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To the Vikos gorge in the Pindos mountains

Home -> Europe -> Greece -> Travelogue Greece -> 14 June 2015

Sunday 14 June, to the Vikos gorge in the Pindos mountains

Today we head north to the Pindos Mountains where some of the highest mountains of Greece reach up and which is mostly known to tourists because of the Vikos gorge. There are two national parks, the Pindo and Vikos-Aoös. Actually, we should have come a little earlier in the spring, then the flora seems to bloom abundantly, including many orchids.
In the village of VitsaVitsa is one of the so-called Zachorian villages, 45 of which still look traditional with many imposing mansions from the Ottoman period when Zagoria was autonomous. But also many derelict old barns and houses. The area does not lend itself to agriculture and the population mainly consisted of shepherds, but young people nowadays prefer to earn their money in tourism. The landscape is phenomenal and from the village square, where we drink a cup of coffee, we see the high mountains and gorges around us.
Walking at the Vikos gorge Trees on the rocks, Vikos gorgeThe river Vikos runs through a deep gorge between the mountains and this area is a paradise for hikers. If you really go into the mountains you have to be an experienced hiker and we are not. We stay on the beaten track and drive through the area in search of beautiful views. Occasionally we take a walk but especially Elisabeth stays away from the edge. The slopes sometimes go down perpendicularly.
In Vitsa it is stated on a sign that the Vikos gorge is the deepest canyon in the world according to the Guinness book of world records, namely 900 meters with a maximum width of 1100 meters. On the internet you will find some other values such as gorges up to 1600 meters deep and a width from a few to 400 meters. We think it is deep enough.
Monastery of Agia Paraskevi at the Vikos gorgeJust past Vitsa is the village of Monodendri, where we park the car in a parking lot at the edge of the village. Then we follow the signs to Moni Paraskevi (the Paraskevi monastery), which is located a bit outside the village on a steep sloping rock at the edge of the Vikos gorge. The monastery was founded in 1412 by Michael Therianos as a thank you for the healing of the eye problems of his daughter, a miracle that was attributed to Saint Paraskevi. The walk there is less than a kilometer and not difficult, but goes along deep ravines and offers beautiful views.
Portrait in the monastery of Agia Paraskevi Icon in the monastery of Agia ParaskeviIt is only a small monastery, but well preserved and very nice to visit. We see a priest who is manning a small shop and is painting an icon. The monastery has not been inhabited since 1940. In the courtyard and in the shop you can see beautiful icons and it seems as if the paint of some is still wet. There is also a prayer room, there cannot have lived many nuns here in the past.
You can just walk in and apparel regulations are apparently not there because Elisabeth wears half shorts and a sleeveless shirt.
View of the Vikos gorge The Vikos gorge in Northern GreeceOn the side of the monastery you can walk further, along the edge of the deep gorge and there is a large warning sign. Here and there is a railing but there are also parts where Elisabeth pushes against the rocks to proceed carefully. I myself have a little less fear of heights, but I do have awe for that depth!
Breathtaking is a good word to use here. The gap has been eroded by the Voidomatis River for millions of years, although it is now dry for most of the summer time. Mountaineers can indulge themselves here.
Athanasios church, MonodendriThe village of Monodendri is also one of those traditional villages with white stone houses and slate roofs. New buildings may only be built to replace existing houses and the same materials must be used.
Elisabeth thinks that after this frightening trip she is ready for a break and fortunately there is every opportunity in the village where more and more tourists are coming because of the beautiful, untouched nature. On the square, near the Athanasios church, there are chairs and tables as usually in this kind of villages and we sit there for a while.
The name of the village, Monodendri, means 'one tree'. Until 1753 the village was, together with Vitsa, one large village between which a large fir stood. Monodendri won the battle for the area where the tree stood on and then took this name, although the tree is no longer there.
The stone forest at the Vikos gorge The stone forest at the Vikos gorgeDriving north for a next vantage point, we pass a number of strangely layered rocks and that turns out to be the so-called Stone Forest, millions of years old limestone formations in which you can see all sorts of figures with a little imagination. At least we read that afterwards and it seems that you can make a nice walk between the limestone cliffs here, but we did not do that. We really are not such walkers, but that also has a bit to do with our health.
At the Oxya lookout point Together at the Oxya lookout pointWhat we have read about in our travel guides, is the Oxya viewpoint, at the end of a dead end. There we park the car and follow the path into the forest. Another adventure according to Elisabeth who tries to pretend as though there is no ravine at all next to the path. Fortunately, on the last part there is a fairly high wall, but how reliable is it? The stones of the path have occasionally subsided but I am not allowed to joke about it. We meet an American couple we talk to for a while and we take pictures with each other's cameras, although it takes some effort to get Elisabeth to pose at the edge.
Glad I am far away from the edge The Vikos gorge from the Oxya viewpointAt this point the bottom of the gorge is 900 meters below us and Elisabeth is really happy when we get back on a slightly wider path, as if she can finally breathe again. Yet she can also enjoy the view, truly majestic. Different from the Meteora but just as impressive.
This is one of the areas in Europe where still bears occur, but we are glad that we do not encounter them. To see one from a distance would be so spectacular, though.
Church at Kato Pedina Hairpin bends in the Vikos-Aoös national parkThe roads are all dead ends here and we have to go back to Kato Pedina, one of the oldest villages of Zachoria with about 40 inhabitants, where we pass the Taxiarchen church. Built in the 14th century but completely restored in 1611 and in 1749 decorated with frescoes of ancient Greek philosophers. Unfortunately, the door is closed and we can not see them.
On the way to the village of Vikos we see a road full of impressive hairpin bends across the valley. You bet that I'm going to drive that road!
Taking a break in Aristi Hollow tree at KleidoniaAlso in Vikos, where the Vikos gorge ends, we make a short but nice walk but it is a lot more touristic here, far too many people. So we drive back to Aristi where we drink and eat a real Greek salad with a thick chunk of feta cheese on top.
Then we drive even further north and at Kleidonia we go from the road to the old stone bridge. It is like a kind of park where we end up and obviously loved as a picnic spot. There is a large hollow tree where I easily fit into, but the most remarkable thing about the tree is that it still lives and wears leaves. Wonderful.
Klidonia bridge at Kleidonia Klidonia bridge at KleidoniaIn this area you can find many arch bridges, although enough have already disappeared. They were built high over the water because the rivers often overflowed in the winter and the spring and people could not travel from village to village. Often they were paid for by wealthy villagers and the bridge then was named after them. This bridge is simply called the Kleidonia bridge, named after the village and the river is the Aoös where the national park is named after. The water of the river is beautiful blue and in the heat it is nice to sit next to it.
It is above 30 degreesWe continue a bit further to the north, to Konitsa where we are close to the Albanian border. On the road we see warning signs for an icy road while the thermometer in the car indicates more than 30 degrees. But in winter it will be frosty at this altitude, we are more than 600 meters high. On the map I see many more roads that go deeper into the national park but it has already become quite late due to the many walks and stops. And I have not even ridden that beautiful hairpin road! Every reason to come back here.
Grandpa brings the tractor home, Perama Grandpa walks back home, PeramaIn the evening we see the same ritual from our balcony as every evening: grandfather comes on his tractor from the village, parks it on the grounds of our building and walks back to the village. Just like the morning grandmother always comes along with a shopping bag and later walks away with a bunch of branches on her back. We do not even have to leave our balcony, there is always something to see here.


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