Yiannina

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District capital and for centuries the heart of Epirus, Yiannina manages to combine the contemporary with the old, modernity with history and tradition. Built on the shores of lake Pamvotis, Yiannina's old districts evoke the legends and stories associated with Ali Pasha, governor of the are during the late 18th and early 19th century. Generally, the town is filled with echoes of Turkish occupation, which lasted until 1913. There are mosques and minarets (one mosque is now the municipal museum), a castle (part of it housed the Christian population) with the archaeological museum nearby, the 16th century Cami of Aslan Pasha and a number of folk art museums and libraries.

A trip to the middle of the lake is a must. It you're bored by Byzantine churches and monasteries (including the one where Ali Pasha was assassinated), you can always feast on the eels, trout and crayfish served at the island's taverns.

More local colour can be found by strolling through the market district, where you may still see silversmiths making the delicate filigree jewellery for which Yiannina is renowned or buy examples of Epirote folk art. Don't miss an opportunity to try the area's baked sweets, its cheese and cream pies, or its meat cooked gently for hours sealed in a clay casserlore. Or just sit by the lakeside and admire the view.

But there's more to Yiannina than urban pleasures. It's surrounded by high mountains, the scene of many battles throughout the centuries, not the least of which were fought during World War II and the Greek Civil War. Now the quiet peaks are ideal for excursions into some of the most stunning countryside in Greece.

Before you start hiking though, be sure to visit the extraordinary, beautifully illuminated caves at Perama and the ancient site of Dodona, northwest of the city.

If you have the time, don't miss the opportunity to take a longer trip into the Pindos mountains, if not to climb, then to take a look at their distinctive villages. At Pramanta, to the southeast, a beautiful cave has been discovered; Metsovo, to the east, is know for its wines, cheeses and handicrafts - especially embroideries and weavings; to the north, in Konitsa, there are stately mansions and the Monastery of the Virgin Molyvdos - Kepasti, among the many major monasteries in the area.

Finally, in the northeast, are the exquisite Zagorochoria (the villages of the Zagora), renowned for the grandeur of their architecture. From villages like Papingo and Monodendri, you can walk the dramatic Vikos gorge and swim in the icy waters of the Aoos river.

 

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