Βeginnings of good stories are usually simple, just as a brook simply flows to eternity. This story, too, would like to begin simply. It is introduced by a simple, pure truth: My country is beautiful.

Greece is beautiful!

Zagori is beautiful!

This is what our ancestors were saying, this is what we say, and this is what our descendants will say-all with conviction and pride, and with evident love. This love is like any other love: slightly narcissistic, slightly hedonistic, but sometimes also endless and insatiable reaching beyond. This is understandable and natural; Zagori goes beyond the common: its beauty, its natural landscapes, its diversity, fullness and unfullness, all this reaches beyond. Zagori is something great in something small, something small with an abundance of the given. A handful of soil, but a fistful of shear beauty.

My country is beautiful, I can think of no lovelier land.

This poetic verse sounds pure and self-evident, yet so narcissistic, though we find nothing wrong in that. You can hear it among mountains, and fields in meadows and in the tree-tops of groves, in river valleys and in the arms of Vikos Gorge; it surfaces from the speechlessness of contemporary Babylonian confusion and evades human awareness. The words of praise, the words of an invisible psalmistic echo from the Mt Tymfi (2487m) and the almighty Dragonlake (2030m) and reverberate in the woods and pastures and fields, are murmured by the crystal waterfalls east, mimicked by the birds in the sky west, and those heading south, and spoken by the mute fish in Voidomatis River. Everything living and non-living keeps repeating:

Zagori is beautiful.

The though silently accompanying one wandering down the cobbled foot-paths and through pathlesness of this country is soothing, encouraging: This beauty is real, is eternal. It has always been and ever shall be. And we are working actively towards this direction.

You walk down Vitsa’s Steps, climb hills and mountains, cross Vikos Gorge descent into the crystal clear river waters of Voidomatis, look in every direction and you see it: beauty abounds everywhere, resounds from everywhere, screams, summons – Come, listen to the roaring silence of beauty, it will give you, too, your own voice.

The voice also comes from the historic continuity; it rises from the eloquence of its written records. There were 110 phD thesis submitted in several universities around the planet, even before Epirus became Greek. A writer called his and our land Haven under Vikos Gorge. He wrote:”Oh homeland, when God created you, He blessed you with both hands”.

So, this land is true Heaven next to Vikos Gorge, mt Tymfi and Voidomatis River with its unseparable brother Aoos. And the people living here are supposed to be heavenly dwellers living in Paradise. Mount Tymfi is their distinct symbol: high, mighty and magnificent. Many people admire it, few manage to reach the top; the path winding up is steep, the door to Heaven open ajar. Nature left it ajar, the people living on the border were trying to open it and the people living under the mountain were trying to close it.

What are Zagorians like? What spirit swells in their country and in their souls?

It was true once, and probably still is true: if one is sad, one is a Zagorian. That little crying man whom God couldn’t help when He learned he was Zagorian, saying that he was beyond saving. If one is happy, one is a Zagorian. The Epirotan lament singing: I’ll buy a little hill and plant it with vines, then summon my friends to share in the wine.

If one is small is a Zagorian. Taught everywhere and always that he is small – at school during history, geography and even mathematics classes, religious instruction, at work and when the paycheck is due. But when he climbs onto his own shoulders, migrates abroad and looks around, he sees that he is a lot bigger than any other person living outside his Heaven.

If one is cheerful, one is a Zagorian. Singing along, with the greatest Zagorian clarinet player, Gregoris Kapsalis, of mirth and joy.

If one is a traveler then he is definitely a Zagorian. And happy to travel, happy to walk the mapped and unmapped paths. Yet, never tired of strolling through his homeland. He can walk the Avgerinos passage, over to the Astraka alpine medows, the whole of the Pindus range, and all the way to the border. But, once across the border, if lured abroad by the Moloch, when he stumbles in fake Eldorado, he says to himself: Pain is everywhere, but let me hurt at home. And returns. Home. To the Heaven next to Vikos Gorge.

