You’ve probably never heard of Papigo, Greece.
Don’t worry. It’s far off the beaten path of Greek tourism. We had never heard of it either. Like many of the best things in life, we stumbled upon it, a stopover near the west Grecian coast where we were scheduled to catch a ferry. We looked at a map, zoomed in to see what was between where we were and where we were going, and booked a hotel there.
That Papigo is easy to pronounce and read in multiple alphabets didn’t hurt.
After our visit to Papigo, we quickly named it one of the best places we’ve ever been. It’s lovely and unexpected and it has just the right mix of active outdoor activities, an abundance of delicious food, and that generous Greek hospitality we heard so much about. Please do yourself a favor and add it to that travel bucket list I know you have saved somewhere. You will absolutely not regret it.
Ok, back to the story…
The winding switchbacks were endless. A two lane road masquerading as a single lane did nothing to calm my flipping stomach or visions of the car catapulting off a cliff. There were plenty of guardrails, so my fears weren’t exactly rational, but then again, most of my fears are of the irrational variety. Moving on.
We climbed higher and higher, questioning our GPS coordinates, wondering how there could possibly be a village at the top of this jagged mountain. And then it emerged. The stone buildings blending discretely into the background. Brilliant autumn ivy helping to distinguish the buildings that might otherwise look like one massive jumble of slate and moss.
The whole effect was completely disarming, both severe and charming. We high fived ourselves at the instincts that led us here.
The first thing we noticed in Papigo was all of the Israeli tourists. We travelled there during the Jewish high holidays (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur), during which many Israelis take extended vacations. Also, randomly, this small area of Greece in and around Vikos–Aoös National Park, is hugely popular with Israeli tourists.
So popular, in fact, that every other guest at our hotel was Israeli. Seriously.
The hotel displayed Israeli newspapers and magazines, the rafting guides said all of the commands in Hebrew, and the owner of our hotel is regularly greeted by guests who tell him that their entire town says hello. He’s planning his first visit to Israel in February during which he will probably be treated like a minor celebrity.
Never have I seen such a concentration of one nationality descend in a single place, in complete agreement that it’s the best place since sliced bread.
Until we arrived in Papigo, we hadn’t yet experienced Greece’s legendary hospitality, the kind mocked in films and gushed about by fellow travelers. We had been traveling in far offbeat Greece, where our closest human contact was with a passing goat herder. We weren’t quite discouraged, but let’s just say we were skeptical that Greek hospitality was really a thing.
In Papigo, we arrived at our hotel and looked around for George, the proprietor. He was nowhere to be found. Convinced we had found the correct location, we decided to go to the hotel next door, with an onsite restaurant, for a snack and a glass of wine. While there, we asked our server (also that hotel’s proprietor) if she knew George, because he was MIA. She promptly pulled out her cell phone and called him up. He was out running an errand, but told her that she could show us to our room at the hotel. So, one hotel owner essentially checked us into the hotel next door, with not a single rolled eye or mention about why we weren’t staying there instead.
Once George arrived back at his hotel, we were quickly enveloped into the fray as old friends. We asked endless questions about why this area is so popular with Israelis, his secret for maintaining such a sky high rating on all of the tourist booking sites, and what we should actually do while in Papigo. Within minutes, George helped us book a rafting tour, introduced us to several other guests staying at the hotel, and provided an exhaustive list of restaurants not to miss in town.
Greek hospitality in action. Genuine, and so warm that we referred to George as our new best friend for the next week.
The highlight of our time in Papigo was a rafting excursion that we booked on a complete whim. Turns out, a half day trip like this is practically required for visitors, and there are several outfitters that are available to book, each running multiple trips per day.
Our group of 10 tourists and 3 guides got fully outfitted in wetsuits, hopped in three boats, and were treated a tour of the area from the comfort of Class 2 rapids. As complete rafting amateurs, we found Class 2 to be completely tame, and not at all scary. Drew and I were in our own boat with a guide for the afternoon, and we had fun learning Greek rafting commands and practicing the Greek alphabet.
The best part was the wetsuits, a precaution against the frigid mountain water. We didn’t really get wet, so the outfits might have been slight overkill, but they made us feel official, which is all that matters.
Another day, we took two short hikes, one to the next door village of Micro Papigo (Mikro Papigo, alternative spelling), and one along the river where we rafted. There is plenty of hiking in the area, for all skill levels. We were intrigued by some overnight trips to the very top of those jagged mountains we took photos of, but we weren’t exactly equipped to do one ourselves.
The big payoff for hiking at all in this region is to be treated to dramatic views like the one below. Climb to the top of any surrounding hill, and boom. Nature’s own personal mic drop.
Papigo was one of those places during our travels where we would have stayed longer if we had known what we would discover there at the top of the winding road. Instead, expecting a short layover destination, and without a ton of online resources to convince us otherwise, we booked just two short nights here. Later, we were unable to change our upcoming and nonrefundable ferry booking to stay longer.
Let this serve as a lesson to you. Some of the Israeli families that we befriended come here every year for a full week and rest assured, there is plenty to do to fill that kind of time, as long as you enjoy hiking and eating and staring up at one of the most beautiful vistas I’ve ever laid eyes on.
Just tell George we sent you.
Papigo, like many Greek cities, has multiple spellings in the Latin alphabet. The most prevalent we’ve seen is Papigo, the spelling I’m using throughout this post. However, you’ll also see Papigko, and Papingo. To use my favorite pun, it’s all Greek to me!
The best way to get to Papigo, if you don’t drive from Macedonia like we did, is to fly to Thessaloniki and rent a car for the 2-3 hour drive. We hear from others that it’s a pretty easy drive to navigate. Athens, in contrast, is up to 8 hours away by car.
We cannot recommend Hotel Papaevangelou highly enough. The entire country of Israel agrees. If it is booked, there are several other hotels in Papigo with amazing ratings online, including Pantheon (the hotel next door where we went for drinks and then again for dinner), and Mikro Papigo 1700 Hotel & Spa. We had one of the best meals of our entire Balkan road trip at Astra Inn (also a hotel).
Many of the hotels in Papigo prefer cash to credit card payments. However, the nearest cash machine is a 30 minute drive away. Make sure you confirm with your hotel about their payment options before you arrive and also bring plenty of cash so you don’t need to bother with a detour. Same goes for fuel – a major pain in the ass to get, so keep that in mind.
There are several adventure companies in the area that offer rafting tours. We used the one recommended by our hotel, but from what we could tell, they all have similar equipment, and run the same stretch of the river. I’m guessing that the price is also pretty stable, and we paid €25 each, which included pick up and drop off at our hotel, a DVD of the experience, and a snack halfway down the river where we took a short break. Papigo is such a small village that we didn’t even pay the day of the outing. Instead, the guys from the company stopped by the next morning to get our payment. Odd, and trusting, but nice.