a walking guide to 42 greek islands (1987)

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a walking guide to 42 greek islands (1987)
A WALKING GUIDE TO 42 GREEK ISLANDS (1987)
GERALD THOMPSON
A WALKING GUIDE TO 42 GREEK ISLANDS (1987)
GERALD THOMPSON
© Gerald Ephraim Nektarios Thompson, Mesagros, Aegina, Greece, 2014.
Transcription by David Royle, Scarborough, North Yorkshire, England.
First Edition: 15 March 2014.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
For some years I had been aware that Gerald had written the first volume of a Walking Guide to
Greece, but I had always understood that there was no surviving manuscript. I had the names of
several publishers with whom Gerald had corresponded in 1987, and in December 2013 something
prompted me to try to contact them. I soon got in touch with Denise Harvey, now resident in the town
of Limni on the island of Evia. Call it chance, serendipity or divine intervention, but Denise, although
unable to publish the guide herself, valued her copy of the manuscript so highly that she had kept it
safely in her archives, even though, as is common in publishing, it had been sent to her on a nonreturn basis. It is therefore thanks to Denise that I have been able to complete this transcription.
I would also like to thank Chris Knight for the cover photograph of Gerald, taken in Ithaca in 1972.
Chris and I accompanied Gerald on his visit to Greece that summer, which also included Mount Athos
(The Holy Mountain), Epirus and Lefkada.
David Royle
March 2014
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FOREWORD
Gerald Thompson was born in 1933 in the Northern English industrial town of Wakefield, West
Yorkshire. His family was working class Methodist, closely involved in church music and song, and
music has played a central role throughout Gerald's life. Wakefield is a short drive away from the
Pennine Hills and the Yorkshire Dales, fine open, hilly countryside which helped to inspire his love of
walking. A turning point in Gerald's life was winning a scholarship to Queen Elizabeth's Grammar
School, Wakefield, where he was introduced to Classics, becoming so enthused by Greek in
particular, that he won a Hastings Scholarship to study Classics at The Queen's College, Oxford.
Gerald taught Classics at Hymers College, Hull from 1957 to 1985, inspiring several generations of
students, not least through his legendary Easter school trips to Greece, and achieving outstanding
success in University entrance exams, especially to Oxford and Cambridge. When, in 1985, Hymers
College removed Greek from the curriculum, Gerald took early retirement and taught Greek at Hull
University for several years before moving permanently to Greece, working part-time as a tour guide.
Since 1990 Gerald has lived in Mesagros, Aegina, and established the Aegina Rambling Club, also
publishing "A Walking Guide to Aegina" in 1997, which after several editions, remains in print and is
on sale at the island's bookshops in English and Greek versions, as is his story of his experiences with
an Albanian family in Aegina "Illyrian Monopoly", originally published in 1995. In 1993 Gerald
converted to Greek Orthodoxy, taking the name Gerald Ephraim Nektarios Thompson, abbreviated by
many of his friends to GENT. Gerald celebrated his 80th birthday in 2013, and continues to live in
Mesagros, now in quiet retirement.
In transcribing the manuscript I have made corrections to typographical errors, hopefully not adding
too many of my own. I have also in some cases tried to make the conversion of Greek names to the
Latin alphabet consistent, at least within a particular chapter. This is not straightforward. English
readers are used to the Latinised versions of Classical Greek names - k, kh, u, ai, oi becoming c, ch, y,
ae, oe respectively. Modern Greek versions tend to reflect modern pronunciation, simplifying the now
like-sounding ē, ei, i, u, ui, oi to the single letter 'i', and the classical versions b, ph, kh, ai, eu, g to v, f,
h (or ch), e, ef (or ev), y (or g) respectively. In addition, some islands have medieval Italian names
still in use (eg. Corfu, Zante, Santorini).
So the island Αίγινα can be represented as Aigina, Aegina, Egina or Eyina; Εύβοια as Euboia, Euboea
or Evia. The Prophet Elijah (Προφήτης Ηλίας), whose chapel stands at the top of many Greek
mountains, has 16 possible transcriptions, varying from Prophetes Elias to Profitis Ilias.
In other respects the transcription is exactly as written by Gerald. I have added a Glossary to help
those who are not so familiar with Greek language and culture.
Finally, the reader should remember that the guide portrays the Greek Islands as they were in the
period c. 1976 to 1985, and that many of the paths and tracks described will have changed or
disappeared during the intervening years.
David Royle
Scarborough, North Yorkshire
March 2014
3
CONTENTS
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS .................................................................................................................... 2
FOREWORD .......................................................................................................................................... 3
CONTENTS............................................................................................................................................ 4
PREFACE ............................................................................................................................................... 6
INTRODUCTION .................................................................................................................................. 8
ISLANDS OF THE AEGEAN ............................................................................................................. 15
CHAPTER I: THASOS, SAMOTHRAKI, LIMNOS........................................................................... 17
THASOS ........................................................................................................................................... 17
SAMOTHRAKI ................................................................................................................................ 24
LIMNOS ........................................................................................................................................... 30
CHAPTER II: SKYROS, SKOPELOS, ALONISSOS ......................................................................... 40
SKYROS ........................................................................................................................................... 40
SKOPELOS ...................................................................................................................................... 49
ALONNISOS .................................................................................................................................... 58
CHAPTER III: EUBOIA, ANDROS, TINOS ...................................................................................... 66
EUBOIA ........................................................................................................................................... 66
ANDROS .......................................................................................................................................... 73
TINOS ............................................................................................................................................... 76
CHAPTER IV: AEGINA, CYTHERA ................................................................................................. 79
AEGINA ........................................................................................................................................... 79
CYTHERA........................................................................................................................................ 87
CHAPTER V: KEA, KYTHNOS, SERIPHOS .................................................................................... 90
KEA .................................................................................................................................................. 90
KYTHNOS ....................................................................................................................................... 98
SERIPHOS ...................................................................................................................................... 103
CHAPTER VI: SIPHNOS, KIMOLOS, MILOS ................................................................................ 107
SIPHNOS ........................................................................................................................................ 107
KIMOLOS ...................................................................................................................................... 115
MILOS ............................................................................................................................................ 117
CHAPTER VII: SANTORINI, PHOLEGANDROS, SIKINOS, ANAPHI ....................................... 120
SANTORINI ................................................................................................................................... 120
PHOLEGANDROS ........................................................................................................................ 126
SIKINOS ......................................................................................................................................... 132
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ANAPHI ......................................................................................................................................... 138
CHAPTER VIII: PAROS, NAXOS, AMORGOS .............................................................................. 145
PAROS............................................................................................................................................ 145
NAXOS ........................................................................................................................................... 150
AMORGOS..................................................................................................................................... 156
CHAPTER IX: IKARIA, SAMOS, PATMOS ................................................................................... 164
IKARIA .......................................................................................................................................... 164
SAMOS ........................................................................................................................................... 175
PATMOS ........................................................................................................................................ 181
CHAPTER X: KARPATHOS, KOS, KALYMNOS, LEROS ........................................................... 185
KARPATHOS................................................................................................................................. 185
KOS ................................................................................................................................................ 193
KALYMNOS .................................................................................................................................. 200
LEROS ............................................................................................................................................ 205
CHAPTER XI: SYMI, TILOS, NISYROS, ASTYPALAIA .............................................................. 207
SYMI .............................................................................................................................................. 207
TILOS ............................................................................................................................................. 216
NISYROS ....................................................................................................................................... 221
ASTYPALAIA ............................................................................................................................... 227
CHAPTER XII: CHIOS, LESBOS ..................................................................................................... 231
CHIOS ............................................................................................................................................ 231
LESBOS.......................................................................................................................................... 234
CHAPTER XIII THE IONIAN ISLES (1) ......................................................................................... 237
ZACYNTHOS ................................................................................................................................ 239
CEPHALONIA ............................................................................................................................... 244
ITHACA ......................................................................................................................................... 260
CHAPTER XIV: THE IONIAN ISLES (2) ........................................................................................ 265
LEFKADA ...................................................................................................................................... 265
CORFU (KERKYRA) .................................................................................................................... 274
APPENDIX – TRAVEL, CLOTHING, FOOD, ACCOMMODATION ........................................... 287
GLOSSARY OF GREEK TERMS ..................................................................................................... 295
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PREFACE
This book is the product of frequent visits to Greece which it has been my good fortune to
enjoy both at Easter time and in the Summer holidays ,during the last 25 years, and in the
course of which I have amassed almost 3000 colour slides. It has been written largely at the
instigation of enthusiastic friends and pupils whose flattering remarks about the quality both
of my photography and accompanying commentary have at length persuaded me to offer my
experience of Greece to a hopefully somewhat wider audience. But lest that perhaps more
discerning public be deluded by false expectations, may I at the outset define more precisely
what has been my chief intention in writing.
In the first place this book does not pretend to be an erudite, comprehensive survey of the
country's enormously rich archaeological and historical heritage. For this field, important as it
is, has already been more than adequately explored in numerous guidebooks directed
specifically towards this end. Such archaeological and historical references as do appear in
the text I have included mainly because the relevant sites have either been too recently dug,
or have been regarded as too insignificant to receive detailed treatment in the wider context
of the unquestionably more prolific and more accessible sites of the mainland. Nor, on the
other hand, is the book a travelogue of intrinsic literary merit, as for example Henry Miller's
'Colossus of Marousi', or Lawrence Durrell's 'Bitter Lemons'. Its purpose is less ambitious
and more severely practical. First, in the Introduction, my main aim is to encourage the
tourist to exchange the overcrowded and now often polluted beach for the less publicized but
more genuine and salubrious delights of the countryside. For it is my firm conviction that,
even despite the alarming depopulation which the rural areas have suffered throughout this
century, here alone can one discover the true Greece. In the second and main section of the
book, after a brief general survey of each island and its lines of communication, I give more
detailed descriptions of the more successful excursions which I have made during my sojourn
there. Finally, in the Appendices, I offer those who are prepared to follow my advice one or
two hints on accommodation, travel, language and food, in the hope that by saving valuable
time, and being spared needless frustration, they may thereby be able to extract maximum
satisfaction from their efforts.
The main section is arranged in 12 chapters, each chapter dealing with a relatively compact
geographical area which could be visited comfortably within the span of a two or three
weeks' holiday, both avoiding excessively long and expensive journeys, and also leaving
ample time for relaxation, swimming, and all the other manifold activities which Greece
provides for her visitors' delight and enjoyment. I have for three reasons totally excluded the
mainland. In the first place the mainland is so rich in scenery of incomparable magnificence
and variety, it would require at least another volume to do it even the scantest justice.
Secondly one of the avowed objects of the book is to allure the beach-lover into the
countryside; and it seemed to me that my chances of success might be slightly higher on an
island, where the sea might either be dangled as the ultimate objective of a successful
excursion or alternatively might serve as a refuge in the event of failure. And thirdly, selfconfessed land-lubber though I am, I must admit that the constant prospect of the sea not only
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gives one a comforting sense of security, but also vastly enhances the attractiveness of any
walk.
I have also deliberately omitted from the main section of the book, all the islands on the
periphery of Greece - namely both the so called Ionian Isles which lie off the West coast of
the mainland , and also Crete and Rhodes which occupy the Southern and Eastern fringes of
the Aegean Sea. Again my reasons for so doing are threefold. First and foremost, most of
these islands are so large and varied that they each merit a book to themselves. Secondly in
the course of many years' travelling I have developed a distinct preference for the smaller
island, where both because of the more intimate scale of the landscape, and the relative
paucity of the population, one can more quickly and easily feel at home and accepted within
the community. Thirdly it is on the smaller and often neglected islands where one can best
discover in all their pristine integrity those traditions and values which are the very essence of
what is most distinctive and most precious in the unique heritage of Greece. Furthermore, it is
also here that the effects of depopulation have often been most severe, and where in
consequence there is the most urgent need for tourism, albeit on a modest and judicious scale,
to implant 'the kiss of life' to communities now sadly in danger of becoming totally
moribund. Conversely, my main motive for observing a tactful silence about such renowned
resorts as Mykonos, Skiathos, Ios and Hydra, is precisely the fact that excessive exposure to
tourism has regrettably stripped these areas of much of their former charm and tranquillity, to
such an extent that I can no longer in honesty commend them to the prospective walker.
With the single exception of the island of Aegina, with which repeated visits have made me
reasonably familiar, I an painfully aware that I have barely scratched the surface of the other
areas described, each of which would require a lifetime to know in intimate detail, as even the
local residents would admit. Nevertheless this book, however unworthy, will have achieved
its main purpose if it stimulates the reader to explore for himself, and possibly even to
pioneer for others, the long neglected footpaths and bye ways , upon which and by which he
may discover some of the enduring and inexhaustible treasures of Greece.
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INTRODUCTION
Why walk in Greece?
Before stating the positive case for walking in Greece, may I attempt first to remove the fears
and demolish the sophistries of those who regard walking in any high temperature as both
physically harmful and as certain evidence of mental instability. For be assured, when the late
Noel Coward in his affectionate, inimitable satire categorized those who go out in the midday
sun as 'either mad dogs' or 'Englishmen', he reflected a very popular misconception regarding
the risks and wisdom of perambulating in the heat of the day. But before I begin to expose the
fallacies inherent in this widely held prejudice, let me confess quite frankly that I am by no
means averse to the siesta, an institution which I regard as eminently civilized, and of great
practical value, enabling one as it does to enjoy without fatigue far longer waking hours.
Moreover if the siesta be taken, as is generally the case, immediately after the consumption of
a substantial midday meal, it can be further justified on the grounds of sound medical
practice. In point of fact, however, it is my unvaried conclusion that the hottest hours fall not
at 12 p.m., as Coward's verse would imply, but rather between 4 and 6 in the evening.
Furthermore the midday meal once so much esteemed by all nations, and medically the
principal cause and justification for the siesta, can be dispensed with entirely, or at least
reduced to a modest slice of bread and cheese followed by fresh fruit, without any apparent
adverse effects upon the body, and with considerable benefit to the purse!
But to proceed to the argument. It is often helpful when seeking to dislodge a firmly
entrenched prejudice to examine the motives and define the characters of those who adhere to
it with such vehemence and conviction. Who, then, are these people who aver that they
'couldn't possibly walk in all that heat'? In my experience they fall into one or other of two
distinct categories. Either they are the people who lie motionless as mummies on sultry
beaches, hour by hour exposing their limp flesh to the searing rays of the sun, in the
misguided belief that they thereby improve their outward appearance and their inward health.
Or else they belong to that ever-increasing band of morons who imagine that by filling the
atmosphere with diesel fumes and dust, and shattering the serenity of nature with the
cacophonous roar of the internal combustion engine, they somehow exhibit a virility and skill
and intelligence vastly superior to that of the humble pedestrian. If in fact the members of
these two classes could just for once raise the courage and the common sense to subject their
unexamined prejudices to the sure test of personal experience, they would soon discover that
their fears were almost entirely unfounded and illusory. For in the first place, even in areas
like Attica which have a high mean summer temperature in the region of 88ºF, the coastal
districts excepted, the humidity is relatively low, and consequently the heat is far more
tolerable than the more humid variety with which we are familiar in the British Isles.
Secondly, in a country as mountainous as Greece one rarely walks long at an altitude of lower
than 1000'; and for every 1000' climbed the temperature falls by 4.8 degrees F. Indeed on
several occasions even in mid August I have been reduced to wearing two shirts and a
sweater, when climbing in the early morning or late evening at over 3000'. Thirdly,
throughout the whole of August and July most parts of Greece, and especially the Cyclades,
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are exposed to the full fury of the Meltemi, a powerful wind sucked down from the central
Balkans into the Aegean Sea. The force of this gale – for it is far from the gentle Zephyr of
classical mythology - has to be experienced to be believed. I have literally been swept off my
feet in exposed mountain areas like Dirphys in central Euboea; and any who have been
caught sailing into its dynamic force will need no argument of mine to persuade then of its
hazardous power. There have been times when even in mid-summer I have asked for
blankets, even when sleeping indoors at a height of only 1000', but exposed to the brunt of
these freezing N.E. blasts. Fourthly, that more leisurely, liberal race who, as yet uncorrupted
by the specious advantages of speed, pioneered the paths from village to village, had more
regard for the frailty of man than to forge their routes through desert wastes devoid of both
shade and water. Even a small shrub can afford protection from the merciless shafts of
Apollo, provided that the track be sufficiently narrow: only on the wide carriageway is one
roasted alive. Finally and this is not as foolish a claim as the uninitiated might imagine - the
very motion of walking produces a draught which can at least palliate even the fiercest heat,
and enable one sensibly equipped with broad-brimmed hat to reach his destination unscathed.
'Very well' says my antagonist. 'I concede that my fears of the consequences of walking in the
noonday heat have been proved groundless, or at least vastly exaggerated. But I have come
here for a holiday, for a rest: to enjoy the sun and the sea; to relax rather than to exhaust
myself traversing those arid, scrub-ridden hills.' By what argument can I counter such an
eminently reasonable position? It would be foolish to deny that Greece has an abundance of
sun and a superfluity of clear, crystal sea; and it would be more foolish still to deny anyone
the right to enjoy them, in short to enjoy his leisure time in the way he chooses, in the
activities and pursuits which he feels will yield the maximum satisfaction and pleasure. May I
however with great deference urge my adversary to direct his thoughts to the following two
considerations. 'First, if it's only the sun and the sea that you require, why come to Greece?
Spain has just as much sun, possibly better beaches cheaper hotels and food: and so do
Majorca, Corsica and scores of other popular Mediterranean resorts. Surely you come to
Greece to get to know Greece, the land and its people, its history and its culture, its unique
flavour and contribution to Western Europe. And you certainly won't discover all these by
lying on a beach or peering into the sea. Secondly, if you will only make the attempt, and
refuse to be deterred either by the superficially intransigent nature of the terrain or by the
apparent but deceptive difficulty of the task, you will find the experience certainly
memorable, and hopefully far from unpleasant; and you may well discover that those wild,
initially forbidding mountains conceal hidden treasures beyond your wildest imaginings.'
Assuming that I have convinced you that walking will damage neither your health nor your
sanity, and may in fact yield unexpected pleasure, may I now attempt to outline some of the
positive advantages to which my own and others' walking experience in Greece have led.
Admittedly the rigid and once revered Platonic dichotomy of body and soul has long since
and with good reason been exploded by contemporary philosophy and psychology alike.
Nevertheless, for the sake of my argument I should like to analyse the accruing advantages
under the convenient headings of physical and spiritual, while freely admitting that these
categories are by no means mutually exclusive.
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First, then, the physical benefits. Let me at the outset state quite categorically that at no time
and in no place do I feel better in health than when walking in the Greek countryside.
Moreover the allergic asthma of which I had been a victim since childhood first began to
improve after my first visit to Greece, and has now almost completely disappeared. Nor is my
experience by any means an isolated one. I have heard several Greeks claim that they have
been cured of pulmonary tuberculosis by climbing this or that mountain, whilst our own
Utilitarian philosopher J.S. Mill adds further corroborative evidence of the ameliorative
effects upon this condition consequent upon mountain climbing in Attica. (Vd i Later Letters,
Nos 233, 235, 236, written 1855 when Mill was age 49).
'But what,' you may ask, 'are the reasons? How is it that totally inexperienced walkers often
suffering from chronic, malignant disease, can achieve prodigious feats of endurance with
minimal fatigue, and without the usual aches and pains that customarily follow unfamiliar,
strenuous exercise?' .I believe that those brilliant pioneers of philosophic and scientific
enquiry who in Ionia in the sixth century B.C. proclaimed, with characteristic insight that the
basic elements from which the universe is constructed are Earth, Air, Fire and Water, have
given us the clue. It is often stated, and most frequently by Greeks themselves, that Greece is
a poor country; but this is of course only partially true. Poor it may be in the expendable
luxury articles of the West: but in the basic essentials required for a happy, healthy existence
Greece is a veritable Eldorado. Can anyone, for example, who has tasted the succulent
produce of the land - grapes, figs, tomatoes, oranges - ever doubt their first-rate quality, or
question the fecundity or a soil which produces fruit in such amazing abundance? And the
reason? The incalculable richness of the earth, the air, the sunlight and mineral-laden water.
And where is the best quality food produced? Not, as you might imagine, in the lowlands of
Thessaly or Boeotia, but in the small mountain plateaux. For it is there that you will find the
purest air, air which has the texture of silk, and refines like fire; and water most devoid of
harmful impurities and most rich in life-giving minerals. And what better place to imbibe
these vital waters, to inhale this vibrant air than at their elemental source - the gushing
mountain spring, the windswept mountain peak? What better way to enjoy these delicious
fruits in all their pristine freshness, than to pluck them straight from the branch that bears
them? All of which is possible only for those who will walk.
Such then are some of the positive physical delights that lie in store for those who walk. But
before I proceed to examine the spiritual benefits, I should like to advance a theory which I
have evolved over the years to account for the curious absence of muscular pain to which I
alluded in the foregoing paragraph. Careful examination of the evidence has led me to
conclude that it is the sun and the absence of humidity which are responsible for this
remarkable phenomenon. For I have observed that the very rare occasions on which I have
felt stiff have invariably been days of oppressive cloud and humidity. I venture the hypothesis
that the prime cause of muscular pain is the presence of impurities in the blood, impurities
which are normally dispersed almost instantly by the copious perspiration which takes place
when the temperature is high and the humidity low. Thus again, by a curious paradox, the
sun, so often advanced as a pretext for not walking, turns out in fact to be an excellent reason
10
for walking, and thereby ridding the body by evaporation of the harmful poisons which
would otherwise accumulate and damage the system.
Foremost among the spiritual benefits I would place the intense pleasure afforded by the
distinctive beauty of the Greek countryside. Only a poet's pen could do justice to the fabled
clarity of light and contour; to the stark grandeur of mountains tumbling into the sea's vast
embrace; to the purity and vividness of the prime colours that decorate the fields in Spring; to
the radiant simplicity of beetling villages sparkling in the sun against a backcloth of
unrepentant grey; to tall cypresses set against an azure sky; to white, foaming torrents
cascading over smooth, glossy rocks. Sufficient to say that in no other landscape am I made
so acutely aware of the presence of the divine demiourgos of Plato's Timaeus; nowhere else
in the world do I discern more clearly the hand of the craftsman creator, tenderly moulding
each hillside, deftly sculpting each massive rock, intricately carving each bay with the
delicate tracery of filigree silver.
Another pleasure, intellectual rather than spiritual, which as a Classicist I esteem especially
highly, is that of observing the continuity of history in Greece, a continuity all the more
remarkable when one considers the almost unparalleled timescale and the incomparable
vicissitudes involved. It is a truism that the countryside tends always to be more conservative
than the city; and hence it should not surprise us to discover that the deeper one penetrates
into the remote villages and hamlets of Greece the further one penetrates into antiquity. Here
alone can one still hear played instruments long since rejected by the city-dweller as obsolete;
can see performed measures once trod by the ancient Greeks of Periclean Athens and beyond;
can observe rituals adopted and perpetuated by the early Christian church, but having their
origins in the far distant, pagan past. To give but one illustration. In the Summer of 1972 it
was my good fortune to visit the Great Lavra Monastery on Mt. Athos on the final day of the
annual feast commemorating the death of Athanasios who in 953 A.D. founded this the first
and richest of the eventual community of twenty ruling monasteries. As the elaborate services
came to an end and the impressive column of richly clad clergy slowly filed from the ancient
church towards the refectory an extremely energetic monk mounted the carillon and rang a
deafeningly joyous peal of bells to herald the breaking of the fast which is a necessary
precursor of all religious festivals in Greece. At this sign two other brothers appropriately
clad in aprons and equipped with trowels began to distribute to the excited crowd of pilgrims
an enormous cake whose surface had been skilfully decorated in cinnamon and polychrome
sugar to represent the famed double-headed eagle of Byzantium. On subsequent inquiry I
discovered that the cake, which is called Kolyva, and is traditionally offered at funerals and
commemorative services of all kinds, has as its chief ingredients pomegranate seeds and corn,
both symbols of the great regenerative power of nature and tokens of immortality. Now cast
your mind back two and a half millennia to the Eleusinian mysteries into which at puberty
every freeborn Athenian male was initiated, and what do you discover?. Precisely this: that
the culmination of the whole elaborate ceremony was reached when in the great initiation hall
the youthful ephebes were presented by the priestess of Demeter with exactly the same two
objects - a pomegranate and an ear of corn. What more convincing proof could anyone
require of the astonishing tenacity of tradition in Greece?
11
Finally it is in the heart of the country that one is privileged to enjoy the traditional Greek
hospitality on its most lavish and generous scale, whether it be organized publicly beneath the
banner of the church in the form of some local panegyry or in the more intimate, informal
atmosphere of the home. It cannot be mere coincidence that the most genuine expressions of
public joy survive only in the remoter areas, centred for example around churches like that of
the Phaneromeni built on a deserted headland some 8 miles West of Sitea in Eastern Crete, or
that of the Prophet Elijah on the 4500' summit of Mt. Ochi in Southern Euboea. To
participate in the solemn ritual of the elaborate service, and then share in the uninhibited
ebullience of the subsequent festivities is indeed an experience never to be forgotten. But no
less moving and memorable are the acts of spontaneous hospitality extended to complete
strangers in the simple dignity of the home. Out of countless examples which I could cite I
select the following as typical, as well as being most recent in my memory. I was on the
island of Cythera and had walked from the village of Mylopotamos, where I was staying with
several friends, to visit the monastery of Myrtidion some six miles distant. Anxious to avoid
returning by the same route I decided., against all attempts to dissuade me, to make my way
to our prearranged rendezvous by means of a rough coastal track ascending precipitous cliffs
which command superb views over the sea. As I had been warned, the path soon degenerated
and finally disappeared completely, leaving me to scramble down the steep, rugged hillside in
the midday sun in order to reach the bay where we had agreed to meet. I arrive somewhat
bedraggled and scan the beach in vain for my friends; but all I find is a lonely cottage at the
far edge of the bay, and outside a young man beckoning me to come inside. I readily respond
and accept with manifest gratitude the customary refreshment - water, ouzo and Turkish
Delight. After chatting for half an hour I am invited, much to my amazement to stay for
lunch, a magnificent meal of freshly grilled fish, salads, bread, cheese, fruit and wine, all of
which are produced in an instant as if prepared especially for my arrival. 'But how on earth
did you know that I was coming?' I ask, dumbfounded and overwhelmed. 'Oh, I have a pair of
binoculars,' came my host's shy reply, and I spotted you coming down the hillside.' The meal
over, I am offered a bed to rest, lulled by the gentle lapping of the waves against the shore,
refreshed by the cool breeze that blows in through the open window and out through the
opposite door. Where else in Europe may a total stranger enjoy such touching courtesy, such
sincere and prodigal generosity and friendship? The receipt of such entirely unsolicited,
unconditional kindnesses not only provided one with encouraging proof of the amazing
continuity of tradition in Greece, but also - what is far more important - it restores one's faith
in the fundamental dignity and goodness of man.
But I must avoid painting too idyllic a picture of life in the countryside. It would be dishonest
to deny that there will undoubtedly be times when you will curse the moment you were
persuaded to exchange the lazy security of the beach and the cool comfort of the sea for the
torrid, rocky heights, where the insistent sun's tormenting rays and the deafening cicadas'
perpetual hiss both drain one's physical strength and even threaten one's very sanity. Either
your well-defined path will suddenly bifurcate into a thousand winding ways, threading a
tortuous - wilderness of thistles and lizards, thorns and briars, Or amid some stifling ravine
will instantly vanish into impenetrable thickets clinging to precarious ledges down which you
12
slither and slide, only to find that you must forge an even more exhausting path up the
opposite side. Or you will find yourself shipwrecked in a sea of abandoned, rocky terraces,
too high to jump down with safety, but whose crumbling walls collapse on top of you as you
endeavour to scramble down. Or trapped in a deep chasm you will be ferociously attacked by
a plague of mosquitoes, hornets, dragon flies and wasps, all of monstrous size and obscene
shape. All these things and more will surely happen to you: but take heart, they will pass. The
very moment you imagine you will expire of thirst, as if by some divine intervention in
answer to your desperate cry, the barren rock will suddenly burst forth into a crystal spring
whose freezing waters seem to mock the very laws of nature. Or perhaps benighted on some
lonely moor you resign yourself to sleeping on the hard flint; when miraculously from the
shadows there emerges the shy figure of a shepherd who offers you his simple dwelling for
the night. Or again, after toiling for hours up a scorching ravine, progress impeded now by
dense undergrowth, now by loose scree, the parched rocks too hot to touch, one's water-bottle
almost empty; finally, shirt torn, hair matted, legs scratched and bleeding, one arrives at the
summit, to be greeted by a view of such surpassing beauty that all one's pain is instantly
vanished, and one's whole being becomes a paean of grateful praise.
But that is not all. It is not simply that the pleasures and delights so far outweigh the pains
and hardships that the latter soon pale into insignificance in the formers' dazzling brilliance.
No those very pains which initially one endures with such bad grace and bitter complaints are
finally seen to have their own peculiar purpose. In a familiar passage in his Republic Plato
describes those importunate requirements of the body as leaden weights which, until exposed
for the counterfeit currency they are, and firmly renounced, prevent the soul from reaching
those exalted heights which are the only worthy goal of human endeavour. ( VII 519b)
Neoplatonism had a profound, though little acknowledged effect on the philosophy of the
early Christian church, and was undoubtedly one of the prime causes of its rigid asceticism. It
was not purely considerations of defence which led those pioneers of Christian architecture
so often to site their monasteries on inaccessible crags, and to found their churches on remote
mountaintops. Equally responsible was the deep conviction that only by mortifying the flesh
could the spirit attain to its full perfection. In yet more recent years that great novelist, Nikos
Kazantzakis, though certainly no conventional exponent of Orthodoxy, and still less an
apologist of the established church, has yet perpetuated this apparently ineradicable tradition
in his own personal philosophy of life. As far as I understand his views as presented through
the medium of his novels, it is the search, and not the solution, that is the true and only reason
for man's existence on this planet. The search will inevitably lead us into hazards and
difficulties which will wrack the body and torture the soul. But in some strange,
incomprehensible way these self-inflicted wounds are the essential catalyst in that mysterious
process whereby the physical is transmuted into spirit. And in the final stage of this
miraculous transformation the soul, now released from the restricting, inhibiting clutches of
those two most imperious masters, Fear and Desire, achieves at last its fully-fledged freedom
to soar at will through regions of pure, celestial light.
Only in Greece, and chiefly when walking in that strangely evocative landscape, do I begin to
have the first intimations of that perfect freedom to which Kazantzakis so often alludes. Not
13
through the cold logic of the mind, but rather in that deeper, intuitive perception in which
sense and intellect are united in a single, cognitive act, I experience the first signs of that
blissful release into higher realms, above the understanding and beyond the senses. Alone on
a dazzling mountain peak, my weightless body absorbed into the radiance of sky and sea, my
soul momentarily suspended in a miracle of blue and white, slowly and silently I repeat these
proud words with which Kazantzakis' Odysseus bids farewell to this life and hails the next:
I FEAR NOTHING, I HOPE FOR NOTHING:
I AM FREE.
14
ISLANDS OF THE AEGEAN
15
16
CHAPTER I: THASOS, SAMOTHRAKI, LIMNOS
THASOS
Thasos is most easily approached from Kavala, whence a regular ferry-boat crosses over to
Skala Prinou on the N.W. coast in about 1½ hours, while from there a frequent bus service
transports passengers in a further ½ hour to the capital, Limen. Visitors, however, who are
either coming from, or destined for Eastern Thrace or Turkey may prefer the much shorter
crossing to Keramoti, almost due N. of Limen, which by avoiding Kavala completely could
easily reduce their journey by two to three hours.
It seems likely that the Phoenicians, attracted by the island's considerable mineral wealth, had
a trading station here from very remote times: but Thasos' recorded history begins at the
opening of the seventh century B.C., when it was refounded by Telesikles, father of the lyric
poet Archilochus of Paros, on the advice of a Delphic oracle which has been preserved by the
historian Eusebius. Henceforward the island prospered to such an extent that it soon
controlled the mainland opposite, including the celebrated gold mines of Skapte Hyle on Mt.
Pangaion, later to become one of the main sources of Philip of Macedon's vast wealth.
Impressive evidence of the island's prosperity is still visible in its two adjacent harbours, one
commercial and the other military, the former, though now submerged, clearly paved with
marble, and even more in its superbly constructed and uniquely preserved 3 mile circuit of
walls, furnished with massive gates and adorned with fascinating sculptures. Of the island's
many natural resources, its plentiful supply of magnificent spring water has undoubtedly
exerted the greatest influence upon its development. For the consequent proliferation of
forest, much of which still survives, must surely have provided a great stimulus to shipbuilding, to serve the needs of both commerce and defence, while it remains to this day,
along with its fine beaches, Thasos' major tourist attraction. In antiquity, however, it was to
its wine rather than to its water that the island owed its chief renown; and the extent of the
demand and the intensity of its production are well attested by the enormous number of seals,
bearing the names of both city and producer, which have appeared not only throughout the
whole Mediterranean, but also in areas as far afield as Russia, Germany and Egypt. Since the
comparatively recent discovery of off-shore oil - yet another potential source of wealth and
employment - the islanders, now less dependent on attracting foreign markets, discreetly
reserve the local produce for internal consumption, while the tourist has to be content with a
counterfeit brand which is in fact produced in Germany. Notwithstanding, the verdant
grandeur of the landscape, with its shining pine-clad peaks, copious cool springs, and
profusion of shady paths will offer the sturdy walker ample compensation for this regrettable
deprivation, and guarantee him many hours of exhilarating, challenging and rewarding
recreation.
The main town, known as either Thasos or Limen, is perhaps the best centre from which to
explore the whole island, either by bus or on foot, or by a judicious combination of both, and
it also contains both a good museum and without doubt the island's most extensive classical
17
remains. Since the island enjoys great popularity both amongst Greeks and foreign tourists,
especially from the Balkans, accommodation in the high season may pose problems and is
not as cheap as elsewhere. To do justice to the excavations in the harbour quarter, the walls,
the Acropolis and the charming little theatre, in which productions of both tragedy and
comedy are still staged, requires at least a whole day. To the adventurous walker I
recommend the following three excursions, with the caveat that the distances are quite long,
the going sometimes rough, and the probability of losing the path is quite high.
1. The ascent of Mt. Ypsarion – 3747'
In view of the distances involved and the toughness of the climb, it is advisable to take the
bus to Potamia, and so conserve one's energies for the main task. In any case, both Panagia
and Potamia are worthy of an independent visit, and if time permits they could form part of a
circular walk, returning via Chrisi Ammoudia and Makryammos – two very fine beaches –
along the coast.
Leave the main square of Potamia by the Panagia road, and after a few minutes turn left along
a lane at first concreted and then loosely paved. On either side run water conduits irrigating
orchards of magnificent apples, pears and damsons, vineyards laden with tantalizing grapes,
and fields replete with sturdy maize, artichokes and all manner of vegetables. After 20
minutes be careful to avoid a tempting right fork which leads to a quarry, and thence plunges
headlong down a gorge. Instead continue straight on until in some 10 minutes you reach a
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wonderful spring, shaded by an enormous plane tree, and deriving its water, so my Eleusinian
informants assured me, from distant Bulgaria! After 5 minutes, where the road forks, take the
right branch, and then in two minutes look out for a path on the right which is marked by a
red arrow placed on a fir tree by the E.O.S of BEROIA. Continue to follow the arrows and
spots which are strategically located on trees or stones, and in 20 minutes you will pass over a
patch of scree, and in a further 10 minutes reach another alluring path ascending on the right.
This too is best avoided, as I learnt by bitter experience. For I soon found myself in a forest
of scree up which I toiled with some difficulty, the branches snapping, and the loose stones
splintering or breaking away, only to descend eventually to the forest on the left where I at
last discovered the right path. Entering into the forest, in a while one must again avoid the
temptation to diverge into a grassy ravine on the left, which is climbed only with difficulty, as
I found to my cost! The true path in fact climbs on the right of the ravine, ascending zigzag
through the trees, until eventually one emerges on a plateau. From here the path to the right
reaches a secondary summit with a circular trig-point below and West of the bald eminence
which I had earlier all but scaled in my ignorance of the correct path. If one turns to the left,
however, one travels through bracken until in about ten minutes descending slightly one
reaches a cool spring on the left and slightly above the new dirt track. Here you will be glad
to pause a while and relish the ice-cold water which is guaranteed to refresh you for the final
assault. There is no proper path up to the summits, of which there are three, the first two
crowned with great lumps of fragmented rock of volcanic origin which is friable and easily
dislodged. Below on the East face of the mountain are huge precipices and yawning ravines,
so take care with footholds. On the West side fir trees grow even to the very topmost crag,
several split and charred - clearly the victims of violent storms. On the final summit is a
square trig-point resting on a curious base rather resembling an oven, and from it one enjoys
a spectacular view of the whole island, the other summits, and the villages of Potamia and
Panagia spread out in the foothills below. On clear days Samothraki is also clearly visible in
the East, and the triple pinnacle of Mt. Athos rises dramatically from the sea an almost equal
distance in the South West.
A dirt track reaches to within a few metres of the final summit, and it is possible to take this
on the return in preference to the rough scramble. It loops round to the right; but at the next
bend you may ascend on the right by a path which avoids the everlasting bends and leads
direct to the aforementioned spring. The whole ascent should take somewhere in the region of
2½ - 3 hours, assuming that you manage to avoid the errors to which I have alluded, and
which added at least another hour to my own time. The descent from the spring to the square
of Potamia is accomplished at a very steady pace in exactly 2 hours.
2. The circuit of the island.
This is possible in the span of a single day only by making optimum use of public transport.
If you plan the trip carefully you may alight at three different points for a variety of activities
ranging from eating and swimming to sight-seeing and walking, and still arrive back by early
evening. There are infinite possibilities to suite all tastes: the following version took exactly
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10 hours from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and in 1978 the bus fare was exactly 124 drachmae. There are
at least three buses a day, but check times at the K.T.E.L. before departure.
( a ) Alyki
Leave on the 9 a.m. bus via Panagia, Potamia and Kinyra, and make your first stop at Alyki.
The two lovely bays are separated by a pine-clad headland on which one finds a Classical
shrine, two early Christian churches, and several ancient marble quarries, some right on the
sea. Despite weathering one can easily detect the various shapes hewn from the living rock.
The bathing is magnificent in pure turquoise seas. After two hours you may resume the bus as
far as Limenaria on the S.W. coast, passing the southernmost headland of Akri Salonikos
with its desolate off-shore island of Panagia, and the town of Astris with its fine Hellenistic
towers.
(b) Limenaria
To be frank, the town, which was built in the last century by the German company Spidel and
Group to accommodate workers in the zinc mines, is not particularly prepossessing, although
the company's head offices, known locally as the 'palataki', have been much admired. At least
one can have lunch before proceeding by the next bus to Skala Sotiros. Almost all the
villages in mediaeval times moved inland to the shelter of the mountains, but retained their
'skala' for fishing and commerce.
(c) The Monastery of St Pantaleimonos.
The monastery itself is rather disappointing, unless you happen to arrive on July 26 when a
large panegyry is held, but the walk there and back is very enjoyable and lasts about 4 hours
in toto. First take the road up towards Sotiros, but after a mile or so diverge onto a quite
broad path on the left which narrows as it runs through olive groves for about 2 kilometres.
As soon as it rejoins the road cross over and take the path which branches off this time on the
right, and reaches the village in a couple of minutes, making the total time from Skala just
about 1 hour. In the centre of the square is a spring with most refreshing water, and from here
the path zigzags up a few yards before turning left. It is clearly marked with red spots and
arrows put there by some Swiss tourists, and is most pleasantly shaded by olives and pines.
After a few minutes there is a surprising left turn, clearly indicated by a red arrow, and one
descends for a short time to cross a ravine. From here the path climbs very gradually to reach
the monastery in about 1 hour. There is a wonderful spring just past the guest rooms, and
from the spring a path descends to Prinos, and is again marked by red spots. You will be
lucky not to lose your way, as I did; but eventually I descended by a rather precipitous route
by the telephone wires to a small path which finally met a track running parallel with the
asphalt road. After about ½ ml turn off right down a stony but well defined path which
eventually leads into Prinos itself, where with luck you will board the last bus back to Thasos.
The circular trip from Skala Sotiros to Prinos takes about 4 hours, allowing for a fairly brief
stop at the monastery.
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3. Theologos by bus - return to Potamia on foot via Pr. Elias.
My original intention was that this should be a rather restful day, involving nothing more
strenuous than a fairly long bus ride to Theologos, a leisurely stroll round the village, and
finally a fairly simple and sedate excursion to the hamlet of Kastron about 3 miles distant.
Dis aliter visum est: for though possessing neither compass nor map, I was tempted into
embarking on an enterprise which proved to be one of the most hazardous and exciting of my
whole stay on the island. It would therefore be irresponsible in the extreme to suggest that
anyone should even attempt to follow the route which I here describe, especially if they were
as ill-equipped as I was, alone, and with nothing to sustain them except 3 pears, a small box
of processed cheese, and a thin slice of halvas which some strange impulse had led me to
purchase in the village. But the story is worth telling both as a cautionary tale, and also
because it illustrates so well the truth of the frequently quoted aphorism – 'journeys devoid of
adventure don't exist'. Ταξίδια χωρίς περιπέτειες δεν υπάρχουν.
Theologos used to be the capital of the island in mediaeval times , but now its grey-roofed
houses despite their gay gardens present a forlorn and abandoned appearance, and at least on
that occasion threatened to induce a melancholy which I was anxious to escape as soon as
possible. Having reached the cemetery on the fringe of the village I got into conversation
with a group of men laying telegraph poles, and learnt from them that the dirt-track ahead led
to Potamia via the church of Prophetes Elias. Preferring however to use narrower and hence
better shaded paths, and being assured that the parallel path also led to my desired
destination, I hastily drank from the spring, filled an old can with water, and with some
excitement began climbing steeply up the hill. Imagine my disappointment when after half an
hour I met a lonely shepherd and seeking confirmation that I was on the right course was told
that I should have followed the dirt-track in the first place, and that I had no option but to
return to the cemetery. Even this operation I achieved only with some difficulty, having taken
a wrong turning somewhere, as a result of which I ended up on the wrong side of the stream,
to cross which involved hacking my way through dense undergrowth and clambering over
several abandoned terraces.
My second attempt proved equally abortive: for after a few minutes the track divided and I
opted for the right fork, only to meet shortly afterwards two fellows who assured me that I
should have taken the left, adding the further advice that as soon as I reached the water
cistern I must turn left up a path which would save me much time by cutting off all the
tedious bends in the track. Needless to say, this advice turned out to be even more disastrous.
To find the path and the cistern was no problem; but then for two hours in the fierce midday
heat I toiled up a steep rocky slope desperately sucking 'Navigators' to provide energy and
avert my parching thirst, until I reached a plateau on which sheep were sheltering – how
much more wisely! – in a cool cave in the rocks. For a while I joined them, and hoping that
Prophetes Elias couldn't be far away, ventured to eat the second of my pears. With renewed
vigour I pressed on yet higher, and finally emerged, with a mixture of amazement and
dismay, on one of the secondary summits of Mt. Ypsarion! From here I could see clearly the
21
route that I had followed two days earlier, and for a moment I contemplated adopting this
solution. By now however I had located the elusive chapel of the prophet nestling alluringly
in a col of the mountain some two miles to the East, and approached with disarming comfort
by the dirt-track. I resolved therefore to descend the steep rocky slope and attempt to contour
round to a spur to which I fancy that I see a tiny path leading round, traversing the bald cone
of the mountain. So much I successfully accomplish, but then am horrified to discover that
the path having climbed onto the shoulder ends abruptly at a sheer face which no one but a
fool would essay without ropes. I sit down to survey the situation and eat my last pear, and
conclude that I must retrace my steps, and somehow hack my way through the forest and
dense undergrowth with the invaluable help of my faithful Athos stick.
It was 5.20 when I eventually reached the chapel - almost 6 hours after first leaving
Theologos! With no little sense of relief I went inside to light a candle for my deliverance,
and to eat a wonderfully sour orange which I found at the bottom of my bag, and along with it
a little bread and halvas. After a well-earned half hour rest I resumed my journey, and as the
path now seemed so clear, I fondly imagined arriving back in Potamia in about 1½ hours.
Alas, no such luck. Within 10 minutes the path disappeared amid waist- high ferns, and I
plunged into a frightful ravine with steep ledges and choked with boulders, trees and
impenetrable undergrowth. After a quarter of an hour of lamentably slow progress,
negotiating ledges and forcing my now weary limbs through the dense vegetation, being of
the opinion that anything must be better than this, with great difficulty I extricated myself
from the ravine on the left where I imagined that I saw the faint vestiges of a path. Toiling
upwards for about 20 minutes I look across the ravine and am furious to see the proper path
zigzagging beautifully down the opposite side. By now however, nothing could induce me to
enter its vicious jaws again, so I press on, somewhat encouraged by the sound of a dog
barking furiously from a ledge about 100 feet above. A path of sorts appears, and I am
relieved to find that it at last begins to descend; for much though l love mountains, I did not
relish the prospect of spending the night on the top of Ypsarion. At first the descent is quite
gentle: but before long I find myself on a bracken covered slope so steep and rendered so
slippery by fallen pine needles that to keep one's balance is a sheer impossibility. So sitting
down, clutching bag in left hand and stick in right, I perform an extraordinary bum-slide,
steering a perilous course amid the pines, shirt ripped to shreds by passing branches, arms
lacerated and seat of my pants rapidly disappearing by friction as I gather speed, but
mercifully managing to come to a halt each time ledges appeared. These I gingerly
negotiated, planning each step with utmost caution, and yet prevented from panicking by the
sheer absurdity of the whole situation. Half an hour of this crazy skiing act brings me minus
purse and its contents, lodged in the now vanished rear pocket of my jeans, but miraculously
life and limb still intact, to a marvellous spring in whose refreshing waters I hasten to quench
my raging thirst and bathe my wounded arms.
From here the path descended gently and comfortably, mile after mile, cushioned below by
fallen leaves and shaded above by the immense forest, until just as the light began to fail I
reached a camping area where I was very lucky to find a man in a van who readily agreed to
give me a lift into the village of Potamia. On the way I explained my adventures, and
22
received a good-humoured reprimand for my temerity in exploring the unknown alone and so
badly equipped to face the hazards which are the inevitable concomitant of such foolhardy
enterprises. Once arrived in the village I dashed into the nearest cafe to enquire whether the
last bus had left for Thasos. As I suspected, it had: but at least I was able to drink several
tumblers of water before I noticed an expensive limousine preparing to leave the square and
head northwards. It transpired that the driver was Italian; but by a combination of sign
language and Italicised Latin I succeeded in communicating my request and was kindly
offered a lift as far as the junction where the roads to Thasos and Chrisi Ammoudia diverge.
At this point Fortune relented her cruel sport and at last played me fair: for the driver missed
the turn, and by the time he realised his error decided to deliver me right to the door of the
pension where I was staying – an act of kindness for which I shall be eternally grateful.
In order to obtain a spare key to gain access to my much needed bed I was obliged to appeal
to my landlady, who viewed my tattered appearance with concern and was all agog to hear
my explanation for it, and insisted on immediately switching on the immersion heater so that
I could have a hot shower. Even more touching were the solicitations of her husband, a rather
solemn man named Socrates, who sought me out the next day both to remonstrate against my
suicidal folly, and extract a faithful promise that I would never again embark upon such a
dangerous mission alone.
I have told this tale in some detail mainly to illustrate the importance of knowing and keeping
to the correct path, and of always carrying a compass, especially in forested areas where one
can so easily lose one's sense of direction. Should anyone still be rash enough to attempt the
walk, I strongly recommend that they stick to the dirt track as far as Prophetes Elias, and
from there be careful to avoid falling into the ravine by searching for the zigzag path which
descends on the right side of the valley.
23
SAMOTHRAKI
In view of the uncertainty of the direct boat link between Thasos and Samothraki, and of the
notorious ferocity of the seas in this turbulent N.E. region of the Aegean, prospective visitors
to Samothraki are best advised to take the land route via Alexandroupolis. The proximity of
the latter town to the Turkish border means that it is invariably swarming with soldiers, most
of whom are national servicemen whose faces indicate all too clearly the acute boredom and
resentment induced by their enforced exile to this the most sensitive and distant of Greece's
frontiers. The place is also sadly lacking in even the most basic amenities, including hotels,
but at least the 6 hour journey there by ferry to Keramoti, and thence by bus through Thrace
is broken up into 4 relatively short stages by the necessity of changing at Xanthi, Komotini,
and Chrysoupolis. Nor is the journey itself devoid of interest: For girded by fabled mountains
like Rhodopi in the North, and well watered by rivers like the Nestos which comes gliding
down in full majesty from Bulgaria, Thrace possesses one of Greece's most prolific plains,
producing sugar-beet, maize, cotton, and above all tobacco. In antiquity its most renowned
son was Democritus of Abdera, inventor of the atomic theory. But nowadays, apart from the
comparatively recent mechanization of its agriculture, the area still has a very decidedly
oriental flavour which is particularly evident in its music, and in the traditional long black
dresses and white cowls worn by almost all the women, young as well as old. But my most
abiding memory of the whole trip remains that of the public lavatory at Xanthi, whose
squalour was so repugnant and odour so pungent that my acute pangs and urgent need were
immediately overcome. But not so the shameless avarice of the attendant, who expostulated
most indignantly at my refusal to pay the customary exit fee, on the grounds that it was too
filthy even for a pig to use. As I have already intimated, Alexandroupolis is scarcely more
salubrious, while the state of the foreshore, which seemed to be used as a public rubbish
dump, was a positive disgrace. Fortunately the boat to Samothraki leaves at about 7 a.m. so
you will not be obliged to spend longer than half a day in this most unprepossessing town.
Most people who visit Samothraki will be motivated by one or other of the following three
desires: to climb Mt. Phengari, from which Homer tells us in Iliad XIII Poseidon observed
the battle at Troy; to bathe in the therapeutic springs at Loutra; or to visit the famous
sanctuary of the Great Gods at Palaiopolis. But whatever be their motive, let them understand
that the island is as yet not geared to tourism, that accommodation is limited and simple, and
that their diet will of necessity be restricted to goat meat and salad. The boat journey lasts
about three hours, can be extremely rough, while not infrequently all attempts to land at the
small harbour at Kamariotissa are thwarted by tempestuous seas. A bus climbs up to the
capital Chora, which is hidden in a fold of the hills and contains almost half of the island's
small population. On my arrival there a kind old man tried, unsuccessfully, to find me a
room, and meanwhile I spent an hour exploring the ruined Venetian castle and the
extraordinarily crammed general stores. Everywhere soldiers sat in groups and older men in
baggy breeches and leggings strode around the narrow streets.
From Chora a good path leads down in about an hour to Palaiopolis, and since a cool,
refreshing breeze had sprung up, even though carrying my full pack, I didn't find the journey
24
arduous. At Palaiopolis there is a Xenia Hotel, but the cafeneion also has a little
accommodation on a more modest scale and at rather cheaper rates. The site and museum are
certainly worth a visit, and since the former is so extensive and one can easily lose one's
bearings, the best part of four hours will be required to do them justice. It was here that the
famous statue of Nike (Victory) was found; and here too Philip of Macedon first met and fell
in love with Olympias, later to become the mother of Alexander the Great. Hence the
sanctuary was lavishly adorned by the Ptolemies, Queen Arsinoe dedicating to the Great
Gods a rotunda which is the largest in all Greece.
Should you wish to stay in Loutra – or Therma, as it is often called – the walk there is quite
simple, especially if you make an early start; for you will find a strong breeze blowing from
the sea, and as an extra bonus for your efforts will see the sun rise from the ocean and flood
Mt. Phengari – which means the Moon – with its radiant light. The distance is about 7
kilometres, but the road is quite level, and traffic almost non-existent. The village folk are
very friendly and I soon found a kind shepherd who offered me a glass of sweetened milk and
bread while he made enquiries for accommodation on my behalf. His name is Vassili, and he
guides tourists up Mt. Phengari, 1000 drachmae being his standard charge in 1978. This was
rather more than I could afford, especially since being alone I had no one who might have
shared the cost with me. Sympathising with my predicament, Vassili very obligingly agreed
to take me up for only 500 drachmae, on condition that I allowed him to do some jobs while
we were up the mountain. Loutra has several 'pensions', some quite recently built and
possessing modern facilities, and there is a least one good restaurant serving wholesome if
not very varied fare. In addition to the usual all-purpose store - the pantopoleion - there is a
lorry selling fruit and vegetables, whose arrival is announced by a noisy bouzouki tape. Most
of the visitors tend to be Greek, and despite the 5 tavernas they generally prepare their own
food, as of course do the locals. It is a fascinating and instructive experience to wander
through the village either at midday or in the evening, and to observe the housewives
preparing meals in the shade of the trees, where they sit peeling potatoes or cooling their
karpouzia in the rivulets that flow unceasingly down the hillside, their bubbling a perfect
accompaniment to the incessant chirping of the cicadas, and each a perfect foil to the other the latter epitomizing the frenzied heat, and the former the refreshing cool. Everywhere pots
are on the boil over crude hearths built over log fires, and the whole air is redolent with
appetizing odours.
But by far the most curious feature of the village is the springs, one freezing cold, and by its
side several hot ones of varying temperatures ranging from tepid to well nigh boiling. The
proximity of the cold to the hot springs caused me to wonder whether this might indeed be
the origin of the identical phenomenon described by Homer in the Iliad, and there located at
nearby Troy; and it certainly gave me the chance to witness the amusing spectacle of people
depositing their drinks and vegetables and fruit to cool in the one, while doing their washing
in the other! Since I suffer from a rheumatic knee, I was induced by Vassili the guide to essay
the cure on the evening after climbing the mountain; and I can vouch that if you can bear to
immerse your limbs in the boiling water, the intensity of the heat certainly eases the pain.
There is another spring said to be good for the feet, and when I went in search of it the
25
following morning I found a little man now sitting at the entrance, where he charged a small
admission fee of 5 drachmae, and recorded in a catalogue the number of bathes taken, after
which he directed me to the relevant spring. As. I arrived a couple of men were just leaving
so I had the tiny pool to myself. The water here is only tepid, and the smell of sulphur is
strong where the water oozes from the earth, enters the pool, and thence trickles away down
the hillside. As I finished my bath an old man hobbled down the slope, and slowly began to
divest himself of all his clothes – sweater, shirt, trousers, long-johns, all except his woolly
vest. "Twenty years I've been coming," he proudly asserts, "and twenty minutes a day is what
the Doctor prescribed, in an open place." At which with great solemnity he laid his watch on
the concrete surround, gently lowered himself into the water, and proceeded to time the
treatment to the exact second. With amazement I discovered that he was 92, and had been
cured of all manner of ailments, from rheumatism in various joints, varicose veins to cardiac
embolism! Many Greeks whom I have met have implicit faith in the efficiency of
hydrotherapy, and consequently the spas remain extremely popular. When I next visited them
in order to take photographs the far bath was full of women who chatted as they bathed, their
heads either swathed in towels or shaded with umbrellas. Three or four men were impatiently
waiting their turn - for mixed bathing would be totally unacceptable – and as more and more
women came along to join the others, friendly banter was exchanged. When I explained my
reluctance to take photographs, lest the women might misinterpret my motives, the men
urged me to forget my embarrassment, and take my snaps by stealth - advice which I
hastened to adopt before the light failed.
The ascent of Mt. Phengari (Saos) – 5250'.
