We recently returned to Athens after touring around northern Greece, and when our servers, guides and drivers asked us where we arrived from, they were delighted and shocked to hear that we had come from Epirus. Everyone said that we were the first people (they had heard of) who had visited this hidden gem of Greece. One bartender told us she was so impressed with us going to Epirus that she offered us delicious shots of Mastika to sip on. That’s just how impressed she must have been!
Most tourists head to Santorini or Mykonos when traveling to Greece. We agree, that these islands are incredibly beautiful, but there are other places in Greece that can really take your breath away, far from the crowds of the well-trodden destinations. Epirus, Greece is one of them.
About Epirus, Greece
When we first received the invitation to Epirus, we had to look it up. Were there beaches? Check. What about monasteries or ancient ruins? Check. How about outdoor activities? Another check! Epirus has it all. And we’re going to share an itinerary to travel through this secret corner of Greece, to create your own trip of a lifetime.
Where is Epirus, Greece?
Epirus is located in the northwest corner of Greece, bordered by Albania and the Ionian Sea. It is a 1h 15min flight to the capital of Epirus, Ioannina (pronounced, Yo-ah-nah-nah) from Athens or you can rent a car. It is only a 4h 30min drive from Athens to Ioannina and getting to see the Greek countryside is a real treat. We know, we’ve done it!
Getting Around Epirus
Renting a car is one of our favorite ways to get around in Greece, especially once you get out of Athens. We flew into Ioannina (on this trip to Greece) and had a driver take us around on a jam-packed itinerary. Since we were guests of the Epirus tourist board, we had the privilege of having a private driver, but we do suggest renting a car from the airport in Athens and hitting the road.
However, if your budget allows, hiring a private driver is an amazing way to travel and Prime Transfer Services tours is a superb company owned by our friend Vasili who can get you around from place to place in safety and comfort. Visit his website to book day tours and transfers around Epirus, Greece. For our other day tours and adventures in Epirus, we used Alpine Zone which is the leader in adventure tourism around Epirus. Check out Alpine Zone to book your own Epirus, Adventures.
Rental cars are quite reasonable in Greece compared to other European countries and Epirus attractions are spread out. Plus, you can make a detour to Meteora, another of our favorite places in Greece along the way! You’ll want to because like Meteora, Ioannina has one of the most important Monastic settlements in Greece. It is one of only three with the others being in Ioannina and the other in Halkidiki. See RentalsCars.com for price comparisons.
So, are you ready to see why you should travel to Epirus? Let’s go!
Places to Visit in Epirus, Greece
Ioannina is the capital city of the Epirus region and it is worth spending two to three days in this bustline university town. We made a base at the Hotel du Lac Congress Centre and visited all of its top attractions and ended each day with the typical three-hour dinners that make Greek hospitality so famous. Be prepared for long days, plenty of food, and a lot of sightseeing because there are a lot of things to see and do in Ioannina! Ioannina is a fortified town where the castle walls still stand and residents live among the historic complex with Its Kale (inner fortress) making for the perfect place to enjoy the sunset over the lake.
On your first day in Ioannina, catch a short 10-minute ferry to the Island of Lake Pamvotida. This is the island with no name, but it packs a big punch. It is here that you can visit the seven Byzantine monasteries that date back to the 13th century. The island itself is a lovely visit with shopping stands lining the streets from the boat dock and plenty of restaurants and cafes shaded by huge plane trees.
While on the island, be sure to stop in the Ali Pasha Museum to see the artwork and jewels, and weapons including the gold-plated rifle of Ali Pasha and the silk dress of Ali Pasha’s wife, Kyra-Vassiliki. Make sure to take a look at the caves that acted as a shelter against Italian air raids during World War II.
Cave of Perema
Speaking of caves, one place that is not to be missed in Ioannina is the Cave of Perema. Located just a few km from the centre of town, the Cave of Perema is the second largest cave in all of Greece. It was also used during WWII by locals to hide from the Nazis.
This beautiful cave is massive at 161,000 square feet (15,000 square meters) and houses and houses thousands of pristine stalactites and stalagmites where it is considered one of the best-preserved caves in the world. Guides take you on a 45-minute journey through the system to view its waterfalls and its most famous stalagmite, The Cross. Visit their website for opening hours and cost.
The tour finished high above the city where you emerge to see some of the best views of Ioannina and Lake Pamvotida.
