Greece has great beaches but its scenic drives are beautiful too. Travelers may know the Greek islands best, and think of Greece as perfect for a beach vacation, but you can take great drives through its spectacular mainland scenery. Here are two of the best scenic drives in northern Greece. The first winds from the lakeside town of Ioannina, capital of Epirus, through spectacular mountain scenery to arrive at the fabulous monasteries of Meteora. The second drive also takes visitors from a lakeside town, Kastoria, to the beautiful remote Prespa Lakes, on Greece's northern borders.
Ioannina stands on the shores of Lake Pamvotis
The region of Epirus in north-west Greece is one of the most stunningly beautiful in the whole country… indeed, in the whole of Europe. There are pretty lakeside towns like Ioannina and Kastoria and the awe-inspiring Pindus Mountains. A drive east from Ioannina takes you through the mountains, over a high pass that can be closed in winter, and down into the region of Thessaly, and one of the most distinctive and magical sights in the world: the monasteries of Meteora.
The Monasteries of Meteora
The capital of Epirus, Ioannina, has a character all its own. It sits on the shores of a lake in the middle of which is a small island called Nissi, which means ‘the island’. You could easily spend several days in and around Ioannina, and you should drive out on the road towards the Perama Caves – well worth stopping off to explore the cave network. The road then rises around the lake to give lovely views back of Ioannina, before winding upwards into the mountains.
Another essential stop is the mountain town of Metsovo, a ski resort in winter and another very distinctive Greek community. Beyond here is the Metsovon Pass, one of the highest in Greece at 1705m (5594ft), but don’t set out on this drive in winter without checking the state of the roads. Even if the pass is open, the sharp bends and sheer drops can be dangerous for the driver unused to them.
At other times the rewards are enormous, not just here in the high mountains, but the descent into the lusher plains of Thessaly and, at the very end, the amazing sight of the monasteries of Meteora sitting on top of the rock formations jutting out of the plain. This has to be one of the best drives in Greece.
The Prespa Lakes
This is only a short drive, but definitely one that will live long in the memory. Like Ioannina, Kastoria is a pretty lakeside town of the kind not normally associated with Greece. There are handsome mansions, one of them now a folk museum, and a wealthy history because of its fur-trading past. Head north out of the town and you climb through woods and head towards Greece’s northern frontier.
It’s only just over an hour or so until you start to descend, and round a corner you will get your first glimpse of the Prespa Lakes. The whole area here is a National Park, and there’s wildlife in abundance. There are small fishing communities on the shores of the lakes, and it is one of the most peaceful areas of Greece. A visitor centre in the main village of Ayios Germanos gives information about walks and wildlife, and you may be able to take a boat trip out onto the lakes with one of the local fishermen, if you ask around. In the middle of the Great Prespa Lake is the border point where Greece meets Albania and the Republic of Macedonia. You can’t get much more off the beaten track than this.
Greece Travel Secrets visits the Cretan Botano herbs and spices shop near Matala in southern Crete in search of the herb man of Kouses.
Greece Travel Secrets visits the Zacharioudakis Winery near Ancient Gortina in southern Crete, and does a vineyard tour arranged by our guide from Go Crete.
Here's a very thorough and helpful city guide to Athens from the UK's Guardian newspaper, for anyone planning a visit.