12 experiences around Syvota
Hiking for beginners and experts, horse riding, rafting, spots for swimming that include river pools and exotic beaches, mind-blowing sunsets and intriguing archaeological excursions… Thesprotia is unique and boundless.
Text: Olga Harami
01 – Ouzo and sea food at Sagiada (43k – 1 hour from Syvota)
A short promenade, a long beachfront, a spectacular sunset and a view of Corfu await visitors to the fishing village of Sagiada, just 10k from the border with Albania, along with several small tavernas with tables at the water’s edge, where glasses of ouzo, plates of deliciously fresh fish and other seafood are served. The beaches of Keramidi and Strovili further north, along with the old settlement with its traditional stone houses, are reason enough to visit Sagiada, but most people will send you here for the delicious food. That’s because the fish served at the tavernas in the tiny harbor called Skaloma, so popular with yachties who sail the Ionian, are all freshly caught. Not surprising when you consider that at least 50 of the village’s 700 residents are fishermen!
02 – Following the Kalamas (60k – 1h20m from Syvota)
Running for approximately 115k, the Kalamas is one of the longest rivers in Epirus. It rises near Nemertsika Mountain in the Ioannina region and flows down to the Ionian Sea, forming an impressive delta between Igoumenitsa and Sagiada. In antiquity, it was called Thyamis and was navigable, which explains the remains of ancient and Byzantine towns discovered during excavations along its banks, together with mills and bridges standing in plain sight. Among its most stunning and easily accessible stretches are the area around Stena (i.e., “gorge”) and its estuary. At Stena, there are the ruins of the Boliana Bridge and, on a mountain slope nearby, the Byzantine citadel of Osdina in an area called Pente Ekklisies (i.e. “five chirches”) where you can visit the beautiful churches of the Holy Archangels and the Dormition of the Mother of God. At the river delta, which can be accessed from Ragio village, the maze of dirt roads can be tricky to navigate, but the beautiful scenery makes it well worthwhile: riverside woodlands; lagoons that are home to hundreds of species of birds; reed beds; and lush meadows with animals peacefully grazing…
03 – Pilgrimage to intriguing monasteries (45-50k – 1h10m from Syvota)
The Monastery of Giromeri, the Monastery of St. Minas at Kokkinolithari and the Hermitage of St. Nilos are three places of pilgrimage notable for their unusual settings and much beloved by the local people. The hermitage is a humble cave dwelling where the saint himself lived for several years; below it, there is a small chapel. It is this same St. Nilos who, together with a band of brothers, founded the Monastery of Giromeri in the 14th c. The monastery, which stands on the wooded slopes of Mount Farmakovouni, went on to become one of the most important monastic centers during the period of the Despotate of Epirus and later hosted both a seminary and a “Secret School” during the Turkish occupation. The interior of the Katholikon (main church) is decorated with impressive wall paintings from two periods, one a mix of Byzantine and Western art dating to the 16th c. and the other in the popular style of the 17th c. You can learn more about these works from the three monks living at the monastery. The Monastery of St. Minas at Kokkinolithari (pictured) is a dependency of Giromeri. The monastery perches atop a small cone-shaped rock, earning it the nickname “Meteora of Epirus”. The locals who frequent the village square below this imposing edifice go there mostly for secular purposes – the cool shade and the small taverna – but just ask them and they can all tell you stories of the miracles they credit to their venerated monastery.
04 – Hike and swim at Vothnes (50k – 1h15m from Syvota)
A dramatic gorge, large river pools with crystal-clear water, a succession of waterfalls, streams flowing everywhere, lush vegetation… These pools form in the bed of the Dafni River and extend over some distance, providing truly stunning scenery for a hike. The deeper you proceed into the gorge, the more delightful it becomes. To enter the gorge, you need to walk for about an hour along the Laggaris, a beautiful stone path that starts just before the village of Kokkinolithari (look for the signpost). Built during the Ottoman occupation, this path was used by the nomadic mountain communities of Epirus, as well as for the transport of the famed salt of Sagiada across to Ioannina.
