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The little known region of Epirus, situated on Greece's north west mainland, is home to the traditional Zagoria Villages and the Northern Pindos National Park, where more than 1800 plant species flourish, many endemic, in a vast temperate ecosystem.
This region is spectacular and unlike any other part of Greece that we have encountered! It is located, as the crow flies, almost directly opposite the Ionian island of Corfu. Visiting the area for the first time in June 2013 we were delighted to find a remarkably timeless and traditional region with a wonderfully vibrant and impressive nature! The main focus of our tour is the region of the Zagoria Villages, which consists of 46 traditional villages, some of which have been declared national historical monuments. The National Park is not just a nature reserve, it is a cultural monument to the mountain villages and their traditional lifestyle. It is an area with an extraordinary natural beauty, a vast temperate ecosystem, a distinctive architecture and an ancient way of life that will captivate the imagination of any visitor.
Because of the altitude of this region, Spring comes much later than the southern regions of Greece, which means the best time to visit this region is between late May and late June.
Our tour is predomninantly based in Monodendri, one of 48 picturesque stone villages of the 'Zagoriahoria', (Zagoria Villages), in the north west corner of mainland Greece. However, we also include two nights in Corfu, as this is where we arrive and depart for this tour and and because the town is wonderful to explore and shouldn’t be missed! Our Corfu hotel is well-located for exploring Corfu’s wonderful historic 'old town' but also provides a relaxed arrival before heading to Monodendri for our days filled with botanizing.
The Arion Hotel, Corfu
The Arion Hotel is situated just 100m from the sea front, 1200m from the centre of historic Corfu town and just a short walk from the beautiful gardens of Mon-Repos. All rooms have their own private bathroom, TV, air-conditioning, balcony and free Wi-Fi. The lounge area, indoor bar and restaurant with their elegant furniture and high windows create a comfortable and friendly atmosphere. A buffet style breakfast is served daily. Tavernas are easily accessed from the hotel on foot in just a few minutes.
Arion Hotel Website
Philoxenia Hotel, Monodendri
The family-run Philoxenia Hotel is a very attractive, traditionally designed, stone-built hotel situated in the upper part of the quiet village of Monodendri. Featuring wooden ceilings and floors, warm colours and dark wood furnishings; the comfortable and pristine ensuite bedrooms, with private bathrooms, are equipped with TV, fridge and hairdryer. A breakfast buffet, with wonderful homemade local specialities, is served daily in a traditionally furnished dining area. The hotel has a small bar and comfortable lounge area. Free Wi-Fi access is available in all public spaces; magazines and board games are also available. Tavernas are within a 2-minute walk.
Philoxenia Hotel Website
The word Zagoria comes from the Slavic language and means "behind the mountains", Za meaning "behind" and gora "mountain". Visiting the region and experiencing its undulating and dramatic landscape that includes the second highest mountain in Greece, Mount Smolikas, and the imposing Mount Tymfi range, it is easy to understand why the region was given this name. The northern area of Zagoria has been designated a National Park, covering a distance of 2500 sq. km with the dramatic 10km Vikos Gorge slicing through the middle. This status has ensured the rich flora and fauna of Epirus has been vitally protected. More than 1800 species can be found here, many of which are endemic and considered endangered. Five species of wild lily flourish in the area, other impressive species that can be found are the Poet’s Daffodil, the Australia tulip, the spring gentian and the saxifraga spruneri. Various medicinal herbs and plants can also be found; mint, sage, thyme, daphne, myrtle spurge and many others. Orchids are also prominent. Wildlife in the park includes 60 species of mammals, the most famous being the European Brown Bear with others of note including wolves, wild cats, otters, boar and badgers. 187 bird species, 30 species of reptiles, 14 kinds of amphibians and 17 species of fish are also known to inhabit the park.
Magnificent, verdant Corfu, or Kerkyra in Greek, was Homer’s ‘beautiful and rich land’. Mountains dominate the northern half where the coastlines can be steep and dramatic and where the island’s interior is a rolling expanse of peaceful countryside. Stately cypresses, used for masts by the Venetians, rise from shimmering olive groves. South of Corfu Town the island narrows and flattens.
Corfu was a seat of European learning in the early days of modern Greece. While the rest of the nation struggled simply to get by, the Corfiots established cultural institutions such as libraries and centres of learning, and many major Greek figures like Ioannis Kapodistrias, the first head of independent Greece, hailed from Corfu. To this day, Corfiots remain proud of their intellectual and artistic roots. This legacy is visible in its fine museums and cultural life to its high-calibre, Italian-influenced cuisine.
