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The Vikos Gorge & the Zagoria villages Page 8

West of Konitsa

West of Konitsa 23km near the Albanian border is the hill village of Molyvdhoskepastos, with some churches, one with frescoes and one of the best views in all of Ipiros, of Albania, the Aoos valley, and east to Smolikas and Gamila. Being a border area, however, photography is unfortunately banned and you may have to show an ID at a military checkpoint at the Aoos bridge. There's a festival honoring the town's patron saints, Petros and Pavlos (Peter and Paul) on 29 June, with feasting and music all night. There's a monastery with the same name as the village 5km below it, which was re-inhabited during the 1990s and nicely restored by its monks, also in a lovely setting on the Aoos. The church has a 13th century dome, of the Serbian type; the nave ceiling has vaults and arches, and though there are frescoes, they are not well preserved. Visits are forbidden between 3 and 5pm.

There are Konitsa buses that go east to Paleoselli and Padhes (mentioned above) and beyond to Dhistrato, which is a large, flourishing village with quite a few rooms and a ski center nearby. Just before this town there's a road going north to Samarina but the road is very rough, and a jeep is strongly recommended for this journey of 19km.

A good trail leads from Paleoselli up to Dhrakolimni, taking around four hours and from there another hour and a half will get you up Smolikas. Another path leads to the lake from Padhes. The Paleoselli-Dhrakolimni path has been marked as part of the O3, with a refuge half way along, at a sheep pasture with a spring known as Naneh, at 1600 meters, complete with camping space, water and toilet. You can get keys for this refuge at the inn in Paleoselli. The lake is about two hours walk from here, where camping is possible but level space limited. Its cold and damp, so you'll need a tent if you want to spend the night here. There are some springs nearby. From the ridge above the lake you can reach the summit of Smolikas, but it's a steep scramble uphill, without much in the way of a path. An alternative route leads down from the peak in two and a half hours, to the tiny village of Aghia Paraskevi/Kerasov, the path beginning in a sheepfold in the valley between the lake and the summit. The village has some tavernas, one of them in the main hotel, and camping near the village is an option.

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