The relative freedom they enjoyed attracted scholars and rebels. Many locals became merchants who travelled throughout Central Europe, Asia Minor, the Balkans, Mediterranean and Black Sea, sending home money that made the Zagorochoria one of the wealthiest pockets in Greece – and introducing architectural and cultural influences still reflected today in the local folktales, music and dance.
Yet because of their isolation, the villagers were also self-sufficient – as the men travelled, the women worked the land and herded flocks. Local healers became renowned across the Balkans for their knowledge of cures, using the 1,800 plants species of the area, including many rare endemics that grow only on the highest mountains.
Visitors to the Zagorochoria often feel as if they’ve landed in a fairy tale illustration. The natural and built environments are in perfect harmony. Grey stone houses and mansions, churches, and elegant bridges over gorges and streams, are all knitted by cobbled paths (kalderimia) winding through forests and rugged slopes. Yet when they became part of Greece in 1913, many villagers left to make an easier living elsewhere.
The first modern roads into the Zagori only date from the 1950s, when outsiders began to discover the region. Today it’s considered a Greek national treasure. Once abandoned mansions have been converted into cosy inns. Active holidays are especially popular, especially hiking along the kalderimia. Outdoor companies offer rafting, kayaking, canyoning, paragliding, mountain biking, mushroom hunting and skiing on and off piste in winter, when the Zagorochoria are blanketed in snow.