“Push through the tunnel of bushes on all fours….” ran the description in the Mountains of Greece guide. We were a little nervous about the path to Matsouki, and nobody in Kalarites seemed to have been that way for a very long time. Would it be completely impassable?
In fact, the worst bit was the knee-destroying first forty minutes of descent on the tarred road. Then we veered off onto the old mule path, which had been recently cleared and waymarked by the Ioannina Mountaineering Club. It was a steep scramble down into the dark and mysterious depths of the gorge, to a stone bridge so covered in ivy and moss that it blended almost completely into the mountainside.
We climbed up the other side, along a path now lined with the mauve sentinels of autumn crocus, yesterday’s flowers battered down by the rain, but new ones standing erect, still to open in the sunshine. At the top of the slope lay the eleventh century monastery of Vilica. It had been restored in the eighteenth century, but no monks lived there now. Next to it, was a new guesthouse, a barbecue and a broom hung up in a tree, with an exhortation to visitors to clear up after themselves.
Usually the church would have been locked, but we were lucky. The Matsouki Monastery Committee were visiting, and invited us in. As we came out from admiring the frescoes, they produced a simple table with a white cloth and a little welcome tray with crystallised orange peel, and a glass of water.
“We’ve been renovating the paved path from Matsouki village to the monastery,” one of the committee members explained. “”Over a thousand visitors come here for the feast day in August. In the old days, nobody worried about the precipitous path. Look, you can see where it has collapsed down below. Even toddlers managed it. But we’ve now renovated about half. The rest will take a couple more years, as the work can only be done during the three summer months. We’ve just been meeting the workmen to plan what will be done next year, and arrange their stay in the monastery.”
We could see the path cut into the almost sheer cliffs, complete with a low wall to stop spoilt modern toddlers falling off into oblivion. We followed it down to Matsouki. The village lacked the charm of Kalarites, having been destroyed by an earthquake in 1965, and then hurriedly rebuilt. It was lunchtime and we headed for one of the cafes in the square.
There was nowhere to stay in the village, so we asked about the best place to camp. “Anywhere you like,” was the response from the villagers at the cafe. “And the church will be open if it rains hard.” We picked a spot above the cemetery, under the ossuary porch. The door was unlocked and I peeked in to see boxes of bones, all neatly labelled. At dusk, old ladies in black came down to light the nightlights on the graves. “Aren’t you afraid of ghosts?” they asked. “I’m sure they were good people and won’t do us any harm,” I replied.
We saw no ghosts. The next morning the cafe owner gave us coffee on the house before we headed up into the peaks again.
The route: Tarred road initially, then a well waymarked old mule path to the monastery,
a little steep at the start, then easy walking mostly in shade. New paved path from the monastery to Matsouki. No water between Kalarites and the monastery. Kilometres: 14.5. Ascent: 394m Descent: 523m. Map: Anavasi South Pindus 3.2.
Facilities: Several cafes with basic supplies on sale in Matsouki, but no guesthouse.