Trip: Rodavgi – Platanousa – Plaka Bridge – Agnanta – Ktistades – Pramanta – Melissourgoi (km)
You can reach the villages of northwest Tzoumerka through the rural asphalt-paved road of Xerovouni, and after a beautiful trip –similar to the one of Theodoriana- of 72 kilometers you will get to the last mountainous village of Arta, picturesque
Beautiful Rodavgi, over the artificial lake of Arachthos, makes the first impressions. Later on, after we pass through breezy Platanousa, the birthplace of the novelist and fighter Giorgos Kotzioulas, we find the road that comes from Ioannina and Katsanochoria and we continue downwards towards Arachthos. The first narrow turn after the spring of Monolithi gets us in front of a magnificent spectacle; we find some space and stop over to admire it. Arachthos seems majestic in its narrow gorge and then flows through Plaka Bridge and finally continues its course. At the opposite bank there is the monastery of Virgin Mary (Monastery of Mouchoustio), not affected by time, and on the right we can see Tzoumerka standing out in their imposing majesty. We captivate this beauty by taking some photos and then we continue until we get to the iron bridge of Plaka, where there are newly-built facilities of alternative tourism (river activities, kayaking, rafting etc.). The visitor can enjoy another impressive view of the historical bridge as well as of the idyllic surrounding landscape. This is the attraction that will make you get closer and get to know it better, and this is what we will do: A little after the bridge, there is a narrow override on the left as well as a relevant sign that, after 2 kilometers, will lead you to the Monastery of the Birth of Virgin Mary, or the so-called Monastery of Mouchoustio, which used to be at its prime in the past. It was built in the 17th century with great artistry and sensitivity so that it would be fully harmonized with the environment. This slate-tiled, cruciform temple has some exceptional murals in its interior that date back to 1964.
Returning by following the same way, next to the first houses of the settlement we find the departure point of the path. In the background, the monument of nature: Arachthosbreathes as it emerges from its narrow and imposing gorge. Complete harmony! This is an achievement of the craftsman from Tzoumerka from Tzoumerka, K. Bekas, and his competent local working group, which after sculpturing the stone for two years and after an attempt that failed and wasted their work, they finally managed , in 1866, to join the dodgy, at that point, banks of Arachthos by building the biggest one-arched bridged in Greece. It was built at a location where a former bridge used to exist- the time of its construction remains unknown- which collapsed because of the floods of the river. The arch is 40 meters long, its distance from the river bed is 20 meters and its width together with the protective curbs is 3,20 meters. The expenses of its construction were covered by the people of Tzoumerka as well as by the neighboring people of Katsanochoria.
During the period of the revolution, many battles took place over the possession of this unique passage. The most important was in July 1821 with Markos Botsaris and the local chieftains Bakolas, Koutelidas and Rangkos playing the leading role. From 1881 to 1913 the bridge was the limit between liberated Greece and its part that was still under the Turkish rule. On the east side of the bridge, we can still see the renovated two-storeyed building that was used as a Greek outpost and a customs office. In the same building, in 1944, the agreement between the Greek People’s Liberation Army (“ELAS”) and the National Republic Greek League (“EDES”) was signed, in order to permanently cease the conflicts of the civil war. The name of the bridge is due to a huge rock (“plaka”) that erects in the cliff of the west bank of the river and it is the result of a big rockslide.
