The Hidden Gem of Greece

When dreaming about Greece – you’ll likely be imagining soft sandy beaches, blue oceans and beachside houses whiter than the sand itself.  Island hopping and evenings out are the go-to Greece holiday most dream about. This wasn’t the case for Joan – one of our travel managers. For her, it’s was more about getting one on one with nature and exploring the country by foot. With walking being her primary mode of transportation – she was able to see and experience things that others could only dream about. Read about her adventure to Greece below and be inspired to walk in her shoes!

 

“When I told a friend that I was going to Greece on holiday, she said “Oh, you will love the islands” – but I wasn’t going to any islands, I was going hiking in the Pelion Peninsula, the land of the legendary Centaurs, on the coast and mountain in central Greece, and the mountainous Zagorihoria region in the northwest near the Albanian border.

I spent a few days in the vibrant city of Thessaloniki with its many coffee shops and bars overlooking the Esplanade with the 15th century White Tower landmark and the public sculpture of the umbrellas.

I was then transferred down to the village of Milies, my first stop for the start of the beautiful Pelion. From here I hiked for a week with a guide between the villages of Tsagarada, which was an important centre for silk production in the 18th century, Damouchari, Chania where there is a winter ski centre (did you know?), Portaria and Makrinitsa, with it’s beautiful view across to Volos. The cobblestone paths, known as kalderimi, built during the Ottoman time for the people and mules to travel between the villages, have a specific layout which prevents slipping. The track takes one through olive groves, fig and almond trees, cherry and mulberry trees, chestnut forests and abundant spring flowers of all colours. One day we walked the 6 km each way from Damouchari where some of Mamma Mia was filmed, to the secluded beach of Fakistra. With crystal clear water and high rocky cliffs on either side, and not being easily accessible, I felt like we were the only people in the world !

We moved onto the spectacular landscape of Meteora where we were the only two hiking up to the Rock of the Holy Spirit and the tiny chapel carved into the rock. Then to the much more touristy area with busloads of people visiting the Byzantine monasteries on top of the steep rocky pillars.

My second week of hiking was in the Zagoria region which has 46 villages, and stone arch bridges across rivers and gorges built by master craftsmen during the 17th and 18th century. From Vitsa to Monodendri, down the historic kalderimi zig zag Vradeto Steps, into the Vikos Gorge which is, according to the Guinness Book of Records, the steepest gorge in the world. On to Mikro Papigo that has no vehicular traffic, to the Astraka Mountain refuge at 1950 metres above sea level and to Dragon Lake, and down the extremely steep Davalista Gorge to Konitsa. The village dogs follow the hikers and on one sector we thought we had our own dog, just to find the same little doggie in another village on another day having followed another group, and they claimed it was their dog.

Each village has a square with a fresh water spring that is drinkable, an enormous old plane tree (in Tsagarada the plane tree is over 1000 years old) a church and a café/restaurant.

I stayed in small well run family guesthouses in each village except for the mountain refuge where we slept in dorms. The meals provided during both hiking weeks were sumptuous and were often prepared with produce from local veggie gardens.

I ended my trip in Ioannina staying within the walls of the castle which some say date back to the 4th century BC.

From the Pelion to Zagoria which are so different, this was a trip that showed me that there is much more to Greece. My guides were knowledgeable about the current situation in Greece, the geography of the areas, the history of which there is so much…. and more.

Tailor made hikes with luggage transfers, for groups or individuals, strenuous or easier can be arranged, and I will be happy to assist anyone to take the right path!”

 

For more information contact Joan joanj@anywheretravel.com.au