bears (none of whom had encountered them recently), so we do not know how serious a threat they are. We decided to be cautious on the last night and camped in a church just in case.

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