If you’re still stuck on the idea that Greece is only for sunshine and islands, let Visit Greece introduce you to year-round family holidays in the north western region of Epirus. It’s distinctly mainland, but with links to the gorgeous Ionian Islands, very beautiful in summer but equally endearing in winter – even the snow’s lovely here – and it’s largely off the tourist trail, so pleasantly unspoiled, uncrowded and ideal for kids.
To give you a taste of the region, Visit Greece have helpfully chosen a few fantastic family destinations, each very different but all with the same easy atmosphere and emphasis on activities which is exactly what you want when endless sunshine isn’t available. So have a look at Ioannina, Preveza, Parga and Syvota and you may be tempted to see more of Greece, and not just in summer.
There’s an expression used in the capital of Epirus, ‘to live like a pasha in Ioannina’, which simply means, living your best life. And you don’t have to spend much time in this mesmerising city to slip into the way of doing just that. For a start it’s designed around magnificent Pamvotida Lake so there’s a natural sense of serenity, though not too serene that the waters aren’t fun for boating, frosty shoreline hikes in winter and some spectacular spring and autumn colour displays. Even younger kids will take to exploring the city in seconds, it’s filled with thrilling history, scattered all over with intriguing buildings, secret nooks and crannies and plenty to be amazed at on a minute by minute basis. The surrounding countryside is made for outdoor adventuring whether you’re up for white-water rafting on the Voidomatis River or a spot of hiking in the Vikos National Park or just taking a drive, exploring local towns and villages and discovering a different side of Greece, that doesn’t need sunshine or beaches to be completely compelling.
Ioannina family holiday highlights
Ioannina old town is actually a fortress – the oldest Byzantine fortress in Greece, no less – so to say it’s fascinating is a bit of an understatement. It’s also very walkable and you can pretty much let yourself be guided by must-sees like the Matei Hussein House and the Ottoman Mosque of Veli Pasha, the grand Stoa Louli Arcade and the mighty walls of the fortress itself.
Don’t miss the wonderful Silversmithing Museum in the Castle of Ioannina. The space is stunning and learning about this ancient Epirote art and industry is interesting enough to engage even the most history-shy of kids.
Lake Pamvotida is a constant presence in Ioannina. Take advantage of warm summer weather to catch a cruise, see the mysterious ‘nameless’ island or just laze on the shore with the locals and gaze at the city from another perspective. It’s also a favourite spot for long, winter treks in crisp (sometimes snowy) weather: tavernas on the banks are expert at serving up hearty Epirote dishes such as mouthwatering pies, local cheeses, frog legs and warming drinks to fuel chilly walkers.
If you feel like a bit of mystery, catch the little train in Ioannina and head for the Perama Cave. It’s one of the loveliest in Europe, networked by 19 chambers with evocative names like the Hall of Legendary Palaces and Hall of the Cross. The cave covers over 14,500m² and astonishing stalactites and stalagmites form much of its eerie landscape. Tours last 45 minutes and the village of Perama is well worth a visit once you’ve done the cave.
Vikos National Park is a brilliantly untamed and exciting natural playground where kids can try anything from wild swimming to white-water rafting on the Voidomatis River. Teens will probably be more than up for walking the dramatic Vikos Gorge – or at least some of it: the entire hike takes seven hours, and it’s particularly rewarding in late summer and autumn.
Year round UK direct flights to Preveza which is 1 hour and 30 minutes drive to Ioannina. Or you can fly direct to Thessaloniki year round, and Ioannina is about two hours, 30 minutes drive west.