Home Destination Guides Accommodation 27th January 2020


N O R T H   W E S T   M A I N L A N D   G R E E C E
The Epirus region in north western Greece, known also from ancient times as Thesprotia, stretches from Albania in the north, to Ioannina in the east and south to the Amvrakikos Gulf and Preveza, a large town that has the advantage of having the regional airport of Preveza located on its outskirts.  Preveza airport is busy in high season accommodating charter aircraft flying direct into the region, as well as domestic flights from Athens operated by Olympic Airways.
     The centre of the North Western region is dominated by stunning mountain ranges full of rugged beauty, with deep fertile valleys, ice-cold rivers, natural wetlands and hillsides clad with olive, pine and cypress.  The whole area is relatively undeveloped and together with its unspoilt coastline decked with a string of natural bays and sandy beaches, this region is, in our opinion, one of the most under-rated in Greece.  It is a world apart from some of the more commercialized islands.  Local traditions are the bedrock of community life and the local people will give you a warm and friendly welcome in all the villages you visit.  There is a profusion of wildlife in this untamed region and storks are a regular sight, making nests from bundles of twigs perched haphazardly on high ledges and even the tops of telegraph poles.  However all this may be set to change with the construction of a superb new motorway which will span the width of Northern Greece, connecting the Ionian Sea to the Aegean sea.  This motorway is due to be completed soon and whilst the impact on the scenery and wildlife is expected to be minimal, the quieter coastal resorts may well see an increase in development and numbers of visitors.
     Ioannina, pronounced "Yannina," is a major northern commercial town, capital of the Epirus region, nestled in the centre of dramatic mountain scenery.  The steep hillsides are clothed with aromatic pines and in winter the mountaintops are crowned with thick snow.  Ioannina offers all the key facilities of a large town, including three interesting museums – the Archeological Museum, the Byzantine Museum and the Folklore Museum as well as regional craft shops.  Curiously enough, on the eastern side of Ioannina is a large, tranquil inland lake called Pamvotis Lake, which has its very own picturesque island, referred to as Nissaki, or ‘little Island’.  This wide expanse of water attracts a variety of wild fowl and birds, but the newest addition to Pamvotis Lake is a sea plane. A domestic flight service from Corfu town to Ioannina commenced recently, providing twice-weekly flights during the summer season, taking around 35 minutes.  There is also a small airport to the north of the town, but Ioannina does not attract adequate tourism for tour operators to consider it as a charter destination, so the airport has no direct flights from the UK or other European locations.  However, there are regular domestic flights from Athens to Ioannina, operated by Olympic Airways.
     A short drive to the north of Ioannina are the notable caves of Perama, reputed to be the largest in the Balkans and the second largest in Europe.  These fascinating caves run underground for 1 kilometre with intriguing formations of stalagmites and stalactites.  Located to the south of Ioannina are the wonderful remains of an amphitheatre, the ancient oracle and temple of Zeus at Dodoni.
      Igoumenitsa is the major Greek port on the west coast for international ferries to the Italian ports of Bari, Brindisi, Ancona, Trieste and Venice as well as the ferries to Croatia and the Greek ports of Corfu, Paxos and Patras.  Igoumenitsa is a busy commercial town and has recently opened an outstanding new ferry terminal to accommodate the numerous ferries running in and out of the port.  The town is an excellent transit point with a good bus service to other mainland areas, but is not in itself a tourist destination.
       Approximately 11 kilometres south of Igoumenitsa is the small, attractive fishing village of Plataria, which has remained unspoilt and untouched by mainstream tourism.  The local people are very friendly and follow a time-honoured way of life, where generations of men followed their fathers into the agricultural and fishing trades.  Along the waterfront there are cafes and traditional tavernas serving good local food and freshly caught fish. There is a lovely long sandy beach just ripe for settling down to read that chunky holiday paperback and for those wishing to explore the beautiful coastline, boat hire is available from the harbour.  Every day you can watch the ferries steam out of Igoumenitsa criss-crossing the sparkling Ionian Sea on their way to Corfu, which can normally be seen from the mainland.
(sometimes known as “Mourtos” - being the old name given to the village by Turkish invaders)
     South of Plataria, there is a turning off the main road which winds its way up a steep hillside and down the other side to the beautiful coastal fishing village of Sivota.  Driving down to Sivota the views are fantastic and on a clear day you can see across the Ionian Sea to the southern tip of Corfu and the island of Paxos.  Tucked away in the folds of the olive clad hills, Sivota is an absolute gem.  The clearest crystal waters surround the village; numerous small (mostly uninhabited) islets covered with trees and shrubs lie just offshore and these just beg to be explored.
