TOURING AREAS

ATTICA

This is the area round Athens and probably most cyclists will merely pass through it on their way to other regions. However, there is at least one impressive mountain range which is worth visiting; this is the Parnitha region north of Athens. The summit itself is at 1413m, but the actual summit is closed because of the telecommunications station. (There is also a military establishment so no photographs.) However, there is a pass between these two which is at 1260m.

The approach to Parnitha from Athens goes through the outlying suburbs which are dreary but once you start the climb traffic is light on weekdays and views are rewarding. A better way of going is to approach from the north, above Kifissia, via Varibobi (Varibombi) and Thrakomakedones, though the way is difficult to find and all the maps I have seen are inaccurate, so you will need to ask. Once you start the climb there are numerous hairpins as the road goes up the mountainside. The gradient on the climb is about 8% most of the way. There is a hotel on top and a cafe but the general atmosphere is rural, and it is possible to make a pleasant circuit of the mountain top.

Parnitha is part of a larger mountainous area and rough roads lead away down gorges from close to the summit. Another climb in the same mountain chain, a little to the west of Parnitha, goes via the village of Fili to Stefani and upwards to a quiet pass at about 500m. The road ends here despite what most maps say but it is possible to continue on roughstuff paths; eventually you reach quite reasonable unsurfaced roads and these afford an alternative route to Thebes, cutting out some fairly dull country to the E (see Diary of a Greek Tour).

I have some pictures of cycling in Attica.

CENTRAL GREECE

Much of this area is taken up by the Thessalian plain. This is the hottest part of mainland Greece and is flat and often windswept, with long straight roads. It is therefore best avoided by cyclists making for the north or north-west, who may prefer to travel W. along the northern coast of the Peloponnese and then cross to Antirrion by the magnificent new suspension bridge.

West of the Thessalian plain you come to Delphi and also Mt. Parnassus, the home of the Muses, which is an excellent cycling area. I attach a description of the area which I wrote in 1989.

From just W of Arachova (plenty of hotels), which is at 900m, you climb over a col at about 1100 m and then emerge into a flat plain between mountains. You pass the turning to the ski centre on your right. After about 20 km the road rises through woods to a second pass at about 1200 m, and then descends quite steeply, with fine views, through the village of Eptalophos to reach the plain. Here you join the main road for a few miles before turning off to Amphikleia, which is the starting point for the return crossing of Parnassus.

Amphikleia is quite large and must have a restaurant, though I didn't look for one. There is a good spring just above the village. The road to the ski station goes through beautiful country and is very quiet (July 1989), but is probably the hardest sustained climb (18 km) I have encountered in Greece. The surface is fairly good apart from one section of corrugated concrete. Talk of a ski centre may suggest the kind of concrete horror you find in the Alps, but in fact there is nothing there at all apart from a car park (empty) and a road that spirals up a conical hill for about 100 m. The ski centre is not the summit, but after this point the climb becomes easier. There is a distinctly Alpine feel to the mountain at this point. I estimate the height at about 1550 m.

I passed a number of tavernas in the mountains but all were closed.

THE PELOPONNESE

This is one of the best cycling areas in Greece; you can't really go wrong here. It is mostly mountainous and possesses magnificent scenery; the roads are generally quiet.

Unfortunately, to approach the Peloponnese from Athens you have to traverse the unpleasant and fume-filled region of Elefsis (Eleusis), but this can be avoided by taking the ferry from Piraius to Monemvasia, in the south of the Peloponnese. Alternatively, there is a district (suburban) railway to Corinth and stations along the way and this will take bikes. (See the email from Judy Allfrey in the General section (Athen Airport.)

Southern Peloponnese

Here there is the Mani peninsula, which contains the famous towers that were used as fortresses by feuding families until quite recently; these are now being acquired by foreigners and converted into modern residences. On the westernmost "prong" of the three peninsulas are the attractive little towns of Methoni and Koroni. The road N along the coast from Methoni through Pylos is also worth riding, with good views of mountains and sea. Just below Gargaliani there is a place where I have twice experienced one of those visual illusions where the road looks as if it is climbing although you are actually freewheeling downhill.

Central Peloponnese

This offers the fine Taigetos mountain range, just to the W of the famous Byzantine city of Mystra, near Sparta. If you are approaching this region from the north I recommend taking the minor road that goes through Longanikos; it brings you through magnificent country with fine views. When I did it many years ago it was roughstuff, but now it is tarmac throughout.

A little to the N of Tripolis is the ancient Arcadia; see Map 1 and Map 2 for some routes around Stemnitsa which I've enjoyed. This area is in the Mainolo mountains, at heights of 1000 m or more. I have some pictures of the area.

