Zagoria – Um local de beleza mitica
Imagine a place like the rustic equivalent of Rivendale – the Elven forest-kingdom from the Lord of the Rings saga – but, inhabited by Greeks rather than Elves; such a place exists, it is called Zagoria and it is more magical than a film setting.

Zagoria, ou Zagorochoria, é um grupo de 46 pequenas aldeias idílicas, escondidas no coração da cordilheira de Pindus e de sua floresta nacional. Graças à proteção que esse isolamento proporcionou, a área desfrutou de uma relativa estabilidade e um status semi-autônomo. Tais condições, juntamente com o fato de a localização estar nas rotas comerciais que ligavam os Balcãs à Europa e ao Oriente, se mostraram favoráveis ​​ao seu desenvolvimento. Gradualmente, a área se tornou um centro comercial e educacional, onde as artes e ofícios floresceram. Confortavelmente isoladas atrás das montanhas, essas aldeias escaparam da modernização e são preservadas até hoje, escondidas entre florestas e falésias.

Festival ao ar livre ou panigyri

Tentar descrever completamente o local é tão difícil quanto alcançá-lo. As aldeias mantêm a mesma aparência desde o século XVIII, cada uma envolvida em uma pequena praça com uma igreja, uma nascente e um grande plátano onde ocorrem todos os principais eventos da vida social. Um deles, o festival anual ao ar livre, ou panigyri, não deve ser desperdiçado se você estiver por perto. Com o álibi de celebrar um santo cristão protetor, é organizada uma enorme festa tradicional, com comida incrível – especialmente carnes grelhadas – tortas, vinhos, “tsipouro” (álcool destilado de bagaço caseiro até 45% ABV) e clarinete ao vivo música tradicional dominada pela qual a área mais ampla é famosa.

Arquitetura de Zagoria

Zagoria Stone Buildings Photo Credit: TijsB

The tiny villages were built with the very materials the place offers in abundance, stone and timber. To be precise, when we say stone-built we mean totally stone-built. The walls, the roofs, the small winding streets, the alleys… everything is like a 3-D jigsaw puzzle, with pieces of stone chiseled by hand and fitted into place; usually without mortar, following an ages-old technique which still survives today. But what makes you really wonder is the way they built stone arches, especially to bridge the countless wonderful rivers and streams that run between the villages.

Zagoria Stone Buildings – Papigo Photo Credit: Αλέξανδρος

Still standing intact, after centuries and earthquakes, and so tightly assembled that you can’t put a blade between the slabs! No wonder why so many architects visit this place for studying and inspiration. You too, will want to know the secrets of the famous Zagoria old stone-masons when you see bridges like the 1814-built ‘Kalogeriko’ between Kipi and Koukouli, or ‘Klidonia’ at the end of the Vikos hiking trail.

Mezmerizing landscapes

Zagoria Nature Photo Credit: Chichi Mdou

The scenery itself is also mesmerizing. The landscape is dominated by harsh mountains, where imposing rocky volumes – like the Gamila (Camel) summit – gradually give way to green slopes, and finally to dense forests. Narrow, winding roads cross with old steep paths next to cliffs, ravines, and gorges, offering breathtaking views in every turn.

Vikos Gorge Photo Credit: stefg74

King among them is Vikos – the deepest gorge in the world in proportion to its width, according to the Guinness Book of Records – with its impressive biodiversity, home to wild animals, many species of plants and especially healing herbs.  From the 17th to the 19th century, “vikogiatroi” shaman-like empirical doctors would ride from one village to the next to heal the sick with the wondrous herbs they collected in this gorge. Mostly hailing from the villages of Kapesovo, Monodendri and Papigo, they formed a brotherhood of sorts and would pass on the secrets of healing from father to son.

Lakes and rivers of Zagoria

Voidomatis, cleanest river in Europe Photo Credit: Martin Ehrensvärd

Around Zagoria and Epirus, nature is thriving and always keeps the leading role. The Dracolimnes – alpine lakes with a significant pagan background which you can see here  – can bring out the mountaineer within every visitor, just like the cliffs and the majestic rivers of Aoos, Aracthos and Voidomatis call for the adventurer inside you. And their call is deafening, since we are talking about some of the most stunning rivers not just in Greece, but in Europe. Their waters have a color that just cannot be described and they will take you and your raft through places both marvelous and secluded, which can only by seen while rafting or canyoneering. These two activities along with hiking, mountain biking, trekking, paragliding, kayaking and rock-climbing make the place a paradise for outdoor-sport enthusiasts.

Zagoria cuisine

A Stone Bridge near Konitsa Photo Credit: TijsB

At the same time, the place is ideal for anybody who enjoys the easy, laid-back pleasures of life. The livestock herds that you have probably encountered while driving around, along with the thriving surrounding nature, provide high-quality fresh ingredients helping the local cuisine to flourish.

Spanakopita (Spinach pie) Photo Credit: Alexander Baxevanis

Local meat, butter and cheese are exquisite –try the “galotiri” with some tsipouro – and together with the various herbs made the whole region famous for its traditional “pites”, pies with a variety of different fillings.

Activities at Zagoria

Rafting Voidomatis Photo Credit: Αλέξανδρος

All in all, the Zagoria villages make for an ideal base from which to explore the magnificent and little-known wider Epirus area. From every aspect – accommodation, cuisine, available activities – the offering here is unique and perfectly fit to satisfy those who seek an experience away from the crowds that subscribe to the usual, touristic sea-and-sun island logic.

Cover Image Credit:Emmanuel Eragne