- Enjoy culture and nature in one of most beautiful areas of mainland Greece
- Hike Vikos Gorge for breath-taking panoramic views of the Pindos Mountains
- Marvel at the ancient cliff-top monasteries in Meteora, led by your expert guide
- Learn about the Zagori region’s distinct culture, while sampling local wine and cheese
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The islands of the Ionian and Aegean seas might be what first spring to mind when planning a Grecian getaway, but the Greek mainland boasts equally breath-taking scenery and mustn’t be overlooked as a holiday destination. Introducing Epirus and Meteora: two areas of outstanding beauty that are home to wonderful walking, lovely places to stay and a whole host of cultural highlights.
Begin in the Zagori region of Epirus, one of the most beautiful in mainland Greece, and ensure you’re suitably rested to tackle Vikos Gorge. This is one of the continent’s greatest walks, and during the trek your guide will point out intriguing plant species and explain the history of Pindos Mountain. While in Zagori you can also learn about the area’s culture through private guided tours of local farms and vineyards.
Your next stop is the stunning Meteora, an astonishing geological and cultural phenomenon. The striking rock formations, topped by ancient monasteries, are best explored by traversing local hidden trails and visiting each in turn.
FLY TO EPIRUS
Your flight to Greece leaves London and arrives in Preveza – in the region of Epirus – three-and-a-half hours later. On arrival you will collect your hire car and drive to Aristi, one of the prettiest villages in the Zagoria region of the Epirus province. Your home for the next four nights is located here and boasts wonderful views of the surrounding area. Enjoy dinner at your hotel this evening and relax after your day of travel.
VIKOS GORGE HIKE
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 you 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 seven to eight 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.
VIKOS NATIONAL PARK
Today is another action-packed one and promises a dose of adrenaline-inducing fun, with a private rafting experience along the Voidomati River in Vikos–Aoös National Park. The river is one of the cleanest in Europe and you’ll begin your descent on a raft from the bridge of Aristi, before travelling along the river and ending at Klidonia. Your rafting trip will be lead by an experienced guide and includes a picnic lunch.
The Zagori region in Epirus is famously one of the most beautiful in mainland Greece, and today you’re free to explore the area however you wish. If you’d like to learn more about the region’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. This can also include a cooking workshop if you’re interested in picking up some new skills during your trip. 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 rivers and make ideal Insta-snaps. Other activity options include a photography workshop, yoga sessions, canyoning and river walking.
TO METEORA VIA DODONE
After a leisurely breakfast, depart from Aristi and drive to Meteora, stopping 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 few 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.
Learn about the significance of the site as you explore the almost perfectly preserved theatre with its views across to Mount Tomaros. Then it's on to Meteora, where you will stay in a charming hotel, situated in the shadow of the sandstone pinnacles that are home to extraordinary monasteries. With no stops, the journey takes approximately four-and-a-half hours, so with stops it will be more like seven hours door to door.
This morning you will join a two-and-a-half 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 follow 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 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, before heading out on a sunset tour 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. Then return to the hotel and enjoy your last night in Greece.
Sadly, it's time to head home, so after an early breakfast, drive just under three hours back to Preveza airport for your flight home. If you’re not quite ready to end your Grecian getaway yet, there’s the option to add on some beach time in the Parga area before you hop on the plane back to London.
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