Vikos to Monodendri: Down the gorge

The Klima Springs were idyllic as a menthol cigarette ad: white rocks, clear green pools, Lily in the gorgepebble beaches and shade from the willow trees. We put two cans of coke in the stream to cool for lunch, and settled down for a long siesta. I waded into the stream, but stopped abruptly when I saw the V of a snake’s head cutting through the water. Was it poisonous? I didn’t know, but got out fast. Instead, I sat with my feet dangling in the water, watching the wagtails, the frogs mating, the water boatmen and the tadpoles – all the busy river life. A blue butterfly settled on my water bottle. The outside world seemed a long way away. I hadn’t heard any news for weeks, except for the occasional mutter about the World Cup from Alan. I’d forgotten to re-charge my camera, too.

We’d left Vikos with a packed lunch early that morning, retraced our steps down to the river bed and then followed a well-made mule track through woods and meadows, sunshine and shade. After Klima, the path was more of a scramble, with twisted metal steps, an improvised bridge made of branches, and a rope to cling on to where it was steep.  There was the occasional stagnant pool, but both before and after Klima the river disappeared underground.

Vikos GorgeWe met one person coming towards us in the gorge: an English hiker, spending his month’s holiday in six different countries, amassing a collection of peaks, hikes and national parks. His next stop was Mount Olympos. We didn’t hold him up for long.

We lingered too long at the springs, and the zigzag climb up the cliff to Monodendri was a killer. It was worth it, though we weren’t altogether keen on the village. “Reminds me of Poundbury!”, commented Alan, thinking of Prince Charles’ strangely soulless new town in Dorset. It had been beautifully renovated, with stone paths throughout and even the clutch of modern hotels on the outskirts were built in traditional style. There was an outdoor theatre, a handicrafts school and an exhibition centre. Interpetation boards explained that two brothers from the village had emigrated to Russia in the nineteenth century, where they made their fortune. They donated much of it to the Greek Independence movement, and also set up a foundation for improvements to their birthplace, which was now a showcase of traditional architecture and crafts. Somehow, though, the place lacked vibrancy  – too many tourists and not enough long-term residents.

But our little hotel was lovely, with ornate decorated ceiling and fireplace, and crisp white embroidered curtains. Outside was a courtyard, scented with jasmine and roses, with pots of ripening strawberries, and a rabbit hutch in the corner. Our hostess was slim and red-headed, with a young daughter, the owner of the rabbit. We stayed two nights.Guesthouse, Monodendri

The route: Well-marked section of the O3, mainly easy walking in shade. A couple of steeper sections, with some scrambling – all very straightforward. Steep climbs up to the villages above the gorge. Water only at the Voidomatis and Klima springs. Kilometres: 13.5. Ascent 400m.  Descent 375m. Map: Anavasi 3.1. Zagori. The GPS didn’t work in part of the gorge. There is no danger of getting lost, but the distance etc may not be accurate.

Facilities: Nothing in the gorge between Vikos and Monodendri. Range of hotels, cafes and tavernas in Monodendri, plus a couple of souvenir shops, but nowhere selling groceries.  Regular bus to Ioannina. No traffic in the village; most hotels are on the outskirts.

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