This morning we enjoy a sightseeing tour of Ioannina, the historic capital of Epirus and one of northern Greece’s most atmospheric cities. Set against the Pindos Mountains, the city is located on the shores of Lake Ioannina. Christian, Jewish and Islamic influences are evident throughout, all reflected in the diverse architecture. Perhaps the most impressive building is the imposing castle, originally built in the 6th century by Emperor Justinian and rebuilt in the early 19th century by Ottoman ruler Ali Pasha. Standing high on a peninsula, the castle is surrounded by the enchanting stone houses and cobbled streets so typical of this region.
This afternoon we travel north to the Zagora region in the heart of the Pindos Mountains, a vast collection of snow-capped peaks, plateaus, valleys and gorges considered to be the ‘spine of Greece’. These rugged mountains are home to an abundance of flora and fauna, and offer some of the most dramatic scenery in Europe. The dense forests are a habitat for brown bears, wolves and jackals, while the skies are patrolled by soaring birds of prey, including golden eagles. Until quite recently, the ancient humpbacked bridges that criss-cross the valley floor played a vital role in linking local communities. As we drive through the traditional villages, we get a real sense of time standing still and a feel for a lifestyle quite different to other regions of Greece.
Plunging to a maximum of 2,950 feet, the yawning Vikos Gorge is one of the deepest canyons in the world, easily capable of accommodating the full height of The Shard in London twice over. Home to 110 species of birds and many rare butterflies, this is a true natural monument. We visit the village of Mondendri for superb views of the gorge, bridges and river below. Of note is the 18th-century Kokkori Bridge, whose stone arch seems to leap improbably over the azure Voidomatis river. Our journey continues to the village of Vikos for the most stunning views of the gorge. You’ll have time to take in the glorious vistas and perhaps sample one of the savoury filo pastry pies for which Zagora is famous before we return to our hotel.