The experiences of a 34y.o. travel lover

Honestly; when I thought of going on a holiday to Greece, I was immediately thinking of the idyllic islands. Mostly, I remember classmates’ stories from high school when they went to Chersonissos just to party and drink. Or the well-known Athens with its archaeological sites for an interesting city trip.

But guess what, Greece is one of the most mountainous countries in Europe. Even 80 percent of its landmass is mountainous. Being myself a mountains lover as well, I thought… “Time to go!”

In this short trip done during the spring of 2021, I will share some of the highlights of this very unique area of Greece.

In only 3 hours I flew directly from Amsterdam to Thessaloniki, the second big city in Greece after Athens. It’s a very lively city with great markets, lot of local cafes and everywhere you see ancient ruins (from the old Greeks and Roman times to the Christian Orthodox and Ottoman periods). On our first day, we decided to enjoy the sun in the city and to have a long and great dinner at a Cretan-style restaurant where we discovered the ‘tsipuro’, a local strong and tasty spirit. Important lesson learned here: we are not on a party holiday like in Chersoissos; you just sip it and enjoy the tasty alcohol and not shot it immediately like drinking a shot of tequila. And the food … delicious!!

It’s time to leave the city and go on an adventure! After a three hours ride to the west, we start at one of the highlights, the viewpoint of Beloi. Just a short walk of 1 hour from the village of Vradeto you have amazing views of the Vikos Gorge. The gorge has a place in the Guiness Book of Records: it’s the deepest canyon in the world relative to its width. For me it’s a big surprise that this is Greece or even Europe: it looks very rough and wild. More a feeling that I experienced in my travels in Peru or other places in South America.
A perfect start! On our way back we walked through the iconic Vredeto steps (an old stone-paved trail) and finished the day in the lovely village of Tsepelovo where I stayed overnight in an even lovelier typical stone guesthouse.

Waking up in Tsepelovo is lovely! The place we slept is run by the sweet lady Anthoula. She bakes the typical spinach pie for breakfast and she needs to be sure you will eat enough. Well, a good breakfast and a little snack for having along the way is very welcome: today we hike to the almost abandoned village of Negades.
Not only the village is almost abandoned. We also took an old path which haven’t been walked in years. Luckily, we have our guide Kostas, so we have time to enjoy the views, the wildflowers, and think of the wild animals that live in this area when seeing their traces on the paths. Yes, there live bears, wolves and foxes in this area! We didn’t see them though… only their poo.

Before the trip, I looked at many pictures on the internet about the magnificent old stone bridges in this region. So, I was very excited to visit them today for real. In a nice, relaxing hike of about four hours, we saw almost all of these ancient stone bridges which fortunately are beautifully well-preserved.
Late afternoon, we arrived in the village of Vista. And, of course, as it will be every evening, we have been welcomed again with delicious typical food and with the local drink ‘tsipouro’. I really love the food here. I’m vegetarian and I was a bit afraid that it would all be about meat in the mountains. To my surprise, I was very happy with all the tasty meals; lot of fresh tomatoes, grilled zucchinis and of course Greek feta cheese prepared in all kinds of ways.

Today was a chilling day in Vitsa! So we could enjoy the villages of Vitsa and Monodendri and get ready for the next three days of a more demanding hike. After a nice breakfast, a little walk discovering different churches and drinking lots of coffee, we went to Monodendri in the afternoon. The village is definitely one of the most typical in the area with its charming old stone houses and taverns: you can taste the history here!

There are also several cool activities which we did in the surroundings. We went to the Museum of Photography with many old interesting photos of local people and local life; then we visited the Handcrafts Museum with its textile artifacts and a dressmaker making traditional clothing.
In Vitsa, we visited The Land Beyond, a chill friendly place to learn a lot about responsible travel and sustainability.

Completely fit for the next three days in which some tough hikes are planned, exciting!

Vikos Gorge
On the first day of the trip, we had already incredible views over the Vikos Gorge. Today, it was time to walk through it. The gorge is really impressive! When I started walking inside it, I felt a bit overwhelmed and so small. The hike itself is not too heavy, well I have to say, the first part isn’t. First you walk down for one hour and then you walk through the canyon for about three hours. It’s great to be alone with nature and to enjoy this moment. But as you’d guess with a canyon, after descending, it was time to ascend again. We hiked up in two hours. I found it quite tough, but I was proud at the end of the day and it’s totally worth it! Afterward, you can then enjoy the mountain views in the small village of Mikro Papigo and take a refreshing dip in the rock pools nearby. So nice and relaxing bathing after all the sweating ;).

Snow in spring in Greece? Yes, we saw it and felt it! After visiting the cute village of Papigo and a three hours hike going up (not too heavy after the adventure in Vikos George) we reached the pass where the Astraka refuge is located and takes you to the Astraka Peak. Just look at these photos, phenomenal!

From the refuge, we did a short hike to Dragon Lake. It owes its name to a myth involving two dragons or is it because of the little lizards that live in it. Lovely quiet place to enjoy the landscape, scenery and nature. We slept in the refuge. Compared to the other places to sleep, it is much simpler, but a great way to be at that high altitude in the mountains. The best: quite good (mountain-style) food and a good place to meet new friends.

The next day we woke up early morning in the refuge; it was time for our final hike! From the refuge, we really enjoyed a five hours hike back to Tsepelovo walking atop de plateau. In the village, lady Anthoula waited for us with some well-deserved tsipouro, beers and her food. What an experience!

After more than a week of hiking in the mountains of Pindos, it is time to discover a new unknown area of Greece. In about 3.5 hours drive, we travel all the way northwest right on a tripartite border, reaching a really small village onshore of the Big Prespes lake, Psarades. Just one day before we were up in the high mountains, with snow. Now we were in this sunny place in a remote pleasant village.

The surroundings are wonderfully green and relaxed, and what is special about the lake is that it is surrounded by three countries. Besides Greece, it is also surrounded by Albania and North Macedonia. In the village where we slept, we had one of the most authentic and (honestly!) most delicious local food (and lots of it!) again. Besides eating, we mountain biked and hiked, we visited Christian orthodox ruins and ancient religious sites in caves; we swam in the warm waters of the lake … and we learned about its traditional activities (farming) and history. The possibilities are endless when it comes to outdoor sports and nature activities in the Prespes lakes area.

Before we flew back to the Netherlands (and back to work), we took the bus to the Kalamitsi beach town which is in the Halkidiki region. It is still the beginning of June, but the temperature is more than good enough for us to relax laying on the beach and have a nice swim. It is still quiet at the campsite where we are, so we can enjoy the peace and quietness, the sun and ….okay, I will say it again … the yummy Greek food!

After the chilling time on the beach, it’s time to say goodbye to Greece. When I look back and recap this trip, I can only say: what a great, surprising adventure! For a great and dramatic nature and a different culture, you don’t have to travel to the other side of the planet, but in just 3 hours from Schiphol Airport!