Zagori: hiking paradise in northwestern Greece

With its towering mountains and charming villages, Greece’s northwest Zagori region is a hiker’s paradise, says Catherine Fairweather in the FT. Particularly “haunting” in winter, it is covered in dense forests that are home to wild boars, wolves and bears, and through its heart flows the spectacular Vikos Gorge. Paved mule tracks, or kalderimia, ran between its villages, which are home to splendid merchants’ houses which were built for the most part, as well as the 64 stone bridges of the region, in the 18th and 19th centuries, when the region became rich through trade (the Napoleon’s sailors in Trafalgar would have worn coats woven from the wool of Zagori sheep).

From Thessaloniki airport it is a three hour drive, past Mount Olympus, to the village of Aristi and the cozy Aristi Mountain Resort. The sense of isolation grows as the road winds past waterfalls and crumbling farmhouses to the main village square, where a tavern, En Aristi, serves regional cuisine under the shade of giant plane trees . Spread across several traditional houses, the hotel has a spa and indoor pool, and each room has its own wood-burning stove and ‘rosemary-fringed’ front door, which every morning is like stepping into a “dream landscape”. A path leads up a wild hill, past the 17th century Spiliotissa Monastery and down to the crystal clear waters and white sand beaches of the Voidomatis River.

One of the best walks is through the deciduous forests of the Vikos Gorge. In the “cool, green and silent world” there are the sources of Voidomatis, which is a beautiful place to rest. Lichen “hangs like bracelets from the branches of hornbeams”, moss carpets the rocks, and the waters of the mineral pools are pure enough to drink and wonderful for swimming.

Tours on foot or by electric bike or car are organized by The Slow Cyclist (theslowcyclist.co.uk) and classicist Rupert Smith (theeviaschool.com).

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