Stemnitsa is now being actively promoted within Greece as a good place to visit. This is a mixed blessing, I suppose, but even so, the minor roads in the region are still quiet even in August. The two roads into the valley below Stemnitsa are now tarmac. So, too, are many other roads in the area, and this is indicated on new roadside maps which seem to be reliable. However, the road from Psari ('Fish') to Servos is still roughstuff, though not demanding and all of it easily ridable on a touring bike.

There is an attractive climb to the ski centre, or at least to the 1650 m pass just below it, on the road S of Vitina. There is a false summit just before the pass; the climb is moderately steep up to this point but thereafter it is easy.

I found a peak at 1335 m off the road to Vlongos, just W of Zatouna. However this was steep and difficult roughstuff, not at all ridable going up and only partly ridable coming down.

Northern Peloponnese

To the north there are more fine roads, which are not too busy. You can reach the coast here via several routes, including the road through Kalavrita which follows the line of the little mountain railway for part of its course. All these routes are recommended.

PELION

The Pelion peninsula, the home of the Centaurs, is a small but attractive touring area on the eastern side of the Central area. Volos, the provincial capital, makes a convenient starting point. A good way of getting there, used by me in 1986 and Mary Sanderson in 1988, is to travel N. through Evvia and cross from Ayiokambos to Glifa. The last 20 miles or so of the approach to Volos are dusty and well supplied with heavy lorries but there is no alternative.

Pelion is quite different from most of Greece: densely wooded, at least in the centre, and well watered. The road mostly follows the contours but there is an 1159 m pass above Khania. From the E. it is a steady climb on a good surface; the W. approach, from Volos, is steeper. There are beaches on the coast but you would have to lose a lot of height to reach them. If you camp wild in Spring (strictly speaking, illegal) you may be serenaded by nightingales.

THE PINDOS AND THE NORTH-WEST

This is a remote and mountainous part of Greece, which constitutes the southernmost reach of the Dinaric Alps. It is a fine cycling region, though wetter than most of the country (you may encounter heavy rain even in summer). It contains the Katara pass, which is the highest surfaced road in the country (1705m.). (A tunnel now exists here, which should make the road quieter than formerly.) In my opinion the Pindos and the Peloponnese are the best two cycling areas in Greece.

Recommended routes here are the road from Ioannina to Kalambaka, which includes the above-mentioned Katara pass; the minor roads to the east of the main road between Agrinion and Ioannina, which are very quiet and scenic and where I saw large snakes sunning themselves; and the road from Karpenisi to Agrinion, which is scenic and has four passes at about 1400m. (See my Diary of a Greek Tour for more details.)

You can reach the Pindos from the south (see my Diary of a Greek Tour for an account of this) or alternatively you could fly to Corfu and take the ferry across to Igoumenitsa.

THE ISLANDS

Greece is famous for its islands but most are too small for more than a day's cycling. The main exceptions are Evvia (Euboea), Corfu, and Crete. The Aegean islands are plagued by very strong winds in summer - the dreaded Meltemi (a strong N wind, rather like the Mistral) can make cycling almost impossible here at these times.

Evvia (Euboea)

This long narrow island off the coast of Attica affords some pleasant cycling with plenty of climbing; it is also a good way of approaching the scenic and mountainous region of Pelion. In common with the rest of eastern Greece, it is often dogged by the Meltemi in July and August.

A number of ferries connect the island with the mainland; most leave from the fishing port of Rafina though there are also crossings at Ayia Marina and Oropou. There are good rides to the south (Karystos), with a 400m col S of Kapsala. The area around Chalkis is heavily built-up and carries a lot of traffic, but as you go further north things get much better. At Ayiokambos there is a ferry to Glypha on the mainland.

I once took a roughstuff route from Istiaia through the mountains to Rovies on the coast. It was especially beautiful country, remote and wooded, but rough in places and the way often difficult to find, with no one in sight to ask. From Rovies there was a fairly good dirt road along the coast, on which there are fine sandy beaches, empty too.

Andros

This is an attractive island SE of Evvia. I once spent a day and a half there. Near the capital, also called Andros, I followed a stream inland for a mile or so and saw turtles dropping into the water. A woman in a house gave me so many cherries I couldn't carry them on the bike. She told me Japanese people were buying up all the property in the region. I have a few pictures of Andros.

Crete

This is the biggest Greek island and is large enough to constitute a proper touring area in itself. The most attractive part for the cyclist is the western end, around Khania. Crete can be extremely hot in summer. The central area contains some very impressive mountains but there are few roads here, even rough ones.

Corfu (Kerkyra)

The best cycling here is in the north of the island, where there is quite a high peak, approached via some fairly demanding roughstuff (Mt Pandocratoras, 903 m.). The dogs are refreshingly placid and the roads inland are fairly quiet, at least outside the main holiday season. This is the most 'Italian' region of Greece, with a different feel from the rest of the country. See my pictures to get an idea of it.

Corfu can be approached by air or by ferry from Venice and is a good place from which to reach north-west Greece via the ferry to Igoumenitsa.