Greece // The central mainland //

Hiking the Víkos Gorge

The Víkos Gorge cuts right through the limestone uplands of Mount Gamíla for 20km, separating the villages of western and central Zagóri. With walls almost 1000m high in places, it’s quite equal to the famous Samarian gorge in Crete, and a hike through or around it is probably the highlight of a visit to the Zagóri.

Despite the gorge’s popularity with hikers, and periodic bouts of trail maintenance, it’s worth emphasizing that it is not a Sunday stroll. Bring proper, over-the-ankle boots and a leak-proof water container and walking poles or a stick (also useful for warding off guard dogs and belligerent cows). The best maps for the region are produced by Anavasi Editions . Check conditions in advance of setting out. During April or early May, snowmelt often makes the Monodhéndhri end impassable, and during a rainstorm the sides of the gorge are prone to landslides.

The route

The most-used path down to the gorge begins beside the Áyios Athanásios church in Monodhéndhri; a sign promises fairly accurate walking times of four-and-a-half hours to Víkos village, six hours to either of the Pápingo villages. Once past Monodhéndhri’s municipal amphitheatre, the path is cobbled for most of the forty minutes down to the riverbed, whose stony course you follow for another few minutes before shifting up the west (true left) bank, reaching the best viewpoint at a saddle ninety minutes from the village.

The entire route is waymarked, sometimes faintly, by red-paint dots and white-on-red stencilled metal diamonds with the legend “O3”. This refers to a long-distance path, which begins south of Kípi at Lynkiádhes on Mount Mitsikéli, traverses Mount Gamíla and ends beyond Mount Smólikas. However, the surface underfoot is arduous, with some boulder-hopping in the gorge bed, metal or felled-branch ladders getting you over tricky bits on the bank, plus slippery, land-slid patches.

About two hours out of Monodhéndhri you draw even with the Mégas Lákkos ravine, the only major breach in the east wall of the gorge; a spring here has been piped to make it more usable in summer. Another thirty minutes’ level walking takes you past the small, white shrine of Ayía Triádha; a further half-hour (around 3hr from Monodhéndhri) sees the gorge begin to open out and the sheer walls recede.

As the gorge widens you must make a choice. Continuing straight, the best-defined path takes you past the side trail to beautifully set eighteenth-century Kímisis Theotókou chapel (unlocked; excellent frescoes well worth the 15min round-trip detour). Beyond here, the route becomes a well-paved kalderími, climbing up and left to Víkos (Vitsikó; 870m elevation), four-plus hours from Monodhéndhri and also accessible by a 5km paved road from Arísti. This underrated village has two inns, and up on the square, with its exceptionally handsome church of Áyios Trýfon, a good restaurant.

Most walkers, however, prefer to follow the marked O3 route to the two Pápingo villages, crossing the gorge bed at the Voïdhomátis springs, some three-and-a-half hours from Monodhéndhri. It’s about two hours’ walk from the springs up to Mikró Pápingo, slightly less to Megálo, with the divide in the trail nearly ninety minutes above the riverbed crossing. After an initial steep climb, there’s a fine view down into the gorge near some weathered, tooth-like pinnacles, before the trail traverses a stable rockslide to the fork. Should you be reversing this route, the path-start in Mikró Pápingo village is signposted bilingually, and marked by a fancy stone archway in Megálo Pápingo.

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