After getting the best impressions we leave and return to the central road, which after the override that leads to picturesque Katarraktis on the right, leads us to the first village of the famed “mastorochoria” of Tzoumerka, beautiful Agnanta (56 km). There is no need to explain where the name derives from (“agnantevo” is the Greek word for gaze)… The two important neighborhoods have a view of the west and they spread over the planted-all-over with fir trees Tzoumerka; together with their imposing mountain peaks it is all about a celebration of the nature! We enter the village and we see both neighborhoods are great. Right in the middle there is the gorge were the waters from the springs are gathered and after the apple-trees as well as the cherry-trees of the upper small neighborhood of Agnanta are watered, it flows intensely in order to move the watermills and the traditional water pits (“nerotrives”) a little farther. We can see them while walking towards the farthest neighborhood which also happens to be the historical centre of the village: stone-built and adjacent two-storeyed houses and –right in the middle- the carefully constructed temple and its square, form where you can gaze at the faraway horizon but also have a panoramic view of the north neighborhood of Agnanta, with all of its “jewels”, its central market, the beautiful historical church of Faneromeni and the imposing and skillfully stone-built school which stands out in the middle. In the past, Agnanta as well as neighboring Pramanta had a great financial growth, not only because of the animal flocks and the craftworks, but mostly because of the famous textile industry the products of which were distributed to Arta and Ioannina and even to foreign countries.
If you continue through the road that leads to the farthest neighborhood you will get to beautiful Katarraktis.
We return to the central road and we continue our trip, which as it seems will necessarily have enough stopovers, as imposed by the nature. So, we go on and after some delightful “obstacles”, we get to sunny Ktistades, spread over a beautiful openness of Tzoumerka. There is no need to winder about the name of the village (“ktisto” means built), however many of its buildings were carried away by the trend of the era… At a small distance from Ktistades, on the right, and at huge beautiful grading, at the location Syngena, under the attractive peak Strongoula, there is the camping of Tzoumerka and the agro-touristic houses “Theasis” for those who wish to enjoy the mountain in a different way! At a small distance there is the parking area for those who want to visit “Anemotrypa” Cave. The 500 meters of the cave, at least for the time being, are accessible to be visited; however you cannot see the underground waterfalls yet, but only hear them. We “flank” imposing Strongoula-one of the most impressive peaks of Tzoumerka and in a while we get to the biggest and most important of the “mastorochoria” of Tzoumerka, renowned Pramanta (870 m.).
Pramanta, surrounded by Strongoula, seem always beautiful even when you are looking at them from a distance; it is as they were wishing to surprise you and this is why they offer themselves to you at first sight, as you reach the turn of the road, so that you will never forget their view. Afterwards, when you enter the village it shows you its beauty: carefully built churches, stone-built houses, impressive springs and crystal waters. As far as their past life is concerned, you don’t have to ask…it is perfectly depicted on the wall of their square with stony compositions side-by-side. Behind and over the village Strongoula (2.106 meters) seems titanic and as if it was protecting the area: beauty and awe!
We cross Pramanta and continue through the most idyllic part of the trip. After we pass by the beautiful settlement Tsopela that is surrounded by fir trees and those “twin towers”, at the opposite side, which embellish Strongoula, we get to the Monastery of Agia Paraskevi that is deep inside the fir tree forest. It remains in a good condition and it was used a shelter by the chieftains during the period of the fights in 1912-13 and as the base of the groups of rebels of Napoleontas Zervas, the general of the National Resistance.
We feel revitalized due to a stopover at the cool springs of the village and then we are back on the road! Our final destination.
