Escape to Katsanochoria
Routes: Ioannina – Tsoukas Monastery – Museum of Contemporary Art “Theodoros Papagiannis” – Kostitsi – Profitis Elias – Arachthos – Lazena “Hippostroth” – Ioannina
Cost: 3 people: 60 €
We started from Ioannina at 08:30, with the morning sun giving the lake this silver color that turns it into a mirror, with Mitsikeli sinking in its waters, and we headed to the village of Koutselio and then to Elliniko. From Elliniko (old name Lozetsi) we took the road to the Holy Monastery of Tsoukas and at 09:00 we arrived at the beautiful monastery.
The Holy Monastery of Panagia Tsoukas, dedicated to the Nativity of the Virgin, is located at an altitude of 760 meters at the edge of the gorge of Arachthos and was founded in 1190 by Emperor Isaac II Angelos.
Tradition wants the villagers to find the icon of the Virgin Mary near the village on the rock “Tsouka” and build a chapel in her honor. But every night the icon left the chapel and went to its current location, where the monastery was finally built.
In the Monastery there is today a male fraternity and it celebrates on September 8.
It has a fortress character with an arched entrance and in the middle of the courtyard of the monastery there is a large well and around it extend the cells of the monks. Inside the monastery is hagiographed with elaborate and impressive frescoes and at the back of the monastery there is a courtyard, where the view takes your breath away with the ravine of Arachthos and the entire basin of Ioannina stretching just below your feet.
The clean atmosphere and the summer morning breeze made the view even more beautiful and they did not let us leave this magical location but our schedule was full. We got in the car again and went to Elliniko, next stop The Museum of Contemporary Art “Theodoros Papagiannis”.
The museum is open daily from 9:30 to 15:00, except Mondays and is hosted in a nice stone school of the 30’s in the same school that the sculptor, professor of the School of Fine Arts, Theodoros Papagiannis, studied as a student in the 50’s . Its uniqueness lies in the fact that it includes works that speak of Epirus and its history, because as the artist himself says “he speaks of bread, of the benefactor, the expatriate, the spiritual man, the Epirote craftsman, the shepherd, the farmer, the long-suffering mother from Epirus and finally for learning. ” Unique exhibits in all the halls and corridors: sculptures, portraits, busts of important but also ordinary people, models of medals and coins. We were impressed by the artist’s works that are made from recyclable materials and second-hand materials thrown in yards and forgotten, which gave them life again and the opportunity to tell their own story. A special spectacle is the class with the students, the students sitting at the desks and the figure of the teacher standing next to them. The beautifully landscaped exterior of the school houses imposing sculptures, such as the huge metal snake on the grass, made with various materials and similar sculptures have decorated various corners of the village which we admired on the way to and from the monastery of Tsouka .
It was 11:00 and we left Elliniko to visit another well-known church in the area, the prophet Elias. 6.5 kg. from Elliniko, through Aetorachis and Lazaina is Kostitsi and from there at 1 km. built at the top at 950 meters the Prophet Elias. We arrived in Kostitsi, a small traditional village with few inhabitants, stone houses, cobbled streets and the paved square, built at 870 meters. We took the road for Profitis Ilias on foot and walked next to the trees, the oaks and the wild flora of Epirus accompanied by the summer sounds of nature.
The church is small, a touch on the top of the mountain in painting, stands on the edge of the cliff and the stone terraces relax the visitors. The view is incredible, the river Arachthos and its confluence with Kalarrytiko, Tzoumerka and the pyramid-shaped peak of Strogoula (2,100 m). After enjoying this wonderful landscape we returned to the village and sat down to drink a coffee in the cafe of the square, a Greek coffee sweet boiled opposite the plane tree overlooking the alleys of the village. The temperature had risen enough and we decided to go down looking for coolness in Arachthos. We headed to the village of Fortosi and went down the road to the village of Ampelochori, also known as Skloupo, where we met the bridge of Politsa. The bridge of Politsa connects Ampelochori with Fortosi or the municipality of Pramanta with the municipality of Katsanochorion. It is a stone bridge with an arch in a verdant landscape. Next to it, at a short distance and on the same boulders, the modern bridge for the service of cars has been built. We left the car on the side of the road, walked to the stone bridge and went down to the river. The coolness, the sound of the water, the dense vegetation and the smell of nature enchanted us … we sat on the pebbles silent, letting the sense of the moment captivate us. The waters of the river are ideal for a refreshing swim in the summer as we had not foreseen it we left it for a next excursion to Arachthos. It was lunchtime, the clock showed 2:30, the right time to eat and what else? Tsipouro!
We got back in the car and took the road to Lazaina, there just before Lazaina at the crossroads is the Hippostrum. A traditional cafe-tavern in a space taken from our childhood memories … a paved courtyard with grape vine and flowers everywhere and a cozy interior with wooden tables and a fireplace for winter days. Behind the cafe there used to be a small farm, today it houses 2 horses, a deer and an ostrich. Popi, the owner of the cafe, welcomed us with joy! We sat at a table with a thick shadow, we ordered tsipouro and the celebration started with the appetizers and the tsipoura coming non-stop. We ordered a greek salad straight from Popi’s garden and two of the dishes she suggested: braised chicken with sage and olives and zucchini stuffed with rice, an appetizer so delicious and summery! And let’s go to the appetizers … fresh and perfectly combined with the tsipouro. Tomato meatballs, zucchini meatballs, peppers stuffed with cheese, galotyri and tzatziki, ‘batsaria’ (local pie with greens and dough), fresh potatoes, chicken in the pan, meatballs (wonderful!) And many many more delicacies that arrived at the table . Time had really stopped … As soon as the meal was over, the treat came, a plate of cool yogurt and spoon sweets (sweets made from fruits and vegetables) made by her, Popi, quince, orange, sour cherry and fig. With a happy stomach and a happy head we left this small oasis to Ioannina. On the way back no one spoke, we were already reminiscing about these wonderful places, the small traditional villages with their beautiful chapels and views, the wildlife and the rivers with the stone bridges. We promised that we would return soon to see everything we left behind: the rest of Katsanochoria, the northern Tzoumerka the countless bridges and monasteries.