It wasn’t just the violence of the war and the civil war afterwards that destroyed the mountain villages, although that was when the mass exodus started. “Tyrannia!!”, the women of the Cypriot mountain villages had replied, when I asked them, twenty years before, what life was like there. They were tired of the hard physical work: carrying water from the spring, boiling it up in a vast cauldron to do the weekly wash, cooking over an open fire, labouring on the stony terraces. Small wonder they left for the plains or scattered throughout the world – to Australia, America, even Germany.
Those who were left found it hard to understand why foreigners wanted to walk the old forgotten mountain tracks. When we asked for directions, they pointed us to the main road – much easier going. Or they offered us a lift, and if we accepted, it was hard to persuade them to stop and let us out again. They wanted to save us from walking too far.
But things are changing, with a new generation of Greeks living and hiking in the mountains again. The villagers who left return now in the summer, and are rebuilding their ancestral homes. In August, picknickers with their lilos scramble up to the Dragon Lake. The cobbled paths and beautiful old bridges have been restored, and the tourist economy brings life to the Zagoria. In summer, there is a guest house and a cafe in every village.
We chatted to the cafe owner in Kokouli, who told us that he wanted hunting to be banned, so the local bears become tamer and easier to see – good for the tourist trade. Surely in time, somebody will offer bear watching tours.
We made good time along the well-maintained cobbled paths, reaching Stefanos’ cafe in Kapesovo, just as the sun was setting. Inside the cafe was an enormous well, from the days when the villagers depended entirely on rain water. Nowadays, water is piped in and there are lush vegetable gardens everywhere. But Stefanos is worried about a new threat to the water supply: climate change. There is already less snow on the mountains, meaning less water in the valleys.
We stayed in Stefanos’ old family home, Arhodiko Tzouki, lovingly renovated in traditional style. Under the Turkish occupation, the relatively independent mountain villages had been prosperous, and like our hotel in Monodendri, the rooms were ornate and comfortable. He showed us the inner sitting room, where the women watched from behind a wooden lattice as prospective suitors were interviewed by the menfolk. If the young man met with their approval, they served him sweet coffee. Coffee without sugar – he was rejected.
Supper was simple: sausage, fried cheese and salad, with local wine. We were the only people in the little cafe. As it grew dark, a little owl started to hoot monotonously. “You don’t get that in the city,” said Stefanos.
The route: Well-waymarked network of paths, some cobbled, through woodland and pasture, via the traditional villages of Vitsa, Koukouli, and Kipi. We followed the O3 to Kipi, where it went South, and we turned north to Kapesovo. Little water en route; fill up in the villages. Kilometres: 22.5. Ascent 781m Descent 729m. Map: Anavasi 3.1. Zagori.