Aristi, Greece

Photo: Aristi Mountain Resort
Photo: Aristi Mountain Resort

It just stopped snowing. You’re driving higher and higher into the mountains, breaking frequently when the road looks icy. You pass little stone villages; icicles dangle from their slate roofs. Pine trees droop with heavy snow. Arched bridges, which haven’t been cleared yet, have tracks through the center. While the rocky peaks in the distance are capped in white.

This winter wonderland sounds like it’s in the Dolomites, the Swiss Alps, or maybe farther north in Scandinavia. Surprisingly, it’s in Greece, a country usually considered a summer destination. But the Zagori, in the northwestern part of the country, is far from the popular islands and beaches. The mountainous region has 46 little villages, dense forests, alpine lakes, and deep gorges. It’s quiet and under the radar. Trout fishermen, whitewater rafters, and hikers know the area, but they’re not telling anyone about their secret spot.

You spend the next few days hiking as well. The villages have winding cobbled streets, little coffee houses in the main squares, and churches with painted interiors. The kalderimi—old mule trails—in between the villages are lined with chestnut and beech trees, as well as small vineyards. Shepherds with walking sticks and rough-looking dogs pass as they head in the opposite direction.

Photo: Aristi Mountain Resort
Photo: Aristi Mountain Resort

Cross the Plakidas and Kokoris Bridges. The beautiful Turkish bridges are the remnants of the Ottomans’ rule over the area. Follow the Voidomatis River gorge. The usually rushing water is slowed by accumulating ice. Continue to Drakolimni Lake, where the mountains reflect off the crystal-clear water. Then pick your peak: Astraka or Gamila. The snowy trails might be slippery, but the views are worth the trek. Leave Vasilitsa for the skiers—yes, you can even ski in Greece.

No matter how cold, tired, or even wet you are at the end of the day, you have fireplaces and an indoor heated pool waiting for you at the Aristi Mountain Resort, which sits at the highest point of Aristi. Some of the village’s traditional buildings have been turned into a cozy mountain resort. The rooms have stone walls, colorful carpets, fireplaces, and private gardens. The sage, lavender, and oregano plants may be covered with snow right now, but you still have a view of Vikos Gorge’s eastern wall and the Towers of Papigo.

Relax at the spa, alternating between the pool, the jacuzzi, and the Turkish steam bath. Sip a glass of Zagori red wine that’s waiting in your room. Eat warm pita, fresh greens, and trout at Salvia. Then plan tomorrow’s hike over a coffee by the fireplace in the bar. From the snowflakes outside, it looks like you’ll get to create new tracks through this quiet corner of Greece.

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