Start with coffee beans from selected farms, roast them carefully, and balance flavors so you extract just what you want. This is the only way to achieve the cups of coffee you’ll find at the Kofi Microroastery, the city café with a Scandinavian air. There are many options for filter coffee, not just in the type of beans used but also in the brewing devices employed. You might want to pick up a blend of beans yourself and grind them on your own machine at home.
For kontosouvli (spit-roasted pork) to go or for a quick bite on the spot, this is the stop. Metsovitiki Folia, a fast food restaurant, has a few tables that are filled almost every forty minutes. The meat stays juicy on the spit and comes that way to the table, too. The french fries are made from fresh and the salads are delicious.
Kofi Microroastery: 4 Katsimitrou, Ioannina, Tel. (+30) 26516.072.19
Metsovitiki Folia: 101 Averof, Ioannina, Tel. (+30) 26510.220.33
A walk down Independence Street, site of the old market street, and a look around the surrounding streets, which still retain a good dose of local color, should be part of your itinerary. Most of the old shops have changed use, and many have been converted into restaurants, but here and there you’ll still see some old workshops surviving, including the Telis blacksmith shop on a street once full of blacksmiths.
It has now been taken over by the third generation, Rania Piteni, granddaughter of the founder Aristotle (Teli) Piteni, and her husband Vangelis Gogos, turning it into a wonderful modern shop selling handmade knives. The road is small, cross it and make a stop to browse their beautiful shop window with the knives-works of art and other tools made by Vangelis, such as knives and scissors for sheep and goats.
A little further down stands Folk, a burger joint run by local chef Panagiotis Siafakas, where the special flavors you’ll find are tied to the area’s traditions and local products, such as the chopped mutton burger and the hot dog made with beef. For a month now, Siafakas has been using a wood stove he set up on the sidewalk in front of the store, baking savory pies, grilling burgers, cooking soup and serving hot tsipouro and mulled wine. His food and drink are perfect fuel for your walk through the alleys of the Old Town and along the lake, both just around the corner.
Telis blacksmith shop: 1 Zappa , Ioannina, Tel. (+30) 26510.291.66, www.telisgiannena.gr
Folk: 3 Zappa, Ioannina, Tel. (+30) 693.614.3525
Ioannina is known for both its tsipouro and its tsipouro restaurants. Of the latter, there are two schools: the more traditional tsipouro restaurant-cafés that bring meze with every order of tsipouro and the more modern, more decor-conscious places where you order from a menu and where the tables are usually full of university students. The rule for these place is, the harder to find, the better.
Try Thoma, which has been operating since 1983 high in Dodonis, the adjacent Oinopnevmata, with a well-kept space and a DJ every Monday night, and Peripou.
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Thoma: 109 Dodonis, Ioannina, Tel. (+30) 26510.402.96
Oinopnevmata: 109 Dodonis, Ioannina, Tel. (+30) 26510.460.44
Peripou: 39 Michael Angelou, Ioannina, Tel. (+30) 26510.792.62
For breakfast, head to Select, opposite the Clock Tower (a local landmark) for the best bougatsa in western Greece, and possibly even further afield. there are two versions on offer, one sweet and one salty. Order both of them and don’t skip the round cornbread that accompanies them, either. You can eat them at the marble tables inside, where it feels like time stopped somewhere in the ’70s.
Other treats you shouldn’t miss include the famous local baklava, made either with flat fyllo pastry or with angel hair, and the other syrup-laden sweets from one of the many branches of the confectionery chains Nousia and International, or the amazing Turkish delights of the Velogianni brothers, especially those made with grape must and walnut, or bergamot with almond. For souvenirs from the area, look for local Zitsa wines in liquor stores and grocery shops in the city. Keep an eye out for the Debina variety, which produces a nice white PDO semi-sparkling wine as well as rosé sparkling and semi-sparkling wines, all representing the traditional wine style of the area.
