This is the area north of the Aoos River, which receives far less visitors than the Zagori. Though it is just as beautiful, its villages have still not recovered from being burned during the war. Villagers claim that their houses were even more sumptuous than those to the south (many of which have been restored in recent decades as expensive tourist accommodation). Very sadly, the houses that were burned had incorporated much of the timber in the area both structurally, to span large widths, and also for carved interiors. Two of the highest peaks in Greece reign over this region: Mt. Smolikas and Mt. Grammos., the first of which can be reached on foot from Mt. Gamila or by car from Konitsa, which is the largest town in this area, just off the highway between Kastoria and Ioannina.
Konitsa has a large and very beautiful bridge over the Aoos, built around 1870, though it looks much older. The town has an amphitheater like setting on the slopes of Mt. Trapezitsa, above the broad flood plain where three rivers meet: the Aoos, Voidhomatis, and the Sarandoporos, the latter flowing from here through Albania to the sea.
In 1948 there was much destruction in Konitsa with the fighting during the Greek Civil War (the Communists besieged the town in their last, unsuccessful attempt to establish a provisional capital), and further damage was suffered by the town in a 1996 earthquake. Portions of the old bazaar and Turkish quarter near the river remain, as well as the mansion which was the birthplace of the mother of Ali Pasha. There are bus connections from here, many rooms and some excellent food. The owner of one of the best places for both good food and lodging is To Dhendro (The Tree), whose owner, Ioannis, speaks English and knows a good deal about the local area.
From Konitsa there are some fine walks, including one to the 18th century monastery of Stomiou, which sits above the narrowest part of the Aoos gorge. The walk takes about an hour and a half, beginning from the old bridge. The place is more impressive than the monastery itself, with nice swimming down below, some springs, and camping possibilities. The slopes past here have lush vegetation and are one of the few unspoiled habitats for lynx, birds of prey, and roe deer. You can get to the Astraka refuge from here in about five hours, though the path, leading up from the monastery gate, isn't well marked With a good map, this route is a good link between the Gamila and Smolikas regions, and less difficult than the Astraka-Vryssohori route.