Travel to Greece | Explore Epirus and Northwest Greece avoiding the Highway!

If you enjoy driving then we invite you to follow us on an “off the beaten path” tour of inland Greece and enjoy precious moments away from the crowds, where you will be introduced to the splendours of the countryside and learn what this breathtaking country and its people are really about, in the legendary Region of Epirus and the west coast of Greece.

A journey that will take you to parts of Greece that are rarely visited by tourists; ancient monuments, historical cities, small towns, hidden away and forgotten small villages, farmlands with all kinds of cultivations, rivers, lakes and mountains.

Day One
Start early in the morning, departing from Athens taking the highway to Patra as the first point of reference.

On the way and not far from the centre of Athens you will be passing by one of the most ancient temples found in Greece; that one of ancient Eleusis. The area where the temple is found nowadays is called Elefsina and has not much to offer apart of the temple since it is an industrial zone. A stop at the temple is definitely worthy for those of you interested in the Ancient Greek History.

in Love with the Med - Ancient Eleusis
Ancient Eleusis

Leaving Elefsina you will be headed to Korinthos where again more ancients sights can be visited. Ancient Corinth based on the Archaeological findings, such as Neolithic pottery, suggest that the site was occupied from at least as early as 6500BC. Ancient Corinth is another worthy stop that should not be ignored and while in the area the Temple of Apollo and the Gate Walls of the Ancient City are among the musts.

After Korinthos, you should head towards the Rio – Antirio Bridge – a phenomenal achievement of modern architecture and engineering that connects the Peloponnese with Sterea Ellada. Crossing the bridge is one of the two ways to get across. (The other being the old-fashioned tiny ferries that nowadays mostly carry trucks of dangerous loads and locals that live around the small ports of either Rion or Antirion).

Rio Antirio Bridge
Rio Antirio Bridge

After crossing the bridge you can continue your journey on the highway or just follow the old roads and you will start driving into parts of the backcountry with rocky and mountainous areas on your right and the beautiful shoreline on your left. The views are breathtaking but the driver should pay extra attention to the road since this is no highway.

A few kilometres ahead on the backcountry roads after just around 45min drive approximately, while following the signs to your final destination the city of Ioannina, you will see the junction that leads to the city of Messolonghi. A small picturesque town lying around the lagoon named after the city that is also ancient but became famous during the Greek War of Independence. Messolonghi is the city that Lord Byron chose to live and die in.

Continuing your journey through “rough” lands you will be now driving through the inland surrounded by farmlands, small villages and towns. You will be crossing rivers and lakes. You will notice simple self-made stands constructed by the locals that are somewhere around there, selling their goods to the passing-by drivers. Fresh and most tasteful fruits like strawberries and oranges that have only been picked up that same morning, honey if the season is right and herbs like wild oregano, tea of the mountains etc.

After another two hours of driving, you will reach the picturesque town of Amphilochia that is built amphitheatrically around the Amvrakikos Gulf offering a great selection of restaurants with absolutely fresh fish just at your feet that they also serve coffees, snacks and refreshments to passing by drivers wishing to take a break overlooking the blue Ionian Sea.

Leaving Amfilochia and going on towards Arta and then Ioannina the scenery of the countryside and the sea combined is breathtaking. People say that there is no other country offering this mixture of beauties where you can go skiing (snow) and then have lunch or dinner by the sea wearing just a t-shirt.

After approximately another two hours of driving your final destination, the city of Ioannina will be reached. Just in time for a good rest till you get ready to go out for a late dinner, the Greek way and get acquainted with the local cuisine that is one of the healthiest cuisines in the world. Don’t miss out to taste the locally produced, cooked and served frog legs that are considered to be one of the better-known delicacies of the French and Cantonese cuisines, the homemade pies, the variety of meat on the grill and the fresh fish from the lakes and rivers surrounding the city.

And if you are up to some nightlife the city of Ioannina has plenty to offer.

