Hiking in the Pindus Range, Greece

The Pindus Mountains, which bisect the country, running from North to South, are often referred to as ‘the spine of Greece’. This 160km long mountain range runs from the Albanian border all the way to the north of the Peloponnese Peninsula. Its highest point is Mount Smolikas, which is 2,637 metres tall. This range is one of the best places to hike in Greece, with its varied geography of high mountain peaks, rolling hills, lush valleys and deep, dramatic gorges. Along its varied length there are two National Parks, Aoos-Vitus National Park and Pindus National Park.

One of the most popular walks in the Aoos-Vitus National Park is the walk through the Vikos Gorge. This route, it should be noted, is not a walk in the park. While well-maintained, this is an ankle-twisting trail which traverses the limestone uplands of Mount Gamila for 20km. Be sure to check conditions before you set off as the snowmelt of April or early May can often make the end nearest Monodhéndhri impassable. Be warned that heavy rainfall can also lead to landslides on the sides of the gorge. Still, if you set out well-prepared then you will be rewarded by the spectacular scenery – the gorge walls are sometimes over 1000 metres in height and tower over you in rocky splendour.

Another option is the beautiful walk along the banks of the river Aoos. This gorge walk as also dramatically stunning. You can walk from Konitsa and those who have a good level of fitness could consider continuing the walk up to the summit of Mount Papigo. There are many signposted trails around Vikos and Aoos that provide walking options for a range of fitness levels, ages and abilities.

Unfortunately, the surprisingly little-known Pindus National Park does not benefit from such good signage. Even getting there from the main road is a bit of a mission as there are no proper signs. You can gain access to this rugged wilderness by way of the village of Perivoli to the north.

The dirt roads that cross the mountains and weave their way through the dense black pine and beech forests of this area are perfect for hiking and more than likely if you are in search of peace and solitude then you will find it. If you are lucky you may see a glimpse of a brown bear – this is one of three regions in Greece still populated by these shy animals. If you walk in Flegga Forest, you may also catch sight of wolves, lynxes, wild cats, deer or wild boar. If you are looking for somewhere different to go, then Pindus National Park could be the perfect place as it is unlikely that anyone you know has been. This is the least known and least visited national park in Europe, which is a shame, unless you are looking to escape the crowds that is.

The Pindus Mountain Range is ideal for a real escape into nature, on hiking trails you are likely to have entirely to yourself.

Hiking in Arcadia, Greece

It is no coincidence that the name ‘Arcadia’, the name of this region at the heart of the Peloponnese Peninsula of southern Greece, is synonymous with our ideal rural landscape. This lush, mountainous landscape is such a beautiful place you may even feel you have stumbled into one of the myths for which the Peloponnese Peninsula is famed.

The area around ancient Gortys is a lovely place – heaven for hikers. The monks of the monastery of Prodhrómou own the surrounding farmland and they have carved a path up along the Gorge of Loúsios between Áyios Andhréas and the monastery. It takes around 40 minutes to reach the start of the graded path. The walk is along a graded trail which follows the stream. The monastery itself perches precipitously on the cliff edge high above the path and one of the few monks who live here will show you the frescoes here if you show up when the monastery is open – it is closed between 2 and 5pm. Strict dress codes must be adhered to and if you are immodestly dressed then you will be given a blanket like item of clothing to don to enter the monastery. Beyond this monastery, the path continues past two more, one of which, Paleá is a ruin dating from the Tenth Century. The other, Néa, is from the Seventeenth Century. It has been restored and extended in recent years but frescoes dating from 1663 are still intact and can be viewed by applying to the permanent caretaker monk. The path then winds its way beside the river and it takes less than two hours to go through Paleohóri to reach Dhimitsána. If you choose to walk this route you will see why it is so popular with hikers.

The Mainalo mountain range is traversed by the E4 European long-distance path. It starts in Vitina and ascends to the ski lodge on Ostrakina before descending once more to Kardara. This is a very pleasing and varied section of this well-known walk, giving lovely views of this area.

Hiking from the village of Vitina to the village of Stemnitsa is a particular highlight of walking in this area. Vitina is a popular mountain resort with city-dwelling Athenians who come here for a taste of the fresh mountain air. From the central square of the village, take the road leading out of the village to the north-west. The start of the path is well sign-posted with yellow labels. It will lead you first of all down to the river Mylaontas in its scenic gorge and along its banks until you reach a picturesque, deserted watermill and a wooden bridge. After an hour or so’s walk, you head to the spring of Aghios Theodoros, then up onto a beautiful plateau covered with walnut trees the church of the life-giving spring. Passing through Eftakarvelou, you turn right, continuing on until you reach a crossroads. At the crossroads you take a left turn, and follow this path for five kilometers or so until you reach Stemnitsa.

These routes are just a few examples of the many wonderful hiking paths throughout Arcadia. Come to the Peloponnese to discover some of them for yourself.

Hiking in Thrace, Greece

The region around the city of Xanthi in north-east Greece is the perfect place for a hiking holiday. There are a number of interesting paths and trails that link up with longer-distance routes that cross more than one country.

The mountain village of Livaditis, around 50km from Xanthi, in the west of Thrace, is the epicentre of much hiking activity. There are a number of signposted hiking paths, all of which connect to the E6 hiking trail. There is a stunning waterfall here, as well as some fantastic mountain views. In the village of Evrimanthos, the lush greenery crowds around as you walk and mushrooms are a real local delicacy, highly prized. The Chaintous forest and the area of Arkoudorema (bear stream) are an area not to be missed by anyone enamoured of unspoiled nature.

High atop the Rodopi Mountains, peaks of which are nearly 2000m high, the virgin forest of Frakto is one of the most unspoiled forested areas in Greece – if you hike in this region then be sure to leave it as you found it as this is a precious habitat and one that no one wants to lose.

If mountain climbing is your thing then you may enjoy hiking up Mount Falakro, 2232 m high, or Mount Paggaio. The multicultural highlands of Xanthi provide Koula’s peaks, which can be hiked in around six hours. Climbing can be done year-round as long as you are properly prepared. Snow shoe tours are available in various locations during the winter, though these should probably only be undertaken by those in peak fitness.

Winding its way through the region, the Kosinthos river provides many pleasant strolls through the landscape of Thrace. There are old stone bridges, watermills, the one at Halil is one of the few that still exists, age-old villages and half-forgotten locations. Journeying through this area can be like stepping back in time to a simpler age.

The Nestor River and its Delta are the focus of much of the eco and outward-bound activity in the area and have been for some decades. People have quietly been coming here to hike, bike, kayak, birdwatch, mountain climb, rappel or ride horses for years, but the area still retains a simple and uncrowded feel that allows you to enjoy the beautiful countryside of the land of Orpheus. Delightful spots from which to enjoy the varied eco outdoors pursuits include Galani, Komnina, Kromniko, Livadero, Stavroupolis, and Toxotes, magical corners of this area just waiting to be discovered. Where the river meets the sea in Xanthi is extremely picturesque and a unique and interesting area of habitat is found in the area of Abdera where there are lakes, lagoons and valuable wetlands beloved of a whole range of birds and other wildlife.

The magical area of Thrace is filled with fairytale scenes and fantastical scenery to explore. This is the perfect place to hike your way into a story book and make some fantastic memories along the way.