Exploring Greece’s Wild and Wonderful Epirus

With a thrilling array of landscapes and attractions, this often-overlooked region of Greece offers plenty of scope for a perfect holiday. Diana Bentley takes a look.

It may be the best-kept secret in all of Greece. Lying in the northwest of the country, flanked by the glittering Ionian Sea and presided over by the rugged Pindus mountains, Epirus is a lush and uncrowded region with dramatic landscapes and historical treasures that should dazzle any visitor. This is the place where you can immerse yourself in nature in any number of ways and have magical archaeological sites almost to yourself.

A Pretty Capital

Ioannina, the region’s pretty capital, makes a good place to set off on any journey through Epirus. Set on the southern shore of the placid Lake Pamvotis in the middle of the region, it’s a charming, bustling town with plenty of character and an old section surrounded by stout walls. The city’s lofty citadel has spectacular views and several ancient stone buildings worth seeing including the Municipal Museum, which is housed in a former mosque built in 1618.

The city was once ruled by the colourful overlord Ali Pasha who befriended Lord Byron. You’ll also enjoy tremendous views from a spacious park on a hill where you’ll find the city’s archaeological museum. When the sun’s gone down, you can join the throng on Ioannina’s busy streets in its restaurants and bars and you’ll find the local produce served up in innovative dishes by its creative young chefs.

Ancient Towns and Theatres

Dodona Theatre

While Ioninna was founded in the 6th century, there’s plenty to explore from Epirus’s more distant past. A new Cultural Route created for travellers takes in five theatres of Epirus which were part of its rich spiritual and social life in antiquity. Chief among the sites is Dodona. Only 22 kilometres southeast of Ioninnia, Dodona was the home of one of the most renowned oracles in antiquity. There are plenty of remains here to admire amongst the wildflowers, but it’s Dodona’s colossal theatre built in the 3rd century BC, which is the star here. Further south is the site of Gitana, a charming, compact theatre, which still lies on the banks of the river Kalamas, as it did in antiquity, and below the remains of what was once a sizable town.

To the south, past the Nekromanteion of Acheron, the legendary gate of Hades, lie the astonishing remains of Kassopi which occupy a glorious site on a mountain plateau with panoramic views of the sea. Once it was a thriving city with luxurious homes, a marketplace, a hotel and a vast theatre, the ruins of which all still stand. One of the best preserved archaeological sites in all of Greece, it shouldn’t be missed. Further south lies the ruins of Nicopolis, the city built by Octavian – later Augustus – to celebrate his naval victory over Mark Antony and Cleopatra off the coast here near Actium in 31 BC. The elaborate theatre here was built in the early 1st century AD and combines both Hellenistic and Roman design and has recently been restored.

Arta Bridge

The tiny theatre found cradled between modern buildings in the city of Arta in the south, is also being restored. Arta boasts a number of Byzantine churches too, the most celebrated of which is the gorgeous Panagia Parigoritissa, and a delightfully unusual 17th bridge which spans the Arahthos River. The attractive seaside town of Preveza is a good place to be based to explore this area. Overlooked by a sturdy fortress, its streets are lined with boutiques and tavernas selling the freshest seafood and there are good beaches nearby.

Untrammelled nature

Epirus’s mountains, rushing rivers and gorges, wetlands and beaches offer terrific opportunities for immersing yourself in nature. Apart from the Pindus mountains, there are several other ranges which attract hikers, mountain climbers and paraglider. The region has plenty of rivers and lakes which make for exhilarating rafting and kayaking and some good fishing. Birdwatchers are drawn to the region too and wildlife lovers should enjoy the Rodhia Wetland Centre near Arta. If you’re keen on horseback riding, there are lots of stables about including the Equestrian Park of Preveza where you can ride along the shore. Whatever you chose to do in Epirus though, you’ll probably find that one visit isn’t nearly enough; you’ll want to return. So savour your journey and enjoy looking forward to the next.

Travel to Epirus

Ioninna is about a one 1/4 hour’s flight from Athens, about 4 hours by car and 5 by train.

www.visitgreece.gr/mainland/epirus

www.ancientheatersofepirus.gr

Next steps:

For trips to Greece and to Epirus, call our Silver Travel Advisors for more information or to book: 0800 412 5678.

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