05 – Ancient inscriptions at Gitana (40k – 1 hour from Syvota)
Socrates, Armodika, Nikomachos, Alexandros, Nikophon: these are some of the names inscribed on the stone seats at the ancient theater of Gitana (or Gitanae). This theater, rare even by Greek standards, was built of limestone in the mid-3rd c. BC. It had a seating capacity of 4,000, with 28 rows of seats divided by a horizontal walkway into upper and lower sections with four aisles. The theater belonged to the once powerful ancient city of Gitana, the second capital of the Koinon (or ‘League’) of the Thesprotians from its founding in 330 BC until its conquest by the Romans in 167 BC. The city occupied a commanding position on the hill of Vrysella next to the Kalamas river (and its tributary, the Kalpakiotikos). The Kalamas was a navigable river at the time, so it afforded access to the sea while at the same time serving as a natural defensive barrier for the city.
06 – horse riding and Rafting along the Acheron river (52k – 1h10m from Syvota)
Despite the ancient belief that the Acheron was the river across which the souls of the dead were ferried to the Underworld, its waters today appear anything but infernal. Only a few kilometers of the river are still navigable. Nonetheless, at its mouth, in the village of Ammoudia, modern-day “ferrymen” are on hand to offer a wonderful and truly mythic experience, re-enacting these fateful crossings. Twelve kilometers to the east, the village of Glyki is the perfect base for discovering the “river of woe”. This is where the path through the Acheron Gorge begins; the walk takes 5-6 hours, but there are shorter ones, too. It is also where some of the springs that feed the river are located, and it serves as the headquarters of outdoor activity companies that offer rafting expeditions on the Acheron (zero degree of difficulty) and horse riding along its banks. In summer, the recreation area here is full of tents, RVs, food trucks and hundreds of people, proving just how lively the gateway to Hades really is.
07 – Talking with spirits at the Necromanteion (50k – 1 hour from Syvota)
They say that if you spend enough time in the underground hall of the Necromanteion (lit. “Oracle of the Dead”) of the Acheron river, you’ll begin to feel dizzy and your hearing will become impaired. No one knows if this is due to a lack of oxygen, the acoustics of the structure or something supernatural, but the guides at the archaeological site of the Necromanteion, located in the village of Mesopotamos, will be more than happy to tell you what they do know about the place. The sanctuary (dedicated to the gods of the Underworld) is thought to have been constructed in the late 4th or early 3rd c. BC, although the site itself – near the shores of the Acherusian Lake, at the place where the Acheron and the Kokytos, two of the five rivers of Hades, meet – was first inhabited much earlier. In the early 18th c., the Monastery of Aghios Ioannis Prodromos was built over the ruins. The Necromanteion is a fascinating structure, its most striking feature being the underground chamber carved out of the rock, with 15 stone arches supporting the roof. It is believed it was here that, after having offered their sacrifices and undergone ritual purification, visitors were brought to commune with the souls of the dead.
08 – Sailing and swimming in exotic waters at Syvota
A well-known Greek National Tourism Organization campaign promoted Syvota as the “Caribbean of Greece” by successfully capturing the enchanting mix of pristine shores, narrow inlets and lush green islands which grace the area, as well as the diverse experiences this destination can offer. Sailboats or all kinds can be rented here, either with or without a skipper. Some of the sea craft – those with smaller outboard motors – do not even require a license to operate, giving everyone the opportunity to explore the crystalline waters and discover its uninhabited islets. At the same time, the well-known beaches are equally charming. One of the most popular is Bella Vraka on the islet of Mourtemeno, which you can reach by walking across a thin strip of sand. Another is Piscina, a sand and pebble beach on the islet of Aghios Nikolaos. In Syvota itself, there are a number of hotels, restaurants, coffee shops, a marina and a marvelous promenade.
