We all love the islands of the Ionian and Aegean seas, but back on the Greek mainland are two areas of outstanding beauty that we urge you to consider visiting. Introducing Epirus and Meteora, home to wonderful walking, lovely places to stay and cultural highlights galore.
Fly to Epirus
Your flight to Athens leaves London at lunchtime and arrives in the Greek capital three-and-a-half-hours later. Connect on to the evening flight to Ioannina (your bags will be checked straight through) which takes an hour. On arrival you will be met and transferred the one-hour to your eventual destination, a lovely lodge in the heart of the Zagori region of Epirus province. You should be here in time for a late supper.
The Zagori region in Epirus is famously one of the most beautiful in mainland Greece, and today you will have the chance to learn more about the area's distinct culture. We can arrange privately guided visits to local farms and vineyards to sample Zagorian wines, cheeses (they make a mean feta) and game. You must also make time to visit at least a couple of the charming Zagorochoria villages and the many medieval arched stone bridges that span the region's many rivers and make ideal Insta-snaps. Back at the hotel there's a spa where you can enjoy pampering massages.
Today you will tackle one of Europe's great walks - Vikos Gorge - with your expert guide. The route begins from the villages Monodendri and Koukouli and ends at Vikos. Vikos Gorge is a miracle of nature with walls nearly 3,000ft high and designated by the Guinness Book of World Records as the deepest gorge in the world when comparing width to depth. As you walk, your guide will explain about the pristine and unadorned natural environment, which serves as a refuge for many endangered species of flora and fauna. The guide will also point out how the steep slopes of the gorge reveal the geological history of the Pindos Mountain. En route, there are four points from which one can admire Vikos Gorge in its entirety, the best of which is Vikos itself, where the walk finishes - a fitting visual reward for an epic trek.
Please note that while the Vikos Gorge walk is not a technical trek, you should have a decent level of fitness and be prepared for some fairly strenuous sections on what is an eight-mile walk that will take roughly 7-8 hours. Bring proper, over-the-ankle boots, a leak-proof water bottle and walking poles or a stick.
After the walk, we've made sure you've got a date with the spa booked in back at the hotel, and you can relive the walk while your tired limbs are massaged.
To Meteora via Dodone
After a leisurely breakfast, you will be met at the lodge for your private guided transfer to Meteora with stops en route to explore the regional capital of Ioannina and the ancient site of Dodona. Your first stop will be Ioannina, itself a fascinating architectural record of the past couple of thousand years, encapsulating classical, Byzantine and Ottoman influences in a charming city setting overlooking Pamvotida Lake. Next you will visit ancient Dodona, an oracle site with a stunning natural setting that some three thousand years ago ranked second in importance only to the oracle at Delphi.
Your guide will explain the significance of the site, and you can explore the almost perfectly preserved theatre with its views across to Mount Tomaros. Then it's on to Meteora to stay in a charming hotel in the shadow of the sandstone pinnacles that are home to extraordinary monasteries. With no stops the journey takes approximately 4.5 hours, so with stops on route it will be more like seven hours door to door.
This morning you will join a four-hour guided hiking tour of Meteora, one of the best ways to enjoy this truly extraordinary geological and cultural phenomenon and to learn the history of this designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. Your local guide will use hidden trails only known to the locals and following in the footsteps of the first monks who arrived here more than 15 centuries ago. The hike begins beneath the now deserted Pantokrator monastery on Doupiani Rock, before traversing the immense rock formations to the northern side of Meteora where you'll see the hidden monastery of Ypapanti and the ruins of Saint Dimitrious, another of the 24 monasteries that originally graced the region.
Your local guide will regale you with the stories and the legends behind each monastery and monolith you pass along the trail, creating a narrative on a fascinating thousand years of history in the region. The perfect finale to the trip is a visit to either of the monasteries of Great Meteoron or Varlaam - two of only six remaining intact monasteries - which involves climbing down the old footpath the monks used for centuries before the construction of roads. As you can imagine, this tour requires you to be in reasonable physical condition.
Spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing or walking some of the more popular trails yourself before supper and bed.
Enjoy a morning's R&R admiring the views before lunch and the chance to wander around the town before the massed ranks of day-tripping tourists depart. You will then be picked up from the hotel for a privately guided late afternoon tour to discover the hidden gems of Meteora. Your local guide will take you to visit to one of the six remaining monasteries, either Agios Stefanos or Roussanou on the rocks, before you head on to the oldest monument in Meteora, the Byzantine church of Virgin Mary, in Kalambaka. Dating from the early Christian period the church contains ancient marbles telling the story of the town's 2,700-year-old history.
Next, visit the positively youthful by comparison thousand-year-old hermitages of Bandovas, enjoying great views from the most panoramic spots. As the sun starts to descend behind the mountain ridges your guide will take you high up onto the rocks of Meteora to a magical spot from which to enjoy the most stunning sunset views. You will return to the hotel and enjoy your last night in Greece.
Sadly, it's time to head home, so after an early breakfast you will be met at your hotel for the one-hour-45-minute transfer back to Ioannina Airport and the mid-morning one-hour flight to Athens. Connect in the capital onto the onward flight to London, which takes four hours, arriving mid-afternoon.
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