Joshua Barley, The Slow Cyclist guide in Zagori and Crete, has lived and worked – as a writer and translator – in Greece for over a decade. Here he explains why the penultimate day of our Zagorian journey, from Kapesovo to Kato Pedina, is his favourite.
For me, the fullest and most varied day of our Zagori journey is the penultimate. By this time, the group has bonded: we are used to their quirks, they are laughing good-naturedly at our bad jokes, I know the occupation and marital status of all their children, and generally we’re having a marvellous time.
We begin with a morning walk between the villages of Kapesovo and Vradeto. This justly-celebrated path, known as the ‘Vradeto Steps’, must be one of the finest examples of ‘folk engineering’ in Greece: a nineteenth-century monumental cobbled path built into the side of the Mesaria Gorge, with Escher-like twists and turns, leading to Vradeto, the highest village in Zagori at 1350m. The steep climb is compensated for by the explosion of colour beside the path: euphorbia, phlomis, sage and acanthus in spring; crocus and sternbergia in autumn.
At Vradeto we stop at the local coffee shop, run by the ethereal Konstantina, who greets us with a garland of flowers in her hair and jugs of fresh lemonade. Konstantina spends her (ample) spare time making jewellery, and her charming creations often adorn our guests for the rest of the trip.
Tearing ourselves away from this oasis, we walk across high pasture to ‘Beloi’, the most gaspingly dramatic viewpoint of the Vikos Gorge, which falls several hundred metres right beneath our feet. In front of us, at the far end of the gorge’s curving line, rise the mountains of southern Albania. We retrace our steps from the gorge’s edge and make for a picturesque spot nearby, where a proper picnic – tablecloths, bubbly wine etc. – is laid on top of the world, at 1500m. If I were inclined to make bad jokes, I would say that this is a high point of the trip.
Full of fizz and Konstantina’s mother’s homemade pie, we mount our bicycles for a humungous 15-km descent, with fantastic views, all the way to the famous Kokkoris Bridge, artfully spanning a small gorge. We stop for obligatory photos, and I sometimes take this opportunity to recite the Greek folk song ‘The Bridge of Arta’, from my book of translations (Greek Folk Songs, Aiora Press). We return to our bikes for the final stretch into the Zagori plain, and I feel the sentimental tug of home, since the village where I live, Ano Pedina, is perched above this valley.
The impeccably chic ‘Anemi’ guesthouse is our destination, whose terrace is the venue for the most special evening of the trip: a surprise (oops, sorry) performance by legendary Epirote musician Yannis Haldoupis and his band. A virtuosic clarinettist and master performer, Yannis always has even the most reticent Slow Cyclists on their feet, doing the most surprising things. For my part, lucky enough to accompany Yannis on guitar, I feel a deep catharsis hearing his clarinet wail in my ear, and a sense of exhilaration mixed with satisfaction: the day is done, the night will be long, I’ll be sleeping at home tonight, and tomorrow morning we get up late.
Cycle and walk in Zagori, one of Greece’s wildest and most beautiful regions, either on a scheduled journey or privately with a group of friends or family. To find out more, enquire here or contact our team on +44 (0) 1865 410 356.