The Nomads of Greece

The two main nomads of Greece are the Vlachs, nomadic shepherds whose capital is Metsovo in the Pindus Mountains, and the Sarakatsani, shepherds in Macedonia and Thrace.

The Pindus Mountains, GreeceThe Pindus Mountains

Few visitors realise, while lying on an Aegean beach or enjoying a meal in a 5-star hotel in Athens, that Greece is still home to small groups of nomads whose cultural roots go back thousands of years. There aren't many left these days, as of course it is a way of life that is dying out everywhere. However, they are still to be found in the more remote parts of Epirus, around the mountain town of Metsovo, and in the depths of the Pindus Mountains

The Vlach Nomads of Greece

The largest group of nomads in Greece is the Vlachs, whose name is linked to the Romanian region of Wallachia. They were shepherds who led a nomadic existence, wandering throughout central and eastern Europe and down into the Balkans, travelling to wherever they could find the best grazing for their sheep.

The Vlach 'capital' in Greece has always been Metsovo, close to the highest road pass in the country, on the road between Meteora on the Thessaly plains, and Ioannina, the main town in Epirus (and one of our best scenic drives in northern Greece). Many Vlachs live in Metsovo today, but mostly they have settled into houses and no longer live as nomadic shepherds. Although their way of life is dying out, it's still possible to get a glimpse of a proud and independent people.

The Pindus Mountains around MetsovoThe Pindus Mountains around Metsovo

Some still do maintain their traditional way of life, taking their flocks of sheep down to warmer climes and better grazing in winter, and back up again to the cooler Pindus Mountains in summer.

Although nomads, these shepherds live in houses, simply migrating from one base to another over the year, unlike the Sarakatsani (see below), who carry their tents with them. In older times, a wealthy Vlach shepherd might have had as many as 10,000 sheep, though today the handful of flocks that remain and are moved between winter and summer pastures number only a few hundred.

Origins of the Vlach Nomads of Greece

No-one knows for sure where the Vlachs came from. One theory suggests that they were descendants of Roman legionaries who were stationed or settled in central Europe. Another theory is that the Greek Vlachs are native to the area, and the origins of their nomadic lifestyle go back to the Roman occupation, when the local mountain people would have been put to work as shepherds or as guards on the Via Egnatia.

The Via Egnatia connected Rome with the more distant parts of its empire, going through the Pindus Mountains, through Meteora, on to the important Balkan port of Thessaloniki, and beyond that all the way to Constantinople (Istanbul). When the Romans eventually left, the nomadic way of life continued.

Vlach Language

The Romans left behind aspects of their language, too. The Vlach people have their own language, which still has many linguistic connections to Latin and Italian. In fact, Vlachs were often employed as interpreters when the Italian armies occupied these mountains during World War II.

The Sarakatsani

The other nomads of Greece, and rivals to the Vlachs, are the Sarakatsani, who were also traditionally shepherds. They occupied the area of Macedonia and Thrace in eastern Greece, and even fewer of them survive than the Vlachs. The Sarakatsani are native Greeks and speak Greek. Some still move their flocks between the plains of Thrace in winter and the Pindus Mountains in summer.

Traditional Sarakatsani Costume, GreeceTraditional Sarakatsani Costume

To learn more about the Sarakatsani, and to see their traditional costumes and tents, visit the Folklife and Ethnological Museum in Thessaloniki and the Museum of Greek Folk Art in Athens.

Where to Stay in Thessaloniki

Other general Greece pages

  • Greece Travel Secrets lists four of the best destinations if you want to go sailing in the Greek islands.

    Sailing in the Greek Islands

    Greece Travel Secrets lists four of the best destinations if you want to go sailing in the Greek islands.

  • This quick guide to Greece gives advice on choosing the best Greek destination for your holiday, whether in the Greek islands or the mainland.

    Quick Guide to Greece: How to Choose the Best Destination for You

    This quick guide to Greece gives advice on choosing the best Greek destination for your holiday, whether in the Greek islands or the mainland.

