We were in Zagoria (also known as Zagori) and as we set off for the village of Koukouli the thunder rumbled through the mountains and large drops of rain sploshed onto the windscreen. The race was on to reach our destination before the storm broke but, by the time we pulled up beside the church, the wrath of the gods was upon us. Rain, hail, lightning and thunder crashed and battered about us and soon there was a small, muddy river flowing into the village. However, this was a Northern Greek mountain storm and we knew it wouldn’t last long so we waited in the car, almost deafened by the rattle of the hailstones on the roof, watching the small river become a larger river.
After about three-quarters of an hour we thought we could face the less torrential rain so, clutching our bags, we scrambled up the steps to the village square, past the cafeneion, and into a narrow lane that would take us to our friends’ house. The great wooden gate, typical of the mountain village houses, was closed but we knew the ‘trick with the stick’ to work the latch and we stepped into the courtyard.
Autumn weather in the Pindus Mountains is an unpredictable beast changing quickly from one extreme to another and that evening, although there had been such a hefty storm, we were able to sit outside in the pretty courtyard among the flowers and plants to eat our supper. The air was cool but pleasant enough. A great mulberry tree stands in one corner, a reminder of the days when silk production was an important industry in the region. Indeed, Koukouli is the Greek word for ‘cocoon’. Our friends are very keen on their garden and they grow a wide range of plants and vegetables so we were all rather upset to see that the hail had made elaborate green lace where the stones had gone straight through the leaves.
The following morning Koukouli had its head above the clouds and was basking in watery sunshine and by the time we had breakfasted the sun was warm and bright, encouraging us to take a walk through the village.
In the plateia about half a dozen villagers were sitting outside the cafeneion taking their morning coffee and our friend introduced us as we sat down. The proprietor brought us glasses of water, having first enquired whether we would prefer it to be ‘hot or cold’ – from the tap or from the ‘frig – and we sipped it as we chatted. A smartly-dressed lady from a nearby village was busy with her traditional beadwork, threading tiny glass beads to make a beautiful coloured rope to be worn as a belt. This was an ancient skill of the Sarakatsani shepherds who used to roam the Pindus Mountains.
We moved on and turned into Lazaridis Street which was just wide enough to allow a pick-up truck laden with grapes to pass through. The Tritoxo taverna with rooms dominated one corner where the Papas’ wife and son were busy in the courtyard making fragrant sauce from their own tomatoes. Our friend pointed out the Plakidis house which, though abandoned, has a preservation order on it because it was the first house in the region to have an inside lavatory. The lavatory was still just a hole in the ground but it is enclosed in a stone lean-to on the side of the building.
The greatest delight of our walk was the Lazaridis Museum which is in a restored village house where Kostas Lazaridis, the village school-master, once lived. He was a keen amateur botanist and he spent his retirement collecting and classifying over 1300 examples of the local flora. After his death in 1987 his specimens and the many books and pamphlets he wrote were put on display in his house. It is worth a visit if only to see how a typical mountain village house looked with its fine woodwork painted in blue and red and green.
Sadly, on this trip to the region there was not enough time for us to visit some of our other favourite places such as the village of Monodendri with its delicious cheese pie and the church built dangerously high on the side of a ravine, and the Voidomatis River running green through the forest. And there are the ancient stone bridges with their elegant arches and the Vikos Gorge, the deepest in Europe. These would all have to wait for next time. The day ended with us filling our water bottles at the springs by the church and our friends waving us off as we headed back down the mountain. Our taste of Zagoria was coming to an end.
There are frequent ferries from Corfu to Igoumenitsa on mainland Greece then it is about a 2 hour car journey to Koukouli, using the Via Egnatia motorway via Ioannina.
“The Ionian Islands and Epirus: A Cultural History (Landscapes of the Imagination)” by Jim Potts
“The Papas and the Englishman” by Roy Hounsell
The Tritoxo Taverna and Rooms – includes a charming video of Koukouli and its surroundings and some shots of the Lazaridis Museum.