Koukouli Guesthouse

Koukouli (Zagori), Epirus, Greece Book from

In a leafy mountain village of northwest Greece, a comfortable stone-built guesthouse with a cosy restaurant, ideal for hikers, birders and botanists
This is a side of Greece that most people don't see. In fact, few imagine it exists: a rugged range of forested mountains, snow-covered in winter, bursting with wild flowers in spring and summer, scored by deep gorges and punctuated with charming, stone-built villages whose only traffic is the donkey. And of the dozen or so Zagorohoria (villages of the Zagori), we fell most deeply in love with Koukouli, partly because it is hidden away at the end of a gloriously leafy road (the sense of isolation is profound), and partly because of this guesthouse.

Actually it has changed considerably since we last visited: a newly built house (using local stone and traditional wood-faced interiors) has replaced the old village hostel and is now run by a Greek family from Corfu who come here to escape the summer heat and crowds. Its 8 rooms offer comfy new beds, surprisingly good hot showers, crackling fireplaces, long leafy views, and some pretty touches like hand-painted flourishes on the pastel walls. It's not hugely stylish, nor especially luxurious, but in this environment and at these rates, it's exactly what it should be.

Highs

  • The timeless, stone villages of the Zagori, and the paved mulepaths and historic arched bridges which link them, deserve a spot in Unesco's list
  • Koukouli is traffic free, and there is barely a road in sight, so the silence is total
  • Keen hikers will relish the breathtaking Vikos canyon, one of Europe's deepest, which starts a few miles away (or just gasp at the plunging views from Beloi)
  • We also loved plunging into the chilly pools of the Vikakis river-gorge, then drying off on sun-baked pebbles
  • Best of all: coming back to iced coffees under Koukouli's age-old plane tree, and hearty stews in their firelit restaurant

Lows

  • We have not visited the guesthouse in its latest incarnation, but recent feedback remains good
  • There are no shops or public transport to the village, so a hire car is essential (but the bustling town and airport of Ioannina are only 40 minutes away)
  • There are only two places to eat, and nothing much to divert you from the serious task of relaxing amid glorious nature
  • Some of the rooms are small, and if you want to use the fireplace you have to pay a small supplement
  • It can get chilly in spring and autumn, while winter is liable to be snowy

Best time to go

Every time of year has its charm, but May-June and October are probably the most enticing, for their profusion of wild flowers and autumn colours respectively. They also offer ideal walking weather, but even in summer it is cool enough to walk in the morning and late afternoon (and there are often storms around midday). In winter you will see a different world: half-empty villages and snowy mountains. Bear in mind that at this altitude (750m), it is typically 5-10 degrees cooler than coastal Greece.

Our top tips

Get yourself a copy of the ‘Anavasi’ map/s of Zagori, available in 1:50,000 or 1:25,000 scale, which shows all the hiking routes in pretty reliable detail. Hikers should be sure to bring sturdy boots, waterproof jacket (even in summer), sunglasses, swimming costume and towel (and a nip of Dutch courage to warm up afterwards!).

Great for...

Eco
Family
Great Outdoors
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Village Guesthouse
  • 10 rooms
  • Breakfast only
  • All ages welcome
  • Open all year
  • Pool
  • Spa Treatments
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
Room:

Rooms

All 10 rooms are housed in the stone-faced xenonas (inn) bearing the name of Nikolas, the founder of the Corfu-based family who now own it. Newly rebuilt from near dereliction in 2004, it is split into 4 parts.

The main Hagiati contains 6 rooms over 2 floors, most of them with views over the central terrace to the densely wooded slopes of Mt. Mitsikeli. Inside you can expect twin or double beds, pale blue or peach walls, prettily painted panelled ceilings and stripy runners on the floor. There are hand-painted fireplaces in the corner, radiators under the windows, thick quilts for the chilly nights. It's all very neat and tidy, spoiled only by the undisguised mini-fridge and the boxy TV (and DVD player) trailing cables from its articulated metal arm. Bathrooms are functional tiled affairs with boxed-in shower cubicles. Two rooms have a double sofabed; others can take a 3rd (foldaway) bed.

