Something strange happens in Epirus. Just when think it is a purely mountainous region, with steep mountains, breathtaking canyons and gorges, stone bridges arching over famous rivers, and panoramic villages built amongst green natural surroundings, forgotten by time, you suddenly discover a whole new side of it. The one where the land reaches down to the shores of the Ionian Sea and the Ambracian Gulf, where you’ll have the chance to explore some of the most beautiful, cleanest beaches in Greece, to visit fishing villages where the term ‘good food’ is truly respected, where you will meet people who never fail to welcome you with a smile!
Epirus is a place that casts its spell on you no matter the season! If you haven’t already visited, you should definitely take the first opportunity you have to do so. The choice of season will probably lead you automatically to choose a particular part of the region. When you visit Epirus for the first time, you will most likely start from places that friends and acquaintances may have told you about. So maybe it’s a good idea to put Ioannina down as our first choice. It is a beautiful town, perfect for all seasons. If you have a long weekend, you may want to make the full out of your time and do some sightseeing, although you definitely won’t have the time to catch everything.
Ioannina, or Yiannena, capital of Epirus, is now easily accessible from southern Greece via the Ionia Odos (Motorway 5) and from northern Greece via the Egnatia Odos National Road. A large number of quality and charming choices for accommodation is available to suit all pockets, either comfortable accommodation within the town, or perhaps a little further out in the countryside, depending on your preference. There is much to do and see, photographs to take, gastronomic experiences to savour, and endless opportunities for everyone of all ages to have a great time.
When you arrive in Ioannina on your first day, it is a good idea to leave your car behind, take a walk, and get to know the town. The main local landmark in Ioannina is of course the castle city with its museums, where you can learn a little about the history of the city and admire some of the rare exhibits. After enjoying a coffee or meal on the shores looking out over the lake, you can take the little boat over to visit the picturesque island in the centre of Pamvotida. Cobbled streets, dolls’ houses with courtyards and blooming gardens, souvenir shops and of course the Ali Pasha Museum. There is much to discover …and many local treats that the local people will encourage you to sample!In the evening, the city impresses with the number and variety of eateries, including the ‘tsipouradika’, serving pomace brandy and appetizers, and well-appointed bars, which you can find in the town centre and in the picturesque side streets off Anexartisias Street, or along the lakeside area. Ioannina offers some truly unforgettable experiences.
The next morning it is worth taking the time to go and see one of the most famous caves in Greece, the cave of Perama. Expert guides lead tours of the cave and will give you all the information. The interior is stunning. Stalactites, stalagmites and a lake with what looks like floating stone waterlilies. Continuing on with your day, head for a first acquaintance with the famous stone-built villages of Zagoria. You will need about half an hour to forty minutes to get to central Zagori. On the way you will come across stone bridges and a truly captivating natural landscape. Here also is the famous Vikos Gorge, a sight you can enjoy either by visiting the Monastery of Agia Paraskevi in the village of Monodendri, or from Oxia. After your peregrinations, there is plenty of opportunity to relax and recover in the tavernas of Zagori, where the local grilled meat is a specialty, as are the famous Zagori pies, and not forgetting the local tsipouro and wines.
Having seen plenty during your 2 days in the area, on the third day, the day of your return home, you can take the classic scenic route along the side of the lake flanked plane trees and visit one of the most well-known archaeological sites, that of the famous oracle of Dodona. If you take the Egnatia Odos in the direction of Igoumenitsa, it is located just twenty minutes from the city centre.
Before you leave however, don’t forget to take a walk along Averoff Street and its narrow side streets, with its many shops selling folk art objects from the silversmiths workshops of the city, to pick out a few gifts, or souvenirs to remind you of your visit to the city. And don’t forget to buy some of the local syrup sweets and dairy products to take home.
Ioannina will give you many reasons to return. This is its magic after all, the enchanting past combined with the vibrant present! You can come back again to finish the walks around the historic centre, take some more time to relax and observe the local people joking with each other in the ouzeri and bars, …and you will come back because this city is a shining city, a city of dreams!