Fly to: Prevesa, Greece
Internal Transfer: 4x4 minibus to Vista near Monodendri
Visa required: Not if British
Time Zone:+2hrs GMT
5 Quick Facts:Click here
Journal:No journal for this trip
Vikos Gorge & Zagoria Villages
In the modern age, Greece is recognised for its beaches, islands, ancient monuments and shrines such as Delphi and Dodoni; which continue to inspire the traveller. However there is so much more to this ancient country: Few would realize, but it is, after Switzerland, Europe's most mountainous state, with Mount Olympus; the legendary home of the Gods, reaching almost 10,000 feet/2,900 metres.
The main mountain axis extends from the Pindos range in the north, through the Peloponnese. This trek begins with a walk in the spectacular 1620m-deep Vikos Gorge, exploring forests of hornbeam, beech and pine. Above the tree line are alpine meadows displaying a riot of flowers in spring. Over looking the gorge itself are the stunning Papingo towers; the track passes beneath these making its way up to the enchanting Dragon Lake; a reminder of the region's glacial past. Within the Pindos range are the wild and remote Zagoria Villages, famed for their traditional stone-roofed houses, and also the monasteries perched on the pinnacles of Meteora.
In a region of almost inaccessible sandstone peaks, Meteora means 'suspended in air' and from the 11th century onwards Monks settled on these columns in the sky. Twenty-four of these monasteries were built, despite incredible difficulties. There were no steps and the main access to the monasteries was by means of a net hitched over a hook and hoisted up by rope and a hand cranked windlass to winch towers overhanging the chasm. Monks descended in the nets or on retractable wooden ladders up to 40m long to the fertile valleys below to grow grapes, corn and potatoes.
The northern Pindos is one of the finest wilderness areas in the Balkans and indeed in the whole of Europe. The landscape is on a grand scale with peaks of limestone and serpentine rock rising to 2636m (8650ft) from an extensive region of natural beech and pine forest at the headwaters of the Voidomatis and Aoos rivers. Limestone gorges, such as the Vikos, are up to 1000m deep. The mountainous Pindos region is thinly populated and much of the lower ground is still covered by dense forest within which live wolves, bears and lynx. Griffon vultures soar above the peaks, while Egyptian vultures haunt the gorges. The Pindos and Mount Olympus are botanically rich, with over 3000 plant species and many rarities, particularly on Olympus itself and on the unusual serpentine soils of Smolikas peak.
The high summer pastures are grazed in by sheep, to produce the many excellent local cheeses such as kefalotiri. Although the climate is warm in summer, the Pindos Mountains remain green long after the winter snows have thawed. In spring and early summer meadows are ablaze with alpine and other wild flowers, including an abundance and variety of orchids. Towards autumn, as the leaves begin to turn, just as colourful are the forests of beech and hornbeam. Overall, perhaps the greatest attraction of the Pindos mountains is that one can find a greater solitude here than in many other mountainous areas of Europe.
The well worn route follows shepherds' and muleteers' footpaths, ancient tracks and some newer Forestry Service access roads, rising high up onto Astraka Mountain. The route itself winds between Astraka peak (2436 m) and Gamilla peak (2497m), and by making a short extension a visit can be paid to Dragon Lake (2,100m) situated nearby.
At 2,917m Mt. Olympus is the highest mountain in Greece and the second highest in the whole of the Balkans, it rises abruptly from the coastal plain south of Thessaloniki. Standing alone and isolated from the Pindos range, its summit region is capped with snow for most of the year, Olympus is an irresistible magnet for climbers, walkers and botanists alike. As seen from the east and north, immense precipices of pale limestone rise above a zone of dark coniferous forest.
The Hellenic Alpine Club Refuge (with all facilities and a permanent warden) provides overnight accommodation, situated 3/4 the way up Mt Olympus. From here an additional ascent of Skolio (2911m) the walkers' subsidiary summit, can be made.
This is a great trekking holiday which truly gives a unique perspective from which to view this beautiful country. The people, scenery & food are an absolute delight.