Vovousa,Greece

August 2018

I'm so happy I have family in Greece, otherwise I would probably not ever have visited this charming place.

From Preveza this is at least a three hour drive up into the mountains, on twisty roads that fall off to cliffs, with some spots not big enough for two cars. Sometimes the road is crumbling away. We took our time. I've heard others say they have to take anti-nausea drugs to make the trip. But the trip is beautiful, going through many little villages, looking down into valleys, and had me wondering how did people come to live here, in these places.

Vovousa is one of those places. 

In the winter the population is about 50 people. It is an old village and was quite large a few centuries ago. In the 1800's it was invaded by the Ali Pasha and people left. During the second world war it was burned by the Germans. And people left. But they came back. It was much more populated years ago, as you can see by the number of houses, the size of the churches and the substantial school. Now though, many of the houses have become summer homes for those who've moved away. For some, they have had to move for the winter, if they have school-aged children. There were not enough school children to be able to keep the school open so they spend the school year in either Preveza or Ioannina, two larger towns. In summer they come back and enjoy this lovely town.

Vouvousa is in the Pindus Mountain Range in Eastern Greece, on the River Aoos. It is one of the original Zagori villages. Many of the people ethnically identify as Vlachoi or Aromanians, native to Epirus and Thessaly and Macedonia. It's mountainous (the village is at 1,000 meters) and the forests are some of the oldest in Europe. Vovousa is mostly self-sustaining in that most of the residents grow what they need in their vegetable gardens, and have sheep and cows for meat, milk and yogurt, and local wood from the forest for building. Buildings are made of local rocks and wood. There are a number of sawmills. If the residents need medicine or supplies not available there, anyone going to the larger towns will pick up the supplies for them. There is also a truck that comes about once a week with vegetables and other odds and ends that might be needed. There's a number of restaurants for the summer tourists so they would need more supplies. 

The bridge (the background to this page) built in 1748, connects the two sides of Vovousa over the Aoos River. The only updating has been the hand rails done recently. There are many old arch stone bridges like this in the Zagori region.

Close to Vovousa is the National Park of Valia Kalda, a great hiking area. The park was designated to preserve the forest and the flora and fauna. There are lots of hiking trail from easy to difficult. Trails are mark by coloured swatches on rocks and trees. Pick the colour that matches your ability. 

 

We missed a summer festival by a few days, because we didn't plan ahead and then there wasn't any rooms. When we did go, we stayed in the home of my niece's in-laws. It is a beautiful home, typical of the village, that has been added onto over many years. The family are craftsmen and all the woodwork has been done by the them. The home also has three rooms for rent, two with shared bathroom and one with an en-suite.

 

My niece's husband is building their own home on a plot of land, outside of the main village, out of the wood he produces as a lumberjack. (My niece also has a business making leather handbags www.morelledesign.com. She will ship them all over the world. Right click on the url to go to website.) The family also owns Kerasies Guest House (www.kerasies.gr). Access to the National Park is very close to the Guest House. My niece's brother-in-law is a Park Ranger (he is at the Guest House) and is very knowledgeable about the area. His English is quite good. The reviews are excellent.

At the family home we got to enjoy homemade yogurt with big spoons of local honey, homemade bread and feta, and a wonderful meal of goat or sheep. We laughed with pleasure and were impressed when the mother held the loaf of bread she'd made, in one hand, and slipped a pocket knife out of her apron and proceeded to slice the bread. Obviously, had done that most of her life. Her family and her husband's family had lived in Vovousa their whole lives plus generations before them. I tried to imagine what that would be like. My niece's in-laws were such a wonderful couple. They had smiles in their eyes when they looked at each other. There was no doubt about the love there. At one point in our conversation, translated by my sister, the father-in-law looked at his wife and said 'we will only be separated by nature'. Aww. Touched our hearts immensely.

There were many other tourists there. A lot for the hiking. Many just to enjoy the village life. In the winter there is lots of snow. But it would be totally enchanting to be there. Many of the villagers have their families come for Christmas. I'm not sure if I would enjoy the drive up there, though.

The Water Mill 

Outside of Vovousa is a laundry water mill. It's used to wash rugs and blankets. Water comes down from the mountains, into shoots that drop water into a tub. The water pressure, at an angle, makes the tub rotate and which cleans the rugs. This particular one we were at also could saw logs. The water could be strained to either area. No soap is allowed because the water leaves and goes into the Aoos river. It was fascinating. There were long wooden hooks (actually hooked branches) to pull the cleaned rug out of the tub. Rugs and blankets are hung on a fence to dry.

There are two Festivals in Vovousa.

Vovousa Festival July 13-20, 2019 Festival of the Arts and Sustainability  (Facebook  Vovousa Festival but it is mostly in Greek)

Protect Aoos MTB Ultra 2019  Sat Aug 31 to Sun Sept 1, 2019. https://ridewithgps.com/events/54289-protect-aoos-mtb-ultra-2019

This is a mountain bike Ultra race, 120 km and 3600 m of elevation.

 

The race is to help support  protection of the Aoos River from proposed hydro-electric dams slated to be built downstream. The Aoos River becomes the Vjosa when it goes into Albania and eventually to the Adriatic Sea . It is known as the Blue Heart of Europe. There are great rafting adventures to be had on the Aoos/Vjosa. Unfortunately,there are plans for hundreds of hydro-electric dams which would flood villages, farmland, cemeteries, and certainly reduce the cleanliness of the rivers. This river is a big tourist attraction and has unique flora and fauna.

 

The following websites have more information. It would be a shame to lose the Blue Heart of Europe. For more info about the river and adventures on it see: www.Muchbetteradventures.com/Vjosa  

Patagonia (clothing) blog https://www.patagonia.com/blog/2017/09/save-the-blue-heart-of-europe-scientists-for-vjosa/

www.balkanrivers.net

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Thanks Alyssa Terwall for the picture!

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