07
May
14

Europe Trip – Greece – Northwestern Provinces

NORTHWESTERN GREECE PICASA PHOTO ALBUM (89 photos)

The ferryboat that brought us from Italy arrived 2 hours late in Igoumenitsa, so we only disembarked by 5 in the morning. We drove a few miles, parked behind a gas station and slept as everybody was exhausted.

Our first stop and capital of the Epirot province was Ioannina, set on a beautiful, placid lake and facing sheer mountains. It was a good stopover to get a first feel of Greece, do some laundry and adjust to the 1 hour time difference. It actually felt very much like Iran and the Middle East with terraced houses, hanging flowers, lush plants, and cars driving and parking everywhere.

With good weather forecasts, we headed across the Katara Pass, the only passable point of the Pindos mountain range, to Meteora, an extraordinary and otherworldly place. The Unesco listed area contains massive pinnacles of ancient smooth rock, topped by almost inaccessible monasteries. Our campsite was located right at the bottom of these rock formations, and in the next few days we visited three of these breathtaking monasteries, each of them built around a central courtyard. Going down and up hundreds of steps to access them, was a good workout for the whole family!

We then went back to Ioannina to explore the Zagorohoria, remote mountain villages guarding the Vykos Gorge, with its 900 meter one of the deepest in the world. Starting the steep ascent, the engine warning light came on again. Luckily, there was a Ford dealership in Ioannina. Sure enough, the EGR valve had given out again and we needed to change it, as it was giving us the extra power needed to climb the steep Greek roads. Not only did we have to wait two days for the piece to arrive, it also cost twice as much as in Italy! What a bummer.

By the time everything was fixed (we also had problems with the contacts for the brake lights), the weather had turned very rainy in the mountains, so we turned south to go to the most accessible island of the Ionean isles, Lefkada. Connected to the mainland with a causeway and moveable bridge, it is mountainous and remote in the centre and has some of the best beaches of Greece on its west coast. We spent time on Kathisma beach, where the sea had an incredible turquoise color, and explored the west coast further south going to Kalamitsa, Egremni and Porto Katsiki. What guidebooks and TomTom forgot to say, were the fact that some of these beaches were impossible to reach by camper (roads too steep, gravel roads with ruts,…), so at more than one occasion we were forced to do a 9-point turn with mountains on one side and steep cliffs down the sea at the other …

Heading further south, we spent some time in Messolongi and the motionless Klisova Lagoon, the largest natural wetland in Greece. The sandy hamlet of Tourlida, connected to the mainland by a five kilometer causeway, is home to the remarkable pelades or stilt huts, and it was fun walking in between them with the kids.

We then took the striking Rio-Andirio suspension bridge, connecting the mainland to the Peloponnese, home of some unique places…

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