Old Town of Corfu
The historic 'Old Town' of Corfu, the capital of the island, is located in a strategic position at the entrance of the Adriatic Sea, and has its roots in the 8th century BC. The three forts of the town, designed by renowned Venetian engineers, were used for four centuries to defend the maritime trading interests of Venice against the Ottoman Empire. In the course of time, the forts were repaired and partly rebuilt several times, more recently under British rule in the 19th century. The mainly neoclassical housing stock of the 'Old Town' is partly from the Venetian period and partly of later construction, notably the 19th century.
Today this beautiful town is the principal port of the island and one of the largest and most populated (30,000 inhabitants) towns of the Ionian Islands. Built on a promontory, the town displays a unique architecture which is strongly influenced from the different dominations, that inhabited it in the past. The beauty of the town today comes from many of these historic and imposing buildings; elegant mansions, superb palaces, flowered squares and magnificient fortresses.
Please note that all flight times are provisional and subject to airline schedules and changes.
HEALTH & INSURANCE – EHIC CARD
Please note that EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) only allows access to the same state-provided healthcare as a resident of the EU country they are temporarily visiting. It is NOT an alternative to travel insurance and will not provide the same level of cover as a travel insurance policy. The EHIC will not cover any private medical healthcare or the cost of things such as repatriation to the UK or lost or stolen property. It is also important to note that each country’s healthcare system is slightly different, so the EHIC might not cover everything that would be generally free on the NHS. On the EHIC application website, there is a section called Access to Healthcare Abroad which clarifies all the conditions and inclusions. We strongly recommend that you take out an appropriate travel insurance policy when you travel abroad.
Your Guide - Graham Kendall
Having studied at the Savill Gardens, Windsor and the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh, Graham Kendall went on to be Head Gardener at three National Trust Properties before starting his own consultancy. A year studying in Greece, at what is now the 'Greek home' to the Mediterranean Garden Society, kindled Graham's love for its native flora. Numerous subsequent visits to many different areas of Greece have widened his fascination and knowledge.
Day 1: Fly from London Heathrow to Corfu (regional flights maybe available, please enquire). On arrival in Corfu transfer to the Hotel Arion, situated 2 kms from Corfu ‘Old town’. Overnight at the Arion Hotel, Corfu.
Day 2: Guided tour of Corfu town. Today is an opportunity to explore the islands wonderful and historic capital, Corfu town, an attractive maze of narrow streets dominated by a 16th century fortress. A great description, which sums up the joy of the town: 'Corfu town is Venice and Naples, a touch of France and more than a dash of England, apart of course from being Greek'. The guided tour will take place in the morning and the rest of the day will be free for you enjoy at leisure. Overnight at the Arion Hotel, Corfu
Day 3: Transfer to Monodendri. We leave our hotel in the morning and transfer to the port (10 minute drive) to catch the ferry to Igoumenitsa, on the mainland, and then continue to the village of Monodendri where our hotel is situated (transfer is approx. 3 1/2 hours, this includes the ferry crossing, which is approx. 90 mins). After settling in to our hotel and having a break for lunch, we will explore Monodendri following a stone track to the monastery of Agia Paraskevi, one of the oldest Monasteries in Epirus, which teeters precariously on the edge of the Vikos Gorge and provides us with our first spectacular views of this magnificent natural monument.
Day 4: Around Konitsa. We start our Epirus visits in the area of Konitsa, situated in the northern part of Epirus just 12 kms south of the Albanian border. We will have various botanizing stops, before stopping for refreshments at a taverna, which sits next to the ever-flowing Aoos River. We will then continue to the Konitsa Bridge, the tallest arched bridge in the Balkans, which leads to the Aoos Gorge. We have a short walk by the river before heading to the Bourazani Wildlife Park where we will have a guided tour and understand better the natural environment of this stunning region.
Day 5: Bridges and villages. Today’s tour provides a real insight into the Zagoria region and some of its traditional architecture. The villages of Zagori were interconnected by mountain roads and traditional arched stone bridges until modern roads were opened in the 1950's. Bridges were essential for keeping trade routes open and Zagoria is uniquely blessed with these graceful stone structures. We take the opportunity to include two of these lovely old bridges during our botanising today and walk between the three-arched Kalogerico Bridge and the two-arched Milos Bridge discovering the flora en-route. We also include a visit today to the botanical museum of Kostas Lazaridis in Koukouli, a personal museum set up by Lazaridis and which boasts over 1000 plant species, (as well as personal memorabilia), most of which can be found in the Vikos Gorge.
Day 6: Rivers & Mountains. Today we head to the northern villages of Zagoria, following a pretty and colourful route lined with flowering sage bushes. We visit the small village of Vikos with, of course, some wonderful views into the gorge. We then continue on to the attractive village of Aristi, which, once again, boasts excellent examples of local architecture. We will stop just below the village and take a short walk by a small river to see what floral delights we can discover and also follow a short track towards the 16th century monastery of Panagia Spiliotissa. We then head up a very 'interesting' road to the village of Megala (big) Papingo, which faces the magnificent 'Astraka towers'; stone cliffs that tower high above the Vikos Gorge where we will stop for lunch before visiting the Rogovo 'stone pools', unusual and attractive natural pools formed by water erosion.
