Tucked up in the top lefthand corner of mainland Greece, a little too close to the Albanian border for most people’s comfort, but far enough away to be totally safe in reality, is the province of Epirus (Ipiros).
Its capital, Ioannina, is a charming lakeside city made famous in the C19 by the Ottoman despot Ali Pasha, who established his home and his opulent court here. In the fortified citadel and on the tranquil island in the middle of the lake, you can visit mosques, forts, museums and the house where he was finally shot. Follow that with a spot of shopping – the town has always been famous for its metal working, both of the precious and the utilitarian kind. Then retire to a buzzing café for some eels or frogs legs – or an iced coffee, if you’re feeling squeamish.
When you have had enough of Ioannina, take a taxi or hire-car into the breathtaking Zagori mountains to its north. By fighting for special trading privileges during the Turkish occupation, the 46 villages of the region achieved huge wealth throughout the 17th-19th centuries, which is now reflected in their fine stone architecture, in their network of cobbled mulepaths and arched bridges, and in the costumes and jewellery still worn on festive occasions.
The prettiest of these villages are Vitsa, at the head of the dramatic Vikos gorge; Koukouli, tucked away in the oak forests; and Papingo, huddled at the end of the road under a row of imposing cliffs. All three have lovely inns converted from old village houses – and, with a modicum of organisation you could hike between the three, passing some of Europe’s finest mountain scenery, and sending your bags by taxi.
If you’re worried about the heat, you needn’t be – it is several degrees cooler up here than on the islands, and you’re never far from a turquoise river or alpine tarn to cool off in.