Select: 2 Averof, Ioannina, Tel. (+30) 26510.710.73
Velogiannis: 133 Anexartisias, Τel. (+30) 26510.228.19
To get the best view of Ioannina and the lake, head up to the village of Ligiades, on Mt Mitsikeli. It has has incredible vistas year round. The picturesque café Svoura will serve you Greek coffee, or traditional dishes and locally made tsipouro if you prefer, in front of the glowing fireplace.
Svoura: Ligiades, Ioannina, Tel. (+30) 697.660.0758
The coffee maker Napoleon Zaglis, who worked for Unilever for almost twenty years, decided to return to Kalarrytes and take over the family café when he lost his father in 1993. Founded by his grandfather, it is, to be more precise, a combination of café, taverna and store, with products arranged neatly on the shelves, a few tables, a wooden floor and, of course, black-and-white photos of family ancestors staring at us from above. The name of this place is Akanthos, and it’s perhaps one of the most picturesque cafés in Greece, with delicious homemade food and wonderful people, all in one of the most well-preserved villages – along with the village of Syrrako – in the Tzoumerka region.
It takes time and effort to get there, but it’s worth it. On your way there, you’ll pass by the famous single-arched stone bridge of Plaka which, at its highest point, is 40 meters tall. It made the national news when it was washed away in 2015, but repairs to it were completed in 2019 and it stands proudly over the Arachthos River once again.
Akanthos: Τel. (+30) 26590.615.18
For delicious sweets and savory pies, head to the wonderful village square of Vitsa for En Chora Vezitsa, a restaurant and guest house. No matter what time of day, you’ll always find something delicious, and the seasonal dishes of the day are stand-outs as well. Ask about their cooking seminars and the guided tours of the village that they lead.
En Chora Vezitsa: Tel. (+30) 26530.714.49
For an amazing view from Monodendri, walk to the Monastery of Agia Paraskevi. Follow the stone path from there and, in less than ten minutes, you’ll be standing above the gorge of Vikos. Alternatively, from Vradeto, leave the car and walk to Beloi, a relatively easy hiking trail that passes through dry pastureland, boulder fields and stands of oak. At the end of the trail, there’s a small stone promontory, the viewpoint above the ravine of Vikos. The best time to arrive is early noon.
Another magical view of mouth of the gorge can be had in the village of Vikos (formerly known as Vetsiko), at an elevation of 770m above the site known as the Springs of Voidomatis. The path that starts from the center of the tiny village will take you to a lookout point from which you can see the mountain peaks of Astraka-Govostitsa and Stouros. There are tavernas in the village if you get hungry.
At the Astra Inn guesthouse in Megalo Papigo, you can tuck in for the night under feather-down blankets and wake up to wonderful views of the Towers of Astraka. A sound sleep and the fresh mountain air will undoubtedly make you hungry, so it’s a good thing they’ve got a great breakfast, perhaps even better than what you might enjoy at home. There are freshly sliced cold cuts, cheeses made from milk produced by the owners’ herd, and hand-made condiments, jams, syrups and pastries.
Even if you’re not a guest, you can have lunch or dinner in their restaurant, choosing from a menu that includes incredible savory pies, and cooked dishes and grilled meats that change with seasonal availability. Many of the dishes include greens and mushrooms foraged by the family that runs the guesthouse. Make sure to ask them if they happen to have skotobriamos, an offal dish with rice that resembles stuffing, but rest assured that, whatever you order, you’ll enjoy masterful cooking and faultless service.
Astra Inn guesthouse: Tel. (+30) 26530.421.08
In Megalo Papigo, be sure to visit the café-confectionery Sterna. The story of Sterna began almost two decades ago in the village of Kapesovo, when the family of Thucydides Papageorgiou operated a small shop there with handmade sweets and jams, decorations and tasteful souvenirs made by hand. The deep cistern (“sterno” in Greek) inside that store gave it its name, but the business has now been moved to Megalo Papigo by Elii, one of Thucydides’ daughters.
The shop has a wide range of sweets to enjoy with your coffee or drink, and there’s also a selection of pickled forest foods, spices, herbs, and delicacies in jars to take away. There are non-food souvenirs as well, including jewelry. Everything is done in the best of taste and made from quality raw materials according to sustainability guidelines. Whatever you get here, it will always remind you of how wonderful you felt when you walked into this fairytale shop.