     The waterfront is the focal point of the village with fishing boats, expensive yachts, the local ‘taxi’ boat and a small fleet of motorised hire boats all jostling for space along the quayside.  Lining the quayside is a variety of excellent tavernas, restaurants, coffee bars and mini markets.  Fresh fish is a speciality as well as local Greek cuisine.  Even though it is tucked away off the beaten track, Sivota has a chemist, a doctor, souvenir and jewellery shops, taxis, car and boat hire, an ATM and money exchange facilities available at several tourist offices. Nightlife revolves around a superb meal on the quayside and drinking wine while the sun goes down.  There is a disco on the waterfront, which we were told is open in high season, but was not open while we were there in September. 
    We stayed at a lovely hillside hotel, some 15- 20 minute walk from the waterfront (depending on whether you were walking downhill to the harbour or uphill back to the hotel!) with stunning views over the bay.  A delightful wooden boat ran a return ‘taxi’ service from the hotel’s jetty to Sivota harbour several times a week.  A short walk along a track across the headland to the north of the harbour, Sivota has a good sandy beach where some water sports are available. There are also lots of other lovely beaches in the area, just a short drive for those with a car, including a large stretch of sand and shingle beach at Mega Ammos approximately 1 mile south of Sivota.  However some of the best beaches are on the small, wooded islets, dotted around the coastline and the best way of visiting them is to hire one of the small motorised boats readily available in the harbour.  We had some fantastic days out with our boat, taking a packed lunch and dropping anchor by secluded sandy coves to enjoy our own desert island experience.  The sea was calm and transparent making it perfect for snorkelling. 
    Sailing around the headland to the south of Sivota, there is a lovely uninhabited island called Goat Island where the beaches are fine and sandy and, you’ve guessed it, goats graze to their hearts content.  From Goat Island there is a unique submerged sand bar which joins the Island to the mainland and which you can wade across, as the sea barely comes up to knee height.  
   If hiring a boat doesn’t appeal, there are several excursion boats offering tours from Sivota harbour to the beautiful resort of Parga and the islands of Paxos and Antipaxos.  We joined an evening excursion boat to Parga, which left Sivota late afternoon and returned around 10.00 pm, giving plenty of time to enjoy a pleasant evening meal on Parga’s waterfront.  It was a great evening out.
      From Sivota’s hillsides there are great morning views of the local daily ferries from Igoumenitsa as they cross the Ionian to Corfu and Paxos and it is possible to visit either island for the day by local ferry.  Arrangements can be made for the taxi driver in Sivota to take you to the port at Igoumenitsa (approximately 40 minute drive depending on traffic) and meet the return ferry if required.  Sivota and the surrounding area are ideal for visitors seeking peace and quiet in an unspoilt fishing village full of beauty and charm.
     For anyone interested in national parks I would definitely recommend visiting the Acheron River Valley, an inland region of outstanding natural beauty.  The Acheron Valley is located south of Sivota and to the east of Parga. The drive takes you through countryside unchanged for centuries, to the wetlands of Potamia and on to the distant village of Glyki where the Acheron River spills out and the nature trail to the Acherondas Springs begins.  Legend states that the Gods told Achilles mother that if she immersed her child in the River Styx in the Acheron Valley then the child would become immortal.  Achilles mother hastened to the Acheron Valley, where she dipped Achilles into the river, holding him by his heel.  This was the only part of his body that remained vulnerable and ultimately caused Achilles death.  There is a pathway from Glyki that runs alongside the Acheron River, as it winds its way through a ravine between the imposing Pindus mountain range.  This natural pathway leads back through breathtaking scenery, to the source of the river where the Acherondas Springs gush from the rock walls.  Good walking shoes (together with wading shoes!) are recommended and the water was icy cold in September, but well worth the experience!  During high season organized rafting trips take place along the River as well as horse riding trails, which run from Glyki.
    Approximately an hour’s drive south of Sivota on the west coast is the charismatic resort of Parga, authentically Greek, with stunning scenery and yet still relatively undiscovered, although not for long I suspect!  Parga is a great resort, much larger than Sivota, but likewise surrounded by natural beauty.  Beneath a backdrop of mountains, sweeping bays spread their arms around the most charming harbour complete with an exquisite church-topped islet and all overlooked by a Venetian Castle perched on the rocky headland.  Parga is also popular with mainland Greeks looking for an escape from the cities and it can get busy during July and August.
     As with most of Greece, Parga has had a troubled history, fought over and dominated by the Franks, the Venetians and the Turks.  High above the town on the headland to the north of the harbour stands an imposing Castle, originally built in the 13th Century by the Venetians to protect Parga from Turkish invasion.  However, despite their good intentions, the Venetians themselves became an occupying force until the late 18th Century when the town finally fell to the Turks.  Access to the Castle is via the atmospheric narrow, winding streets of Parga town and whilst you may have to take a break to catch your breathe on the way up, the superb panoramic views of Parga Bay are worth the climb.  At night-time the Castle is floodlit, bathed in a yellow glow of light, the battlements towering over the harbour, like a sentinel standing watch.
