Narrow alleys, houses with vivid colors, smells from the famous traditional kitchen of Epirus with the lake as a unique background
by Kon Hans
The town of Ioannina (aprox. 150,000 habitants) has two skies; one up above, with colorful travelling clouds and one down below, deep in the humid embrace of the big lake. The tall mountains all around constitute the earthly and imposing frame of this beautiful canvas painted with melancholy, with Mitsikeli Mountain easily distinguishable, a faithful giant companion in the horizon of the town.
Fall and spring are the two best seasons for visiting and admiring this unique town. Golden-red, with the premature breeze of the bloomed nature, the town acquires a particular beauty, a beauty that many have praised and continue to do when they stand opposite from the AslanPasha Mosque and see its emblematic tower, tightly embraced from the evergreen plane trees, dancing on the surface of the lake.
The lake Pamvotis is the grand priestess of the town of Ioannina and the one that grants it a distinctive character. She will mesmerize you at the moment you lay your eyes upon her on a purple sunset and you will fall in love with her when the lazy flight of a gull softly strokes her foggy dress. At her side lay the Castle walls; tall, proud, drowned in vegetation, they conceal in their interior another world with echoes from the Byzantium era and the Ottoman domination that waits for you to discover its secrets as you pass through one of its six gates. In front of one of them and nearly “floating” on the lake exists the famous café “Kyra Frosyni”, that took its name from the tragic history of the handsome homonymous Lady that denied the love of Ali Pasha and according to the legend was thrown into the lake and became the spirit and the soul of Pamvotis.
Upon entering the Castle, the narrow alleys, the beautiful old manors with vivid colors and the smells from the famous traditional kitchen of Epirus, all invite you to lose yourself in this forgotten labyrinth until you emerge to its Citadel “Its Kale”, high up, and the grave of Ali Pasha. From there, after wandering on the beautiful stone bastions and in the memories of past centuries and after paying a visit to the Byzantine Museum, you may relax and enjoy the view of the town spreading below, the lake, and the sea of mountains beyond. A good local “tsipouro” (strong alcoholic beverage) with the accompanying tasty tapas in the traditional stone crafted cafeteria of Its Kale is the best way to bond your optical experiences with the gastronomical ones while you enjoy the sunset. Afterwards, coming out from the central gate of the Castle and walking up the, famous for its night life, Kalari Street, full of “tsipouradika” (small traditional taverns), small cafés and bars, you will come upon the beautiful stone paved alleys of the Old Town of Ioannina.
Here, the impressive mansions, the narrow alleys full of surprises, the beer houses and bars that compete even with those of London, the astonishing arcades full of student life and some of the best tsipouradika and taverns of the town, like the“Stoa Luli”, all constitute a first class raw material for the enrichment of your experiences. Leaving behind this oddly London-like atmosphere, particularly so with the ever-present fog, you can trace back your steps to the lake once more where, in Garibaldi Street now, new taverns and restaurants have transformed the street in a busy promenade next to the lake. At the end of the street and in the space occupied by the old slaughterhouses, a new and impressive cultural cluster is now hosting various exhibitions and events.
If you are able to escape from the sirens of the lake and the magic of the Castle and the Old Town, then it’s time to head towards the centre of the town walking up Averof Street and marveling at the various local shops and the renowned local silver crafted jewelry in the displays. At some point you will come across the Archaeological Museum which is worth a visit, with important discoveries from the wider region of Epirus and of the famed Dodona, where allegedly the most ancient Hellenic oracle lies, as well as wander in the adjacent beautiful park “Litharitsia” where once again the splendid view will amaze you. Additionally, you can savor a delicious “bougatsa” (cream or cheese-filled pastry) witnessing the passage of time as it is left imprinted in the Tower of Clock, one of the symbols of the town, or simply delight in the local architecture of the Town Hall, the National Bank and the Military Division. Continuing up the road and at a short distance, the legendary “Diethnes” with its green terrace, the best confectionery of the whole region, is offered for a sweet, syrupy break until you reach the Central Square, opposite of the imposing building of the Prefecture, where the lake and the mountains will once again compose the infallible background in your photographs.
Ioannina is also an ideal town for shopping, and as you are approach the heart of the shopping area, it is well worth your time walking the Michael Angelou and Charilaou Trikoupi Streets and combining shopping with a good espresso in the innumerable small and big cafés in the district. Moreover, if you head up Michael Angelou Street at some point you will come upon the “Kostas Frontzos” Folklore Museum, one of the few remaining, probably the only one, Turkish manor of a traditional architecture dating back at the late 19th century. Speaking of the important politician and benefactor of the town of Ioannina, we must also mention the “Frontzos Politeia”, an exceptional compound, up on the Frontzos hill, with an exceptional open air and interior restaurant, a bar, a cafeteria and an idyllic hotel, all blessed with an astonishing view of the town and the lake afar in a tight embrace with the tall mountains spreading in the scarlet horizon.
With this image marked in your mind you will leave Ioannina, of which the history and culture are unbreakably bonded with its unique nature, and you will return… when you miss the serene Lady of the Lake and the winter breath of her great mountain-lovers around her.
Published in KATHIMERINI ©, on September 1, 2012 (transl. & edited from greek, original here )
(All fotos by Kon Hans)
|Its Kale Citadel of the Castle of Ioannina|
|Byzantine ruins - Its Kale Citadel|
|View of the lake|