Sterna: Tel. (+30) 26530.250.90
Dilofo is one of the most beautiful and unexploited villages in the Zagoris area. It has beautiful cobbled streets and elegant stone houses. The village was built on two hills and in the saddle of the village stands a square with a centuries-old plane tree; this sight is not unusual in the villages of of the area. (A short aside: the most impressive plane-tree-in-a-square is in the village of Protopappa, near Zitsa. If you are planning to drop in at the area’s wineries, cut through here and take a look at its lush foliage or, even better, have a coffee in its shade, unless it’s winter and its leaves are gone).
After your stroll through Dilofos, stop for some food at Lithos, whose passionate cook and owner, Takis Kounavos, bakes bread every day, and makes traditional pies with hand-rolled fyllo as well as the classic Epirote flour pie that the locals know as kassopita and which should definitely be accompanied by galotyri, a very creamy local cheese. If kid goat with potatoes is one of the dishes of the day, count yourself lucky and make sure to get it.
Lithos: Tel. (+30) 26530.226.00, mob. Tel. (+30) 694.423.4072
Kato Pedina is a village flanked by two mountains that stands on a plateau where wheat was once cultivated, which is why it was known as “Bread Village.” Locals still call it by its old Slavic name, “Kato Sodena.” Until 2010, this settlement, nearly abandoned, was overshadowed by the village of Ano Pedina above it, but some young people from the area began returning home and opening businesses, including guesthouses, and the wheels of tourism began turning.
Among these pioneers were Vangelio Retali and Panos Maggos, who left Ioannina for the village and built the alternative café Mesochori (or Café of Vangelio, as it’s also known). The atmosphere is a mainland winter version of a quiet, isolated island, and everyone seems to feel at home. The menu includes pastries, pizzas (their specialty), traditional savory pies and plates of beef cheeks and liver, depending on the time of day.
For unpretentious hospitality, cordial hosts and accommodations with wonderful common areas, book a room at Anemi in Kato Pedina, the guesthouse of Lila and Pavlos. Traditional breakfast comes courtesy of the always exuberant Lila.
Mesochori (Café of Vangelio): Tel. (+30) 26530.712.38
Anemi: Tel. (+30) 26530.720.03
Pirrion Wellness Boutique Hotel: Tel. (+30) 6972-25.8545
If you’re in search of amenities such as a hamam or services such as massages, the Pirrion Wellness Boutique Hotel in Ano Pedina offers an excellent environment with wonderful traditional decor. Their dining facilities, Hedgehog Rstaurant, serves traditional Greek cuisine made with local ingredients.
The Mastorochoria Villages of Konitsa
About half an hour from Konitsa on the road leading to Kozani, and a stone’s throw from the Albanian border, is beautiful Pyrsogianni, the most important of the Mastorochoria villages of Konitsa. These settlements are known as such because they produced so many of the masons and stone carvers (“mastoras” means “expert craftsman” in Greek) whose work can still be found across Greece and abroad, on the fringes of what was once the Ottoman Empire.
Head to the splendidly situated Church of Agios Georgios in Pyrsogianni and, when you’re ready for a break, you’ll be sure to find a traditional café open somewhere. In Armoloi (a taverna and guesthouse), you can warm yourself by the fire by the fireplace while you drink tsipouro and snack on meatballs and savory pies.
Very picturesque and authentic is the café Koka Karya, where the elder statesmen of the village congregate for Greek coffee done properly and a bit of debate. The area is ripe for exploration and each village has its own corresponding cozy café waiting to be discovered. It’s definitely worth the climb up to the beautiful village of Kastaniani with its 17 churches, four bridges, and many streams, all at an elevation of 650 meters, surrounded by chestnut and plane trees and views down into Albania. It is such a magical setting that it could be the village out of the Harry Potter books.
An extended version of this article was previously published in Greek at gastronomos.gr.
Armoloi: Tel. (+30) 26550.312.97
Koka Karya: Tel. (+30) 26550.316.80