Written by Natalie Holmes
Greece gets a lot of attention for its coastline and islands—and rightly so. But there’s another, unknown side to the country that’s equally beautiful, unique, and captivating. Zagori, located in the northwest mainland region of Epirus, is not far from the North Macedonia border. The name Zagori comes from the Slavic term meaning “behind the mountains.” The area harbors some of Europe’s most extraordinary geological formations, created over millions of years, pristinely preserved and awaiting discovery. From a forest of layered limestone pillars to one of the world’s deepest gorges, and a miniature canyon that sparks pure delight, the region is an adventure playground for active families.
At two million hectares, the Northern Pindos National Park is the largest terrestrial national park in Greece. With a variety of altitudes, the park is home to incredible biodiversity, from brown bears and wolves to roe deer and wild boar. Look to the sky for Egyptian vultures and even, if you’re lucky, a golden eagle.
I visited Zagori in October 2018 as part of a research mission to uncover exceptional places in Greece for Terracotta Travel, a dynamic travel company dedicated to luxury experiential travel in the world’s most spectacular and unknown destinations. As a long-time Grecophile I was stunned to discover a part of the country so distinct from the rest, and with the southern sun still warm and the summer tourists long gone, the mountainous plains and quaint villages felt deliciously undiscovered. Here are five attractions to help you start planning your family adventure in Zagori, Greece.
Five Attractions Suitable for a Family Adventure in Zagori, Greece
A UNESCO-protected geopark and one of the world’s deepest gorges, Vikos Gorge is a highlight, and accessible for any activity level. From the official viewpoint, you can gaze down at the breathtaking canyon, or clamber to a secluded spot and set up a picnic. Panoramic views are also available from the 15th century Ayia Paraskevi monastery in the pretty village of Monodenri. Carved into the rock, the monastery exudes a captivating sense of history, spirituality, and nature. Adventurous families can embark on a hike of the gorge, tracing its route through the river valley.
The Stone Forest
Offering a vivid lesson in geography for adults and children alike, the Stone Forest is another must-see. Layered limestone pillars created on the ocean floor millions of years ago compete for space with towering oaks and maples among today’s landscape. Due to a quirk of geology, the rocks were eroded at different speeds by the ancient glaciers, resulting in dramatic formations.
Arched Stone Bridges
Zagori is dotted with picturesque, centuries-old stone bridges, which remain solid through mind-boggling workmanship and physics. Between March and September, the full rivers snake a turquoise trail beneath the bridges, whose arches form perfect circles in the watery reflection. There are so many to explore, but there are two bridges that stood out during my visit. The first is the Bridge of Milos, which dates back to 1748 and stands next to a crumbling water mill. The second is the iconic tri-arch Bridge of Plakidas, built in 1814.
Flanked by ancient plane trees and pure white limestone rocks, the crystalline water of the Voidomatis is a regional highlight. Consistently certified as Europe’s cleanest waterway, the river is perfect for peaceful rafting, thanks to its calm current. Also great for families is the easy three-kilometer path along one of the most beautiful sections of the riverbank. At Papingo Bridge there’s a stunning beach where you can take a cooling dip in the crisp, fresh water.
Papingo Rock Pools
While you’re in Papigno, don’t miss the incredible rock pools throughout late spring and summer. Inviting blue pools inside a miniature limestone canyon and joined by little waterfalls, makes for a unique natural bathing experience.
Where to Stay in Zagori, Greece
In the heart of the region, surrounded by ancient villages perched atop impossible peaks, the Aristi Mountain Resort is a luxurious base for your Zagori adventure. The hotel features a spa with jacuzzi and indoor pool, and a restaurant serving exquisite local specialties against a backdrop of vertiginous mountain views. For travelling families, dedicated rooms are set over two floors, with a double bedroom upstairs and a twin on the ground floor. Alternatively, the Residence sleeps up to six in a separate private villa set apart from the main hotel complex.
Travel Tips Family Adventure in Zagori, Greece
- You can access Zagori, from Ioannina, an interesting stopover offering lively atmosphere and scenic Byzantine and Ottoman history.
- Olympic Air operates two daily flights between Athens and Ioannina, with a flight time of less than an hour. Alternatively, Thessaloniki is around 250 km from Ioannina, and buses connect the cities. Private transfers are also possible.
- Terracotta Travel offers private, tailor-made trips, including exclusive tours and luxury hotels in Zagori and across Greece. I haven’t had an opportunity to experience Terracotta’s offerings. However, I hope to do so. Terracotta can arrange private transfers and support from a dedicated concierge before and during one of their trips.
- If you are travelling to Greece, you might appreciate reading these tips for flying with kids.
Natalie Holmes wrote this guest post. Natalie is a freelance writer and editor based in Berlin. She is also Terracotta Travel’s Content Lead, telling stories about the world’s most captivating destinations and responsible travel experiences. I haven’t had the pleasure of visiting Zagori, Greece, but after hearing about it from Natalie, I’m keen to plan a family adventure.