  • Greece for beginners is an introduction to Greece and the Greek islands by way of a memoir by travel writer Mike Gerrard about discovering Greek kindness.

    Greece for Beginners

    Greece for beginners is an introduction to Greece and the Greek islands by way of a memoir by travel writer Mike Gerrard about discovering Greek kindness.

  • The Greece Travel Secrets guide to tipping in Greece from two Greece travel experts, including when to tip, what to tip and when not to tip.

    Tipping in Greece

    The Greece Travel Secrets guide to tipping in Greece from two Greece travel experts, including when to tip, what to tip and when not to tip.

  • Luxury Weddings in Greece, including venues such as a boutique hotel with deluxe spa on Santorini, can be booked through Ionian Weddings.

    Luxury Weddings in Greece

    Luxury Weddings in Greece, including venues such as a boutique hotel with deluxe spa on Santorini, can be booked through Ionian Weddings.

  • Practical information on travelling around Greece by plane, by ferry, by bus, by train and by driving, including car rental, parking and other driving advice.

    Travelling Around Greece

    Practical information on travelling around Greece by plane, by ferry, by bus, by train and by driving, including car rental, parking and other driving advice.

  • Greece at a glance is a potted guide to the Greek currency, language, weather, health requirements and other information to help you plan a trip to Greece.

    Greece At A Glance: Currency, Weather and Other Useful Information

    Greece at a glance is a potted guide to the Greek currency, language, weather, health requirements and other information to help you plan a trip to Greece.

  • How to choose which Greek island from six of the most popular, Crete, Corfu, Rhodes, Kos, Kefalonia and Zakynthos.

    Which Greek Island?

    How to choose which Greek island from six of the most popular, Crete, Corfu, Rhodes, Kos, Kefalonia and Zakynthos.

  • Top Ten Things to Do in Greece include seeing the Acropolis and Parthenon, visiting the National Archaeological Museum and ancient sites like Knossos on Crete.

    Top Ten Things to Do in Greece

    Top Ten Things to Do in Greece include seeing the Acropolis and Parthenon, visiting the National Archaeological Museum and ancient sites like Knossos on Crete.

  • This beginner's guide to Greek architecture explains how to tell your Ionic from your Doric columns, and what to look for in temples and Byzantine churches.

    Greek Architecture

    This beginner's guide to Greek architecture explains how to tell your Ionic from your Doric columns, and what to look for in temples and Byzantine churches.

  • The ten best places to visit in Greece include Athens, Thessaloniki, the Greek islands of Crete, Mykonos and Santorini, and sites like Epidavros and Delphi.

    Ten Best Places to Visit in Greece

    The ten best places to visit in Greece include Athens, Thessaloniki, the Greek islands of Crete, Mykonos and Santorini, and sites like Epidavros and Delphi.

  • The Top Ten Biggest Greek Islands, the largest in size, are listed by Greece Travel Secrets and include Crete, Evia, Lesbos and Rhodes.

    Top Ten Biggest Greek Islands

    The Top Ten Biggest Greek Islands, the largest in size, are listed by Greece Travel Secrets and include Crete, Evia, Lesbos and Rhodes.

  • The home of the Greek Gods was the top of Mount Olympus, and among the better-known Gods and Goddesses in the Greek pantheon were Zeus, Poseidon and Aphrodite.

    The Greek Gods

    The home of the Greek Gods was the top of Mount Olympus, and among the better-known Gods and Goddesses in the Greek pantheon were Zeus, Poseidon and Aphrodite.

  • Greece Travel Secrets chooses six of the best beaches in Greece including beaches on Corfu, Santorini, Crete, Lefkas, Kefalonia and on the Peloponnese.

    Six of the Best Beaches in Greece

    Greece Travel Secrets chooses six of the best beaches in Greece including beaches on Corfu, Santorini, Crete, Lefkas, Kefalonia and on the Peloponnese.