The route up this vast granite eminence takes 5 or 6 hours from Chora, but only 4 from
Loutra; and although there is not much difficulty in finding and following the path in its
initial stages, the last section of the climb could be tricky without intimate knowledge of the
mountain, and I would therefore strongly recommend taking a guide. As I have already
explained, the guide Vassili had agreed to take me up at a reduced charge on condition that he
could do some work while up the mountain, and when I found him at about 6 a.m. he was
busy preparing provisions for the journey and eating his breakfast of milk and bread. He
offered me some too, but as I had already eaten some yoghurt I declined, and we went off to
fetch a couple of mules which were tethered behind the cafe. A large bundle of hay was
fastened on the larger animal, who immediately began filching it bit by bit. The saddles were
fixed and at 6.30 we were away, Vassili riding the larger animal, myself on foot, and Irma,
Vassili's 5 year old bitch, the most gentle and abstemious of animals, and obedient too,
running along behind.
The first half hour is spent climbing quite steeply through the bushes, which trap the heat,
although the sun is barely up, and make the atmosphere sultry. Then comes a delightful 1½
hour's journey winding gently up beneath a vast oak forest affording welcome shade, Vassili
seated majestically on the mule behind, whilst I forge ahead with Irma, who clearly knows
every inch of the path, and all the short cuts too! Having reached the edge of the forest we
tether the mules and begin the second, more arduous stage of the climb through a veritable
26
morass of boulders, the sure-footed Vassili now leading, and I trailing behind, the uneven
surface giving some pain to my right thigh, since I had had the misfortune to fall and pull a
muscle the previous day. All around tower the glistening peaks of the mountain, darker in the
East, radiant in the West where the fierce sun catches every surface with its searing light. We
toil upwards, stone by stone and in about 1½ hours we reach the first summit which
commands an extensive view of the Western half and Southern side of the island, with its
seaward plain and several small villages nestling in minute crannies in the huge granite mass
which sprawls towards the encircling ocean. Formidable crags plunge down on the right, and
we marvel at the audacity of the goats which scramble on these dizzy ledges gathering
fodder. They are wild and fend for themselves, thus providing the islanders with a free supply
of meat when the time comes for them to be rounded up and slaughtered.
From this summit the second, slightly higher one known as Phengari appears on the left. The
footpath, a rather perilous affair, which I certainly would not have relished finding unaided,
creeps along the ridge, with a sheer precipice on the South side, and severe crags on the
North, where a great ravine carrying the river sweeps down to the North coast. The view from
this final summit is all embracing - to the North the harbour of Kamariotissa shelters behind
the sun-scorched peninsula with its patchwork of burnt fields; further East Palaiopolis comes
into view, and then Loutra with its long jetty; in the far South the shimmering beach of
Ammos. Only Chora is hidden from sight, tucked away in a fold of sheer rock, a mountain
stronghold secluded from the inquisitive gaze of strangers. On clear days even Troy is dimly
seen in the East, as indeed it was more than 3000 years ago by Poseidon from this very spot,
according to Homer's account in Iliad XIII;
"No careless watch the monarch Neptune kept:
Wond'ring he viewed the battle, where he sat
Aloft on wooded Samos' topmost peak,
Samos of Thrace; whence Ida's height he saw,
And Priam's city, and the ships of Greece.
Thither ascended from the sea he sat;
And thence the Greeks, by Trojans overborne,
Pitying he saw, and deeply wrath with Jove.
Then down the mountain's craggy side he passed
With rapid step; and as he moved along,
Beneath th' immortal feet of Ocean's Lord
Quak'd the huge mountain and the shadowy wood.
Three strides he took; the fourth, he reached his goal,
Aegae, where on the margin of the bay
His temple stood, all glittering, all of gold."
Musing on such thoughts we sat eating our picnic of cheese, tomatoes, cucumber, bread and
peaches, and drinking the water still miraculously cold. Vassili stuck a slice of cucumber on
his forehead to cool his brow, and then ate voraciously, unlike Irma, who when I threw her a
piece of bread, promptly began scratching away at the stony earth to bury it for some future
27
occasion. Shortly after 11 a.m. we began the descent down a rocky shoulder, picking our way
carefully from boulder to boulder, and thinking enviously of Poseidon's rapid step, and four
confident strides! In ¾ hour we reached a point where Vassili recalled that the army had
encamped when making the cement trig-point in the early 50s. The Bulgarians had built the
foundations in 1942 during the occupation, but the Greek military cartographers erected the
pillars. "The mules brought up the cement all this way, without a path, carrying small loads of
50 kilos, poor creatures," he observed, his voice filled with sympathy for their wretched
plight. Indeed his great consideration for and skill in handling these beasts impressed me
continually, and the peculiar language he used when giving them instructions was fascinating
to hear, and never failed to evoke the desired response. Only on one occasion did he show
displeasure; and that was when the smaller one, which has a mischievous delight in taking
short cuts, fell down and lay sprawled helplessly and kicking furiously, unable to right itself
under its huge load of timber. Vassili charged down the hillside, and with a mighty heave set
the foolish animal on its feet again; and then with menacing imprecation he delivered to its
rump a kick of truly Herculean force, under the impact of which it went scuttling down the
stony incline, raising clouds of dust as it went.
Soon the rock gives way to a patch of ferns, after crossing which we climbed down to the
river to replenish our water bottles. Because of the long drought it was barely a trickle: but
Vassili assured me that in the winter it's a veritable torrent whose thunderous roar echoes
around the mountain with terrifying noise. By 1 p.m. we had reached the mules again, and.
Vassili began to hack away at several mighty trunks brought down by winter storms,
wielding a great felling axe with enviable ease, and occasionally lopping off the lush foliage
and flinging it over to the mules to munch. Then using a forked branch to support the rope
cradle he proceeded with consummate skill to load the two patient beasts of burden with logs,
finally securing the huge bundles with crafty knots. By one of those curious coincidences
which in Greece occur with remarkable frequency, two or three days later I happened to be
reading the thirty third book of the Iliad, where Homer recounts the elaborate preparations
made by the Greeks for the funeral of Patroclus. How little life has changed in Greece during
the intervening 3000 years! For in lines 130 ff. one may read a graphic description of felling
operations on Mt. Ida, exactly resembling in every detail the events which I had witnessed
with my own eyes on Mt. Phengari.
"From all the camp, by Agamemnon sent,
Went forth in search of fuel men and mules.
Their felling axes in their hands they bore,
And twisted ropes; their mules before them driven;
Now up, now down, now sideways, now aslope,
They journey'd on; but when they reached the foot
Of spring-abounding Ida, they began
With axes keen to hew the lofty oaks;
They loudly crashing fell: the wood they clove,
And bound it to the mules; these took their way
Through the thick brushwood, hurrying to the plain."
28
Vassili's task completed, we too began to descend to the plain by the same zigzag path as we
had ascended in the early morning. Once back in the village Vassili began to distribute the
fruits of his labours - a bag of wood chippings he has carefully gathered for an old woman to
fertilize her flowers; a large bundle of 'tea of the mountain' picked for an elderly couple; and
the oak logs for his wife to fuel their hearth in the depths of winter which on Samothraki can
be both long and severe.
29
LIMNOS
It would be hard to imagine a starker contrast than that presented by the island of Limnos and
the other two members of this trio of islands, Thasos and Samothraki. For whereas the latter
are for the most part covered by immense forest, and dominated by high mountain masses,
Limnos is almost entirely treeless, and with the exception of the modest range of bare, rocky
hills which borders the West coast, extremely flat and featureless. And yet in area Limnos is
quite 1arge, and currently supports a population of some 15000, 3000 of whom live in the
capital, Myrina, situated towards the South of the West coast, and dominated by the extensive
ruins of its impressive Venetian castle. The second largest town is Moudros which lies half
way along the Eastern shore of the huge gulf which bears the same name, and all but bisects
the island. The remainder of the inhabitants are spread over some thirty villages which are
scattered mainly in the island's fertile hinterland.
NW of Moudros in a conveniently central position is a large airport used by both civilian and
military aircraft and Limnos lies also at the centre of various shipping lanes. Boats sail
regularly from Kimi in Euboia, and from Agios Konstantinos and Volos on the mainland,
calling en route at Skiathos and Agios Evstratios, a small island due South of Myrina, whose
size was even further reduced some 15 years ago when in the course of a violent earthquake a
large section of it suddenly disappeared into the depths of the sea! From Myrina some boats
continue N.W. to Kavala in Thrace, and thence to Samothraki and Alexandroupolis, whilst
others go S.E. to Lesbos whence they proceed via Chios and Samos as far down as the
Dodecanese. Thus with careful planning and a modicum of luck one may combine a visit to
Limnos with visits to the Northern Sporades, Thasos and Samothraki, or even the Eastern
islands and the Dodecanese. There is once a week a boat which sails all the way from
Piraeus: but since several other islands are included in the itinerary, and hence the journey
takes well over 24 hours, passengers coming from this direction might well prefer at very
little extra cost and enormous saving in time to avail themselves of the daily flights from
Athens airport. A regular air service operates also from Thessaloniki in the North, and a bus
links the airport with the capital, Myrina.
Apart from the West of the island which is quite rugged and boasts 4 peaks rising to heights a
little in excess of 1500', the rest of Limnos consists of low-lying plains interrupted by gently
rolling hills. The soil is volcanic and yields rich crops of cereals, grapes and other fruits.
Maize and some cotton too are grown, and justly celebrated are Limnos honey, wine and
halvas, the latter produced from local sesame seeds and flavoured with local almonds or
pistachio nuts. Considerable numbers of stock are also raised, while fish too is in plentiful
supply. The island's strategic position midway between Mt. Athos and the Dardanelles, its
proximity to the Turkish border, and above all its excellent natural harbour at Moudros have
resulted in an inevitably large military presence. But although the construction of the airport
has added yet a further dimension to this presence it would be unfair to categorize it as
obtrusive, whilst on the credit side it has brought much needed wealth and employment to the
people. There is very little industry apart from pottery and a small factory making halvas at
Kornos.
30
Tourism is just beginning to make a significant contribution to the island's flagging economy,
and of the two obvious centres, Moudros and Myrina, it is at the latter that you will
undoubtedly find the greater variety of accommodation. At the lower end of the scale simple
rooms are available at prices ranging from 750-1000 Dr per night for a double room. The
older hotels naturally lack refinements and are cheapest, and are situated on the water-front
immediately opposite the harbour; in the middle price range comes the Sevdalis, on a side
street next door to the Olympic Airways Office; most expensive is the Kastro, occupying a
prime position next to the Museum and Secondary School in the centre of the more Northerly
bay which was known as Romaios, since here lived all the aristocracy during the period of
the Turkish occupation of the island. Even a single room here currently costs 1800 Dr, and a
double 2600 Dr! Further North, and in a class all of its own, is the famous Akti Myrina Hotel,
more often referred to locally as the 'helvetia', where a luxury Swiss-chalet type apartment set
amid landscaped gardens and with its own private sandy beach will cost you somewhere in
the region of 5000 Dr a night! Among the many excellent facilities one must number a
fabulous outdoor restaurant, a heated sea-water swimming pool, two tennis courts and even a
miniature golf course.
And yet despite all this, Limnos is not as yet well developed for tourism, and the public
transport, such as it is, is designed to suit the convenience of the locals rather than that of
visitors, the buses leaving the capital for the villages in the afternoon, and not returning until
the following day. Unless he has a tent, therefore, the walker will find little help from public
transport, while the distances involved are rather too long to make circular explorations of the
island a practical possibility. For reasons which should by now be fairly apparent, I thus
cannot in honesty commend the island to the experienced walker, who will in all probability
find its landscape rather dull and uninspiring. On the other hand those who tend to be
deterred by high mountains might well find in Limnos a gentle training ground for the
considerably tougher walking on neighbouring Thasos and Samothraki. Moreover Limnos
does possess one distinct advantage over most other islands, namely the ease with which one
may with the aid of a compass walk across country - a procedure which in the rest of Greece
the extremely rough terrain makes generally exceedingly difficult if not absolutely
impossible. Furthermore, whatever may be its deficiencies in terms of spectacular scenery
and other natural amenities, for the historian and archaeologist Limnos is a veritable
Eldorado, possessing sites both of great antiquity and of singular interest. By a judicious
combination of coach travel provided by the Petridou Tours (main office in the main street)
and of simple walking along tracks and easy footpaths, it is possible to see most of the main
sites within the space of two days. These in fact comprise the contents of walks (1) and (2):
the third walk offers rather more challenge, and does not involve the use of any form of
transport, public or otherwise.
31
1. Petridou Tour to Poliochni and Moudros - Thursdays.
This excursion, which embraces almost all the South of the island, leaves at 9.30 from the
Hotel Kastro, and returns at about 5 in the evening. The route assumes the shape of a figure 8,
thus passing through some twelve villages, and reaching its ultimate objective, the ancient
city of Poliochni, at about 11.30 a.m. Here one has ample time both to explore the ruins and
32
to swim or walk before proceeding to Moudros, where lunch is taken at a waterfront
restaurant between 2 and 2.30 p.m.
The coach leaves Myrina S.E. to Thanos, whence a poor road pursues a tortuous course
through the rugged mountains to the somberly attractive, stone-paved village of Kontias,
where a brief break is made for coffee. Continuing, one reaches Old and New Pedino, the
latter built on hopefully safer ground after the severe earthquake of February 1968, as indeed
33
was also the adjacent village of Nea Koutali. Here, according to one informant who professed
to have been an eye-witness of the event, the celebrated 'Limnian Earth' is dug annually
before daybreak on the feast of the Transfiguration (August 6) by the officiating Priest; but
two other locations, namely Plaka on the N.E. extremity of the island, and Kotsinas half way
along the N. coast, also claim proprietary rights to this mysterious commodity. The belief that
it was an effective antidote to all poisons and an infallible cure for snake-bites and festering
wounds derives from its alleged use by the mythological hero Philoctetes, and persisted well
into the nineteenth century, when the Sultan still sent or sold it in small cubes known as 'terra
sigillata' to all the monarchs of Europe.
Leaving Koutali the bus passes through Livadochori, situated in the centre of what is still the
largest and richest plain of the island, even though half of it is currently occupied by the
Airport which extends along the wide alluvial 'flats' at the Northern end of the huge Gulf of
Moudros. The circumvention of the Airport requires a tedious detour: but eventually at Varos
one enters Limnos' S.E. peninsula, and after passing through Roussopouli and Kaminia
finally reaches one's destined stop at Poliochni. The site was excavated by the Italians in the
30s and proved exceptionally prolific, containing no fewer than 7 cities, the oldest of which
was founded an astonishing 4000 years B.C. and thus antedates by a considerable period even
the lowest levels at nearby Troy. The massive walls stood to a height of 16', and were so stout
that they contained within their thickness huge repositories for corn in the N, and in the S.
large reception rooms equipped with seats. The most developed city is dated to c. 1500 B.C.
and in this layer there were discovered quantities of petrified figs, which are displayed along
with many other fascinating exhibits in the Museum at Myrina.
Substantial time is allowed in the itinerary for bathing, during which an energetic walker
might even reach as far as Agios Sozon, a remote monastery which celebrates with unique
dances on September 7, and is situated on a windy cape c. 6 kilometres due S, in a barren area
known locally as the Limnos Sahara! Alternatively one could take a bracing stroll along the
cliff edge N. towards the promontory called Voskotopos, where as its name suggests many
flocks of sheep and goats are grazed. The return journey begins about 1.30 – 2.00 and is via
Moudros, a pleasant, sleepy town on the N.E. outskirts of which on the Roussopouli road one
finds a large military cemetery. Here repose the mortal remains of over 600 British and
Commonwealth troops who lost their lives at Moudros in 1915 – 1916, when the majority
appear to have been between 18 and 22 years old. The adjacent harbour, which is the largest
natural harbour in the Eastern Mediterranean, was used as a supply base for the disastrous
Gallipoli campaign, in the course of which an appalling total of over 36,000 British and
Allied soldiers were killed. The cemetery is well landscaped and beautifully maintained by
the War Graves Commission who have erected an instructive tablet at the entrance explaining
the strategy of the entire Dardanelles Expedition. The plot contains also many French graves,
as well as a French Memorial in the form of an obelisk, and it is flanked by a Greek cemetery
which by contrast presents a characteristic, chaotic appearance.
The bus leaves at 4 p.m., so that one may comfortably visit the cemetery without forfeiting
one's lunch; and after Livadochori it diverges from the morning's itinerary to follow a more
34
Northerly route back to Myrina via Agios Dimitrios and Kornos. The former village is
unquestionably the most verdant in the island, and according to the driver, Paris, who was
born there, it is also the best. Kornos is said to be a corruption of Krounos, which means
'fountain', and does indeed possess some fine springs, and also a small factory producing
halvas. It lies a little off the main road on the right, and a mile or so further on one passes on
the left close to a hot, therapeutic spring which rises from a great depth at the foot of Mt.
Prophetes Elias whose craggy summit you cannot fail to notice. Almost opposite on the right
there stands out the more lowly, conical peak of Mt. Athanasios, to which access is
unfortunately forbidden because of the Radar installation which surmounts it.
The tour is organised with unassuming efficiency and costs 400 drachmae (1984).
2. Petridou Tour to Kavirio, Hephestia and Kotsinas - Friday.
All the sites, both classical and mediaeval, visited in the course of the day's excursion lie
within the Northern sector of the island; but it is possible to incorporate Hephestia only by
foregoing one's midday bathe, and walking a total of some 8 miles. The price of the ticket and
departure time are exactly as in (1), and the bus follows the same Northerly route from
Myrina at least as far as Livadochori. From here it proceeds due East to Romanou, a village
founded in the 10th century and named after the current Emperor, Romanos. After the next
village, Kontopouli, one passes on the right a large salt-water lake called Limni Aliki, and
separated from the sea by a narrow sand-dune. At the N.W. corner of the lake is situated a
village called Agios Alexandros, which according to local tradition owes its name to the fact
that Alexander the Great was conceived here. If there is any truth in the story, the most likely
occasion would have been the Autumnal celebration of the Mysteries of the Great Gods at the
neighbouring Kavirion. For. it is commonly accepted that Alexander's parents, Philip II of
Macedon and the fiery Illyrian princess Olympias, first met at the more famous sanctuary of
the Great Gods on Samothraki; while we know from various sources that the rites on Limnos,
Imbros and Samothraki were celebrated simultaneously, being synchronized by the lighting
of beacons on nearby conspicuous heights. The three beacons formed an Isosceles triangle,
while according to the dramatist Aeschylus the Limnos beacon, located on Mt. Alepotrypes
(i.e. Foxholes) was part of a chain of beacons used to signal the fall of Troy all the way
across the Aegean to Mycenae.
The Kaviri were chthonic deities who, like Dionysus and Demeter with whom they are
commonly associated, most probably originated in Asia Minor. They are often depicted as
father and son, were concerned, like the Dioscuri with whom they are frequently confused in
later literature, with the protection of sailors, but more especially with the fertility of the earth
and the mystery of procreation. Their sanctuary is found at a place named Chloe – Grass - in
a dramatic situation on a rocky spur overlooking the bay of Tigani, so called because of its
close resemblance to a frying-pan. Excavations were first begun before the war, and the site
is currently being re-dug and cleared of debris. As you enter you will pass through the New
Initiation Room - 'telesterion' - which was built in the Fourth Century B.C. and is flanked by
an impressive stoa of 12 pillars with lion-head capitals. Adjacent lies the old Telesterion,
35
whose colonnade had only four pillars, and on the left between the two you will see a small
exedra with an apse in which it is believed that the cult statue would have stood. On the right
towards the sea are the foundations of a rectangular temple to Aphrodite, near which you will
observe part of the high wall which surrounded the whole site so that the uninitiated might
not see in. The ceremonies took place by night, and during the excavations thousands of
lamps have been found. The obliging and well informed guard will be anxious to take you
down a path to the sea in order to show you the famous cave of Philoctetes which is entered
through a small cleft in the rock. Here the hero was abandoned on the way to Troy, since his
leg had become gangrenous as a result of a snake bite; and the cave has two entrances from
the sea exactly as it is described by Sophocles in his play Philoctetes (fl16 ff).
On the opposite side of the bay behind the sheer volcanic cliffs lies Hephestia founded in the
7th century B.C. and in classical times the capital of the island. Unfortunately there is no
direct path around the bay: but when the bus returns to take its passengers down to the beach
at Kalliope, alight at Kontopouli, whence the dirt-track running due N. will lead you in a little
over an hour to the site.
Hephestia derives its name from Hephaistos, the island's patron and protector ever since
landing there after being thrown out of heaven by his irate father, Zeus, with whom he had
dared to quarrel. Limnos was at that time inhabited by the Sintians, a barbarian people from
Thrace; but nonetheless they treated him kindly, and were duly rewarded for their hospitality
by receiving instruction from the god himself in the secret arts of bronze-smelting. The
adoption of this myth was doubtless in part an attempt to explain the high degree of volcanic
activity which persisted in Limnos to a comparatively late period. But it also reflects a
preoccupation with mining and metallurgy which must have played an important role in the
island's early rise to prosperity, as well as later attracting the jealous attention first of the
Persians, then the Athenians, and finally Philip of Macedon. The excavation of the enormous
necropolis by the Italians is still continuing, and hence the public is unfortunately not
admitted. But on the rising ground to the left you may find the 5th century B.C. theatre later
remodelled by the Romans, and opposite on the hill top on the right a few scattered remnants
of the sanctuary of Hephaistos which appears to have been destroyed by the Persians at the
end of the 6th century B.C. But Persian tenure of the island did not last long: for Miltiades,
then tyrant of the Chersonese and later to become the hero of Marathon, soon reconquered it,
Hephestia surrendering at once, but Myrina protected by its strong citadel, only after a
considerable siege. The Athenians secured the island by a cleruchy, and it remained in their
possession until its acquisition by Macedon. Hephestia survived to be captured by the
Venetians in the l3th century, but it was finally destroyed by a disastrous landslide and never
reoccupied.
Your next site is the mediaeval castle of Kotsinas, of which hardly any traces survive, but
where you will be able to rejoin the Petridou group in time to have a late lunch with them
before setting off to Myrina about 4 p.m. Follow the cart track S.W. to the brow of the hill,
and in about a mile as you descend you will discover a refreshing spring on the left of the
path. The track next crosses a marshy patch, climbs the hill and then turns inland to the
36
South. If however you take a reading due W. you may walk over the stubble fields until you
soon reach another track leading down to the sea where you will find a few houses with large
vegetable gardens. The small hill straight ahead is the site of the former castle of Kotsinas
and is crowned by a chapel dedicated to the Zoodochos Pigi, and recently renovated by
expatriots living in America and Australia. Beneath the church and approached by a flight of
65 steps cut in the bare rock is a small crypt containing 3 icons and the life-giving spring.
Outside there was erected in 1969 a bronze statue of the heroic Maroula who bravely and
successfully defended the Venetian castle against a Turkish siege in 1476, and is depicted in a
defiant stance, her drawn sword at the ready. Two staircases lead down to the beach, slightly
above which you will find the restaurant where the other members of the Petridou tour will be
taking 1unch.
3. Therma, Prophetes Elias, Kornos and Kaspakas.
This circular walk of some 12 miles involves climbing the highest mountain within the
immediate vicinity of Myrina, includes a visit to the famous therapeutic spring at Therma,
and passes through 2 attractive villages. To avoid the heat and to enjoy a haze-free view from
Prophetes Elias one should leave not long after 6 a.m. There is no way of avoiding the main
road for the first 3 miles as it slowly climbs the hill N.E. in the direction of Kornos. Where it
branches take the right fork which is signed Pros Therma - to the Springs, which will shortly
come into view. Hassan Bey's magnificent Bathhouse was abandoned about a decade ago,
and is now a sorry sight, dilapidated, dirty, and its walls covered with graffiti. The spring
however still shoots forth its healing waters, steaming hot, as the islanders still claim, from
the 'factory of Hephaistos' deep within the earth's crust. To reach the mountain you must
retrace your steps a few yards to the lane which leads off now on the left into a lovely green
valley bright with red and white oleanders, and containing several well cultivated gardens on
the right. In a few minutes take the path which climbs up the hill on the left, and each time
the path divides keep left until in about ¼ hour you reach a small 'mandra'. Here the path is a
little indistinct: but fix your eyes on the steep precipice ahead and you will discover that the
path leads directly to the foot of the rocks, slightly above the drinking trough, and towards
two prominent boulders on the skyline through which eventually it passes. From this point
right to the final summit it is well marked with white arrows, and reaches the chapel by a
flight of steps.
The panorama from the mountain is magnificent and all-embracing. Immediately East in the
plain is an artificial lake formed by the damming of a stream, and beyond it the thin peninsula
of Akrotiri projects into the huge bay of Moudros. Turning South one sees the minute isthmus
of Diapori leading to the rocky peninsula of Phako whose four capes appear on Admiralty
Charts bearing the extraordinary appellations Yam, Yrroc, Eb and Demmad a palindromic
imprecation intended by his vengeful subalterns to immortalise their hated captain's severity!
Closer and slightly West there stand out the serrated peaks of Bigla and Kakavos, while S.W.
one can just make out the mole of the harbour of Myrina, the town itself being concealed
behind the headland. A little further N. lies Mt. Athanasios, clearly distinguished by the
Radar installation which crowns its summit. To the N. Kornos nestles in a fold of the hills,
37
and beyond in the N.W. corner rise the trio of Karvonolakos, Moraiti and Skopia, the last
being the highest point in the island.
Return by the same route, but on reaching the baths turn right up the road. In a few minutes,
however, where the road swings round N.E. to the right, take a small path on the left which
descends into the valley, crosses the tiny stream, and then passing between 2 prominent rocks
climbs to the brow of the hill, from which you will see Kornos straight ahead. Descend,
crossing the track and also the metalled road, and continuing up the hill opposite until you
enter the village. Here you will find a small halvas factory owned by the Achilladelis Sons,
and a fine spring, whilst higher upstream there is even a water-mill. Leave the village by the
main road S.W. to Myrina; but on reaching the ruined windmill on the left, turn right on the
old paved track which soon joins the dirt track to Kaspakas, passing on the right a small
military camp. Kaspakas is a peaceful, unspoilt village, surrounded by mountains, its
charming slate-roofed houses festooned with flowers and intersected by steep, stone-paved
lanes, one of them leading down to the main church which is dedicated to St. John and well
worth a visit.
As you leave by the main road you will admire on the right the wide bay of Kaspakas,
protected by Cape Kalogeri. About a mile outside the village you will reach on the left a tiny
spring, and above it the small chapel of Agia Paraskevi. To obtain some relief from the road's
monotonous surface, here turn left up a path which in a few seconds joins the dirt track
leading to the Radar installation on Mt. Athanasios. Proceed on this uphill for a few yards,
but where it swings round left, go through a couple of gates on the right, and make your way
N. to exit from the field over the fence into the ravine. Cross over the latter onto its Southern
side, and follow it down to the Electricity Generating Station - the DEH. You will need to
take care crossing the barbed-wire fence to rejoin the road at Avlona, whence it leaves the
shore to climb the hill of Petassos. It was here that the women of Limnos, in one of those
frenzied bursts of passion to which the ancient inhabitants of the island were occasionally
prone, committed the sort of outrage as a result of which the expression 'Lemnian deeds'
became ultimately synonymous with atrocity. As Amazons they had become scornful of
Aphrodite; whereupon the goddess in a fit of pique at their neglect of her worship afflicted
them with an odour so noisome that their piratical husbands rejected them and sought
consolation with the pretty Thracian slave girls they had captured in one of their raids.
Enraged by their infidelity the wretched wives planned their revenge; after getting their
husbands hopelessly drunk on the celebrated Lemnian wine, they hurled them over the cliff to
perish miserably on the rocks below. Only one survived, the King Thoas, who was hidden by
his faithful daughter Hypsipyle. When Jason arrived in quest of the Golden Fleece, he
married Hypsipyle, and the Argonauts the other Amazons, and together they created a new
race, the Mynyae. The hill of Petassos is now occupied by the Meteorological Station, but it
has yielded many remains of the classical city of Myrina. As you descend to the shore you
will pass on the right the famous Akti Myrina Hotel, within whose grounds is also found the
chapel of St. Barbara. To give access to the latter the gates are opened at certain times, so that
even those whose resources do not extend to staying there may yet have a chance to observe
the extraordinary amenities that the hotel offers to its clients.
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4. Myrina and its immediate environs.
As is the case with so many of the islands' capitals, the charm of Myrina is not immediately
apparent, but gradually unfolds itself to the visitor the longer he stays. Certainly not to be
missed is the huge Venetian castle which from its rocky peninsula dominated the whole town,
and will take at least two hours to explore. It was built in 1267 by the Navigajose family on
the site of the classical acropolis, and did not fall to the Turks until 1657, and then only after
a 63 days' siege. In 1770 a Russian fleet almost wrested it from the Turks; but at the eleventh
hour the siege was abandoned, and in reprisal the Turks massacred over 3000 prominent
citizens, hanging Bishop Ioachim and the Professor Monk Cosmas from the old bridge in
front of the recently erected Cathedral. The latter was reconstructed on a grand scale in 1865,
and contains an extremely ornate altar balustrade. It was 1912 before Limnos was finally
liberated from Turkish control, and only 10 years later it had to cope with an enormous influx
of refugees from Smyrna, who proceeded to exploit the estates recently vacated by the Turks,
cultivating cereals, sesame, cotton and tobacco, raising stock, fishing and grazing sheep.
During August two exhibitions are usually held, one in the 2nd Demotiko - i.e. the Primary
School - and the other on a site near the shore. An entry fee of 50 drachmae was charged for
the former, but that entitled one to free samples of home produced retsina, cheese and bread,
all of excellent quality, while the exhibits included fascinating domestic implements such as
looms, cheese-presses, ouzo-stills, ice-crushers, cooking utensils, as well as fine embroidery,
lace and furniture. The second exhibition was presented by the Farmers Union and blessed by
the Bishop, and contained displays of modern agricultural machinery, veterinary implements,
bee-keeping, horticulture and viticulture, etc. etc., and once again visitors were invited to
sample the various produce. For the Ancient Historian and Archaeologist perhaps the most
stimulating experience will be his visit to the Museum, which is housed in an elegant house
on the Romaio next door to the Gymnasion. Here one may examine plans of the excavations
at Poliochni, the Kavirion and Hephestia, as well as a multitude of material revealed and still
being revealed by the archaeologist's spade. Of the shorter evening strolls one of the most
enjoyable is to Platy which has a lovely shaded square and a large church to St. George
containing an icon embroidered by the inmate of a local penitentiary.
39
CHAPTER II: SKYROS, SKOPELOS, ALONISSOS
SKYROS
Skyros is the largest of the Northern Sporades, and somewhat isolated from the rest of the group. Only
once a week, on a Wednesday, a boat connects them all: otherwise to get from Skyros to the others
one must return to Kymi on the East coast of Euboia The regular approach to the island from Athens
is via Euboia and the total travelling time is about 6 hours. Buses leave from the Station at Tris
Gephyres about 3 miles from the centre of Athens at the end of Odos Liossion, departing twice daily,
at 6.15 a.m. and 1.15 p.m., crossing over to Euboia by the swing bridge at Chalkida and traversing the
centre of the island to Kymi. The sea passage from here lasts only two hours, the boat landing at
Linaria which lies at the head of a sheltered bay on the West coast on a narrow isthmus which joins
together the Northern and Southern sections of the island. Here a bus awaits the arrival of the boat to
transfer passengers the 15 kilometres to the town of Chora which is perched on a high cliff
overlooking the East coast. Chora now has dozens of restaurants and many rooms to let, as well as
several small new hotels mostly in the Northern quarter of the town near to the beaches, and it is
therefore the best place from which to explore the Northern part of the island, which is in my opinion
the more attractive, being covered with dense pine forests. The only surfaced road is the one
connecting Linaria to Chora and the buses which operate on this route are designed to link up with the
boats. There are several dirt tracks in the North, one of which leads to Trachy where the military
airport is currently being extended for civilian use. The Southern part of Skyros has no villages, and is
dominated by the huge bulk of Mt. Kochilas which has three summits all about 2500', but is now
denuded of all its forest. One dirt track leads over to the lighthouse on the S.E. tip of the island, and a
side track branches off to a quarry at Tris Boukes where one may find the grave of the celebrated
English poet, Rupert Brooke, who is still much revered by the islanders. Any tourists coming down
from Northern Greece may reach Skyros by an alternative route from Volos, at the foot of Mt. Pelion,
sailing via Skiathos, Skopelos and Alonissos, the other members of the Northern Sporades group.
The island produces a distinctive pottery, much wooden furniture, ornately carved and sometimes
inlaid with a much admired polychrome marble which is quarried mainly in Mt. Kourakas. There are
also many shepherds who still wear the traditional costume consisting of baggy pants and curious
sandals of a very primitive design, the soles being rectangular and not in any way shaped to fit the
human foot. The highly colourful female costume is also seen quite frequently, especially at weddings
and on feast days. There used to be iron mines in the centre of the island, but they are now closed and
tourism is playing an increasing role in the island's economy. Once the airport is completed it will
inevitably increase still further, but one hopes that its worst excesses will be avoided.
Apart from accommodation and food, Chora itself has much to offer. There are two museums, one
Folk and the other Classical, a Venetian Castle, a stretch of well preserved Classical wall with
rounded turrets on the East side of the Acropolis, a marble-paved, spacious main square on the left of
the main street from which traffic is excluded by reason of its being stepped, and the ancient church of
St. George whose foundation in 952 AD. is attributed to the famous Byzantine general Nicephoros
Phocas and Athanasios who also established the first monastery on Mt. Athos at about the same time.
In a small square near the Acropolis overlooking the sea the Skyriots have erected a bronze statue to
Rupert Brooke which bears the legend 'To his immortal poetry'. From here a winding, paved staircase
leads down the steep cliff to the main beaches – Yialos, Molos, and a little further North and around
the headland the more secluded Yirismata If the Meltemi is blowing the waves can be rough, and the
40
sea bed shelves quite steeply in most places. The town itself is wisely built in the lee of the wind on
the West side of the cliff whose rocky mass offers some protection from the manic fury of the gale.
The island affords many opportunities for enjoyable walking, although the absence of any regular bus
service makes the distances to be covered on foot sometimes rather long. In the North which is
covered with boundless forest a compass is a very useful adjunct to the map, especially since, as
always, it is very difficult to find information about the paths, either through ignorance, indifference
or a genuine inability to comprehend that to certain people walking on a path is infinitely preferable to
walking on a road. Shepherds however are generally very helpful and obliging, while the
dasophylakes - men appointed to protect the forest - are as you might expect a mine of information
and also very generous in imparting it. The fact that much of the land is fenced, either for the sake of
agriculture or to prevent the flocks straying too far afield, does pose problems and can lead to
frustrating delays while one attempts to find a gate or make one's way either over or under the barbed
wire. But there is an abundance of shade and water, the latter from both wells and spring, and good
quality figs being in plentiful supply one does not need to carry much weight in one's pack. The
following four walks are varied in both length and terrain, and two of them include the possibility of
spending some time swimming or relaxing in the middle of the day on the relatively sheltered West
coast.
1. Round trip to the Monastery of Panagia Olympiani – 1312'.
This walk of about l2 miles would serve as a fitting introduction to the attractively varied landscape of
Northern Skyros, and should take no longer than 6 hours. The greatest problem in the initial stages is
that of finding a route through the intricate maze of enclosure fences; but those who might be deterred
by the hazards and frustrations of such an occupation can easily avoid them simply by following the
road which leaves Chora N.W. for the airport and Trachy. As one approaches the monastery one's
only problem is to discover the correct path up the steep hill, on a narrow ledge of which the church is
built. For the dense pine forest totally obscures one's objective, while the orthodox route, although
marked with red spots and the occasional arrow, is very tortuous, and is moreover intersected by
dozens of confusing side tracks which are almost certain at times to lead you astray. The experienced
walker will however be familiar with the difficulties, and regard them as a challenge to his ingenuity
rather than as an insurmountable obstacle.
Leave the shore by the dirt track running due N. and parallel with the coast. This leads ultimately to
the Radar Station at Mala; but if, as I do, you find following such dusty tracks for any length of time
rather boring, in a few minutes when it divides take the right branch, which will bring you in about 20
minutes to the secluded beach of Yirismata After following the shore for a few paces, refreshed by the
stiff breeze which generally blows from the sea turn inland S.W. up a small dried up river bed,
making for a small white chapel which will soon appear on your left. After passing this you will soon
come down onto the dirt track just before it crosses the ravine by a small bridge. Those who have no
heart for further adventures should cross the bridge and follow the track round until it eventually joins
the main road to Trachy. The alternative, which requires both patience and tenacity, is to take a path
beginning just before the bridge, and climbing the Southern side of the ravine, threading your way
along the terraces and fields, through or over the fences, and after much trial and error eventually
emerging above the latter by a prominent tree near the top of the hill. From here a distinct path travels
W, soon reaching an isolated farmstead just off the right of the track. About 100 metres from the farm
where the path divides go left, descending the ravine quite steeply by a mule track which has scored
deep ruts into the soft gritty rock, and from which you will enjoy fine views of Chora rising from the
41
ocean like some gigantic sea horse, its mane bejewelled glistering white with houses and churches.
When you meet the main road, turn right in the direction of Trachy, climbing the hill until you reach
the crossroads where you will find a small white chapel on the right of the road. Immediately opposite
on the left is a path which leads in a few seconds to another chapel, whence it climbs gently over the
open heath, following the right side of a gully to the watershed. Here you will find yet another chapel
on the right of the path which now begins its slow descent, first crossing a small ravine, and then
about ten minutes later a much larger one. Hence it winds up to some fields, and is marked by red
spots, despite which it is not at all easy to follow once you have passed the little chapel hidden in the
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trees to the right. It goes up diagonally across the hillside, and you must watch out for a very sharp
left bend which can be easily missed, especially as another path leads straight on across some terraces.
Once you are on the right track, however, it climbs quite steeply through the pine forest to reach the
church in about ¼ hour. The total walking time after leaving the Trachy road should be in the region
of 1½ hours.
The chapel of the Virgin of Olympus - for the chapel is named after the homonymous mountain - is
built on a tiny ledge overlooking an impressive gorge, at a height of 327 metres. Behind is a small
cave, and there are two small bells. The panegyry takes place on September 8th, the Virgin's birthday,
and on the same day another feast is celebrated at the Phaneromeni Monastery in Chora From the
church you have a choice of two routes back. Either you may continue up to the summit of the
mountain, and then follow the path which is well marked with red spots through the pines S.E. to
Chora; or you may return by the same route as you came, crossing the larger of the two ravines, but
then diverging right just before reaching the chapel on the left, and thence following a well defined
track, S.E. to the chapels of Agia Paraskevi and Agios Myron. At the former you will find a small
well, and from it you will see another, white building which is in fact not another church, but a
shepherds 'mandra'. Having passed this the path descends a small ravine, and then continues to
another chapel, dedicated to St. Myron, whence Chora is clearly visible in the distance. Unfortunately,
however, a large chasm intervenes, to cross which the path deflects away from one's objective S.W.,
while substantial wire fences deter one from scrambling by a more direct route into the ravine. The
total walking time from Panagia Olympiani to Chora should be about two hours: but it would be wise
to allow an extra hour for negotiating fences and surmounting whatever other obstacles might impede
one 's progress.
2. Tris Boukes - the grave of Rupert Brooke.
To accomplish the whole return trip on foot from Chora requires between 7 and 8 hours, and the
expedition should be undertaken more in the spirit of a pilgrimage rather than as a pleasure trip. One
may however save some time by taking the 7 a.m. bus to Linaria and alighting at the junction near
Agalini, where a small wooden sign indicates the direction of Rupert Brooke 's Memorial. There is
now a dirt track leading all the way to an adjacent quarry, so that there is always the possibility of
hitching a lift in a passing lorry, especially as another track continues as far as the lighthouse on the
S.E. point of the island. Stout-hearted walkers who are determined to survive the complete course will
be encouraged to learn that there are two places where one may obtain excellent water - the first at
Agia Barbara just outside Kalamitsa where the spring is channelled into an attractive stone drinking
trough just the right shape to cup one's hands in, and the second at Nyphi, opposite the chapel of Agia
Triada. This latter spring is on the left of the road, and shaded by wild laurels, beneath which the
much-prized water, whose provenance is unknown, trickles into a large pool which remains
wonderfully cool even in the fierce summer heat.
After leaving Nyphi the track climbs up, at first running close to the shore, but after about a mile
beginning to curve inland. Where it bifurcates keep to the main track on the left, but as it ascends the
hillside you may twice save time by following the old mule path on the right, where the more recent
road takes a wide sweep to the left in order to cross a gully. After a further mile you contour around a
deep ravine which sweeps down to the wide bay of Tris Boukes which is well protected by two
islands, the smaller and more Westerly one named Platia the larger and more Easterly one Sarakiniko.
There is a temptation to attempt to scramble down by the remains of a rough goat track: but if you
continue along the road which now begins to descend, in a further ½ mile or so you will reach a sign
43
indicating that the main track continues to the lighthouse. Here you must turn right along a subsidiary
track which serves the marble quarry at Agios Phokas. On the right is a gully which the track soon
crosses, the gully now continuing on the left; and shortly after this point on the left a tiny unsigned
footpath enters the olive-grove which completely hides the grave from sight.
Rupert Brooke died of septicaemia on St George's Day, April 23, 1915, aged 28, on board the French
hospital ship Duguay-Trouin which lay at anchor in the bay. Since the expeditionary force of which
he was a subaltern was due to sail the next day on its fateful mission to the Dardanelles, he was at his
own request buried immediately in the evening by a few comrades, who laid his body to rest in a
simple grave about a mile from the shore. Later a marble sarcophagus was erected and is maintained
by the Anglo-Hellenic Society of London, and in front of it there is fittingly inscribed on a marble
slab his most famous and almost prophetic poem, the Soldier.
'If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England.'
Proceed towards the sea where you may well find a solitary guard whose main function is to open the
gate for lorries as they go to and from the nearby quarry. From this gate a little path leads through the
olives to the shore, and continues along the margin of the bay for about 1½ miles N.W. Then it begins
to climb gently up the hillside, and where at the brow it degenerates into dozens of meandering sheep-
44
tracks, simply take a compass bearing due N. As you descend make for a curious circular patch of
reddish brown earth which stands out conspicuously in the valley below. Just left of this you will
discover a goat track which crosses over the new cart track and continues to join the main track,
which you were following earlier in the day. Approaching Nyphi you will enjoy to the right fine
views of Mt. Kochilas, whose main summit at 730 metres is the highest in the island. It was once
covered by forest, but this has alas all disappeared, except where isolated clumps of cypresses and
pines indicate the presence of a monastery, some four of which lie scattered over the mountain's West
flank. Straight ahead NNW one sees the substantial monastery of Agios Panteleimon, now brilliantly
lit by the sun, clinging tenaciously to the steep slopes of Mt Kourakas, and approached by a long
zigzag road, while due North the chapel of Prophetes Elias crowns the precipitous conical hill which
rises behind the village of Kalamitsa When you reach the chapel of St. John on the left of the road at
the foot of Mt. Prophetes Elias, you may take a path running due N. and fringing the two lovely bays
of Achilles and Mealos. The former is of course named after the famous Homeric warrior whose
anxious mother, Thetis, hid him here disguised as a girl, hoping thereby to cheat the fates by
preventing his ever reaching Troy, where it had been prophesied that he was doomed to meet an early
death. But the wily Odysseus soon unmasked his disguise, so that the hapless youth was sent to Troy,
to become like Rupert Brooke a much lamented victim of pitiless Ares, and to perish miserably at the
hands of Priam's craven son Paris. All the mountainside behind is now scarred by ugly quarries - a
testament to man's insatiate greed in the pursuit of wealth and callous indifference to the irreparable
injury he does to the far more precious heritage of the landscape. But at least the figs still grow in
plenty, the green and the purple variety both equally succulent, and guaranteed to provide the much
needed energy to sustain you on the last lap of this marathon journey. Having gained the main road
again you have no choice but to follow it for the final two or three miles back to Chora. But traffic is
seldom heavy, one's destination is soon in sight, while the sea's refreshing presence at the foot of the
cliff on the right reduces fatigue to a tolerable level.
3. Round trip to Atsitsa.
This excursion takes you right across the island from the East coast to the West, and should take a
strong walker between four and five hours. But since Atsitsa is on the coast and there is a small
taverna there, it could be arranged to occupy the whole day, thus leaving the afternoon free for
bathing and eating. The route is shaped like a figure eight, so that only for a short distance in the
centre does one return by the same path as one arrived by.
Take the road which runs by the side of the football pitch of the Gymnasion on the West side of the
main street just after the Telephone Exchange, and at the second bend on the left follow the dirt track
down the valley to Anavaltsa. It runs by the side of the river Kiphissos, and after about ½ mile it
crosses over a stone bridge, over which you will have passed on your return from Panagia Olympiani
in (1). Shortly afterwards the path divides, the right branch climbing steeply upwards to Mt. Olympos,
but the left continuing along the stream bed which is a tributary of the Kiphissos. Take the latter, and
in about ¾ hour it emerges onto the main dirt road from Skyros to Atsitsa. Turn right along the road
which is pleasantly shaded by the dense pine forest and climb gently to a scattered collection of
farmsteads known as Paraspisi. In about ½ hour you will catch your first glimpse of Atsitsa through
the trees on the left, but it may well take you an hour to reach your destination, as the road is very
tortuous, partly owing to several deep gullies which have to be negotiated. My own speed was very
much reduced by falling in with a Greek whose acquaintance I had made the previous evening, and
who after losing the path to Agios Phokas had been wandering round in circles for hours in a state of
ever increasing desperation. He had then suffered the even greater misfortune of stumbling over the
45
root of a tree, and spraining his ankle so badly that he was forced to tear his shirt into strips to strap up
the badly swollen joint in order to walk at all. Hence my earlier admonition never to walk in the forest
without a compass, and my constant habit of always carrying a stout stick which on this occasion, as
on many others too, proved absolutely invaluable.
Once you reach Atsitsa you will be glad to take advantage of the sea and the taverna to cool off and
replenish your energy: but I should advise you not to delay your departure after 4 p.m., in case you
lose your way along the confusing proliferation of forest tracks, many of which are apt to leave you
stranded in a clearing, with the option of either retracing your steps or alternatively forging a new
route through the virgin forest, activities which are both time-consuming and often arduous too. In
order to avoid the road with its tedious bends by which you came, search around for a path which
begins at the well - to pigadi -which is located about 200 metres from the shore. Here it would be wise
to recharge your water bottle, after which you must look for a wall with a gate in it. Do not go through
the gate, but keep to the path on the left side of the wall, and. follow its zigzag course steeply up the
hillside until you emerge in some 10-15 minutes onto the road by which you arrived this morning.
About 40 minutes later where the road swings round to the right, take a small path on the left, which
in about 5 minutes leads into another dirt track. Proceed along this for a few minutes, and then take
another small path on the right, which soon widens out, shortly joining another dirt track leading to an
isolated farm.
Here I was fortunate in meeting the occupants - a shepherdess named Maria and her three children,
who were returning from their labours in the forest, their mules laden with brushwood and logs for the
winter. For her husband, with his 50 sheep and one or two goats, spends the entire winter up here at
Paraspisi, whereas Maria and her family live down in Chora where the children attend school. Maria
too had sustained an accident, having stumbled in the forest a few days before, and having gashed her
hand so badly on a branch that it required 26 stitches. But despite the injury the mules were unloaded
with great dexterity and speed, and I was cordially invited into the house to drink coffee and eat figs.
The former, as always on such occasions, was served in delicate china cups which are specially
reserved for honoured guests; and when after this delightful interlude I begged leave to continue on
my way I was pressed to return with the whole family by car in the evening. When however I
graciously declined, explaining my preference for travelling on foot, the children were immediately
summoned to set me on the right way which conveniently happened to pass by a field where they had
some animals to tether.
The path leaves from the gate of the house and climbs slowly up the hillside towards some prominent
crags which are clearly visible in the distance, and which one must always keep on one's right. At the
brow of the hill one enters a pleasant plateau through which the path meanders due E, while to the left
and the right the endless pines rise in serried ranks up the flanks of the mountains. At the end of the
plain it begins slowly to rise to a small saddle which you should reach about an hour after leaving the
farm. From here it descends quite steeply, and you will soon see the white chapel of St. George high
up on the hillside on the left, whilst opposite on the right at the foot of a steep crag there lies the
chapel of St Nicholas. A little lower down one catches glimpses through the trees of Chora, gleaming
in the evening sun, while yet further down again on the right is the newly built chapel of St. Myron,
reconstructed in 1952. The journey from here back to Chora should easily be accomplished within the
hour, making the total walking time from Atsitsa to Chora, allowing for generous stops, somewhere in
the region of 3-4 hours.
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4. Circular walk to Mt. Prophetes Ilias.
If this walk is done clockwise as I describe it, one has 3-4 miles of very easy walking along the road
in which to limber up, followed by a session of rather more arduous path-finding in fairly steep
gradients, and finally a delightful return along the old mule path which goes directly over the
Southern Mountain from Agalini to Chora.
Travelling by the main road to Linaria along the coast, and diverging as in (2) along the track which is
signed as leading to Rupert Brooke's Memorial, you should reach the chapel of St. John on the right of
the road and at the foot of the mountain in about 1¼ hours. The chapel is the scene of a popular local
panegyry held on August 28, beginning about 8 p.m. with a service lasting about 1½ hours, and
followed by feasting and revelry which continues the whole night, until the festivities are finally
closed by another service which concludes about 10 a.m. the next day. I heard from my host in Skyros
that originally the celebrations had been held on August 29, the day on which according to the
Orthodox tradition John the Baptist was beheaded. But in the course of a feast a man's hand (sic!) was
discovered in the 'tapsi'- i.e. the cooking tray - and this was interpreted as a sign of the Saint's grave
displeasure at all these carnal indulgences which he had so rigorously eschewed during his long
periods of self-imposed exile in the Wilderness. Subsequently therefore it was decided that, consonant
with the Baptist's life of austerity, his death should be commemorated by scrupulous fasting, the
jollifications being consigned to the previous evening. The meal which began rather unconventionally
with the dessert, a melliferous karpouzi, and then proceeded to huge portions of equally succulent
goat and rice, was certainly on a lavish scale, and had all been provided by the 'Epitropos' who
apparently inherits the obligation, but is allowed to reimburse himself by collecting the candle money
- another typically Greek compromise! An ebullient clarinetist called Kostas, but nicknamed
Kolokotronis, provided the music, both vocal and instrumental, positively snake-charming the initially
reluctant dancers with exciting if somewhat raucous blasts on his clarinet and seductive convolutions
of his Cyclopean frame.
To reach the summit of the mountain pass through the gate on the right immediately after the chapel,
and through two others, but then leave the track by a path which climbs steeply up the hillside S.W.
on the left of the gully. (There is another gully further left, so that the path runs between the two.) In
about 20 minutes you will reach a fence; but search around and you will find a place in some thick
scrub where you can step on a stone and so climb over without too much difficulty. From this point
the path runs up Southwards over loose shale, and is marked generously with whitewash splashes, and
even with the occasional cross wherever the size of the stone permits. After about ¼ hour it suddenly
changes direction, running almost North, and after a further 5 minutes it goes West, finally zigzagging
up to the white chapel on the summit. Just before you arrive there are two small level patches which
had clearly been used for the panegyry on July 20. I was also amazed to discover two oil lamps still
burning on either side of the 'templo'.
The view is all-embracing, the huge bulk of Mt. Kochilas dominating the Southeast vista; the valley
of Kalamitsa stretching out to the South; East the attractively indented coastline with the bays of
Mealos and Achilles; North the valley of Agalini which bears the main road to Linaria; West Mt.
Kourakas, where the polychrome marble is quarried, and previously also iron ore - there are traces of
a little railway which used to carry the minerals and on its Southern flank the monastery of St
Panteleimon.
47
Return by the same path, following the splashes of whitewash, and using the cafe with its red roof in
the corner of the Bay of Achilles as a guide to the right direction. On reaching the fence follow it
Westwards in the direction of Agalini. Go through the gate and make your way down the hillside on
the opposite side of the gully which you ascended in the morning. Eventually you should find another
gate leading into a fenced enclosure. Turn left and emerge through another gate whence you may
descend to a farm, from which an easy track leads along the sandy plain. When shortly you reach the
dirt track, turn right to emerge onto the Kalamitsa road, and when this meets the main road go up a
small track immediately opposite which soon becomes a path leading up to a white house which was
visible even from the main road. From here work your way W. up a quite steep rock, and after about
10 minutes of pretty hard path-finding you should emerge onto the main path running due N. to
Skyros (This path in fact begins in some olive trees near the chapel on the Linaria road at Agalini.) In
¼ hour you will see a white 'mandra' on the right, and opposite on the path a little further ahead a
huge plane tree which shelters a well where you will be glad to avail yourself of the freezing water to
quench your raging thirst. The path now begins to descend slightly, crossing the small plateau at the
end of which in some ten minutes you will reach on the right the tiny chapel of St George. Shortly
after leaving this you will catch your first glimpse of Chora directly ahead. The path now descends
more steeply uphill following the right (E) side of the gully, and in a while it divides, the right branch
climbing up slightly, crossing the brow of the hill and thence dropping down to the main road just
before Lino. It is worth climbing up this way for a short distance in order to enjoy a fine panoramic
view of Chora with the ruined windmills on the crest of the hill on the left in the foreground. But then
it is best to climb down the terraces into the stream-bed along which the path runs for some 5 minutes
before crossing over to the West bank and becoming a track which in a further 5 minutes joins the
Atsitsa track just South of Chora.
If you should do the walk in the reverse direction, take the main road from the OTE - the Telephone
Exchange - and at the first bend (left) continue straight on along the Atsitsa track, but leave this
almost immediately on the left up the dirt track which follows the gully.
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SKOPELOS
Skopelos justly deserves its appellation 'Queen of the Northern Sporades', being without doubt the
most beautiful, the richest and by far the most developed of this group of islands. The overwhelming
impression of greenness which greets every visitor derives from its boundless forests of pine, plane
and arbutus, as well as from its olive groves and extensive and prolific orchards whose abundant and
high quality fruits, especially damsons and plums, are renowned throughout the whole of Greece. The
island is blessed with copious springs which provide an unfailing supply of water both freezing cold
and rich in minerals, whilst among the various small scale industries one must include the production
of ornate furniture, well-tempered knives, and an attractive local pottery.
The island is well served with boats which run daily from Volos in the N.W. and Agios Konstantinos
in the W., and four times mid-week from Kymi in Euboia in the S. The sea journey from the former
two harbours takes about 6 hours, since the boats call first at Skiathos where one frequently has to
wait for a connection. From Kymi the travelling time is rather less, and once a week a boat sails direct
from Skyros. Those whose time is at a premium may well prefer to avail themselves of the direct
flight from England to Skiathos, whence local boats make the crossing in about 1½ hours, calling first
at Loutraki on the N.W. coast.
The main town, also called 'Skopelos', is the chief centre of population, and makes the best base from
which to explore most of the island on foot. Unfortunately the harbour faces NE, and affords little
protection from the Meltemi, with the result that ships often sail along the South coast in the lee of the
mountain, discharging their passengers at Agnontas, a fine natural harbour whence they must travel
by bus or taxi the six or seven miles to the capital. The latter has tended in recent years to attract in the
height of the season rather excessive numbers of tourists of many nationalities, Germans and more
latterly Italians being preponderant; and consequently most of the food now served in the multitude of
restaurants is no longer of local provenance, but imported from Volos. And yet none of these factors,
regrettable though they be, can detract from the outstanding natural beauty of the town's fine,
amphitheatrical setting, or from the perennial charm of its shady, flower-strewn alleys, its tall, elegant
houses with their cool, wooden balconies, and its plethora of radiant, whitewashed churches, their
cylindrical domes capped with skilfully constructed roofs of local grey slate.