One is gullible, one is a Zagorian. Always believing foreigners and their sweet ways but hardly ever trusting his fellow countrymen.

When a Zagorian is young, he knows not of his belonging. And when he grows up, he learns it is not easy to be Zagorian. But Zagorian women, pretty flowers, know their truth; It is good to be mothers of Zagorians.

And finally if one is wise, is once again, definitely, a Zagorian. Silent, he looks within and at the Godly creation, thinking: My country is beautiful I can think of no lovelier land. I want to be like it. This is what we did in Katikia Zagori. We became it. Entering Katikia Zagori is like entering home, where “home is where you feel”.

This is what the people are like in this land next to Vikos Gorge, Mt Tymfi, and Voidomatis River, what they have always been and shall always be like, for centuries and millennia to come. New generations and new times might bring along some changes, might change things for the better, but the essence, the heart of hearts of Zagori shall remain the same. Along with the capital sins and virtues. And there are plenty of both, weaving the truth of the country, without obscuring the view of faith.

Zagorian riches

And now virtue demands that after the capital sins of Zagorians I finally say a few words about the Zagorian riches. Not all of them, for despite the sinfulness of the nation the country has more riches than there are beads on the rosary. I shall therefore speak of the most likable ones.

From the green hope the thought first moves to the green virtue – our forest.

The forest is a dear guest of the Zagorian landscape. Vast and dense it grows everywhere, rising from the valley of Soudena almost to the highest heights of Astraka and Goura. The forests spread widely from Eastern Zagori (Vlachozagoro) to Western Zagori (Katoumena). It climbs hills and knolls and mountains, forever beginning and ending the Zagorian green story. And quite rightfully so: in Europe after Sweden and Finland Greece is the richest in terms of wood in relation to its size. This is why the forest is so deeply rooted in the Zagorian awareness. The woods were hiding Zagorians in their dark shelter from foreign armies, from foes, persecutors and other dangers during the rich and dangerous history of its people. The woods protected, heated and supported the people; many a farmer survived thanks to the oak and beech timber. We have used this sensational wood in most of our ceilings, roofs, floors, furniture to honour this blessed bilateral relationship.

The forests give Zagori its green colour, the many nuances of green: from the darkest in Eastern Zagori with its primeval forests, slightly lighter in Central Zagori overgrown with beeches, even lighter in Western Zagori, all shades of green in the mysterious Aoos woods to the nobly dark greenery of the spruces on Smolikas alpine meadows. And in all seasons, in all colours, in the silent eloquence of the trees, branches, buds, and leaves, the forest remains beautiful and loyal. And this stands true for all the different seasons of the year. Spring (for love), Summer (for action), Autumn (for the mushrooms) and Winter (for reflection).

We, Zagorians, like going to the woods; possibly a bit more than expected. We go to it to make the right decision. This is how we decided to make Katikia Zagori, the first doorstep nature in Zagori. And walking boots who don’t lose their way are intoxicated by the scents and the peace of our forests, of meadows and fruits of the earth. At forest edges cluster the 46 villages with their wonderful churches, and chapels and monasteries and hundreds of years old stone made bridges, and fountains, and schools and libraries with their modest arrogance. But the forest every person meets his own self. The forest puts everything in its rightful place. Those who can properly understand the forest choose green freedom. A well-known Zagorian writer once said that he joined the partisan troops during the War because he was fond of the woods. And he wasn’t the only one.

A boy went into the forest, and came out as a man.

A girl went into the forest, and came out a woman.

White quarrymen went into the forest, and came out blackened with charcoal.

Rebels went into the forest, and came out as victors.

For Zagorians the forest has always been a sanctuary, second home, a loyal and trustworthy friend in difficult times. For us the forest is everything.

In good years the forests were singing odes to the sky and their masters, and their beauty is still  captured in the old wine cellars in the vineyards, in famous Zagorian hayracks, in wooden floοrs in old houses, in cairns underneath bridges, in arches and May-poles, in shrines along the roads, in wooden altars and sculptures. To all wood-lovers, wheelers carvers, sculptors, carpenters and foresters the cuckoo-bird from the forest still cuckoos many happy years.

