I thought that with all the true crime coverage here this week I’d continue the trend by committing one of my own. Well, not actually a crime, because I’m giving full credit to the newsroom at Greece’s Prothema newspaper for the article I’m about to reproduce word-for-word below.
About a year ago, a friend of mine told me that I should place a story in the Pindus mountains area of northwestern Greece, by the border with Albania. I’d never been there and he swore it would inspire me. To murder? I’d wondered.
The suggestion drifted out of my mind until I came across this April 11, 2017 article on themanews.com titled, “Peace in Greece a world away from the bars and beaches in the unspoiled Pindus mountains.”
Between the story and the photos—all included below—I was entranced. It’s the perfect Nordic Noir setting, sans endemic snow, darkness, and depression.
So, please join me on this trip to a relatively off-the-beaten-path part of Greece…and the likely beginning of another Andreas Kaldis adventure.
They call it Tsipouro, a clear brandy made from the residue of the wine press. At 40-45% proof it packs a bit of a punch.
But I was grateful for it… and the 14th century monks who invented it.
Welcome to the beautiful, peaceful Pindus mountains in the historic and traditional region of Epirus in north-western Greece.
No beaches, no trendy nightclubs, next stop Albania, an isolationist Stalinist state until its transition to democracy after 1990.
And after a trek to Vikos Gorge – at 5,280ft the deepest gorge in the world in proportion to its width, according to Guinness World Records – a stiff drink was just reward.
My guide Dimos was teasing me by dawdling slightly ahead on our late autumn trek to the gorge, in the sparsely populated Zagori area of Epirus.
Then, like a bus driver slowing down to entice potential passengers, he went speeding off before they could climb aboard.
So it was with me. As I wheezed to within touching distance, he moved on again, whippet-like, skipping over the occasionally slippery polished limestone rocks.
|Vikros Gorge in Epirus mountains|
For a break, I feigned I was stopping to take in the view. This was easy because it was simply, well yes, breathtaking.
The name Zagori has its roots in Slavic words meaning “the place behind the mountains” and there is a real get-away- from-it-all feel to the place. A hidden gem indeed.
It is also home to 92 ancient arched stone bridges and 46 villages – all picture-postcard pretty, all built around a plane tree and any new building has to be done in the traditional way.
The region is also host to brown bears and wolves, yet another compelling reason for that tot of Tsipouro!
And a sit down in a local village taverna is a fantastic opportunity to watch the mountains change colour in the late autumn light.
It does get warm in the summer, but at more than 6,000ft there is a very pleasant coolness to the evenings.
|A traditional stone bridge in Zagori|
We took a rest at a little church, Ekklisia Panagia, at the valley bottom, by a bend in the bright blue water of the stream that winds along the bed of the gorge.
In November, everyone seemed to be distilling their own version of Tsipouro. Strangely, most people were hiring stills kept in churches. Very Greek.
After my hike I headed for my room at another (not so hidden) gem, the Aristi Mountain Resort & Villas, a collection of dice-like buildings standing over the village of Aristi.
|Vikros Gorge is the deepest in relation to width in the world|
Aristi is one of the largest and most central hilltop villages in Zagori – giving almost all the rooms a fantastic view across the valley dominated by the Astraka peak.
|Aristi Mountain resort|
Local produce is a highlight of a dinner in the resort’s Salvia restaurant. There might be bean soup and mousse trout bruschetta followed by lamb shank with celeriac and rosemary caramel, washed down by a regional cabernet sauvignon.
On the subject of wine , the resort runs tasting trips as part of its activities programme. Or there’s yoga, horse riding, jeep safaris, canyoning, hang gliding, climbing and fly fishing. Or just sit in the lounge with a good book.
The next morning there was the sound of cowbells across the valley as I headed for my chosen activity, a spot of gentle river rafting in an eight-man inflatable boat on the Voidomatis river.
It’s the cleanest river in Greece and one of the cleanest in Europe. So clean, it’s safe to drink.
In spring, when the river is bursting with snow melt, the rafting is a little more exciting. But being a complete coward around water I was happy with the slower pace in autumn and a chance to observe sparrowhawks and dippers along the bank.
Lunch was taken at a taverna in Monodendri, one of the mountain villages, where I was invited to try the regional delicacies of blazaria (a kind of pizza pie), galotyri (soft goat cheese) a beans and greens dish that had no name, and honey with smoked cheeses.
|View of the Astraka peak|
Very inexpensive and went well with a glass of the local debina dry white wine. This relatively undiscovered and unspoiled part of ‘secret’ Greece has so much to offer. Not least that glass of Tsipouro.
And if you really can’t cope without going to the beach, Parga, a resort on the Ionian Sea, is only two hours away.
Though why on earth you’d want to leave here beats me…
Thank you, Prothema, and hope y'all enjoyed the trip!