Those who find crowds offensive can still find peace and quiet in the sizeable town of Glossa, situated
high in the hills behind its small port of Loutraki at which all boats call en route from Skiathos. Here
one may obtain simple accommodation in houses, and an abundance of fresh fish in the tavernas,
while buses connect Glossa with Skopelos about three times a day, the journey taking about l½ hours.
Officially camping on the island is forbidden: but in fact the large, indented bay of Panormos on the
West coast has proved irresistible to campers whose multi-coloured tents now line its shores.
The name 'Skopelos' means 'rocky', and it is certainly no misnomer since the whole island is
extremely rugged and almost totally devoid of plain except for the valley running South from the
main town. Goats abound, supplying milk, cheese and yoghurt, and in recent years several forest
tracks have been opened up, ostensibly to help the shepherds in the distribution of their produce, but I
suspect in reality to promote tourism on which the island has become increasingly dependent.
Nevertheless, in most cases the paths have survived intact, and as always they are infinitely preferable
to the dirt tracks, where in dry weather one suffocates with dust whenever there is a breeze or a
vehicle passes, whilst in wet weather one is inevitably ankle deep in mud. There is a variety of good
accommodation in both hotels and rented rooms.
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Of the following 6 walks, 5 are based on Skopelos, and l on Glossa, and all except one may be
combined with bathing.
l. The Monasteries of Evangelismos, Prodromos and Metamorphosis.
This circular walk takes between 3 and 4 hours, allowing for generous stops at each of the
monasteries visited. All the monasteries are dependencies of Mt. Athos, and indeed the whole area
which comprises a densely wooded ravine about two miles due East of the main town resembles a
miniature Holy Mountain. Unfortunately the construction of roads to all three monasteries during the
last ten years has in some ways shattered their seclusion from the outside world, which was formerly
an essential part of their attraction. But fortunately the original paths have survived except for a few
yards where the new road has obliterated them.
Leave Skopelos due East on the coast road which soon degenerates into a dirt track, and about a mile
outside the town, where the track divides, take the left branch which is signed as leading to
Evangelismos i.e. the Monastery of the Annunciation. The track descends for a few yards, and just
before it begins to ascend again, look out on the right at a place known as Metochi for a wonderful
spring. Remove the wooden bung from the pine, and the freezing, imprisoned water will come
gushing out with great force. Should you wish to visit the monasteries in reverse order (anticlockwise), take a small path which begins on the right of the road immediately above the spring, and
leads up through the forest by a zigzag route directly to the Monastery of the Transfiguration.
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Otherwise, continue on the dirt track, but where it bends to the left, take a small path on the right.
When in a few yards this path divides, follow the left branch, which leads up, crosses the road, and
continues climbing up, cutting off another large bend. If you keep alert you may be able to find other
such short cuts: but for the last ¼ mile you must follow the road. Built in 1712 on the ruins of an
earlier Byzantine Convent by the Skopelite monk K. Daponte, the Monastery currently houses only
three nuns; but they will make you welcome, opening up the main 'catholikon' which is dedicated to
the Annunciation of Our Lady and contains a very fine carved screen, and also the smaller chapel of
St. Nicholas, as well as offering you the customary refreshment.
Retrace your steps down the road, but about 100 yards from the monastery gate take a small path
cutting off to the right and signed: ΠΡΟΣ ΤΟΝ ΠΡΟΔΡΟΜΟ i.e. to the Forerunner, as the Greeks
designate John the Baptist. The path climbs steeply through the dense woods of tamarisk, pounari ( a
sort of miniature ilex) and wild olive, before emerging in about 20 minutes onto the new road. Turn
left and you will see the three churches ahead - first the chapel of St. Barbara now completely
deserted, then beyond the quite substantial monastery of The Baptist with the tiny chapel of the Little
Virgin Above - Epano Panagitsa - nestling close by its side, and between the two a plantation of
elegant, needle-like cypresses. If you wish to avoid the dirt track, follow a little path from the steps of
St. Barbara through the olive groves and vineyard direct to the Prodromos. About 7 nuns survive at
the Convent - there were 15 in 1974, and the Abbess died in 1980, aged 92! - but the extensive
buildings are currently undergoing restoration, and the main chapel is adorned with rich icons and a
finely carved 'templo'. There is also a little shop selling various souvenirs and locally made lace, and
there you will receive the traditional glass of water and piece of 'loukoumi'.
Return by the road, but in order to avoid its tedious circuitous route around the ravine, look out for the
path on the right just below the one where you emerged earlier in the day when arriving from the
Evangelismos. This path leads steeply down the ravine, and approaches the monastery from its
original entrance which is now generally kept locked. Just before you arrive you will pass on the left a
lovely drinking fountain, very reminiscent of those on Mount Athos. In fact , the monastery is a
dependency of Xenophon's Monastery on the Holy Mountain, and is occupied by monks who have
generally spent some time in the latter establishment. The buildings are on a grander scale than those
of the previous two, and the hospitality also is more lavish, a glass of ouzo being offered in addition to
the water and loukoumi. The Feast Day is on the eve of the 5th and the morning of the 6th of August,
and on the occasion of my visit in 1984 the celebrants included not only the Abbot of Xenophon's
Monastery on Mt. Athos and the local Bishop of Skopelos, but also the Patriarch! The new road may
be avoided almost entirely by following the path which begins at the cypress trees just below the
entrance to the monastery, and descends in zigzag fashion through the pines, whose needles make a
soft if somewhat slippery carpet for the feet and whose branches offer plentiful and unfailing shade.
The path emerges onto the new road at one point, but after a few yards it disappears again on the right
and descends through the forest into the depths of the ravine which it follows as far as the spring at
Metochi. There is a track from this point too but it is marked as Private and dangerous so that one is
obliged instead to use the dusty dirt track.
2. The churches of Episkopi and St. Riginos.
This is a very simple walk involving hardly any climbing, while the return path is well shaded by
orchards of damson and plum and passes by an excellent spring to boot. Hence it serves as an easy
introduction to the island's manifold delights, whilst at the Church of Episkopi - so named not after
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the now obsolete bishopric, but after the icon of the Virgin which 'looks upon one' - one sees in
microcosm the island's entire history from Classical times right up to the present time.
Leave Skopelos by the back street running parallel with the shore and named Agios Riginos. This is
initially paved, but soon degenerates into a dirt track, i.e. dust in drought and mud in rain: but
provided that not too many vehicles pass, you will not suffer undue hardship. In about ¼ hour there
appears on the right of the road an imposing fortress whose tall grey walls enclose the celebrated
church. The place is now privately owned by an elderly gentleman, a retired lawyer who since his
widowhood has lived there with his sister; but if you display genuine interest he will not only give
you a warm welcome, but will also impart to you his extensive knowledge of the place and its unique
history. He was not the original owner, but acquired the property from his brother, a Professor of
Agriculture at Salonika University, who bought the whole site in a ruined condition in the 50s, and
proceeded to restore it most attractively with great skill and imagination.
The site goes right back to Classical times when it was occupied by a temple to Artemis, and in the
delightful garden you can see a fragment of her cult statue, and by its side a carved stag, the goddess'
familiar animal. Close by are two funeral stele, one from the Roman period, and the other a memorial
to a Greek athlete, who, as the inscription tells us, for all that he had won many crowns, still did not
escape the clutches of Hades. Early in the Christian period the pagan temple was converted to
Christian use, the Virgin Mary appropriately taking the place of the Virgin Goddess Artemis; and in
the garden which is a riot of bougainvillea, roses, carnations, gerania, oranges and lemons, a central
position is occupied by an ancient baptistry. Little of the original structure of the church has survived
except for the lower courses of the South wall, but embedded in the masonry of the opposite North
wall one can read an inscription recording the complete restoration of the chapel and its dedication to
the Virgin and the Twelve Apostles along with the local saint and worker of miracles, Nicholas, in the
time of the Bishop Anastasios, 6586 years after the Creation of the World., i.e. in the month of April
1078 AD. In the 13th century, the island fell to the Franks and the chapel sustained severe damage,
and shortly after throwing off the Frankish yoke it voluntarily accepted the protection of the Venetians
who were largely responsible for the stout defensive walls which now give the whole structure the
outward appearance of a castle. In 1538, however, the infamous Turkish general Barbarossa destroyed
the whole island, the population fled, and for a century the church lay in ruins. Late in the 17th
century the Venetians returned and strengthened the fortifications which have remained basically
unchanged since the modification they then underwent. The screen is 18th century, and though badly
holed by woodworm, the fine workmanship is still evident. The patronal feast is celebrated on August
23, the day on which the Virgin was accepted into heaven.
Leaving Episkopi continue along the road, passing the quarry on the right until shortly afterwards you
will reach on the left the tiny chapel of St. Riginos, resting place of the island's first Bishop who was
martyred in the 4th century AD. The chapel is unfortunately locked except on February 25th when a
feast is celebrated to honour the memory of the island's patron and protector. A little higher up the hill
you will find the much more recently restored chapel of St. Evstathios (1980) from which you may
return by an easy path in about 40 minutes to Skopelos. You will appreciate the delightful shade
afforded by the orchards of plums and damsons which extend into the distance on either side, and just
before you regain the outskirts of the town a delightful spring on the right will quench your thirst with
its refreshing, cool water.
Should you wish to do the walk in the reverse direction, take the road signed to RIGINOS, but just
opposite the Hotel AMALIA where the road passes over a wide water conduit, follow the path on the
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right of the water course, cross over the road, and continue on the same path which will take you via
the spring directly to the chapel of St. Evstathios.
3. The chapel of Agios Ioannis To Nisi - the cove of Glysteri.
This walk is best done in the evening, leaving Skopelos about 5 p.m. so that you reach the chapel in
time to see the sun setting over the cove of Glysteri. Leave the harbour by the staircase which ascends
from the North corner of the bay to the ruined Venetian castle from which you will enjoy a
spectacular view over the whole town with its 123 sparkling white churches. Descend by the attractive
new staircase constructed from stone and pebbles, and climb up to the Kastro Discotheque, beneath
which you will find a spring. Take the road which climbs up right of the Disco and shortly becomes a
dirt track beneath which you will occasionally see traces of the old Byzantine paved road. In about ½
mile on the right there appears a stretch of fine Hellenistic masonry which forms part of the city wall
of the ancient town of Peparethos, most of which lies buried beneath the present capital of the island.
When in about a mile you reach five lane ends, continue straight on to the brow of the hill; and from
this point where the road begins to descend into the deep ravine on the left, count 300 paces. Here the
road takes a sharp bend to the right, and continues to plunge into the valley, by which it will
eventually when complete reach the sea at the cove of Glysteri. If however you wish first to visit the
chapel, look out for a tiny path climbing up through the trees at exactly the place where the road turns
sharply right. In a few hundred yards you must pass through a gate on which there is a notice politely
requesting you to close it after you. In 10 minutes you will reach the crest of the hill which is
occupied by a deserted 'mandra', whence the path descends a little onto a narrow isthmus, before
climbing up to another 'mandra', this time inhabited by a family of shepherds. Here I was treated to a
warming glass of 'tsipouro' - a distillation resembling ouzo, but considerably more potent - and invited
to sample the freshly picked yellow plums which are locally known as 'kouromila'. Just before
reaching this 'mandra' you will have passed through yet another gate, and you will find the chapel just
a few yards further along the path. Westwards towards the setting sun there is silhouetted against the
darkling sky the jagged outline of the precipitous North coast, while on the right one enjoys fine
views of the whole of the adjacent island of Alonnisos, now steeped in the unctuous evening light.
4. The rock tombs of Sendoukia at Karya - Mt. Delphi 662 metres.
This expedition takes you through the densely forested hinterland of the island, where Mt. Delphi
rises to a height of 662 metres. The total time taken, allowing for stops for refreshment and for getting
lost in the dense undergrowth that sometimes threatens entirely to obliterate the path, should be in the
region of 4 to 5 hours. Be warned not to expect anything at one's ultimate goal, the tombs of
Sendoukia, except a corrugated shed protecting the scanty remains: for all the contents of the graves
have been removed to the security of the Volos Museum.
Leave as in (3), but before you reach the 5 lane ends, look out for a small paved path on the left of the
main track. This leads to a tiny chapel with a slate dome, and continues thence through the olives, to
join the forest road in about 10 minutes. Turn left along the road, and in about 100 yards look out for a
red spot on a post supporting a fence, at which point a small path, later becoming a paved track,
plunges into the depths of the ravine on the right, beautifully shaded by the dense vegetation. Some
kind wayfarer has painted occasional red spots on the rocks to guide you along the right path, aided by
which in some 10 minutes you will reach a spring on the left issuing into a drinking trough. A few
yards further along the path you regain the forest road, and must steel yourself to endure a long climb
with precious little protection from the merciless sun. But take heart; for at the brow of the hill in a
53
small cutting on the left you will find some beehives, and the reward for all your efforts in the shape
of some fabulous golden plums with a flavour every bit as sweet as honey!
The road now descends a little: but where it turns sharp right to climb steeply up the hill you will
observe a red arrow painted on a rock and directing you onto a path on the left. This again is marked
with red spots daubed both on the trees and rocks, despite which you will have to search diligently to
find it, since it is very overgrown with thick ferns and brambles through which you must hack your
way with grim determination and unremitting concentration. As some slight reward for your labours
there are blackberries and even mulberries to pick along the way. But those who have little stomach
for such masochistic adventures would be well advised to continue along the road, unshaded though it
is, until they reach the chapel of Prophetes Elias. In fact the path eventually brings you out onto the
forest road some distance S.W. of your objective, so that you need to backtrack by turning right. In
order to avoid the long loop which traverses the ravine, just after passing under the telephone and
electricity wires, keep a sharp look out for a path on the right which descends the ravine to a 'mandra'.
Just left of this, and partially hidden by the trees, is a new chapel to St. Panteleimon from which a
small path climbs up and in a few minutes rejoins the road. Follow this downhill for a while, but at the
first junction turn off on the left along a track which leads to the chapel of Pro. Elias which lies
concealed in the trees on the right. Continue in the direction of St. Nicholas; but since this chapel is
privately owned and moreover fenced off, take the path on the left of the locked gates and climb up to
the 'mandra'. Carry on to the crest of the hill, and begin to descend, after about 100 yards meeting a
fence on the right. Follow the latter for 200 yards until you reach a small clearing where you must
turn left. Ascend for about ¼ hour and you will at last reach the rock-hewn tombs of Sendoukia
protected by a metal shed. Here you will enjoy fine views of the chapels of St. Evstathios and St.
George down in the valley below, and behind them the wooded slopes of Mt. Revythi. Those with
energy still to spare may continue climbing up the path until in about ½ hour they reach the final
summit of Mt. Delphi, the highest point in the whole island.
Return by the same path, turning left where it merges with the main track, and continuing downhill
towards the two churches which you saw from above. (Take care: the path does not continue along the
fence, but turns sharp left. ) Once more you will pass through orchards of delicious damsons and
plums just waiting to be picked. The chapel of Evstathios is reached by turning left as soon as you
reach the coppice. Like so many others it is privately owned and enclosed by a fence; but the latter is
easily surmounted by those who wish to view the exterior from closer quarters. Admission to the
interior is secured only by arrangement with the owners. Retrace your steps to St. George, whence the
path continues to descend until in about 10 minutes it reaches the road. Cross over the latter, and carry
on by the path down the gorge from which you will eventually emerge at the top of the long hill up
which you toiled earlier in the day. At the bottom of the hill where the road bifurcates, be careful to
take the left branch, to reach again the fountain on the right. Hence proceed as in the morning along
the floor of the ravine, whence the path climbs gently to emerge finally with the forest road above.
5. The bays of Staphylos and Velania, returning by the chapel of Agi Anargyri.
In sharp contrast to the previous walk, this one involves only the very gentlest of gradients, is with the
exception of its initial stages along the main road very well shaded by abundant forest, and moreover
offers as its ultimate objective the possibility of bathing in two of the island's best and most favoured
beaches.
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Leave the town by the main road running due South to Staphylos, but about one mile from the centre
of Skopelos take the second cart track on the left which leads pleasantly through the olive groves
whose leafy branches afford welcome protection from the sun. Keep straight on, neither ascending nor
descending much, and avoiding the side tracks both on the left and on the right, and in about ¼ hour
you will reach both a spring and a small chapel built in 1980 to St. Irene, each situated on the left of
the track. A little further on, but this time on the right, you will pass an older and more substantial
church dedicated to St. Panteleimon, shortly after which the track rejoins the main road just opposite
the chapel of Panagia Xenia. Proceed a few yards along the road to the point where it divides, the left
fork diverging to Staphylos: but instead of following this, look out for a small path on the left which
ascends towards a house partially hidden by a grove of cypress trees, but then turns sharply right to
circle round the ravine. Continue SE, and in about 5 minutes you will catch sight of a house on the left
which is in fact the summer residence of the celebrated pianist, Tony Georgiou, and enjoys a fine.
prospect of the whole bay.
The bay is beautifully sheltered by the promontory of Staphylos on the East, and is named after the
Cretan general, Staphylos, son of Dionysos and Ariadne, who according to an ancient myth was the
first colonist of the island. But as has happened so often during the last century, myth was transformed
to historical fact when in 1927 archaeologists excavated the headland and discovered a Minoan tomb
containing gold grave-goods, weapons and a sceptre; all of which are now displayed in the
Archaeological Museum of Volos. The tomb is dated to 1500 B.C. and is thus roughly contemporary
with the famous shaft graves first explored by Schliemann inside the Lion Gate at Mycenae, and
corroborated the view that it was Minoan influence which gave the stimulus to the development of
Mycenaean civilization at that time. On a level area at the neck of the isthmus archaeologists found
also a threshing floor which is likewise assigned to the prehistoric period, again supporting the
hypothesis that Staphylos, whose name means 'grape', may have introduced cereals as well as the vine
to the island.
Descend to the turquoise waters of the bay, and should a swim excite your appetite, there is a good
restaurant approached by the staircase at the West end of the beach. Alternative and rather better
bathing is offered by the fine, clean shingle of the long bay of Velania which is situated on the other
side of the peninsula. At the far end of the bay, which has been officially assigned to Nudists, a path
leads up first N.E. and then W. returning to Skopelos via the chapel of the Anargyri.
6. Ano and Kato Klima, Machalas, Glossa and Agios Ioannis – Kastri.
This walk is based on Glossa and since the last bus back to Skopelos leaves at 4. 30 p.m., those
wishing to bathe at Monopati and to have time to explore Glossa itself must aim at leaving on the
morning bus no later than 7.15. The drive takes from l to l½ hours, and en route one passes by
Staphylos, Agnontas and Panormos. From the latter, which was in the Classical period the second city
of the island., one travels Northwards close to the coast. along the Western flank of Mt. Delphi
through the area known as the Forest of Vathia. In about 1 hour's time you reach the hamlet of Ano
Klima and here you may alight and descend into the village by the road named 25 March - the Greek
day of Independence. The path passes the spring, and then continues down to Kato Klima which is
now all but abandoned, before climbing up gently N. to Machalas. A secondary path branches off left
to Loutraki which serves as Glossa's port, and just as you enter Machalas on the left of the path you
will find another spring. The village is, alas, slowly dying, but not without charm, and the path
continues left to emerge at Glossa just opposite the Gymnasion.
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Glossa being situated high up on the slopes of Mt. Mylos both enjoys a fine prospect Westwards over
the sea to Skiathos, and is in itself a most delightful place of narrow cobbled streets and steep winding
staircases, all festooned with bright garlands of many-coloured flowers. The main church and
cafeneion lie cheek by jowl in the upper part of the village, far removed from all traffic, the small
shops are well stocked, and the people generally, not yet having had a surfeit of tourism, still extend
to strangers a sincere welcome and treat them with genuine courtesy and concern. Beneath the present
town there lie the remains of Skopelos' third Classical city, the ancient Selinus, whose treasures and
secrets still await discovery by the archaeologist's spade.
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The path to Agios Ioannis Kastri begins about ¼ mile South of the village. Setting out from the
central spring which lies below the main street - Agios Riginos - take the staircase which ascends a
small hill, and then comes down to the main road to Skopelos. Follow this S.E. for about 100 yards,
looking out for a small clump of cypress trees on the left, where this year (1984) a new road has been
opened to the East coast. Turn onto this, but turn a deaf ear to any advice offered by the locals, who
without exception will urge you to follow it all the way to your destination, to do which would be an
act of sheer folly. Instead in about 10 yards turn off right up the original path which is at first well
paved, and climbs steeply up the hill travelling due East. The surface soon deteriorates, but it is
infinitely preferable to the new dirt track, and once you are safely on it leads directly to your
objective, the chapel of St. John. In about ½ hour just before you reach the brow of the hill you pass
by a wonderful orchard on the left, full of the most succulent damsons and plums that I have ever
tasted. A little further on, again on the left, is a tiny shrine, after which you begin to descend through
several coppices of pine and other trees which provide most welcome shade; and shortly there appears
on the distant horizon the tiny chapel, perched on its precipitous rock above the sea and your ultimate
goal. Avoid the path on the right which descends a steep ravine to the South, but continue Eastwards
and begin to zigzag through olive groves, finally passing a small vineyard before descending onto the
new road. Observe the place carefully, for you must return by the same path, and then turn right, in a
few minutes reaching the Chapel of the Virgin. The road continues on the right, and then swings left
to descend to the sea: but behind the chapel you will find the old path which climbs down more
steeply and directly to the shore, crosses the narrow isthmus, and then scales the steep rock by a
staircase of 105 steps protected by an iron balustrade riveted into the rock. The total walking time
from Glossa is l½-2 hours, and for those not obliged to return to Skopelos by public transport, the
evening, when the place would be brilliantly lit by the setting sun, would be the best time for a visit.
Both North and South there are fine beaches, the one at Monopati in the North being particularly
favoured by the locals. Very little is known about the founding of the church, but its location in this
inaccessible position is explained by the now familiar story of divine intervention. It appears that
initially the chapel was sited on the shore, but the foundations being insecure it collapsed. Hereupon
the Virgin appeared to the builder in a dream, and on her advice the place was re-sited and built with
much effort and great danger to life and limb on the rock where it still stands, a firm testimony to the
founder's faith and dedication.
The area around Glossa is famous for its almonds and walnuts from both of which various local sweet
cakes are produced. This is the only walk which I have described in this region; but I have no doubt
that any who choose to stay here will find equally attractive walks especially in the North, where the
lighthouse and Cape Gourouni (The Pig), and the chapels of St. George and the Taxiarchs could
constitute worthwhile goals in their own right, as well as being close to the sea and set in spectacular
scenery.
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ALONNISOS
Alonnisos, the last of the Northern Sporades, is a long, narrow island, orientated SW-NE, and
possessing an area of some 42 square miles. Its port, Patitiri, situated near the S.W. extremity of the
island, has frequent daily sea connections West with Skopelos, and thence via Skiathos with the
mainland, midweek sailings from Kymi in Euboia in the South, and a weekly direct link with Skyros
in the SE; but an airport is soon to be constructed near the centre of the island on the peninsula of
Kephala and it is hoped that when this is completed communications with the rest of Europe will be
vastly improved.
The population of 1400 is located almost exclusively in the S, and is divided between three
communities, Patitiri, Votsi which also lies on the East coast about 1½ miles further North, and the
ancient capital, which is located rather nearer to the West coast, and since it shares the same name as
the island is often to avoid confusion referred to by its mediaeval name, Liodromia. The vast majority
of the islanders are fishermen, and the second most popular occupation is farming, olives being
currently the most important crop. In past years, however, the island was renowned for its excellent
wine, and I talked to a local seaman who proudly informed me that his annual production used to be
50 barrels, each holding 100 kilos! But about 30 years ago the vines were suddenly afflicted by a
blight which caused the grapes to shrivel like raisins; and since this catastrophe coincided with the
dawning of the golden age of shipping, the vineyards were, alas, abandoned in favour of the sea, and
now barely produce enough wine even for local consumption. Tourism is now beginning to provide
an alternative source of wealth, and in anticipation of the building of the airport several earth roads
have been opened up, most of them radiating from a central dirt track which travels the entire length
of the island from Patitiri in the S. to Gerakas in the N, and leading down to the attractive coves on
both the East and West coasts. As yet the whole of the Northern section of Alonnisos is occupied
solely by shepherds, some 40 families who live in scattered 'mandras' producing a little cheese and
yoghurt by the sale of which they supplement their meagre diet and extremely Spartan existence.
Alonnisos is thus a quiet, peaceful island of dark green forest and deep blue sea and since the few
roads are as yet mostly unsurfaced, there is very little traffic to disrupt the islanders refreshing
tranquillity. I recently saw it described as a walker's paradise: but in my own opinion it cannot stand
comparison at least in this respect with its Western and South Eastern neighbours, Skopelos and
Skyros respectively. For in the first place the island is almost entirely lacking in any dramatic features
to enhance the spectacle with a touch of excitement, and serve both as a challenge to and a reward for
the walker's efforts. Secondly, the whole of the North of the island, which does in fact boast some
rather spectacular cliffs descending abruptly to the West coast of the peninsula of Kephala is
unfortunately inaccessible to the walker, because of the absence of any public transport, and because
all the available accommodation is focused in the South. Thirdly the elongated shape of the island,
and the tendency of most of the paths to radiate from the central dirt track rather than follow the coast,
makes the planning of circular routes very difficult. And lastly, the central track, however much one
may sympathise with the motives for its construction, has regrettably often destroyed the original
paths, whilst in itself it hardly provides the most congenial or exciting of environments in which to
walk.
Those however who seek some gentle relaxation in an atmosphere far removed from all the specious
trappings which adorn the pages of the glossy tourist magazines, could do far worse than spend a few
days amid the simple, genuine, unpretentious beauties of Alonnisos. Comfortable accommodation is
available both in hotels and private rooms on the East coast at Patitiri and Votsi, or at an attractive
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little bay called Rousoum, situated midway between the two; or alternatively those who do not object
to a 2½ mile walk uphill may stay in the Ancient Alonnisos, which being situated about 1000' above
the sea enjoys a fine panoramic view, as well as possessing two good restaurants. The following 4
walks are all based on Patitiri, and the first 3 can all be fitted comfortably into a day or even half day.
Although there is still no public transport by road, caiques frequently visit the various beaches and
may therefore serve as an alternative means of returning to base. The last walk will however require
the assistance of some obliging farmer to provide transport at least in one direction.
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1. Rousoum, Votsi, Palaia Alonnisos, Vythisma, Patitiri.
This is a simple, circular walk which proceeds anticlockwise from Patitiri, and incorporates a visit to
at least one secluded beach, and could easily include visits to two others, time and inclination
permitting. In addition it offers an opportunity to explore the ancient capital and sample its two
restaurants.
Leave Patitiri by the surfaced road signed to the OTE and running up NNW from the harbour. It may
surprise you to learn that most of the development in Patitiri has occurred within the last 20 years,
since the severe earthquake of 1965 left most of ancient Alonnisos in ruins, and the population began
to drift down to the more comfortable environment of the port. Previously Patitiri - whose name
means 'treading-place' - had consisted of a few warehouses where the barrels were stored for export
after the wine had been trod here. Where the road divides at the Secondary School at the top of the
hill, take the right fork, but in a few yards where a sign directs the visitor to Alexiou's Rooms branch
off the road down a track on the right, so cutting off the long detour taken by the road on the left, and
reaching the tiny, well sheltered cove of Rousoum in a few minutes. Leave the shore by the road at the
far end of the bay, and in 100 yards look out for a concrete staircase rising on the right by the side of a
multipurpose building which begins at the ground level as a small factory, but higher up becomes a
cafe and also an hotel. The steps soon lead onto a small path which later broadens into a lane leading
directly to the attractive bay of Votsi. Here you will find several good tavernas where the pleasure of
eating is much enhanced by the charming views over the dark green water of the bay which terminates
in an overhanging cliff, and is everywhere fringed with pines. At the first taverna turn left along a
paved road named Lithostrato which leads onto the new motor road, where you must turn left, and a
little higher up continue right along another lane which soon joins the main road, Agios Andreios, at
the Supermarket. Turn right and proceed towards the garage where the road divides, the right branch
curving to climb the flank of a hill crowned by a plantation of tall dark trees. At the first bend in the
road turn off up a path on the left which winds up through some fields near the top of the hill,
gradually curving round left (w) and joining a lane which in about 10 minutes reaches a crossroads,
where the principal road is the main track to the OTE, the Telephone installation which occupies the
commanding height due North. At the junction, situated on a hillock and approached by a tiny path, is
the little chapel of St. Onouphrios. In his hand the bearded saint - clearly an ascetic, since. his beard
reaches right down to his feet! - holds a motto warning pious pilgrims that indulging the bowels
separates one from Christ. There is an attractively embroidered Creed serving as a curtain to enclose
the Sanctuary.
Cross over the main road, and take the track which is signed as leading to Palaia Alonnisos, passing in
a few yards a junction which descends the hillside steeply on the right to the windswept Northern
harbour known as Yialia. A further half hour's walking will bring you to the remains of the tenth
century capital, built at a safe distance from marauding pirates, and like Rome upon seven hills. The
town sustained severe damage in the earthquake of 1965, since when most of its buildings have lain in
ruins, and its once prolific vineyards blighted and untilled. But slowly life is returning to the winding,
flower-strewn streets; houses are being skilfully and tastefully restored, albeit mostly by foreigners,
general stores are again well stocked, tavernas flourish and Gift Shops are springing up, one of them
even offering lessons in Modern Greek! On the highest hill 1210 metres above sea-level there stands
the proud Venetian castle, whose lower floor is now a repository of antiques, whilst from the upper in
good weather one can even make out the tall pyramid of Mt. Athos, rising nearly 100 miles away in
the NNE. N.W. at an even further distance lies the solid mass of Olympus, WNW the humbler Pelion
raises its pine-clad peak, while 50 miles due S. one descries the unmistakable bold dome of Mt.
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Dirphys in Euboia The dim outline of Skyros SE, and the much closer contours of Skopelos' majestic
hills in the W. complete the extensive panoramic scene.
Conveniently situated beneath the castle, its tables well shaded by the dark foliage of mulberries, one
of Alonnisos' two tavernas extends a friendly welcome and the promise of very palatable fare at very
moderate prices. Should you, thus fortified, favour a lazy afternoon on a secluded beach, follow the
signs to the Gift Shop Gorgona at the opposite end of the village. From here a paved path runs past the
school S.W. to Vythisma, where gentle breezes and the soft slithering of the silvery sea upon the
shingly shore will soon induce sweet sleep. Unfortunately there is no way around the coast to the
adjacent bay of Boutias, so you will have to brace yourself for a steep climb up the same path. Having
regained the village, take the dirt track leading E. to Patitiri, but shortly after leaving the last house
look out for a path on the right which will land you safely back at the port in little over ½ hour. About
half way down on the right and a little removed from the path is a wonderful, refreshing spring whose
abundant waters irrigate the whole valley below, where apples and pears grow in bountiful profusion.
Having satisfied your thirst return to the path which at this point turns sharp left to continue its rapid
descent to the sea.
Those wishing to do the walk in the reverse direction should leave Patitiri by the Odos Pelasgion.
About 300 yards up the hill, just before the road turns right, take the path on the left which is signed
as leading to Palaia Alonnisos.
2. Marpunta, Boutias, Palaia Alonnisos, Panagia, Agi Anargyri.
Although done in the reverse direction this walk resembles the last one in that by spending some time
bathing and eating it could easily be expanded to occupy a whole day. The total distance covered is in
the region of 10-12 miles, so that the actual time spent walking will not be in excess of 4-5 hours.
Three new churches are visited, none of them of any great merit architecturally, but all set in pleasant,
verdant surroundings and of considerable antiquity.
Leaving Patitiri by the Odos Pelasgion, take the first fork which turns off sharply on the left and
continues to climb the hill pleasantly shaded by densely planted pines. In about ¼ hour the dirt track,
which can be quite muddy after wet weather, slowly descends to Marpunta, a curious collection of
maisonettes - in fact a miniature village with named streets, private tennis-court and swimming pool,
restaurant and shop, as well as its own beach and small jetty. Proceed through the forest N.W. to the
second cove of Boutias, now somewhat disfigured by two enormous pylons carrying current into the
sea but otherwise an ideal spot for a quiet swim and a refreshing drink at the small cafe on the beach.
Immediately behind the cafe a delightful path leads up in about ½ hour to Alonnisos, first running
through the olive groves that line the shore, and then higher up through tall pines. In a mile or so you
will join a track along which you may turn either right or left, depending on which part of the town
you wish to visit first. If you go left you will reach the Gorgona Gift Shop with its magnificent purple
and red bougainvillea, and above it the other restaurant in the West end of the village, which
commands a very fine view from its balcony.
Leave by the same road as you entered in (1) and follow it to the crossroads where you must turn left
in the direction of the conspicuous OTE installation. Take the second track on the right, and in five
minutes you will see just off the main path on the right a small chapel dedicated to the Transfiguration
of the Saviour, or more briefly designated 'Tou Sotiros'. Judging by its extremely well kept
appearance when I visited it towards the end of July, I would suspect that it was being tidied up for
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the annual panegyry which is likely to take place on August 5-6. A little higher up the main path you
will find, again on the right, the more famed church of the Dormition of the Virgin, which is reputed
to have had a fine 'templo' (screen) and equally impressive murals. Of the former I could find no trace,
whilst the latter, as indeed the whole structure, have been seriously damaged by the earthquake and
are in desperate need of urgent restoration.
The track continues uphill past a strange, fortress-like house, and finally peters out at an isolated
shepherd's hut: but I searched in vain to find a direct path across the ravine which separates one from
one's next objective, the Chapels of the Anargyri, which are clearly visible perched on their beetling
cliff NE, and brilliantly lit by the powerful evening sun. Unless your efforts are rewarded with greater
success, you will therefore be obliged to retrace your steps as far as the crossroads, where you must
turn left at the chapel of St. Onouphrios along the track which is signed as leading to Mega Nero, an
area which, as its name suggests, abounds in springs. Resist the temptation to take the left fork, for
this leads down to the Gulf of Tsoukalia along the West side of the ravine: instead continue downhill,
first passing many blackberries, almonds and pears, and then several neatly cultivated gardens
bursting with huge red tomatoes and fat marrows, all richly irrigated by copious springs. On joining
the main track which runs due N. from Votsi to Tsoukalia turn left, but then diverge at the second
side-track on the right, climbing up through the dense pine forest from which much resin is collected.
On the right you will pass a huge bore-hole, soon after which the track becomes a small footpath
running N.E. through the trees and parallel with the cliff edge. Keep a sharp look out for snakes,
especially a rather aggressive variety known as 'ochia', four of which I spotted in the course of one
day which had been preceded by a night of violent storms.
The two chapels, the first a replacement for the original foundation which took a heavy battering
during the earthquake, will soon lurch into sight, clinging tenaciously to their narrow ledge. Far below
at the foot of the precipice the seething waters swirl around submerged rocks and pound the cliff, their
ceaseless motion bewitching the spectator and riveting his gaze with magnetic power, while behind
across the straight the majestic mountains of neighbouring Skopelos form a fitting backcloth to the
splendid scene. The more recent church is locked: but in the ruins of the older one you will see icons
of the twin, national saints, Damian and Kosmas, one of them clearly of Russian origin.
Return by the same route to the main track and thence to Votsi where you will have the choice of
either following the new surfaced road back to Patitiri, or taking the paths via Rousoum as they are
described, though in the reverse direction, in (l).
3. Agios Georgios, Ormos Georgi, Kokkinokastro.
This excursion will give you your first experience of the rather wilder scenery in the Northern part of
the island, but it comprises also visits to two magnificent beaches on the East coast, the latter of which
is situated in the vicinity of Ikos which was one of the most important cities of ancient Alonnisos. The
total walking time is 5½-6 hours, so that an early start is advisable in order to avoid too much walking
in the midday sun and give one ample time to enjoy the delights of both sea and ruin-hunting.
Leave Patitiri for Votsi, and at the garage on the fringe of the village turn right along the
comparatively new central road which is both wider and darker, and leads eventually to Gerakas on
the Northern tip of the island. But despite its rather alarming breadth, the road has very little traffic,
and I have made every effort to relieve the walker of the boredom of walking on its monotonous
surface by directing him onto the old path wherever it has survived. After 20 minutes you will pass a
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crossroads, the left intersection leading to Ag. Anargyri, the right down to the bay of Chrisi Milia
About 10 minutes later the road descends slightly, and you will notice on the right a white outcrop of
rock. This is the region known as Milia, where a copious spring in a hollow just to the right of the
road irrigates the well tilled fields and prolific orchards on either side. About 200 yards beyond the
spring you may escape from the road for five minutes by taking a track on the left which climbs up
along some rather stony terraces, following the general direction of the electricity cables. Beware of
taking this path on your return, however, or you will miss the turn off to Ormos Georgi. Rejoining the
road continue climbing gently, until after a mile or so you will descend slightly before entering a
lovely shaded ravine on the slopes of Mt. Korphoula (348 metres). When you emerge the road begins
to curve as it climbs more steeply now; and you must resist the temptation to follow a path on the
right, which instead of cutting off the bends, descends to a cultivated field in the valley below. On the
right you begin to have fine views of the offshore island of Peristera which was once joined to
Alonnisos, while beyond it in the distance you can even see the North coast of Skyros, Euboia lying a
little further to the South, where the bold shape of its highest mountain, Dirphys, stands out clearly on
the horizon. About a mile further on you will reach the summit of the pass, and the road at last begins
to descend. On the right you will have noticed traces of the old track: but since it is rather too wide to
afford much shade and continually merges with the new, you will gain nothing in either speed or
comfort of walking by joining it. About 100 yards from the summit of the pass, however, you will see
the old track rising this time on the left, and if you follow this you will reach your destination, the
Chapel of St George, in a mere 5 minutes. Should you miss this, however, and continue along the new
road, as you begin to descend, look out for a small clearing on the left: for the chapel although only a
few yards distant is not quite visible from the road.
The church is locked, but the door may be opened by pulling on the piece of wire which projects from
its centre. Neither the building itself nor the icons inside, which were all painted in 1922 by a local
schoolmaster-cum-priest, are of any great artistic merit: but just below and East of the chapel you will
find a therapeutic spring with beautifully cool water, while the large olive tree opposite the forecourt
of the chapel provides abundant shade, and is hence an ideal spot to sit and eat one's picnic lunch.
Thus refreshed you will relish the return journey, which is downhill and mostly by the same route.
About 2 miles form the chapel, however, just after passing the steep bends, look out for a small but
clearly defined path on the right which will give you a little respite from the rather boring surface of
the dirt track. The path is delightfully shaded by the dense forest, and after passing through an olive
grove, where the soil, as so often in Greece, is ploughed for sowing corn beneath the trees, it emerges
in about ¼ hour onto the main road just before you reach the junction on the left for Isomata and Steni
Vala. The latter, as you will have seen from above, lies at the entrance to the strait separating
Alonnisos from Peristera and has become one of the island's most popular camping sites and bathing
beaches. Continue down for a further mile, until you reach the two junctions leading to Georgi Yialos
and Kokkinokastro respectively If you take the former track you will descend a lovely ravine shaded
by olives, and in about 20 minutes reach an enchanting bay whose crystal, turquoise water you will
hardly be able to resist after all your exertions. To reach Kokkinokastro there is no need to return to
the main road: instead work your way carefully around the rocks S. to the next bay, just behind which
a small path ascends left the headland whose brightly coloured, reddish cliffs are doubtless the origin
of the name. Scattered all around are many traces of the Classical capital of the island which was then
known as Ikos or Trypia. The bay lies on the other side of the peninsula facing S. and is protected by a
craggy islet called Mikro Kokkinokastro. Both these bays are much frequented by caiques, but there
are no eating places. A path runs up from the cove to the cart track which joins the main road in about
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½ hour at the crossroads just N. of Milia where the never failing spring water will freshen you up for
the final two mile journey into Patitiri.
4. Gerakas and the Chapel of the Ascension - Analypsis.
Bearing in mind that the distance from Patitiri to Gerakas is 25 kilometres, I recommend that no one
attempt this excursion unless they can obtain transport at least in one direction as far as Gerakas.
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From Diasello onwards the road becomes increasingly poor, while from Gerakas to the chapel of
Analypsis the path is by no means clear. Most locals go there by boat, especially for the feast which
takes place on the Thursday 40 days after Easter; and this would certainly be the best time for a visit,
since one would almost certainly find others to show one the way.
The path begins in the gully which ascends N.W. from the North side of the bay. About half way up
the gully one must bear round to the right along the terraces which protect the olives, climbing the
shoulder of the mountain at a point midway between its summit on the left and the precipitous crag
known as Kokkinovracho on the right. The path then descends over the scree quite steeply to the
ledge near the West coast upon which the chapel is built. The cliff hereabouts is very impressive and
there is a tiny anchorage approached by a staircase cut in the rock.
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CHAPTER III: EUBOIA, ANDROS, TINOS
EUBOIA
It surprises me that Euboia has not already become more popular with foreign tourists. For not only is
the island easily accessible by a variety of routes from Athens, but its size and varied landscape
enable it to cater for the most diverse of tastes. Admittedly it can boast of no classical site of prime
importance: but on the other hand it has in Aedypsos a remarkably fine spa, several impressive
mountain ranges, dense forests unrivalled anywhere south of Pelion, and innumerable pretty villages
and delightful bays. The chief resorts, Aedypsos in the N.W., Chalkis and Eretria in the centre, and
Carystos in the S. all have well appointed and remarkably cheap hotels and a reasonable variety of
restaurants, while even cheaper accommodation may be found in the smaller villages inland or on the
coast.
To reach Carystos one may either sail from Rafina in Attica - a voyage of about two hours - or travel
down by bus from Kymi on the East coast or Chalkis on the West. Chalkis is served by both bus and
train from Athens, and Aedypsos by bus and ferry from either Athens in the South or Volos in the
North. Alternatively, if arriving from Volos or any of the Northern Sporades, one may make use of
the ferries which sail daily for Kymi in the middle of the East coast. The price varies considerably
according to the quality and size of the boat, so if one is short of cash it is worth consulting the rival
agencies to find which boat is the cheapest.
Chalkis – the central area.
Chalkis, Euboia's capital city, is not the most prepossessing of places, the surrounding area, especially
if one approaches by rail from Athens, being disfigured by the mining operations which right from
antiquity have been one of Euboia's chief sources of wealth. Indeed the very name Chalkis is derived
from the Greek for bronze. The best general view of the town and all the surrounding region can be
obtained from the Turkish fort known as the Kara Baba, a vantage point on the mainland opposite
from which one can see the distinctive cone of Mt. Dirphys rising almost 6000' some 20 miles to the
East, and also the strangely fascinating configurations of the bay of Aulis where once the Greek fleet
assembled on the eve of its departure for Troy. The Euripus channel is here only a few feet wide, and
has been spanned by a variety of bridges both fixed and movable since the end of the fifth century
B.C. The present structure, only some 15 years old, divides in the centre and is lowered a few inches
to enable it to slide beneath the approach roads whenever boats wish to pass. The current is
exceptionally strong and changes direction 6 or 7 times a day - a phenomenon still unexplained, which
is said by a popular tradition to have driven the philosopher Aristotle to suicide in sheer desperation at
his failure to understand it. The direction of the flow is indicated by two balls, one red, the other
white, for it is unsafe to attempt to cross the narrows in defiance of the current. Although not
especially attractive in itself, Chalkis may form a base or starting point for the following three
excursions, the first of which will delight the sturdy mountaineer, the latter two the ardent classicist.
1. Mt. Dirphys 5725'
I still relish the ascent of this exhilarating mountain as one of the highlights of my many visits to
Greece. It takes about an hour for the service bus to reach the village of Steni Dirphyos which lies
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squeezed between the two mighty jaws of the ravine, and offers accommodation in three hotels. It is
wise to spend the whole day upon the enterprise in order to savour the experience and explore the
many facets of the mountain at leisure; and I recommend sampling the local yoghurt and honey at
breakfast in order to fortify yourself for the adventures that lie ahead. Food also must be carried, extra
clothing and even water, since there is only one spring, and that too lies at the foot of the final
summit. As you leave the village you will notice on the left a detailed map showing how you may cut
off the tortuous bends in the road. The points at which you disappear into the magnificent forest with
which Dirphys' shoulders are thickly covered are marked by red spots and arrows, which continue to
give most helpful indications whenever the path divides. The final turn off is on the left - the earlier
ones being mostly on the right - and in about half an hour from this point you should reach the
Kataphygion which occupies a prominent ridge just above the tree line. It is kept locked, so if you
wish to spend the night here, or avail yourself of the water supply, you must secure the key from the
village before departure. At this point the path turns N.W. descending into the saddle into which the
Meltemi is sucked and funnelled with all the dynamic power of a turbo-jet engine. The combination of
low cloud will emphasise the need for extra clothing; but should the adverse conditions cause you at
this juncture to contemplate abandoning the enterprise, take heart. Below the final summit there
stands, in total desolation, a comforting signpost, giving directions both to the two summits and to the
spring a little off the main path on the left. It is worth stopping here to recoup your strength, recharge
your water bottle for the final assault, and admire the jagged peaks of Mt. Xerovouni which lies
opposite. The ascent of summit A looks almost vertical, but although the scree is loose and you need
to proceed with care, again the path is most carefully marked by red spots to the left and right, while
several curving arrows indicate the sharp bends one must take to avoid plunging over the precipice! I
must admit that I was on several occasions lifted bodily by the dynamic force of the wind, while the
tears flowed so copiously that every twenty yards or so I had to stop to dry my bleary eyes. But the
astonishing view that greets the tenacious climber on his eventual arrival well justifies and rewards all
the hazards and efforts involved in the ascent. The whole island lies submissive at one's feet, and one
feels something of the proud triumph which must have swollen David 's heart when he killed the
mighty Goliath, or Hercules' when he slew the Nemean Lion. To the West the boundless dark forest
sweeps down to the fertile plain and the tranquil waters of the Euripus, across which you may identify
the mountains of Attica, and if the visibility is good, the huge bulk of Parnassos beyond. On the
inhospitable East coast the cliffs plunge sheer into the turbid inky waters of the Aegean, while
Southwards, enfolded in clouds, range upon range rolls down to Carystos, even then to continue in a
regular chain via Andros and Tinos into the Cyclades. You will need some time to absorb these views
in all their majestic splendour; but remember that in such terrain the descent can be even trickier than
the ascent, and it is now, as you transfer your weight from one precarious foothold to another, that you
are most likely to become airborne! Once you have reached the Kataphygion all is plain sailing, and
you will have ample time to savour the delights of the excellent wild red Morello cherries which grow
in great profusion in the foothills above Steni
2. Eretria
Eretria is Euboia's largest extant Classical site, but even so it is more to be visited for its rich historical
associations than for its intrinsic merits. Much of the masonry disappeared irretrievably when the
brave refugees from Psara, victims of the fierce Turkish reprisals for their gallant part in the War of'
Independence, used it to build their new homes. Consequently not much of the auditorium of the
theatre has survived; but the orchestra has a curious and unique subterranean passage leading to the
stage, which one presumes was a device for sudden appearances and disappearances, as for example
those made by Darius' ghost in the 'Persae' of Aeschylus. When one remembers the support given by
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Eretria to her Ionian cousins in their abortive revolt from Persia in 499 B.C. and the heroic resistance
she put up against Mardonius' punitive expedition of 490 B.C., it is a fairly safe assumption that the
'Persae' would have been a popular play here, and it is tempting to speculate that the architect of the
theatre had this play in mind when designing the passage. From the theatre it is only a short climb
along the line of the ancient city walls to the Acropolis, which commands a fine panoramic view, the
familiar hills of Attica lying to the S.W., and immediately to the N. the olive-crowned Lelantine plain.
This fertile land, sandwiched between Chalkis and Eretria, who always bitterly contested its
ownership, led to the first major war of Greek history, the so-called Lelantine War in which the two
protagonists enlisted the support of an impressive list of allies. Indeed the shortage of good
agricultural land was the cause not only of the internecine struggles which were a permanent feature
of Greek history. but also of the colonization in which Euboia's two chief cities played such a large
role.
3. Dystos
A visit to the fifth century town of Dystos is to be recommended only to the ardent classicist, or to
those who, having come from Kymi, may have to change buses at Lepoura, or alternatively prefer to
break the journey from Eretria to Carystos here. About half a mile South of Krieza, just before the
road begins to descend, a path branches off to the right. This is preferable to the road first because it is
pleasantly shaded by trees, and secondly because of a refreshing spring which brings welcome relief
in the heat of the day. The conical acropolis of Dystos is now crowned by the ruins of a Venetian
castle, but the fifth century B.C. classical walls are still to be seen along with one particularly fine
gateway. Another unique feature which it is worth searching for is the foundations of dwelling houses
each with entrance passage, inner court, living room and two bedrooms – practically the only example
from the fifth century to have survived. If you can force your way through the briars and thistles to the
citadel, there is a fine view of the reed covered lake with its numerous swallow holes, and surrounding
vineyards encircled by mountains.
4. Carystos and the South.
Carystos lies in the centre of a wide bay flanked by two peninsulas, and has for a backcloth the
serrated peaks of Mt. Ochi whose massive bulk dominates the whole area. Those who reach it by road
from the North will enjoy splendid views of the S.W. coastline, especially in the region of Marmari
where the road climbs high over the S.W. flank of Ochi, and the marble cliffs shoot down at acute
angles into the sea. Further North in the vicinity of Styra there is an excellent panoramic view of
Marathon, the Dogstail peninsula behind which the Persian fleet sheltered, and the marble quarries of
Mt. Pentelikon standing out especially clearly in the evening sunlight. The whole of the Southern part
of Euboia has a wild, rugged, windswept appearance which contrasts very strikingly with the rich
vegetation and dense forests of the North. Carystos has a good sandy beach, and is well furnished with
hotels and tavernas, and but for the severe gales to which it is often exposed would certainly be a
considerably more popular resort. The surrounding villages are delightfully unspoiled and easily
accessible by foot. Of them, Agia Triada, is famed for its excellent spring water which irrigates the
whole fertile valley through which it flows, while Grampias has a fine Venetian castle and bridge. The
latter is best visited in the evening when one may make use of the service bus as far as Myli, from
where it takes only about half an hour to reach the keep. The battlements are particularly impressive,
combining grace with strength to a fine degree. To see them turn deep crimson in the sunset is an
unforgettable sight which doubtless gave rise to the popular name for the fortress – Castro Rosso.
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After visiting the slender arches of the bridge which spans the ravine and once supplied the castle with
water, you may turn left and return to Carystos by a series of delightful paths.
Another pleasant and very easy excursion is to the tip of the Western arm of the bay, whose rugged
and dry appearance probably led to its being called Paximadi, which is the name for a particularly
hard form of toast which, being twice baked and soaked in oil, is practically indestructible. (When you
wish to use it, you simply soak it in water, and it comes up as fresh as new.) It takes about two hours
to reach the end of the headland on which stands a tiny white chapel dedicated to Agia Paraskevi, and
there are several places where one may cut off the bends in the road by cutting directly across the
beach. In the opposite direction lies the hamlet of Aitos where on August 15th there occurs a large
panegyry in honour of the Dormition of the Virgin. The service, lasting about four hours in all, begins
about 8 a.m., and afterwards there is the customary feasting and merry-making.
5. Mt. Ochi
The opportunity to climb Mt. Ochi should certainly not be missed by any who respond to the
challenge and lure of mountains. It is advisable to begin early in the day, as the first stages can be
rather arduous, especially if the humidity is high, and water must be carried. The official route up the
mountain begins at the village of Myli, which may be reached by the early morning bus, and thence
proceeds up the ravine keeping to the right side immediately below the crags. Having reached a rocky
plateau it then turns right to the Kataphygion, whence the route to the summit is fairly obvious. An
alternative and slightly preferable route may be taken, approaching the final summit from the N.W.
The path begins just to the N.W. of the fortress of Grampias, and leads up to some fairly conspicuous
crags. From here it contours gently up the left side of the ravine, and slowly bends round to the East.
On reaching a group of large rocks which are visible for a long distance on the skyline, one turns right
up a gully which finally emerges at the summit near the peculiar sixth century B.C. structure known
as the House of the Dragon. The beautifully dressed stones and roof-tiles of this remarkable building
are in fine condition considering its exposed position. The other building which occupies the summit
is roughly S.W. of the House of the Dragon, and being somewhat concealed below the surface could
easily be missed. It is in fact a church dedicated, inevitably, to the Prophet Elijah, and I fortunately
learned of its existence from a shepherd whom I met when I first climbed Ochi in the summer of
1974. As I searched for it among the boulders that lie scattered everywhere around I suddenly caught
sight of some tethered mules, and advancing in their direction I heard, much to my amazement and
delight, the sound of voices singing. Following the sound I then saw candles flickering through the
low entrance, and realised at once that by some divine providence I had stumbled upon a local
panegyry. I received Communion - for the service was almost at its end – and then made the
acquaintance of the astonished congregation whose amazement at encountering a stranger with the
temerity to essay these unfamiliar heights in total solitude almost matched my own at discovering
their most welcome but unexpected presence. It transpired that they all came from the village of
Komition, and had been led up there, most of them for the first time, by their intrepid parish priest.
Like the inhabitants of most of the villages in this area they were of Albanian descent, and indeed still
bilingual - a fact which at first rather perplexed me, since I found that I could comprehend only a half
of what they said. Once their initial shyness was gone, I persuaded them to allow me to photograph
them along with their resplendent papas, and was in return given an enthusiastic invitation to join in
the picnic which they had brought up in the early hours of the morning by mule. With the exception of
fresh meat - for the 15th of August had yet to come - the meal comprised every conceivable delicacy,
and was of course accompanied by copious supplies of water and wine. The upshot of our chance
meeting was that I was persuaded to accompany them to their village, which lies on the opposite side
of the mountain. After the priest had revealed to us several landmarks of note, and the beasts of
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burden had been loaded with all the impedimenta without which no Greek will travel, the mule train
of about twenty began amid much mirth and laughter to pick its way gingerly down the mountain
path, myself in the van, (so as not to impede the animals!) and the redoubtable priest, astride his
spirited beast, leading like the Duke of Plaza-Toro from the rear, his dark habit and mitre silhouetted
against the grey of the mountain and the azure of the sky. As was inevitable where Greeks were
concerned, a fierce dispute soon arose as to the best route, and equally predictably the small group
splintered in diverse directions, only to be miraculously reunited at the tiny chapel of Agios Mamas
where a further small service was performed. Eventually, after crossing a wild moor grazed by many
goats and negotiating an extremely narrow and muddy defile, we reached the outskirts of the village,
where I was invited to inspect the water mill before enjoying a well earned siesta. Since the only bus
does not leave until the morning I was resigned to spending the night in Komition, when suddenly a
kind lorry driver appeared and offered me a lift back to Carystos. The road however, is so appalling
that we had to stop for a rest every quarter of an hour, and the two hour journey proved far more
exhausting than all my strenuous peregrinations in the earlier part of the day. Unless you are fated to
enjoy a similar adventure, the more orthodox route from the summit of Ochi to Carystos lies due
South to the Kataphygion, thence S.W. to the saddle, and thence South again, hugging the base of the
cliffs and thus slowly descending the ravine to Myli.
In complete contrast to the South, much of the North of the island is covered with dense forest. The
two obvious centres are Limni, an attractive small fishing village, and Loutra Aedypsou, a right royal
spa; but devotees of Ancient History may wish to spend at least a night at Istiaia which lies
equidistant from Artemision and Oreoi.