  • The ten biggest cities in Greece start with Athens and Thessaloniki, followed by Patras and several suburbs of Athens which are Greek cities in their own right.

    Ten Biggest Cities in Greece

    The ten biggest cities in Greece start with Athens and Thessaloniki, followed by Patras and several suburbs of Athens which are Greek cities in their own right.

  • Weddings in Greece and the Greek islands can be luxury or cheap, are easy to arrange from the UK or USA in Santorini, Mykonos, and Rhodes.

    Weddings in Greece

    Weddings in Greece and the Greek islands can be luxury or cheap, are easy to arrange from the UK or USA in Santorini, Mykonos, and Rhodes.

  • Greece Travel Secrets Greek Ferry Guide page uses an extract from the Aferry Greece website with advice on island-hopping, buying tickets online and timetables.

    Greek Ferry Guide

    Greece Travel Secrets Greek Ferry Guide page uses an extract from the Aferry Greece website with advice on island-hopping, buying tickets online and timetables.

  • Greek music is the sound of the bouzouki and tunes like Zorba the Greek and Never on Sunday are heard everywhere, while rembetika is called the blues of Greece.

    Greek Music

    Greek music is the sound of the bouzouki and tunes like Zorba the Greek and Never on Sunday are heard everywhere, while rembetika is called the blues of Greece.

Enjoy this page? Please pay it forward. Here's how...

Would you prefer to share this page with others by linking to it?

  1. Click on the HTML link code below.
  2. Copy and paste it, adding a note of your own, into your blog, a Web page, forums, a blog comment, your Facebook account, or anywhere that someone would find this page valuable.

Latest Posts

  1. Spetses: The Ultimate Autumn Guide

    Timeless hangouts, useful addresses and cool tips for an unforgettable weekend on the Saronic island of Spetses, just two hours by ferry from Athens.

    Read More

  2. Recipe: Soumada, the Drink of Happiness

    Traditionally served at happy occasions, this sweet almond drink scented with orange flower water is easy to make, and a wonderful treat for guests.

    Read More

  3. Samothraki: Another Greece, Forgotten by Time

    With its rugged, untamed beauty and rich history, Samothraki in the northern Aegean doesn't fit into any of the familiar molds.

    Read More

  4. 8 Excellent Athens Restaurants for Sharing Food

    These restaurants in the heart of Athens celebrate the quintessentially Greek tradition of bringing people together to share plate-loads of delicious food.

    Read More

  5. The Best Hotels in Athens

    Greece Travel Secrets gives its choice of the best hotels in Athens from budget and moderate options through to 5-star luxury choices.

    Read More

  6. Athens listed as a Top 10 most beautiful city for the second time

    Greece has not stopped breaking one record after another in recent years - from tourism to important economic indicators that testify to the enormous dynamics that the country has developed in recent…

    Read More

  7. Jet2 Adds New Routes to Greece, Increases Seat Capacity to 1.3 Million

    UK airline and tour operator to Greece Jet2 on Tuesday announced that it was expanding its 2023 program for the country even further with the addition of new routes, increase of seat capacity and seas…

    Read More

  8. Ultra-runners to Set Off for the 40th Spartathlon from the Acropolis on Friday

    Nearly 400 super athletes from across the globe will set off from the foot of the Acropolis in Athens on Friday, September 30, morning to run 246km (153 miles) to the Peloponnesian town of Sparta for…

    Read More

  9. ‘Athens Full of Tourists’ as Greece Extends Tourism Season

    International travelers are still visiting Greece in the shoulder season which validates the Tourism Ministry’s efforts to extend the season and keep visitors coming into the fall and winter, said Tou…

    Read More

  10. A Walk around Kolonáki

    This walk around the Kolonaki neighbourhood of Athens starts and ends in Syntagma Square and takes you to several museums, Kolonaki Square and Mount Lykabettos.

    Read More