09 – Paying homage to Souli (68k – 1h30m from Syvota)
Rugged mountains that look like natural fortresses, arid and strewn with boulders. This is the location of Lakka Souliou, a historical site in the wider area known as Souli, famous for its proud inhabitants who fought heroically for Greece’s liberation. It is particularly known for its valiant women, 22 of whom jumped to their death from the Rock of Zalongo in December 1803, preferring this fate to capture by the enemy soldiers. Today, there are happier things to see in this small farming village, including the stone houses of the local resistance leaders’ families, including those of Tzavellas and Botsaris. Sit at one of the two coffee shops to learn about the history of the place or, if you’re in the mood for a walk, make your way from here to Kougi. There, you will see the Church of Aghia Paraskevi and its amazing view; in 1803, the last Souliotes took refuge with a monk named Samouil in a fortress that stood on this site. Just as the Turkish-Albanian troops of Ali Pasha broke through their defenses, the Souliotes set fire to the powder magazines, blowing up the entire place and taking many of the enemy with them to their death. Across the way, clearly visible from here, lies the fortress of Kiafa, which you can reach after a fairly demanding 30-minute ascent. This was built by Ali Pasha to prevent the Souliotes returning. Complete your excursion at Myloi Souliou. The fork in the road, a few kilometers outside the village, leads to a ravine with running water, a restored watermill and a charming café right next to the river. It is the perfect place for peace and quiet, after so many tales of conflict, sacrifice and death.
10 – the Paramythia tower (45k – 1 hour from Syvota)
In the past, Paramythia was one of the largest commercial and financial centers of Epirus. Nowadays, the Saturday street market may not be as grand and diverse but, along with the historic Lambovo Commercial Festival in October, it is still an important tradition for the local community. A stroll through the center of Paramythia, with its quaint shops and coffee houses will certainly prove interesting, but what should not be missed is a visit to the splendid tower at the top of the village. The Koulia, as it is called, was built in the late 18th to early 19th c. Standing 26m in height, the five-story tower has arrow slits for archers and murder holes through which the defenders could pour boiling oil down on attackers. Experts agree that the Koulia is an outstanding example of a fortified tower house, among the finest still standing in northwest Greece. Thanks to restoration work, it is now also possible to tour the interior, which houses a permanent photographic exhibition featuring the monuments of Thesprotia from Byzantine times to the late period of Ottoman rule.
11 – A stroll in Parga (27k – 50 minutes from Syvota)
A true gem of the region, Parga has always been targeted by invaders. This is true even today, although the “conquerors,” sunbathers, swimmers and beachcombers, have more benign intentions. The Thesprotians call it “the Vatican” because, although it is located in Thesprotia, it belongs administratively to the regional unit of Preveza. Here, visitors can enjoy the clear waters of its stunning beaches (Kryoneri, Piso Kryoneri, Valtos) and the picture-postcard beauty of its brightly colored houses laid out amphitheatrically, or they can indulge in leisurely walks through its narrow alleyways and down the lively promenade lined with ouzo bars and coffee shops. Of course, no one should miss a visit to the splendid Venetian castle at the top of the hill overlooking the town, where you can enjoy a drink at the café while taking in the incredible view.
12 – Excursion to Igoumenitsa (24k – 35 minutes from Syvota)
Igoumenitsa, which was declared the capital of Thesprotia in 1938 and underwent extensive reconstruction after the Second World War, may be a relatively new town, but it is definitely worth a visit. Here, visitors can sip coffee in one of its numerous squares, take a stroll along its walk-cycle path next to the sea, climb up to the small castle on the lush green hill, or go swimming at nearby Drepano, widely considered one of the most beautiful beaches in Thesprotia. Other options include a visit to the Museum of Culture and Tradition “The House of Rena” with its fine examples of traditional dress, embroidery and 2,000 other artifacts, most of them from the region. The Archaeological Museum of Igoumenitsa is also not to be missed. It features exhibits that shed light on the customs and everyday life of the ancient Thesprotians. And don’t forget that the last order of business for the day is always to find a pleasant spot to enjoy the amazing sunset.