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Syrakko is one of the most beautiful and picturesque villages in the Epirus Prefecture and all of Greece. It is declared to be a traditional settlement, a model of traditional architecture with stone houses, cobbled streets, churches, stone foundations and public buildings.
Syrakko was the traditional home of the Kutsovlach nomadic shepherds (Greek Aromanians or Vlach speakers) in the 1400s.
Syrrako was inhabited before the 15th century, possibly as early as the 11th century by the Aromanians (Vlachs), an ethnic group native to Epirus and other parts of northern Greece. Evidence of this includes the age of the plane trees in the village square.
The Greek village is some 450 km from Athens, 52 km southeast of the regional Epirus capital of Ioannina, and approximately 50 km from the Albanian border. It sits at an altitude of 1,200 meters on the mountain of Peristeri.
Inspiration for the Adventure of a Lifetime in Syrrako
I first heard about the wondrous mountain village of Syrrako 18 years ago. I was transfixed by a mysterious black and white photo hanging on the wall of Captain Jim (retired Greek Navy Commodore) and Lucy’s lovely home on the Greek island of Syros.
The picture shows a deep, rugged mountain gorge enveloped and shrouded in heavy low cloud cover, with the faint outline of stone cottages in an extremely remote and isolated village in Epirus, the northwest corner of Greece.
The Captain explained that this was the home of his ancestors and family. His father was a General in the Greek Army in WWII, and his uncle Konstantinos Krystallis was a famous poet in the late 19th century.
It was also the home village of Greece’s first Constitutional Prime Minister, Ioannis Kolettis (1774 – 1847). The allure of this extremely isolated and remote stone village, perched on the side of a mountain at an altitude of some 1,200 meters close to the Albanian border, never left me.
Over the ensuing 18 years, we often romanticized over a glass or three of Tsipouro (a traditional Greek strong distilled spirit) about a road trip “up the mountain.” And so the day finally arrived in August 2020, when our two-car convoy left on a warm summer morning.
Our seven-hour journey of 450 km was to take us from the leafy Athens suburb of Vrillisia, in a northwest direction up the modern motorway of Attiki Odos. Modern Greece offers the best dual carriage motorways and this one has stunning water vistas with the backdrop of distant mountains.
Corinith Canal in Greece
Our first stop was at the Corinth Canal, for a coffee break, but ostensibly to marvel at this amazing piece of late 19th century engineering. In its day, this was a masterpiece of human endeavor. It runs over 6 km, has a wall height of approximately 100 meters above the water level and a width of 21 meters at its base.
Because of this human-made canal, it can be argued that the wonderful Peloponesse Peninsula is now also a Greek island! The famous canal connects the Saronic Gulf in the Aegean Sea with the Gulf of Corinth in the Ionian Sea and saves days of sea travel around the Peloponnese Peninsula.
From the Corinth Canal, we drove along the Olympia Odos motorway on the southern side of the Gulf of Corinth for approximately 100 km to the spectacular modern Rio bridge. This stunning modern structure takes you north over the Gulf’s entrance near Patras’ major port.
The Patras Port is yet another amazing tribute to the Greeks’ engineering abilities. It is widely considered to be a structural masterpiece. It spans over 2 km across the Gulf, linking the town of Rio on the Peloponesse Peninsula with Andirrio on the mainland.
Technically, it is one of the world’s longest multi-span cable-stayed bridges and the longest of the fully suspended type. It opened in 2004, one day before the start of the 2004 Athens Olympics. It carries over 11,000 vehicles per day, generating more than 80 million euros per annum for the Greek economy.
From there, the Ionian Odos motorway took us north up the west coast of Greece, parallel with and some 50 km from the Ionian Sea.
Seaside Village of Menidi in Greece
Our second stop in the early afternoon was for lunch at the charming seaside village of Menidi, on the Ambracian Gulf. Some of us swam in the warm gulf waters and we all ate the local fresh grilled seafood, washed down with a carafe or three of the local krasi (wine).
Our enthusiastic waiter Yorgos assured us that the fish leaped from the sea onto our plates (via his kitchen) at the exact time we arrived.
He said that this was the quintessential Greek experience at its best, eating and drinking at a Taverna on a warm summer’s day, just meters from the sea, under the shade of an old Tamarisk tree. We noticed numerous trucks and lorries on the winding and picturesque side road into and out of Menidi.
The Captain explained that the drivers took this circuitous route of approximately 50 km to avoid the heavy tolls on the main motorway, which we had begrudgingly noticed occurred every 20 km or so. Our toll fees per car were about 35 euros for driving, a small price to pay, however, for the privilege of such a unique experience.
It was another 50 km north before Ioannina that we left the motorway and coastal plain and headed inland east to begin the hour-long ascent, up up up to our planned destination of Syrrako.
This is an amazing drive, a steep jig jagging road through alpine-like dense forests of pines, conifers and fur trees. So green and lush, the likes of which I had never experienced before in Greece.
For those who only associate Greece with Athens and the islands, this is a must-see alternative.
The Epirus Region in Greece
We were only 50 km from the Albanian border and well on our way to Syrrako.
This region of Epirus has had a long and tortuous past. The bitter three-year civil war that followed the end of WWII, between the Nationalists and Communists, raged in this rugged, remote and isolated northwest corner of the country.
Additionally, the epic novel “Eleni,” written by the well-known author Nicholas Gage was set in these astounding but inhospitable mountains.
