The Valia Kalda National Park is one of the most beautiful, remote and unspoiled places I have seen here in Greece. After climbing Mount Olympus I just wanted to lie in a hammock for a week and relax and there is no better place to do so.
Valia Kalda is located in the northern part of the Pindos mountain range, north of Metsovo. It’s one of the coldest places in Greece and was originally created as a bear reservation. I know this doesn’t sound like the best summer destination for most people. However, if you are anything like me and after 5 minutes on the beach you turn from Feta to tomato you will appreciate the shade and cool breeze.
I wish I didn’t know about the bears, though. The first night I was lying wide awake listening to the sounds outside of the tent thinking what to do if we get some unwanted bear visitors. I still have no idea what to do but I know now that bottle of red wine before bed helps not to think about it.
Valia Kalda is a beautiful forested valley hidden from the world by over 2000m high peaks. The Arkoudorema river (Bears creek) runs through the length of the valley until it joins Aoos river near Vovousa. You can see herds of horses grazing the green meadows and occasionally a lonely shepherd dog but hardly every other people.
There are few dirt roads heading for the valley of Valia Kalda from the main asphalt road near the villages Perivoli and Milia. All of them are in bad condition and with almost no signs. 4X4 is the best way to go but if you are crazy enough you can manage with an old 2cv like us. It’s actually a pretty good choice for driving in the difficult rocky terrain and through creeks and puddles. However, getting to Northern Greece from Athens took us two days and three repair stops with this old little runabout.
Another possibility is to explore the valley on foot. There is the E6 trail passing through from the village of Milia to Perivoli or Vovousa. We saw just a few parts of the trail descending to the valley and along the Arkoudorema. It seemed well marked but hasn’t been maintained for years and in some places, it was gone altogether.
At the end of the dirt road on the bottom of the valley, the river creates a set of small waterfalls. From here a path leads up to the Flega lakes and to the peak of Flega. There used to be a wooden bridge across the river but it was taken by the foods. Therefore, you will have to carefully jump over the rocks to get to the beginning of the trail.
We climbed to the lakes year ago during our first trip to Valia Kalda and I don’t remember it so well. It took us a couple of hours to climb up to the lakes but it wasn’t very difficult. In the autumn there was no water in the lakes but the views were amazing. We could see the whole Valia Kalda valley with the surrounding mountains on one side and the vast Aoos reservoir on the other.
From the villages, I fell in love with Vovousa! It’s a tiny settlement on the banks of the Aoos river just outside of Valia Kalda. It has one kafenio, an old stone bridge and few houses scattered over the slopes above the river but it’s very charming. We stopped for coffee here and sat on the square under the huge old trees for a while. It was a late summer afternoon with its golden light and the typical village sounds. We watched the kids (and few ducklings) swimming in the river and shouting at each other and it felt so much like home to me. This would be such an ordinary scene back home at the Czech Republic but after living in Athens for six years it seemed quite exotic.
Just outside of the village is the Refuge Valia Kalda. It offers accommodation in rooms or there is a campground just behind the refuge. However, we didn’t want any company so we decided to camp in the woods instead for a couple of days. We found the perfect spot by accident while driving aimlessly around Vovousa. It lied at the end of one of the dirt roads high above the confluence of the rivers Aoos and Arkoudorema.
We spent most of the days just lying in a hammock stretched between two trees watching the rushing river. When feeling more active we walked down to the river for a swim in one of the emerald pools of Arkudorema. There was a spring few hundred meters away with fresh and delicious mountain water. And as if this wasn’t enough, in the evening there were thousands of fireflies everywhere! I think I haven’t seen fireflies since going to a summer camp when I was a kid. It was beautiful (and little bit scary, too) to see hundreds of small lights lighten up in the darkness. And this whole time we saw just one passerby
On the way back to Athens we stopped in Metsovo for petrol and groceries. Metsovo is a large pretty village with an amazing view of the mountains of Tzoumerka but it’s too posh and touristic for our taste. Because we had time to spare and a car that doesn’t do very well on the highway we decided to take the minor road through the southern Pindos.
It starts from Metsovo and passes the villages of Chaliki, Pertouli, and Elati before leaving the mountains in Pili. The road is not in the best condition and climbs very high up to the mountains, especially at the first section between Metsovo and Chaliki. However, for me its one of the best scenic roads in Greece! There are a number of beautiful small villages, little churches, and monasteries hidden along the road. The river Acheloos kept us company almost the whole way and the views of Tzoumerka were just breathtaking.
At the crossroad for Agia Paraskevi you can either take the main road via Elati or the dirt road to Mesochora. The road via Mesochora is not easy but the landscape is just stunning. Unfortunately, in Mesochora there is a half-built dam that can turn this heavenly valley into a huge artificial lake. All this supposedly for the growth of tourism in the region where the only problem, in my opinion, is the lack of transportation. However, it seems that the protests against the dam together with the economic crisis and governmental changes put stop to this hideous project for now.