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Ioannina’s Secret Island

Ioaninna Island is fairly unknown to tourists, but is in fact one of the most unique places in Greece. Found in Epirus in Northwestern Greece, it is one of the few inhabited lake islands in the world, and one of two of its kind in Greece. Driving up to Pamvotida Lake from the neighboring city of Ioannina, you will likely see its fisherman first. Every morning, the people of Ioannina Island sustain themselves by fishing. A lot of these fish will be either eaten on the island or exported to Romania. 

View of Lake Pamvotis Island

Pamvotida Lake

The lake is also known as “Pamvotida” or “Pamvotis Lake” to the locals, which roughly translates to “she who feeds everyone.” Over the centuries, the fish of the lake have saved the locals, who traded fish for other raw materials in order to survive when times were hard. Today, 150 people live on the island – mostly fishermen, retirees, and a few tourism workers. 

 

Of course, many of the residents of the island are boatmen. About 50 reisdents manage a system of 13 unionized ferries. They offer journeys from the mainland to the island, which take about 10 minutes, and you pay a small fee to cross.

Pamvotida Island, 3 hours by car from Thessaloniki

Ioannina Island’s History

The first inhabitants of Ioannina Island were monks. In Byzantine times, there were seven monasteries established here, and it was the third-largest community of monasteries in Greece, behind Mount Athos and Meteora. Most of the monasteries on the island are now not used, apart from the Eleousa Monastery, which has three monks, and the Philanthropines Monastery, with two nuns. 

Prodromou Monastery, Pamvotida Island

Ioannina Island and Ali Pasha

In the days of the Ottoman rule, the island lost residents because of a tax imposed by Ali Pasha. As a result, many of the monasteries were abandoned. In 1820, Ali Pasha fought with Sultan Mahmud II and tried to take the city of Ioannina. Ali Pasha took refuge on the island when he saw he was losing the battle, and he was killed in the Monastery of Saint Panaleon. There are still bullets in the floor there which you can visit, and you will find a museum with some of Ali Pasha’s personal belongings on Ioannina Island. 

Ali Pasha, 1819

Tourism on Ioannina Island

Tourism has always been a big part of the island economy. Back in the days of the Ottoman occupation, the island would serve the wealthy merchants of nearby Ioannina. They would visit the island for boat rides, hunting trips, and feasts. 

 

Today, visitors only stay for day trips, because there are no hotels. Most of the island available for private use is made up of family homes. The homes are made with the classic architecture of Epirus – stone houses with slate roofs. A small part of the island is available for the residents and the rest is owned by the forest service and the monasteries. Only about 70 of the 150 homes on the island have residents today. This is because many are simply summer homes or are empty because of inheritance issues.

View of Mainland From Lake Pamvotida Island

Food on Ioannina Island

Eels, crayfish, and carp are the common fish at the local fish markets – which is a noticeable difference from the menu you will find in the Greek islands of the Aegean. The favorite dish of choice is “grivadi plaki” – carp cooked in the oven. Also popular in town are the pastry shops with baklava and the famous Epirus pastry, klostari. 

Cake from Epirus

How to Get to Ioannina Island

You can get to the island via small boats from Molos in Ioannina which leave every 30 minutes in the summer from 8:00 to 24:00. It costs 1 euro. 

Ioannina Boardwalk

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