Where to Stay in Ioannina
Hotel du Lac is one of the best places to stay in Ioannina located walking distance (20 minutes) to Old Town. Its buffet breakfast was a highlight for us with the dining area directly by the tranquil pool. Check rates and availability on TripAdvisor / Booking.com
The Lake Hotel is also a popular conference center with a beautiful pool overlooking Lake Pamvotida.Located near the airport, this is a great place to stay on your first or final day in Ioannina. Check rates and availability on TripAdvisor / Booking.com
Restaurants in Ioanna
After exploring for a couple of days, you have countless restaurants to choose from lining the waterfront. Enjoy an Aperol Spritz before dinner and with each drink, they will bring you a snack. For a restaurant with a view make your way up to Frontzuou Politia Hotel or for some modern Greek fusion, enjoy a multi-course meal complete with wine pairing at Thamon (our favourite meal in Ioannina) in the Old Town and Seirios for their excellent tree-covered patio.
Zagori is just an hour and a half from Ioannina and if you have a car, you can do day trips from the city to explore the adventure capital of Epirus, but we suggest making a base in town to really make the most of it Alpine Zone is the company for all your adventure and adrenaline activities here and there is plenty of things to see and do in Zagori. They can set up an itinerary for you, but here are a few highlights that you cannot miss when road tripping through Zagori, Greece.
Everyone in Epirus told us that Vikos Gorge is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the deepest gorge in the world but I will admit I was skeptical. There are so many gorges that try to hold that claim, I can think of a few off the top of my head that are probably deeper. But upon further investigation, we learned that it is the deepest gorge in the world in proportion to its width and that is impressive enough.
This gorge is spectacular and there are some beautiful pull-offs where you can go out to view its glorious beauty from secure lookout points. There are plenty of hiking opportunities around Vikos Gorge and we saw many people doing some long multi-day treks through the region.
One of the most popular things to do in the Vikos Gorge is to go whitewater rafting along the Voidomatis River. Who would have thought that whitewater rafting was a thing in Greece, but it is! We donned our wetsuits and set off on a fun trip downriver through one of the world’s deepest canyons.
The scenery was lovely but be prepared, that water is only 6 degrees Celsius, (43F). Our trip took is a mere 16km from the Albanian border and it was a fun way to really take in the power of one of the world’s deepest canyons.
One of the most surprising places to visit in Epirus was Mount Tymfi. Alpine Zone took us up a steep and narrow bumpy trail via 4×4 to view the snow of Mount Tymfi. It was 30 degrees (86 fahrenheit) below, but up here we were walking on snow! They said the snow can last well into August.
Stone Arch Bridges of Zagori
But the real attractions of Vikos are its stunning arched bridges spanning the Voidomatis River. The historic stone bridges of Kokkori and Tritoxo are real standouts.
Kokkori is located between two high cliffs and has become the symbol of Epirus. Water fluctuates throughout the year with it running dry while we were in Epirus, but at times it runs so high that there are holes cut into its high single stone arch to allow for water to flow through.
Trixoto is another impressive three-arch stone bridge that stands 55 meters high. It was built in 1814 and it is a stunner. Make sure to walk across these structures and take in the views down the valley.
Kores Boutique Hotel and Spa
Our favorite place to stay in all of Epirus was Kores Boutique Hotel and Spa If you are exploring the more rural regions of Epirus, make a base here for your outdoor activities. The owners are friendly and the amenities are divine. Compare rates and reviews on TripAdvisor
It’s then on to one of the most impressive monasteries you’ll ever see outside Meteora. The Kipina Monastery reminded me of the Casas Cosgodas in Spain with the structure clinging to the side of a high cliff wall. Located just outside the village of Kalarrites in Tzoumerka, Epirus, this 13th century monastery can be reached by walking a steep path to its entrance that crosses a small wooden bridge dangling over the abyss.
The wooden structure blends into the rocks and the monastery were used not only by the monks but also by villagers to hide from their Turkish occupiers. There is a cave that continues behind the monastery deep into the rock. The monastery is free to enter and inside you’ll see religious paintings and altars, monks’ quarters and the cave. It is truly an impressive location and one of our favorite places to visit in Epirus. We aren’t religious, but we always are fascinated by the human spirit and dedication.
Plaka Arch Bridge
Tzoumerka not only houses one of the most extraordinary monasteries in Greece, it also boasts the largest stone arch bridge in all of the Balkins. Spanning the Arachthos River the Plaka Arch Bridge is a single arch that rises 50 meters into the air. Trixoto may be higher, but it took three arches to reach that height in the center, this is one single arch that is absolutely breathtaking.
But it was our hike through nature that we enjoyed the most. A lovely hike just outside Kalarrites took us along an ancient path leading to the twin waterfalls. This is a beautiful hike that can take you all the way to and from the village of Kalarrites.
