With the onset of winter, here in Greece, new and old destinations are stepping into the lime light and taking center stage. So, out with Mykonos and Santorini (or as much as you got to see of it this year) and in with Mastorochoria. This collection of 14 or so villages aren’t your typical postcard perfect villages. They are the postcards. We’re talking out of this world beauty. And the best part? They’re flying well under the radar. The Mastorochoria, or ‘master’s villages owe their name to a simple reason; they were the standard repository for excellence in craftsmanship in areas ranging from hagiography to wood sculpting and wine trading and really just about anything that could be built.
It is due to these master tradesmen and craftsmen that the area received preferential status by the then occupying Ottoman Empire. These villages thrived as the skilled masters made their way around the last vestiges of the sick man of Europe at the turn of the century. Such was their verve and profligacy that their skills were later employed everywhere from the States to Iraq.
Situated in Ioannina County, the Mastorochoria are a relatively new addition, by Greece’s standards. Much like the Zagorochoria cluster of villages, not too far from there, the Mastorochoria are extremely instagrammable, what with their thatched roofs and stone built mansions, cobble stone streets, plane tree squares and rural vistas of the Aoos, Voidomatis and Sarantaoros rivers, stone bridges and all of that set against the Grammos and Smolikas mountain range in the distance. Well, that’s just too much beauty. However, unlike the Zagorochoria, this set of villages is distinctly less developed and boasts of an authenticity that is immediately apparent as one walks around the sparsely populated settlements. There’s less amenities but that doesn’t for a second mean less charm.
As one would reasonably presume, the food is homey and fuzzy and warm, and it’s certainly best enjoyed around a blazing fire in a traditional tavern. Expect hearty dishes with seasonal produce and meat and dairy products that are farm to table. And that extends to the superb sweets and honey drizzled yoghurt concoctions such as the venerated ‘spoon sweet’ that is ubiquitous across Greece. Try the sweet cherry on for size. We also recommend the apple marmalade and the brandy infused wild plum and walnut iteration.
The trekking and hiking and general outdoorsmaship here are primo. With wildlife in abundance one can’t shake a stick at anything without oohing and aahing at its inherent beauty. At every turn there are dazzling vistas. Look no further that lake Gkistova, which sits at an elevation higher than any other in Greece. There are numerous sporting activities to choose from, too. Kayaking and rafting down the rivers, horseback riding and mountain biking and even paragliding.
The Mastorochoria aren’t without their architectural charm, however, and it’s worth noting that the monasteries and churches here are of incredible grace. There’s even the story of a long lost icon of the Virgin Mary that was surreptitiously found by a couple herdsmen in circumstances that beget a spiritual moment of wonder.
The area is a wonderful natural habitat of unparalleled allure with little by way of tourism and an aura of alpine elegance. The trails, lakes, gorges and rivers are an oasis of calm amidst the calamitous backdrop of spiraling events and one is advised to head there stat. This string of village pearls won’t be flying under the radar for much longer.