Day Two
After a good night rest and a rich breakfast at your hotel you should dedicate your full day in the city that is full of Myths and Legends; Ioannina that is!

Go to the lake bank and join the locals in their walks. Take a break and have a coffee at one of the numerous cafes overlooking the Pamvotis.

Lake Pamvotis (C) Menelaos Sykovelis
Lake Pamvotis © Menelaos Sykovelis

Carry on and enter the castle where behind its walls you will meet the old town and you will get to see the life of the Greeks in a non-touristic setting. Visit the museums and the mosques. Feel the city’s glorious moments that are spread in the air.

At lunchtime take the little boat and visit the “Nissaki”, the little island in the middle of Lake Pamvotis, where the legendary Ali Pasha was beheaded. Walk around, visit the museum, and then have a great lunch at one of the tavernas on the banks of the lake.

After a full of activities morning, a break for some rest back at your hotel is a great idea.

And then in the late afternoon go back out again and visit the modern part of the city making an extra effort to visit the silversmiths and the jewellery shops that are owned by locals that design craft and sell their art pieces.

And for dinner no matter if you are a fan of meat or a vegetarian check out again the local traditional taverns that serve delicious varieties of meat on the grill along with a good selection of salads. (All dishes served are cooked with locally produced ingredients).

Day Three
After a restful day and batteries recharged the time is right to explore and discover the beauties surrounding the city of Ioannina.

No matter which time of the year you will choose to visit, you have to explore the sparsely populated mountainous settlements of Zagori, built during the 16th century and have lunch at one of the very traditional places that are spread around every single village. Do not forget to taste the local pies that are famous and cannot be found anywhere else in Greece.

Ioannina in Seasons
Epirus © Menelaos Sykovelis

And maybe you should rekindle your spirit of adventure on a hike through the Pindos Mountains or rafting in the rivers of Voidomatis or Arachthos.

Day Four
Even if this is the last day of your trip, it will be definitely fun and it will introduce you to the beauties of Greece that are well hidden and only Greeks are enjoying them all the time.

The route we are recommending is definitely off the beaten path and during its most part, you will be driving along the coastline of the Ionian Sea. A distance of some 550kms /330 miles will be covered before Athens will be reached.

An early morning start is again highly recommended. This time leaving Ioannina you have to head towards Igoumenitsa via the Egnatia Road. Your first stop and a must visit should be the ancient sight and theatre of Dodona, where long before Delphi, the famous Oracle of Dodona advised from and nowadays this is a well-preserved archaeological site. To reach Dodona it will not take you more than 20 to 25 minutes.

Continuing your journey on Egnatia road the next stop we strongly recommend is the tiny historical and most picturesque town of Parga that is built by the seaside, where if the weather permits don’t miss out the opportunity of enjoying the sea.

Leaving Parga you should follow the signs that will take you towards Aktion and Preveza. There you will cross the undersea tunnel and continue your journey on the coastline till signs on the road will indicate you that you are about to reach Lefkada.

Lefkada or Lefkas is one of the seven Ionian Islands and what a surprise; the island is connected with the mainland with a bridge. Lefkas is definitely among the rising touristic destinations in Greece. Driving to Lefkada and exploring its capital city named also Lefkada it is a great idea. And if you like it then maybe dedicate a bit more time on the island and explore its beauties.

Porto Katsiki, Lefkada © Rik Freeman
Porto Katsiki, Lefkada (C) Rik Freeman

Leaving from Lefkada signs leading to the village of Astakos must be followed. Astakos is a place chosen by the Greeks for their summer holidays. Very traditional and with a local character, is the place we always stop for a nice meal by the sea.

After Astakos following the signs for Aitoliko (Etoliko as the Greeks pronounce it) and then on to Antirion, the bridge, and on to the highway Patras to Athens.

This last day may sound tiring but the beauties of Greece will reimburse you!