After an illuminated ski touring experience on Mount Smolika, moist rainy air has infiltrated the highlands of Northern Greece. Too much rain and too little visibility for ski touring, so we break out our deeper touristic natures and check out Hellenic attractions and food in the Zagori region of the country, near the Timfi massif (perhaps the country’s best variety of ski terrain). I’ll embed a map below that at least gets you started on locating some of this stuff. I also should note that guide George Rokas, manager of the Astraka Refuge on Mount Timfi, is the guy showing us around along with American (and somewhat Greek) Constantine Papanicolaou.
Traveling around this part of Greece is an exercise of winding roads that seem to almost magically end at your destination, or even return you to your starting point after you’ve traveled every direction on the compass. The convoluted but fun driving is caused by one of the narrowest gorges in the world cutting the topography like a split molar.
Here in the Pindus Mountains, the Vicos Gorge is at one point 900 meters deep and only 1,000 meters wide, apparently qualifying for the Guinness Book of Records for some kind of narrow canyon qualification. Tributary gorges rip the area in every direction, with nearly every automobile drive winding along a shelf road etched by insane Epirean road builders over stomach flipping exposure.
Yes, tourism can be brutal. That’s how I feel when we hike out to a cliff perched ancient monastery for a view of the Vicos Gorge. Rocks with dolomite colors rise up into the mist, with a monk’s escape trail etched in enormous cliffs both upvalley and downvalley from the stone huts. Our guide George tells us we need ropes to navigate safely, so we reluctantly turn from what could perhaps be the best trek ever.
Another stop, the Skala of Vradeto, a set of 1000+ stone steps crafted by Grecian masons many centuries ago. The steps wind up the side of a smaller gorge, with a sort of organic feeling to the design that makes you appreciate those ancient craftsmen as well as keep your camera out. A series of large dry-stacked rock retaining walls create a shelf for the stairs as they climb over cliffs and traverse rock outcrops. An easy hike of about an hour brings us to the top, where we walk a few hundred meters to the tiny stone village of Vradeto for a Greek coffee (somewhat the same as a Turkish coffee, perhaps not quite a strong.)
We must not have sugered our coffe enough, as our next stop (after driving back around the stairs) is Sweet House Sterna, a desert and herb shop seating 10 people and centered over an ancient cistern you can look down inside through a glass table top in the center of the room. Yes, it’s all a bit strange, but in a good way. The owner’s daughter takes us on a scent tour of their locally made herbs, liquors and yes, sweet stuff. Louie picks up a string of walnuts coated with reduced grape juice. I grab a flask of lemon flower schnapps for friends in Austria. We all enjoy a plate of goods I can’t name, but did give me a pretty good buzz.
Last thing on the plan, Greek dinner at a pleasant non-smoking restaurant. Fun day, even if it didn’t involve ski touring.
Map below is centered on the village of Kapesovo, where we enjoyed the Sweet House Sterna and nearly overdosed on sucrose due to the traditional taste treats locally made by the owners.