During our stay as babysitters volunteers within a Greek family living in Zitsa, a small village in the northwest of Greece, we took advantage of two days of rest to hit the roads of Zagori, this incredibly mountainous and still authentic region. Far away from the classic ultra-touristic trails, we tell you here about our 100% nature excursion, during a 100% unique weekend!
Zagori, its small traditional villages and Vikos Gorge
On your way to Vikos Gorge, you will certainly be struck by the beauty of the Voïdomatis River: a whitewater river in green and turquoise blue tones, very popular with its rafting and canoeing clubs all along… To get there, follow the signs for the hiking trail from Papigo village. But beware! We advise you not to swim in this freezing water – only 5°C (278°K) in the middle of summer: you will only be able to appreciate its colors!
Natural pools of Rogovos
This is one of the very good surprises that awaited us in Zagori: located 1 km before Mikro Papigo village, the natural pools of Rogovos allow you to put your towel on a rocky shore and dive into a temperate water, fed by a mountainous spring. On the way to and from Rogovos, we did not fail to refresh ourselves in Rogovos: try it is a must!
Papigo/Mikro Papigo, small peace heavens in Zagori
Before trekking to the summits and admiring the famous Dragon Lake, we took a small tour in the villages of Papigo and Mikro Papigo. Charm of the houses with stone walls and roofs, with their cobbled streets, an impressive view of the valley and small village cafes… These typical villages of Zagori definitely deserve to be more known!
The Dragon Lake hike (Drakolimni)
To reach the Dragon Lake from Mikro Papigo you have to go into the village, just after the church, and let yourself be guided by the signs, easily spotted along the way. It will be necessary to be well prepared because the ascent up to the shelter is done in 3 hours, to which you should ad another 1h30 to reach the lake! Fortunately, several fountains of drinkable water have been set up along the way (approximately every hour of walking).
Camp at Dragon lake
If you are not budget tight, you will be able to stay at the shelter (a booking in advance is recommended). For us who prefer wild camping, we had to continue the path, after the pass, downhill for a good 15 minutes walk. Where the landscape formed a plateau, it was possible to set up our tent without any problem. This place is also best for camping: thick grass and a small water spring nearby, the dream of every camper (tip: to find the spring, walk 5 minutes on the path to Tsepelovo, behind old fences and listen for the spouting water). Another solution is to camp next to the Dragon Lake, but be aware there no water spring available nearby.
Wild camping guide: how to camp safely during your journey?
Making a successful hike
In summertime, when it’s particularly hot, it’s preferable to start the ascent in the late afternoon (between 4 and 6 pm) and before the sun sets. You will not only enjoy the cooler air but also a beautiful sunset! Personally, we will remember for a long time the clear view of Mikro Papigo and the nature tinged with gold by the last sun rays. When we came back down the next day by the same path, we were disappointed by the bland colors of the plants in full sun. Spend the night at the pass (at the shelter or under a tent), and hike up to Dragon Lake at dawn to admire the sunrise over the lake. In addition to avoiding the heat, you will enjoy a visual spectacle quite unheard of!…
If at the end of this (exhausting) hike we were not transcended by the view of Dragon Lake, it’s because we did not go until the end… Because while walking around the lake, we discovered a simply breathtaking and very vertiginous point of view on the mountain range!
Zitsa, a restful stopover
Zitsa, this name may not mean anything to you – and for good reason! Located about 15 kilometers from Ioannina, this small village does not appear in any tourist guide… However, it’s in Zitsa that we had the chance to stay for almost a month and to share the daily life of locals very attached to their village… and attaching people!
For us, Zitsa represents the perfect place for a quiet stopover, far from the tourists visiting Ioannina. There is also no reason to be bored: you can visit a monastery free of charge, a wine estate, and nearby the natural stone arch of Theogefiro… As a bonus, we were able to admire beautiful sunsets over Zitsa roofs every day!
EDIT: The natural arch of Theogefiro collapsed in February 2018 after heavy rains (source: Greek reporter). It’s still a natural wonder that is disappearing, and that will leave an emptiness in the heart of all those who had the chance to see it… The only consolation in our eyes is that the beauty of this green canyon remains, fortunately, unchanged.
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* Post written according to our personal experience *