6. Limni.
The drive northwards from Chalkis lies through some magnificent country, the road climbing to about
2000' and then descending a narrow defile through which an idyllic stream flows even in midsummer. You may wish to break the journey at Procopion, refounded in 1923 by refugees from
Turkey who brought with them the relics of St. John the Russian, a Tsarist soldier who died in 1730 as
a Turkish slave and is credited with many miracles. He was canonized by the Russian church in 1962
– the festival is May 7th – and his remains repose in the local church, surrounded by a graphic
portrayal of his major works of grace. Procopion is also the location of the model farm run by the
Noel-Baker family whose progenitor Edward Noel acquired the £2000 estate in 1830 as a gift from
Lady Byron, his cousin, who both educated him and bought the estate from its Turkish owners on his
behalf. The area greatly impressed J.S. Mill when he visited it in 1855 (The Later Letters – 235)
mainly because of the vast numbers and gigantic size of the plane trees which grew there in such
profusion and gave the place a very 'English' air. He also writes with some indignation of the
victimization which Noel suffered at the hands of local brigands, and that too with the connivance of
the authorities at Chalkis. Those who are sound in wind and limb may prefer, rather than wait for the
next bus, to walk to Limni by a track skirting the Northern shoulder of Mt. Kandelion, in shape and
height very much resembling Ben Nevis, passing through the hamlets of Daphousa and Troupi, and
finally descending to the Monastery of Galataki.
Tradition records that this fine monastery was founded originally in the seventh or eighth century on
the site of a classical temple to Poseidon; but after being totally demolished by the troops of the Papist
Boniface II it was soon afterwards refounded by Galatas, a merchant from Constantinople who was
rescued from shipwreck off its shore by the intervention of St. Nicholas. A variant tradition, however,
derives the name from the abundant supplies of milk which were apparently piped down from the
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surrounding hillsides where the sheep grazed in great numbers. I imagine that milk production still
figures high in the region's economy: for when I visited in 1974 I witnessed a bitter dispute between
the abbess and a shepherd who claimed that one of the monastery dogs had injured one of his precious
ewes. Among the monastery's many treasures are the right hand of the Apostle Andrew and a small
section of the finger of St. Nicholas Bishop of Myra, while a remarkable crypt secreted between the
ceiling and roof of the Catholikon contains a large collection of skulls, the mortal remains of many
centuries of monks.
From the monastery it takes about two hours by a pleasant coastal path to reach Limni. After about
half an hour one sees a path on the right leading off to a small museum of Marine Biology containing
an astonishing collection of exhibits. A little further North at Katounia is the old railway built for the
transportation of magnesite which is extensively mined in these parts; and here also one may find a
small English colony. Indeed of all the parts of Greece which I have visited, this is by far the most
reminiscent of the British Isles, and more particularly of the Highlands of Scotland. Limni itself offers
accommodation either in 'pensions' or private houses, one first-rate taverna, and good bathing,
especially at Chronia where the beach is beautifully shaded by pines.
7. Aedypsos
To reach Aedypsos by road from Limni requires at present a whole day's journey, changing buses at
Strophylia, where one must wait several hours for a connection. In fact the coastal road which now
reaches as far North as Rovies is being continued and will ultimately make the long detour
unnecessary. Meanwhile travellers may console themselves either with the prospect of the fine views
of Skiathos and Skopelos which will greet their descent from Pappades, or with the opportunity they
will have to visit both Artemision and Oreoi. The former was the scene of the first naval battle fought
between Greeks and Persians in the war of 480 B.C., and rather significantly the strait has yielded one
of the most dramatic bronzes ever to be discovered, that of Poseidon (or Zeus) launching a
thunderbolt – a statue rightly given pride of place in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.
Oreoi, where the Athenians established a cleruchy of 2000 in 445 B.C. in order to safeguard the
loyalty of this strategic island whose revolt had recently almost cost Athens her Empire, has also in
recent years produced its own statue – a handsome Hellenistic representation of a bull. It appears that
for many years the local fishermen had unwittingly tenderized their octopuses by beating them on the
back of this fine creature that lay buried beneath the sand on the shore, doubtless the victim of a
shipwreck. One day in 1965 an inquisitive fisherman, after scraping away the sand and discovering
lettering, decided to inform the mayor whose prompt and energetic efforts with a trowel soon revealed
the whole piece and had it duly transferred to the market place
The prosperity of Aedypsos itself is based upon its sulphurous springs which come steaming and
bubbling from the earth and were in ancient times believed to be connected with the famous hot
springs of Thermopylae which lies on the mainland some 15 miles due West. They are said to be
particularly effective in the treatment of rheumatism, sciatica and similar complaints, and were
already sufficiently celebrated in the first century B.C. to be visited by the Roman general Sulla. As a
result of their continued popularity Aedypsos has a large variety of hotels, restaurants, zacharoplasteia
and cinemas etc., and a promenade elegantly furnished with all the trappings of a typical Victorian
seaside resort or spa. Frequent steamers call from Akritsa to the South, and it is possible to travel
direct to Volos by a combination of bus and ferry. Yet other boats call at various beaches on the
peninsula of Lichas, making a round trip via Kammena Vourla and Agios Konstantinos on the
mainland opposite. Those who are captivated by the unique charms of Aedypsos may well choose to
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spend several days here, in the course of which they are sure to find several attractive walks. My own
recommendation would be a visit to the Monastery of St. George, situated in a deep wooded ravine on
the slopes of Mt. Telethrion – a location very reminiscent of the Holy Mountain. One important
difference lies in the fact that the place is now inhabited by nuns who, under the expert guidance of an
efficient and intelligent abbess, keep it very ship-shape indeed. The squat tower originally built for
defence against pirates has now been converted into spotless guest rooms which enjoy a magnificent
view down the gorge towards the sea.
To avoid returning by the same route, approach the monastery via the village of Polylofos which is
reached by the road which climbs steeply from the S. end of the town. Thence continue along the
public way, now mercifully downhill, and the white buildings of the convent will soon appear through
the trees. Returning, follow the path down the ravine, past the old mill and across the stream. On
reaching the water tap, make an unexpected left turn through Ano and Kato Elia to the sea. It would
be well to spend the afternoon swimming so as to return to town in the comparative cool of the
evening. For one of the less welcome effects of road widening is the destruction of shade without
which walking at sea level in the heat of the day becomes an ordeal rather than a pleasure.
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ANDROS
Andros is most conveniently approached by ferry boat from Rafina, which is served by a regular bus
leaving from Odos Mavromation in Athens. Once a week, generally on a Sunday, the ferry calls en
route at Marmari, a small harbour about 10 miles N.W. of Carystos in Euboia, thus providing a useful
link between the two islands which are separated by a channel of about 16 nautical miles. The usual
port of disembarkation is Batsi, a sheltered harbour on the N.W. coast, and thus well protected from
the Meltemi which assails the Eastern seaboard with particular ferocity. From Batsi buses radiate N.
to Gavrion and S. to the capital city which, since it shares the same name as the island, is generally
referred to as Chora. Unlike many of the island's principal towns, Chora is attractive in itself, as well
as forming the obvious centre from which to explore the surrounding villages, reputed to be amongst
the richest in Greece. It occupies a rocky spur half way along the East coast, down the centre of which
runs the main street, marble paved and lined with numerous zaharoplasteia, a Lesche (gentlemen's
club), and one magnificent antique drug store. To the left narrow, staired alleys descend to the major
port and northern beach, while to the right a series of steps leads down to the inviting rollers of the
smaller southern beach. After passing through two public squares, the street passes through a gateway
and finally terminates in a broad, windswept bella vista enclosed on the West by a naval museum, and
in the centre of which a rough-hewn bronze sailor gazes across the turbulent waters towards the seagirt Venetian keep. There are three restaurants - one at the bus station, one in the main street, and one
at the end of the northern beach, and some three hotels; but since Andros is a popular island with
Greeks, although not with foreign tourists, accommodation in August and early September can be a
slight problem, unless one takes the precaution of booking in advance. Enquiries however are sure to
produce an obliging landlady only too glad to convert her front parlour into palatial sleeping quarters,
and ready too to offer the inestimable additional benefits of home cooking and up to date local
information. The secondary school sometimes houses an exhibition of paintings by local artists: of the
neighbouring villages I would strongly advise a visit to the following, preferably on foot, although a
comprehensive bus service operates from the Station S. of the main street.
1. Apoikia or Sariza - outward journey 1½ hours, return 1 hour.
Apoikia or Sariza is famous for the healing powers of its waters. The infirm or indolent may reach it
by the regular service bus, but it is far more rewarding to arrive on foot by the ancient paved staircase
which is not only far more direct than the main road, but also completely devoid of all wheeled traffic.
This broad pavement, flanked on either side by the characteristic dry stone walling, begins just after
and to the left of the bridge which crosses the small stream flowing into the northern beach, and
continues alongside a stout wall enclosing the fairly extensive grounds of a large house. It may well
go back to Classical times and its immense breadth gives some indication of the volume of traffic
which once flowed between the capital city and the once populous villages to which it leads. Shortly
after the small chapel on the left, cross over the main road, and a little further up the hill avoid the
branch road to the left whose repairing is recorded on a commemorative tablet let into the wall. From
the brow of the hill there is a magnificent view back over Chora, a view best photographed about 3 or
4 in the evening, when the sun is lower in the sky and reflects brilliantly on the sea and the dazzling
white buildings of the town. As the path begins to descend to the left you will catch your first glimpse
of the several scattered villages which nestle in the foothills of Mt. Petalon, the island's chief summit,
and are known collectively as Apoikia. As the path crosses the ravine and ascends towards the centre
of the principal village, you will notice the rich produce of the land - figs, lemons, plums and apples,
all of prodigious size and excellent quality, thanks, no doubt, to the abundance of first-rate spring
water. The spring itself is enclosed in an aediculum on the pediment of which are inscribed both an
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analysis of the chemicals and minerals which the water contains, and an impressive list of all the
ailments which it cures, foremost being malfunctioning of the kidneys and the digestive tract.
Opposite stands the Hotel Pege which serves excellent food at very low prices to residents and nonresidents alike, and further down the main road is the bottling factory which despatches the celebrated
waters throughout the length and breadth of Greece. Before leaving, one should wander around the
village to admire the fine houses with their delightful gardens and orchards, magnificent louvred
shutters, solid wooden doors and shining brasswork - the tangible evidence of centuries of successful
seafaring which has been the main male profession from time immemorial. Those who dislike
returning by the same route may take the path to Apatouria and Stenies: photographers may have to
sacrifice this bonus to catch the evening light as it bathes Chora and all the sea beyond in
panchromatic splendour.
2. Menites, Baconi, Phalika, Moni Panachrantou, Meso Vouni, Ianitsaio, Lardia, Rogo, Korthion.
An equally attractive if slightly more energetic walk takes in most of the villages between Chora and
Korthion, the island's second most populous town, the villages which are perhaps the prettiest on the
island and are collectively known as Messaria. It also includes the revered seventh century monastery
of the All-availing One, i.e. the Virgin, which may have been visited by the famous Byzantine general
Nicephorus Phocas who in the tenth century was partially responsible for the foundation of the first
monastery on the Holy Mountain, and who to his great credit recovered a large area of the crumbling
empire from Arab control. To avoid the rather tedious walk on the tarmac, take the bus as far as
Menites, where you will be well advised to drink deep of the ice cold waters which come gushing
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down in such prodigious spate amid the summer heat. Returning to the main road travel along it for
two or three hundred yards in the direction of Batsi, and then descend a small path off to the left
leading to the village of Baconi. Here I was offered one of the most succulent figs that I have ever
tasted and then invited to pick lemons to quench my thirst! The floor of the valley is widely cultivated
and surprisingly thickly populated - hence a profusion of paths which make it desirable to enquire the
route from villagers who are always willing and proud to provide information and whatever
encouragement and refreshment are considered appropriate to the task in hand. Once you begin to
ascend however, you will have little appetite for conversation or eating; but mercifully there is a
shaded, lifesaving spring where you may recoup your strength for the final assault. Once within the
monastery precincts you will find not only copious water but an overwhelmingly rapturous welcome
from the sole occupant, a voluble and ebullient priest whose generosity knows no bounds. Perhaps he
was in particularly good humour when I visited in August 1975, because of the thoughtful gesture of
some Athenian guests who had recently arrived with a large supply of his favourite delicacy - winkles
– which he was devouring with obvious relish. Certainly the lavish and varied fare which we were
most cordially invited to share made the profuse apologies for the meal's limitations - limitations
naturally determined by the stringent rule of fasting which precedes all major festivals – seem to our
more modest appetites singularly unwarranted. For with the single exception of meat, the huge table
was laden with every conceivable type of food, ranging from the inevitable bean soup to such rare
delicacies as fried gourd flowers and home made halvas. Such encounters are ever memorable, the
more so as one's joy is invariably tinged with sadness as one sees these magnificent relics of our Faith
and incomparable traditions of hospitality and service declining for sheer lack of manpower, and all
but vanished but for the indefatigable energy and saint-like optimism of such bastions of Orthodoxy
as our host.
Having inspected the monastery's rich treasures, and fortified by its incumbent's inexhaustible
reserves of food and good cheer, you will reach the crest of the hill with an effortless ease which is
only in part due to the refreshing gusts of the Meltemi to which your increased elevation have now
exposed you. Where the path divides you must take the left fork which will soon bring you down into
the isolated hamlet of Meso Vouni where, if your luck holds, further directions and refreshment will
be proffered. If you are wise, however, you will eschew the second glass of the island's potent, ouzolike distillation, and also the temptation to resort to the carriageway whose apparent shortness is
deceptive, and whose dusty surface and endless bends weary both flesh and spirit. Far better to
descend through the village by the path to the right, which, if you follow it straight on, diverging
neither to left or right, will land you safely in Ianitsaio. From here to the shore the route is fairly
obvious, and the gradient is eased by an incalculable series of steps which should certainly keep at
bay the obesity which besets so many Greeks in middle age. Between Ianitsaio and Lardia you will
see, set in splendid isolation, a huge church, doubtless erected by the munificence of some rich
merchant, and yet another reminder of the great wealth which seafaring has brought to this island.
When you reach the main road, turn, surprisingly, left, and in a few yards you will rediscover the path
leading down more shaded stairs to Rogo and hence to Ormos. Here you may enjoy a well-earned
bathe in the invigorating surf of the Gulf of Korthion. The village of Aedonia - the Nightingales belies its beguiling name, giving one the distinct feeling that it prefers to be viewed from afar. As for
your return, you have the choice of two buses, the earlier one taking the more circuitous route via
Kaparia, the later the more direct one via Cochylou.
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TINOS
A stormy gulf of less than a mile separates the southern point of Andros from the northernmost tip of
Tinos; but since Tinos' capital lies at the southern end of the island, and Batsi in the North is Andros'
only sheltered port, it takes a good two hours to sail from one to the other. One may also sail direct
from Piraeus, passing by but not landing on the rocky island of Yaros whose political prison camps
have recently acquired a grim notoriety. To most Greek visitors the name of Tinos is indissolubly
associated with the panegyry which is held annually on August 15th in commemoration of the
Dormition of the Virgin; and since this has now become indisputably the largest panegyry in Greece,
attracting thousands of pilgrims even from as far afield as Nigeria, it is appropriate that I should
describe briefly how the festival originated and how it is celebrated.
At the ancient convent of the Virgin, situated high up on the slopes of Mt. Kechrovouni, lived a
devout nun named Pelagia. In the year 1822 during which a great plague decimated the population, a
vision of the Virgin appeared to her three times, twice during sleep and once whilst awake, instructing
her to tell the authorities to dig in a certain field in order to 'find her house'. At first the story was
dismissed as the figment of a senile mind - for Pelagia was already well in her eighties - but when she
insisted, excavations were begun and revealed an old Byzantine church and a now dry well. A new
church was hastily constructed over the spot, and on the day of its sanctification, January 1st 1823,
water miraculously began to flow from the ancient well, an event which led to the church being
dedicated to the Life-giving Spring - Zoodochos Pege. On the 30th January the icon of Megalochari
was also found; and its miraculous powers received such rapid and wide acclaim that contributions
from all Greece had by 1831 raised the magnificent edifice of the Evangelistria which now stands in
the very field where the icon was discovered.
On the eve of the festival pious pilgrims queue for hours to pay their homage by kissing the
miraculous icon. Candles, some of gigantic proportions, are lit before the iconostasis, while some in
fulfilment of a vow crawl on all fours from the harbour to the very presence of the icon - a distance of
almost half a mile. Government officials arrive and are conducted with great ceremony to the
forecourt of the church where, amid tolling bells and solemn music, a wreath is laid in memory of
those who were killed when the cruise ship Elle was torpedoed in Tinos harbour on August 14th 1939.
It is sad, but characteristically Greek, that the shadow of this monstrous action should adumbrate an
otherwise joyous occasion. Between 10 and 11 a.m. on the following day all the bells in the town ring
out , and all the ships in the harbour blow their hooters as, bands playing and banners waving, the icon
is paraded down the main street and set in a raised marble dais for all to see. Addresses are given both
by government officials and gloriously apparelled bishops from all Greece, while amid the excited
crowds that throng the streets and hang precariously from balconies and every conceivable vantage
point rumours spread of the miracles which have already been wrought. And indeed a faith which
steels hundreds of travel-worn, aged, and often infirm pilgrims to sleep for several nights on the
pavements, with only a few blankets for protection against the furious onset of the Meltemi, is
deserving of commendation rather than scepticism.
Such, then, is the history of what is perhaps the largest public gathering that takes place beneath the
banner of the Greek Orthodox Church, an event certainly worth witnessing as a demonstration of the
patriotic and religious fervour which have played such an important role in the development of
modern Greece, and still exercise a by no means contemptible influence in the lives of its people.
Since the growing popularity of the festival makes it virtually impossible to find accommodation
within Tinos itself, provided that you do not quail at the absence of all normal amenities, it is a good
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idea to seek shelter in one of the numerous villages which nestle in the hills above. Accommodation
will be extremely simple and toilet facilities primitive; but at least you will see the genuine side of life
in the Greek countryside. Arnados is relatively close to Chora and easily reached by the constant
shuttle service which is operated during the period of the festival to convey visitors to the adjacent
convent. Midway between the village and the convent is a restaurant, while the village itself boasts
two cafes where drinks and even breakfast may be obtained if one is patient. Besides visiting the
convent with its several chapels, Agia Pelagia's cell, and museum containing interesting relics from
many parts of Greece, the following two excursions can easily be made within the space of half a day.
1. Steni and Dyo Choria.
From the centre of the village of Arnados a path leads upwards along the slopes of Mt . Kechrovouni,
and then descends to the usually green plateau which is dotted with several small white villages, the
largest of which is named Steni. For although one's first impression of Tinos, as one sails by in a boat,
is of an extremely barren, infertile land, in fact the island hides numerous well-watered plateaux
supporting crops and even cattle. Ubiquitous dovecotes bear witness to the innumerable pigeons
which once inhabited the island during the period of the Venetian occupation, the relics of which are
still very much in evidence in the church architecture, especially the attractive campaniles. Much of
the island, as for example the village of Steni, still adheres to the Roman Church, and there are in
Loutra both a Jesuit monastery and an Ursuline convent and seminary housing an orphanage too.
From Steni one may take a path leading along the N.E. shoulder of Kechrovouni down to Dyo Choria,
a village blessed with a splendid cool spring and a panoramic view across the bay.
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2. Exobourgo.
This strange eminence, crowned by a huge stone cross, is visible from most of the southern part of the
island, and rising to over 1800' it commands superb views of Tinos itself, and many of the
surrounding Cyclades. From Arnados one simply takes the road past the convent which circles round
towards Mesi. After about half an hour one turns off along a lane to the left, which passes through
fields and eventually joins the road a little before the two churches, one Orthodox and the other
Roman, which crouch side by side below the rocky summit. The path goes up towards the right,
reaching the top in about a quarter of an hour. Below the Venetian Kastro lie the scattered ruins of the
island's ancient capital which flourished from the eighth to the fourth century B.C. Watch out for
snakes - for the island still well deserves its ancient epithet 'ophiousa' i.e. abounding in snakes. Apart
from this there are no hazards, and if the wind is strong enough to disperse the clouds, your efforts
will be rewarded by a memorable panorama comprising Andros, Syros, Paros, and even the
unmistakable conical shape of Naxos which boasts the highest peak of all the Cyclades and rises even
above the clouds in the far horizon. In the closer foreground southwards lie Mykonos and Rhenea,
with minute Delos sandwiched between, while dimly in the distant East there sprawls the long gaunt
mass of Ikaria where Daedalus' ill-starred, overweening son made his last fatal descent into the chill
waters of the Aegean.
3. Pyrgos and Panormos.
If your appetite for exploration has been whetted, a morning bus leaves the harbourside for Pyrgos
and Panormos in the North of the island. Since there is only one bus, it is a wise precaution to board it
well before departure time: for when it is so full that admitting further passengers is a physical
impossibility, it is likely to leave, irrespective of time. The road climbs to a great height and runs
parallel to the S.W. coast at about a mile's distance from the shore. Shortly after Isternia climbing yet
higher it turns inland to descend to the plateau in the centre of which Pyrgos lies. The surrounding
hills are scarred with quarries where the pink marble for which Tinos renowned is hewn to this day.
As you enter the village, on the left stands the house of the celebrated sculptor Chalepas whose figure
of the Sleeping Maiden now adorning Athens' main cemetery received such wide acclaim. The house,
now a museum, is well worth a visit, as also the School of Fine Arts which trains sculptors from all
over Greece. Pyrgos was once the most populous village on Tinos, and indeed still contains many fine
churches and houses, whilst its gardens, teeming with brilliant, mauve bougainvillea, resplendent
white buildings and narrow, winding streets present a fine spectacle. The village clusters around two
steep knolls separated by a bridged ravine; but as one reaches the outer periphery, the abandoned and
often dilapidated houses tell the same sad story of depopulation which is further corroborated by the
neglected terraces and ruined mills which line the windy ridge separating Pyrgos from its once
thriving seaport, Panormos. If you take the lane that runs past the gymnasion, just before crossing the
bridge, it climbs the ridge, passing between the collapsed towers of the windmills which clearly gave
the village its name - Tower - and eventually descends to the harbour by a route far more attractive
than that taken by the bus. Here there are one or two tavernas (Pyrgos has none), and good bathing,
the bay being protected from the full force of the Meltemi by a small rocky island which lies across its
entrance. The bus back to Chora leaves from here in the evening, passing through Pyrgos en route. As
it descends towards Chora the traveller will enjoy the superb view ever the Aegean, whose countless
waves glint, as Aeschylus put it, like countless smiles, bathed in the mellow rays of the evening sun.
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CHAPTER IV: AEGINA, CYTHERA
AEGINA
Of all the Greek islands which I have visited, Aegina offers by far the most interesting and enjoyable
walking. In size it is ideal: a practised walker may with ease traverse the whole perimeter of the island
in the space of a single day, or by climbing the mountain embrace it all within a single glance. At the
same time, in variety of scenery and terrain it is in my own experience quite unsurpassed, each of its
three sides presenting a completely contrasting aspect. The North side is the flattest and most fertile,
and consequently the most densely populated, Along the West side a fairly well surfaced road runs
from the main town to Perdika, a quiet fishing village, and affords incomparable views, seawards of
the offshore islands of Angistri and Moni behind which rise the serrated peaks of the Peloponnese,
and landwards of the clear, graceful contours of the barren hills of Aegina itself. On the East side, as
yet relatively unspoiled by the intrusive hand of progress, the grey grandeur of the arid limestone hills
which tumble and plunge into solitary, pristine seas is relieved, only by the lonely shepherd's pipe or
tinkling sheep bell, and the occasional beetling, whitewashed village, clinging tenaciously to its
precarious, narrow terraces amid a wilderness of inexorable rock.
Undoubtedly the Springtime is the best season for visiting Aegina. For in the Summer its proximity to
Athens and the frequency of boats plying backwards and forth along the Saronic Gulf have led to
serious overcrowding - a problem which can become acute when it coincides, as often, with a
protracted drought. For Aegina is almost totally devoid of springs, and thus water has to be imported
in large quantities from Athens and Poros. In the Spring, however, these problems do not arise; and if
Zeus has obliged with copious winter rain, the Spring visitor will be greeted on entering the harbour
with an unforgettable fragrance produced by the innumerable flowers which fill the lush, green
meadows with a dazzling array of poppies, anemones, orchids and chamomile, to mention but a few.
The boulder-strewn paths which so characterise the island are transformed from a barren wilderness to
a veritable oasis of panchromatic splendour, each stone wearing its peculiar garland of jewelled
delight, each bush lavishly adorned with brilliant blossom, each hedgerow a pageant of infinite variety
and magnificence.
Communications
Aegina is served by a great variety of boats ranging from small craft like the Delphini Express which
covers the 18 nautical miles in the record time of 55 minutes, to the more spacious car ferries and the
more traditional type of boat such as the Portokalis Elios which generally accomplish the journey in
about 1½ hours. In addition several cruise boats continue Southwards from Aegina to Methana, Poros,
Hydra and Spetses, whence they return to Piraeus in the course of a single day. The popular bay of
Agia Marina on the N.E. corner of the island is also visited by cruise boats whose passengers are
ferried ashore either to enjoy swimming in the shallow, sheltered waters of the bay, or to climb the
steep hillside to visit the beautiful temple of Aphaia.
Of the two satellite islands of Moni and Angistri, the latter is the larger, and is served in the Summer
by a daily boat leaving about 9. 30 a.m., and returning about 1 in the afternoon. The island is covered
with pine trees whence resin is extracted for use in the manufacture of retsina, and has three small
villages - Mylos, Skala and Limenari which straddles the panhandle. The modern name, Angistri,
means 'fish-hook': but the ancient name was Kecryphalaia, and here, in 459 B.C., the Athenian navy
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dealt a crushing defeat upon the combined fleets of Aegina, Epidauros and Corinth, and then
proceeded to blockade and eventually occupy Aegina, expelling its inhabitants and replacing them by
cleruchs from Athens. Moni is more barren and rocky and has on its pointed crest an old gun
emplacement from which one can enjoy a fine panoramic view. The swimming there is much praised,
and in the Summer there is a sizable encampment. There was once a large collection of exotic birds;
but the campers' complaints that they disturbed their slumber led to their slaughter - a somewhat
impetuous action which later occasioned regret. In the season Moni is served by a caique which
sometimes continues round the East side of the island to Agia Marina. The narrow channel between
Moni and Perdika contains the deepest water in the region of Aegina and consequently strong currents
which should dissuade all but the strongest swimmers from attempting the crossing.
The Bus Services operate from a depot just to the right of the harbour as one faces the sea The most
regular service goes via the Monastery of Agios Nektarios to Aphaia and Agia Marina but there are
about three buses a day running South to Perdika and others serving the villages of Kypseli, Souvala
and Vathy on the North side of the island.
Bicycles, tandems and motor-bikes may also be hired, though they are to be recommended only on the
coastal roads, the interior being too hilly for comfort. A new road from Agia Marina to Portes is at
present under construction, and rumour has it that it will eventually ascend to the village of Anitsaio.
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1. Agios Nektarios and Chrysoleontissa Monasteries.
This is a simple, delightful walk for limbering up or initiating the novice. Take the bus to Agios
Nektarios - the service is very frequent, and generally terminates at Agia Marina - and visit the
monastery, dedicated to the most recent saint of the Orthodox Church who was canonized as late as
1961. An enormous church to the Holy Trinity is currently being constructed on the left of the road
just below the monastery. Returning to the bus stop take the path, now surfaced, leading by the
restaurant up the hillside. As you climb look back at the fine view of Palaiachora, the mediaeval
capital of the island, which clusters around the conical hill to the right of the prominent stone quarry.
In half an hour you should reach the crest of the hill and catch your first glimpse of the convent which
nestles in a hollow slightly to the right. Be careful to avoid a path on the right which descends a steep
ravine. The path which you need and to which a not very obvious signpost directs you, contours round
on the left, descends slightly to cross a normally dry riverbed, and finally ascends gradually to your
destination which you should reach in about 45 minutes from the main road.
After visiting the convent which was built in the early seventeenth century and contains a very fine
screen carved in 1814, you may return to Aegina by a different route. As you leave you will spot to
the NNW a tiny white chapel dedicated to St Andrew and glinting on the crest of a steep hillock. It is
well worth ascending to admire the splendid panorama which is particularly attractive at 4 or 5 in the
soft evening light. Descending by the same path turn right at the foot of the hill, and proceed with
caution down a stony path which eventually joins the central road from Aegina to Anitsaio. You can
avoid the more devious bends by resorting to the old track which is generally still visible, especially
on the left of the road. The return journey including the detour to St Andrews takes about two hours.
2, Souvala to Palaiachora.
This is another short, simple climb. Take the bus or even a boat to Souvala or Vathy. From the latter
there are several paths winding up through the fields; but if you prefer, alight at the cafe in the middle
of Souvala, and take the well-defined cart track which leads up to the quarry on the right. Just
opposite on the left a small path leads up past the chapels of Agia Anna and Agios Dionysios, a local
saint whose cell is situated just above the church. The whole place has a somewhat haunted quality,
being now totally abandoned, and if the churches are locked, as those with the best frescoes tend to
be, the key can be obtained from the guard who is usually to be found wandering around the site. In
all there are some 26 churches, and the whole place resembles a miniature Mistras with its narrow
paved streets and Venetian ruined castle crowning the summit of the hill.
From here one enjoys a view of all the fertile Northern coastal plain with its olive and pistachio
groves, vines and figs, with the characteristic camel's hump of Salamis forming the backcloth. Due
East is the rich plateau of Mesagros spreading its carpet of varied green and flanked by a dark pineclad hill on whose summit rise the graceful, golden pillars of the temple of Aphaia In the bottom of
the valley lie the white conventual buildings of the monasteries of St. Nektarios and Ekaterini.
If one has the whole day at one's disposal, a good idea would be to continue by bus to visit the temple
of Aphaia, which was built out of the spoils taken by the Aeginetans from the Persians at the battle of
Salamis, and forms an exact isosceles triangle with the Parthenon and the temple of Poseidon at
Sounion. The situation is magnificent, and one of the unique features of the temple is its double row
of columns to support the roof. From here a path wanders down, beautifully shaded by pine trees, to
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the beach of Agia Marina, generally regarded as the best on the island. At least it has sand, and there
is a good variety of tavernas where good fish is available.
3. The Mountain – Oros.
To do the mountain justice one requires a whole day. Water bottles are advisable, there being no water
supply after leaving the convent. The route which I recommend, since it takes best advantage of the
direction of the sun for photography, and lands one on the summit by midday, is as follows.
Take the 9 a.m. bus to Nektarios, and climb up to the convent of the Panagia Chrysoleontissa as in 1.
Here you may refresh yourself and replenish your water bottles. In any case the nuns always offer
glasses of water and Turkish Delight, and they will also open up their shop where you may buy
attractive lace as well as the more usual souvenirs. As you leave south by the monastery garden you
will have chance to admire the fine peacocks and turkey, and gradually the path will emerge as it
leads gently up towards a saddle in the hills. Here you must climb over a wall and cross a large field
diagonally. (The path here is very faint, and sometimes the field grazes horses, sometimes sheep, and
occasionally it might even be sown.) Head due South following the sun and keeping your eye fixed on
the conical crest of the mountain until it disappears, by which time you should have found the path
which leads through the saddle and descends slowly to the new road to Anitsaio. By its side you will
notice a solitary cypress tree, its mate having been sadly destroyed while the road was being built - an
inexplicable and indefensible sacrilege. From here there are fine views of the satellite islands of Moni
and Angistri, and behind, the serrated peak of Methana, once a volcano, and attached to the
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Peloponnese by a narrow isthmus. As you carefully pick your way down the rocky path, observe half
way up the mountain a small white chapel of the Taxiarchs. Make straight for this, scrambling down
to the road and almost immediately turning off it up a track just in front of a strange outcrop of rocks.
The track zigzags up to the chapel, but a small track goes there direct, diverging from the main track
after a few yards. The chapel is built from the masonry of the classical temple of Zeus Panhellenon,
the general outline of which and the ramp are still clearly visible. The door is opened by a piece of
wire on the right which releases the catch on the inside, and the acoustics are remarkably resonant.
The path to the summit of Oros leaves the chapel diagonally from its South corner in the direction of a
rather prominent wild olive tree, and on the left of it you will notice quite a deep water hole from
which stone troughs are filled for the sheep. The Greek Mountaineering Club have recently marked it
with cairns; but the places to take care are two or three little green patches where you need to take a
left fork. Should you continue straight on at these points, you will find yourself descending, and I
advise you retrace your steps, as the going can be surprisingly hard without the path, and there is the
additional hazard of inadvertently treading on snakes. From the chapel of the Taxiarchs it generally
takes about 40 minutes to reach the summit, where your efforts will be rewarded with a spectacular
view not only of the whole of Aegina, but also of the whole of the Saronic Gulf. Southwards one can
trace the outlines of the islands of Poros and Hydra, Eastwards the indented coastline of Attica ending
in Cape Sounion, Northwards the grey sprawl of Athens behind which the marble quarries of
Pentelikon glint in the sunlight, while to the West one can discern the Acrocorinth, and on clear days
in the winter and spring, even the snow-capped summit of Cyllene almost 80 miles distant.
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The small chapel on the summit is dedicated to the prophet Elijah, as invariably, but also to the
Ascension of Christ, and it is indeed on that day that many of the inhabitants of Anitsaio below climb
up to celebrate and hold a panegyry.
Return by the same route as far as the Taxiarchs, and if you don't mind a few stones, divert a little
lower in the direction of the tall cypress tree upon which I commented earlier. Here one must join the
road and proceed upon it for about ten minutes until one reaches the lane turning off left into the
village of Pachia Rachi. On the right you will see the old village school, alas now closed, since the
population has largely emigrated. (You will have noticed all the abandoned terraces cascading down
the valley just before you turned off into the village.) A track leads down to the coast, but as you leave
the village you may take a rather stony path which goes more directly. At times it is rather engulfed
by vegetation, but in the spring time it is a riot of wild flowers which more than compensate for the
unevenness of the surface. Once you reach the coast at Marathon the going is easy, and the weary may
even catch one of the return buses from Perdika. If it is by now evening you may be lucky and as you
look back towards the mountain, you may be astonished to see it bathed in deep purple, a final
benison to crown a day which I can promise will not be without memorable experiences.
4. The circuit of the island.
It is best to attempt this fairly arduous 'Marathon' event in an anti-clockwise direction. For in this way
one may make optimum use of public transport to opt out and return by bus. There is the additional
advantage of a comparatively short, easy stretch from Aegina to Perdika on which to limber up, and a
long but relatively easy stretch with which to finish. The total distance is in the region of 30 miles,
and by far the most rewarding section in terms of the tranquillity of the scenery and the challenges of
path-finding lies in the middle along the East coast where roads are as yet either non-existent or still
under construction. One requires about 12 hours to complete the full course on foot, allowing about 2
hours for rests and eating, so one should aim to start as early in the day as possible.
(a) Follow the coastal road South in the direction of Perdika. Alternatively one may take the inland
route in front of the Prison, emerging onto the coast road at Agios Vasileos. One or two rather
tasteless modern hotels disfigure the landscape during the next few miles, and the long circuit of the
bay is a little tedious, even despite the ever-changing perspective of the Peloponnesian coast on the
right; but if one steps out, this side can be accomplished in 1½ to 2 hours.
(b) The coastal paths South of Perdika are very rough and hard to find. Unless one is especially
anxious to see Perdika itself, it is far better to branch off left along the recently surfaced track, as soon
as one reaches the signpost at the beginning of the village. After a hundred yards or so take a small
stony path on the left which continues towards Sphendourio more directly, avoiding the tedious bends
in the cart track. Where the path divides in about a mile, take the right fork which eventually rejoins
the cart track. Keep a look out for the old path which again cuts off on the left, and continues straight
on into the village, crossing the more devious track once or twice before finally entering the hamlet.
The views back over the white houses of Perdika, the grey crags of Moni, and the darker, more
ominous peaks of Methana which tumble into an azure sea are entrancing, especially when framed
beneath gnarled old olive trees and ilexes which overspread the path. The dogs of Sphendourio are
pretty ferocious, not being used to alien intruders: but the girls are reputed to be the most beautiful in
the whole island and can generally be prevailed upon to offer one water, if nothing more exciting. The
villagers, who by a combination of tenacity, ingenuity and sheer hard labour extract a precarious
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existence from the unyielding terraces and a few goats and sheep, tend to be rather shy. But if one
arrives at Easter time one may be lucky enough to witness the traditional slaughtering of the Paschal
lamb, its skilful flaying by inflating the carcass through a metal tube thrust up the rear leg, and finally
its five hours basting over the charcoal fire, the spit turned unceasingly and supported at either end
with a tripod.
As you climb out of the village you will pass the cemetery and its small chapel on the right. A few
yards further on, also on the right, is a water hole at which you must turn left, and then after a few
paces bear right along a faint path which contours round the base of Oros, and eventually reaches the
beetling hamlet of Vlachides which you will see straight ahead. Beware the tracks on the right which
descend onto the terraces: at each bifurcation take the left fork, climbing gently beneath the final cone
of the Mountain which lowers above. After about a mile the path swings round to the left to descend
over some loose scree into three small ravines, after which it climbs up quite steeply into the village,
which if anything is even more remote and deserted than Sphendourio. Its oldest inhabitant, whose
deeply furrowed face supported a single tooth, claimed to be well over 100 years old, and used to go
into ecstasies of delight at the sight of young people. The younger inhabitants too are touching in the
generosity of their hospitality, which is always tended with sincere apologies that their humble
circumstances forbid them to offer anything better.
After leaving the village take the left fork at the brow of the hill in the direction of Anitsaio, a sizable
community which will easily be identified by the ruined windmill which occupied a prominent hillock
on its Eastern extremity. Anitsaio is a convenient place to stop for lunch: for a new cafe has just
opened and the local retsina will certainly put new life into you and fortify you against the rigours that
still remain. For the path that leads down N.E. to Portes is boulder strewn and requires the relaxed
agility of a mountain goat to accomplish it with ease and pleasure! On reaching the sea those who
have not eaten or imbibed too freely may be permitted a refreshing dip in the transparent waters of the
bay. From here one has a short but steep climb diagonally up the hillside for about ten minutes,
crossing over the new road, and descending to it where it turns right to ascend the hill. It is regrettable
that when the road was built it obliterated the old path, so that at this point there is no alternative to
following the road until it reaches the crest, a distance of about half a mile. At this point turn off to the
left and you will see the temple of Aphaia in a clearing amid the pine trees on the top of the ridge
immediately to the North. From here you may follow the old mule path which has carved quite a deep
furrow in the soft sandstone, and which leads down pleasantly through the trees to the bay of Agia
Marina. The time from Anitsaio to Agia Marina is a little over two hours, but rather longer if you have
allowed yourself a bathe at Portes.
At Agia Marina the exhausted may seek consolation in the cool, invigorating depths of the ocean, and
return to Aegina at their leisure by bus - for there is a regular service until the early evening. It has
become my custom to revive those who are determined to complete the course with a yoghurt and
honey which can be obtained at the first cafe on the right opposite the bus stop. But to avoid being
benighted, I advise you not to delay your departure beyond 4 p.m.: for the final lap though not
arduous is long and requires at least four hours. But should either courage or strength fail you,
provided that you can reach Agii or Souvala, the final six or seven miles may be done in the comfort
of the service bus, or even a taxi!
(c) Leaving the town and its rash of tourist shops, look out for the path on the left by the Hotel Magda.
The ascent through the pine forest to Aphaia is steep and unrelenting: but take heart - it is by far the
toughest climb on this final leg of the journey. When you have crossed the main road once, and have
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finally emerged with the temple on your left, turn right for a few yards, and then plunge once more
into the pines by a small path on the left which winds down the hillside. Crossing the road once more,
continue through the forest on the right of the road by a path which in a few minutes will emerge from
the trees. In a few moments where the track divides, take the left fork which leads past a well where
you may pause for reflection, and even draw water if you need. it. The track continues past a small
stone quarry on the right, and then climbs up onto a surfaced road. Bear right for a few yards and then
turn left along a cornfield until you finally reach the scattered village of Mesagros. Here turn right,
and branch off left up the hillside. After about a mile one turns left down a small ravine and then
enters Agii. From this point it becomes virtually impossible to describe the route with any degree of
accuracy: for the more cultivated the terrain, the more the paths proliferate, and the more obstacles
one encounters in the shape of irrigation trenches and barbed wire fences. Consequently, if I'm honest
I must admit that I have never done this final stretch in exactly the same way. But if one simply
follows the sun, keeping the sea on one's right and the hills on one's left, sooner or later one will
certainly arrive back in Aegina. About half a mile after leaving the new boat factory on the shore at
Souvala one may leave the coastal road and turn inland along the winding lanes which enter Aegina
from the N.E. But those who prefer a maritime prospect will round the headland by the lighthouse,
and enter Aegina past the Colona, the sole surviving pillar of the once magnificent temple of Apollo.
Whatever your preference, you will certainly feel no mean sense of achievement and not a little
weariness after completing the whole course.
5. Shorter walks.
For the less robust there is a multitude of pleasant strolls in the immediate vicinity of the town, to
hamlets like Chloe, or to the Pharos lighthouse or the Phaneromene catacombs, to which any of the
Aeginetans will readily direct you. The keen photographer will find many attractive subjects,
especially in the soft light of dawn or the rich light of evening, either on the colourful harbour-side, or
at the Colona. The graceful contours of the Mountain are seen to great advantage from the latter at
sunset, while the whole site has been recently and thoroughly excavated, revealing large sections of
the city wall with their intriguing inscriptions recording banquets offered to the whole people by the
rich and influential. The whole area is charmingly landscaped, and contains the new Museum.
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CYTHERA
The island of Cythera which lies midway between Cape Maleas and Crete is not yet much geared to
tourism, and it is difficult to escape the conclusion that a sizable and influential section of the
community does not particularly wish it to be. The reasons are threefold. In the first place the island
receives, thanks to a very favourable exchange rate, generous financial support from its many
Australian immigrants, as a result of which roads are being repaired, hospitals and other social
amenities maintained, despite the continuing stream of emigrants. Secondly, those who remain argue
that tourism, which would bring people to the island and provide employment for only a limited
period of the year, can never provide a satisfactory or permanent solution to the problem of
depopulation. Thirdly, there is a widely held belief that tourists are hell-bent on destroying all the
hallowed traditions of which Greece is justly proud, and corrupting the native population to boot by
introducing it to Western materialism and its insidious, permissive morality. (This is not mere
speculation on my part: I heard at a local panegyry the Bishop of Cythera, an imposing figure known
as the Despot, preach a powerful sermon on these lines, advocating extreme vigilance if not open
hostility.) To be honest, if one excludes the coastal area, the island is not particularly attractive,
consisting of an almost featureless plateau studded with nondescript and sadly deserted villages. On
the other hand the coastline is quite dramatic, the land falling away sharply from the central plateau in
a series of steep, narrow ravines terminating in isolated caves. The main town, situated on the
southern promontory of the island and known as Chora to distinguish it from the island which bears
the same name, has a fine mediaeval castle, museum and Cathedral, whilst Kapsali, two miles below,
boasts some of the finest sand and sea in the Aegean. Unfortunately both places are singularly lacking
in accommodation, and one senses a distinct antipathy towards tourists, and a most uncharacteristic
attempt to fleece them by charging quite absurd prices on certain bus services and for very inferior
lodgings. Inland however at Karvounades and Mylopotamos one receives a much more friendly
welcome. The former village has an excellent 'exochiko' centro, i.e. eating place on the outskirts
where one can make as much noise as one wishes with impunity, while Mylopotamos has Xenones Guest-rooms - let out by the local priest, a most genial character, at a very modest charge, and two
restaurants, one in the main square, and the other, the Neraida, set in an idyllic setting at the foot of a
deep dell. If you don't object to an hour's trek in order to reach the beach, you may well enjoy a few
days in the peaceful, relaxing atmosphere of this friendly village.
Communications from the mainland to Cythera are by a thrice weekly boat sailing from Piraeus to
Agia Pelagia on the N.W. coast. The sail takes about 10 hours and en voyage one calls at
Monemvasia, aptly called the Gibraltar of Greece, and Neapolis too, passing the notorious Cape
Maleas generally considered the most perilous passage in the whole Aegean - so much so that the
belief still prevails that those who have safely rounded Maleas will never die at sea. Agia Pelagia is
connected by service bus to Kapsali, whence once weekly a boat plies south to Anticythera and
eventually to Chania in Western Crete, and also North to Gytheion, the most convenient port from
which to explore the Mani peninsula. Thus Cythera, like Santorini, may form a convenient stepping
stone between the mainland and Crete.
Mylopotamos is approached on foot or by taxi from Karvounades or Apheniadika, both of which lie
on the main bus route between Chora and Potamos, the chief market town of the north. Its enormous
plane tree which gives copious shade to the main square, delicate campanile and vivid bougainvillea,
all contribute to the quiet charm of the place, while the presence of two monasteries in the area and a
large cave add the possibility of adventure for those who seek it. The best beach is at Limnionas,
about 1½ hours distant, but there is a closer one to be reached in an hour.
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The following two excursions are recommended for those interested in speliology or visiting
churches.
1, The Monastery of Panagia Orphani; the church and caves of Agia Sophia.
Following the main road out of the village one descends the ravine known as Kontolangadi. Where
the road forks the right branch goes direct to the Monastery, while the left proceeds to the caves of
Agia Sophia. The Monastery is built in a cave suspended on a narrow ledge overlooking a deep,
narrow gorge. A small panegyry is held on August 23rd, the service lasting from about 8 - 10 a.m. and
being celebrated by the Despot of Cythera. Buses come up from Chora and return about 10.30 after a
small celebration. The church is built into the natural rock, and a tunnel leads from one corner,
allegedly down to a cave on the shore, and was used extensively by worshippers during the early
years of persecution.
Proceeding down on the left branch of the road one crosses the ravine and ascends by a small staircase
cut in the rock to the entrance of the caves. On the left just inside stands the tiny chapel of Agia
Sophia where one can trace murals and generally find candles and even an oil lamp for the exploration
of the cave. There is a map of the whole complex in the restaurant in the village square, a perusal of
which will assist considerably to avoid confusion inside. Unless one procures the assistance of the
local guide, it would also help to take a ball of string, Ariadne wise, to facilitate one's escape. For
several of the chambers have only one exit, and there are confusing loops which can waste time and
even lead to panic. Emerging into the daylight again, continue by the same path which climbs up a
steep hill commanding fine views over the bay, and eventually crosses the ravine to the
Opisthochorio, largely in ruins. The Lion of St. Mark is still emblazoned on the castle entrance, and
the churches have been recently re-roofed and locked to prevent vandalism. Those who are anxious
for a bathe should take the right fork in the path shortly before it descends to the new road, and after
about half an hour a small path branches off right to the beach below.
2. The Monastery of Myrtidion.
Leave the village by the Odos Myrtidion, and after about two miles take the right fork to Kalokernes.
Before reaching this hamlet you will notice a large edifice perched on the top of a prominent hill to
the South. This is the Monastery of Agia Eleisa, so avoid the temptation to strike across country in its
direction, but instead take a sharp right turn immediately you enter the village of Kalokernes. The
road zigzags down the narrow gorge, eventually reaching a belvedere erected by the Strategos family
who also endowed the Guest-rooms at Mylopotamos. From here one enjoys a splendid view of the
Monastery with its Italianate belfry, and below the deep blue waters of the bay, flanked by the small
island of Makronisi. There is a panegyry there in mid September, and guest-rooms exist, but I doubt
whether they are any longer regularly available for visitors. The miraculous icon may be inspected,
and the usual light refreshments are offered in the adjacent guest-room.
Those who like myself have an aversion to returning by the same route, especially if it has a tarmac
surface, can take the rough cart track Northwards to Limnaria. From this small roadstead a narrow
path climbs the precipitous cliffs, affording breathtaking views of the sea pounding on the rocks
hundreds of feet below, and eventually descends to a rocky plateau. Here it bifurcates, and one must
make a beeline to the shoulder half way between the summit of Kataphygadi on the right and the
peninsula on the left. From the shoulder one can see the inviting bay of Limnonas with its sheltered
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waters and sandy beach. Unfortunately the spring that once flowed on the shore has dried up, so one
needs to carry water, whilst oil tankers which on their way from Suez pass between Cythera and the
Maleas promontory have deposited unwelcome clods of oil on the beach. Despite these disadvantages,
the place is a quiet haven for these seeking seclusion for peaceful fishing or swimming. From the bay
another path climbs diagonally up the hillside in a N.E. direction, reaching Mylopotamos in about 1½
hours. About half way along this path, where it begins to contour around the bay, a smaller path
diverges to the left, screened by bushes and trees, and eventually finds its way to the other beach
which I mentioned at the conclusion of (1).
Classicists will doubtless recall that Cythera was one of the favourite haunts of Aphrodite, the
goddess of Love, who is hence in Roman literature often referred to as Cytherea. At the beginning of
Plato's dialogue Symposium, which is mostly devoted to discussing the nature of Love, one of the
speakers makes a distinction between Aphrodite Pandemos, carnal Love, and Aphrodite Ourania,
heavenly Love, or Love in its more spiritual manifestation. At Paleocastro, half way between Metada
and the Gulf of Avlemonos, near the church of Agios Kosmas, one may find the ruins of a temple
built in honour of this latter Love. Along with the abandoned terraces and dilapidated villages, the
neglect into which these once hallowed columns have fallen epitomises the current contempt for
values that here were once so highly prized, and to some extent justifies the fears so eloquently voiced
by the Despot that the twentieth century is more likely to destroy than cherish all that is most precious
in the rich heritage of Greece.
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CHAPTER V: KEA, KYTHNOS, SERIPHOS
KEA
Kea is the most northerly of the six islands which extend in an almost vertical line from Carystos in
Southern Euboia and reach almost half way across the Aegean towards Chania in Crete. Of the six it
is the largest in area and certainly the closest to the mainland; and yet despite this it is perhaps the
least well-known and without doubt the most distinctive in character. Its self-imposed and consciously
deliberate isolation is perpetuated to a great extent by the curious fact that no boats sail there direct
from Piraeus. Instead one must travel by bus, (departure from Plateia Aigyptou c. 11.30 a.m. on the
inland Sounion route) to the relatively obscure harbour of Lavrion, whence one boat, the KEA II or
IOULIS; leaves at c. 1.30 p.m. daily, arriving in 1½ to 2 hours, depending on the wind and the state of
the sea. The KEA II was originally the Royal Daffodil, and was built as the Mersey ferry to ply to and
fro between Liverpool and Birkenhead. It is not surprising therefore that despite some slight structural
modifications, even a moderate sea can render the crossing somewhat exciting; and I must warn
intending visitors that during my stay there in late August 1980 there were occasions when the boat
failed to make the crossing by day, being compelled to wait till nightfall when the violent winds tend
to abate their fury. I learned moreover from four schoolteachers who had endured a four year exile on
the island that in winter time one can be cut off for weeks on end. I don't wish to deter prospective
tourists, but I would certainly advise them to leave a fairly generous margin between their departure
from the island and their projected homeward journey. Furthermore, if sea travel is dependent upon
the force of the gale, bus travel is subject to even less predictable variations, both departure times and
itineraries being improvised according to current local demand. The latter is determined to a large
extent by the popularity of the many panegyries, which during my week's visit were an almost daily
occurrence, and tended to monopolise the island's only bus, and most of its taxis too!
But far be it from me to grumble: for undoubtedly the vagaries of the ferry, the relative absence of
roads and consequent paucity of wheeled vehicles are positive advantages to the walker who is
seeking to escape from the twin pollutants of traffic and tourism, and they have greatly contributed to
the preservation of the island's beauty, ancient traditions and delightfully unhurried pace of life.
The boat lands at Korissia, more often called Levathi by the locals, in whose dialect too the island is
referred to as Tzia rather than Kea or Keos, which was its designation in Classical times. But for
walkers who wish to explore the whole island the capital Chora, recently renamed Ioulida after the
classical city of Ioulis on whose site it is built, is undoubtedly the best place to stay.
Leave the port South by the road; but immediately after crossing the little stone bridge turn off right
along the old track which is broad and well paved, and climbs up directly and at an even gradient,
rejoining the modern motor road just after the graceful chapel of Agios Konstantinos and its adjacent
spring. Here are some succulent figs to give you energy for the final kilometre, and immediately you
round the corner you will be greeted by a magnificent view of Chora, an amphitheatre of glistening
white houses and churches resplendent in the evening sun. The distance is about 2½ miles, and if you
arrive at about 5 in the evening the church bells summoning the faithful to the 'esperino' may help to
pace and invigorate your measured tread, providing a stimulus similar to that offered by the
trumpeters to Olympic athletes during the last lap of the Marathon race!
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Accommodation may pose a slight problem - for Ioulida has only one small hotel, situated on the crest
of the same hill which also holds the ruined Venetian castle. But the Tourist Police, just inside the
gate - for the city is still walled - will give assistance, and provided me with very comfortable and
reasonably priced lodgings in the basement of the Deacon's house, just opposite the church of Agios
Spyridon up the hill to the right just past the Town Hall Square. In this region are all the tavernas,
zaharoplasteia and wine shops which store ample barrels of excellent local wine as well as Attic
retsina. For be assured: whatever one may lack in luxurious apartments, one will certainly gain in the
quality of one's eating, one's fare being substantially of local provenance. For though Kea is rightly
described as a mountainous island, its hills are rounded, well terraced and still intensively cultivated,
while there are two extremely fertile and abundantly watered valleys, N.E. at Milopotamos and S.W.
at Pisses, both of which are irrigated by streams which flow the whole year round, a phenomenon
unique in the Cyclades at least in my own experience. It is not surprising to learn that one of the
ancient epithets of Kea was Hydrousa – abounding in water - since although long periods of heavy
rain are rare, the island abounds in springs whose water is, as invariably, of excellent quality.
Irrigation is facilitated by wind power, an economic form of abundant and almost continuous energy
which is harnessed also to grind corn and occasionally even to power small domestic generators.
According to an ancient myth c. 1600 B.C. Aristaeus arrived on the island from Thessaly at a time of
great drought, from which he rescued the people by climbing Mt. Prophetes Elias (568 m) and
entreating both Zeus and the Dog Star, the cause of all the trouble, so efficaciously that rain fell
continuously for a period of 40 days. It is said that he subsequently instructed the Keans in the
pastoral arts, the raising of cattle, the production of milk and cheese, olive growing, viticulture, bee
keeping, hunting and religion, in gratitude for all which his head appeared on Kea's ancient coinage as
the island's chief benefactor. Proof of his pedagogic skill is still evident in the fame of Kea's stock,
pigs and pasteli, a sweetmeat produced from local sesame seeds and honey, and perhaps also in the
islanders' continued devotion to religious festivals and the abundance of their churches.
I recommend the following four excursions which will give the walker a fairly comprehensive picture
of the island and its rich cultural heritage.
l. The Lion, Vourkari, Yaliskari and Korissia.
This first expedition is a fitting introduction to the island's terrain and history, in as much as one sees
the remains of the greatest antiquity first, whilst also avoiding the longer distances and the steeper
gradients.
Leave the gate and ascend the path right past the Demarcheion (Town Hall) and later the church of
Agios Spyridon. As one leaves the village the cemetery is on the right, and a little further on in a
hollow on the left of the path is the Leontari, a monumental piece of archaic sculpture carved in relief
out of the bare rock by an unknown artist in the sixth century B.C. According to one local tradition the
menfolk of the town were threatening to leave their homes since malicious Neraids were killing their
wives, but when a priest prayed to Zeus for help, he sent a lion to protect them. The lion proved so
effective that the villagers made a stone replica in the hope that it would continue to intimidate the
Neraids. A less colourful version simply describes the lion as a symbol of the Keans' warlike spirit.
