Travel means differently to different people. For some, it means stepping into a temporary gratification of the luxurious – think fancy hotels, a butler, room service. For others it’s an excuse to throw the rules out of the window and eat with zero conscience. For the rest it means adventure, away from our daily, mundane routines.
I like all of these reasons. I’ve done it for all of these reasons. But so far, here is the best reason I like to travel; it’s the feeling of arriving someplace, a new place, where nothing is familiar, and you think to yourself, “Where the bejesus am I??”
I love this feeling. I’m addicted to this feeling. It makes me feel that the world is so strange but wonderful but vast but beautiful. And that was exactly the feeling I had when I arrived in Zagori Village, Greece, about six hours’ drive away from Athens.
Rainy days, long roads, in Ioaninna
A view of Zagori Village from the hotel
I have never driven that far in my life, let alone in a foreign country on the opposite side of the car. But the drive to the Ioninna region of Greece is beautiful, past Greek landscapes of mountains, olive farms, small narrow roads past villages, sheep, working horses, and the Aegean sea. I arrived at the small hotel called Kipi Suites, a large mansion on top of the hill surrounded by the small Zigori Village, after a long drive through lonely roads that did not seem to lead anywhere.
Kipi Suites - a small hotel, please please please go here
I want to tell you more about Zigori Village. But first, have you ever read an Enid Blython book? In her books she often describes magical villages surrounded by beautiful green woods and quiet rivers, with stone houses, slate roofs, and tiny lanes that are cobbled. Well, that’s Zigori Village. People are nice, the local tavern serves amazing food, the village dogs love you, and if you’re lucky you come across the mountain turtles who sometimes visit from the woods.
The village roads are quiet and cobbled
This region of Ioninna is located near the borders of Greece-Albania, and it was once occupied by the Turkish Empire. As a result, you see a lot of their architectural influences around the area, such as the many, many, many beautifully designed bridges crossing the emerald green rivers with icy cold waters. I went for long walks through the woods, which lead to quiet, pebbly riverbanks, and all the pathways are made from cobblestones with weeds growing in between (I’m starting to sound like I’m describing a Disney village, aren’t I?).
Cheese pie with olives, homemade jam and local mountain tea
Misty mornings around the village
Life here is quiet, and so I seemed to emulate this energy as well. I woke up early to watch the sunrise from the balcony of the hotel (there was no one else occupying this hotel, this is how remote the village is), and sheets of morning fog uncovered the whole village and its surrounding landscape. The lady who hosted the place (who is also the cook, receptionist and housekeeper) made a cheese pie for breakfast, which is basically baked feta cheese in filo pastry with olives. Then I wrote for about an hour, and after that set off to hike for Vikos Gorge, the second deepest canyon in the world. I went for the Beloi Viewpoint to see the entire canyon, and saw some wild deers. The national park is gorgeous, a Mediterranean stone forest with gorgeous sunshine, and the gorge itself was a view to behold.
Vikos Gorge, at the borders of Greece-Albania
I lost track of how many slabs of feta cheese I've been eating
After that it was a late lunch at the tavern, complete with the neighborhood dogs trying to get the plate of meat patties, and of course, a generous plate of Greek Salad. This area houses around 45 small villages, so you can imagine the amount of sightseeing one could get by walking around. I packed some water, snacks, and a good jacket, then off I went on long walks. I just remember feeling so happy as I walked, and the air smelled like old leaves and pine trees. I was so far away from everything I knew, and somehow this made me feel free.
This part of Greece is famous for it's medieval bridges
Ioninna is a place that reminded me why I liked to travel. The roads are not popular, the villages are modest. You won’t find any designer shops here. People wear sensible shoes and clothes, and no one is in a hurry or trying to fish out as much money as possible from you. Lives are simple, and nothing is touristy – the natural wonders are there, quiet, beautiful, undisturbed.
Where the bejesus was I? Nowhere, and it was spectacular.