Melissourgoi, is now at a stone’s throw away (860 m). The picturesque chapel with its exterior folk murals, which are inspired by the life of Patrokosmas of Aetolia, is the first to welcome us. However, we haven’t seen the village yet because it is hidden in the haven of Tzoumerka- as if it was chased by the winds and was looking for a place to cringe- and thus it is not possible to describe it from the road; until you realize that you have entered it you find yourself right in its centre. Then, you are compensated for everything; the village seems as if it were hanging below its square, just like a grape! There are many stone-built mansions, narrow cobblestone-paved lanes, paved yards, terraces, flower beds, slated roofs, gates of yards, paths, many picturesque churches and so many springs! Apart from the above, right in the middle, there is the parish church of Agios Nikolaos, with its elegant bell tower and the even more elegant multi-arched and upheld by columns verandah, which carries a sense of tradition! It was built in 1778, but because it was burnt by the Turks in 1821, its biggest part was reconstructed. Its murals that were created by folk painters originating from Chionades in 1846 are priceless. It is said that two of the portable icons of its magnificent woodcut icon screen were brought by the fighters of Melissourgoi who survived the Sortie of Mishollonghi. Opposite the village there are two chapels that look as if they were planted all over the slope; they are all that remained from the old monastery of Virgin Mary that was destroyed by the earthquake in 1967. It was built at the location of the byzantine monastery it is thus treasonable that the Melissourgoi have a byzantine tradition, since for many years they had been a Vasilochori (village of the king in Greek), that means the favorite resort of the queen of the Despotate of Epirus Theodora (who became a saint later on) as well as of its successor Anna Palaiologina Kantakouzini (13th century). In fact, it is said that Agia Theodora resorted there when her husband, Michail II Angelos Komnenos, drew her away from the palace. There is a path that begins from the square and continues through the traditional small arched bridge, outside the village, and leads to the river, where through some wooden bridges you can pass to the opposite side and visit the chapels. There you will have the ability to enjoy the panoramic view of the village as well as of the imposing landscape of Tzoumerka, from Strongoula up to “Afti”, the lower col (1700 m) that is the only passage to Theodoriana. We move downwards, towards the farther neighborhood and its huge square, which is embellished by traditional houses, the newly-built elegant temple of Virgin Mary, nice springs and the beautiful municipal touristic kiosk; the path that leads to the traditional watermill begins from there.
The old people from Melissourgoi were animal breeders and muleteers and they never left their land; they used to sell things made by people from other places of Tzoumerka at very high prices and this is why they succeeded. Their old way of living is revived by the local writer Dimitris Sotiriou in his writing masterpiece “The Muleteer” in such a vivid way that will really fascinate you.It is a peaceful and most of all a quite place, but during the winter it becomes extremely quiet since out of the 1500 residents very few spend the winter there while the rest ones pick up their pieces and live with the expectation of the next summer…
Extraordinary trips of special beauty
1) In Pramanta –and actually near the entrance of the village- there is the beginning of an override that directs downwards to the river and from there, via Christoi and the picturesque arched bridge in the exceptional landscape of Kalarrytiotiko, leads, after almost half an hour of a magnificent trip, to the one and only Syrrako, the village of incomparable beauty and grandeur; the best description is to just see it!
2) On the same road that leads to Syrrako, after the bridge of Kalarrytiotiko, on the right there is a junction that leads soon to the spring, the waterfalls and to the awesome hanging Monastery of Kipina, and from there after we pass by the gorge of Kalarrytiotiko – a marvel of nature- we get to the brother-village of Syrrako, famed Kalarrytes.
3) Likewise on the same road of Syrrako, after Christous, we follow the junction on the right, which after half an hour of a fantastic trip with a fantastic view of the Monastery of Kipina that is hanging from the rock on the left, and a little after the Monastery of Vyliza, we get to water-washed Matsouki, where the waterfalls and the hanging waters of Kakarditsa (peak of Tzoumerka) seem as if they were dancing.
4) After Ktistades there is north override that leads to Raftanaious. We follow the override and two kilometers later we find a junction on the right, which leads downwards to the bridge of Kalarrytiotiko, where every year in the second weekend of July there is a River party with a big participation of people and various festivals. From there and by making a very picturesque trip through Michalitsi and Vaptistis, you can get to Ioannina.
5) In Monotlithi, after Platanousa, the road from Arta joins the one from Ioannina. If we follow this road we will have a magnificent view of the gorge of Arachthos as well as of Tzoumerka. Through Kalentzi we can, after walking a little more on a dirt-road, to get to Arachthos and admire its spectacular waterfalls. From Kalentzi, by overriding Fortosi, we get to the impressive bridge of Politsa where the crazy rafting adventure of Arachthos begins!