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In this episode of Explore, we head off the beaten track on the island of Corfu and visit the Zagori mountains with their picturesque stone villages and bridges in the northwest of the country.
Hiking along the Corfu Trail
We begin in Corfu, a popular summer holiday destination known for its stunning sandy beaches. However, the island’s unique natural beauty and the huge diversity of flora and fauna make it an inviting destination all year round. It is one of the greenest Greek islands, known as Greece’s Emerald island.
Hilary Paipeti is the founder of the Corfu Trail, a walking route that stretches the length of the island, taking in dramatic landscapes and rustic villages away from the tourist hotspots.
“It’s really like places used to be thirty or forty years ago” Hilary explains, “out of the resorts, unspoilt, beautiful nature and everywhere’s different. You can go to different parts of Corfu and the landscape is completely different, and the Corfu Trail links all those areas.”
The trail was founded in 2001 and since then, thousands of walkers have hiked its 220 kilometres length.
The trail takes in a huge variety of different landscapes from the coastline and calm, unspoilt beaches to juniper dunes, mountains, forests and olive groves, making it a rewarding destination for hikers..
Walking the trail can often feel like stepping back in time, as Euronews presenter Naomi Lloyd discovered when she met a local villager walking along the path with his donkey.
Out of high season, when the spring flowers are in bloom, is the perfect time to visit for hiking.
Corfu boasts an abundance of wildflowers including more than 30 varieties of orchids.
For those who like more extreme sports, the Corfu trail hosts an annual ‘ultra’ trail run covering a distance of 103 kilometres. In 2023 it takes place on May 6th and 7th.
Olive oil with health benefits
Corfu is home to more than 4 million olive trees and some of the world’s oldest and tallest olive groves.
Along the Corfu trail, at Agios Mattheos, lies the Dafnis family’s olive grove. The family has been producing olive oil here for over a hundred years. They have a particular method of cultivating the trees that has resulted in an award-winning olive oil, recognised for its health benefits.
Spyros Dafnis is the CEO and co-founder of Governor Olive Oil and describes how they cultivate the olive trees.
“We are working with these trees which for us is considered as a living natural monument,” he says.
“Not only are we continuing this family business, but mainly we develop the entire model of production. we follow organic farming, we respect nature and the environment, we follow the cycle of nature, not working with fertilisers and chemicals. And we are not cutting the trees” he adds, “we are pruning just a little bit the dry parts.”
The Governor olive oil is considered one of the spiciest olive oils in the world , Spyros tells us, and explains that “taste and mainly bitterness and spice is not only connected with the quality but is connected with our health”
We leave the Corfu Trail, to take the ferry across to northwestern Greece and the Zagori mountains.
The stone villages of Zagori
This unspoilt region with its picturesque stone-built villages and bridges is one of Greece’s best-kept secrets. The Zagori area in Epirus is home to 46 charming, traditional villages perched on the mountainsides.
Until the 1950s there were no roads at all, just centuries-old bridges and cobbled paths linking the stone villages. Now, these paths and bridges provide trekkers with endless trails to explore.
The area is home to the magnificent Vikos Gorge, the world’s narrowest canyon, and the Voidomatis river, reputed to be the purest and cleanest in Europe.
Living with the locals
The area is seeing a rise in sustainable agrotourism where visitors can stay in a rural guesthouse or farm and experience Zagori food, culture and tradition at first-hand.
Lena Gerothanassi and her family are the owners of Rokka farm and guesthouse where they welcome visitors into their home.
“All that we are offering is our everyday life actually and we are sharing this with them, from taking care of the animals to cooking together, traditional recipes or weaving,” says Lena, “it is nice for them and also nice for us to be able to share.”
Visitors can learn how to cook a traditional Zagori pie and collect the ingredients beforehand, including herbs from the garden and freshly laid eggs.
Zagori women pass the recipe down through the generations and Lena’s mother-in-law Katina showed Naomi the art of pastry rolling.
Lena also offers weaving lessons on a traditional loom, a skill she learnt from the older women in the village. The wool she uses comes from the nomadic herds in the region.
For those wanting to experience the impressive diversity of Greece, with its traditional mountain way of life, tranquil hikes in lush, green nature, and a chance to sample delicious local produce, Corfu and the Zagori mountains are destinations not to be missed.