The town of Metsovo stands at Greece's highest mountain pass, between Ioannina and the plains of Thessaly, and has historic mansions and a distinctive cuisine.
To travel from the plains of Thessaly in Central Greece into the region of Epirus in Western Greece involves a drive over the highest road pass in the country, which is 5,599 feet (1,707 m) high and often closed in winter. Nearby is the lovely mountain town of Metsovo, full of character and atmosphere, reflecting the independent spirit of the tough people who live high in these mountains. Some are settled Vlach nomads, although a few hill dwellers still retain the old nomadic lifestyle.
Metsovo is very much on the tourist trail as it's a ski resort in the winter and popular with hikers in the summer, though it has still lost none of its charm. It has a permanent population of only about 3,000 people, and the drive here, in whichever direction, is one of the best drives in Greece though you can also get here by bus from Ioannina, Kalambaka (near Meteora), or Trikala.
Metsovo has developed a distinctive and hearty cuisine including pungent sheep's cheeses, game, and robust red wine, and there are plenty of restaurants in town offering you a chance to sample these local specialties. Stores sell the local wine, honey, and cheeses, which make for great gifts or a good picnic lunch if you go walking. Other souvenirs reflect the cultivation of arts and crafts in the area, especially in embroidery, silverware, and in the carving of wooden shepherds' crooks.
Some older men still wear their traditional dark blue or black pleated costumes, not unlike the kilted outfit of the Greek Army, complete with their pom-pommed shoes.
Metsovo has flourished for many years, thanks to judicious tax benefits introduced during Ottoman rule because of the town's important position at the head of this vital mountain path. The Ottomans made it a small independent state. Merchants prospered under these conditions, and some of the grand mansions can still be seen. One of them, the Tositsa Mansion, was built in 1661 and now contains the Metsovo Folk Art Museum.
The Tositsa family was prominent in Metsovo and were generous benefactors, not only locally but all over Greece. The museum is presented as if the family was still living there and is spread across three floors, which are elegantly laid out with expensive furniture, rugs, silverware, jewellery, icons, and local folk costumes. Entry to the museum is by guided tour only, and they leave every 30 minutes.
The Averoffs were another wealthy and influential local family with a magnificent vision for Metsovo. The Averoff Art Gallery also covers three floors and displays the family's collection of modern Greek art from the 19th and 20th centuries. There's also a good collection of photos of Metsovo over the years. It was the Averoff family which established the town's cheese-making industry.