Climbing back onto the path continue to circle round until you reach a huge plane tree overshadowing
a large paved circular area, on the right of which is a spring supplying a series of drinking troughs.
Shortly afterwards the path divides, the main division branching left down a long staircase, but the
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smaller one continuing straight on and eventually leading to the Monastery of the Virgin. Take the
main path downhill and Northwards, and once you have climbed out of the valley to the top of the hill
you will be able to see Otsias in the distance. Where the path divides take the left fork again; it may
be rather overgrown, but once you have reached the tiny chapel of John the Baptist, whom the Greeks
call the Prodromos, a much wider path continues towards a prominent farm on the right. About half a
mile further on avoid the next right turn, but keeping left you will in a quarter of an hour reach a large
fountain around which grows a profusion of wild laurels, pomegranates, lemons and figs. From here
the path leads right down a fertile ravine with prolific vineyards, and eventually emerges in a thicket
of dense bushes on the Vourkari-Otsias road.
The Cycladic site of Agia Irini is situated North of Vourkari on a small peninsula on the opposite side
of the bay. It was excavated by John Caskey and a team from the University of Cincinnati from 1960
to 1968 under the aegis of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. The remains,
containing an older and a more recent perimeter wall and a large central road leading to a main
square, stretch from 3000 to 1450 B.C. when the whole city appears to have been destroyed by an
earthquake. The temple, however, is unique among Cycladic temples inasmuch as it was occupied
continuously right up to Hellenistic times. Most of the artefacts discovered there are housed on the top
floor of the Museum in Ioulida, where one showcase contains exhibits spanning nearly 3000 years.
Two curiously irregularly shaped ceramic hearths were found, measuring 4' by 1½'. There is also a
peculiar ritual vase in the shape of a pig's head dipping into another vessel, and in another showcase a
beautifully moulded vase with elegant decoration, and shaped like a large cream jug. By its side are
shallow cups, the nearest thing to tea cups that l have ever seen. (It is indeed quite possible that the
Mycenaeans did drink tea made from herbs that abound on the mountains and are still gathered for
that purpose.) Elsewhere are tools made from obsidian, and also a marble fragment incised with a
plumed helmet worn by a warrior.
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When you have wandered at your leisure through the narrow streets of the town, it is worth climbing
up to the ruined mediaeval castle astride the isthmus, whence one can see Southwards the calm
expanse of the fine, landlocked bay of St. Nicholas, or gaze out Northwards over the turbulent waters
of the open sea whose waves foam and spurt incessantly over the sturdy rocks in a most exhilarating
ballet. Towards the end of the eighteenth century a Russian naval officer named Lampros Katsonas
raised a fleet which terrorized the Turks, and since he had married a local Kean girl, used St. Nicholas
bay as its base. When finally he was defeated in the Andros Strait he fled for shelter to Kea, and the
pursuing Turks blocked his escape from the harbour by enclosing its narrow entrance with ships.
During the night, however, with local assistance and the aid of rollers he managed to drag his entire
fleet over the isthmus, which still bears his name, and so he evaded capture.
Retracing one' s steps around the bay one may bathe and eat a pleasant fish lunch at one of the several
attractive fish restaurants at Vourkari, and then take the road back via Yaliskari, another popular
bathing spot, to Karissia where in 1930 was found the famous kouros which now resides in the
National Archaeological Museum of Athens. If you wish to avoid the surfaced road and the port itself,
there is a track branching off left (S.E.) to Photimari, and thence continuing to Ioulida via the stone
staircase which you traversed on your outward journey. Alternatively you may leave Korissia by the
main road, and take the diversion up the old track described at the bottom of page 90. The total
distance covered in the course of the whole day will be somewhere in the region of 12 miles; but the
last three may be subtracted by taking either bus or taxi from Korissia.
2. The Monastery of Panagia Kastriani, Prodromos Chapel & Otsias.
This is a triangular walk, each side being about 4½ miles, or roughly 1½ hours' walking. The
Monastery of the Virgin of the Castle is the most famous religious foundation on the island, quite
apart from which it is well worth visiting for its spectacular location. Since it appears at its best in late
afternoon, c. 5 p.m., when brilliantly lit by the fading embers of the sinking sun, it can constitute a
pleasant evening walk in its own right, provided that you don't object to returning by roughly the same
route.
Take the path past the cemetery and the Lion to the large plane tree, and where the main track
branches left continue straight on along a rather narrower one. When I paid my first visit in 1980 there
was a rather obscure and rapidly rusting sign which by now may well have disintegrated completely.
In about a mile you should reach on the right the chapel to Agios Demetrios, shaped like an upturned
boat - I believe an anti-semitic design - and with very resonant acoustics. After 200 or 300 yards the
path leads onto a dirt track, passing one or two isolated farms where figs and grapes may well be seen
drying on the flat rooftops, and on the right the church of Agi Theodori. You will have noticed the
steep hillsides covered with ilex, now only fodder for pigs, but once an important constituent in the
process of leather tanning, which used to be one of the main industries of the island, which is still
indeed famed for the quality of its stock. A mile or so further on after a sharp right angle bend one
should take a stone path on the right which descends quite steeply, and reveals the breathtaking sight
of the monastery perched on the hilltop and overlooking the inviting bay beneath.
The earlier church, now in the basement beneath the more recent one, was built in 1708 to house the
icon of the Virgin which was found on the hilltop after local shepherds had been attracted there one
evening by the sight of a brilliant light: the modern building and the adjacent guest rooms were
constructed in 1910, but are already showing visible signs of decay. At the time of my visit the guard
had initiated a petition for the restoration of the fabric, which being so exposed to the elements is in
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need of constant repair. I obliged him readily with a signature, and was a little later rewarded most
handsomely by a magnificent salad, of a very hard and salty goat's milk cheese, tomatoes and onions,
all richly anointed with olive oil.
Those wishing to return directly to Ioulida may shorten their journey slightly by taking the track on
the left by the gate, which skirts around the hillside instead of climbing up it, as does the stone paved
path by which you came, and rejoins the main track after about half an hour. Those continuing to
Otsias must simply follow the cart track Westwards. In about half an hour you will spot a small track
leading down to the tiny chapel of the Prodromos - John the Baptist - where a panegyry is held on
August 29th and which lies almost opposite the islet of Gaidourophalaro. If the wind is blowing
strong, an invigorating sea-scape will rivet your attention, the breakers crashing against the rocky isle
of Spanopoulo, vaulting high into the azure sky, and then plunging down into the seething abyss. As
one begins to descend towards Otsias the old path may be used as an alternative to the new road,
branching off first on the left, then on the right, and finally on the left again just before one reaches
the village.
The bay of Otsias is long and relatively sheltered, and along its shores grow tomatoes and other
vegetables, often protected from the wind by bamboo fences or plastic sheeting, and like all produce
grown close to the sea, of a most appetizing flavour. There is a small cafe where one may have a
drink, and Vourkari is only about 1½ miles distant, whence one may return by the routes described in
(1). As a slight variant, a short distance after leaving Otsias another track leads off left (S.E) joining
the Vourkari track at the brow of the hill.
3. Milopotamos, Agia Marina, Pisses, Kato Meria, Prophetes Elias.
This is a splendid circular walk requiring a whole day, and giving one ample time for a refreshing
bathe at Pisses on the West coast at midday. As well as enjoying much interesting and dramatic
scenery, and climbing the highest point in the island, one also visits one of the most spectacular ruins
of the Cyclades, namely the Tower of Agia Marina.
Take the main Korissia road, and at the chapel of Agios Konstantinos branch off left down the old
track leading to Milopotamos. Hence a path ascends the valley S.W., at first on the left (E) side of the
stream which renders the valley so fertile, and then crossing over to the right side at a small water
mill. As I passed I was given figs and pears by the woman in charge, who kindly showed me round,
explaining that barley was being ground for animal fodder. A little further up the valley is a church
dedicated to the Dormition of the Virgin, and all around the fields produce potatoes and other crops in
great abundance, the soil being rich in minerals and well irrigated by the stream which comes
tumbling down the cliffside in a waterfall, a rare sight indeed on the islands, especially in the summer.
The path slowly climbs the valley and eventually reaches a large square house with a large cross
painted on its side. Continue Southwards an a good path, and in about a quarter of an hour the huge
bulk of the Tower of Agia Marina will suddenly loom up on the left, and by its side the monastery
with its bright ochre dome.
The masonry is monumental and most skilfully fitted together, and of a vivid red colour - a reminder
of the once flourishing trade in 'miltos' or ruddle, which was used as a dye in painting, writing,
statuary and architecture, but also for medicinal purposes. Three very important and fascinating
inscriptions have survived from the mid fourth century B.C. from Korissia, Karthaia and Ioulis,
describing the stringent agreements that existed between Kea and Athens for the mining and
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transportation of this much prized commodity over which the Athenians exercised a powerful
monopoly. It is estimated that the original height of the tower was 100 metres, of which the surviving
20 metres quite dwarf the monastery built in its shadow. In 1981 I met on the island of lkaria a woman
who claimed that a relative of hers who farmed near the tower had uncovered while ploughing an
enormous sarcophagus containing a human skeleton 6 metres long! If the ancient inhabitants of Kea
were really of such gigantic stature, the construction of a tower of such mammoth proportions is more
easily explicable. Certainly the athletic prowess of the Keans is well authenticated: for by the year 459
B.C. Kean athletes had already gained no fewer than 60 victories in the Isthmian, Nemean and
Olympic games.
The monastery too is worth a visit; and for a while the path thence becomes a substantial road. Where
it divides one must take the central level branch which soon becomes a path again and begins to
descend quite steeply into an impressive gorge on whose rocks goats abound. There are many well
kept orchards and gardens, although the stream in the bottom of the ravine seemed to have dried up
completely. The time from Ioulida to Pisses is from 3 to 4 hours, so that you will relish a drink from
the water pump on the shore and a swim in the deep blue waters of the bay which is fringed with
white foam where the angry waves beat against the adamantine cliffs.
The solitary cafe on the beach did not serve food on my visit; but immediately behind it you will spot
a track which winds up the hillside S.E. following a wall, and in about a mile joins the dirt track to
Kato Meria. There are wonderful views back to the bay of Pisses in the West, and due North over the
fertile plan with its lush market gardens, vineyards, olives and wild laurels, and thence up the steep
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path which you descended at midday from Agia Marina. Once on the dirt track you will observe the
rich lowlands give way to the hill country further East, the steep mountainside being criss-crossed a
hundred times with an intricate pattern of narrow terraces some barely two metres wide, many newly
harvested, others lying fallow, and several dotted with cattle peacefully grazing on the stubble. On the
crest of the hill is a curious windmill whose sails are horizontal rather than vertical, and are propelled
by iron tyres set alternately concave and convex. Just before one enters the village of Hellenika there
are two marvellous fig trees, one yielding the black variety, the other the even sweeter green. These
will soon replenish the energy spent in toiling uphill against the fury of the gale, while your thirst will
be equally well sated by a spring a little beyond on the right. Remove the stick which acts as a bung,
and its icy waters will issue forth with some force. The pantopoleion, or village supermarket, serves
food too, and I still remember with what relish I demolished a delicious tomato and onion salad
liberally dowsed with oil and a little vinegar and accompanied by half a loaf of tasty, crisp village
bread.
On leaving the village look out for the old road on the left - a broad paved stairway enclosed by walls
ascending the hill, and avoiding a huge loop made by the new road to ease the gradient. A little further
on, again on the left, one can repeat the procedure, and before long the cleansing power of the
Meltemi will become evident in the astonishing clarity of the view S.E. of Kythnos, whose craggy
spine glints in the evening sun, while behind and beyond, the characteristic outline of Seriphos can be
easily descried. By now Mt. Prophetes Elias with its DEH installation on the summit will have come
into view, and you will have no hesitation in recognising and taking the old paved road on the left,
and so avoiding the new road's long detour to the right. The wind will whistle through the pine trees
all of which lean visibly towards the East; and Northwards brilliantly etched against the dark blue sky
there appears quite distinctly the serrated summit of Mt. Ochi in Euboia, easily 40 miles distant, but
1308 metres high, and hence not easily hidden even in such a mountainous landscape as Greece.
In about a mile the old road meets up again with the new, but one may soon resume the former, this
time on the right. In a few yards it crosses straight over the new road, and diving down, suddenly
reveals a breathtaking panoramic view of all Ioulida spread out beneath one's vision. On the fringe of
the town are two huge mulberry trees which you may pillage with perfect impunity, since generally
speaking Greeks simply leave the fruit to drop off or be eaten by wasps. Most of them were originally
planted for the sake of the silk industry which was so important in Byzantine times. There is also a
fountain, and beyond, even a public urinal, so that once all your physical needs have been satisfied
you will be free to feast your eyes on the surrounding hillsides, by now aflame in the golden sunset,
while the twin red domes of St Spyridon glow like red hot coals.
4. Karthaia (Polis) and the Feast of Agia Zoni (Aug 31).
This excursion I commend principally to the keen archaeologist or ancient historian: for Karthaia was
one of the 4 principal cities of Kea, and as distinct from Korissia and Ioulida, in its case no
contemporary town has survived to obscure the ruins of the ancient. If one can find a bus to Havouna
one will be spared a very long walk along the dirt track. From here a steep path descends to the ruins
which lie around and above the bay now called Polis. The walls and two temples are clearly
discernible, the theatre rather less so, whilst at the top of the hill is a small chapel of the Virgin. I was
very fortunate, in that the occasion of my visit coincided with the Feast of Agia Zoni, a local saint in
the area of Stavrodaki to which I returned about midday. The service was unfortunately just
concluding, but the feast had not yet begun, and Mr Savas, a local restaurateur and generous provider
of its provender soon waved me over to sit, as the only xenos, in the place of honour next to the priest
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and my host, the deacon. The tables were being loaded with salads of tomatoes, green and red
peppers, onions, olives, feta cheese and anchovies for 'orektika', and large caraphs of wine, whilst in
the adjacent kitchen the goat was being prepared over an open log fire. The more freely the wine
flowed, the louder the conversation grew, and the wilder and more extravagant the toasts; and after
the main meal was over, more helpings of goat were passed round, and next the fruit, grapes, figs,
pears and melons, the latter served on forks. At about 3 p.m. the dancing begins, at first accompanied
by taped music, but after a while by two elderly gentlemen and their respective instruments, the native
bagpipes called sapouna, and an almost African type tom-tom. The latter was assailed vigorously by
smaller and larger drum-sticks, the former beating the regular rhythm in even quavers, the latter
giving an extra impetus to the 1st and 2nd, 5th and 6th beats. Indeed such was the enthusiasm of the
revered musicians that the younger dancers retired exhausted well before the players consented to
bring the music to its final cadence; and though I was obliged to leave in the early evening, by all
accounts the dancing continued with undiminished zeal for a full 12 hours until 3 a.m. To be involved
in such a celebration, to perceive and participate in such an ebullience of joy, is an experience which
few could match, and a privilege which none could dispute.
5. Ioulida
The main town itself rewards exploration, especially on a Sunday morning when farmers bring in
their produce from the four corners of the island, and patient mules and tethered donkeys stand in the
shade at every street corner, while the faithful, emerging from church in their Sunday best, or arm in
arm enjoying the traditional 'volta', add a further splash of colour to the convivial scene. The houses
too with their elegant balustraded courtyards festooned with pots of polychrome flowers, are an
especially attractive feature, and of the public buildings the Demarcheion is distinguished by the
terracotta figures which adorn its gables. In the adjacent square one may see on the memorial to the
heroes of the Balkan and Second World War an epitaph composed by one of Kea's most famous sons,
the fifth century B.C. poet Simonides, whose couplets were chosen to immortalise also the graves
both of the Athenians who fell at Marathon, and of Leonidas and the 300 Spartans who died 10 years
later defending Thermopylae against the Persians.
On the hilltops East of the town are the ruined windmills, and the churches of Panagia Episkope, and
Agia Anna, to which any of the locals will readily direct you, and from which there are superb views
of the whole town. When seeking advice on footpaths, long experience has taught me never to trust
the younger generations, whose addiction to wheeled transport has produced a regrettable indifference
to the older modes of locomotion, and a consequent ignorance of the routes. The over sixties are a
much more trustworthy and plentiful source of information - sufficient vindication of the old Kean
adage, "If you haven't an old man, buy one." The origin of this proverb which one still not
infrequently hears is an eloquent testimony to the Keans' willingness to abandon tradition in the light
of reason. For in ancient times they were such zealous advocates of voluntary euthanasia that once
one attained the age of 60, whoever could no longer lead a good life was permitted to avoid leading a
bad one by taking hemlock at a family festival. But when an old man, having escaped by being hidden
by a pious son, proved to be useful, this strange custom was forthwith abandoned. Mary Renault in
her eminently readable biography of the poet Simonides entitled 'The Praise Singer' rejects the whole
story, averring that the practice was only a temporary expedient adopted during a severe siege and
concomitant famine. But such scepticism fails both to explain adequately the tenacity of the tradition,
and to give due credit to the islanders' pragmatic wisdom as exemplified in their renowned fifth
century philosopher Prodikos, and still very much in evidence in his contemporary counterparts as
they exercise their rhetorical skill in wine shop or cafeneion!
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KYTHNOS
There are two ways of reaching Kythnos. The first is via Kea - for twice weekly the KEA II proceeds
southwards as far as Kythnos and returns by the same route. The more favoured way, however, is
direct from Piraeus where it is the first port of call of the boats which almost daily sail either to
Siphnos or Milos. The Blue Guide describes the island as low-lying: but it is nevertheless
comparatively rocky, and though the hills rarely rise above 1000', there is plenty of exciting walking
for those who are adventurous enough to explore the walled paths which are so typical of all the
Cyclades islands. As always, it is the wind which proved the most formidable obstacle to progress.
The climate is hot but dry, but there is no need is carry much water as the villages are reasonably
close to each other, and wells abound. Of the six islands from Kea to Milos I rank Kythnos third equal
with Seriphos which it closely resembles. In my view the former capital Dryopis is the most attractive
of the villages, but it is virtually impossible to find accommodation there. In fact Merichas on the
West coast and Loutra an the East are the only two places offering rooms to tourists, and in the high
season the latter tends to be filled with Greeks who come to bathe in or drink the therapeutic waters.
The Poseidonion at Merichas is a pleasant enough place to stay, and its prices are quite reasonable.
Kanala on the S.E. coast has one or two guest rooms attached to the monastery of the Virgin, but
again they are likely to be full in August because of the large panegyry which is held there to
celebrate the Dormition on the 15th of the month. The present capital, known like the island as
Kythnos, or as ever, referred to as Chora to distinguish it, has its charm; but there are no beds
available to tourists, and the place being elevated is exposed to the full fury of the winds. All things
considered, you will be well advised to stay at Merichas, which has the greatest variety of tavernas,
and whose central position renders most parts of the island easily accessible on foot within the span of
a single day. The first and second excursions require a whole day if the return journey also is done on
foot, but half a day will suffice if use is made of public transport which is surprisingly regular and
reliable. The last two are much shorter and may be combined with more protracted periods on the
beaches to which they lead.
1. Dryopida, Kythnos, Loutra, Castle of Katakephali.
Leave Merichas by the path which begins in the river bed just in front of the Hotel Poseidonion, and
after passing the football ground on the left joins the asphalt road about half a mile from the shore.
This road winds up to Dryopida, but if you search on the left hand side of it in the revma, i.e. the dried
up stream, you will find the old track. It is rather overgrown to begin with, but once you turn right and
begin to ascend the valley the going becomes much easier and the path far more distinct. About half a
mile before reaching the village you must cross over the stream and scramble up to the road. A little
further up take a steep path on the left which cuts off a bend in the road and rejoins it by a good spring
down a few steps to the left. Dryopida is very reminiscent of Ioulida in Kea, with its pretty, winding
streets and plentiful springs, and bakeries where you can buy delicious bread.
The path to Chora (Kythnos) leaves the village due north, at first climbing steeply, and then
contouring round to the left and keeping an even height with only one or two slight descents into
small ravines. It is enclosed between two walls, so there is no danger of losing it, and in some 45
minutes after leaving Dryopida one catches one's first glimpse of Kythnos town straggling the skyline.
It soon vanishes, however, as one descends into a revma where are several drinking troughs for
animals, festooned as always with wild laurels. After a gentle climb over the brow of the hill, one
descends into the village via the rubbish dump - evidence of how seldom the path is used now that
motor roads have been built - and soon finds oneself in the main square in the vicinity of which are
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one or two churches with famous 17th century icons. If one is fortunate enough to be here on August
15th I recommend a visit to the panegyry which is held in the church high up on a windswept hill to
the East of the village. The service ends about 10 a.m. and the feasting begins with cups of
avgolemono soup and glasses of brandy served with loukoumi. I regret that my impending departure
prevented my sampling the further culinary delights and subsequent festivities, which judging by the
'orektika' were certain to be on a lavish scale.
After leaving the village the road to Loutra turns right. At the next bend towards the left you may take
a path on the right which leads in the direction of the DEH twin towers before which it rejoins the
road. But only a few yards further along before you reach the towers is a small path on the left of the
road which brings you onto an old track which leads directly to Loutra more or less parallel to the
road, but avoiding all the latter's tedious bends and thereby saving about half an hour. Once you reach
Loutra you will notice the stream trickling by the roadside, and testing the temperature of the water
will discover that it is very warm, in fact 52 C, while the rich iron deposits which it contains are very
evident in the red discolouration of the conduit. There is a large Xenia Hotel and by its side are the old
Baths of King Otho, where invalids seek cures from eczema, gout and sciatica. Since, however, the
springs run into the sea, a quick dip there will prove less expensive and equally efficacious!
The path to the Kastro tou Katakephalou which is perched on a precipitous cliff overlooking the N.W.
point of the island begins, as they often do, in the river bed, and thence swings round to the right,
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enclosed within two walls. There are one or two vineyards dotted along the hillside, and where the
path divides in about ¾ hour, take the left fork, and about a mile further up you will reach a tiny
church on the right. Behind on the ridge of the hill is a large edifice, the Monastery of St. George, and
proceed just a little further and you will see on the left a large fortress clinging precariously to the hill
and topped by a small church with a cross and tiny bell. The path now descends a little towards the
sea and then climbs up gradually, passes through a small gateway, and thence winds up to the summit.
The total time from Loutra is about 1¼ hours, but it is well worth the effort, and although the fort was
abandoned in the 17th century, the Chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Compassion is still intact. There
is a famous but rather blood curdling tale associated with the castle, but I forgot to record it and its
details have now entirely vanished from my memory. You have no option but to return to Loutra on
foot; but once there, should weariness have overtaken you, a bus leaves for Chora and Merichas at 5
p.m. As you descend the hill you will relish the fine coastal scenery created by the sinuous gulfs of
Loutra and Livadaki, whilst in the distance rises the graceful contour of the island's highest hill,
dedicated as always to the Prophet Elijah, whose white chapel will stand out clearly against the dark
blue skyline.
2. Agios Stephanos and Kanala.
This is another quite long walk if done in both directions, but as with the previous one, having
reached Kanala you may easily return by bus, or even taxi which is often just as cheap.
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Proceed to Dryopida as in (1) and leave by the Chora path, passing the windmills on the ridge and the
water trough where the broad lane from Kanala joins the track, but about ¼ mile further on take the
first path on the right. After 100 paces take the left fork, and within the hour Agios Stephanos should
be reached, the small chapel lying at the far end of the sandy bay. There is a track running due South
towards Lefkes, but it is difficult to follow and there are many dangerous disused mine shafts in the
vicinity, for which reason it is safer to retrace your steps as far as the drinking troughs , and there keep
left in the direction of the windmills and the large church on the Kanala road. On the left you will pass
the broad track coming up from Naoussa and see ruins of the iron works. In some 20 minutes you will
join the Kanala road which you must follow, passing the track on the right marked Agios Demetrios
which leads down to Flambouri. A little further down the road you may take a short cut off on the
right; but if you are anxious to reach Kanala in the minimum time, the next path on the right is best
avoided. I speak from experience: for I took it and found myself at a substantial church which was
unfortunately locked. Thence the paths down the revma are tricky, being blocked by walls and
brushwood, while the steepness of the terraces makes the task of negotiating them both slow and
perilous.
The Church of the Virgin at Kanala is set in a pleasant park shaded by pines and rendered colourful
and fragrant by rose bushes, bougainvillea and hibiscus. There is a large panegyry on August 14-15
and guest rooms are available. You may return by bus: but if you are still game for adventure, an
alternative route back is possible by taking the road as far as the signpost on the left marked Agios
Demetrios. About a kilometre along this track you will notice a well defined track descending on the
right near a little chapel and gently contouring round the ravine. In about 1½ miles this meets the path
from Flambouri on the left, and from this point you will enjoy a delightful view of Merichas fringing
the bay and nestling comfortably at the foot of the rich valley.
3. Episkopi and Apokrousi.
This is no more than a pleasant evening stroll, taking a total of 1¼ hours only in each direction.
Leaving Merichas by the Kythnos road you may cut off the first right hand bend by descending to the
beach, crossing it and resuming the road at the corner. A little further on where the road swings again
to the right, take a very clear path which descends to Episkopi, reaching the beach in about ½ hour. At
the far end of the bay just behind the little chapel of the Virgin a steep path mounts the hill on which
lie the ruins of Rigokastro, the classical capital of the island. As soon as you rejoin the main road turn
left down a path which follows the left flank of the valley and along which grow many fig trees
providing welcome shade and refreshment. The church at the end of the bay is dedicated to St.
Nicholas and has a 15th century icon on the left iconostasis, and also two elaborate icons of the Virgin
and Child. The feast is Aug. 12th, but I was offered loukoumi as a consolation! If you should wish to
continue to Chora, a path leads up there directly from behind the church. You may vary your route
back to Merichas by taking the cart track which circles round the headland instead of climbing the
hill.
4. Flambouri.
This likewise is only a short walk taking no more than one hour in each direction. Leave Merichas by
the revma as in (1) but on reaching the football pitch on the left turn right instead of climbing up onto
the main road. After a while the path crosses the floor of the valley (rt) passing several vineyards, and
then climbs slowly left up the hillside. After a mile or so be careful to take the right fork, after which
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the track becomes very narrow as it circles round the ravine, and then descends quite steeply to your
destination, the secluded bay of Flambouri.
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SERIPHOS
The legendary hero Perseus is both Seriphos' chief claim to fame, and according to the myth also the
cause of its extremely rocky character, having turned the wicked king Polydectes and all his subjects
to stone by showing them Medousa's head. Perseus first arrived on the island carried there over the
sea from Argos in a chest into which his mother Danae had put him to avoid the wrath of her father
Akrisios. For the latter, having received an oracle that he would be killed by his grandson, sought to
prevent his daughter's conceiving by immuring her in a bronze tower. But Fate was not to be cheated:
For Zeus visited her in a golden shower, and she gave birth to Perseus. Years later on hearing the
news of his grandson's return, Akrisios fled in terror to Larissa, where the oracle was finally fulfilled
when Perseus killed him accidentally while practising with a discus.
Aesthetically the island's pride and joy is its capital, Chora which rises from the green plain of Livadi
like some fantastic iceberg, the steep rock encrusted with trim, whitewashed houses and bejewelled
with dozens of belfryed churches. A well kept stone path mounts to the main square, cutting off the
loops of the more recent motor road; and very basic accommodation may be found by enquiry at the
cafeneion or restaurant which, as always, are the focal point of the community. The Telephone
Exchange and Town Hall too are located here rather than down at the port of Livadi, which lies, in
distinction from the other four main islands of this chain of six, on the East rather than the West coast
- a fact which may cause some confusion until one has become reorientated. There are several other
villages on the island, but the closure of the iron works which were operated by a German company
has caused severe depopulation, and a sad air of decay pervades them all. Metallurgists have been
making experimental boreholes for the past decade; but it is not yet certain whether the quality of the
ore will justify the expense of extracting it. At present the islanders eke a precarious existence from
the sparse soil, battling ceaselessly to protect their crops from the unrelenting fury of the wind.
1. Livadi, Psili Ammos, Chora
This is a simple, triangular walk involving little over two hours walking in toto, but including the
possibility of spending considerable time on good quality and uncrowded beaches. Descend from
Chora by the paved path to Livadi, and proceed along the beach left past the large hotel as far as the
revma i.e. the dried up river bed. Enter this left, and in a short while take the small path which ascends
a low hill on the right, passing by a prominent but deserted house, and then in ¼ hour descends to a
rough beach euphemistically called Leia (smooth). Just before you reach the sea another path
branches off to the left following the coast Northwards to Psili Ammos, and commanding spectacular
views of the attractively indented coastline on the right and the bold face of Mt. Petrias inland on the
left. From the cliff top before descending to the beach one can see the equally inviting, sandy strand
of Agio Ianni on the far side of the peninsula. The total time from Chora is not much over an hour, so
one has plenty of time for bathing on one of the island's best beaches. (Psili Ammos means 'deep
sand', and in this case it is no misnomer.) Should you require refreshment, there is one isolated
taverna, from which the path back to Chora ascends diagonally S.W. After a few minutes the dirt path
to Livadi branches off to the left: but continue straight on until you reach a small stream, from which
a path climbs steeply to the left of the telephone poles. Soon you will come to the Livadi-Kalitsos
track, crossing which proceed straight on across a field with some wild figs on the left, until finally
you reach the cemetery. Chora itself is hidden by the hills, but you will have seen Mt. Petrias ahead of
you all the way. From the cemetery the path continues zigzagging upwards till it finally emerges in
the village. The time taken from Psili Ammos is from 45 minutes to one hour.
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2. Kalitsos (Kentarchos), Monastery of the Taxiarchs, Galani, Panagia and Pyrgos.
This is an excursion on which you could well spend the best part of a whole day, depending on how
long you spend at each of the villages and the monastery, how often you lose the track, and how great
the opposition presented by the wind. Leave Chora by the lane which descends N. to the right of the
main road to Panagia and passes by the bakery, where you may buy whatever supplies you deem
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necessary. About a mile from the village on the right is a small chapel, having attained which you will
notice high up on the brow of the hill a prominent patch of olive trees. When you reach this point the
path swings round to the left and Kalitsos comes into sight. It is amphitheatrical in shape and clusters
around the head of a long valley which reaches right down to the East coast, and is reputed to be the
prettiest village on the island. In the cafeneion I chatted to a friendly son of the village who now lives
in Athens as a glass manufacturer, and who brought me a plate loaded with delicious figs, grapes and
plums, all locally grown and quickly devoured, proving an excellent testimony to the fertility of the
area and the quality of its produce.
From Kalitsos a rough track leads to the Monastery of the Taxiarchs, dedicated to the island's twin
protectors, the Archangels Michael and Gabriel, and built in the year 1600 A.D. Its structure
resembles a fortress and it contains several valuable treasures and paintings; but unfortunately my
visit fell on the Sunday before the Dormition of the Virgin, and the only surviving monk had gone to
Chora to attend a special service in the Cathedral, and had secured the building very soundly against
all intruders before departing. On the way there, however, I visited the chapel of the Panagia Scopiani
whose lustrous turquoise dome gazes out over the azure sea and whose resplendent white walls had
been newly furbished with 'asvesti' for the impending panegyry on the 15th. A short while after
leaving the Monastery you will notice a stairway on the left which will take you down very quickly to
the village of Galani where provisions are available, and where a kind man selling fruit from a
donkey, when pressed, gave me valuable information about the old path to Panagia, and presented me
for my importunity with a large plate of magnificent apples into the bargain!
The path continues through the hamlet along the floor of the valley, and then ascends a ravine behind
the hill with a small white chapel adorning its flank which one sees from the village. There are one or
two houses by its side, while dovecotes – a relic of the Venetian occupation – and tiny chapels are
dotted about the glen, at the highest of which the path suddenly emerges onto the main road, about ½
hour after leaving Galani. Turn left, and then right at the crossroads at the top of the hill, and descend
into the village of Panagia. The once treasured frescoes of the 10th century church are severely
damaged, and the place has really little to commend it except the spring, whose freezing waters come
gushing forth with refreshing force.
From Panagia one may either take the main road to Chora, or revert to the crossroads, turn right into
Pyrgos, and thence take the track on the right which leads to a spring whence Chora is not too far
distant. On the hillsides one can see several traces of the old iron mines which were first exploited by
the Romans who used Seriphos as a detention centre for political prisoners who might well have been
employed in the arduous work of extracting the ore. Broad, well constructed walls survive which may
have carried aqueducts, or may even have served to convey the mineral down to the ports for
despatch.
3. Mega Chorio, Mega Livadi, Monastery of the Annunciation.
I cannot evince a great deal of enthusiasm for this walk, mainly because I did it in gale force winds
which made the going very heavy. The main compensations lay in the generous hospitality I received
in the Monastery, and in the fine views of Chora which I enjoyed on my return in the early evening.
Leave Chora by the old road which climbs from the windmills diagonally N.W. across the shoulder of
Mt. Petrias. In half an hour you will reach the chapel of St. George on the left, and about 1½ miles
further on, the track joins the main motor road to the West of the island near one of those curious
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walls to which I referred in the previous section. You have no alternative but to follow the road,
except in one or two obvious places where the old path clearly cuts off a loop in the newer
carriageway. After about an hour, opposite a house with a peach tree on the left is a stable dug out of
the rock on the right, and here begins a path descending by some telegraph poles on the left to Mega
Chorio. This village was in the early years of this century the thriving centre of a large mining
community, and it contains some slight, insignificant remains of the earlier classical capital of the
island. From here you may descend by the old track to Mega Livadi, the main port on the West coast,
from which much iron ore and magnesite was once exported. To reach the monastery, at the first bend
in the new motor road turn right and pass through three arches following the old rail track. Hence the
path zigzags up the steep hillside, passing several slag heaps, finally reaching the convent in about 20
minutes. Here after singing in the chapel I was entertained charmingly by two of the sisters who
brought me the customary coffee, loukoumi and water, and I talked to a highly intelligent novice of 10
who was learning English by a correspondence course. The Cave of the Cyclops is somewhere in the
vicinity, but I must confess to having failed dismally to find it. The dirt track from the monastery joins
the Koutalas road; but in about ten minutes where the track bends to the right you may turn off left
along a tiny path which leads to the main road from Mega Livadi a little before the crossroads. Here
you have a choice of either turning right past the church of Agia Triada to Koutalas, whence the old
road leads due East to Ramos where it joins the motor road to Livadi; or of returning by the same
route as you followed earlier in the day. The latter has the advantage of being shorter and approaching
Chora from above.
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CHAPTER VI: SIPHNOS, KIMOLOS, MILOS
SIPHNOS
Siphnos is served daily by boats from Piraeus, the journey taking between 5 and 6½ hours, depending
on how many other islands are called at, and the steamer landing at Kamares on the West coast. In the
summer there is also a caique which crosses over from Paros to Platy Yalos on the East coast; but the
crossing can be very rough and is recommended only to those with a stout heart and sturdy stomach.
Kamares, which is sandwiched between two precipitous cliffs has plenty of accommodation and
tavernas: but for walkers the capital Apollonia is undoubtedly the best centre, lying on a high plateau
in the middle of the island from which all parts are easily accessible on foot, and also being well
served with buses to Kastro in the East and Pharos and Platy Yalos in the South. In the high season
accommodation may prove difficult, as the only available hotels are small; but failing all else, Kastro
has a large number of simple rooms to let, and although not as convenient a centre as Apollonia, it is
in itself a desirable place to stay. For those, however, whose main concern is a good beach, Pharos
and Platy Yalos are the obvious choices, and the latter has a Xenia Hotel as well as a pension.
For a variety of reasons I regard Siphnos as one of the most attractive islands in the whole of the
Cyclades. For firstly it has an ideal, temperate climate and abundant water, encouraged by which the
island's farmers cultivate the available land with energy and skill, so that the island has a well-kempt
and cared-for appearance which extends from the fields to the houses and public buildings too.
Secondly there is an extraordinary pellucid quality in the atmosphere, by reason of which the whole
landscape is suffused with a soft, enfolding radiance, in which every object and colour stands out with
arresting clarity and an iridescent beauty. Thirdly the terrain is richly varied, green, fertile valleys and
fairly flat coastal plains interspersed with rugged upland fit only for grazing. Moreover, although
roads have been built during the last decade, they are not obtrusive, and there is still a profusion of
good, well surfaced paths offering stimulating walking to those prepared to explore them, with springs
and monasteries to provide shelter and refreshment never too far distant. Lastly, all this variety is
compressed within such a small geographical compass that one's objective is seldom beyond the limits
of one's vision, and rarely is one deprived of the comforting and reassuring sight of the all-embracing
sea.
In Classical times the island's wealth was proverbial, and it enabled Siphnos to build one of Delphi's
earliest and most resplendent treasuries, whose entablature was decorated by a frieze of outstanding
craftsmanship, and supported by Caryatids - a device copied many years later by the Athenians in the
Erechtheum. This wealth derived principally from the productive gold and silver mines, now long
since abandoned, so that apart from a small ceramics industry and tourism, the island's economy is
now predominantly agricultural. Apollonia, a town of some 1000 inhabitants, extends almost two
miles, straddling a ridge running due North-South, and hence occupying no land which might be
better devoted to cultivation. Its narrow, well-shaded, shallow-stepped streets are lined with neat,
white houses festooned with hibiscus and bougainvillea, several excellent tavernas, and dozens of
magnificent churches whose richly wrought interiors, bedecked with icons and elaborately carved
screens, contrast forcefully with the bold, plain architecture of their external design. Of the several
sectors of the town the most Northerly quarter of Artemon is in my view the most appealing of all,
cooled by the Meltemi in summer, and yet protected from its worst excesses by Mt. Mercurios, and
enjoying a fine prospect Southwards towards the great bulk of Mt. Prophetes Elias, the island's
highest peak.
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The following five walks are all enthusiastically recommended.
l. Artemon, Agios Sotir, Panagia Poulatis, Kastro and/or Apollonia.
This straightforward walk is an excellent introduction to the island and its varied charms, and is best
done clockwise in the early evening, when the sun's lowering rays greatly enhance the beauty of the
scene. Leaving Apollonia by the road travelling East towards Kastro, where it forks take the left turn
towards Artemon. On the right in the stream bed you will admire the neatly cultivated fields, and just
after the bridge where the road verges right you may continue straight on up the stepped pavement,
passing a bakery and soon reaching the main square where the bus terminus is also located. If time
permits, it is worth exploring the fine churches of this area and climbing up to Agia Anna and the
windmills to enjoy the full panorama in both directions. Returning to the main square take the lane on
the left which proceeds towards the coast, and where it verges to the right, again take a left fork into
another path enclosed by quite high walls which descends to a small, white chapel dedicated to the
Transfiguration of the Saviour – Metamorphosis tou Sotiros. From here one enjoys an uninterrupted
prospect, Northwards towards the small headland on which appears the conspicuous campanile of the
Church of Agios Sostis, and South towards the classical and mediaeval capital, Kastro. The
Monastery of the Virgin (Panagia Poulatis) lies about midway between the chapel of the Saviour and
Kastro, and may be reached either by descending a little further towards the sea and then taking a
rather overgrown path right, or by going along a faint path from the chapel southwards, climbing
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slowly up the cliff, and then descending by the zigzag path to the conspicuous blue dome of the
monastery. The monastery itself is set in a delightful green ravine, with a backcloth of turquoise sea
fringed by intriguing basalt cliffs, and is dedicated to the Annunciation, which is depicted in low relief
over the main entrance to the Catholikon. From its courtyard, and framed by dark green cypresses, are
splendid views of the rugged coastline, and beyond, steeped in brilliant light, the dazzling fortress of
Kastro. There is a large panegyry an August 15th, for which the church was being prepared on the
occasion of my first visit by an enthusiastic band of workers who presented me with water and plums
for refreshment. Leaving the monastery by the same gate continue downhill towards the sea and then
along the clifftop by a delightful path cooled by sea breezes and affording a continually enchanting
view. If you are running short of time or light, you may take a right fork leading to the main KastroApollonia road, and return by this, avoiding its zigzags on the left by following the old path which
ascends more steeply but far more directly on the right, pleasantly shaded by fig trees and stepped
where the gradient is sufficient to merit it. If you have the time and the inclination, however, continue
into Kastro and explore its fascinating streets, one of which actually runs along the rooftops, the steep
hillside being terraced in the manner of a gigantic staircase. There is a museum, and several tavernas
with charming balconies, replenished at which you will relish your return to Apollonia either on the
road, or preferably by an intricate maze of lanes illuminated by starlight, or the fading embers of the
sun as it sets red behind the dark hulk of Mt. Prophetes Elias.
2. Kastro, Pharos, Chrysopigi, Panagia tou Vounou and Panagia tis Vrisis.
This walk could well occupy a whole day if it were combined with extended bathing in the sea or in
the sun, and visits to the three churches of the Virgin. To avoid the road down to Kastro, take the path
diverging left from the Platy Yalos road to the village of Kato Petali and the Monastery of St.
Chrysostom with its secret school where Greeks were educated clandestinely by priests during the
Turkish occupation. Hence a path leads down to the coast and Kastro. From the top of the hill a path
descends to the tiny headland occupied by the chapel of the Seven Martyrs. But the path to Pharos
descends by a steep stairway into the well-tilled terraces of the fertile valley, and thence climbs
precipitously, enclosed between two walls to the clifftop, which it follows for about 2½ miles. At this
point one descends into a ravine by a small chapel of St John, after which one may well experience
some difficulty in a maze of lanes which often come to an abrupt end. Aim S.E., and you should
eventually fetch up on the main Pharos road at the brow of the hill. Turn left and cross over the road
and take the more right of two paths which will lead you down to the coast in little over ½ hour.
Here you may bathe, visit the Monastery of Chrysopigi astride the narrow headland, and eat at the
taverna on the beach, behind which a clearly defined dirt track climbs up to the road from Platy Yalos.
Having reached the road turn right up the hill and after a few paces turn off left up a track, and after a
further few paces turn right up an attractive path which winds up the valley and eventually reaches the
dirt track to the Monastery of Panagia tou Vounou - the Virgin of the Mountain. The church had been
recently redecorated when I visited it in 1980, and was looked after by a charming old couple who
lived on the premises and also entertained guests. From this monastery to the next one has no
alternative to following the new road for some 2½ miles, until one reaches the huge fortress-like
edifice built in a small hill on the left. This is the Monastery of the Virgin of the Spring - Panagia tis
Vrisis, the latter being situated a little distance down a lane just to the North of the monastery wall.
The church was built in 1614, and is reputed to have a wonderful 'templo' (screen) and a museum
containing various works of religious art. On my arrival I found the sturdy metal door firmly locked,
and to console my disappointment I proceeded to strip a large, prolific mulberry tree some 20 yards
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distant of its delicious fruit. Imagine my embarrassment and consternation when, just as I was about
to leave, the great doors swung open on their rusty hinges to reveal a young monk with a short beard
and spectacles, who eyeing me with considerable curiosity asked me what I wanted. With some
confusion I asked to be admitted to see the church, whereupon he motioned me forward in the
direction of a capacious lounge in the lobby of which I was greatly relieved to see a small bowl above
which hung a convenient mirror. The monk obligingly disappeared, leaving me to wash the guilty
evidence from hands, arms, face and neck, down which the crimson mulberry juice was running like
streams of blood, creating the distinct appearance of one who had recently committed or been the
victim of some monstrous murder attempt. The stains removed and my composure recovered, I sat in
the adjacent reception room, to which the monk shortly returned bearing a silver tray on which I was
offered a large glass of iced visinada - black Morello cherry juice - a small but potent liqueur distilled
from walnuts, a tumbler of spring water and a sweet. Disappearing once again in order to change, he
returned, wearing smart, black trousers, habit and hat. I had fondly imagined that I was about to be
shown the church, to visit which had after all been the main object of my expedition: but
unfortunately the abbot had gone off with the key, while the young monk had been deputed to take the
evening service at the next village, to which he insisted on giving me a lift in a curious three-wheeled
vehicle resembling a cross between a rotavator and an ice-cream cart. Before leaving we called at the
spring in order to fill several capacious containers with the life-giving liquid later to be distributed
amongst his grateful flock; and then with great difficulty the machine was manoeuvred by the jovial
priest, and coaxed into crawling up the steep hillside, protesting with many an explosive splutter at its
disparate load, while his pet terrier trotted behind barking furiously and experiencing no difficulty
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whatsoever in keeping pace with our leisurely progress. Having finally attained the brow of the next
hill, I was permitted to descend and make my way once more on foot to Apollonia. Any who may be
staying in Kastro, however, may return there by a pleasant path which begins at this very point where
the road bends sharply to the left, and then descends to the coast directly, thus avoiding the necessity
of going via Apollonia.
3. Mt. Prophetes Elias. (2936')
The ascent of this mountain which is easily the highest in the whole archipelago in a direct line
between Euboia and Crete, takes no more than 1½ - 2 hours, and certainly repays the effort tenfold.
From the main Kastro road take the street leading right up the hill to the Tourist Information Office
and the Hotel Siphnos. In 20 minutes turn right again, and descend a little into a small pleasant valley
on the South of the mountain. Some of the land in this plateau is even sown, and as evidence of the
fact there are isolated threshing floors - large, circular areas on which in the summer time patient
donkeys hour after hour drag round the threshing boards, while the farmer's wife often sits perched on
a stool to give extra ballast, as if on a silent roundabout, her head protected from the searing sun by a
broad sombrero. In about ¼ hour where the path divides take the right fork and begin zigzagging up
the mountain. To begin with the path has been concreted, but it soon deteriorates and is covered with
loose scree for a considerable distance. About half a mile further on, just after passing a wall on the
left, look out for a sharp right bend - an unexpected direction, as the monastery on the summit is now
clearly visible on the left, i.e. in the general direction of the main path which, however, simply
contours round. Once you have avoided the pitfall of continuing straight on, all is plain sailing, and
the surface of the path is much improved for the final half mile or so.
Having once reached the top you will hasten to quench your thirst by drawing from the deep well in
the centre of the courtyard. On the East is the church with its high dome and resonant acoustics, whilst
opposite there is a long, rectangular refectory with a huge fireplace at either end, and a large stone
table running down the centre, with curious niches for storing cutlery and other utensils. There are
cells for several monks, but I believe that none is any longer permanently resident, though some will
undoubtedly come up for the Feast of Elijah which is celebrated towards the end of July. The view
from the belfry and rooftops is most impressive in every direction, while the air has a crystal freshness
and cleansing purity in perfect harmony with the surrounding scene. There is a kitchen and living
room opposite the well, and I have met people who have spent the night on the mountaintop simply to
savour the experience of seeing the sun both rise and set from this vantage point.
There is said to be an alternative route down, following the ridge due East, but I have not explored it
myself. The keen archaeologist may also wish to include a visit to Agios Andreas, which is reached
by following a path to the right just after one reaches the fertile plateau. The site was excavated in
1970 and reveals a double circuit wall from the Geometric period, and also some evidence of an
earlier Cycladic settlement.
4. Round trip to Vathy.
Vathy is readily acknowledged to be one of the best beaches on Siphnos, and since as yet no road has
been built there, it is completely unspoiled by tourism. In the summer there is quite a regular service
there by motor boat from Kamares, the voyage lasting about an hour: but otherwise the place is
reached only by mule tracks and goat paths of considerable variety and quality. The better defined
route lies East of Agios Andreas, but in order to make a round trip you may follow a more Westerly
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course on the outward journey, and return by the more orthodox route in the evening. Thus with stops
for bathing, sightseeing and refreshment the whole excursion could well occupy 8 hours or even
longer.
Leave Apollonia as in (3) by the path towards the mountain, but in about 40 minutes, where the latter
takes the right fork and begins to climb to the final summit, continue straight on up the valley,
keeping to the path on the right of the stream bed. In ½ hour you will reach a small cave on the right,
a little after which a left fork must be taken. and after a few minutes a left fork again. (I imagine that
the right branch at this bifurcation leads on to the church of Panagia tou Niyiou, from which
according to the local map, there appears to be a path travelling due S. to Vathy via the ruined
settlement of Mavro Chorio – an alternative route which could well be attractive and might also prove
rather shorter.) The path now travels at a fairly high altitude Eastwards, and in about ½ hour you will
notice a path descending on the right to the substantial church of Agios Iannis, while straight ahead is
a hill crowned with an obelisk. A bad path climbs the left flank of this hill, and then turns right to the
chapel of St Nicholas, whence you can descend to Vathy by a complex series of paths across the
terraces. But the simpler and more orthodox route lies to the right of the natural obelisk, descending
the valley by a rocky path Westwards, and for a short while veering North towards the church of
Agios Iannis which one almost encircles. Then wheeling round Southwards the path eventually
reaches a lovely green plateau, on the right of which is a prominent crag. From here one continues
descending SW, and then finally turns left to reach Vathy by a much better surfaced path running SE.
The bay has a very narrow entrance, so that its well sheltered waters resemble a lake rather than the
sea, and are fringed by beautiful, soft sand. The double aisled church dedicated to the Taxiarchs
Michael and Gabriel lies right on the shore, and bears an inscription exhorting the faithful to worship
God in his temple. At the time of my first visit preparations for a forthcoming baptism were well
under way, baskets of neatly packed sugared almonds and other equally delicious sweetmeats already
spread out in the porch for the shortly expected guests. On enquiry I discovered that the official path
to Apollonia ascends the valley East, keeping to its right side as one looks at it from the sea and
beginning, as all the best paths do, in the revma i.e. the dried up river bed. After some 200 yards it
leaves the stream bed, and turns off right up a broad and well constructed stairway, fully deserving the
appellation 'dromos', i.e. 'road', given it by my indignant informant, who had objected most
vehemently to my describing it as a 'monopati', a mere, humble footpath. It will take about ¾ hour to
reach the summit; for despite the good surface it is a stiff, unrelenting climb, especially arduous when
attempted in the fierce midday sun. But take heart: on the crest of the hill on the right is the small
chapel of Agia Anna where you will find a small well to quench your parching thirst. Here the path
divides, the right branch descending to Platy Yalos via the chapel of Prophetes Elias. But you must
follow the main path left, which will bring you in a further kilometre to a wonderful cold spring, and
above it, sparkling white amid the arid landscape, the beautiful monastery of the Taxiarchs. On my
arrival here I found the door open in welcome, hut the whole place totally deserted. Sitting down in
the cool shade I avidly ate a magnificent peach, and then took a fancy to explore the kitchen, which
sported a fine double sink, skilfully carved out of a huge solid block of stone. Filled with curiosity I
turned on the taps, and immediately jets of scalding water came gushing forth, which I traced to a
large cistern situated on the roof, and hence continually exposed to the powerful heat of the sun.
Boiling water at noon, in midsummer, is a luxury seldom provided in Greece even by the most
prestigious hotels; and it being some time since I had had the opportunity to enjoy a hot shower, I
hastened to divest and avail myself of the unique facilities which my solitude and the monks'
ingenious plumbing had conspired to offer. For in the wholesome, unsophisticated atmosphere of
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Greece I have learned that the more basic the need, and the more simply it is satisfied, the greater the
pleasure and the more lasting the benefit.
From the Taxiarchs the path climbs up again, affording splendid views of the broad bay and the rich
plain of Platy Yalos on the right, and in ½ hour reaching yet another small chapel on the right.
Afterwards one descends a little, and in about 10 minutes where the path divides one must take the
right fork, since the left one climbs up to Agios Andreas. As you descend into a small dell you will
find on the left yet another spring with refreshing, cold water to fortify you for the final short climb to
the brow of the hill. At this point Apollonia suddenly comes into sight, and before very long you will
find yourself in the narrow lanes of its Southern quarter, where a left turn will bring you to the point
where you took the first turn to the right in the morning. The total walking time from Vathy to
Apollonia is about 2½ hours: but a further hour could profitably be spent admiring the landscape,
exploring the many chapels, and generally imbibing the 'genius loci' in a part of the island still
mercifully unscathed by the twentieth century.
5. Agios Simeon, Silver Mines, and Agios Sostis.
This is an equally attractive round walk in the Northern part of Siphnos which, owing to the complete
absence of roads and the paucity of the population, has retained if anything rather more of its pristine
beauty than the South. The terrain is less amenable to cultivation, and in Classical times this was the
area in which most of the mining operations were carried out. Pausanias, a 2nd century A.D. doctor,
antiquarian, and author of the first guide book to Greece, tells an apocryphal story, attributing the
failure of the mines to the avarice of the Siphniots, who replaced the golden egg which they had
previously presented to Apollo as a tithe by a gilt one; whereupon Apollo, enraged by their deceit,
persuaded Poseidon to flood the mines. Certainly the sea has encroached on at least one of the shafts
at Agios Sostis; but there are rumours currently circulating that vengeance is now being sought in
projected mining operations beneath the sea, where it is believed that quite extensive deposits of ore
still remain untapped.
Leave Apollonia as in (l) and after passing the main square of Artemon on the right, and the Primary
School on the left, proceed to the point where the main path divides, one branch continuing uphill to
Agia Anna, and the other turning left. The latter, which you must follow, circles round Mt. Mercurios,
passing just below the chapel of Agia Ekaterini, and then veers NW. In about a mile, when you are
level with the windmills on the top of Mt. Mercurios on the right, turn off left towards Agios Simeon
which is clearly visible on the mountaintop due NW. The path leads down to Tris Piges, a famous
spring on the right, whence it descends into the dry river bed, along which you must proceed for 100
metres, before turning off sharp left up a staircase. From here the route is obvious, and you will pass
on the left some quite substantial mine workings of the Classical period. In 1984 a new road was
constructed from Kamares to this point - a clear indication that the mines are about to be reopened,
but for the dumping of refuse, alas, rather than the extraction of ore! About a mile before you reach
Agios Simeon, after passing through a gate you will see a decaying signpost, indicating that one turns
left for Agios Simeon, which is now just out of sight on the brow of the hill, and approached by a
clearly defined zigzag path, whereas to reach Prophetes Elias one must continue straight ahead. Once
arrived at Simeon you will find a well and admire the spectacular view down the precipice towards
Kamares which nestles some 2000' below in the corner of the bay. Prophetes Elias lies a mile further
W. on the same escarpment, and so enjoys an equally impressive view over Kamares Bay towards its
rather loftier namesake in the S. of the island.
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Return by the same path, but once you regain the river bed, go left along a small path on the far side,
and in ½ mile you will emerge onto the main Northbound path from Artemon. Turn right, and at the T
junction left, looking out for 2 gates which appear on the horizon about 400 yards NE. Pass through
the left of these and descend the cliff to the church which will soon become evident on the shore. On
the hillside on the left you will observe the characteristic slagheaps, while just beyond the monastery
towards the sea are two large mineshafts which you may explore. It is here that a large exclusively
male contingent repairs each February to sample the new wine, and thus perpetuate a Dionysiac ritual
whose origins can be traced back at least as far as the 6th century B.C. The expedition is sea-borne,
and its safe return in an advanced state of inebriation induced by three weeks of continuous Bacchic
revelry is in itself an impressive testimony to the remarkable tutelary powers of the god, or at any rate
of Agios Sostis! Some years ago the original church collapsed into the mine; so that the existing
church is of quite recent construction, as its rather curious campanile might lead you to conjecture.
The well, replete (alas) with water rather than wine, is built into the South wall and covered by a slab
of stone: the bucket for drawing is often stored for safety's sake just inside the church.
The return journey to Apollonia must be accomplished by the same route, at least as far as the T
junction, and takes no more than 1½ hours. As you approach the windmills, rather than skirting Mt.
