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Ioannina in the Epirus region of Northwestern Greece rarely shows up on visitor itineraries and its local attractions are scarcely known. This is ironic, since Ioannina is located by some of the earliest sites of continuous human habitation in all of Greece.

The lush green valley surrounding the ancient oracle site of Dodona just eleven miles from Ioannina is one of the most beautiful areas in Greece, watched over by the peak of Mount Tomaros. In spring and in fall, abundant wildflowers surround the site, which is also home to the one of the largest ancient theatres in Greece. The theatre had a less distinguished phase - the Romans conquerors of Greece made some modifications so that it could be used as an arena for wild animal spectacles.

The oracle site is believed to pre-date the Olympian gods and goddesses and operated for thousands of years, originally sacred to a little-known goddess named Naia, who was superceded by Dione, mated here to the latecomer Zeus. At the Archaeological Museum of Ioannina, visitors can see old lead strips on which visitors had their questions engraved, to be given to the soothsayers in hope of finding an answer.

Like many towns in Greece, Ioannina has a fortified heart, a "kastro" whose walls encircle the remains of the oldest section of the town. It was largely rebuilt under the Ottoman Occupation by Ali Pasha whose coat of arms can be seen by the gate. Its exterior is distinctive, with two registers of archways visible. A mosque built at about the same time now serves as the Municipal Museum of Ioannina. These and many other surviving structures make Ioannina feel more like a town in Northeastern Greece, where Turkish influences were strongest.A few second-hand shops tucked against the exterior walls of the fortress give the impression of a Middle Eastern bazaar, especially as many of the items for sale date from a couple of centuries ago and were manufactured abroad in the rest of the Ottoman empire.

The Ottomans are not the only conquerors whose traces remain - there is also a surviving bastion from the Norman conquest of Ioannina, in 1082.

Dining in Ioannina

Ioannina has many traditional tavernas and grilled-meat restaurants,some of which reflect the foreign cuisines brought in during the various occupations.

Ioannina Sightseeing

Ioannina boasts an excellent archaeological musem and a museum of Byzantine artifacts located in the old city. The Archaeological Museum has an extensive collection of artifacts excavated at nearby Dodona.

Just outside of Ioannina is the cave of Perama, one of the most dramatic caves in Greece. A small road train transports visitors from the parking area closer to the cave entrance itself. In the center of Ioannina is the small lake of Pamvotida which encircles a small island which can be visited by boat from the shores of Ioannina. Greece has thousands of islands, but very few are in lakes, so this is a small gem worth visiting. It also houses the Museum of Ali Pasha.

Where to Stay in Ioannina

Ioannina is not a big hotel town, but one moderately-priced option is the Palladion hotel, which offers large, recently-renovated rooms in the central part of town. But there are many other scenic options just outside Ioannina, including the Epirus Palace hotel and many "guesthouses" which rent rooms. In Perama the Zisis Studios and Apartments offers new, inexpensive rooms. Since this is Northern Greece, you won't find the white and blue architecture of the Greek islands - expect traditional stonework, red-tiled roofs, and well-built structures which will stay warm in winter. Even in spring it can be chilly in Ioannina and environs.

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How to Get to Ioannina

Ioannina has a small regional airport which makes access easy. It can also be reached by road from Athens, though the drive is long and most travelers would break up the journey with an overnight stop. KTEL long-distance buses also serve the area.

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