Departing from Armenistis we take a scenic country road through the pine forest and up into Ikaria's mountain interior, making our first stop after about 20 minutes to admire the small lakes of Vathes and its beautiful mountain and wetlands surroundings where various birds are found. There is a small cafe at the water's edge to taste a locally made refreshment and the spot is an ideal setting for nature photos.
Returning to our jeep, a short 5 minute drive brings us to our 2nd stop to visit the 15th C Moni Mounte Monastery with its ornate church interior and resident monk who will give us a short history of an Ikarian child's "dream vision" that resulted in the finding of the church's famous Icon of the Virgin Mary. We are also treated to a Greek coffee in the cool and spacious courtyard.
Continuing for the moment on a religious theme, we drive for 7 km through the Ikarian countryside to visit the Monastery of Theoktisti in Pigi village. The monastery features a main church with its impressive 17th C frescoes and a separate and hidden Pirate Era chapel built under a huge boulder. Explore the old buildings and monks' cells and enjoy the monastery's courtyard areas and natural setting with is breathtaking views. The monastery's caretaker, Mrs Maria, is an expert on traditional Ikarian cooking, herbal remedies and spices. She also runs a small Ikarian natural products boutique and refreshment area in the courtyard. We will enjoy a traditional drink and sweet from her hospitality before continuing on our way.
Another short 5 minute drive brings us to the Karimalis Winery in the same village, Pigi. Here we will meet the owner and his wife, have a tour of the organic winery, listen to a short history of Ikarian winemaking , sample some of the wines and enjoy the traditional setting before heading on our way.
Ascending for 19 km into the island's deep mountain interior after 30 minutes we reach the base of the 10th C AD Castle of Koskinas, a Byzantine fortress located on a mountain peak overlooking the village of Kosikia in the center of Ikaria. It was used to protect the Ikarians from attacks of pirates and enemies, thus its stategic position. Inside the castle is the church of St. George Dorganas. Climbing up to the castle is of medium difficulty, but the breathtaking view from the top is well worth the effort and your guide will assist you along the way up. The castle was indentified by "Game of Thrones" as a possible filming location!
Upon our descent we will have a picnic lunch at a scenic overlook located nearby.
After lunch another short drive of 10 minutes allows us to visit either the "Raos Tou Houtra" cave in the neighboring village of Petropouli or take a hike into the ancient Randi Forest a little further up from Koskinas. Your group can decide depending on your wishes and energy level.
The "Raos Tou Houtra" cave has a colorful history, having served as a hideout for thieves and fugitives and even by a blind Ikarian to hide personal belongings. At more than 70m in length, the cave has impressive geological features including stalagmites in good condition. For those in adequate physical condition and able to descend a short distance from the opening , the cave can be accessed after a short walk on a trail from the main road. Your guide will assist you and carries headlamps, flashlights, helmets, safety pads and a safety rope/harness.
The ancient Randi Forest is an EU Natura 2000 protected ecosystem with live oak trees more than 300 years old. Randi Forest is recognized as the oldest forest in the Balkans and one of the most important and ancient forests of Europe. It is a rare example of a mature broadleaf evergreen forest dominated by the protected species Quercus ilex (Holm or Holly Oak). The history of Randi Forest is mysterious with old stone walls and ancient shelters dotting the landscape. Total roundtrip trail distance is 2km and of moderate difficulty.
Next, depending on the time of day and wishes/energy of your group you can either be returned to Armenistis or continue on to visit and swim at the famous Seychelles Beach near Magganitis which is a further 20 minute drive. Access to the beach is either via a 10 minute trail or, when available, water taxi from the village port.