Escape the hoards and discover the breathtaking beauty of Vikos Gorge

It is like a scene from Avatar. From our viewpoint, it is a sheer uninterrupted drop 900 metre to the valley floor. Towering stalagmite like cliffs, thrust dramatically upwards from the narrow gorge so far below that clouds swirl beneath us. The river looks little more than a tiny slither from up here. ‘Wow’ seems the only suitable reaction as we gaze in awe. A small group of German, French and English people squeezed onto a soaring plateau, united in wonder at the breathtaking vista. Since I first saw the Vikos Gorge in the film Beckett I’ve wanted to visit and Vikos certainly does not disappoint. It’s an other worldly place where the sound of cowbells is more common than human voices. Those that come are hushed in astonishment, dizzy from the height and drunk on the enormity of the gorge that snakes 12km from Pitango to Vistaz.

Perched on the edge of the Vikos Gorge
Slightly nervous as I am sat next to a sheer drop with no safety barrier

Location of the Vikos Gorge

The Vikos Gorge can be found in an area known as the Zagori. Squeezed into an area just south of the Albanian border and north of Greece’s third largest city, Ioannina, a trip to the Zagori is like entering a timewarp. A world away from the sandy beaches and glittering seas displayed in Greek holiday brochures, the Zagori is rugged and rustic. This is the Greece of yesteryear. A Greece inhabited by stooping, elderly ladies dressed in traditional black garb, a land dotted with ancient monasteries, deep ravines, towering mountains and roads that would look at home on Top Gear’s travels.

The Zagori is dotted with over 40 tiny villages, the largest home to just 250 residents. Each village is a hotchpotch of restaurants, cafes and grey stone houses with brightly coloured balconies that tumble down the hillside. It is simply stunning and yet it has to be Greece’s best kept secret.

a village in the Zagori, Greece
Just one of the quaint, rustic villages of the Zagori

Getting to the Vikos Gorge

To reach the Vikos Gorge, head to Ioannina. As you approach the city, the landscape becomes increasingly hilly and verdant. Strange, forested cones line the highway like oversize mole hills. Then, once you leave the bustle of Ioannina behind, unkempt wilderness encroaches. There are fewer settlements and sparse accommodation. Olive groves and cypress trees are now your companion as you delight in the stunning drive through forest clad hills over towering bridges and through tunnels with the Pindus Mountains looming ahead. The scenery is a bewildering mix of Tuscan style rolling fields and cypress trees and the tea plantations of India or China.

The beautiful colours of the Zagoria
Stunning scenery in the Zagori (even on a overcast day!)

Note, driving in the Zagora is not for the faint hearted. Sometimes little wider than a single-track road, the hazards are endless. Overtaking Greeks, bus tours, goats, cows, and dogs saunter unhurriedly into the middle of the road. Hikers behave likewise, stubbornly refusing to stick to the verge even on the narrowest sections. Thankfully traffic is sparse as there are enough natural hazards without the addition of Greek kamikaze drivers. Recalling the opening scenes from Beckett does little to quell the visions of tumbling over the edge. (By the way, I highly recommend the film which you can watch on Netflix.)

Winding roads in Zagori, Greece
The treacherous roads of the Zagori

Lonely Planet advises against driving at night and this is good advice. It is scary enough during the day!

Note, you can also visit the Vikos Gorge on a multi-day guided tour that you can book with Get Your Guide. This might be a better option if you prefer not to drive.

Vikos Gorge from the Beloi viewpoint
Vikos Gorge from the Beloi viewpoint

Beloi viewpoint walk

The hike out to the gorge is described as a ‘mostly flat’ kilometre walk by Lonely Planet and hiking boots are a must. The combination of muddy paths and worn slippery stone make for a hairy traverse at times. The trail is often elusive but we soon forget the poor markings when we reach our destination. Wisps of cloud hover above the hillside indicating that we our destination is near. We descend a steep path and shimmy between two huge rocks to reach a lofty plateau that offers our first glimpse of the canyon.  It is magnificent! I just hope our pictures do the gorge justice.

The view of Vikos Gorge from the Beloi viewpoint
The view of Vikos Gorge from the Beloi viewpoint
Views of the Gorge from the Beloi viewpoint
Views of the Gorge from the Beloi viewpoint

The hike to the viewpoint has other sights to entertain besides the main attraction. Stubborn cows occasionally block the path and may need you to shoo them out of the way. These cows dot the entire trail and hang out in the strangest of places. Reminiscent of the yaks in Nepal, I spot one in an overgrown bush in a gully. Their bells tinkle as we scramble across the hillside whilst agile goats scamper up rocky verges. They definitely make the walk look far easier than we do.

Monodendri viewpoint

If you prefer a more sedate hike to the gorge, head to the the quaint hillside village of Monodendri. A short walk down a cobbled pathway takes you to the St Paraskevi Monastery. This viewpoint hugs the gorge and gives a totally vantage of the gorge but the Beloi viewpoint is far more impressive.

Monodendri village
The road from Monodendri Village to the viewpoint
The view of the gorge from Monodendri
The view of the gorge from Monodendri

Hiking the gorge

From Monodendri, you can also hike one of the more challenging routes through the gorge. A steep path heads to the canyon’s end and a right-hand trail leads to Mikro Papingo. To complete this walk, you will need to allow at least six hours and take plenty of snacks and water. The only fresh water is at Klima Spring about halfway along the gorge. You will also need to pre-organise return transportation to the start point as public transport is not reliable.

What you need to know

The Vikos Gorge has UNESCO status and proudly displays its Guinness Record Book entry as the deepest canyon in the world relative to its width. It is just 1,100 metres across by 900 metres deep. It is not easy to navigate around the gorge so to get the most out of your visit to Vikos Gorge, I strongly recommend an overnight stay. This will allow you to visit the viewpoints but also to hike into the canyon. You can find details of the various hikes through the Gorge on AllTrails.

Enjoying the Vikos Gorge
Enjoying the Vikos Gorge away from the hoards

Where to stay

The Kores Boutique hotel and spa is a gorgeous property with an indoor spa, spacious rooms and on-site restaurant. Just a few miles from the Gorge, it is in in a relatively isolated position. There are lots of different options to suit all tastes and budgets however – just check them out here.

Why you should absolutely not miss the Vikos Gorge

Admittedly, the Vikos Gorge is quite a trek for a day trip from the coast. However, even Jason who was incredibly sceptical, gushed about the Gorge after visiting. Gushing is not normally a term I use to describe Jason either. His brand of excitement is much more muted than my ebulliant displays.

A visit to the Vikos Gorge will enthrall you with delightful scenes, only a handful of visitors and traditional scenes. It should not be missed!!


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About Anne

Anne is the founder and editor of Frommilestosmiles. If she isn't travelling, she is thinking of travelling or planning her next trip. She has visited over 90 countries on six continents and sampled everything from backpacking to bank bursting travel. Her mission is to help you enjoy more luxurious travel without the luxury price tag through the use of airline and hotel rewards and other money-saving travel tips

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