     Parga town is a traditional resort with friendly local people, a relaxed atmosphere and a great choice of amenities.  The local houses with their red tiled roofs, cascade down along the narrow, steep streets and alleyways, crammed with a variety of local handicraft shops, boutiques, restaurants, tavernas and bars, to the seafront.  Other amenities include supermarkets, chemists, banks, doctors, an ATM machine, a Post Office, bus station, car hire agencies and a Medical Centre.
     The picturesque harbour is lined with yet more cafes, tavernas and restaurants, their tables and chairs spilling out under colourful awnings, towards the waterfront and the quay, where fishing caiques jostle for moorings beside the larger excursion boats.  The harbour can get quite busy with water taxis to-ing and fro-ing, as well as the arrival and departure of boats to Sivota, Anti-Paxos, Paxos, Corfu and sometimes even Albania!  The centrepiece of the harbour is a tiny, wooded islet dedicated to Panagia (the Virgin Mary), which is home to a small church with a bell tower, and the remains of some French fortifications.  Like the Castle, the islet is also floodlit at night giving it an ethereal glow.
     Parga does not lack for beaches either, making this a good resort for all ages.  To the south of the harbour are two small, town beaches of Krioneri, (sand and shingle) and Piso Krioneri, (pebbly beach), where you can hire pedalos, but the best beach is found a twenty minute walk to the north, across the Castle headland, at Valtos.  This is a superb stretch of sandy beach with a choice of water sports.  If you don’t fancy the walk, there is a return water taxi service from Parga Harbour to Valtos.  Another great beach can be found at the small purpose built resort of Lichnos just 3 kilometres (approximately) to the south of Parga.  Lichnos beach has a choice of water sports, a water taxi service to/from Parga harbour and it is worth taking a boat trip from here to the Aphrodite caves.  Lichnos also has a couple of tavernas and a mini market.
     Nightlife in Parga is generally laid back, with most people preferring to linger over a glass of wine long into the night.  However, there are a couple of bars and discos around the harbour area for the more energetic – these are fairly lively in July and August, but if a busy night life is high on your holiday list, I would give Parga a miss! 
     Cuisine in Parga is traditionally local fare, with some international dishes.  Look out for the tavernas and restaurants specializing in fish, a local dish called Feta Souli – grilled feta cheese with herbs and tomatoes, or Kleftiko, succulent lamb or goat, baked in the oven and all washed down with a karafe of local red wine from the barrel.
     Popular souvenirs from Parga include leather goods, local pottery and ceramics, dried herbs, jewellery and a variety of clothing, not to mention the quintessential Greek Ouzo.
     For visitors who enjoy rambling or hiking, this is a great area to explore on foot, with plenty of walks through unspoilt countryside.  For those with car hire who wish to venture further afield, the Epirus area has so much to offer, including peaceful Sivota, the amazing Acheron Valley, the fascinating lakeside town of Ioannina, the Dodoni amphitheatre and the Perama Caves, all mentioned above.  In addition to these sites, a short drive (approximately 15 miles) south of Parga brings you to the site of the Necromanteion of Ephyra reputed to be the ancient entrance to the palace of Hades, God of the Underworld.  Here there is a steep metal stairway descending into the depths of the dark crypt and the purported entrance to hell, for those who dare!
     Back into the sunshine approximately 20 miles south east by car, stands the poignant Zalongo memorial, a row of white sculpted ladies, perched high on the rocky mountainside and visible for miles around.   This memorial commemorates the tragic deaths of the women of Souli in the early 19th Century.  When the Turks, under Ali Pashi, became an occupying force in this part of Greece, the Souliot women and children fled to the Zalongi Monastery to shelter.  But as the Turks advanced, the women realized there was no escape.  So the courageous women danced along the rocky cliff tops and one by one, with their children in their arms, flung themselves over the edge to their deaths, rather than submit to the Turks.   The Greek nation is very proud of its historical heritage and this monument is on the itineraries of school parties and Greeks alike.  It is quite a climb up to the top but the spectacular views are worth it. 
     Further south, close to Preveza, are the ancient ruins of the city of Nikopolis, or Victory City, originally built by the Roman General Octavian, who later became Emperor Augustus.  This is a large archaeological site that includes a theatre, a stadium and other interesting items.
     On the very southern borders of the Epirus region, bordering the Amvrakikos Gulf, are large expanses of wetlands that support a particularly varied wildlife suited to this habitat. The Rodia Wetland Centre on the Amvrakikos Gulf  welcomes visitors.