Mercurios by the path on the right, take the left fork which climbs steadily to Agia Anna whence
magnificent views over all the south of the island are to be enjoyed.
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KIMOLOS
Kimolos is separated from the N.E. tip of Milos by a narrow strait, and one lands at the small port of
Psathi by lighter, the harbour being too small for the larger boats to land there. The main and indeed
only surviving town lies on a hill about a kilometre inland, and for its size has reasonably good
facilities for eating, but only the simplest of accommodation in private houses, rooms being allocated
with obliging courtesy by the local policeman. To anyone seeking solitude and content with the basic
necessities of life Kimolos would constitute an ideal location. But the adventurous walker would soon
exhaust its possibilities, and find the landscape, attractive though it is with its thyme covered slopes,
rather lacking in variety. There is no prominent mountain from whose summit the whole island may
be surveyed at a glance, and since of the original four villages three were totally destroyed by the
Turko-Venetian wars, the paths have become very overgrown through disuse, while the ferocious
winds by which the island is continually assailed, are yet a further obstacle to easy progress.
A pleasant circular expedition comprises a visit to Palaeokastro, the mediaeval ruined capital perched
on a steep 1300' peak in the centre of the island, returning via Agios Andreas, whose Mycenaean
necropolis situated on the shore opposite the island acropolis was excavated in 1937. About a mile N.
of Kimolos, just after the church of Prophetes Elias on the left, one turns off left, and then after a
further mile diverges right to reach the ruins of Palaeokastro in some 30 minutes. From here there are
attractive views southwards across the strait to Milos whose highest mountain rises like a giant
pyramid in the distance. I must confess to losing the path to Agios Andreas, and consoling myself for
the partial failure of the mission by gathering wild pears and a bunch of tasty grapes, the figs and
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frangosyka - prickly pears - being still far from ripe. In theory, however, a more competent orienteer
should be able to complete the round trip by following the path from the southern end of the bay
eastwards to Psathi.
At Praso on the N.E. tip of the island there are hot therapeutic springs. The path begins just N. of the
village, going first S.E. to Agios Nicolaos, whence it follows the coast N. for some 3 to 4. miles.
Alternatively the place may be visited by boat from Psathi.
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MILOS
Milos, the last in this chain of six islands, even possesses an airport, but offers in my opinion the least
attractive walking in the whole group, although archaeologically it is undoubtedly the most important.
Paradoxically enough, both these facts are attributable to an identical cause, namely the island's
incomparably rich and varied mineral deposits. For before the discovery of metal smelting and the
production of metal tools and weapons, obsidian, an extremely hard, volcanic rock in which Milos is
particularly rich, played a vital role in all manufacture, and hence determined the dominance of the
island in the so called Cycladic civilization, which flourished even before the emergence of Minoan
and Mycenaean culture in Crete and on the mainland respectively. Even to the present day the mining
of obsidian, perlite, sulphur and kaolin remains one of the most important occupations; but whilst one
welcomes the employment which it provides and the wealth which it generates, one cannot but regret
the consequent grave disfigurement of the landscape, the ubiquitous presence of grit in the air, and the
disquieting rattle of lorries which constantly raise clouds of dust as they speed to convey their
precious loads to their respective destinations.
The boat docks at Adamas in the centre of the magnificent natural harbour, which must surely be the
flooded caldera of a volcano, and which all but bisects the island N.S. From Adamas a bus climbs
N.W. to Plaka, the island's official capital which is scattered over a rectangular area in four
communities - Plaka itself , Tripiti, Triovasalos, and Pera Triovasalos, between which there was built
under the Colonels in 1971 a huge stadium intended to serve all the Cyclades. If, however, you decide
to ascend by foot, look out for the three short cuts, two on the right and one on the left, by using
which you will arrive in little over ½ hour. Plaka itself has no restaurant, so one must eat at one of the
other three centres, or even down at Klima where there is an hotel with a dining room open to nonresidents. The latter alternative, however, involves a long, steep climb back to Plaka on a full
stomach, so that those to whom food is an important consideration may well prefer to stay down at
Adamas, which can offer a greater variety of both accommodation and eating places.
The West of the island which rises to a conical eminence 2465' above sea-level, and inevitably
dedicated to the Prophet Elijah, is unfortunately rather inaccessible to those dependent on their feet
alone for transportation: for to reach it involves a lengthy and tedious circumambulation of practically
the entire gulf. Possession of a boat would be an inestimable advantage, especially since there are
reputed to be a number of good beaches in this part of the island whose coastline is especially
indented.
In Plaka itself are two museums, an historical one which contains several examples of Cycladic
pottery from Phylakopi, and a Folk Museum, infinitely more intelligible and interesting to the
uninitiated, displaying many fascinating exhibits mainly from the ruined Kastro above. It is certainly
worth climbing up there both early in the morning before the heat haze rises, and also in the early
evening in order to observe the full panoramic view over the gulf in both directions in all its clarity
and splendour. Of the following two excursions the former is immeasurably less fatiguing and more
interesting.
1. City Walls, Roman Theatre, Christian Catacombs.
Take the road to Tripiti, and thence descend the track to Klima. A few yards down on the right is a
signed path leading to the ruins of the city walls, quite well preserved, and to the exact spot, marked
with a plaque, where was found the famous statue of Venus which now resides in the Louvre. A little
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further down is a small Roman theatre and further down still just above Klima on the left of the track
is the location of the catacombs. The galleries are quite extensive and tastefully lit with small
imitation oil lamps, and lined an either side with tombs.
2. Phylakopi and Apollonia.
I cannot in honesty claim that this walk is anything but third-rate, and if one's main objective is
simply to see Phylakopi, one would be best advised to visit it by bus. In my case the expedition was
rendered tolerable mainly by a visit to an isolated house near Agios Konstatinos, whither I diverged in
order to make enquiries about the location of the excavation. Here the occupant kindly made me a
very welcome coffee, served in the best china cup, whilst I observed her preparing snails which her 13
year old son had gathered for their midday meal, before impatiently dashing down for an exhilarating
dip in the raging sea. An insignificant, rapidly rusting sign indicates the site which is situated on a
small hill on the left of the road, buffeted by angry waves which continually pound the shore below.
The excavation was conducted by the British in 1896, and the site proved exceptionally prolific,
exhibiting three periods of occupation extending right up to the Mycenaean period. Now all that
remains in situ are a tangled maze of streets, walls and houses, often constructed from curious
hexagonal stones which come from the Glaronisia about 1½ miles offshore.
Having got thus far, it is worth continuing to Apollonia which is only a little over a mile distant,
though hidden from sight by the intervening hill. En route you will pass on the left the church of St
John the Theologian which has catacombs, and adjacent to it a curious house built above a cave which
serves as a store. Apollonia has a pleasantly shaded beach and tavernas, and weather permitting there
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is a caique service from there to Kimolos, whose southern point is only a mile away, although its port,
Psathi, is 5 nautical miles distant. On the occasion of my own visit the ferocity of the wind precluded
any certainty about its possible departure, while the extraordinary sight of a luxury yacht gyrating at
speed in the centre of the bay, and almost decapitating a swimmer and demolishing a skiff did little to
inspire confidence in the Greeks' navigational competence. Returning to Adamas by bus, I booked a
ticket for Kimolos on the large, new cruise boat of the same name – a decision which the fierce, red
sky which greeted the morrow with its threat of further gale force winds and swollen seas fully
vindicated.
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CHAPTER VII: SANTORINI, PHOLEGANDROS, SIKINOS, ANAPHI
SANTORINI
Santorini, or Thira as it was known in Classical times, is most easily reached by daily flights from
both Athens and Crete, and indeed since the construction of an international airport in the middle of
the flat East coast it is accessible also by direct flights from the U.K. and from many other European
countries too. Those who eschew air travel will rejoice to hear that it is also served by frequent boats
from all four quarters - from Milos in the West, from Paros, Ios and Naxos in the North, from Anaphi
and the Dodecanese in the East, and of course from Crete in the South. Let them be warned, however,
that rough sea consequent upon hurricane force winds can often cause delays and even cancellations;
and moreover that berthing space being extremely limited at the Northern anchorage, one is generally
required to transfer to a small lighter in order to come ashore, a procedure which can be time
consuming and occasionally hazardous too. There is however another port further South, Athenios,
where even larger boats may anchor in comparative safety. A remarkable feat of engineering has
succeeded in scaling the almost vertical cliff: but the resulting hairpin bends are so horrific that timid
passengers have been known to walk rather than endure the terrors of the journey! The original mule
path begins at the little chapel just above the restaurants on the quayside, and is negotiable at least half
way up the formidable rock face: from this point, the path having been destroyed by the roadworks
one is obliged to follow the zigzag course of the road in order to surmount the final 500' or so and
reach the plateau above. Those disembarking at the Northern harbour have the choice either of
ascending to the main town above by the newly built cable-car, each journey costing 200 drachmae,
or of climbing up the steep path either on foot or on a donkey.
In the last decade Santorini has understandably become one of the most popular of the Aegean
islands. For not only is the Minoan city at Akrotiri, revealed in 1967 by the late Professor Marinatos,
one of the most important, fascinating and fruitful archaeological sites ever to be discovered, but the
geological structure of the island makes an immediate and dramatic impact upon every visitor, never
failing to stir his imagination and curiosity. The terrain of the island is indeed quite unique, consisting
almost exclusively of ash deposited after the cataclysmic eruption of 1500 B.C. which displaced some
4/5 of the original land-mass, leaving a perfect crescent whose curve is continued by the small islands
of Therasia and Aspronisi. All the beaches are on the East, and even there they shelve quite steeply
and are covered with characteristic black, gritty sand and luminous pumice stone. On the West the
cliffs plummet 1000' sheer into the caldera, and continue a similar depth below the surface of the sea.
There are no springs or wells, so that the water, collected in concrete cisterns solely from the winter
rains, tends to be rather flat and in short supply. Nonetheless the island is extremely fertile, producing
abundant harvests of grapes, barley, beans and tomatoes, the fruits' small size being more than
adequately compensated by their excellent flavour. Remarkably, none of the crops requires watering,
but the requisite moisture is either drawn up by capillary action from the depths below, or derived
from the dew.
Sad to relate, however, the very popularity and prosperity of the place, now fostered by an
international airport and a Spiritual Centre, has in some respects had a detrimental effect on the
character both of the island and its people. Nowhere is this more evident than in the main town, whose
erstwhile charm is now somewhat disfigured by an incongruous rash of jewellery and tourist shops,
bars and discotheques whose proprietors have all too often become corrupted by avarice and manifest
an unbecoming propensity to go for 'the quick kill'. At the same time indiscriminate mining of the
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valuable, non-porous rock threatens to erode even the physical grandeur of the magnificent coastline
immediately to the South of the main town, compelling one wholeheartedly to endorse the
'conservationist' sentiments expressed with almost prophetic fervour by Horace even before the birth
of Christ. (V. Odes III i 33ff, 3 49-52 et passim.) Practically the only place to have so far escaped
from such recent developments wholly unscathed is Oia: but since this attractive town is situated on
the island's Northern extremity, it is hardly the best centre from which to explore the rest of the island
on foot. Messaria or Vothonas, a little further S, being virtually in the centre of the island, are best
situated to serve the walker's interests, and of the two the former is better equipped with restaurants,
and despite all the recent building the old village with its curious, winding alleys edged with tall,
conglomerate walls, has survived almost intact.
But to be perfectly candid, Santorini has been already too much invaded by all the odious trappings of
so called 20th century civilization to afford any longer much joy to the walker. Buses are perpetually
overcrowded, leading to endless frustration if one is dependent on them to return to base. The main
roads are continually choked with heavy traffic, and masses of hired motor bikes and scooters, which
assail the senses with their stinking fumes and raucous roar, like some monstrous plague of
mechanical mosquitoes, while the alternative unsurfaced routes are ankle deep in dust, which
continually disturbed by incessant winds or passing vehicles constitutes a perpetual irritant to eyes
and lungs.
To those, however, who perhaps surfeited by the contrasting solitude and primitive ambience of
adjacent Sikinos or Anaphi, are prepared in pursuit of culture or knowledge to endure these trials for a
few days, I offer the following three excursions. The first two could well occupy most of a whole day,
whilst the third might conveniently be combined with sightseeing in Thira itself. For despite the
incongruous intrusions to which I have alluded, there is much to explore and still admire in the
capital: a huge Orthodox cathedral, as well as Roman Catholic and Anglican churches and monastic
houses; a carpet factory and Fine Arts Exhibition, and a splendid Museum, to mention but a few.
Meanwhile the extraordinary view down the beetling, panchromatic cliffs, and across the indigo
waters of the caldera to the still active volcano in the centre of the bay compels the gaze with the
irresistible power of a magnet, exciting wonder and demanding exploration at the earliest possible
opportunity. Moreover, as peering into the inky depths below one scours the fascinating cliff face, and
distinguishes scattered along its entire length the ruins of their former dwellings, consigned to
oblivion by the violent earthquake of 1956, one cannot but admire the sheer resilience, boundless
energy, and incurable optimism of a people who in such a short span of time have achieved such a
remarkable and dramatic recovery.
1. The Volcanoes and Akrotiri.
Since the improvement of both the road and the bus service to the excavations at Akrotiri, it is
possible to treat these as two separate excursions, thus avoiding the long and frequently terrifying sail
along the island's windswept Eastern coast. Tickets for the round tour are on sale at the Tourist Office
in Thira and whether one decides to descend to the small port below by the Teleferic, or by foot or on
a donkey by the steep zigzag path, about half an hour should be allowed for the journey. Departure
may frequently be delayed by the state of the seas which can be very heavy, especially as one passes
through the narrow channel between the main island and Therasia, and there meets the full fury of the
Meltemi. The first port of call is the volcanic island in the centre of the caldera, an island which first
appeared at the beginning of the 18th century A.D., and is hence called Nea Kameni - the New Burnt -
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and has been steadily growing in size with each new subsequent eruption. Its shiny black magma
cliffs, edged with foaming white spray flung up angrily from the dark, fathomless depths below,
herald a unique landscape of grey ash, entirely devoid of all vegetation, unrelieved by even a single
blade of grass. From the summit of the hill one may peer down into the crater which still emits its
noxious, sulphurous fumes, while in the far East there appears the tiny white island of Aspronisi,
which is all that survives at this point of the original coastline of this once almost spherical island.
Nearer to the shore, and separated by a narrow channel, is Palia Kameni, the Old Volcano, which
came into existence in the 3rd century B.C., in fact about 12 centuries after the original cataclysmic
explosion which both destroyed 4/5 of the island's initial land mass, and may well have played a
significant part in the eventual collapse of Minoan civilization in Crete. To the North lies the much
larger, inhabited island of Therasia, whose impervious, shining cliffs were quarried to form the lining
of the Suez Canal, and yielded the first evidence of the Minoan occupation of the island. Southwards
there extends the long arm of the Akrotiri peninsula, rising to the shoulder where the Hellenistic
capital of the island was built, and culminating in Mt. Prophetes Elias, on whose summit there stands
a Monastery dedicated to St. John, now alas overshadowed by an enormous Radar installation.
After spending about 1½ hours moored to Nea Kameni the boat proceeds Northwards in the direction
of Oia where sometimes a second landing may be made. More often, however, the heavy swell
renders this too hazardous an operation, and the boat continues to circumnavigate the island, passing
through the channel formed in the eruption of 236 B.C. into the tempestuous waters of the open sea.
Timid sailors may well prefer to forget the next two hours, during which the intrepid helmsman
battles manfully in hurricane force gales to steer his fragile craft towards the mercifully more
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sheltered waters of Akrotiri Bay. There ensues a brief interval, during which those whose appetites
have returned may eat, while the rest recover their composure or take a gentle stroll around the nearby
village. Bad sailors whose enthusiasm for archaeology may have evaporated during the course of the
voyage may opt to return immediately by bus to Thira. Those blest with stouter constitutions will
certainly not regret either the experience of the journey, or the opportunity to see in progress these
remarkable excavations which may yet require a full century to complete. They will also be
encouraged to learn that once one has rounded the promontory the seas become relatively calm, and
comforted by the knowledge that those whose strength is spent may be elevated to the dizzy heights of
the town above by cable-car or mule rather than by the power of their weary limbs.
2. Mt. Prophetes Elias and Hellenistic Phira.
It is worth beginning the day fairly early, especially if it is envisaged that some time be spent
swimming in the afternoon. For it takes about two hours to see the extensive remains of the
Hellenistic capital, and the site is sometimes closed in the midday hours between 1 and 3. If therefore
one is to avoid wasting two hours on an isolated windswept shoulder devoid of any shelter from the
elements, and also have time to wander at leisure through the charming whitewashed streets and
chapels of Pyrgos as well as visiting the monastery en route, an early start is imperative.
Those staying in Thira would do best to take the bus as far as Pyrgos: but any living in Messaria or
Vothonas might be tempted by the apparent proximity of the Cathedral of St. George, which occupies
such a prominent site on the hilltop due South, to bypass the tortuous road by making direct for
Pyrgos by the complex network of paths which link the terraced vineyards separating the two adjacent
communities. Such an expedient is never quite as straightforward as it appears, and the loose stone
walls which buttress the fields can collapse all too easily under the weight of unfamiliar and unsure
feet: but at least it has the merit of avoiding the unwelcome traffic and the meandering course of the
main road.
Pyrgos has several places of refreshment and one or two attractively irregular churches to investigate.
From the Cathedral of St George descend to the road which leads to the top of the mountain: but about
400 yards from the town as the road begins slowly to climb the hill look out for a small stone cross.
At this point the old, paved mule track turns off on the left, and twice crossing the road leads you to
the summit by a steady gradient in about ¾ hour. This isolated peak, barely 1800' high, is now the
highest point on the island; but it has been estimated that the original summit, which was situated
somewhere in the middle of the caldera must have been at least twice as high. Despite the dust raised
by the perpetual winds which render clear photography rarely possible, with the naked eye one enjoys
an excellent view of the curving crescent of the island, sloping gently on the East towards the
turbulent sea, and on the West falling abruptly into the calmer but infinitely deeper waters of the
caldera. One can identify the villages and admire the water channels which collect the precious winter
rains - for here are no springs whatsoever - and the fine terracing without which the thin soil, or rather
'tephra' would be washed to oblivion in the encircling ocean. This thin layer of 'tephra' supports
amazingly prolific crops of small but extremely succulent tomatoes and grapes, the latter used to
produce an attractive sweet red wine. There is no grazing at all, and hence fish is the only source of
local protein: otherwise, apart from the ubiquitous chicken and meat now imported to satisfy the
demands of the tourists, a strictly vegetarian diet used to suffice, even the 'keftedes' (meat-balls) here
being produced from tomatoes rather than the customary mince.
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The monastery which occupies the summit and is dedicated to St John is worth a visit, as is also the
adjacent museum with its models of a flour mill etc and large collection of liturgical objects and
Byzantine clothing. Both were regrettably closed on the occasion of my second visit in 1984, owing to
the indisposition of the sole surviving monk, in caring for whom the Abbot expended so much of his
time and energy that none was left for the entertaining of visitors. The Abbot's letter of abject apology
for his dereliction of duty in failing to provide the customary hospitality is pinned to the main
entrance, and can do nothing but arouse one's profound sympathy for his unfortunate plight. Far less
forgivable in my judgement is the insensitive erection of a hideous Radar mast over the whole
monastic structure, which now seems totally cowed and overshadowed by this monstrous monument
to suspicion and fear.
Archaic and Hellenistic Thira, or Phira as it often spelt, is situated on the spur known as Meso Vouno
and approached by a good path leading down S.E. to the col. For many years this was the capital of
the island, and during the period of the Ptolemies it also served as an important naval base. Most
memorable amongst its extensive remains are an impressive and magnificently sited theatre and some
rather intriguing graffiti. If one wishes to bathe one has a choice of Perissa beach to the South, and
Kamari to the North, both of which may be reached in about ¾ hour from the archaeological site.
From the former a fairly frequent bus service will return you Northwards: those who choose the latter
have the option of walking back to base in the cool of the evening via the village of Mesa Gonia, the
walk taking something in the region of 2 hours.
3. Oia via Merovigli and the cliff path.
Those staying at Vothonas or Messaria may reach Thira by the lane running parallel with the cliffs
and reached by following any of the narrow alleys running N.E. from the centre of the latter village. I
must admit, however, that the increase in the volume of traffic using this cinder track as access to the
quarry has rendered the short cut far less attractive than it was a decade ago when I first made use of
it. Leave Thira by the path travelling Northwards though its sprawling suburbs which cling
tenaciously to the cliff edge in bold defiance of the laws of gravity. About ½ mile after passing the
last house you will reach on the right of the path the cemetery, where several families have their own
private 'oikos'. On the right also you will see curious caves scooped out of the soft grit, whilst on the
left you have superb views of Nea Kameni, Therasia and Aspronisi. The cinder track now ascends,
leaving the cliff edge and passing on the right of the Mountain, until about a mile further on it reaches
an isolated monastery, unfortunately locked, and around which there sprout a few stunted pines.
Hence the path ascends a rocky hillock, the summit of which, as a red notice in Greek clearly
indicates, is occupied by bees. I strongly urge you to heed the warning, my own foolish disregard of
which led to my being viciously attacked by scores of irate 'guards' when I had the temerity to
approach their hives. Frantically brandishing my Athonite stick to keep them at bay and beating an
unseemly retreat at some speed down the hillside I discovered that the proper path goes downhill on
the left of the notice, eventually turning right and zigzagging very steeply through the ashes towards
the road. Stopping just short of the latter it continues, scaling a steep rock from which there are superb
views on the left straight down the precipice into the caldera, and on the right over the wide Eastern
plain which constitutes one enormous vineyard. In the distance you can clearly discern the island of
Ios due N, while to the N.E. the low hills of Southern Amorgos rise gently out of the sea. After
continuing along the knife edge for a few yards the path now descends to the road which you must
follow for about 100 yards. Then once again the old path diverges on the left and proceed to climb
steadily up the hillside, occasional red spots appearing on the rocks to give encouragement by
assuring you that you are still on the right path. Once having reached the ruined chapel on the brow of
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the hill you will be greeted by a delightful surprise view of Oia which straddles the Northern
extremity of the island, its brilliant white chapels and houses gleaming in the sunlight.
The town is in my view easily the most attractive in the island, possessing a variety of good
restaurants and cafes, and plenty of accommodation in private houses or bungalows, one of which
even boasts a heated swimming pool! Most of Old Oia was destroyed in the 1956 earthquake, but it is
slowly and tastefully being rebuilt, and it is well worth your while to explore the ruined Kastro, and to
descend the 238 numbered steps to the tiny beach and harbour below, where you may eat your midday
meal. The larger beach is about ½ hour's walk away on the East coast, and should you recoil from the
15 kilometre walk back to Thira, the hourly bus service is supplemented by a regular fleet of taxis
which charge the same price, provided that all the seats are occupied. On the way back you will see
due East the island of Anaphi, its grey rocky cliffs brilliantly lit by the powerful evening sun.
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PHOLEGANDROS
Pholegandros lies between Milos in the West and Sikinos in the East, and is orientated NW-SE. The
distance between the two extremities is only 8 miles, and the width of the island is even at its widest
point less than 2 miles: and yet within its few square miles of territory Pholegandros exhibits all those
quintessential features of the typical Cycladic island - the arid, windswept landscape; the gaunt,
precipitous cliffs continually laved by a foaming sea; the beetling villages, with their white, cubic
houses and immaculate, domed churches a perfect foil to the unfathomed, unvarying depth of the
cloudless blue sky which holds them in its constant, wide embrace.
The Northern and Southern sections of the island are connected by a narrow isthmus midway between
the two major centres of population, Chora in the South, and Epano Meria in the North, and only ½
mile in width. Although in area only a little over half the size of its Eastern neighbour Sikinos,
Pholegandros supports a population of 800, i.e. almost double that of the former island. Appropriate to
its size, cultivation is on a small scale, but the produce is varied, ranging from cereals (mostly barley
as fodder for the animals) to tomatoes, onions and beans for local consumption. Unlike adjacent
Sikinos the island also raises considerable quantities of stock, and fishing too helps to provide the
visitor with a reasonable variety of food, all of local provenance, and hence of excellent quality. Some
50 years ago the island also yielded many olives: but the trees were afflicted by a blight, and this
coupled with the uneconomic labour costs has led to the regrettable neglect of this most important
crop.
Tourism is expected to play an increasing role in the island's economy, and this year (1984) has seen
the completion of a surfaced road from the harbour of Karavostasi to Chora – a distance of about 2
miles - and also the deepening of the port, so that passengers need no be longer be conveyed ashore
by lighter. The road continues to Epano Meria but several stretches are still unsurfaced.
Accommodation is available in rooms at the port; but since this lies at the S.E. extremity of the island,
most walkers will prefer to stay at Chora, from which both the Northern and Southern sections of the
island are equally accessible. Chora too has rooms to let, but there are also two hotels, the Danassi
situated in the centre of the village, where the charge is 400 drachmae per bed, and the more luxurious
Fani Vevis which occupies a converted 'archontiko' on the Northern outskirts of the village, and where
a double room costs 1450 drachmae. There are three restaurants, one of which, the Kritiko, serves
especially good food, the owner also being the butcher, and running a cafeneion into the bargain!
Epano Meria some 4 miles to the N.W. of Chora has rooms to let, a restaurant and two cafeneia. The
inhabitants are all extremely friendly and welcoming of strangers, ever eager to give advice and every
assistance. There is even a doctor whose surgery is next door to the Hotel Danassi, while the Ticket
Office is immediately below.
Pholegandros is said to have been named after Pholegandros, son of King Minos of Crete, who took
control of the island after driving out its original occupants, the Carians and Phoenicians. But a
variant etymology derives the name from a Phoenician word meaning 'made of stone'. Whether this be
the truth or not, the appellation is no misnomer; for stony the island certainly is, while the geographer
Aratos describes it as also 'sidera' - made of iron. In fact the island is composed mainly of manganese
limestone and schist: but the red colouring of the soil betrays a considerable quantity of iron-ore, for
the smelting of which the manganese limestone is an essential element, since it lowers the temperature
at which it melts by several degrees. A French architect whom I met was convinced that the very
symmetrical plan of the centre of Chora, with its parallel streets, proves it to be the work of an
organized community of some antiquity. Combining this observation with the geological evidence, he
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ventured to speculate that the place was most likely an Iron Age settlement, of which the more
anarchic extensions on the periphery of the village were subsequent developments. According to the
historical tradition the Dorians did not arrive here until the 8th century B.C., which suggests that like
so many of the islands, especially the Cyclades, Pholegandros escaped the so-called 'Dark Ages'
which followed the collapse of the Mycenaean Civilization on the mainland (1100-750 B.C.), and
enjoyed a period of continual prosperity and independence from the 2nd millennium B.C. right down
into the Classical Period, when it eventually shared the fate of most of the other islands, falling prey
to the imperial might of Athens.
1. Church of Panagia, Karavostasi, Livadi, Chora.
This first walk follows a circular route in a clockwise direction around the Southern section of the
island, and presents the visitor with a varied and comprehensive picture of both the dramatic cliff
scenery of the S.E. coast and of the rugged hinterland. The total distance walked is about 8 miles, so
that the walk may be comfortably accomplished within the space of 4 hours: but since the coast is
reached at two attractive bays both N. and S. of the port of Karavostasi, the inclusion of bathing and
eating could easily extend the duration of the expedition by a further 3 hours, thus delaying one's
return to the late afternoon or evening.
Leave Pholegandros by the winding, whitewashed path leading up N.E. to the apex of the conical hill
near whose summit the Church of the Virgin (Panagia) rears its dome and elaborate campanella to the
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azure heavens above. As you climb the well-paved path you will often pause to peer down the almost
vertical cliff face, and absorb a view which, if the Meltemi is blowing hard, will be breathtaking in the
literal as well as the metaphorical sense. The church is generally kept locked except when in use; but
you will be able to see embedded in the bell-tower's outer wall, fragments of Classical sculpture
gathered from the ruins of the Classical capital which used to occupy this commanding height.
Immediately below at the foot of the precipice lies the celebrated Chrisospelia cave which is best
approached from the sea, where splendid stalagmites and stalactites invite inspection, and where
archaeologists have discovered important burial grounds. From the churchyard continue up to the two
cairns on the summit of the hill, and from the second work your way down cautiously along the
collapsed terraces towards a rectangular enclosure conspicuous in the valley below. Having reached
this, those with no appetite for further path-finding in the scrubby, stony terrain may proceed by the
new motor road which descends through a small ravine to Karavostasi. Those, however, with a taste
for adventure should ascend by a distinct but narrow path, at first running more or less parallel with
the road, but then diverging as it slowly mounts the shoulder of the hill. As it descends Eastwards
towards the coast the path fragments, but you will eventually pass through a small gap in a low wall
and so reach the cliff edge. Hence turn S. to the inviting turquoise waters of the adjacent bay, from
which there rise the twin, rocky islets known as Poulia - the Birds - while in the background the
dome-like shape of nearby Sikinos adorns the horizon. The path continues S. to reach the harbour of
Karavostasi exactly at the Headquarters of PASOK, which is also the terminus of the bus service from
Chora and Epano Meria.
From the harbour follow the new road along the shore and over the headland to Loustria Bay, an area
popular with campers. Just before reaching the sea turn right up the cart track which climbs slowly
S.W. to Livadi. On the right you will observe 3 small chapels dedicated respectively to the Tris
Ierarchi, Agios Madestros and Agios Konstantinos, while both left and right the track is bordered by
small vineyards growing wonderful red grapes absolutely bursting with juice, and between which
there sprouts the occasional withered fig tree. The hamlet of Livadi commands a wide view seawards
of the whole valley after which it is named, and which is the most fertile and extensive in the island,
but itself presents a forlorn sight, most of its houses being now abandoned and dilapidated, and the
rest occupied only for a few, brief weeks in the summer, when their owners take up residence to tend
and pick the grapes. At one of the few inhabited houses at the centre of the village take care not to
carry straight on up the dry river bed, but instead take a small path on the right. This proceeds uphill
NW, in about ¼ mile becoming enclosed by rough stone walls, and overlooked on the left by a conical
hill whose summit is crowned by the conspicuous chapel of the Prophet Elijah. Continue climbing
steadily, ignoring the two small paths diverging to the South, and in about an hour's time after leaving
Loustria you will eventually reach the brow of the hill. The church which lies just off the track on the
left is dedicated to the Holy Spirit - Agio Pnevma, containing two icons of the Saints Panteleimon and
Barbara and will afford you a few moments' welcome protection from the unrelenting sun. From here
a broad and tempting path sweeps down the valley Northwards in the direction of the Panagia which
is now clearly visible, perched on the dominant cliff top immediately opposite. But since you would
be obliged then to toil out of the valley in order to reach the town, it is better to follow the path on the
left which skirts the shoulder of the hill of Agios Eleftherios, the highest point in the whole island,
and soon rewards your labours by presenting a fine surprise view of Chora sparkling like a jewel in
the brilliant light of the declining sun. As you approach the town, turn left along a lane which emerges
on the new road to Epano Meria just by the Hotel Fani Vevis.
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2. Epano Meria, Livadaki, Merovigli and Agkali.
This second walk of some 12 miles embraces much of the Northern section of the island, including
the long, straggling village known as Epano Meria - the Upper Regions, where lunch may be taken.
The route vaguely resembles an inverted letter 'beta', and since there is a chance to bathe both in the
morning and in the evening at two contrasting beaches on the West coast, clearly the best part of a
whole day will be required to complete the itinerary. Almost half the distance covered is on the new,
but mostly unsurfaced road: the rest is on paths which whilst in no way difficult, are sometimes hard
to find and to distinguish from the countless other tracks either leading to isolated farmsteads, or worn
by wayward sheep.
Leave Chora by the road leading to Epano Meria and crossing the narrow isthmus between the bays of
Vathy in the S. and Vorina in the N. At its narrowest point where its width is little over ½ mile, three
ruined windmills are sandwiched between the chapel of Stavros and the twin barrel-vaulted roofs of
Agios Dimitrios and Agi Apostoli, all on the right of the road and all firmly locked. Next, but this
time on the left, you will pass the tiny chapel of Agia Paraskevi, where you should emerge in the
evening as you return from Agkali, whilst a little further on and opposite, there stands yet another
church, dedicated to the Agi Saranta – the Forty Saints. But the only religious edifice situated on the
main road you will find open to the public is a minute sanctuary erected by a certain Miss Gerardis to
Agios Nektarios, and standing like a sentry-box on the left of the road guarding the Southern outskirts
of the village. Along the way you will have noticed several well fed cows suckling their young, and
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will doubtless have encountered one or two mules, mostly laden with dung for fertilizing the fields in
preparation for the sowing of next year's crops of cereals or vegetables.
Towards the centre of the village there rises conspicuous on the left the substantial church of St
George with its bright turquoise dome: but some 300 yards before this you will reach, again on the
left, some ruined windmills, behind which there lies hidden one of the many chapels of Stavros - the
Cross. Here you must at last leave the road and follow the path SW, ignoring the lane on the right
which plunges into the valley, and continuing until in about 10 minutes you arrive at a water cistern
and several drinking troughs. Again ignore the path on the right, but proceed straight ahead S.W. on
the left of the wall and following the direction of the telephone wires. Crowning the hill on the left is
an obelisk of stones, whilst a little further along on the right you will see the chapel of Agia Photini.
(It is very easy to go astray at this juncture by diverting onto a more clearly defined path running SE.)
Should you inadvertently make this error, descend the terraces, below which you will see yet another
chapel of Stavros, and further down the inviting bay of St Nicholas. When you reach the last of the
terraces find an exit on the right going SW. In about 5 minutes this path leads down onto a more
defined track, where you must turn right, and follow the path by the side of a wall which circles the
hillside on the left. In some 10 minutes the path leaves the wall and begins to zigzag up the hill, soon
joining the main track where you must turn left. Keep a look out for the Lighthouse – Pharos - which
should soon appear below on the left: for its keeper will give you not only a warm welcome, but also
useful directions for reaching the Bay of Livadaki. The path to the Lighthouse diverges from the main
track, passing along the terraces and swinging round S.E. to the left: the keepers, who are employed
by the army, work in shifts eight days on and eight days off, and travel on mules by the path that you
will soon be following to the village. After leaving the Lighthouse make for a gap in the wall NW,
and thence through another gap closed by an iron bar, whence the path descends to Livadaki S.W. and
then N. eventually by a staircase cut in the cliff face. There are spectacular views of the angry seas
below, where the waters writhe and twist in truceless conflict, sending cascades of foam spurting over
the rocks which enclose the narrow entrance to the bay. Nearer the shore their tumult suddenly
subsides and they are transformed into a tranquil turquoise lake, seductively lapping the smooth
shingle and alluring the bather with soft blandishments and tempting promises of cool comfort.
The path to Merovigli begins just beyond the rough shelter in the corner of the bay and proceeds in a
N.W. direction at a constant and fairly steep gradient, traversing the left shoulder of the hill on whose
summit there glistens the spotless white chapel of the Anargyri. But refreshed by your bathe, and
possibly also goaded on by the pangs of hunger, you will reach your destination in little over an hour
and a quarter. In about a kilometre the path becomes enclosed by walls, and where it first divides keep
right, but a little further on left, avoiding the track which falls into the valley. As you gain height, on
the left the islands of Milos and Kimolos suddenly rear up from the encircling ocean, with Siphnos a
little more distant but still visible in the North. It is alleged that on clear days in the Autumn and
Winter even the White Mountains of Crete can be dimly discerned in the South. It is worth making the
slight detour to visit the immaculate church of the Anargyri - the 'shining ones' - to admire not only
the fine view, but also the neat, well-equipped kitchen, used presumably for the annual panegyry, and
the unexpected luxury of a flushing toilet! A broad concrete path curiously decorated with squares
leads down to rejoin the main track which, after a slight descent, climbs yet higher before swinging
round to the left where it is soon joined by another better paved path coming from the SW. A further 5
minutes will see you safely ensconced in the village, where two cafes and one restaurant will offer
you wholesome nourishment to repair your strength for the return journey.
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Aim to leave Epano Meria between 4 and 4.30, both to avoid the fiercest heat and yet still have time
for a quick evening dip in the bay of Vathy. By this hour, too, any heat haze will have dispersed, so
that on the left you will enjoy astonishingly clear views of Siphnos, Paros and Naxos, the former and
the latter islands often wearing coronets of white, fluffy clouds attracted by their high mountain peaks.
About ½ mile after leaving the last house in the village, take the track on the right, which is clearly
signposted as leading to Agkali, a beach whose popularity is assured by a happy combination of
sheltered waters, fine, smooth sand, and a couple of tavernas to boot. Half way down the path is a
copious spring, which has caused the whole valley to be filled with colourful oleanders, ever a sure
sign of the presence of water. You may return to Chora by a shorter alternative route by retracing your
steps some 200 yards up the valley and looking out for a curious hole in the wall on the left of the
path. Shortly after passing this, take the path on the right, which after first travelling S.E. suddenly
swings round N.E. to climb up the left side of the gully and finally emerge on the main road at the
chapel of Agia Paraskevi. By now the sun will be well in the West, and its declining rays will shed a
rich patina of gold upon the extraordinary polychrome cliffs of Vorina and Piakas Bays, beyond
which there rises the perfect pyramid of rock which supports the village, and above its ever watchful
guardian, the immaculate chapel of the Virgin.
3. The Bays of Agios Georgios and Serpsiotiko.
This final walk explores two further bays in the North of the island, both of which are this time
located on the East coast. They are each easily accessible by well constructed paths from Epano
Meria; and any who wish to avoid repeating the walk along the road to the latter may always avail
themselves of the services of the little local bus in at least one direction.
The path to St. George's Bay begins at the cafe which houses the telephone and is situated on the right
of the main road just after the chapel of St Andrew - Agios Andreas. It proceeds downhill in a
Northerly direction, and is for much of the way well paved. After some 500 yards where the path
divides at a water cistern keep to the right and continue to descend the valley until you reach the small
chapel and the pleasant bay which bears the same name. To reach Serpsiotiko Bay one need not return
to the village, but instead retrace one's steps along the same track until the chapel of Agios Sostis
appears on the summit of the hill straight ahead. Before coming level with the latter take a path on the
left which is enclosed by walls. At the first junction keep right, and at the next right, descending very
steeply to the sea first in a N.E. and then in a S.E. direction. In the middle of the bay is a spring of
refreshing water, and one has the choice of two paths by which to regain the village. The first rises
very steeply for some 500 yards and emerges at the cafe next to Agios Andreas, while the second
ascends the hill rather more gently and enters Epano Meria a little further to the East.
The proverbial 'glance at the map' will soon reveal several other chapels and bays to explore, whose
acquaintance the regrettable brevity of my visit forbade me to make. My initial impression of the
island would lead me to predict with some confidence that the walker's efforts will neither be in vain
nor unrewarded.
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SIKINOS
Sikinos is orientated S.W. - N.E. and hence forms an almost perfect right angle with its Western
neighbour, Pholegandros. It is 10 miles long, and at its broadest point 3 miles wide, and during the
summer at least it is connected by a twice weekly service from Piraeus, via Siphnos, Milos and
Pholegandros. The boats generally proceed to Ios and Santorini so that those who are short of time
may take advantage of the daily flights from Athens to Santorini, and thence work their way back via
Ios. From the latter island a local boat service has operated until recently on a daily basis as far as
Pholegandros, but the sale of the boat has caused a temporary suspension of the service. Rumour has
it that a new, deep water harbour is projected, though its precise location is still bitterly disputed. For
any extension of the existing facilities at Scala Alopronoia would almost certainly destroy one of the
island's sandiest and most popular beaches, while the acceptance of the most plausible alternative,
Tria Pigadia, which is situated a little further to the South and affords much more spacious and deeper
anchorage in a bay well protected from the prevailing Westerly and Northerly winds, would inevitably
involve the community in much new and expensive road building. Until a decision is reached,
therefore, passengers will perforce suffer the inconvenience of transferring to a small lighter in order
to be carried ashore. The island currently possesses only one road, about 3 miles in length, and
connecting the port with the main town of Chora set high up and out of sight of would be predators.
Its uneven, paved surface, tight bends and steep gradient, although aesthetically most appealing, are
severely censured by the owner of the one 'bus', which apparently sustains such serious damage after
each journey that it returns either very late or not at all, with the unfortunate result that passengers are
frequently reduced to covering the long distance heavily laden and on foot! The telephone likewise,
Sikinos' only link with the outside world, is often out of order, so that one's knowledge of the arrival
of boats depends upon sitings by keen-eyed, shrill-voiced urchins who, posted to various vantage
points around the harbour, as soon as the long-awaited vessel appears round the headland, cause the
surrounding hills to resound to the cry 'to karavi' - 'the boat!' This delightfully primitive 'bush
telegraph' seems to work with remarkable efficiency, and as the news spreads by word of mouth,
prospective passengers are seen converging from all quarters upon the tiny harbour.
The very isolation of Sikinos is undoubtedly for the present an essential part of its attractiveness, and
as a walking island it ranks highly in my judgement, meriting at least three stars for its abundance of
well defined and fairly well maintained paths, the almost total absence of traffic and pollution, and
last but not least for the sheer grandeur of its magnificent coastline. The entire population of less than
300 resides almost exclusively in the three sections of Chora, which as one travels from W. to E. are
known as Chorio, Kastro and Vouni respectively. The whole island is extensively terraced, and
supports itself almost entirely by agriculture, growing cereals, which are mainly used as fodder for the
mules and donkeys, and producing excellent wine and honey. Indeed in Classical times the alternative
name for the island was Oinoe, meaning 'wine', while the thyme which grows in great profusion over
all the rugged hillsides is the main source of pollen for the bees and the chief cause of their honey's
delicious flavour. A few goats and sheep are kept, mainly for their milk from which cheese, both 'feta'
and 'Misythra', is produced in the spring, and 'xigalo' in the summer. There is a little fishing, but there
are no cattle whatsoever. Olives, however, grow in great abundance, and along with honey and wine,
oil is the island's major export. Almost all the meat is imported, as indeed are large quantities of grain,
especially that used to feed the beasts of burden which, in the absence of other forms of transport,
vastly outnumber the human population of the island!
The landscape is generally more wild than that of Pholegandros, and the people too are rather more
abrasive, and on first meeting they tend to appear somewhat hostile to strangers. They speak in a
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rather aggressive, staccato style, so that when, as often happens in the cafeneion, several
conversations are occurring simultaneously, the effect produced by the resonant acoustics is similar to
the Tower of Babel! Of Sikinos' uneventful history very little is known. According to Apollonius
Rhodius (Argonautica A 620-626) the island was originally called Oinoe, but was renamed Sikinos
after a child born by a nymph to Thoas, the exiled king of Limnos. The latter had been saved by his
dutiful daughter, Hypsipyle, (Page 38) who when her fellows murdered all the men folk of the island,
cast him into the sea enclosed in a chest which was eventually washed up on the shores of Sikinos.
The island is shown by fifth century B.C. inscriptions to have been a member of the Athenian
Alliance, while during the Roman Empire it served as a place of exile – a fate which it has
experienced also in more recent times, notably during the dictatorship of Metaxas in the late 30s, and
during the military junta of the 60s. It enjoyed peaceful obscurity during the Byzantine period; but in
the 13th century the Venetians constructed a fine castle in Chora the ruins of which still survive, albeit
severely attenuated by the Italians who during their occupation of the island in the Second World War
entirely demolished the interior in order to create a Square and access road!
Both Scala Alopronoia and Chora offer simple rented accommodation, much of it owned by a certain
Loukas, but the visitor will probably find that the former is rather better provided with restaurants, the
largest of which also contains the shipping agency. For the walker, however, Chora is unquestionably
the better centre, lying almost equidistant from the N.E. and S.W. extremities of the island, and much
nearer to the more spectacular N. coast. It also contains some fine old houses, one of which, owned by
an English artist, I was lucky enough to see. The tall, well proportioned sitting room is on the upper
floor, approached by an external staircase leading to a cool balcony. The roof is of schist slabs
supported by wooden beams currently being replaced by timbers brought all the way from Naxos, and
the barrel-vaulted anterior rooms are entered by two low doors with beautifully decorated stone lintels
from Malta An attractive evening stroll of about an hour's duration leads one from Kastro across the
windswept saddle and so to the upper village known as Chorio. Continue S.W. slowly climbing the
lower shoulder of Mt. Troulos until in about ¼ hour you reach a spring. Turn right here, still climbing
and shortly passing through a small plantation of fir trees, after which the path begins to descend E.
back towards the village. From the ruined tower one has a splendid view of the whole village, high
above which there rises the majestic monastery of the Zoodochos Pigi, while below there extend
down the valley the neatly constructed terraces in a symmetrical ellipse which illustrates perfectly the
now widely accepted view of the origin of the Greek Theatre.
Since as I have already intimated the only bus operating between the port and the town is frequently
cut of action, and in any case takes a maximum of 10 passengers, it is worth describing how the route
may be varied and slightly shortened by those who from either choice or necessity make the journey
on foot. For the first mile or so one is obliged to follow the road: but since being relatively narrow it
appears neither obtrusive nor incongruous, and being beautifully paved with local slate slabs it blends
perfectly with the surrounding countryside, this is for once no hardship. After crossing the bridge
about half way up you may turn off left down the original mule path, which descends slowly into the
ravine, passing a small chapel, and then climbing out quite steeply by a path which finally becomes a
staircase emerging between the two sections of the village at the Primary School. The stairs are
constructed in a way most considerate to the walker, being quite shallow, and after each group of 10
or 11 treads there being a level stretch where one may recover one's breath and strength for the next
ascent.
The following three walks are of diminishing length, the first requiring a whole day, but the last being
no more than an evening stroll, similar to the one already described, but in the opposite direction.
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1. The Church of Episkopi, Mt. Agia Marina, returning via S. coast.
This is a long, invigorating walk of 15- 16 miles, describing a circle in an anti-clockwise direction,
and including the possibility of bathing on the S. coast on the return lap. One needs to carry food and
also water: for although springs exist, the absence of any kind of map and the uncertainty of meeting
anyone to act as guide in a place so sparsely populated vastly reduce the chance of finding them. It is
advisable, therefore, to leave early in the morning; but if the Meltemi is blowing, as it generally does
in August, you will be constantly refreshed by its cooling blasts, and may also look forward to an
invigorating swim in the midday heat in the crystal waters of the Southern sea.
Leave Kastro by the road running S.W. from the Primary School which divides the upper and lower
villages, and travelling towards an elegant house with a conspicuous tower overlooking the N.W.
cliffs. By the side of this house is a church, which like most of the others is unfortunately locked.
Keep to the main, well surfaced track, passing two further chapels on the left, the first dedicated to the
Taxiarchs Michael and Gabriel, and the second to Christ the Almighty - Pantocrator. Ignore the two
subsidiary paths which branch off to the right, but look out, also on the right, for a vineyard growing
superb grapes to ignore which would be an act of gross folly. In about ¾ hour upon reaching the brow
of the hill you will catch your first glimpse of the chapel of Episkopi at the foot of the rugged hill of
Agia Marina straight ahead. On the right just before you begin to descend is yet another chapel, and
due W. across the 5½ nautical mile strait there appears the island of Pholegandros, the houses of
Epano Meria clearly visible lining the hilltop in the N, while to the S. there rises the craggy pyramid
of rock behind which Chora lies hidden.
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It will take you a further ¾ hour to reach Episkopi, and at least ½ hour to examine this remarkably
well preserved though much altered structure. In its original form the building was a 3rd century A.D.
heroon, most likely dedicated to the Pythian Apollo, as is made clear by an inscription carved in the
right support of the entrance door to the cella, which appears to be eulogizing woman of this period.
Much of the original masonry has been incorporated in the later Christian church which is dedicated
to the Dormition of the Virgin. The S. wall which collapsed either as a result of a landslide or
earthquake has been crudely buttressed, but the entablature with its typical 'dog's tooth' decoration is
entirely classical; as too are the two pillars with Ionic bases but Doric capitals which initially adorned
the pronaos, but are now set into the W. wall and frame the entrance. Beneath the courtyard which is
entered by staircases on two sides, there is a huge underground cistern covered over with large slabs
of schist, and there are three subterranean chambers built into the foundations and entered by a stone
staircase in the N.E. corner of the chapel. Conversely a crypt in the roof, again accessible by a
stairway and equipped with narrow slits for windows, has led archaeologists to conjecture that the
place was used as a refuge during the frequent piratical raids which plagued the island during the
mediaeval period. Inside, the chapel is much in need of urgent restoration: but the fine gilded screen,
surmounted by a crucifix and two large lanterns, is still in position.
Leaving Episkopi, proceed S. towards another ruined chapel rather curiously orientated NE-SW, and
from here continue on the path still Southwards in the direction of a fairly large enclosure for sheep.
Hence the path begins to climb steadily up the S.E. shoulder of the mountain to the chapel of Agia
Marina which stands on its summit. All around you will see collapsed walls, ruined circular towers,
burial shafts, and countless fragments of pottery - in fact the extensive remains of the ancient city of
Oinoe which in the 5th century B.C. had a population of over 25,000, and was the capital of the
island. As far as the eye can see, all the surrounding hills are terraced right to their final summits and
must once have provided all the basic essentials for this large and thriving community. If you would
like a little excitement, diverge right from the main path and make for the ruined castle which stands
on the cliff edge rather N. of the chapel. A cairn will give you the right bearing, and from it you may
work your way gingerly along the sheer precipice, gasping at the gaping chasm beneath, at the foot of
which the indigo waters of the ocean pound on the shore, fiercely driven on by the Meltemi.
The chapel, which is open and is dedicated to Agia Marina, stands at a height of 465 metres and thus
commands a superb panoramic view of all the Southern part of the island. You will have no difficulty
in retracing your steps to Episkopi by the regular path, or in finding amid its scattered ruins a corner
protected from both wind and sun where you may enjoy your midday snack. Just beyond the church
turn right along the well paved path which descends the valley, glancing back occasionally to admire
the fine view of the chapel's S. wall, whose commanding position is now emphasised by the direct
sunlight by which it is now brilliantly illuminated, and which doubtless gave rise to its being called
Episkopi -'she who sees all around!' In about a mile, where the main track begins to curve round SW,
eventually to reach the chapel of St. Spyridon on the island's most Southerly point, divert onto a much
smaller track which falls into the ravine on the left. In some 10 minutes you will cross the dry riverbed, and changing direction from S.E. to E. will begin to contour around the base of the mountain
above, keeping parallel with the sea which is now visible at about one mile's distance from the path.
Shortly some telegraph poles will appear on the horizon, and in the course of the next two miles the
path as it winds up gently along the abandoned terraces will pass underneath the cables no less than 4
times. Just before passing under the wires for the second time you will observe on your left the
entrance to a large cave, whilst a little further on, on the right you will pass an enormous boulder
which has separated itself from the land mass and is poised precariously above the sea, which at this
point assumes a magnificent shade of turquoise. A short distance ahead at the 4th crossing of the
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wires you will reach an isolated chapel, from which a track leads down the valley to the wonderful
beach below. Those anxious to avail themselves of a refreshing dip may do so at the expense of
adding a mere 40 minutes to the total walking time.
Shortly after leaving the chapel where the path divides, those bound for Scala Alopronoia must turn
right, but those destined for Chora must take the left fork and proceed due N. The path, like so many
others, begins in the dry river-bed, but after only a few yards leaves it sharp left, to ascend the W. side
of the gully, only once crossing over to the opposite side. Steel yourself for a long, hard climb, which
ends only when you reach the ruined 'mandra' on the brow of the hill. From here Chora is visible
NNE; but the path contours round NW, losing some height but quickly regaining it, and crossing 2
steep ravines. Where it divides take the right branch which leads behind and above the conspicuous
chapel with its curious triple barrel-vaulted roof. The place is dedicated to St Dimitri, and it is worth
turning off to the right not only to see the chapel, but also to taste the succulent figs which grow on
the terrace above. On the right one now enjoys a fine view of the adjacent island of Ios, whose Chora,
perched on its steep hill a mile above the harbour, sparkles like a jewel caught by the searching rays
of the declining sun. Returning to the main path you will soon reach the brow of the hill, where the
sudden sight of Chora revealed in all its evening glory, will create an unforgettable impression and
constitute a fitting conclusion to the day.
2. Palaiokastro.
Like Oinoe, Palaiokastro was one of the classical settlements of the island, and to reach the island's
N.E. point of Malta on which it is situated will take approximately 2 hours. There is really no practical
alternative to returning by the same route, but once on the right path one should have little difficulty
in following it, and there is no need to carry water. For much of the walk one traverses a high plateau
some 1500' above sea level, with the result that one rarely has to face steep gradients, and one is
constantly refreshed by the Meltemi which sweeps across the bare, treeless hills with unabated fury.
Leave Chora by the mule track which runs midway between the path to the monastery and the road
down to the harbour, for most of the way following a bearing NE. The track rises gently, in about 10
minutes passing a small church a few yards from the path on the right. A quarter of an hour further
along where the path bifurcates, bear left in the direction of a second church, this time on the left of
the track, and in a further 5 minutes you will approach the cliff edge on the N. coast. For about 200
yards the path keeps close to the precipice, affording splendid views of the superb coastal scenery in
both directions, the cliffs falling away steeply to the sea a full 1500' below. The path then turns
inland, and soon reaches a well and drinking trough, where my two young companions on the first
half of this walk stopped to water their two mules and four donkeys, and to load the latter with large
plastic containers intended to satisfy the needs of their 15 goats which grazed on the hilltop some mile
or so further along the path. When you reach the summit of the plateau you will find on the right a
small chapel dedicated to the Prophet Elijah, while the hilltop beyond is crowned by a tall cairn, The
path now starts to descend quite sharply towards yet another chapel on the right. Slightly below on the
narrow isthmus leading to the final promontory is a shepherd's 'mandra', and ahead you will see two
steep hills, each supporting a trig-point.
Passing on the left some gigantic boulders which have broken away from the main core of the
mountain, the path runs along the top of some rough terraces, and avoiding the first peak, makes its
way directly to the second via the South face which is fortunately well sheltered from the prevailing
N.E. wind. The whole mountainside is littered with the remains of cisterns, ruined houses and broken
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vessels mostly from the classical period. You may well have to scramble up the last 200' as the path is
very indistinct, but your efforts will be rewarded by a breathtaking vista in all directions. Straight
ahead due East lies the island of Ios, even the houses of its main town being clearly discernible. In the
opposite direction inland there stretches a wide backcloth of rolling, grey hills which form the
backbone of the island, while below the angry seas batter the solid cliff, the huge waves driven
powerfully onwards by the unrelenting fury of the Meltemi.
3. The Monastery of Zoodochos Pigi.
This fortress-like convent which was dissolved in 1834 stands on a sheer precipice of Mt Phridi, 354
metres above the sea and about a mile from the centre of the village. It is best visited between 5 and 6
in the evening when the sunlight streaming over the monastery's white walls imbues the dazzling
spectacle with maximum brilliance. Moreover, though locked as a precaution against vandalism
during the rest of the day, each evening an old lady wanders up from the town to tend the flowers, and
keep everything in order for the annual celebration which occurs on the first Sunday after Easter.
