A Road Trip Along the Arachthos River, Epirus

This route along the emerald waters of Arachthos River passes historical bridges, magical waterfalls and lagoons, and ends at the spectacular Ambracian Gulf.

Starting from its source, it must spring somewhere around Metsovo but officially the Arachthos river appears lower down, in the Tzoumerka region. Politsa bridge is clearly the vantage point from which you can admire it and where your route may begin – this is also the starting point for rafting activities and the base of many companies active in the area. The river is dotted with waterfalls and though the gorge itself is not accessible by vehicle you will encounter it again at the restored, historic Plaka bridge.

Until it reaches the town of Arta, some 60 kilometers further along, the Arachthos flows far from settlements and the road passes high above it: the small village of Krioneri boasts the advantage of direct access to the gorge, while the best view can be enjoyed at Rodavgi, with vistas towards the valley as well as Pournari, an artificial lake. The Vidra trail which runs from Skoupa to Plaka along the Arachthos river is also an option, though ask whether it has suffered damages due to recent inclement weather. The great river then enters Arta, forming a small lake with an adjacent park, flows under the legendary Bridge of Arta and moves southward in search of the sea, approximately 16 kilometers away, at Kommeno. A different tour begins here, around the lagoons of the Ambracian Gulf. For the most part you will find dirt roads and predominantly agricultural villages.

With Kopraina at its eastern frontier and Petra or Preveza in the west, you will experience a charming trail (approximately 70 kilometers depending on the route you follow), in one of the most important wetland ecosystems of the Mediterranean, spanning 450 square kilometers and composed of 20 lagoons, sourced by the waters of the Ionian Sea and two rivers in addition to the Arachthos – the Louros and Vovos rivers: From Kopraina to the Koftra-Paliobouka lagoon and from the Arachthos Delta through orange groves to Koronisia, with the iconic 7-kilometer shoelace-thin road that connects this former island to the mainland; from Stroggyli lagoon and beaches preferred by locals to Rodia and Tsoukali, the most important complex in the wetlands; next to the Byzantine Church of Panagia “Rodia,” the marshland and the reedbeds, to the flood plains of the Louros river and the dam of Petra.

You will see ivaria (natural fish farms) in the natural openings of the islets, and ivarades (local lagoon fishermen) sailing on their traditional boats known as “priari.” Images of Louros islets, saline marshes, river deltas, wetlands, forests by the lake, and reedbeds flash before your eyes, while you will also admire countless birds, either paddling lazily on the waters or flying in a sudden burst of energy. 

Do not miss

The Plaka bridge was first built in the 19th century and was one of the most impressive in Greece, until its collapse in 2015. It still is, after its recent reconstruction, and the surrounding area is still one of the best viewing points of the emerald waters of the Arachthos river. The river was the border between Greek and Ottoman Epirus (1881-1912) and in the building by the bridge, which today operates as a cafe, is where ELAS (the Greek People’s Liberation Army) and EDES (the National Republican Greek League) met in 1944 to sign a ceasefire.

A stop in Arta is a must, if only to see the famed Bridge of Arta that spreads across an expanse of 150 meters and was built in the 17th century on ancient ruins; not on the wife of the master craftsman as the traditional song claims. It is also worth seeking out the ruins of ancient Ambracia – the temple of Apollo near Kilkis square, with the small ancient theater on Aghiou Konstantinou and the necropolis in the west, next to the stadium. Of course, there are also great Byzantine monuments to visit: the unique Church of the Parigoritissa, one of the most beautiful churches in Greece, Aghia Theodora from the 12th century and the Church of Aghios Vasilios (Agora), with rich ceramic decorative features. 

Kopraina, the old port of Arta with its renovated buildings that once housed a customs office, a hotel, a kafenion and warehouses is also worth a visit, especially after the recent restoration projects. This is where you will also find the Center for Environmental Education of the Arachthos (tel. 26810-69683, upon prior arrangement). Discover the magical world of the Ambracian gulf through videos, tours and bird watching, as well as hiking the 15-minute trail to the lighthouse, which dates from 1907.   

The most well known and developed village in the area is Koronisia. Walk along the small port and converse with the local ivarades who catch the area’s famed shrimp (also known as Ambracian gamberi). These delicacies are known for their delicious taste and hefty size, which are due to the high concentration of plankton in these waters. In fact, the women of the village are known as the best weavers of fishing nets, and the ivarades from the local cooperative will show you how the ivaria operate, how they make avgotaraho (bottarga) and how they catch eels. Do not miss out on having lunch here: local specialities include kefalos petali (butterflied and grilled grey mullet), shrimp and giovos savoro (fried bullhead served with a garlic, onion, laurel and rosemary sauce).

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