Tzoumerka: A Secret Mountain Oasis
Tzoumerka might just be Greece’s best kept secret. So much so in fact, that the majority of Greeks don’t know it themselves. Which is a good sign. At least for those looking for an authentic experience through and through. With people searching for the most authentic experience, one would safely say that Tzoumerka fits the bill.
Tzoumerka are a collection of hamlets (not unlike the Zagorohoria cluster, but much less developed) that are nestled on the slopes of the Tzoumerka mountain range. Its 47 villages are a natural antidote to stress. The Tzoumerkohoria are what the doctor prescribed. In between Arta and Ioannina is where you’ll find them. As you can probably guess, this place is what one calls bucolic. Stone mansions, cobblestone streets, scenic vistas and quaint squares with ye old folk doing old folky things like sipping coffee and playing backgammon. Sound familiar? Well, as well it should. This place has more charm than you can point a camera at. Literally every corner is an instagrammer’s wet dream. Heck, you could spend half your day chasing the perfect picture and you still wouldn’t be half done.
Take the stone bridges for instance. A lot of them were built during Roman and Byzantine times and some of them still survive. The Neraidogefyro (fairy bridge) and the bridges of Papastathis and Politsa are extremely photographable, and it is worth noting that the Plaka bridge is the biggest one-arch bridge in the Balkans.
Bird spotters and animal enthusiasts will have the opportunity to see numerous birds of prey such as hawks, eagles and silver pelicans as well as wolves, foxes, deer and bears. The flora is equally impressive. Oak, black pine and chestnut forests scent the air with their fragrance.
This corner of Greece is all about the visceral joys: trekking, hiking, canoeing, rafting and marveling at the flora and fauna. Gorges and ravines, waterfalls and ridges are all part of the landscape. The many hiking trails are dotted with refuges for tired campers.
Outdoor sports lovers will especially appreciate the Arachtos river. Its emerald green waters are spectacular, and even though the degree of difficulty is classed anywhere between 3 and 5, one shouldn’t be discouraged from partaking in a spot of rafting.
Kalarrites and Syrrako villages provide the most in the way of amenities and are in fact heritage protected by the state. Not that the rest of the villages aren’t nice. In many cases the contrary is the case. The village of Theodoriana sits at an altitude of 1,000 metres and is home to the Springs of Kostilata. Hiking for water seems like a pretty good goal to set yourself. The motivation is there.
The Tzoumerkohoria also have a decent amount of the ubiquitous monasteries and churches, most notably the Kypina, Vyliza and the Red monasteries.
These villages also have quite the artisanal craftsmanship thing going on. The silver jewelers of the area are said to be some of the best (Bulgari hails from one of these-nuff said) in Greece, while the ancient musical organ tradition is kept alive by elder residents.
If you’re after the authentic Greek experience, look no further than Tzoumerka. This place is hands down one of the most laid back and tranquil in Greece. And it is under the radar!