It’s now time to make your way to the coast where you get a taste of the Greek Islands. We had spent days exploring the mountains and gorges of Epirus and were shocked to see how beautiful the villages along the Ionian Coast were. Our first stop was the fishing town of Preveza.
Fishing Village Waterfront
We truly felt as if we could live here. The walking streets were filled with cafes packed with locals. Restaurants line the waterfront and there are shops plenty throughout its old town.
Beach life is not far from Preveza with the pristine Monolithi Beach just a stone’s throw away. We had it all to ourselves as we walked along a portion of the 22 km long beautiful stretch of sandy beach. Monolithi Beach is the longest beach in Europe!
Beach umbrellas line the sand with plenty of watersport and sea fun to be had in the clear waters. We could have spent days relaxing in this quiet beach. It isn’t nearly as crowded as the beaches of Santorini or Mykonos with only (mostly) locals knowing of its beauty.
Make sure to end your day at one of the restaurants at Preveza’s waterfront. We tried the local shrimp at Alati restaurants. We were told that this shrimp is so good that Roger Moore’s James Bond only eats Preveza prawns.
Where to Stay in Preveza
We absolutely loved DALIZ Boutique Hotel in Preveza. It has a lovely swimming pool, excellent breakfast and chic modern rooms.
To our surprise, there was an even more beautiful region on the Ionian Coast of Epirus. Parga is a town that rivals the likes of Greece’s southern islands. But in truth, Parga reminded us of the towns of the Cinque Terre in Italy.
The main attraction of Parga is Parga Castle where you can hike up for beautiful views of the colourful buildings lining the beach. Parga Castle was built by the Venetians, but throughout the centuries it had been sacked by pirates, and ruled by the British, The Russians, and Ali Pasha before finally becoming a part of Greece in 1913.
Parga is located on the mainland, but it certainly feels like a Greek Isle, so even if you don’t make it to nearby Corfu, you will get your fill of what a Greek Island vacation feels like in Parga. There’s a lovely waterfront with restaurants and a good secluded beach that is perfect for swimming and sunbathing.
Other nearby beaches include Valtos Beach which is often named one of the best beaches in Greece and Sivota and Plataria have beaches as well. Make sure to relax at a beach bar to enjoy the local seafood, this part of Greece if famous for its gastronomy, which says a lot since Greek food, in general, is so amazing! Read Delicious Greek Food – 29 Traditional Greek Dishes To Try Now
And finally, if you are looking for more things to do in Epirus, make your way to the town of Metsovo. Metsovo is a beautiful region nestled in the mountains with traditional towns scattered throughout the rolling hills. It’s a popular place for skiing in Greece in the winter and in the summer it is filled with adventure sports. When we visited, there was a mountain bike race going on and the village was a flutter with people. We enjoyed lunch at Apokentro with views of the deep valleys and mountains before our eyes.
Museum of Hydrokenisis
It is a beautiful setting with a restaurant and cafe where you can order delicious Greek Coffee. You can take a tour of the traditional water mill to see the power of the water running from the mountains. We even tried our hand at cleaning a carpet in the churning water. It’s a lot harder than it looks!
After a tour of the traditional water mill, we made our way to downtown Metsovo to tour this lively traditional village that is popular for outdoor adventures. See more details here
Katogi Averoff Hotel and Winery
One of our favorite things to do in Metsovo was to take a tour of the Katogi Averoff Hotel and Winery. You can stay at this hotel as well, so if you indulge in too much wine, you can walk directly to your roome. This winery is a pioneer of wine tourism in Greece and you can tour its traditional wine cellars and tasting room.
Located next to Apokentro, the Averoff Gallery is a modern art museum that houses the collection of Evangelos Averoff. His grandson runs the gallery. It is a fascinating collection of famous Greek pieces depicting historical events and daily lives of Greek history. It’s a great escape from the outdoors to take in some local culture.
Ebiking with Bikewise
If you are looking to stretch your legs after all that food and wine, a fun activity is to go e-biking. Bikewise offer cycling around AOOS Lake. Riding on an ebike makes it so easy so you can enjoy the scenery and when you are finished they have a lovely spread of Greek food and Tsipiro, the local liqueur. This company knows how to create an adventure itinerary. Fun in the outdoors followed by food and drink. Yes! Check them out to book tours to cycle Greece.
And there is your tour of Epirus, Greece. Have we made you want to add it to your list? While it isn’t as well known as some other places in Greece, it soon will be. So make your way to Epirus now before the whole world finds out about all of the amazing places to visit in this quiet corner of the country.
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