Day 7: The ‘Beloi Balcony’ and Tsepelovo. An easy one hour walk, during which we have the opportunity to enjoy the Vikos-Aoös National Parks rich flora. Our path begins above the 'Vradeto steps', a magnificent 300 year old mule track carved into a rock face, which, until fairly recently, was the only way to reach the village of Vradeto. We can admire the steps from a distance as we approach Vradeto and then enjoy an easy path botanising all the way to the 'Beloi balcony', yet another panoramic viewpoint into the Vikos Gorge. After our walk we will drive to the nearby village of Tsepelovo for lunch, which, at a height of 1200 metres, offers wonderful views over the mountain range of Tymfi.
Day 8: The Stone Forest & Monodendri. Today we stay close to Monodendri and start our botanizing by following a lovely path that leads from Monodendri towards the Vikos Gorge. We will spend the morning botanizing here and then, after a break for lunch, we will transfer by bus to an area just above Monodendri, which is known as the ‘Stone Forest’ because of the unusual rock formations found here. We will botanize further and also have a final exceptional view into the Vikos Gorge.
Day 9: Transfer to Corfu airport for the return flight to London Heathrow.
NB: Exact order of excursions may vary according to local conditions and tour manager's discretion
Please note: the itinerary will include gentle walking of up to 3 hours each day in sometimes 'wild' countryside in order to fully experience a representative range of plants, so reasonable fitness and decent footwear with sturdy soles is essential. Please note nothing too strenuous will be undertaken.
Please note the maximum group size on this tour is 18 passengers.
You will have the option to book your own flights independently with the operator.
Offering a wide range of extended tours and cultural short breaks for the discerning traveller, Travel Editions was established in 1994 and is now one of the leading specialist independent escorted tour operators in the UK. The company started with the idea of creating itineraries that were not readily available on the high street, and the team still remains focused on offering escorted tours that appeal to travellers rather than tourists.
Over the years, Travel Editions has developed and diversified its range of escorted tours to include rail tours, air tours, history tours, Christmas tours and even specialist interest tours that have specific appeal for walkers, foodies, art lovers, music addicts and flower enthusiasts. From enjoying wonderful walks and tasty local cuisine in Crete to visiting the art nouveau buildings of Milan and exploring the architectural gems of the Netherlands, Travel Editions creates amazing tours to suit every budget and interest.
As rail transport is one of the most environmentally friendly ways to travel, the company has carefully developed nearly 30 exciting escorted rail tours that include trips to France, Spain, Brussels, Arnhem, Luxembourg and the Italian Riviera. Travel Editions believes that the journey becomes part of the holiday, and is why this specialist tour operator also offers a range of tours by air, such as Delphi and Mount Pelion in Greece, the beautiful Italian city of Florence, and Paphos, Nicosia and the Troodos Mountains in Cyprus. Whatever the escorted tour or the destination, Travel Editions provides holidays that are packed full of cultural and historic treasures, as well as plenty of free time to relax and soak up the local atmosphere and the regional food and wine.
One of the best things about Travel Editions is that the team can tailor-make all tours to your group’s budget and specification, be it shopping till you drop in New York or tasting the most delicious gastronomic delights of Sicily. Not only can the activities be tailored to meet your requirements but so can the travel options, hotel selection (three, four or five-star hotel) and the whole itinerary. Alternatively, you can simply pick one of the many carefully curated escorted tours listed on the Travel Editions website.
In almost all cases, daily excursions are included in the price of a trip, and all excursions are taken by private coach. The size of the group varies depending on the escorted tour, and Travel Editions limits some holidays to lower numbers to suit the nature of the specific holiday. Walking, culinary and special interest tours are limited to approximately 20-30 passengers, and the Europe by Rail and Europe by Air holidays are limited to a maximum of 35 passengers. Then there’s the UK British Heritage Tours with a maximum capacity of 49, however, some are much less than this. No matter which tours you choose, you will never feel as though you are in a big group.
Travel Editions is passionate about delivering a personal service every step of the way, and its team of experts will arrange your holiday with minimum fuss and maximum effort. Customer service and attention to detail are at the heart of everything they do, plus you will always be treated as an individual and get the benefit of affordable prices by travelling as a group. Another bonus is that Travel Editions is ABTA and ATOL protected, which means your money and your holiday will be protected from the moment you book.
In addition to offering extended tours and cultural short breaks, Travel Editions offers a large range of special events in the UK that bring the culture and history of the United Kingdom to life. These events can be found in the Art & History Abroad programme and include expert speakers, entertaining concerts and impressive dinners in historic locations.