‘ As the hart earnestly desires the fountains of water, so my soul earnestly longs for thee, O God ‘
Inscription at the natural spring, 200 meters from Stomio Monastery
The hiking to Stomio Monastery in Konitsa has always been one of my dreams, that I at last managed to fulfill.
We set off very early; at 7am we already were on our way to the monastery and at about 8am we had arrived at the beautiful small town of Konitsa, which is at about 65 Km north-west of Ioannina at an altitude of 630 metres.
We left the car by Konitsa’s landmark, the stone bridge which is one of the longest one-arched bridges in the Balkans, 20 meters tall and 40 meters long, and we were ready to start off our journey.
With a small back-pack which only had water, a light meal that we would enjoy at our stop, an extra T-shirt and of course, a digital camera to capture all these beautiful place we will see, for our eyes only!
It is very important, especially if one is an amateur, not to carry a lot of things. Additionally, one shall be extremely aided especially while descending, if he carries on him a wooden climbing cane or a shepherd’s hook.
Startpoint: Konitsa’s bridge
While the small town is sleeping, we, still drowsy ourselves, are browsing Konitsa’s bridge. We read that it is the work of the master builder Ziogas Frontzos, whose birthplace is Pyrsogianni, a village that gave birth to famous stone technicians. They started building it in 1823 and works were completed after approximately 50 years, in 1871. The atmosphere is a bit cool– end of July – and I wonder whether I should had taken a light jacket; few minutes later, however, I changed my mind. The view of Aoos gorge, over Konitsa bridge is splendid, and our hiking started in the best signs.
Once we crossed Aoos gorge, a black hunting dog happily welcomed us: this dog would be our guide and sleepless guard all the way to the monastery! We soon welcomed it into our group, which would henceforth be bigger, and we called it Scooby! I am sure that Scooby would not be the only name it has got …
The next thing we see is the beautiful waterfalls opposite us: the sound of running water enraptures me and makes me realize I am not in the crazy, noisy capital, anymore. Aoos gorge is an ornament for the region and at the same time a strong attraction pole for anyone who wants to try alternative tourism: besides hiking, one can also climb, do parachuting as well as canoe kayak.
The minimum height is 400 meters and is in between Timfi and Smolikas, where the bridge is, while the maximum heights is 2032 meters at Smolika mountains and 2497 meters in Timfi mountain chain. The typical morphological features of the gorge are the stiff slopes and bans, as a result of the erosion due to the river’s water.
Walking by Aoos bank
We first walk by Aoos bank, so that we can enjoy the crystal but not so abundant water. Do not forget, it is the middle of summer!
The path is fairly passable, and from time to time we stop to admire the landscape, while at the same time we spot the ideal place to dive in Aoos chillsome water.
Scooby, our new friend, disappeared from time to time, but not for more than 5 minutes. Every time we heard a pebble falling off the mountain, on our right, we knew that he would soon appear himself and climb down the mountain like a small goat to get next to us, or actually in front of us, as the ideal guide ought to do!
None of us had made the same journey before, but we had the information that it is a fairly easy walk with a bit difficult hill, just before the Monastery. Up to the irrigation dam, the path was smooth alright; after a stone bridge however the path became difficult to walk, since there was a quite steep hill in front of us. We hadn’t been walking for more than an hour: could we have already arrived? I didn’t have to worry for my physical fitness, after all”, I thought to myself, but soon I changed my mind.
As the hill was becoming steeper in every turn, the 3 of us, of the 5member company-don’t forget we had Scooby with us –started to lose our courage. “Are we totally out of our minds? Have we missed the proper path? This is not possible, since there was only one path to follow, we can’t have taken the wrong one! ”We finally realized that the information we had was not that exact …
My pulses were roaring and no matter how much I struggled to fight it, I could not stand it, so I stopped for a few minutes on a rock to drink water and catch my breath. I should mention, however, that nature was splendid, and in the background I could hear Aoos running. We had now left the river’s bank, and started going up the hill. Everything around was green, but I was dreaming of my little bed that I so easily had renounced! We were lucky, because one member of our team who was the most tough one, did not lose courage but was having a lot of fun as we were struggling to continue climbing, as if we were climbing up the Himalayas. I had started to propose to the others, to go back. Yes, it is true that I am no strong character and I need someone to push me through to my final destination.
We continued climbing up for more than I had hoped for, and as I was ready to fall apart and pretend I am dead, we hear a voice coming from the top: “We are finally there, there it is “. God bless, it was high time, after an hour and 25 minutes, approximately, I could not believe it.. Hiking is not a piece of cake, after all.
In the square, out of Stomio Monastery, we see the abbot and two other men who are having their breakfast, talking. We are telling them that this is our first visit to Stomio, and we drink a little water from the fountain and we ask them if we can visit the Monastery. You are lucky to find me here, though you are not that property dressed, come with me. You have walked a lot to get there, it should be a shame not to let you visit the Monastery …” We had not thought of that, that we should be properly dressed in order to visit the monastery.
Where the Monastery dedicated to Virgin Mary is situated, the gorge becomes steeper and there is a “mouth” created, this is why the Monastery is called “stomio” (stoma=mouth in Greek).
Stomio Monastery was built in 1774 at the top of a steep rock, and today it is a men’s monastery. We are now on the southwest of Konitsa, on the south bank of Aoos on a small hill at the sides of Gkamila (Timfi) which is ‘hanging’ over us. We pass the Monastery’s gate and we get in a very nice place.
On our right, there is the small church, on our left rooms and at the end, the kitchen, while exactly opposite is the place, where father Paisios lived the 4 years he stayed here. In the middle of the Monastery, a rudimentary garden makes the place even more beautiful. This place has something superior in it. You can feel it, from the very beginning. We thank the abbot, who maintains the Monastery, for having us and for letting us visit the Monastery in this outfit of ours, and we find 200 meters away a natural source and a nice place where we can sit and eat something.
We sit there and eat, to catch up our breath and take the way back. Scooby finally gets what he has been wanting for the very beginning: the part he deserves from our snack. We need to be very careful now that we are climbing down the hill and the sheep crook now is extremely useful. It is definitely easier now, there are only 2 hills on our way back. It is a shiny day, and we decide to dive in the cool water of Aoos: a real delight!!
I really felt wonderful that I managed to finally drink the cool water I had dreamt for. I try with all my senses to absorb as much as I could the thousands images that nature offers around me. Konitsa’s bridge reminds us that our journey has come to an end, but at the same time we give one another the promise to plan our next trip. Under the bridge, new friendships are created: a group of friends initiates itself into canoe kayak secrets, while some others play in the river care freely.
It is now about 13:00 and we have definitely seized our day, today. The sweat is streaming down our face and we are starving. What’s better than eat fresh trout, by the river: does this sound enticing?
You have got nothing but enjoy the whole trip from the beginning through to the end– and what’s more – with your group of friends! Start off your journey from Konitsa, and walk all the way to Stomio Monastery.