My first acquaintance with Vovousa was eventful. In the summer of 2016, escaping from a boiling hot Athens, we headed to East Zagori. Towards the very end of the drive, when we had left Ioannina behind us and were following the winding road leading up to the village, an indistinct brownish-gray shape suddenly leapt in front of us and barreled down the mountainside. By the time we stopped and stepped out of the car, it had already disappeared among the dense trees.
Too large for a dog, too hairy for a deer, too agile for a wild boar – what on earth could it be, we wondered? Once in the village, we overcame our bashful Athenian naivety and asked. The locals informed us that this wasn’t an unusual sight. Bears are quite common around Vovousa, they said, but added that they usually didn’t come this far down the mountain in the summer.
The rest of our stay proved equally memorable. There were high mountains, dips in the freezing river, endless hikes, amazing Epirote cuisine, small glasses of tsipouro sipped under giant plane trees, pastures lit by fireflies, and a night sky fit for an astronomy lesson.
Vovousa is a well-hidden village of 50 inhabitants at the center of the Northern Pindos National Park, on the edge of the Valia Calda area. Bisected by the Aoos River, it used to be known only to Epirotes and keen lovers of nature. Many Greeks first heard of it in 2013, when a local citizens’ group protested against a planned second dam on the river, which would have reduced the flow of the Aoos to a trickle and caused significant damage to the local ecosystem.
Camilo Nolas and Dimitris Droulias organized the first Vovousa Festival in 2015, combining cultural events, film screenings and art workshops with activities focusing on environmental awareness and the region’s unique natural beauty.
In winter, the village goes into hibernation, but in summer it fills with life as both festivalgoers and returning “expatriates,” many with children, take to the mountain tracks and the riverbanks.
A typical day of the festival begins with a hatha yoga session on the wide green lawn outside the beautiful stone church of Aghios Georgios (built 1814); this is followed by mountain hikes and swims in the river, or walking tours of the village’s cobbled lanes and visits to exhibitions staged in the old sawmills, which are worth visiting in their own right.
There are talks and workshops, and in the evening everyone congregates in the village square, in front of the stone bridge for tasty local treats and the inevitable tsipouro. The roar of the Aoos – while somewhat reduced these days – continues to justify the village’s name (Vovousa means “the roaring one”).
If you’re lucky, you might come across an impromptu jam session, with local musicians adding their own notes to that gentle roar.