The road has been carved out of the rocky mountainside, and there is plenty of evidence (and signage) of dangerous rockfalls along the way. For someone like me, who has only known Athens and the islands of the Aegean Sea in summer, this part of the country was a revelation.
These mountains are covered with snow in winter and offer plentiful ski fields. Even in the peak summer of August, we could see distant mountains capped with snow. Wild boar and bears roam these parts, and hikers from all over the world traverse the numerous paths to enjoy the great outdoors in Greece.
Hiking Epirus Trail in Greece
The world-renowned “Epirus Trail” meanders for approximately 370 km through this breathtaking countryside.
Whilst still work in progress, when completed, it will offer approx 450 km of hiking trails, certainly the longest single trail in Greece and one of the largest in Europe.
This trail identifies Greece as one of the leaders in “rambling tourism” across Europe, promoting in this unique way the outstanding natural beauty and cultural heritage of Epirus. It is arguably the most intriguing and spectacular region of Greece.
Reaching Our Destination, Syrrako
It was at dusk that we rounded the last of what seemed a neverending series of bends to lay eyes on our destination. The wonderful 15th century village of Syrrako.
It was visually more startling than I had expected and even better than the Captain’s black and white photo hanging on his wall back home in Syros. Like the photo, however, it appeared to hang onto the side of the mountain, as if not human-made at all but just a natural phenomenon.
There is a sense of all-pervading nostalgia here that this village has endured over six centuries in such an isolated, pristine corner of the world. Tired but emotionally charged, we checked into our splendid authentic boutique hotel and readied ourselves for the evening meal of traditional mountain cuisine and local wines.
The air was so clear and cool, and the outlook down the valley was simply stunning. It was a surreal experience in a sublime place. Tomorrow promised to be yet another extraordinary day of exploring and adventure.
A Seven-Hour Trek in the Mountains
We woke to a lovely sunny day with temperatures forecast to be in the 20s. We spent a few hours exploring the village’s narrow stony paths and marveling at the traditional stone architecture of the public and private buildings. So old yet well preserved and functional.
The village folks were welcoming, if not a little incredulous, at these tourists who would journey so far up the mountain to admire their domain.
The men, almost without exception, held with great pride their “Glitzers,” the traditional mountaineering walking stick that we were told has numerous practical uses, apart from its obvious aesthetic appeal. It is made from a local shrub’s thin trunk approximately three-cms thick and 140-cms in length) that is extremely durable and ideal for its intended use.
Whilst the previous day’s seven-hour road trip up the mountain from Athens had been an incredible experience, in itself, the mountains that we were now captives of were to provide an even more amazing adventure. Anna, the Captain’s daughter, is an avid hiker with a strong affinity for these mountains and the family’s historical ties.
She had mapped out our day’s adventure including a seven-hour hiking trek along a section of the Epirus Trail that would take us from Syrrako on a circuitous route, down to and across the flowing mountain stream at the bottom of the 200-meter deep valley gorge, on the far side of the mountain.
On the valley floor beside the stream, the blue sky was not visible. The air was cool, dense and moist with the scent of pure nature. From there, we followed the narrow winding track up and along the edge of the far side of the valley to the neighboring village of Kalarrites, a distance of some 5 km.
The scenery was breathtaking down along the valley. The path itself (partly human-made and partially a natural track) was vertically challenging and dangerous in parts.
It is etched into the side of the steep rocky mountain at least 100 meters above the valley floor, and its pristine stream. There were sections where we were underneath the overhanging mountainside. The flora is dense and green from the year-round rainfall and winter snow.
We reached the equally quaint but smaller village of Kalarrites after two hours of arduous trekking, where we joined the Captain and Karrie who had arrived by car, for a very welcome lunch break.
Hiking Back to Syrakko
The four-hour trek back to Syrakko was even more physically challenging. It took us back downand across the valley floor and mountain stream. It was then a slow, gradual zig-zagging 700 meter high climb through dense undergrowth to the main road.
At the stream, we stopped for a swim at an old mill dam pond. The fresh water was unbearably cold, being in constant year-round shade under a canopy of trees. It was, of course, the product of melting snow in the distant mountains and provided the exhilaration that we sought.
Once on the main road that led gradually back down to Syrrako, we were able to see the whole mountainside in perspective. The two human-made stone villages were acting as bookends to each end of the valley. We staggered triumphantly back into the town at dusk and enjoyed an icy cold Alpha beer at one of the few small local tavernas.
From our outside table, we were able to look back, down and across the mountain gorge that we had just traversed, with great satisfaction. It had been another fantastic and fulfilling day of adventure.
If You Go
For those who would prefer a quicker journey to Syrrako, Sky Express (the Greek local airline) flies almost daily from Athens to Ioannina. It is approximately a two-hour flight. The return fare is about 80 euros in the off-season, but cheaper deals may be available during the pandemic.
Ioannina has an International Airport with incoming flights from various parts of Europe and the UK. The 52 km road trip from Ioannina to Syrrako can only be taken by car. You can hire a driver, using one of the attractive deals they offer from the airport.
For your accommodations in Syrrako, I strongly recommend the delightful boutique Hotel Stavraetos, a traditional eight-room hotel situated in the center of the village.
Author Bio: Gaverides is an Australian living in Greece. He likes to write about his adventures on the islands and throughout the mainland. His stories are about journeys to remote locations, encapsulating the history and culture of these unique wonderful locations