Crystal blue water, white homes with blue painted doors and shutters…
Doing a quick google images search, it’s hard to believe there is more to Greece than picturesque Islands like Mykonos or Santorini.
Beautiful they may be. But, they are only one side of Greece.
There is yet more to this ancient country than the well known Mediterranean Islands and the Acropolis in Athens. We journeyed through less touristy, unexplored Greece to discover spectacular areas of the mainland.
What we found far exceeded our expectations…
Unexplored Greece: It’s not all about the Islands…
We were recently invited by “Visit Greece”, to discover a different side of Greece. A region that you may not realise is ideal to visit almost all year round. An area that will impress the hikers, photography buffs, nature lovers, history enthusiasts, food & wine lovers and adventure seekers alike. Even skiers can get their boots snowy.
This is the areas of Epirus and Thessaly, Greece.
Rather than tell you about it, let me start with a bit of visual enticement, so you can see straight off what I’m talking about.
The spectacular monasteries of Meteora (Pictured Top), are a spectacular feat of human ingenuity. Constructed on lonely peaks across the valley.
Meteroa literally translates as ‘Middle of the Sky” or ‘In the Heavens Above”. These monasteries were built by Greek Orthodox monks back in the 14th century. There are six in total still standing. It’s believed there were more than 20 at one time. Access roads are only a modern feature, these monks originally had to scale the cliff face with their bare hands to get materials to the top – seriously impressive stuff.
Throughout most of the 20th century, the only access to the monasteries was to be winched up in a cargo net.
Meteora is a UNESCO site and entry to the monastery we visited (The Holy Monastery of Great Meteoron) only costs 3 euros, about $4. If you want to visit all of the monasteries it is 3 euros each time. Staying in the region on a budget, there is the Hostel Meteora in town for about 12.50 euros per night for a dorm bed.
Mountains of Epirus: Unexplored Greece
Our next stop was the area of Epirus. This mountainous region boasts many activities for lovers of the great outdoors.
You can enjoy long hikes through the mountains, where you can rest in the surrounding villages along the way. However, it is advised that you take a guide with you due to the mountain bears that live in the area, and mud slides that can occur.
You can visit the ancient archaeological sites, such as “Dodoni” which was a very important spiritual place for the greeks of ancient times. In fact, there are six archaeological sites to explore which date back to as early as the 3rd and 4th centuries BC. If you prefer modern history, this whole area was an important fighting ground between the Greeks and Italians during WWII and there are memorials throughout the mountains.
For those seeking adventure there’s white water rafting and kayaking through the enchanting rivers of the Epirus region. Canyoning and bike tours are also available.
For lovers of architecture – has Epirus got some stone bridges for you! Many of these bridges are evidence of the local peoples craftsmanship and engineering. Using what ever resources they had to build bridges that remain standing regardless of time, or natural difficulties such as earthquakes.
It is also a photographer’s wonderland. This picturesque area will keep you enthralled with its beautiful little villages, historic bridges and breathtaking gorges like the Vikos Gorge, which is listed in the Guinness Book Of World Records as being one of the deepest gorges in the world.
This area certainly has something to offer everyone.
One thing we really loved during our trip was that in every single town and village we stopped at, we were met by many of the locals, where they offered incredibly warm welcomes to us all. Because it’s the Greek way, and because they were so happy that we were visiting.
There is an Ancient Greek word for hospitality – it’s “Xenia”.
Xenia literally means guest hospitality. And it’s a practice of showing generosity and courtesy to those who are far from home. This practice has been a part of Greek culture since the times of greek mythology and Zeus, who is the ancient protector of the travellers.
This hospitality is still very much alive in Greek culture to this day.
Sadly, Greece hasn’t had much of a good rap in the media lately. The country has been suffering though a lengthy economic crisis, which has led to wide spread hardships, riots and mass unemployment.
But has this affected the Greek spirit? Not that we can see!
Greece is one of those countries that has a heartbeat of it’s own, a vibrancy in the air – and you can’t help but feel it’s presence in every aspect of everyday Greek life.
The Greeks, as a united country, are here welcoming you to come and experience this vast country for yourself. A country that they, and their ancestors before them, are so dearly proud of.
The Food Will Rock Your World
Everywhere we went we were treated to traditional local foods including Saganaki (fried cheese), Spanakoptia (spinach filo pie), Triopita (cheese pie), Mousakka and more. And the desserts – WOW! Take a look at some more food porn from our time in Greece.
The amazing thing about Greece is if you ask someone where ‘the best’ place to get local food is, they will often answer “Go anywhere – it’s all good”. There are few bad restaurants in Greece! And it’s because they have a long tradition of using fresh, local ingredients to their fullest potential.
And don’t forget the booze…
Food and booze go hand in hand in Greece. You must sample some of the locally made wines. In particular, we paid a visit to the fabulous Katogi Averoff Winery. This modern winery offers a fascinating audio-visual tour of it’s cellars before you get to sample their products, accompanied with local cheeses, noms.
On our Journey we also had quite a few samplings of the local moonshine – Ouzo. Ouzo is the name most foreigners would know this liquor by, and is certainly not for the feint hearted – it really packs some punch.
But calling it Ouzo is generalising. Ouzo is only one type of alcoholic beverage in Greece. There is also Tsipouro, Raki and a few other variations that are available. Much of it has derived from the alcohol that the Greek Orthodox Monks used to make in the 14th centuries and the variations are what is still being drunk today.
Also, it’s quite interesting to note that there is no legal drinking age in Greece. Drinking alcohol is an accepted part of society. However, drunkenness is not. The way the Greeks keep their drinking in check, is by always eating when they are drinking. But remember, they are also generous hosts so expect your glass to magically keep filling up when you’re not looking.
As the tourism slogan suggests, the people of Greece want you to Visit Greece. But not just the islands in the south – there is a whole country to explore and they are waiting for you with open arms.
The landscape of mainland Greece is truly stunning. From the sparkling blue waters of the Ionian coast, to the snow topped mountains of the Pindus Ranges. The local food is definitely sitting in the OMG category. And the people are happy, smiling, friendly and enjoying life to the fullest – in true greek style. OPA!
What’s truly amazing, is that no matter who you meet, they are always proud to tell you about their country and it’s incredible history and traditions. Rather than bash it because of their own personal hardships.
It’s this pride and love for their country that struck us most about the Greeks. Everyone seems to know so much about their background, even back to ancient times. And they want to share this fascinating history (both ancient and modern) with anyone willing to listen and learn.
And, they don’t just want Tommo and I to learn. They want to tell the whole world.
The hospitality that we were shown during our time in Epirus and other parts of Greece has been truly heartwarming. This is a country that has so much to offer every traveller that enters its borders.
I have to admit we are already plotting our next adventure in Greece – we can’t wait to come back again, and again.
Have you visited the more unexplored Greece? Tell us your story in the comments below.
DISCLAIMER: We would like to thank Visit Greece and all of the local restaurants and hotel owners for their hospitality during our stay. As always, all opinions expressed are our own.