In the hard years, the forests reverberated with the sad sound of axes and saws saving farms from taxes and taxmen. And the bells tolled summons to fight for forest fires.

In the hardest years the forest roared with the sound of gunfire, the old and the young, the beleiveing and the unbelieving were falling into the holes, all born to live, but robbed of life. During the day the forests howled their Miserere and in the evening sang dirges for the fallen. A poor life rested on a clearing stopped, went quiet, passed into eternity. An ancient pilgrim entered timelessness, joined by the searcher-traveller, bothe they reached into the edge of silcence and new, higher awareness.

So the forest is a Zagorian legend. It rustles and murmurs its green song. It remains green and hope, dark as a mystery, generous as a song. Eternal.

Another of Zagorian riches is the vine.

There is no prettier flower in the world than is the vine sings a Zagorian poet.

I’ll buy a little hill and plant it with vines, sings the beautiful Greek song.

The vintage, friends, is over,

And the sweet wine makes, once again.

Sad eyes and hearts recover, begins another poem.

The vine thus lives everywhere in Zagori. It used to grow on hills and knolls, in good sandy marshy and heavy soil, it lives in the hearts of the people and in their songs. The vine itself is a song, has always been a sacred plant as it is the raw material for the soothing but strong “tsipouro”. In Katikia Zagori we always use our vines to produce our precious alcoholic nectar.

The lush, mixed Zagorian Forest (evergreens and deciduous trees) drives most of our activities. There are, depending on the season, various interactive and knowledge spreading activities. Flower safari in the spring. Mushroom identification and picking during Autumn. Snow-shoe hikes which vary in difficulty and can be tailored-made according to the requirements of our guests. Wild swimming in the summer in secret, freshwater paradises. We are also happy to share our knowledge of pie making. Pies ranging from spinach pie to mushroom pie and the famous flour pie of Vitsa. Just next to our guest house our guests can be initiated in beehive keeping and taste delicious honey on the spot.

 

Flower safari, Cold swimming, Honey making workshop, Hiking, Biking

Owners S and T never wanted to create anything ordinary and have a voracious hunger to inspire and share their love of this Zagorian village which is on its own right gorgeously infectious.

S, a social anthropologist by trade, was born and raised in Vitsa and her passion about the local, functional architecture oozes out of Katikia Zagori.

Tasos, an oceanographer, was drawn to it due to its proximity with the unique ecosystems shaped by intense geological diagenesis; from Vikos Gorge all the way up to the alpine meadows of Tymfi mountain.

KZ is an unequivocal testament to their creative passion for Epirotan tradition, the lush vegetation, travel culture, sustainable farming and natural well-being, full of endorsement and appreciation.

KZ is literally surrounded by a mixed, healthy forest of more than twenty deciduous and evergreens. In the middle of this natural beauty is our wonderful garden with all sort of different birds coming in and out at will. This balance between our carefully cared of garden with the surrounding lush forest became our priority to preserve.

T and S are both full of both passion and love for what they do and for this very special place gives them and their kids roots and wings.

The creative pair are also involved in the production of a high quality, organic, DPO (Designated Protection Origin), high in phenol content extra virgin olive oil, called Rhizoma Olive Oil which is used in everything we offer for breakfast. From the fresh green salads to home-made putting and pies. Pies of all sorts are made and baked with love for our guests to have them. Even our famous cornelian cherry jam is made with a splash of rhizoma evoo.

This intimate contact with our land helped us to master the essence of mountain living with confidence and ease, a natural ability to make KZ so utterly and stylishly simple.

We always wanted to execute our renovation plan well so that all our guests feel like walking into a fantastic novel and pepper the ordinary with small collectable moments of pleasure.

Our guests gave us our modus vivendi and told us that “home is where you fell”.

This is Katikia Zagori.