The path climbs up past the windmills, only one of which is still in working order. Just before you
arrive you will find a tiny cross planted in the bare rock, and before it a stone inscribed with a legend
admonishing the pious pilgrim to heed the cross as the guardian of the whole world. The South wall
was badly breached by winter storms two years ago and still awaits renovation; but the North wall,
perched precariously en the edge of a sheer precipice, remains intact. The view from here down the
cliff face is quite awesome, especially when the Meltemi is blowing with full force, and the dark blue
waters over 1000' below seethe and boil, their ceaseless libations edging the rocky coastline with a
sparkling fringe of foaming spray. It is worth continuing Northwards to the trig-point, where again
you will gasp at the sheer immensity of the scene, which along with similar sights in Amorgos and
Pholegandros, must rank as some of the most spectacular in Europe. Looking back in the opposite
direction one enjoys an equally impressive view of the great bulk of Sikinos' highest mountain whose
name, Troulos, meaning 'dome', will now be self evident. For the cliffs on both the N. and S. coasts
appear to rise quite vertically from the sea and continue to form an almost perfect arc, culminating in
a flat summit of 620 metres immediately behind the chapel of Agia Paraskevi.
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ANAPHI
The name 'Anaphi' is believed by some to be a corruption of 'Anophidi', meaning 'without snakes' and
indeed the total absence of snakes on the island is but one of several unique phenomena all of which
are directly attributable to Anaphi's exceptional geographical and geological isolation from the rest of
the archipelago. For secluded by nature from its sister islands, this 'ultima Thule' of the Cyclades has
preserved intact traditions and customs of great antiquity which have elsewhere been obsolete for
centuries. One particularly interesting example of such survivals is the cult of the dead, which is here
still practised with a scrupulous devotion that can be traced back right to the Neolithic and Bronze
Ages. The alternative etymology which derives 'Anaphi' from the verb 'anephani', which describes the
act of rising into view, likewise bears eloquent testimony to the island 's unique and spectacular
genesis, and has moreover been corroborated by recent geological evidence. According to this
version, which is recorded in Apollonius Rhodius' Argonautica (D 1693 ff), when the Argonauts on
their return journey from Crete were overtaken by a fearful storm, which caused pitch darkness to
cover the sea, in answer to Jason's desperate prayers, Apollo fired his radiant bow, whereupon Anaphi
suddenly appeared from the depths to preserve them from imminent destruction. Geologists now tell
us that alone of the Cyclades, Anaphi contains deposits of lignite bearing petrified gastropods, which
means that whereas the other Cyclades are the mountaintops of a now submerged land mass, by
contrast Anaphi was extruded from a much lower sediment, and moreover at a date not inconsistent
with its sudden appearance having been witnessed by mortal eyes. Some historians, e.g. J.V. Luce,
have explained the mysterious darkness by reference to the fall out from the massive explosion of
Santorini in 1500 B.C. But even those who view both the philological and palaeontological arguments
with a guarded scepticism cannot deny that the island's very remoteness, as exemplified by the fact
that, until quite recently, a regular boat called in only once a month, has arrested its development
almost to the point of extinction. Thus still deprived of a deep water harbour, possessing neither a
simple road, nor running water nor sewerage, well might Anaphiots complain that, with the sole
exception of electricity, all the amenities of the twentieth century have passed them by. The
population has now dwindled to some 250 souls; of the island's meagre 14½ square miles of territory
less than 1/5 is under cultivation, and the rest is given over to pasturage; of the original 4 oil presses
only 1 survives. And yet springs exist, and the rich volcanic soil, like that of neighbouring Santorini,
is capable of producing cereals, vines, figs, vegetables, and even almonds. But none of this potential
will be realised without young hearts and hands to undertake the strenuous, unremitting labour
involved: and the sober truth is that the Primary School which 30 years ago had almost 100 pupils on
its rolls, now has only 11.
In September of this year (1984), in a last minute, desperate bid to stem the ever accelerating exodus
from the island, the Government has granted Travel Agents a 100% subsidy, enabling them to offer
entirely free tickets to and from Santorini, in the hope of thereby promoting tourism by extending the
season into the Autumn. In addition the island is now connected by a twice weekly boat service to
Santorini, and a weekly direct link to Agios Nikolaos and Siteia in Crete, the former journey being of
2 hours', and the latter of 5 hours' duration. But until Anaphi acquires the requisite, basic facilities, it
is unlikely that it will, and indeed undesirable that it should, experience any significant increase in the
number of visitors that it currently receives within its shores. For the present, therefore, those who are
prepared to forego all the luxuries and comforts of civilization, and are content to devise their own
entertainment, and travel everywhere on muleback or on foot, in short those who can adapt quickly
and painlessly to the idyllic simplicity of life as it has gone on, substantially unchanged, for the last
3000 years, are assured of a warm welcome and a memorable stay on an island whose inhabitants are
as genial as its scenery is unique.
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Because of its lack of roads, Anaphi has an abundance of paths, even though, thanks to depopulation,
the majority of them seem to lead to nowhere in particular. As recently as 1940 the island's inhabitants
numbered 785, and they then lived not as now exclusively in Chora, but also in several scattered
hamlets now, alas, gone without trace, except for an isolated church or communal oven, which survive
as the only visible signs of a once flourishing community. The climate of the island is extremely dry,
but there are many springs from which there issues an unfailing supply of excellent water. The rugged
hills of the interior are resplendent with vivid clumps of thyme, much loved by the numberless bees,
and source of delicious honey. Vegetables are small but tasty, and as yet sufficient for the needs of the
indigenous population and the relatively few tourists, as also is the fine, local wine which is very
reminiscent of that produced on adjacent Santorini. Many flocks of goats and even sheep roam the
barren, scrubby mountains: but since they are slaughtered mainly only to celebrate feasts, the chief
protein content of one's diet is supplied by fish, which is reasonably plentiful, and being locally
caught, of first-rate quality and freshness.
Of food, therefore, and fresh air there is no lack: but accommodation does pose a considerable
problem, since neither the port of Yialo nor Chora itself possesses anything remotely resembling an
hotel, and even rooms tend to be reserved for family and friends and hence hard to find. Of the two
alternatives, Chora is infinitely larger and more attractive, as well as being nearer to the centre of the
island and thus more conveniently situated for the walker. But since it also lies 220 metres above, and
2 kilometres from the sea, the trek from port to town, especially when fully laden, is inevitably steep
and arduous. Bearing in mind also that most boats arrive in the small hours, and that there is no public
transport to Chora and no more certainty of a room once one arrives, most weary travellers will be
well advised to seize with grateful alacrity any offer of one of the limited number of beds available at
either of the two cafes near the quay, where one has the additional facility of good quality and low
priced meals on the premises The rooms are simple, but clean, whilst the modest rent is determined by
the total absence of plumbing and sanitation. (One's scanty ablutions are effected at a minute bowl,
frugally supplied from a metal canister attached to the wall and filled manually by a bucket, which
also catches the slops, from an external butt of rainwater!)
No one could dispute that the haphazard, collection of mean, ill-constructed dwellings which
comprise Yialo is singularly unprepossessing, or that the noisy, ugly power station which all but
blocks the narrow valley does little to enhance the appearance of the place. Nevertheless, the seaward
views both at sunset and sunrise are lovely beyond compare, and as one travels Eastwards along the
South coast one finds within easy access three or four beaches which I would rank as second to none
for their crystal seas and deep, soft sand. At the second bay, known as Kleisidi, Nudism, though not
obligatory, has been officially sanctioned, and a restaurant has been opened to serve the needs of the
numerous clientele who sleep in tents or sleeping-bags along the soft, sheltered shore.
It would take many days thoroughly to explore all the island's paths, especially since, though small in
area, Anaphi is exceptionally mountainous, whilst in the absence of a map one is dependent for
information upon chance meetings with shepherds or hunters, who though extremely courteous and
generous with helpful advice, have other more urgent preoccupations to attend to. Nor is it my aim to
give an exhaustive description of each island - an ambitious task which would require far more time
than I have at my disposal, and a much stouter volume than I deem appropriate for a guide book. I
trust, however, that the following three suggestions constitute a fairly representative sample of the
island's special and most interesting features, and may goad the reader into making further
investigations for himself.
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l. Chora and the Church and Spring of Christ – tou Christou.
This circular walk takes from 4 to5 hours, and could prove an appropriately gentle introduction to the
typical and varied delights of Anaphi, occupying the afternoon and early evening, and thus leaving the
morning free for settling in and recovering from the previous night's inevitably fitful slumber,
snatched either while awaiting the boat at Athenio on Santorini, or while in transit on the deep.
The path which winds up the narrow valley from Yialo to Chora has been roughly concreted, and the
treads of the steps have been partially sloped to facilitate the passage of motorcycles. The steep climb
takes about ½ hour, and one may cut off the larger loops by taking a stony path which diverges on the
left after some ten minutes, following the more direct course of the telegraph poles. About 150' higher
up it crosses over the main track to continue upwards on the opposite side; and just before reaching
the village you may branch off again on the left and cross the hillside to reach Chora's Western
extremities first. High above the last houses is the ruined Venetian Castle with its adjacent chapel, and
there are two cafes, one owned by the current President of Anaphi, where light meals may be
obtained.
Leave Chora northwards, making for the curious Russian style chapel built on the Eastern fringe of
the village in 1970, and dedicated to St. Spyridon. It would be more correctly designated a
mausoleum, and is the first of many such edifices you will encounter on your travels: for although the
majority are constructed on a far less pretentious scale, they all have the same basic function as
reliquaries and focuses for the highly revered cult of the dead. Frequently erected at the exact point of
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expiration, they invariably contain an ossuary - for Greeks exhume their corpses three years after
interment - and are perpetually illuminated by the small oil lamp known as a 'candili'. Keeping to the
left, i.e. W. of the building, follow the path northwards passing the cemetery on the left, and slowly
climbing up the East side of the valley, which by contrast with the arid hills appears quite verdant,
mainly thanks to large patches of bright green indicating the presence of figs and prickly pears. On
reaching the crest of the hill you will find on the right the chapel of St Andrew, from which a path
descends to an abandoned village nestling snugly on the floor of the valley due N. You however must
continue on the main path, bearing N.W. towards a conspicuous cluster of chapels which must once
have formed the centre of a sizeable hamlet. The first, located on the right, is dedicated to St.
Spyridon, and the second on the left to St. John. Here at a water cistern the way divides, one branch
proceeding NNW to Lagodospelies, the other traversing in a N.E. direction the S. face of Vigla, which
rising to a height of 584 metres is Anaphi's highest mountain. Take the latter which turns left (W) at
the top of the ridge and enters a series of terraces which almost hide the Chapel of Christos which is
situated on one of the terraces about 200 yards due N. Slightly E. of the chapel is a wonderful,
refreshing spring – Pigi tou Christou - which runs into a subterranean cistern entered by a small, low
doorway. The water is freezing cold and of very good quality, and the overflow falls into a basin,
whence it irrigates the whole valley S.E. which is extensively terraced and well cultivated. The chapel
itself is, alas, locked: but overhanging the Eastern apse are some fine, ruddy pomegranates, while a
colourful clump of oleanders shields the entrance in the W. All around, the mountain buzzes audibly
to the sound of bees feeding on the thyme which is a constant delight both to see and smell. Through
the chapel's belfry you can frame the distant Monastery known as Panagia Kalamiotissa, which
crowns the summit of the precipitous Mt. Kalamos which has dominated the landscape for miles, and
which forms the Eastern terminus of the island
Your return route lies along the well defined path which descends the valley SE, beginning just above
the spring. After passing several skilfully cultivated fields growing a variety of garden produce, the
path in about 10 minutes turns S; and where in a further 5 minutes it divides, take the right branch,
travelling due W. towards an isolated farmstead. Continue from here zigzagging down the terraces
onto the floor of the valley, where you must cross the stream - generally quite dry, but indicated by
the presence of wild laurel. Climb up sharply, first S. then S.W. until in about 10 minutes you reach a
chapel on the right. From here after descending a little contour round southwards, keeping the
prominent conical hill straight ahead on your left, until having reached the crest of the hill you will be
presented with a surprise view of Chora clustering around its conspicuous knoll in the SW. The path
finally ends at the windmills next to the mausoleum, after running for a while parallel with the lower
track which you took on the outward journey.
2. Chora, Pigi and Kasteli.
Like the previous walk, this too occupies about 4 hours, and could therefore easily be fitted into half a
day: but alternatively by combining it with swimming on the N. coast and/or visiting the remains of
the Classical capital of the island at Kasteli, it could be expanded to fill a whole day.
Ascend to Chora as in (1) and take the path leaving the village E. and signed as leading to the
Monastery Panagia Kalamiotissa. In about ¼ mile the path divides, and if you plan later on to visit
Kasteli you can save yourself a long, arduous climb by taking the left fork which ascends the hill,
passing two or three small chapels containing ossuaries. When the path divides again turn left (NE) up
a track which after climbing up for a further mile and passing yet another chapel, finally begins to
descend towards the N. coast, beyond which one sees distant views of the Southern hills of Amorgos
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rising dimly from the sea some 30 miles due N. The path now enters the 'revma', where frangosyka
and pikrodaphni indicate the presence of water issuing in copious profusion from a spring on the left,
and for once making the rocks quite slippery with mud. As it continues towards the sea, the path
deteriorates, becoming more and more fragmented, so that unless desperation for a bathe proves too
powerful a goad, a picnic under the shade of the large almond tree which overhangs the spring, and
where a big, flat rock makes an excellent natural table, would commend itself as the wisest and most
congenial way of passing the next hour.
Should your spirits have by now revived sufficiently to aspire to exploring Kasteli, retrace your steps
about ¼ mile to the point where a tiny goat track turns off left by some prominent olive trees and
climbs the hillside diagonally SE. When in some 40 minutes you emerge onto the main path, turn
right, and you will find Kasteli occupying the summit of the conical hill opposite to the S, its
impressive fortifications standing out quite clearly against the deep blue of the sky. Many of the most
interesting remains lie on the further (S) side of the hill; and indeed you have the option of returning
in this direction to join the lower road to Panagia Kalamiotissa which will lead you directly either to
Chora or Yialo by the route described in (3).
3. The Monasteries of Panagia Kalamiotissa and Kasteli.
My stay on Anaphi had the good fortune to coincide with the 2 days assigned by the calendar of the
Greek Orthodox Church for the celebration of the birthday of the Virgin - September 7 and 8. And
since it happens that the island's only surviving monastery, situated on the Kalamos peninsula and
hence known as Panagia Kalamiotissa, is dedicated to this very event, the two day celebration has by
long tradition become Anaphi's largest and most important annual panegyry, even though the
monastery is now no longer occupied. I was conveyed to the Feast in one of the small flotilla of
caiques which transported almost the entire population of the island thither, and many tourists too: but
I returned the following day on foot via Kasteli.
Having been informed that the boat was leaving at 7, I rose betimes to see the sun rise up
triumphantly from the sea and clothe the barren hills in a glorious mantle of saffron light. The clerics,
comprising two bishops and four monks, one of whom I recognised as coming from the famous
Chozoviotissa Monastery on Amorgos, were given breakfast and speedily despatched ahead of the
rest in a motor launch. For the laity, however, no such luck: refused breakfast on the grounds of
religious scruple, and enduring a two hour's frustrating delay, during which rather desultory
preparations were made for our impending departure, at 9 a.m. after a final warning screech from the
raucous siren, we eventually set sail, flags gaily flapping at the mast, and suitably festive music
blaring through the loudspeakers as the trim vessel swiftly plashed through the dancing waves. The
roadstead was reached in ½ hour; but there being no proper landing stage, disembarkation proved
quite a hazard for the stout and elderly who, as the boat lurched and bobbed unpredictably in the
strong swell, were obliged to leap from the prow some 6' down onto the stone jetty! A further ½
hour's toiling up the stony path saw the heavily burdened pilgrims all safely within the precincts of the
monastery which bestrides the narrow isthmus connecting the Kalamos peninsula to the rest of the
island, and was built less than a century ago on the foundations of a much more ancient pagan temple.
An inscription on the left jamb of the entrance dates the original classical structure to the reign of
Antoninus Pius (138 – 161 A.D.), and a further one below referring to a tithe due to Apollo Aigletes
suggests that the temple was dedicated to that deity, by the powerful agency of whose radiant bow, as
you will recall, Anaphi had miraculously arisen from the sea. Regrettably, but by no means uniquely,
much of the original masonry was used in the construction of the present edifice, built in 1887 when
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the first monastery, founded in 1571 on the precipitous summit of the mountain, was vacated after a
thunderbolt had killed 7 people, including the Abbot.
Since now the new monastery also is totally abandoned by monks, all the morning was spent in
setting a temporary generator in motion, wiring up lighting and amplification, allocating dormitories,
preparing food, and making all the other elaborate preparations requisite for the smooth running of the
forthcoming services and subsequent festivities. To sustain them in their imminent 'marathon', priests
and choristers were once more fed, while the rest of us had to be content with endless coffees and
biscuits sold either in the entrance passage, or in the remains of the cella of the classical temple,
whose lintel still bears an impressive, though incomprehensible inscription, sadly demeaned by the
rather undignified use to which the building is now put.
About 2.30 a score of youngsters, mainly local shepherds and shepherdesses, decided that the time
had come to ascend Mt. Kalamos and make their devotions at the old monastery on its summit. Being
lithe and naturally well acquainted with the path, and apparently impetuous to complete the mission in
record time, they set a cracking pace up the stony path which scales the Northern face of the
mountain, and so reached the top within 45 minutes. Just outside the monastery a signpost which
points the way also indicated that the distance is 1.5 kilometres: but I am convinced that this
measurement is 'as the crow flies', and that the inevitably tortuous route taken by the path must be at
least twice as long. There is a well about half way up, but it was on this occasion dry; and in its final
stages the path is actually hewn out of the living rock. One can only describe the views as stupendous,
and as the mountain's perpendicular S. face falls a full 480 metres sheer into the sea, it claims the
distinction of being the highest single drop in any sea cliff in the whole of Europe! I heard it
confidently asserted by several islanders that from its summit on clear days in October and November
one can even see the Dikte range in Eastern Crete. In a cleft in the rock just N.E. of the apse of the
chapel you will find a marvellous spring of ice-cold water; but unless like us you have taken
precautions to obtain the key, you will have to remain content to view the church itself from the
outside, even from there marvelling at the dauntless faith and unwearying energy of the pious souls
who in the sixteenth century built such a substantial edifice on such an exposed and inaccessible site.
The bells back at the lower monastery began ringing their joyous peals at 5.30 as a prelude to the
beginning of the impressive liturgy: and not until its final conclusion some 3 hours later were we at
length permitted to gratify the now ravenous appetites produced by a day of fasting combined with
not inconsiderable exertions. Culinary arrangements had been left in the capable hands of a ship's chef
currently employed by the Chandros Line, and the resulting meal did great credit both to his skill and
logistics. The carcasses of several goats had been bubbling for hours in two vast cauldrons heated
over a cheering log fire, and brim full with a superb sauce containing inter alia tomatoes, onions,
garlic, bay leaves and cinnamon. The spaghetti which was added during the final half hour not only
absorbed all these delicious flavours, but also acquired the texture of whipped cream, and the meal
was helped along by large hunks of black, unleavened bread and a plentiful supply of potent red wine.
The hunger of well over 200 healthy appetites having been thus satisfied, our spiritual needs were
amply catered for by a solemn compline sung in the chapel with renewed vigour by the tireless clergy
and choir. Meanwhile a small band of local musicians girded their loins to accompany the traditional
dancing and revelry which began in the outer courtyard once the service was ended, and continued
beneath the star-spangled, velvet vault of heaven well into the small hours of the night.
The following day being the birthday of the Virgin, the service was resumed at 7 a.m., once the chapel
had been cleared of the many recumbent figures who had taken advantage of the candle-warmed,
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incense laden atmosphere to recover from the night's festivities. Anxious, however, to return to Yialo
on foot, and also to have time to investigate Kasteli en route, I left the monastery at about 8.30,
leaving the liturgy still in full swing, the fervent voices of the singers pursuing me down the valley for
the next ½ hour, thanks to the powerful amplification and the wind.
Done directly and at a fairly sedate pace, the walk from the monastery to either Yialos or Chora
should take something from 2½ to 3 hours: but the inclusion of Kasteli and its extensive remains will
add a further 2 hours to the time required. Return by the same path as you arrived by, but just before
reaching the sea look out for a path on the right which begins at a conspicuous patch of verdure
produced by oleanders and reeds. The path runs parallel with the shore, occasionally varied by a short,
sharp climb over a headland, before descending once more towards the sea which is everywhere
fringed with magnificent golden sands such as one rarely encounters in Greece. After about 1 hour
when you reach the wide strand known as Katalimatsa or Roucounas, you will see opposite, crowning
the conical hill on the right, the large fortifications of Kasteli. The easiest path begins about 250 yards
before you reach a wonderful spring hidden in a clump of oleanders and reeds just to the left of the
path. It climbs up NE, keeping to the right side of the gully, passing a large, abandoned communal
oven and a threshing floor, and eventually reaching a chapel, at the side of which there stands a very
well preserved sarcophagus, finely carved with a relief depicting children playing with animals.
Higher up, slightly left of and above a prominent outcrop of rock, you will find three headless statues:
and in fact many others lie scattered over the small terraces which cover the whole hillside, and up
which you must toil relentlessly to reach the summit, some 327 metres above sea level. The final
approach is from the N. side where you must scramble over a morass of collapsed walls and numerous
buildings which are all that survive of the island's once proud capital. From the acropolis you enjoy a
fine prospect Eastwards, across the ruin-strewn hillside and its ancient threshing floors, via the fine,
marble-paved Sacred Way to the Sanctuary of Apollo, and finally culminating in the majestic
eminence of Mt Kalamos, whose glinting, marble pinnacles rise in solitary splendour from the sea
crowned by the monastery of the Virgin.
Retrace your steps to the spring, from which you will reach Yialo in little over an hour. The path is at
first well paved as it climbs steeply up the hill, the high wall on the left affording welcome protection
from the now searing sun. A little further on, one passes by a fertile valley on the right, verdant with
frangosyka, figs, bamboo and huge, ruddy pomegranates. Once you reach the brow of the next hill the
main path continues right to Chora, while a rather smaller track descends along a ledge of rock
towards the sea, each of the three beaches being reached by fairly obvious paths diverging on the left.
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CHAPTER VIII: PAROS, NAXOS, AMORGOS
PAROS
Paros, which is not to be confused with Poros, lying close to the East coast of the Peloponnese,
occupies a central position in the Aegean, and is reached by a variety of boats, some of which proceed
South to Ios and Santorini, others further East to Naxos, and yet others North to Syros and Mykonos.
About twice weekly a boat continues N.E. from Naxos to Ikaria and Samos. The direct journey from
Piraeus takes about 6 hours, and the boat docks at Parikia the island's capital, which lies roughly in the
centre of the West coast, and hence is as convenient a place as any from which to explore the whole
island. Accommodation is plentiful; but it is advisable either to book in advance, or to avoid the first
half of August, when the town is teeming with tourists and devout Orthodox Greeks who have come
for the renowned Feast of the Assumption which is celebrated annually on August 15 in the famous
Panagia Ekatopyliani, Virgin of the Hundred Gates. As well as being the most convenient centre,
Parikia is itself a most convivial town, whose narrow lanes and immaculately whitewashed houses are
colourfully decked with hibiscus, roses, geraniums and bougainvillea while a large number of
tavernas, cafes etc. offer a variety of foods and amusements to accommodate all tastes and pockets.
Small churches with voluptuous turquoise domes and towering belfries abound, while vehicular traffic
is mercifully confined to the sea front, the main exits North and South, and the broad avenue leading
to the main church which was quite recently rebuilt, after severe earthquake damage, in its original
fourth century form, stripped of all its mediaeval accretions, in the charming three tone local marble
in pastel shades of green, pink and beige.
Quieter, less sophisticated lodgings are available at Marpissa about a mile inland from the East coast,
or at Piso Livadi right on the shore, while Naoussa in the centre of a well-protected bay on the North
point of the island, has both hotels and pensions for those who prefer to avoid the bustle of the capital,
from which it is reached in about half an hour by a fairly regular and comfortable bus service.
The island has a relatively wide, fertile and well-watered coastal plain, dotted with several small but
attractive villages joined by a road tracing the circumference of the island, whilst another surfaced
road runs right through the middle of the island West-East from Parikia to Marpissa In several places,
especially in the central region, the old mediaeval paved road has survived, and provides the hiker
with a welcome alternative to the tarmac, whilst as always footpaths proliferate in the more cultivated
areas near to the coast. The hills rise gently to form a modest summit of some 2530' which is crowned
with a chapel dedicated to the Prophet Elijah and All Saints, slightly North of which is situated the
monastery of Thapsanon. The following three excursions, while by no means exhausting the island's
possibilities, offer a considerable variety of both scenery and man made monuments, and should whet
the walker's appetite sufficiently to stimulate further exploration.
l. Parikia, Sanctuary of Ilithuia, Monastery of Longovardas, Fishing village of Naoussa.
Should it fall to your lot to be in Parikia on August 15, it would be foolish to miss the opportunity to
participate in the great service held in the Church of One Hundred Gates, which has a rare
spaciousness and lightness of texture, mainly thanks to its recent restoration in the celebrated local
marble, whose luminous qualities have been justly prized from earliest antiquity. Even the Templo,
i.e, the rood screen, is beautifully carved in polychrome marble, while two of the pendentives
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supporting the central dome bear paintings in a good state of preservation. The sanctuary, which is
much larger than the usual, exhibits several other murals and contains a tabernacle of the type
customarily found in a Jewish synagogue, whilst a spacious triforium enhances the general air of
spaciousness as well as affording an excellent vantage point from which to view all the intricacies of
the liturgy. The splendour of the vestments, jewelled mitres, crosses and staffs is incomparable; and I
still retain vivid memories of one particularly revered bishop with beard and hair of glistening
whiteness, and deep set eyes which seemed to burn like live coals from the cavernous depths of his
cranium.
On the occasion of my visit in 1981, the Bishop of Corinth, who bears the dignified title of Despot,
preached the sermon, from which I gleaned the following historical details about the foundation of the
church, as well as several interesting insights into the Orthodox conception of the Virgin. Apparently
below the foundations of the present building are the columns of a pagan sanctuary of Demeter, the
great Mother goddess, above which, appropriately enough, the Empress Irene as she returned from the
Holy Lands bearing fragments of the true cross, founded the first Christian church, above which in its
turn lies the edifice attributed to Justinian himself, founder of the patriarchal church of St. Sophia in
Constantinople. The service ends, as always, with Communion, at the culmination of which all the
bells ring out, the 'artos' or Communion bread is distributed, and the congregation queue up to kiss the
Bishop's hand and the icon. Finally the latter is paraded around the whole town, preceded by a naval
guard of honour from a battleship which happens to be in port, and a brass band. Simultaneously all
the ships in the harbour sound their hooters in a glorious cacophony of praise, while the impressive
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procession weaves its labyrinthine way through the bustling lanes of the town thronged with joyous
crowds of pilgrims, the locals peering down from teeming balconies or gathered in family clusters
around their doorways to cross themselves and bow reverently as the dignitaries pass by.
To reach the sanctuaries of Ilithuia, goddess of childbirth, and Aphrodite, goddess of love, work your
way around the Eastern shore of the bay through the bamboo fields, and climb to the brow of the
lower hill which overlooks Parikia from the North. The remains are not particularly eloquent, but the
view is compelling, and one may descend towards the main road to Naoussa which is clearly
identifiable from the hilltop, a little North of the junction with the Marathi road. About half a mile
further along, one may diverge up the track signed to the famous monastery of Longovardas hidden in
a pine grove high up above the road on the right. Take care to be seemly clad, for shorts etc are
anathema to the brethren, and not to arrive during siesta: otherwise you are likely to find the robust
gates firmly locked till 5 p.m., when the familiar tapping of the 'semantron' announces the imminence
of the 'esperino'. On the way up there is ample opportunity to replenish one's energies with delicious
figs, and even grapes. Immediately on arrival I received the traditional piece of 'loukoumi',
accompanied by a large glass of water and a small one of 'ouzo', after which I was permitted to visit
the 'catholikon', which was built in 1638 by Christophoros Palaiologos of Naoussa. Initially the
monastery prospered, until the political instabilities of the late eighteenth century almost led to its
collapse. But in 1825 it was rescued from oblivion by the Vosiniotis family, refugees from the
Peloponnese, one of whom, who was called Ierotheos survived as Abbot to the ripe age of 103! The
present incumbent is already in his nineties, and has been Abbot for 10 years, his lively mind and
energetic body bearing powerful witness to the salutary effects of the strict asceticism for which the
community is renowned. The air of excited expectancy which intruded upon the customary ordered
tranquillity and cloistered calm of the monastic regimen on the occasion of my visit was explained by
the sudden arrival of two distinguished visitors, none other than the Despots of Naxos and Corinth,
about five minutes after the evening service had begun. At the first sound of their taxi's imperious
horn the service and all decorum were abandoned, the bells were rung with truly Athonite zeal, while
all the brethren, clad in their voluminous black habits, hastened with officious and rather unbecoming
speed to abase themselves and kiss the Bishops' hands in reverent welcome. Inside the church polite
addresses were exchanged; but as living proof of the monastery's strict rule and Spartan tradition, the
Despot's considerate invitation to the aged monks to sit during his rather lengthy homily was
deferentially but resolutely refused.
From the monastery the path continues N.E., slowly losing height until it finally joins the road to
Naoussa which is reached in about one hour. Here one may enjoy a refreshing bathe and meal before
returning by bus to Parikia.
2. The marble quarries of Marathi, Monastery of St. Minas, villages of Lefkes, Marpissa, Prodromos,
Monastery of St. Antony.
I did this walk as a circular trip from Naoussa where I was staying, leaving on the 9.30 bus to Parikia,
alighting at the junction to Marathi, and returning via the East coast to reach base at 7.20 in the
evening. The excursion comprises visits to the ancient marble quarries, two monasteries, and three
pretty villages, the second of which boasts a modern cheese factory; and much of the route follows the
old, paved Byzantine track which is certainly preferable to the modern tarmac.
Follow the motor road which winds steeply up the hillside to Marathi, which is a scattered collection
of farmsteads rather than a village proper. Just before reaching it you pass on the right the track which
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ascends via the monastery of Thapsanon to the island's highest summit, 2530' above sea level, and
crowned by the chapel of All Saints as well as by the inevitable Radar installation. The famous
quarries are about 300 yards to the right of the road, and are reached by a small track. They comprise
two huge shafts, apparently connected below the surface, and delving down at an acute angle into the
Stygian depths of the earth. It is possible to descend, but you require a light and caution, the surface
being damp and slippery. The deserted buildings that stand hard by the entrance are the ruins of the
French company which last operated the mines to extract marble to build Les Invalides, the celebrated
tomb of the Emperor Napoleon. The famous translucent marble was called 'Lychnites' - i.e, won by
lamp-light, and the principal reason why it was so highly prized is simply that it has a light
penetration of 3.5 millimetres, as compared with a mere 1.5 possessed by Pentelic marble. In the
vicinity one can find several pieces partially worked, shafts for columns and many broken fragments.
If one follows the track onwards up the hillside S.E. in about ½ hour one will reach the isolated
monastery of St. Minas which is presently occupied by a recluse who bears the same name as the
saint, though I suspect very few of his saintly qualities. After spending 15 years in Canada he returned
to marry a rather fat woman who made his life such a misery that he divorced her and retired into the
seclusion of his mountain fastness. He owns an extensive estate, but has no desire to exploit his
considerable wealth, his sole preoccupation being wine - a delicious red variety which he makes
himself in vast quantity and disburses to his guests with liberal pride. A panegyry in honour of the
Virgin at the adjacent village of Lefkes on the previous day had given him much scope to indulge in
his passion for Bacchic revelry, and indeed the whole place had a distinct air of Dionysiac abandon
and disarray: but the small chapel is worth seeing; whilst its curator's generosity and ebullient
enthusiasm is certain to ensure that your visit will be a memorable one.
Returning to the main road one may escape the monotony of following it by diverting on two
occasions left onto the old Byzantine track, and about ½ mile before reaching the village, look out for
a substantial short cut. Figs of both the green and purple variety abound, as well as superb black
grapes: above the village there lies a shady pine forest, whilst inside, its streets are festooned with
luxuriant flowers whose vivid colours greatly enhance its beauty. As you leave, two mediaeval but
well preserved paths lead one due South to Dryos, and the other East to Prodromos, the latter running
almost parallel with the motor road on the left. It is downhill most of the way; but at one point there is
a slight incline leading to a hilltop from which one enjoys a marvellous view straight ahead of the
curious conical headland known as Kephalos - the Head - on the crown of which sits the monastery of
St: Anthony.
The descent to Prodromos is very rapid, and here once again you will gaze in admiration of the clean,
windswept streets, the resplendent white churches, and the magnificent hibiscus and bougainvillea
which stand out so vividly against their background of dazzling white. Here too is a cheese factory
producing excellent Parian cheese. In the adjacent village of Marpissa are yet more lovely churches
which glisten like icing sugar against the deep blue sky, and also a fine memorial to a young lad of 18
shot by the occupying force, as the touchingly simple inscription records, 'one beautiful morning in
May.' The youthful torso is finely sculptured from the celebrated Parian marble, and exudes all the
radiant dignity appropriate to its legend of heroic martyrdom. From the village a lovely path winds its
way gently up to the monastery of St. Antony which commands a superb view of the whole East side
of Paros, whilst across the strait even with the naked eye one can quite clearly descry both the houses
of the main town of Naxos, and the unmistakable outline of Mt. Zeus, the highest peak in all the
Cyclades. Unfortunately because of the recent theft of one of its icons the church itself is locked; but I
imagine that the key would be available on request from the priest in the village.
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If you intend to return to Naoussa, as you descend look out for a small path on the right of the main
track which leads off right (N) in the direction of Marmara, crossing several terraces to reach a dark
green patch of reeds which lie in a marshy area on the edge of the village. Hence is a path leading
through the fields N. past a small water reservoir, and eventually joining the main road to Naoussa.
Even with a compass one can easily lose one's direction in the maze of lanes, so it is advisable to ask
at frequent intervals directions from those working in the fields.
It is possible to return to Parikia by bus; or alternatively accommodation is available at Piso Livadi, an
attractive beach only a little South of Kephalos. Yet further South is another good beach at Chrisi
Acti, hard by the village of Dryos. Offshore from here lies the islet of Dryonisi, while a good
mediaeval track leads direct to Lefkes via the monastery of St. George.
3. Valley of the Butterflies (Psychopiana) and Monastery of Christ in the Forest (Christou sto Dasos).
Leave Parikia S.W. by the Pounta road. On the outskirts of the town on the left of the road are the not
very significant remains of the Sanctuary of Asclepius, God of Healing. From Pounta frequent ferries
cross the narrow strait to Antiparos, which is clearly visible; but about a mile before reaching the
harbour turn left up the rough track to Psychopiana, where an astonishing number of butterflies live in
a small wood, feeding upon a special type of ivy parasitic upon the trees. The estate is privately
owned, and a 15 drachmae admission fee is charged. From the valley a track leads due N. to the brow
of the hill where is situated the Convent of Christo sto Dasos. Here one may visit the tomb of St.
Arsenios who was canonised as recently as 1967. Born in Iannina, capital of Epiros, he served as a
schoolmaster on Pholegandros and Sikinos during the period of the Wars of Independence (18211827). Finally he reached Paros, and became a priest and later Abbot of a local monastery where he
was revered as a confessor, priest and worker of miracles.
From the convent a fine path descends through the pine trees to the plain, affording excellent views of
the fertile coastal strip, whilst in the distance Parikia nestles by the sea, framed beneath fig trees and
firs which also provide delightful protection from the fierce midday sun.
The whole round trip including appreciable stops to view the butterflies and visit the convent can be
completed comfortably within a single morning or afternoon. The convent offers the traditional
refreshment, and beverages and snacks are on sale at Psychopiana, so that neither food nor water need
be carried.
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NAXOS
Naxos, which is generally considered to be the most fertile of the Cyclades, is undoubtedly the largest,
both in terms of its area and its population, which is divided between the capital town and a large
number of substantial villages. It also has the highest peak in the Cyclades – Mt. Zeus, rising to a
majestic height of 3290' - and some of the sandiest and best beaches in Greece. Apart from the
monumental temple to Apollo, attributed to the tyrant Lygdamis who ruled the island in the late sixth
century B. C., and occupying a small islet joined by a causeway to the harbour, and the kouri at
Apollona and Phlerio, Naxos has surprisingly few classical remains, although its marble, which is still
mined, is second only to that of Paros in quality. There is an abundance of good water which flows
through the hamlets in conduits and rivulets even in the height of summer, and after a winter of
drought – hence the extensive production of fruit and vegetables of all kinds, but especially potatoes
and lemons. The island also has a rich vein of emery which provides employment and is transported
from the mines in the N.E. to the coast by a remarkable overhead cable several kilometres in length.
And yet despite all these advantages, and although it is frequently described as the most beautiful of
the Cyclades, in my judgement something is lacking. Perhaps it is forest - for one would expect an
island of this size to have preserved at least some woodland; yet none exists. Perhaps also it is rather
too big for walking, so that one is often dependent on public transport in order to return to base. It
must be admitted, however, that the bus service is reliable, well organised, and reasonably frequent, at
least on the main route which, beginning at Chora on the West coast and ending at Apollona on the
N.E., in the space of two hours passes through practically all the major villages in the hinterland.
Naxos too has good communications both with Piraeus, which is reached in about 8 hours, with
Rafina, which is reached in rather less time, and also with the other islands of the Aegean. The most
impressive scenery is on the East side, where the mountain ridge slopes down far more steeply than in
the West towards the sea, and is scored by dramatic ravines on the edges of which hang beetling
villages. But because of the almost universal preference for the sea, accommodation is seldom found
in the interior, despite the substantial populations of several of the villages. The West of the island,
though less dramatic, is not devoid of charm, the beauty of its villages being greatly enhanced by what
is on the islands at least a rare spectacle – running water. It is my hope that each of the following four
excursions will provide something commendable to reward the walker's efforts.
1. The ascent of Zeus (Zas) - 3290'.
Take the bus - the earliest leaves at 9 a.m. - to the island's largest village, Philoti, which is reached in
exactly one hour. Leave by the Apiranthos road which goes South, but in about 5 minutes turn off
right along a dirt track which leads in the direction of a ruined windmill on the left, opposite which on
the right is a precipitous rock topped by a white chapel. Just before you reach the mill take the track
branching off on the left. Soon it becomes a path; and in ¼ hour where it divides take the left fork
which lands you in about 5 minutes at a large plane tree sheltering a lovely cool spring on the left.
From here there are fine views of the precipitous West face of the mountain which slopes away
gradually southwards towards the sea. The path continues to climb up the left side of a ravine in
which in about a mile you will reach some iron gates on the left which guard the entrance to the
famous cave of Zeus. The gates are generally left open, and it is said that the cave traverses the whole
length of the mountain, finally emerging on the other side. Just below the gates is another spring
where you may replenish your water bottle for the final ascent.
Continue toiling up the ravine, which is strewn with many irregular boulders, and in about ¼ hour
turn left up a steep gully with much loose scree. Take care, and look out for the occasional red spots
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and arrows which will reassure you with the comforting knowledge that you are after all still on the
official path. In fact the path, which is far from clear or stable, goes North, i.e. away from the summit,
until it reaches the ridge. But take heart, for this is the toughest part of the climb. Once you reach the
shoulder turn right, i.e. South, and all is plain sailing as you climb up gently towards the cross which
marks the summit. The red dots continue, presumably to keep walkers from straying too near the edge
should the clouds suddenly descend. For on the right (S.W.) are the sheer cliffs which you will have
observed from the fountain below.
The total walking time from Philoti is a little over 2 hours, and your efforts will be rewarded by a
view which embraces the whole of Naxos as well as several surrounding islands. North is the slightly
lower peak of Phanari, and beyond that Koronos. To the West lies Paros, while to the South
Schinousa, Iraklia and, beyond, Ios, and to the East Keros and Amorgos are all clearly visible.
It is best to descend by the same path. After leaving the cave, in about 5 minutes the path leaves the
ravine right, and cuts down to the plane tree and the spring. Shortly after leaving the latter, turn left
over a few large rocks, and where the path divides, turn right and you will soon see the windmill, and
left of it the village of Apiranthos nestling in a col of Mt. Phanari. About 4.20 p.m. the bus from
Apollona reaches Philoti, so that you will be back in Naxos for 5.20.
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2. The Monastery of Chrysostom, the villages of Galini, Engares and Kourounochori, the Kouros of
Phlerio, and the villages of Mili and Melanes.
This circular clockwise walk is about 20 miles in toto, but the final stage of some 7 miles may be done
by bus from Melanes, provided that you reach that point before 4 p.m. when the last bus for Naxos
departs.
Take the road running by the coast N.E. past Grotta Delion, the site of the Naxo-Milesian war
recounted by Plutarch. About a mile from the town a track diverges right to the monastery of St.
Chrysostom, built on a steep rock by bishop Anthimos c.1759. You can cut off all the bends by
following the path on the right which ascends directly and more steeply straight to the monastery. As
you look back there are good views of Naxos town and the islet called Palati on the right of the
harbour. Returning to the main road proceed uphill; but avoid the large bend on the left by continuing
straight up the path, and when you reach the brow of the hill, take the old path on the left which goes
directly down to Galini. Turn right and then left for Engares which is only a mile distant along the
valley, and where I ate a most delicious salad. Water gushes everywhere in conduits by the roadside,
irrigating the fruit which grows here in great profusion, especially grapes, damsons and lemons, the
more tender varieties protected from the force of the wind by bamboo. The river has its Northern
source on Mt. Koronos, and its Southern source on Mt. Phanari just N.W. of Apiranthos, and it finally
issues into the sea at Ormos Amyti some two miles N. of Engares.
Leaving Engares take the track running S. uphill to a junction where the village of Kourounochori and
the Kouros are signed to the left, and Thaleleos to the right. As you enter the former village, on the
right is the large mediaeval tower of Mavrogeni which is still occupied. Continue on to Mili, a pretty
village on the right of the road which you will see at closer quarters later in the day. About half a mile
further on a signpost directs you down a track on the right towards the Kouros. The track soon
becomes a path and turns left into a lovely, well kept garden growing flowers of all kinds, and
mandarins, lemons and the 'citron' from which the locals produce a much prized liqueur. When I
visited the garden in 1983 many of the trees were blighted because of the severity of the preceding
winter when up to a metre of snow had fallen in certain exposed areas, a phenomenon which is
fortunately extremely rare. There is even a goldfish tank, and opposite, a small cafe providing light
refreshments. The kouros, which is unfinished and lying supine, is situated in the middle of a vineyard
approached through a tiny gate. Its proportions are considerably larger than the norm, and there is said
to be a female counterpart – a kore - somewhere in the hills to the South, but the difficulty of locating
it dissuades all but the most ardent of connoisseurs.
As you leave, immediately you reach the track, divert left onto the old road by a small chapel. This is
a much more attractive route than the dirt track, and leads down to the river which comes cascading
down a fall on the left, its water freezing cold even in midsummer. From Mili continue downhill, and
where there is another waterfall right at the side of the path, turn left. The path bends back a little, and
then descends quite steeply to the stream, which it crosses by a couple of stepping stones, and then
climbs up gradually into the very pretty village of Melanes. Assuming that you have left Naxos at a
reasonably early hour, you should have time to explore the village and have a drink before continuing
up to the high road in order to catch the 4 p.m. bus back to town.
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3. Naxos to Apollona via the Monasteries of Phaneromeni and Panagia, returning by bus through all
the villages on the East side.
In a sense from the scenic point of view the bus ride back in the evening proved the most enjoyable
part of the day. The total distance covered on foot is between 15 and 18 miles, provided that one plans
the walk on Mondays, Wednesdays or Fridays in order to take advantage of the 8 a.m. bus to Galini,
which in fact carries on as far as Engares. But although the distance may appear rather formidable, the
going is very easy, since one walks for the majority of the time on an unsurfaced dirt track which is
fortunately very little used by traffic. If you leave Engares at 8.20, allowing for stops at Phaneromeni
and for light refreshment, you should have no difficulty in reaching Apollona by 3 p.m. The
indefatigable hiker who wishes to incorporate the climbing of Mt. Phanari in the day's excursion will
need to leave Apollona immediately on the 3 p.m. bus in order to reach Apiranthos by 3.45. But the
average walker will be well content to spend 2 hours cooling off on the beach before catching the 5
p.m. bus back to Naxos. This less arduous alternative will commend itself to the photographer who
will thus be able to take advantage of the wonderfully soft evening light in which the Eastern side of
the island is bathed at this time.
Leave Engares on the main track Northwards, but as soon as the bends begin, as the road turns inland
and begins to climb the hill, branch off left and follow the sandy path which runs close to the coast,
and joins up again with the main track about a mile South of the monastery. There is a large panegyry
here on August 15, but otherwise the buildings, erected in 1606, have been deserted for years and are
in a sorry state of decay. I was fortunate in finding some labourers working in the fields nearby, one
of whom was kind enough to open up the main gate so that I could have a look inside; but even so, the
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Catholikon was locked, and I had to be content with a peep through the window. My guide while
replenishing my water bottle from a deep well situated at the East side of the church assured me that
the monastery was exceedingly rich: but unless new recruits can be speedily found I fear that the
structure will soon suffer irremediable harm.
From the monastery cut across the fields to resume the main track as it climbs slowly up to Chilia
Vrissi. Further on at Amprami, a little way down a signed track on the left is a hostel where any in
desperate need may find rest and refreshment. While washing some pears at a tap on the roadside I
was spotted by a lady in the house opposite, and invited in for a coffee and biscuits and a pleasant
chat. Having reached the heights of Abraham the road now descends, and then climbs up to the chapel
of Agi Theodori, where I received yet a second treat in the shape of a delicious bunch of grapes given
me by a man who had been gathering them from his vineyard and loading a van. All along the road
are numerous neat terraces, the soil rich and well watered by countless streams, and the produce of
excellent quality. If you take an obvious short cut on the left at the brow of the hill, be careful to turn
back right onto the main road, for otherwise you will find yourself travelling due North to the sea. A
mile or so further on at Agia is a large Venetian tower, still occupied, and below it the tiny Moni
Panagias, where I came across a large group of Greeks who had come in a bus from Philoti along with
their priest in order to do a service. The coastline is rugged and fringed with inviting bays all along
this most Northerly point of Naxos, and on the right of the road just as you reach Apollona, there is a
cement staircase which mounts to the gigantic kouros some 10.5 metres in length. Like its fellow at
Phlerio it lies supine and unfinished.
Down in the fishing village of Apollona, you will find several tavernas and a reasonable beach: but
remember that the last bus for Naxos leaves at 5 p.m. The journey back takes two hours and is very
spectacular, especially if you sit on the left side of the bus. Almost vertical villages like Koronida and
Skado cling precariously to the steep East flank of Mt. Koronos, perched one above the other, their
buildings quite dazzling in the evening sun. Around, the neatly terraced fields display the fecundity of
the soil and the unremitting toil of the hardy farmers, whilst endless miles of winding walled tracks
meander from village to village or climb down the steep-sided ravines which plunge from the
mountain into the sea. The hills are all purple and redolent with thyme, but alas also scarred with
emery mines and marble quarries, the former being especially important since they provide the only
significant supply in the whole of Greece. The minerals are transported to the sea by a remarkable
overhead cable supported by pylons.
The only one of these villages with which I have even a passing acquaintance is Apiranthos, which
retains but a shadow of its former splendour since the local quarries which were the main providers of
labour ceased to be mined on a large scale. Making a virtue of necessity, however, the inhabitants
with Odyssean resourcefulness turned from manual to intellectual pursuits, and consequently
produced several eminent writers and politicians, as well as preserving the use of the vocative case of
the definite article - a unique survival which is the source of great wonder and mirth amongst Greeks.
Perhaps the most famous of all was Protopapadakis (1858-1922) who was one of the five politicians
to be publically executed after the debacle at Smyrna in 1922, and whose statue, erected in 1962, now
stands on the quayside at Chora. The many ruined windmills which surround the town bear witness to
more prosperous times when the village supported one of the largest populations on the island. But
emery and fine quality marble are still mined - a fact to which eloquent testimony is borne by the
modern sculpture representing motherhood which now adorns the centre of the main square.
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To reach Mt. Phanari, the third highest mountain of Naxos, leave the main square in the direction of
Philoti, and turn right up St. Evangelistrias, so climbing to the edge of the town. You will pass a
church on the right, and a ruined hill on the left, after which you must look out for a sharp left turn,
since the path which continues goes only to the old quarries further South. From the summit there is a
fine panorama and you may visit the church of Panagia Phanariotissa, or Zoodochos Pigi. According
to a local tradition, coins adhere of their own accord to the icon, and secure the marriage of those for
whom one prays!
If you are running short of time, rather than returning by the same route to Apiranthos, proceed S.W.
to Chalki, the large town which you cannot fail to see nestling in the valley at the foot of the
mountain. The last bus to Naxos passes through just after 6 p.m.
4. The monastery of Panagia Drosiani at Moni, Chalki, Tsingalario, Pano Kastro, Ano Potamia, Mesi
Potamia and Kato Potamia.
Take the 9.30 a.m. bus to Chalki, and from there walk up the road which is signposted to Moni. In
about 50 minutes, just before you reach the village you will find the small chapel of Panagia Drosiani
sheltering amid the trees on the right of the road. It contains several ancient murals depicting the
Virgin and Child as well as various other saints, and there is also a curious side chapel again with
frescoes on the North aisle. On the South side of the chapel is a water tap, while immediately opposite
on the other side of the road is a path which descends by stream and is pleasantly shaded by
oleanders, plane trees and many other varieties. You even have to watch your step to avoid getting a
soaking in boggy patches – a very rare event indeed in Greece in mid-summer. The rocks are marked
with red spots, but about ½ hour after diverting to visit a small chapel on the right I lost them, and in a
further ½ hour I found myself back in Chalki, where I stopped for a lunch of yoghurt and orange
juice.
From Chalki take the road to Tsingalario, and on arrival at the village turn right up the hill, and then
left on the old track to Potamia. (If you want to avoid Pano Kastro and travel more easily, turn left,
and simply follow the dirt track direct to Potamia.) Pano Kastro was the mediaeval capital of the
island, and you will soon see its ruins perched high on the hill straight ahead. I met an old woman
who assured me that her grandfather told tales of the Queen going up there in a chariot - a feat at
which the imagination boggles. For now the place is a wilderness of scrub and arid rock, inhabited
only by lizards and wild goats. To find one's way down is not particularly easy, especially since the
villages of Potamia are not visible. But the rocks are not too precipitous, and if you take a bearing
S.W. you should reach the dirt track from Tsingalario just before it enters Ano Potamia Take the path
to the left just before the houses begin, and you will be able to continue downstream through the three
adjoining villages known as Ano, Mesi and Kato Potamia The path is wonderfully shaded by
luxuriant trees, and by its side there run rivulets from which you will be tempted to drink copiously
and often. All kinds of fruits abound - at Ano I was given plums, and at Mesi a delightfully refreshing
karpouzi at a house on the left opposite an old water mill, now converted to domestic use. The stream
runs right underneath, making the room wonderfully cool in summer, and then continues through the
garden where two young girls were washing their hair in it. If you wish to follow the path down to
Kato Potamia, take the Odos Mylon (left) and you will have the stream by your side for most of the
way. From Kato continue following the stream until you reach a dried up river bed running N.S. Turn
right into this and walk by its side until eventually you must climb up onto the dirt track about ½ mile
before it reaches the junction to Melanes, where you will be able to pick up the 4 p.m. bus back to
Naxos.
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AMORGOS
Amorgos, the most Easterly of the Cyclades, is a long narrow island orientated N.E. - S.W. and lying
almost midway between Piraeus and Rhodes. Hence the journey from either takes between 13 and 17
hours, depending on the route taken, the state of the sea, and the cargo to be loaded and discharged at
each stop. Even from Naxos, its closest neighbour, the crossing can take up to 9 hours if there is a
heavy swell and all the intervening islands are included in the itinerary. Both harbours, Katapola
about the centre of the island, and Egiali in the North, are on the N.W. coast, since the S.E. coast is
extremely precipitous and has no real anchorage, while its Northern shores have several deep inlets,
and are protected somewhat by the rocky, uninhabited islet of Nikouria. A high ridge runs down the
spine of the island, culminating in three peaks, the highest, Krikelos (2560) in the North, Prophetes
Elias (2410) in the centre, and Korax (1890) in the South; and because of the island's elongated shape,
the walker will need to base himself at Egiali in order to see the North, and at Katapola to see the
South - or alternatively at Chora, the capital, which is situated astride the ridge at an altitude of well
over 1000' and rather closer to the South coast. The two ports are connected almost daily by boats and
caiques, but one may walk from one to the other comfortably in 3½ - 4 hours by the old mule path
over the central plateau, whilst a new road at present under construction will, one imagines, when
surfaced, ultimately have a regular bus service. Both Katapola, Egiali and Chora have rooms to let
either in private houses or small hotels, and likewise all three have a variety of good tavernas where
the food, especially the fish, is of excellent quality and cheap.
Because of its ideal size, its dramatic scenery, and the abundance of attractive villages, Amorgos is
still a walker's paradise. As a consequence of the absence of roads, the footpaths and mule tracks are
kept in a good state of repair, the latter generally being handsomely paved with marble, while the
worst excesses of tourism have been mercifully avoided, so that the villages have retained all their
original character and charm, and their inhabitants that ingenuous curiosity and warm hospitality
which is still one of the chief delights of visiting Greece. There has survived also that touching pride
and affection for the 'patrida' which is the essence of true patriotism, and which is epitomised in the
following charming anecdote. The Miaoulis, sole survivor of four boats given to Greece by the
Italians in reparation for their invasion of 1941, used to be owned by the Nomikos family, founders of
a once famous shipping line, and still a name to be reckoned with on the island. Its captain, a proud
son of Egiali, is reputed to be so devoted to his birthplace, that each time his ship leaves the harbour
he sings a fond farewell to his homeland over the ship's microphone. The conclusion that in order to
engineer such passionate loyalty an island must be very special indeed will be warmly endorsed by all
who have had the good fortune to make its acquaintance in however superficial and transitory a
manner.
Of the following five excursions the first two are based in Katapola, and the last three on Egiali; and it
is hoped that they will prove to each walker as rewarding and enjoyable as they did to the author, and
that they will reveal at least some of the island's many hidden treasures.
Katapola, clustering cheerfully around the head of its deep gulf, and girded around by gently curving
hills, is a good base from which to explore the central and southern regions of Amorgos. One can
limber up for the more lengthy expeditions by a short trip to Lefkes, a hamlet perched above the bay
immediately to the South of Katapola, or by searching for the ruins of Marmara and Minoa, about
whose location I received such contradictory information as to end up totally bewildered as to the
whereabouts of either. If however, you take the path to the right of the main church and wind up the
river bed (dry), you may well find a mulberry tree absolutely laden with the most succulent fruit,
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which I still remember stripping with such avidity that my hands and arms were soon stained bloodred with their abundant juice. Thus fortified, turn right and toil up the steep knoll of the hill on which
are scattered several old houses whose masonry could certainly be Mycenaean or even older. One
such is supported by a central stone pillar, tapering towards its base in Minoan style, whilst others
have fascinating ovens with flues and strange serving hatches to adjacent rooms, and slit windows
narrowing towards the outside for the sake of cool and defence. The breeze on the hilltop is
exquisitely refreshing, and you can work round to the other hill midway between Katapola and Lefkes
which possesses evident fortification and also a small Christian chapel. From here a beautifully
constructed path returns to the town, emerging as the Odos Vrutsi - the village to which it ultimately
leads.
l. Chora and the Monastery of Panagia Chozoviotissa.