Alongside the Hagiati are 3 semi-independent annexes, each with 1 or 2 rooms. Kamares, meaning 'vaults' because it is built over an arched entranceway, contains 2 ensuite rooms (one double, one twin) linked by a landing, which can be taken together as a family apartment. The style is a little simpler and more rustic than Hagiati, which seems more fitting for this environment: marble-topped bedside tables, handsome cast iron bedsteads (though be aware that the double is on the narrow side).

Petrino and Kalderimi are cosy yellow doubles with additional sofa, flagged floors and stone-surround fireplace (petrino means stone-built). They look a bit more homespun, with their matted red rugs and mix of pine and wrought iron furniture, though they are spacious enough, and have the benefit of being set a little apart.

Features include:

  • Central heating
  • Fireplace (most rooms)
  • Hairdryer
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Terrace
  • Tv

Eating

The reception room doubles up as a breakfast room, and you can order mezes (snacks) and tsipouro (grappa) here too, if your cockles need warming after a chilly mountain hike. We have not visited in its latest incarnation, but you can expect breakfast to include homemade jams, yogurt, eggs, bread (sadly not fresh – it comes from Ioannina), plus something special like a local spinach pie or crepes with aromatic honey.

For dinner, pop just outside to the village square, where outdoor tables are set under the shade of a vast plane tree. Starters might include yigantes (butter beans) with wild greens, red peppers stuffed with feta cheese (a typical northern Greek dish) or a ratatouille of seasonal vegetables. Mains might be oven-baked pork, grilled lamb, fresh trout or chicken in a creamy lemon sauce, served with ‘tsips’ or rice, while desserts are a mouthful of sweet stickiness, such as glacéd fruit compote or baclava. If this taverna is closed, there's a second one 5 minutes' walk away.

Features include:

  • Breakfast
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Restaurant
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • The Vikos National Park, on your doorstep, is a breathtaking mountain region scored through by the 1000-metre deep Vikos gorge. You can follow ancient stone mulepaths, cross 300-year-old arched bridges (some of the most impressive are near Koukouli), dip your toe into the clear blue springs of the Voidomatis river, or head off to the plunging viewpoint of Oxia, above Kapesovo village. Our favourite hikes include the descent via Vikakis bridge to Kipi (45 mins each way), the ascent from the upper Vikos gorge to Vitsa (1.5 hours each way), the cliff-clinging mulepath from Kapesovo to Vradeto (45 mins each way); and best of all, if you can organise transport back, the 14km traverse of the gorge from Monodendri to Vitsiko

  • The Zagori villages, too, are a delight to explore: most are car-free and stone-flagged, with outdoor cafes offering endless views over the undulating wooded hills of Mt. Mitsikeli. In Kipi, pop into the brimful (and sadly unsigned) folk museum of Agapios Tollis, if it's open; in Tsepelovo, make every effort to locate the keyholder of the church, whose walls are covered from head to toe in arresting Christian frescoes; in Monodendri you can observe local girls weaving rugs (and buy the result); in Koukouli itself, there is a botanical collection amassed by Mr. Lazarides, with over 1,000 herbs on display (check opening times)

  • Nature lovers will be able to spot hundreds of gorgeous wild flower species (including lizard orchids, Heldreich's lily, peonies; best in May-June), lots of raptors (short toed eagles and Egyptian vultures are relatively common), and maybe even a brown bear or an elusive viper if you're on the alert

  • Adrenaline junkies can don a wetsuit and swim or wade through the dark and narrow Vikakis canyon (there is usually a guide available in Kipi); or go rafting or canoeing on the Aoos or Voidomatis rivers (1 hr away)

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Birdwatching
  • Hiking
  • Historical sites
  • Kayaking
  • Museums / galleries
  • Plantlife / flora
  • Rafting
  • Swimming
  • Traditional cultures
  • Trekking
  • Wildlife

Kids

Children are very welcome, and outdoorsy families will have a great time. The 2 Kamares rooms would suit a family of 4 (one double, one twin room, both ensuite). All rooms have a TV (and DVD player on request) in case the weather turns nasty. Bear in mind that the alleys are cobbled, making pushchairs hard work.

Best for:

Children (4-12 years), Teens (over 12)

Family friendly accommodation:

Family Rooms

Kid Friendly:

Our guests' ratings...

10/
Rooms
8/
Food
10/
Service
10/
Value
10/
Overall

{{ review.firstName }}{{ review.countryName ? ', '+ review.countryName : '' }},

Rates for Koukouli Guesthouse