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Travel: The Zagorohoria

A fairytale land of ancient stone villages, cobbled footpaths and a history of evading foreign conquest, this mountainous corner of Greece tickles the imagination

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Back in Monodendri, our search for accommodation was not going well. We poked our noses in tiny stone churches decorated with elaborate, faded frescoes and inspected the slate shingles that crowned the somber little buildings, all shut up tight. We ascended steep and winding stone pathways that seemed to take us nowhere and watched a small construction crew lay the stone for a new village square. In the shade of a grand, old plane tree they manually cranked their small cement mixers and chipped at the local stone by hand. November was clearly the off-season and the whole place seemed to be preparing for its winter hibernation.

To experience the Zagorohoria, a car is necessary, but once you arrive, it is essential to get out! Villages are connected by ancient cobbled footpaths leading to gracefully arched stone bridges, hundreds of years old, spanning cool and clear meandering creeks. This, you may surmise, was the route someone’s grandparents once used to access the neighbouring town. Upon arrival at that village, at the trail’s end, a stately old stone water fountain may greet the weary traveler, a refreshing and unspoken “welcome” to your destination. Meander a little further, and you may stumble upon a pleasantly situated little monastery tucked away in the forest or perhaps clinging dramatically to the walls of the Vikos Gorge, its lofty bell tower unattended, allowing you to ring the hefty thing and hear its chimes resonate through the forested hills.

Finally tiring of our fruitless search for a hotel that appeared to be open, we stopped into a mostly empty little café in the central square. The proprietor, a friendly Greek woman, was happy to show us to “her hotel.” Back up the cobbled paths we were led, until we finally came to a beautifully restored old stone mansion and shown to a modest little room overlooking the pleasing slate rooftops. An inclusive breakfast, a rare treat in Greece, added to our appreciation of this hidden treasure of a place.

Thus began our exploration of Greece’s fabled and forgotten corner. Next morning, bellies full of pastries, coffee and hard boiled eggs, we set out to discover the Zagorohoria. A refreshing mountain chill was in the air and the entire region seemed to be blanketed in the colourful hues of mid-fall. With the eager anticipation of travelers facing a full day to uncover the secrets of a new place, we zipped our jackets, laced our hiking boots and started walking.

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