It is known as “Greece’s Grand Canyon,” and its dizzying cliffs are a wonder of the natural world in Greece. Although in depth it does not rival the American canyon, which is more than six thousand feet deep, Vikos Gorge is one of the most lovely and verdant ravines in the country, with a depth exceeding 490 meters (1,500 feet).
Part of the Pindus Mountains of Epirus in northern Greece, the gorge lies on the southern slopes of Mount Tymfi, with a length of about 20 kilometers (12.5 miles), a depth ranging from 120 to 490 meters, and width ranging from 400 meters to only a few meters at its narrowest point.
It has many impressive vertical geological formations with a wide variety of different microecosystems, as well as an abundance of flora and fauna which live in one of the few remaining natural wildlife sanctuaries in Europe.
The calcareous formations of Vikos, which formed 37 to 150 million years ago, now cover most of the gorge at an altitude of between 550 (1,659 feet) and 1777 meters (5,700 feet). The Voidomatis River, which for millennia has carved its path along the bottom of the gorge, has running water from November through June.
The gorge’s forest has more than 40 different varieties of shrubs and trees.
From antiquity up until the beginning of the twentieth century, herbs growing in the area were used by local health practitioners, the so-called “Vikos doctors,” for therapeutic purposes.
The healers used recipes which were often copies of ancient Greek recipes from Hippocrates or Dioscorides. The plants used in these recipes include lemon balm, Melissa officinalis; Tilia tomentosa; the spearmint plant Mentha spicata; the “Gas-plant,” Dictamnus albus; St. John’s Wort, Hypericum perforatum; absinthe, or Artemisia absinthium; the very popular Sideritis raeseri, known colloquially in Greece as “mountain tea;” and the elder bush, or Sambucus nigra.
About 2,500 dried specimens of the Gorge’s herbs and plants are exhibited in the local natural history museum in the village of Koukouli.
As you are enjoying the spectacular, vertigo-inducing vistas with the Gorge’s beautiful flowers, trees and cliffs, if you’re fortunate you can also can get a glimpse of the extremely rare chamois in Vikos. This is a type of goat-antelope found only in the very highest cliff areas in Europe.