In June 2019, The Slow Cyclist, specialists in expertly guided cycling and walking holidays for small groups, launches new, five-night journeys to the remote Pindos mountains of north-west Greece. They provide the perfect opportunity for curious travellers with a bit of juice in their legs to explore the scenic landscape of Zagori, a remote, cut-off corner of the Epirus region. Cyclists will travel along quiet tarmac roads winding between enchanting mountain villages, weaving alongside magnificent gorges, through rich forests and across high pastures, dotted with sheep.
The trip also encompasses a good amount of walking along ancient mule tracks, swims in waterfalls and crystal clear rivers, and visits to monasteries on a journey that digs deep into the landscape, history and culture of this forgotten corner of Greece. When esteemed travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor was asked “If you wanted to go somewhere – somewhere right off the map, with no tourists or modern developments – where would you go?” He replied “Epirus.”.
Alongside breathtaking scenery, Zagori is also home to a unique, and charming, collection of 46 villages that surround the Vikos Gorge – the world’s deepest – and whose history can be traced back to antiquity. The region was an important staging point for Ottoman traders in the 17th and 18th century, before local merchants began moving to more prosperous cities such as Constantinople, Venice and Rome, leaving the villages with greatly diminished populations. After the Greek Civil War (1946-1949) the area was almost completely deserted, and today some of the villages are practically ghost towns, with others populated by older residents intent on maintaining traditional village life. This rich history has left the region with a fascinating literary and musical culture and makes it the perfect European destination to slow down, take time and get away from the rush of modernity, whilst exploring a unique culture.
The guiding is second to none. Groups are led by a local guide who knows the hills, villages and people inside out, and Josh Barley, a classicist and translator from Athens, who has spent years exploring this, his favourite corner of Greece. In the evenings, guests will enjoy wonderful hospitality in traditional guesthouses, where they will deepen their understanding of the way of life that has remained unchanged for centuries. The accommodation is charming, extremely comfortable and always in the best location; whether it’s one of the best guest houses in Zagori or staying with a local family.
Daily cycles range from 15km – 37km with interwoven walks along ancient mule tracks, through traditional villages, across pastoral landscapes, and beside the fast-flowing Voidomatis river. Zagori is steep and dramatic, and there are some long hills – both up and down, making an e-bike the preferred option for many guests. Although some days are hard, cyclists will always have time to take in the magnificent views, to experience village life, and to relish the natural beauty of their surroundings.
Local food is a highlight. Dining is simple, fresh and the very definition of organic. Many of the guest houses grow their own vegetables and rear their own animals and the mountain diet is full of local cheeses, filo pastry pies, hearty baked vegetables, open-fire cooked meats, and of course the ubiquitous Greek salad. Traditional puddings of home bottled fruits are served with local Greek yogurt, and energy is renewed with mouth-watering honey-drenched cakes. Nearby Zitsa is a mecca for wine-lovers and fantastic local labels have been chosen, while fruit liqueurs are a must after dinner.
The Slow Cyclist runs scheduled trips to Zagori, for up to 12 guests, with a fixed itinerary and focus. However, many guests choose to travel privately with family or friends, usually in groups of between 8 and twelve and for anything from four to eight days. The Slow Cyclist builds every private trip from scratch, according to their guests’ needs, creating a journey perfectly suited to the group.
Scheduled trips to Zagori are running in 2019 as follows:
2 – 7 June 2019
14 – 19 July 2019 (Under 45s trip)
1 – 6 September 2019
15 – 20 September 2019 (Founder’s Journey, accompanied by Oli Broom)
6 – 11 October 2019
The Slow Cyclist offers a five-night journey from £1,600 per person. This includes airport transfers for recommended flights and a support vehicle, Slow Cyclist host and English-speaking guides, all accommodation, meals, snacks and drinks, all activities, bicycle and helmet hire. International flights are not included.
www.theslowcyclist.co.uk / +44(0)20 7060 4487
Photo credit: DreamInGreece.com