Here are four regions in mainland Greece that will impress you with their history, scenery, and a great mix of things to see and do. They’ve been here for centuries, and aren’t going anywhere any time soon.
Ioannina makes a perfect base for exploring the northwestern region of Epirus. The city traces its origins to 6th century AD as an important Byzantine Empire border town and, later, as the site of largely peaceful cohabitation of the Muslim, Christian and Romaniote Jewish populations. One example of the later is the Ioannina castle Its Kale, the oldest Byzantine fortress in Greece. It contains the tomb of Ali Pasha, the city’s Ottoman ruler as well as an old synagogue within its walls.
Outside the city explore Zagarochoria, a cluster of 46 traditional stone villages in the Pindus mountains. On the route from Aristi to Megalo Papigo, stop to admire the ruins of the Panagia Spileotisas Monastery. To reach them, you’ll leave the parking area behind to wind along a stone path through a virgin forest. In Megalo Papigo, enjoy a glass of homemade cherry juice at the Sterna before walking (or driving) to Mikro Papigo, with an intermediary stop at the Papingo Rock Pools.
In Vitsa, have lunch at the Kanela & Garyfallo, a mushroom-themed restaurant with a unique menu created by the chef and owner Vassilis Katsoupas. Continue down the main road past Monodendri until Oxia, a platform with breathtaking views over Vikos gorge, the world’s deepest canyon of its width. As you drive between villages lookout for old stone-arched bridges; one of them – the Kokkoros bridge between Dilofo and Kapesovo – is right by the main road.
Northwest of Ioannina, visit the village of Zitsa. At the Domaine Glinavos try the “orange wine”, orange in color semi-sparkling from the Debina grape, made to resurrect the old-world wine of the region. Visit the Municipal Engraving Gallery with its rich collection of engravings by Greek artists and don’t leave the village without dropping by the Bakery of the Village, run by American-Greek duo, Anna and Kostas. Their walnut-chocolate cookies are made with fresh orange juice squeezed on the premises. On the way back to Ioannina, stop at the Stala Beer (by appointment), one of the newer and up-and-coming artisanal beer makers of the region.