Tzoumerka, or Athamanika Mountains as it is also called, is a mountain range in the northwest of the Greek mainland. The name originates from the ancient king Athamas, who sought shelter in the steep mountains after being chased by his former subjects. He later became king in the Tzoumerka area uniting all settlement into the new kingdom of Athamanon.
Tzoumerka comprises a cluster of 47 picturesque villages, dotted around the rough gorges formed by two rivers, the Arachthos River and Kalaritikos River. Due to its location Tzoumerka remains untouched by contemporary architecture and mass tourism and is ideal for those who love nature, relaxation, extreme sports and alternative tourism. A large part of the area is protected under European legislation as a Natura 2000 site.
Tzoumerka can be reached by car either from Ioannina taking the road towards Syrrako Village, or from Arta City travelling towards Voulgareli Village. Whether you are flying to Athens, Thessaloniki or one of the Ionian Islands, the access to both Arta and Ioannina is straight-forward.
Things to do in Tzoumerka
Tzoumerka is a heaven on earth for sporty types and nature lovers. Rafting, tubing or kayaking down the Arachthos River or Kalaritikos River will satisfy your appetite for adrenaline and allow you to enjoy the landscape. If you are an avid cyclist, you’ll be happy to know that there are amazing mountain routes and plenty of places where you can rent the appropriate equipment. Alternatively, you can experience the Arachthos gorge on horseback! There is an equestrian centre in Lazena Village where you can get a horse, equestrian equipment and an experienced guide will lead you up to the top of the gorge. If you prefer a slower way to take in the scenery, then hiking is always a great option. Other extreme sports available include paragliding and mountain climbing.
Stroll in the cobbled streets of Syrrako Village, built at 1.200m altitude, surrounded by nature, Syrrako is perfect for a relaxing day. Kalarites Village also built at high altitude and equally interesting in terms of vernacular architecture, has an amusing claim to fame as the birthplace of the Bulgari Jewellers founder! You will appreciate the serenity in villages Voulgareli and Athamanio; you will enjoy the view at Mesounda Village built overlooking the river Acheloos, you will see more vernacular architecture and untouched nature combined in Kypseli and Agnanda, and you will love the water element in the villages Katarraktis , Plaka and Rodavgi, where you’ll encounter twin waterfalls (in Katarraktis Village), rivers and bridges.
The old stone bridges are a leitmotif repeatedly found in the rough Tzoumerka natural landscape. Their aesthetics and construction method are typical of the area and will take you a step back in time.
Leaving Kalentzi you can visit Plaka Bridge, the largest single arch bridge in the Balkans. Built in 1866 it is 20m high and 40m long, and bears historical significance as this was the threshold between the liberated part of Greece and Turkish occupied Greece in the 1800s. Gogou Bridge is a metal suspended bridge built in 1912 at the beginning of the Kalaritikos River gorge, and has been a meeting point for rafting fans in recent years. Another notable single arch stone bridge, situated in the Arachthos River gorge, a point of scenic beauty.
Rivers & Gorges
A large number of rivers run in the wider Tzoumerka area. Arachthos River and Kalaritikos River are the most notable ones. A kayak or boat ride along these Rivers will reward the visitor with breathtaking views of natural waterfalls, cliffs, caves and bridges.
A short detour on the way to Pramanda village leads to the Anemotrypa Cave. The interior is packed with stalagmites running from the top of the cave to the ground in impressive arrangements. Captivating underground lakes and an underground river at the deep end of the cave cast the Anemotrypa cave a must-see!
For those interested in folk culture and history, there is a number of museums to visit. Check out the Kostas Avdikos Folklore Collection in Kostas Avdikos’s house which has been converted to a museum, and see original furniture, folk outfits, folk embroidery, handmade textiles and tapestries from the late 1800s. In the Folklore Museum in Elliniko Village and the Folklore & Artisan Museum of Kypseli VIllage you will find domestic use objects of the rural life from last century, which will help you picture life in the Greek mountain countryside in the 1800s. The Theodoros Papagianis Museum of Contemporary Art, the Pavlos Vrellis Museum of Greek History and the Silvermongery Museum in the near-by city of Ioannina are also worth a visit.
Monasteries and Churches
The Monasteries and churches dotted in the area beautifully complete the scenery. The Monastery of Kipina, built in 1212 in a cave, in a cliff of the Kalaritiko River gorge, will leave you in awe! The cave extends 270m behind the monastery while a suspended bridge is the only access point to the path that leads to the nearest village. Other visit-worthy monasteries include the Viliza Monastery, Tsouka Monastery, Mouchoustiou Monastery and the Monastery of Our Lay of Vella.
Food in Tzoumerka
If you’ve mostly visited Greek islands before and this is your first time in the mainland, the food will be a new experience itself. Slow-cooked lamb in clay pot is one of the most typical dishes, as is Kleftiko -lamb cooked in baking paper with herbs. If you are a cheese lover Tzoumerka will not disappoint. Try Ksinotiri and Touloumotiri if you like soft cheese, or Galotyri, Ourda, Manouri and Metsovone if you like hard cheese, your taste-buds will thank you either way. Moreover, don’t miss out on the local pastries and pies, such as Kasopita, Ladopita, Blatzaropita, Tachanopita or the various fruit conserves (spoon sweets).
Insider’s tip for Tzoumerka
Although the scenery is breathtaking covered in snow in the winter, you won’t be able to try any of the sports activities available in warmer months. Visit in late spring or summer, and enjoy more options!