     Albania has been closed to the Western world since the communist regime took over. At the time this took place, many Greek-speaking families were cut off from relatives living in the nearby Greek region of Epirus, so the histories of Greece and Albania are somewhat entwined. If you want to understand what happened in the ‘recent’ past and immerse yourself in the modern history of this region (not to mention the rest of Greece), I would recommend the poignant semi-autobiographical novel titled “Eleni” written by Nicolas Gage (ISBN 0-00-636868-9).
Try Something Different….a Day (or two-day) Trip to Albania………….!
     Albania is reputedly the poorest country in Europe, but political changes have meant that Albania is now looking to raise living standards in an attempt to catch up with other democratic European countries.  Albania is only a few hours by boat along the coast from Parga and even closer to Sivota, Igoumenitsa and Corfu (90 minutes from Corfu town to Saranda port).  In fact the sea strait between Corfu and Albania is so narrow that yachts transversing it have been subject to piracy from the Albanian shores from time to time.  However, this proximity to Albania has now spawned a new destination for boat trips from Greek resorts, to the main port of Agia Saranda in southern Albania. 
    Albania is a country totally different from other European destinations and gives a fascinating glimpse into a bygone era.  Agia Saranda is an interesting harbour town, which is embracing tourism for the first time.  A short distance from Agia Saranda is the ancient ruined city of Butrint, one of the best archaeological sites in Albania encompassing over 1,500 years of history. Butrint was inhabited from the 7th Century BC until it was abandoned in the 18th Century and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.  There are some fascinating Roman remains and notable mosaics in a 6th Century baptistery, a ‘must’ for archaeology fans.  
    Inland to the north of Saranda is another listed UNESCO World Heritage town at Gjirokastro.  This small medieval town has great character with shops and restaurants tucked away in narrow cobbled streets, and buildings with beautiful architectural features bearing witness to a prosperous past.  On a hilltop behind the town there is a large castle with a weapons museum and wonderful views of the surrounding countryside.
     The most direct route into the area is the regional airport at Preveza, particularly for Parga and Sivota.  Driving time from the airport to Parga is approximately 1 hour and 15 mins and to Sivota approximately 2 hours.  Alternatively there are charter flights to Corfu town (see Corfu Island Connections for information), with onward ferries to Igoumenitsa.   Package holidays are available to both Sivota and Parga from major and Greek specialist tour companies.  Charter airlines fly direct from the U.K. to Preveza during the summer months, usually from April to October.  Flying time from the U.K. is just 3 hours 15 minutes (approx).  Olympic Airways offer scheduled flights from the U.K. to Preveza airport via Athens, all year round.  They also offer domestic flights from Athens to Ioannina airport.  Timings vary depending on how long you need to wait for the connecting flight to Preveza or Ioannina.  The domestic flight time to Preveza or Ioannina is approximately 30-40 mins.  It is worth mentioning that if you are booked on a Greek domestic flight with Olympic Airways and you fly from the UK with another airline which arrives late causing you to miss the domestic flight, Olympic Airways does not (officially) accept responsibility for another airlines’ delay and you may have to purchase a replacement domestic flight ticket.  However, I have flown many times with Olympic Airways to Athens with a connecting domestic flight and on the rare occasions I have been delayed (for whatever reason) they have always honoured the onward section and put me on the next available flight without any extra charge.  You should check this policy when booking onward connections, with whichever airline you choose to travel with.
     However, with the construction of the new motorway nearing completion, there may be the option of flying into Thessalonika airport and driving westwards along the new route.  See Thessalonika brief for Island Connections.
     Igoumenitsa is the major Greek port on the west coast for international ferries to the Italian ports of Bari, Brindisi, Ancona, Trieste and Venice as well as the ferries to Croatia, including Dubrovnik.  The international ferries usually visit the mainland port of Patras in the northern Peloponnese before returning to Italy.  There are regular daily ferry services operating between Igoumenitsa and Corfu town as well as ferry services to the neighbouring islands of Paxos and Antipaxos.   Preveza also has a ferry service to the islands of Levkada, Paxos and Corfu
     Finally, there is the aforementioned seaplane flight service from Corfu town to Ioannina, which commenced recently and provides twice-weekly flights during the summer season, taking around 35 minutes. However, this is the type of service that might prove to be erratic, so best to check before you plan on using it.
     As mentioned on other parts of this website, you should be aware that all Greek ferry services are subject to weather and commercial pressures, so please do check their existence and schedule – preferably when you arrive in Greece, as the reliability of this kind of specific information can be suspect – even on the Internet!
The foregoing information was last reviewed in November 2006. Things change, and whilst we are often travelling in Greece we do rely to some extent upon others to provide updates in order to keep the site as current and accurate as possible!  If you have updates or information that you think should be included here, please mail the webmaster@aguide2greece.com  - thank you.


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