If you follow me on social media you probably remember that I spent a few days in Ioannina in November. Ioannina, in the region of Epirus in northern Greece, lies at Pamvotida Lake. Romans, Byzantines, and Ottomans shaped its history, but even after Greece’s independence, the city kept its unique Ottoman character.
Ioannina is not popular with international tourists as those tend to focus more on Greece’s islands, but it’s very well known in Greece and very easy to reach due to a national airport. The city’s appeal is based on two major factors: it’s Ottoman history and the beautiful nature of its vicinity.
Ioannina’s old town is contained within the walls of the Byzantine fortress and is absolutely stunning. It is wonderfully peaceful with fewer cars than the rest of the city and has a distinct Ottoman character.
The area around the lake is particularly beautiful. Despite the fact that we went at the beginning of November, not all the leaves had changed colors yet, and I would assume that a trip a bit later in the season would make for a spectacular scenery. The lake is very vast, and the area surrounding it lends itself to quiet walks. It’s especially beautiful to go for an evening stroll and observe the sunset. Do keep in mind, though, that the lake causes a lot of humidity so it will be quite chilly if you go in fall or spring. Despite the beauty of the lake, it was not very busy when we were there which makes it a nice escape if you live in a big city.
If you visit the islet in the lake be prepared for a lot of people trying to sell souvenirs and food. It’s best to simply ignore them so you can continue on your way and enjoy a different kind of Greek island.
One name you will see and hear over and over again in Ioannina is that of Ali Paşa, the former ruler of the region. He is known for having been a particularly cruel pasha (it is said that he had several young women drowned in the lake). On the other hand, he was a separatist and fought against the Ottoman army which is the cause of the city’s mixed feeling about its former ruler. The small island on Lake Pamvotida now houses a museum that portrays his eventual assassination by Ottoman forces. His tomb stands next to Ioannina’s Fethiye mosque.
Another mosque worth visiting is the Aslan Paşa Mosque. Outside, you will see remaining tombstones of the former Ottoman graveyard. The mosque has not been destroyed – you can see the mihrab and minbar – but is now used as a museum which displays the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim heritage of the city.
There are several other places to see in the region.
The Zagori area with its picturesque villages and monasteries is a definite must during any stay in Ioannina. It is also the source of a major Greek mineral water brand.
This is also where you can find the breathtakingly beautiful Vikos Gorge. There is a sign claiming it to be the deepest canyon in the world, but there is an important part missing there: It’s the deepest gorge in proportion to its width, not the deepest in meters. Of course, it’s still quite impressive, especially if you haven’t been to more spectacular canyons.
The archaeological site of Dodoni is easy to reach from Ioannina by car and hosts the oldest Hellenic oracle. The theater of the site is quite well preserved.
There certainly is a lot to see in Ioannina, and there is no reason for international travelers to overlook this stunning city and region.
As per usual, we stayed at an Airbnb during this trip. If you are not registered yet, follow my link for a €35 discount off your first booking: www.airbnb.com/c/ninaf3363
Have you been to any non-mainstream destinations in foreign countries? Let me know in the comments!