The path to Chora begins in the olive grove left (N) of the new motor road, and after a while it
emerges onto a cinder track which passes the rubbish dump on the right. Shortly afterwards, where it
takes a sharp right bend and proceeds to zigzag up the hillside, continue straight on, following a
delightful path which winds up the right side of the ravine, passing several drinking troughs. (V. plan
infra.) It was at one of these that in 1979 I learnt some fascinating examples of Amorgos folklore,
which though they may be scorned by some as idle superstition, are certainly the product of years of
empirical observation, and hence likely to be just as accurate as more scientific forms of
prognostication. For example, if the Pounentis brings mist between August 4 and 12, it is a sure sign
of winter rains, and hence the occasion for much rejoicing. Likewise the seeds on the asphodel stalks
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indicate how plentiful will be the subsequent olive and almond crop, whilst other plants can predict
the yield of milk from cows etc.
KATAPOLA AND ENVIRONS
Chora, which like so many mediaeval capitals is completely invisible from its port, is a charming
town of winding streets shaded by trellised vines, tiny squares ablaze with oleander and acacia,
irregular chapels encrusted with centuries of immaculate whitewash, and dozens of friendly tavernas
and coffee shops. Women can still be seen spinning wool on the distaff, free-range chickens strut
about the streets, and mules and donkeys still remain the commonest form of transport.
The path to the monastery begins at the far end of the village just after the Primary and Secondary
Schools, opposite which there stands the headless statue of a woman who gave the money for the new
road, of which the schoolmaster strongly disapproves. The path turns right and then zigzags down the
steep cliff face, commanding superb views of the turquoise and blue sea. Once you reach the new
road, turn left and the road soon becomes a path climbing steeply to the precipitous ledge to which the
monastery clings like some gigantic, white limpet.
Its unusual name - Panagia Chozoviotissa - is said to derive from Chozova a place in the Holy Lands
whence monks were expelled during the fierce iconoclastic persecutions of the ninth century. The site
commended itself to the exiled brethren because of its striking resemblance to their original abode,
and because a mason's chisel was discovered on the very spot where it was eventually founded, after
an abortive attempt to build it lower down the cliff. After being pillaged by bandits it was renovated
by the Emperor Alexis Comnenos I between 1080 and 1088, and now contains an amazing 65 rooms,
none of which is wider than 15', such being the width of the ledge above and below which the cliff
rises and falls vertically to a height of well over 1000'! The place is dedicated to the Entry of Our
Lady into the Temple, and thus celebrates on November 21; but it also contains a small chapel to St.
Gerasimos who lived by the Jordan, and whose feast day is March 4. There is a full complement of 8
monks, and visitors, provided that they are seemly clad, are always welcomed with the utmost
courtesy, receiving the customary coffee, loukoumi and ouzo. When I first visited the monastery in
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1979, a certain monk called Spyridon from Langada in the north of the island was entertaining his
family in the refectory on a long narrow table spread with a sumptuous feast. My three companions
and I were invited to join them, but having brought our own supply of food we politely declined.
Notwithstanding, we were presented with wonderful hard bread, olives and grapes, and gallons of
water, the latter being especially welcome in view of the fierce heat. After the customary
refreshments, visitors are shown round the chapel, whose icon of the Virgin is much revered both for
its antiquity - it was either brought from Palestine by the founding fathers, or according to a variant
tradition arrived here of its own accord in a wooden chest - and also for its miraculous powers. Also
displayed in the chapel, and now in the protection of a small box, is the aforementioned chisel, alleged
to have fallen onto the chapel roof on October 16, 1952, the very day on which state officials began to
implement the law authorizing the confiscation of monastic lands for distribution amongst the poor.
Naturally the monks did not hesitate to interpret the event as a sign of Our Lady's grave displeasure at
this unwarrantable intrusion upon her property. There is also a Treasury containing relics, invaluable
illuminated MSS, sacred vestments, jewelled crosses and the original chrysobull of Alexis Comnenos.
The view from the chapel roof over the limitless ocean should not be missed.
The monastery generally closes for siesta at 2 p.m. Walkers bound for Egiali should leave by the path
running past the well and thence N.E. along the cliff. There is no alternative route to Chora except
along the motor road: but an alternative path thence to Katapola is described in section 4 of this
chapter.
2. Lefkes, Vigles, Vrutsi, Arkesini, Kolofana.
This is a long walk which embraces all the villages in the Southern part of the island, and could also
include a visit to the ruins of ancient Arkesini at Kastri, as well as the ascent of Mt. Korax. The return
is by the same route: but those whose strength is spent may avail themselves of a 'bus' which leaves
Kolofana in the afternoon, and returns to Katapola via Chora.
Leave Katapola by a staircase marked Odos Vrutsi which begins just South of the arched building on
the waterfront near where the big boats dock. On the right is St Nicholas' church; and if you leave
before the sun is up, you may well find low clouds encircling the surrounding hills, and a consequent
humidity which can make the steep climb rather exhausting. Your efforts will be rewarded, however,
if you reach the summit, as I did, just as the Sun peeps over the hills that hide Chora, due East,
suffusing the dusky sky with its pale glow, and sending a shaft of light directly upon the white cross
that surmounts the dome of the tiny chapel on the left, whose simple silhouette is now etched in bold
relief against the still sombre hills behind.
The forlorn hamlet of Lefkes has but three surviving inhabitants, a man and two women, and is less
than a mile distant from the brow of the hill. You are assured, however, of a touching if rather
apologetic welcome, and will have a chance to replenish your water bottles before descending the
valley in which a stream flows even after a protracted period of drought. If the clouds still persist, the
countryside is very reminiscent of Scotland or Wales, gaunt hills topped with swirling mist, buzzards
gliding and wheeling overhead with consummate grace, with the odd lizard scampering across the
rocks just to prove that one is still in the Mediterranean. From the streambed the path climbs up
steeply to Agia Thelka, descends again, and then ascends much more gently past Vigles to reach
Vrutsi in 1½-2 hours. Just before you arrive you will pass through the hamlet of Kamari which sells a
very fine brand of lemonade especially effective in quenching the thirst which your exertions will
have doubtless produced. Vrutsi lies just over the brow of the hill, and as you enter the village you
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will notice on the right a small path signed 'Kastri - Archaia Arkesini' - the site of one of the three
classical cities of Amorgos, near which is a well preserved Hellenistic tower. Be aware, however, that
you will be obliged to toil back up the hillside to rejoin the lovely path which contours skilfully
around the terraces beyond Vrutsi before descending to the plateau of Arkesini with its large fertile
fields and well-fed cattle. On the outskirts of the village my three comrades and l first sampled
Amorgos Frangosyka i.e. prickly pears, which are so highly regarded that they are even exported to
Athens. Later there followed a plate of delicious figs, a mild and soft textured cheese known as
'misithra', bread baked from a mixture of wheat and barley, paximadi, coffee and water - in fact a
veritable feast served with the utmost gentility, and as always with profuse apologies from our
charming hosts for their inability to offer anything better. The bread and paximadi had been made in a
curious oven built across the corner of the room inside a cupboard with brown wooden doors; and as a
parting gift of friendship, one of our number was presented, much to his delight and astonishment,
with a beautifully carved walking stick made from wild cypress wood. Should you fail to receive
hospitality on like scale, Arkesini has a restaurant run in fact by one of the sons of our generous host,
Theodoros and his wife Ourania. From here a dusty track goes down and down to Kolofana, with little
to commend it except a magnificent wild vine parasitic upon a fig tree in a hollow just to the right of
the road. A little further down on the left is a chapel to the Virgin, and just beyond it you will find a
very strategically placed well, where you may wash the succulent, dusky grapes and satisfy your
raging thirst.
As I remarked earlier, it is possible to return by bus; but be warned that unless in the meantime the
road has been surfaced, the journey could easily prove far greater an ordeal than the return on foot.
The vehicle which had been described to us as a bus was in fact a lorry stacked with a multitude of
chairs and tables which had already sustained considerable damage when we boarded in Arkesini.
After a quarter of an hour's nerve-wracking and bone-shaking torture, as the ill-sprung wagon lurched
from pothole to precipice, even the least enthusiastic walker in our quartet was considerably relieved
to escape from the choking dust and pungent fumes into the pure fresh air and relative stability of the
footpath. Indeed when one knows the route, the return journey in the cool of the evening can be a
sheer delight, with the additional bonus of glorious views back westwards along the deeply indented
coastline, the silver sea sparkling in the rich, warm beams of the setting sun, and the naked, muscular
hills now clad in soft, dark shadow.
3. Egiali, Tholaria and Langada.
Egiali, or Ormos, i.e. the Port, as it is often referred to, is a charming, rapidly developing community,
which on August 5-6 celebrates the Feast of the Transfiguration with much jollity, the singing and
dancing being accompanied by violin and lyra, a rather large version of the bouzouki with 6 strings. A
particularly moving dance which I saw there in 1983 described the miraculous recovery of a spongediver paralysed by 'the bends': and in fact many of the dances performed were of local provenance.
There is a good bakery only two minutes' walk from the shore, and several good tavernas where one
may eat fish fresh from the sea whilst watching the sun sink slowly into the ocean, or being serenaded
by guitar and clarinet in the soft, romantic light of oil lamps, when as often happens the recently
installed electricity generator fails under the still unfamiliar strain of tourism.
North of Egiali and nestling in a fold of the hills lies the friendly village of Tholaria with its imposing
if rather disproportionately large church. A road is under construction; but it is quicker and infinitely
more enjoyable to go by the old path, which begins exactly where the sand ends at the Northern edge
of the bay, and in a few minutes crosses the new road, and thence continues to rise gently, affording
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wonderful views of the whole bay and all the broad, well cultivated valley. Frangosyka and figs
abound, and after about ½ hour just before you reach the village there is a well on the left of the path
to serve the needs of both man and beast. In the main square you will find an excellent restaurant,
where on my first visit a certain Yianni, a violinist and chorister in the adjacent church, treated us not
only to a section of the liturgy, but to half a kilo of retsina to boot! Our appetite thus whetted, we
relished some succulent grilled lamb, served with a first rate village salad which included an
ingredient seldom added nowadays – capers.
From Tholaria the path contours round beautifully to Langada, the principal village of the area, the
journey taking some 45-50 minutes. Just before you arrive be careful to take a left turn uphill, or you
will fall down into the ravine and perforce toil out of it with some difficulty. At this point is another
well with wonderfully cool water, and in no time at all you will reach the well-tended haven of the
village. Its streets are a riot of hibiscus, gerania and bougainvillea, both the purple and the much rarer
pillar-box red variety, and an air of genial prosperity emanates from the crisp, neat houses and
immaculately whitewashed churches. High up on the acropolis the wind whispers softly through the
pine trees, whose ceaseless motion mirrors the busy activity of the village folk below, whose kindness
and generosity is unfailing. One of them invited me into his house even while his womenfolk were
still abed, that I might savour figs freshly gathered in the morning dew, and approve his home-brewed
retsina, a sparkling, mellow vintage of three years, with both the colour and the texture of honey!
To complete the round trip back to Egiali, as you leave the village turn off left down the old track
which is walled, broad, and neatly paved with marble. About half way down on the right is a curious
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shelter, where the weary may rest a while on their homeward way from the port. The whole walk is
only some 6 miles and very simple, and yet filled with manifold delights which should whet the
appetite for the following two slightly longer and more arduous excursions.
4. Egiali, Potamos, Exomeria, Monastery of Chozoviotissa, Chora and Katapola
This walk of 12-14 miles is best begun in the early morning, so that the initial climb is not too
fatiguing, and so that the return journey from Katapola may be done in the afternoon by boat.
Alternatively one could avoid Katapola and instead climb Mt. Prophetes Elias from Chora and return
thence to Egiali by the new road which travels at a much lower height and far nearer to the coast.
Leave Egiali by the track which climbs South to the village of Potamos whose two communities, the
upper and the lower, cling precariously to the steep mountainside. From here the path continues to
ascend diagonally, finally reaching the saddle at the tiny, windswept chapel of Agios Mamas which is
perched on the cliff edge overlooking the sea and the rocky, uninhabited island of Nikouria. On the
way up I met a solitary shepherd returning to his flocks in Exomeria, after spending the weekend in
Langada with his family, who as was their wont, had loaded his donkey with provisions for the week
which included a demijohn of wine and a large supply of luscious peaches which I was soon
privileged to sample. Once having reached the cliff-top the path descends a little to the centre of a
rocky plateau from which in about ¾ ml a small path branches off to the left and descends to the small
fishing hamlet of Chalara. About a kilometre further on one reaches on the right the chapel of St
Nicholas, just before which down a track on the left is a deep well with wonderfully cool water
especially recommended by the shepherd. All this region is known as Exomeria and is devoted almost
exclusively to sheep farming. In a little while one passes through a gate and begins to ascend from the
plateau up a hillside whose summit on the right is crowned with a trig point, while on the left is a
large wall, and higher up on the saddle some telegraph poles. From here the path now swings round
towards the West, where the new road and the coast soon become visible; and then it contours round
the hill, swinging back S.W. and climbing slowly until it finally descends to meet the road. The latter
traverses the N. flank of Mt. Prophetes Elias, whereas the path continues straight on towards the sea,
following the cliff edge on the mountain's Southern flank. In a few moments the white, irregular shape
of the monastery will appear in the distance about two miles away, perched on its precarious ledge
and squashed close up to the rock face. It disappears from sight, and instead on the skyline you will
observe some curiously shaped standing stones. Make towards these and pass over a patch of scree,
and suddenly the monastery looms up in all its glittering glory.
The total walking time is in the region of three hours, so that if you set off reasonably early you will
have ample time to inspect the monastery and enjoy its hospitality before it closes for siesta at about 2
p.m. The route back to Chora is very clear, and as you mount the zigzag causeway you will notice at
least two places on the right where you may avoid the rather circuitous bend, at the expense of a short,
sharp climb. From Chora you have the choice of either climbing Prophetes Elias, or descending to
Katapola by the road or by the path described in (1). There is yet a third possibility which may appeal
to those who share the author's dislike of returning by the same route. Leaving the village by the main
road, take the path on the left at the first bend, cross some cultivated fields with vines etc., and
clamber down onto a path enclosed by two walls and running S.W. Follow this down for about ten
minutes, but where it divides turn sharp right into the stream bed. Cross over the stream and continue
descending, and either follow the river bed which is generally quite dry, or cross over to the left bank,
and after a slight climb drop down onto the main road to Katapola. Here you will generally find a boat
leaving for Egiali about 4 p.m. The trip takes about 1½ hours, and makes a delightful close to the day,
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reaching Egiali just as the sun begins to sink, bathing the encircling hills and villages in its rich
evening light.
5. Langada, Agios Theologos, Mt. Krikelos (2560'), Stavros and the N.E. cliffs.
Leave Egiali by the Langada road, but a few minutes from the shore turn right in the direction of
Potamos, and then immediately left up the well paved track described in (3). Langada, like so many
mediaeval towns, is completely hidden from sight from the sea by a craggy knoll, but you will reach it
easily by the direct path in 45 minutes. When I did this walk in August 1983 clouds were racing
across the sky, driven by a fresh N. breeze, and by the time I reached the summit of Krikelos visibility
was restricted to a few yards, and the temperature distinctly chilly, so that neither compass nor
sweater were superfluous to requirements. You will also need to carry water - or a hot flask if the
weather threatens to be inclement.
The path you require leaves N.E. from the village, and after 5 minutes swings round due East (right).
On the left in the ravine you will notice the ruins of an old village which was abandoned after severe
earthquake damage in 1956. In about half a mile the main path continues straight on to the Chapel of
the Virgin, whose smart blue dome you will have observed sparkling in the sunlight. But where the
path divides you must turn right and in about ten minutes cross over the head of the ravine which you
have been following on the left, and continue slowly to climb the hillside. Looking back one enjoys
splendid views of Langada on the left, and Tholaria on the right; and between the two the long green
valley sweeps down to the sea, and beyond lies the now familiar shape of the islet of Nikouria. In the
distance one can see Donoussa and on clear days even Naxos. In a short while where the path forks,
turn left: for the right branch goes directly up to the summit of Krikelos, whilst another track
diverging from the latter reaches Stavros, but by a difficult route through gates and fields etc. Soon
you will pass a small chapel on the right, after which there shortly appears the castle-like chapel of the
Theologos, occupying a low eminence on the left, and commanding an extensive view in all
directions. A path on the left leads up to the chapel, which contains several damaged frescoes, aisles
both N. and S. and in the S. a staircase leading aloft. Strewn around are extensive ruins of chapels and
other buildings, several threshing floors and terraces, numerous high walls, all giving the impression
that there was once quite a sizeable community hereabouts.
Resuming the main track proceed E., but then follow a high wall round to the right, i.e. S. rather than
continuing straight on along a track which rapidly deteriorates and finally goes down to the sea.
Follow the wall uphill for exactly 300 paces, and then turn left, i.e. E., and this track leads on directly
to Stavros. If, however, you wish to climb Krikelos, continue along the wall S. and then branch off
left up the gully which leads to the summit in about ½ hour. The mountain used to be covered with
immense forest, but it was all destroyed in a disastrous fire early in the nineteenth century, so that
now one's only shelter from the elements is a rough sheep pen. Should low cloud obscure visibility, a
due E. compass bearing will take you in about 20 minutes to the chapel of Stavros, behind which there
towers a windswept pyramid of rock surmounted by a wooden cross. Here you have a choice of either
ascending this and proceeding along the terrifying cliff Eastwards, descending by the steep zigzag to
the old mines, or returning to Theologos by what must surely rank as the most spectacular cliff walk
in the whole of Greece. The tiny path begins at the chapel at a height of over 2000' and picks its way
from rock to rock along the awe-inspiring precipice. Sheer, yawning chasms of grey rock hang
perpendicularly over the azure sea which thunders below, perpetually pounding at the massive cliffs
and drenching the rocks in foaming cataracts. Both the incomparable grandeur of the scene and the
staggering force of the wind will commend a measured pace for the ensuing two miles.
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CHAPTER IX: IKARIA, SAMOS, PATMOS
IKARIA
As its alternative classical name 'Doliche' suggests, Ikaria is a long, narrow island, lying between
Mykonos in the West and Samos on the East, and orientated diagonally SW-NE. But despite its
narrowness, communications between the South and North coasts are very slow, since a rugged and
deeply scored mountain chain rising uniformly to a height of well above 3000' forms a formidable
natural barrier effectively isolating the various communities from each other. Indeed so steep is the
terrain, and consequently so tortuous are the roads that it is often almost as quick to travel on foot,
while sea transport, as one would expect, is generally the simplest and most economic means of
travelling from one place to another.
The island has sometimes suffered from invidious comparisons with its close neighbour, Samos,
whose fertility and verdure have been justly famed from antiquity. In fact, however, Ikaria also is well
watered and far from barren. Dense and well preserved forests cover much of its area, greatly
enhancing its beauty, as indeed do also the clouds, which, especially in the morning and early
evening, shroud the high summits in wreathes of swirling mist, adding a further touch of mystery and
magic to a landscape already full of majesty and enchantment. Homer's two stock epithets for the
island, 'ichthousa' and 'oinousa' - abounding in fish and in wine, are still today equally applicable,
fishing and viticulture still being two of the principal occupations, and the local wine, if you are lucky
enough to get it, being in my opinion infinitely preferable to the much more celebrated Samian.
To foreign tourism the island is as yet comparatively unexposed, while to Greeks it is known almost
exclusively for its radioactive springs, whose therapeutic powers are beyond question. Of the several
testimonies to their efficacy which I heard during my brief stay on the island in 1981, by far the most
convincing as well as curiously apposite was that given by an air pilot. Having sustained severe spinal
injuries as a result of a parachuting accident, and having undergone years of traditional treatment at
the most prestigious orthopaedic hospitals in Europe, all to no avail, after a fortnight's bathing in the
scalding waters he miraculously regained mobility, and now returns annually to walk the length and
breadth of the island in gratitude for his astonishing recovery. As most readers will have already
deduced, Ikaria is named after Ikaros, Daedalos' hapless son, whose reckless enthusiasm for flying led
him to neglect his father's wise advice, lose his wings by approaching too close to the Sun, and thus
crash to an untimely, watery grave in the Ikarian Sea. What more fitting recompense could the gods
devise, than that the island which had been the scene of the first air disaster in the annals of
aeronautics should offer healing and new life to the victim of a contemporary one?
The radioactive springs are all either within Agios Kirykos, the capital, or in its immediate vicinity,
and here one can find abundant accommodation at hotels and boarding houses which range from the
extremely opulent to the barely basic. The largest bathing establishment of all, however, is at Therma,
situated about 1½ miles NE; and for the benefit of the infirm and severely disabled, a flotilla of small
motor boats awaits the arrival of steamers to convey passengers thither by sea rather than by the much
more circuitous land route. In order to gain a representative sample of the whole island, the walker
will need to base himself for 2 or 3 days at Agios Kirykos, whence he may conveniently explore the
S.E. coast; for 2 or 3 days at Evdelos, which lies about half way along the N. coast: and finally for 3
or 4 days at Armenistis, which offers the best access to the wild western section of the island. From
Agios Kirykos an infrequent bus service operates along the S. coast as far West as Plagia and a much
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more regular service crosses the mountains and penetrates the Northern coastal region to Evdelos, and
thence as far West as Armenistis, the total travelling time amounting to a staggering 4 hours! Exciting
though the journey is, and undoubtedly spectacular the scenery, with a modicum of luck and good
planning, travellers may prefer to depart from the island by embarking either at Evdelos, or less
frequently at Armenistis, whence ships sail both East to Samos and West back to Piraeus. Be warned,
however, that boat schedules are subject to sudden changes and infinite modification so that you
would be well advised to check with the Harbour Master before committing yourself to buying a
ticket.
Because of the great proliferation of paths, and the notorious tendency to lose one's bearings in
forests, and walk round in circles, it is imperative always to carry a compass and map. Moreover,
extremely high winds, the height of the mountains, and the suddenness with which they can become
totally enveloped in clouds, make the carrying of warm clothing equally essential. These hazards
apart, the island on the credit side offers plentiful shade, a plethora of delightful villages, abundant
water at temperatures ranging from scalding hot to freezing cold, and hospitality on a truly Homeric
scale.
Of the following nine excursions, the first three are based on Agios Kirykos, the next two on Evdelos,
and the last four on Armenistis.
1. Panagia, Mavrato, Oxea, Kataphygi, Mavrikato, Therma.
This is an exhilarating circular walk done clockwise from Agios Kirykos, comprising the above six
villages, involving a good deal of climbing, and taking approximately 4 hours. But because of the
proximity of the villages one need carry no provisions or water, and most of the route lies in well
shaded forest.
Leave Agios Kirykos by the main road running N, but after a few minutes take the old paved road on
the left which reaches the hamlet of Panagia in about ¼ hour. At the fork by the cafe take the left
branch, as the right one goes directly to Therma. Almost immediately, ascend a stairway on the right,
and where in a moment the path divides, take the right fork going uphill. Just before the top of the hill
the path turns right along a terrace, and in a minute emerges onto the motor road by a concrete water
cistern. Turning left follow the road for a few yards uphill, and then resume the path which exits on
the left, and in about 10 minutes again joins up with the main road. Follow the latter for about 5
minutes, and again turn off left and ascend steeply to reach Mavrato in a further 10 minutes. As you
leave the village look out for a path, again on the left, which brings you in ten minutes to Oxea, the
highest village in the whole area. By now you will have been walking for about 1¼ hours. Continue
along the road for about 5 minutes, and then turn off on the dirt track to the right, and take the short
cut on the right descending the gully into the village of Kataphygi, which boasts both an Archaic
Acropolis and tombs of the Classical period. Avoid the road on the left, which I assume goes to
Kerame on the coast, but go down right, and after a few yards take a sharp right turn to descend the
gorge to Mavrikato, as the village which clings to the opposite side of the valley is called. From here
the path continues to wind down pleasantly, flanked by prolific fig trees, and eventually meeting the
dirt track which is signed below as leading to the OTE installation, high up on the ridge North of
Kataphygi. Just after Therma comes fully into sight, look out on the left for a rock marked with a red
line indicating the existence of a useful track which avoids all the tedious zigzags of the road, which it
crosses twice, continuing directly opposite.
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Therma has a large bathing establishment, and you will be at first both perplexed and amused to see
patients of all ages walking around in the heat of the day, totally enveloped in huge bathing towels,
their heads carefully shrouded in order to avoid catching cold after emerging from the boiling waters
of the radioactive springs. From Therma a path leads back to Agios Kirykos along the coast, the
journey taking only about ½ hour. Just West of Therma you will find a lovely cove with both sand and
rocks, and inviting turquoise sea A little further along the path is a huge quarry which has almost
demolished a deserted church on the left.
If you leave Agios Kirykos reasonably early, you will return easily in time for lunch: but if you wish,
it is possible to eat at Therma and spend the afternoon on the beach
2. Agios Panteleimon, Christos, Glarides, Therma Levkados, Monastery of Evangelismos.
This is a pleasant evening walk which can be easily completed in 2½ - 3 hours, and which takes in
several pretty villages in the hills to the West of Agios Kirykos. Take the well paved path which
ascends on the right just after the Gymnasion, and in ½ hour reaches Agios Panteleimon. Emerging
onto the road turn left, and after a few paces left again down an attractive path which descends the
ravine. On reaching the motor road proceed a few paces, and on the right you will find a staircase
which gives access to a path leading to Christos, whose conspicuous church is perched high on a rock
to the South. Again the path turns off right, and eventually enters a lovely pine wood before reaching
the village of Glarides. From here it is best to follow the motor road down towards the coast, cutting
off just the last few bends by fairly obvious paths. Turn right and head for the Convent of the
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Annunciation of the Virgin - Evangelismos - which lies just off the main road on the right, where
there is a sign advising visitors that the water is to be used only for the animals. I myself missed the
turn off, and reached the rather inhospitable village of Xylosyrtes, whose bright dome I had
erroneously believed to be that of the Convent. However, although the latter was officially closed by
the time that I arrived, a kind nun opened up for me so that I could visit the small chapel. To avoid
returning by the same route, and also the necessity of yet more climbing, one may follow the simple
coastal road all the way back to Agios Kirykos.
3. Perdiki and Tower of Drakanon (Phanari).
The main objective of this walk is to see the island's most impressive Classical ruin, the Hellenistic
Tower of Drakanon which is situated on the Eastern extremity of the island, where it may well have
served as a lighthouse. It is possible to save both time and energy by taking the Evdelos bus, and
alighting just before the OTE installation, where the rough track leads down to Perdiki. Likewise it is
more than likely that you will be able to return from the harbour of Pharos by boat, thus reducing the
homeward journey to less than an hour, and saving you the long, hard trek back to Perdiki on foot,
and the equally intransigent problem of catching the bus back from there to Agios Kirykos, when the
timetable is so unpredictable.
A bus is scheduled to leave for Evdelos at 9.30 a.m., but it is not uncommon for its departure to be
considerably delayed. It takes about 20 minutes from the point where the old mule track diverges from
the carriageway in order to reach the village of Perdiki. Immediately after the Community Centre
where the road bifurcates, take the right fork, but branch off almost immediately on the left down a
path descending the ravine, and then ascending onto the main road, to continue running parallel to it
but on the opposite side in a mainly Easterly direction. After a while one must join the road, but the
latter soon degenerates into a path, affording lovely views of the North coast before swinging inland
Southwards to reach the scattered community of Pharos. This being the flattest area of the whole
island, there are plans to build an airstrip here, so do not be surprised if by the time you visit it, the
whole character of the area is changed beyond recognition. The path to the Tower runs N.E. from the
village, skirting round the hill which is surmounted by a guard post built during the 1939-1945 war. In
about ten minutes the path turns N. (sharp left) and in another 10 minutes the huge circular tower
comes into view. The masonry is exceptionally well preserved, especially when one considers its
exposed position and its antiquity - for it was built in the third century B.C. and the foundations have
slipped only in one obvious place. If you plan to return by boat, at the junction before you reach the
village turn left, and you will reach the harbour in about 10 minutes. The beach here is quite pleasant
and certainly not likely to be overcrowded.
4. Evdelos and Kampos (Oinon)
The bus journey from Agios Kirykos is quite spectacular, there being several deep ravines to traverse,
and the whole area being covered with luxuriant scrub in a dozen different shades of green. Since the
road climbs to a great height, and the clouds that sail over the jagged peaks are often at a lower
altitude, the impression created is more akin to that of being in an aeroplane rather than on a bus.
Evdelos is quite a pretty village with steep, narrow, cobbled streets, several tavernas overlooking the
harbour, and one quite capacious hotel known as Toulas. On August 23 there is a panegyry of rather a
special kind, the focus being on athletic competition rather than religion. Aquatic events take place in
the morning in the harbour, and the track and field events in the cool of the evening on the shore at
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Phytema a mile or so to the West; presumably because quite literally this is the only flat space in the
whole area. After sunset the traditional feasting begins, to be followed later by dancing, and in 1981
the proceeds went not as usual to the Church, but towards paying for the strengthening of the sea wall
against the dynamic and destructive force of the waves that continually pound the breakwater with
menacing fury. The explanation for the rather unusually secular nature of the feast may possibly be
political, since Ikaria's proclivity towards Communism is everywhere demonstrated by an abundance
of KKE slogans, and has led to the island's being jocularly dubbed 'to kokkino nisi' i.e. 'the red island'.
Exactly wherein lies the explanation for Ikaria's unswerving allegiance to Marxist Philosophy is a
mystery which I failed to fathom: but be it said to the island's credit that the standards achieved in
both the athletic and the dancing competitions, entry to which was restricted exclusively to natives of
the island, was significantly higher than I have observed elsewhere in Greece in recent years, the
capital not excepted.
As I observed above, all the athletic events are held on the sandy football pitch at Phytema, in a
setting very reminiscent of Patroklos' Funeral Games as described by Homer in Iliad XXIII 300 ff.
Medallions were given as prizes and the victors stood on podia to receive them at the hands of
distinguished sons of Ikaria. As for the dances, several were reserved for the children present, who
performed them with charming skill and evident delight. Later on two youths executed with
convincing ardour some very erotic convolutions, in the course of which one suddenly leapt up into
the groin of his seductive partner, and fastening himself there with legs tightly crossed, remained in
this suggestive posture for several minutes, while bodies and limbs intertwined, wreathing and leaping
in an ecstasy of passionate union! Another memorable and extremely vigorous dance was performed
by a team of young 'palikaris' under the direction of a leader who simulated punishment with a whip if
they failed to comply exactly and immediately with his exigent demands!
To reach Kampos from Evdelos requires but a half hour's walk Westwards; and since the road is
constructed at considerable elevation above the shore, the monotony of walking on a metalled surface
is relieved by fine views over the sea. Kampos is the site of ancient Oinon, Ikaria's capital in Classical
times, and hard by the cafe one finds a small Museum containing several interesting exhibits, and
supervised by an informative and charming curator to whom I am indebted for much of the following
information. It appears that Ikaria's long devotion to Democracy won her favour in Athens' eyes, so
that during the period of the Delian League, despite supporting a population of 50,000, Oinon paid
only 100 drachmae annually in tribute, and Thermae only 50! Unfortunately very little survives of the
once flourishing city, since the ruins were extensively pillaged for building purposes during the
intervening years. For example, in the Museum one sees a headless statue of a goddess who was
clearly decapitated to form the gable stone of a roof. Of the various objects ranging from Neolithic
tools to Hellenistic jewellery, some of the most curious are some small vases designed to collect the
tears of wives who wept for their absents lords, and presumably kept the contents as proof of their
devoted loyalty and measure of their disconsolate grief! Adjacent to the Museum is the 11th century
church of Agia Ireni, on whose walls there remain faint traces of murals now covered in whitewash,
whilst outside there stands an inscription recording Julius Caesar's planting of a colony of Veterans in
the hope of supplementing the island's severely depleted population.
5. The Castle of Nikaria via the villages of Akamatra, Daphni, Steli, Kosikia and Xanthi.
The tenth century Castle of Nikaria, the chief goal of this expedition, lies high up on the central ridge,
of Atheras, almost equidistant from either shore, and hence commanding extensive views over the
whole island. The route passes through 5 villages, so that only water need be carried, and that too only
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for the final ascent from Kosikia; and the walk may become a circular one assuming the shape of a
figure 8 by avoiding the motor road via Xanthi on the outward journey, and by returning from the
castle direct to Steli, thus bypassing the villages of Kosikia and Petropouli. The distance involved is
not particularly long: but if you spend some time examining the villages and conversing with the
villagers, the walk may well occupy most of the day.
Leave Evdelos West on the Kampos road, but just before reaching Phytema with its rectangular,
sandy bay which serves as Evdelos' football ground, turn off left up a path which ascends some
terraces. Soon the squat shape of Mt. Kephala will come into view on the distant horizon, and if you
keep this in your line of vision you will avoid going too far astray, and should reach Kosikia in 1½ - 2
hours. After about ten minutes the path crosses over to the right side of the ravine, and after a further
ten minutes it returns to the left, ascending steeply and reversing direction so that you will now be
facing N. and looking back down the valley. Where the path divides, take again the left fork climbing
sharply uphill: otherwise you will proceed along the terraces and extricate yourself only with
difficulty. After surmounting the ridge the path climbs more gently, becoming quite wide and
eventually joining a dirt track to reach Akamatra in c. ¾ hour. Here I was offered my first refreshment
of the day - some succulent figs and equally delicious small but juicy peaches - given me by a couple
who turned out to be staunch members of the Evangelical Church, a sect which, though small in
numbers compared with the vast majority of Greeks who nominally at any rate adhere to the Orthodox
Church, is yet growing in strength and is certainly not short of fervour. Proceed along the road to
Daphni, a pleasantly shaded hamlet where I observed a group of men engaged, under the shade of the
trees, in the fascinating, age-old ritual of flaying a goat. Less than ½ a mile away is another charming
village, Steli, where my Evangelical couple told me there once lived a dwarf who used to dance with
his head propped on a table, Hippocleides style, when the spirit so moved him. Not far South of Steli,
and clinging to the opposite side of the valley, is the beetling village of Petropouli, where according to
my informants there is a wonderful cave with remarkable stalagmites and stalactites. Just after
Petropouli comes into sight you may follow the old track to Kosikia which diverges from the motor
road on the right, and makes a welcome change from the metalled surface.
Once you reach Kosikia you will see your objective high up on the mountain top N.E. of the village.
From below it looks quite impregnable: but the locals, for once, hastened to reassure me that it could
be climbed and that the view to be enjoyed from the summit well rewarded the effort entailed in
getting there. Leaving the village, follow the road right uphill, but after a few minutes take the old
path which branches off on the left. Avoid the left fork, but continue until the path eventually
descends and joins the road which you must follow uphill for about ten minutes. On the left you will
spot a small path which soon broadens out and climbs steeply to the shoulder of the mountain, having
attained which you will catch a glimpse of the Southern sea. From this point the castle itself is clearly
visible, and you will need to double back left along a well-paved Byzantine road which appears to
come up from the South coast. After descending for about ¼ hour you will reach a crossroads where
you must take the right branch for a few yards, and then go through a gate on the left. From here a
well defined path climbs up directly to the Kastro, to reach the gate of which involves scrambling up
the rocky precipice, doubtless in the scorching midday heat! It is for this reason that it is essential to
carry water from Kosikia, and the complete absence of shade up there makes the wearing of a broadbrimmed hat equally desirable.
Surprisingly enough, just before the final summit I encountered a herd of very emaciated cattle
grazing on the arid scrub. As you descend, since all the surrounding hills look almost identical, it may
help to keep 2 young poplar trees in your line of vision. A little further on, on the left you will pass a
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small vineyard and hereabouts the path swings round to the right, and in about 5 minutes you will find
yourself on some steep cliffs overlooking a ravine. The path zigzags down steeply, and finally reaches
an old Byzantine road travelling N. to Steli, which you should reach in about 1¼ hours after leaving
the Kastro. Before you do so, however, you will pass through the scattered hamlet of Platani, with its
tall, majestic trees, and a tap where you will be glad to drink voraciously of the wonderful life-giving
water. As you approach the village your eager ears will relish the sound, so seldom heard on the
islands, of rivulets bubbling in their channels, while your eyes will look with envy and admiration
upon the figs, peaches, pomegranates and grapes which grow in such magnificent profusion. Thus
fortified you will sail up to Daphni and Akamatra with renewed vigour, and if you share my good
fortune, you will be further refreshed with loukoumi, coffee and offers of yet more substantial fare
from the generous inhabitants of the village as they conclude their late and leisurely lunches. The
simplest way back to Evdelos is to follow the road via Xanthi: for so one avoids the problem of
finding the path in the reverse direction.
6. Armenistis - Agios Dimitrios and Agios Polykarpos.
The bus journey from Evdelos to Armenistis takes only about 1 hour, but the exact time of its
departure seems dependent solely upon the whim of the driver, so that one must be prepared to be
both flexible and patient. About two miles before arrival one passes through Yialicari, an attractive
fishing village at the Eastern extremity of the bay of Armenistis, whose beach is very popular, and
where fish that is not disposed of locally is despatched for marketing elsewhere.
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In recent years Armenistis has become a focal point for the youth of Europe, many of whom camp on
the wide, sandy beach. But there are also two or three hotels, even one motel, and several cheap
rooms to let, whilst in response to the increasing demand many good tavernas have sprung up along
the narrow main street facing the sea, where food is both plentiful and of good quality. The following
circular walk will serve as a pleasant introduction to the area, and since it takes only 3 hours, it can be
conveniently fitted into that most attractive period of time which begins as the sun in the evening
begins to abate its fury, and ends as it finally extinguishes its blaze in the deep waters of the Aegean
Sea.
Take the road, not yet surfaced, which runs by the sea S.W. in the direction of Nas, but after about a
mile branch off up a path on the left which ascends the hillside quite steeply on the right side of the
valley. In about ½ hour it becomes a forest track passing through delightful pinewoods which clothe
the upper flanks of Mt. Chalaris. Just before this, on the right, are some wonderful fig trees whose
fruit is sweeter than nectar. About ten minutes after entering the forest, where the road branches to the
right as it descends, turn left, and then immediately right along a footpath which emerges at the sign
marking the beginning of the village of Agios Demetrios. At the crossroads take the road going due
East and signed to Agios Polykarpos - St. Muchfruit, which is indeed a very appropriate name for a
village where oranges and fruits of all kinds grow in such rich abundance. Before reaching the village
the road contours round a valley which contains some very curious rock formations. Leave the village
by the road, but when in a few minutes it bends sharply to the right, take the path on the left which
goes through the forest to the cemetery. Cross over the forest track, and continue due N. to the road.
There are two short cuts, the first on the left, and the second on the right, the latter descending very
steeply to the foot of the ravine which is crossed by a small bridge. There is also a lower path which
seems to continue towards the sea on the floor of the gorge, but I did not find time to confirm this.
7. Agios Demetrios, Christos Rachon, Prophetes Elias, Moni Evangelismou (Monte), Lampsachades
and Mandria.
My original intention when embarking upon this walk was to reach Manganitis on the South coast,
thus traversing the entire width of the island, and for this reason I left at 7.20 a.m. But having
carelessly left my invaluable compass behind, I became totally disorientated in the dense forest of
Rachons, and so reached Tragostasi instead. (My embarrassment in admitting this failure was
considerably reduced by the discovery two days later that even the natives of Manganitis frequently
lose their way when attempting the same journey!)
Leave by the main road S. to Agios Demetrios, but look out for 7 short cuts, 2 on the right and 1 on
the left; and then after about ½ hour as you begin to approach the village, 4 all on the right, the first
two very small, but the third longer and running parallel with the road, and the fourth really a
continuation of the third. If you are successful in finding all these, despite the steep gradient you
should reach Agios Demetrios in ¾ hour. Leave by the road signed to Christos Rachon, but after 10
minutes, where the road goes left, take the dirt track on the right, and immediately on the left follow
the stone path directly up to Christos Rachon which you will reach in a further ten minutes. It is
virtually impossible to describe the paths which I followed from here to Prophetes Elias, since the
intervening land is intensively cultivated, and hence covered by a profusion of intersecting paths. I
had to ask directions several times, so on reflection it might be advisable for once to follow the motor
road, devious though it may be. Prophetes Elias is one of those peculiar, scattered communities with
no real centre, but spread over the wide plateau whose myriads of trees obscure the view ahead. After
several fruitless inquiries, despairing of ever finding the tortuous path over the Raches to Manganitis,
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I was finally persuaded to take the 'demosio dromo' i.e. the public forest track which threads its way
uphill S.W., being assured that where it stopped some stones on the left would direct me onto the right
track. In retrospect I suspect that I may have failed to find this by climbing over a wall which
completely blocked the road, which nevertheless continued for a good mile before finally petering out
at a mound of earth amid a patch of deep bracken. From here, an indistinct path leads down to a
refreshing stream where you will be able to replenish your water bottle, and observe the frogs and
tadpoles playing in the shallow pools formed by the river in its course. Cross over the stream and you
will discover a small but reasonably clear path descending East through the dense forest. Hordes of
wasps, bees and flies swarmed around me as I forged ahead, but I sped on confidently, passing
through several gates until the path broadened into a fairly substantial track and finally revealed in the
dim distance the reassuring sight of the sea. Imagine my dismay, however, when after reaching the
hamlet of Tragostasi and enquiring what sea it was, I received the unequivocal reply 'The North.'
Somewhere in the midst of the sunless forest the homing instinct must have reasserted itself, causing
me to veer to the North rather than the South, and so deflecting my steps irretrievably away from my
cherished goal, the elusive Manganitis. Locating Tragostasi on the map, and at once realising my
proximity to the Monastery of Evangelismos (Monte), I decided to cut my losses and direct my
wayward steps towards that worthy refuge. Henceforward luck was certainly on my side: for within
half an hour I found myself in the genial company of 20 Greeks who had come up from Evdelos in a
minibus, and were soon offering me bread, cheese, tomatoes, meat, and finally magnificent peaches.
After showing me the chapel with its two side aisles, curious, oval-shaped icons on the ceiling, and
wonderful, silver-clad icon of the Virgin, a kind nun made me coffee and about 2.30 set me on my
homeward way. Leave the monastery by the little staircase in the rear garden, which gives access to a
path that descends the valley and then joins a dirt track going right, i.e. uphill, to Lampsachades. In a
further 5 minutes it reaches the main road which you must follow down to Mandria. At the cafe there
take a track right of the main road and descend the pine-clad ravine until eventually you cross it by a
remarkable natural bridge constructed over a huge boulder which is lodged conveniently in the middle
of the stream bed. The path then climbs up the other side, and as soon as you see the main road below,
descend to it and continue down in the direction of Armenistis. There are fine views of Yialiskari
framed by trees, the sea a wonderful shade of turquoise, and the tiny chapel on the islet of Diapori
glinting in the bright evening sun. The total walking time from the monastery back to Armenistis
should not be in excess of two hours.
8. Nas (the Tavropolion), Nanoura, Kouniadi and Prospera.
This circular walk should only take in the region of 4 hours; but in my case it occupied the whole of
the day simply because of the many encounters I enjoyed and the magnificent hospitality I received
form the various people whom I met on the way. The day dawned cloudy and very windy, with the
result that the whole region more resembled Scotland than Greece. Consequently, setting a brisk pace
I was at Nas well within the hour, and after a quick drink at the cafe I proceeded to descend the stony
path towards the sea in order to examine the scattered remains of the place known as the Tavropolion.
There are two ruined temples strewn amid the rocks, and everywhere one looks one sees fragments of
shattered marble. The lady at the cafe told me of a beautiful statue that she had found there, whose
panoptic gaze pursued one in every direction, but which a foolish old man had smashed to eternity.
Down below, the sea thundered and roared like a raging inferno, while a few, forlorn campers tried to
salvage what remained of their tents, which had been torn to shreds by the fury of the gale. A cynical
sign warned that one entered the seething waters at one's own risk: notwithstanding, I learnt that there
had been no fewer than 5 fatalities during the course of the summer.
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The view inland was scarcely more inviting, as angry clouds hung ominously over the crest of Mt.
Chalaris, completing the sinister spectacle, which spoke powerfully of doom and destruction. Within
minutes, however, as I climbed back to the road, the sun had pierced the clouds and spread its
transforming light upon the scene. A plentiful torrent named Chalaris like the mountain whence it
rises flows rapidly down the gorge, filling large pools in its course, and then tumbles down cascading
waterfalls until, just before reaching the sea it disappears into the shingle forming a stagnant pond.
The whole valley is extensively terraced, and thanks to the river, it displays an astonishing variety of
verdure, as olives, vines, corn, figs and peaches merge to create a rich tapestry of green.
Along the road to Nanoura a chance meeting with a man and his young son who was grazing a
solitary pet goat led to my being invited first to coffee, and then to share with his family a delightful
meal of fish soup, sweet, tender eels, which he had caught the previous night, salad, and finally a
superb dessert of juicy black grapes and rosy peaches. It took me, thus fortified, only a half hour to
reach Nanoura, a small roadstead, which, like all the rest in the vicinity, is well watered by a stream
and grows excellent grapes which I was once more soon privileged to sample. This time my host was
a Siphniote potter who makes ceramics in Athens during the winter, but spends the summer in Ikaria,
fishing by night and tending his grapes by day. His local wife, who had borne him 9 children, 5 boys
and 4 girls, looked not a day above 25, and was so flattered when I told her so that she immediately
offered me a 'glyko' in return for the compliment, and gave me a most pressing invitation to spend the
night there. Reluctantly I declined, as indeed did she to accept any payment for the coffee that one of
her daughters had made me: but I was grateful to accept directions to Kouniadi, the good lady's native
village, and my next port of call.
The path climbs diagonally up the hillside, and the gradient being fairly steep, it takes one about 45
minutes to reach the village. Immediately on arrival I met a young man signalling with a large mirror
to a passing ship, which on this occasion failed to respond by blowing a loud blast, as was customary,
on its hooter. I jestingly suggested that he might be a traitor communicating by heliograph with the
enemy, as once had happened at Marathon; and in return I was now for the third time in a single day
asked along to meet his family, who at 5 p.m. were still engaged in the absorbing task of demolishing
their magnificent lunch. I was given a most cordial welcome: coffee appeared in an instant, then a
tasty 'chortopitta', soon to be followed by locally grown 'frangosyka', 'karpouzi ' and finally 'nectar', a
mellow, sweet, honey-coloured wine which is indeed fit for the gods! Another curiosity, which I first
observed on this particular day, and which in my own experience is found only on Ikaria, is the whole
goatskin, cured in the sea and severed only of its head, which serves the population as a very efficient
and attractive rucksack.
From Kouniadi the path to Prospera contours round N.E. in the direction of the small church which is
perched on the hillside After ½ mile it becomes a broader track as it rounds the gorge which presents
a splendid spectacle of many-shaded green, relieved by stone cottages with sloping roofs such as one
can find in any Yorkshire Dale, and which blend so perfectly into the surrounding landscape. After a
mile or so the track again becomes a path which zigzags steeply down and crosses the gully before
once again broadening out and finally joining the main coastal road to Nas and Armenistis. If you are
as lucky as I, a view of a magnificent sunset over the Tavropolion will set the final seal upon a truly
perfect day, rich in cherished memories of the boundless fecundity of Nature, and the genial
hospitality of the natives alike.
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9. Agios Demetrios, Polykarpos, Mandria, Phidos, Stavlos and Avlaki.
This last walk was again made especially memorable not only by the lavish scale of the hospitality I
received at midday, but also by the congenial company which I enjoyed during the whole of the day.
For whereas I normally walk alone, on this occasion I was joined by an enthusiastic walker called
Chris, a native of Salonika and recently released from National Service.
The route to Polykarpos is as in (5) or alternatively (7). Thence follow the main road, which I suspect
is not the one shown on the map as leading to Lampsachades – for the map, as often happens, is far
from accurate - but another one going direct to Armenistis. For after a mile or so one must turn off on
the right onto a path which is in fact the same one as is described, but in the reverse direction, in (7).
After descending, you will cross the unmistakable natural bridge over the ravine, whence you climb
up straight to Mandria. It was here that Chris and I made the acquaintance of 2 young sisters, pupils at
the Gymnasion of Evdelos to which they commute daily at considerable inconvenience. As we parted
company the girls' mother was just returning from a long service in honour of an obscure local saint to
whom the village church is dedicated; and as soon as she learnt who we were, she extended a most
cordial invitation to visit their home and stay for lunch. Thus once again I was privileged to enjoy the
incomparable delights of a table laden with delicious fare, and a conversation which flowed every bit
as freely as the wine, as well as being laced with a spicy wit and delivered with a warmth and
wholesome sincerity no less nourishing and appetising than the meal itself.
The path to Phidos leaves by the new church, which in 1981 was still under construction, and
descends through the pine forest, swinging right to contour round the ravine. In about a mile the
church of Phidos appears on the right, but the village, if it exists, must be hidden in the trees. Shortly
afterwards the path becomes a lane, which speeds down to Stavlos, the only evident signs of which
are again its small chapel. Hence it continues to Avlaki, whence the route back lies close to the sea
and straight into the golden rays of the declining sun.
I have been conscious while writing this whole chapter that my account has been rather lacking in
those precise, factual details which the reader has every right to expect of a walking guide. May I say
in my defence firstly that in a densely forested area one tree is very much like another, and it would be
an inestimable service to the hiker if the authentic route were marked, as often happens, by red spots
by someone possessing the indispensible local knowledge which I so signally lack. Secondly, the only
available map, as I have already hinted, displays glaring inaccuracies, both in the erroneous ascription
of place names and in the false location even of main roads, let alone footpaths. In compensation for
these admitted deficiencies, I have allowed myself the liberty of expatiating rather more freely than
usual about my serendipitous adventures and felicitous encounters, in the hope that the reader will
thus be tempted to use his own initiative in exploring uncharted territories with I trust equally happy
results. For of the abundant delights which lie in store for the adventurous walker I have no doubt,
especially after hearing even the locals, who being Greek do not normally evince much enthusiasm
for arduous walking, reminisce with nostalgic pleasure about the long winter treks through the snowclad forests of Pezi, or spring excursions over flower-strewn hills to visit some aged relative, or
worship at some distant shrine.
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SAMOS
The verdant island of Samos, much loved by and bridal-bed of Hera Queen of the Gods, is deservedly
popular and also easy of access. One of the first islands to possess its own airport, it also lies on
regular shipping lines from Piraeus in the West, Rhodes in the South, and Chios and Lesbos in the
North. Most tourists stay either at the main town of Vathy in the N.E., or at the Pythagorion on the
South coast, which once was the seat of the celebrated 5th century B.C. tyrant, Polycrates. In recent
years, however, the peaceful and picturesque fishing village of Kokkari, about 10 kilometres West of
Vathy on the North coast, has attracted many visitors in search of tranquillity, and content with the
simple delights afforded by sea and sun. But wherever one stays one should certainly visit
Pythagorion to see its ancient walls, allegedly constructed by prisoners from Lesbos, and to descend
the tunnel of Evpalinos, built in the late sixth century during the tyranny of Polycrates. Its purpose
was dual - to serve as a secret means of escape in times of siege or civil dissention but also to convey
a spring which rises North of the city walls via an aqueduct into the city itself. The most remarkable
aspect of this achievement lies in the precision with which the engineers bored through the mountain,
beginning simultaneously from opposite sides, and meeting in the middle only two feet out of line - a
degree of accuracy which is seldom achieved now, even with the aid of theodolites. About 2½ miles
further West on the Southern shore one may again marvel at the enormous proportions of the temple
of Hera, again constructed during Polycrates' reign, and doubtless intended to display his might to his
admiring subjects. From the Pythagorion small motor boats sail to the Lipsi Islands and to Patmos two
or three times weekly, returning the same day.
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Samos boasts over 30 villages, some on the shore, but many of them inland on the densely forested
slopes of the two large mountain masses of Ampelos and Kerkis. One of the latter, Mytelenii, which
must not be confused with its near homonymous neighbour in Lesbos, has a remarkable
palaeontological museum containing the petrified skeletons of some extraordinary dinosaurs, the
oldest of which date to 13,000,000 B.C. The discoveries were made by a local schoolmaster in 1963,
all buried in clay and petrified, with the single exception of a well preserved set of teeth belonging to
a small equine species whose hard enamel protected them from petrifaction. The concentration of so
many different species in such a confined area is explained by the hypothesis that a lake had formed
in the area during the period of cataclysmic upheavals which created the islands and severed Europe
from Africa and Asia and here the emaciated and ravenous beasts had gathered to drink.
For the walker, however, the most spectacular area of Samos is the West, where the huge bulk of Mt.
Kerkis rising to 1453 metres presents an irresistible challenge. Its naked, towering summit can be seen
most evenings from Patmos on the South, easily 40 miles distant But the most majestic view of all one
sees as the boat approaches Karlovasi from Ikaria, and since all boats from Piraeus stop here first, it is
here that one should disembark, rather than at Vathy. Karlovasi itself is a strange, unobtrusive place,
comprising four distinct communities designated 'The Harbour', 'Old', 'Middle', and 'New', the last
three of which are completely invisible from the Harbour. In fact it is really only from the mountain
that one can appreciate its full extent, and realise that its population considerably exceeds that of the
main town. Before the last war its tanneries provided employment for large numbers, and it is only
quite recently that tourism is beginning to take their place. For although there are far fewer hotels here
than in the other centres which I have mentioned, several families are ready and willing to offer
simple accommodation in their homes, an alternative which in the author's experience invariably
proves far more enjoyable, not least because of the opportunities it offers for making contact with
one's hosts on a more informal and personal basis.
The following two excursions based on Karlovasi could each well occupy a whole day, and both are
warmly recommended, without in the least implying that they exhaust the possibilities of the region.
1. Paleo Karlovasi, Lekka, Kastanea and Kosmadei.
This is a circular and varied walk, which may serve both as a means of limbering up for and
reconnoitring the route for the rather more arduous ascent of Mt. Kerkis. If you are staying in the
Harbour quarter of Karlovasi, leave by the old, paved road to Paleo Karlovasi which climbs up West
of the conspicuous church of the Holy Trinity - Agia Triada - which occupies the prominent hill
behind the town. After passing through the attractive built-up area, continue along the path which
winds up through the trees, meeting a dirt track which finally joins up with the main road to Lekka
about a mile outside the village. If your visit happens to be on August 29 you are lucky, since this is
the Feast of John the Baptist to whom Lekka's main church is dedicated, and hence the whole village
keeps carnival. According to the usual custom, once the service is concluded at about 11 a.m. the icon
is paraded around the streets, supported by a John and a Joan, preceded by a small band of boys
carrying ornate staffs and clad in arresting saffron robes, and succeeded by the choir and clergy. The
bells peal out joyfully, while all the villagers cluster around their doorways, bowing reverently and
devoutly making the sign of the cross, as the worthy prelate swings his thurible towards them to bless
and purify their homes. In the main square, while the final prayers and hymns are sung, a crowd
gathers to kiss the Bible, the icon and the bishop's hand and receive the Communion Bread to break
their fast before embarking on the equally serious task of doing justice to their midday feast.
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The road to Kastanea leaves Lekka due South; but after about 1½ miles you may welcome the chance
to diverge from the metalled surface by taking the new road to Kosmadei which branches off to the
right. On the right you will notice the monastery of Agia Triada nestling in the trees; but immediately
you cross the stream by the little bridge, take the path on the left which climbs up the wooded valley,
crossing and re-crossing the stream until it eventually brings you to a water cistern. Here you must
keep to the left of the stream and climb up steeply to the village through the dense forest of chestnuts
whence Kastanea derives its name. From Kastanea another delightful path climbs up West and North
West through the immense, and where you go astray, often impenetrable forest, circling round a huge
ravine on the right, where I recall a local man riding a handsome mule wisely took the precaution of
dismounting, lest he become unseated by the overhanging branches, and so fall to an ignominious
death in the terrifying chasm below. In about 1½ hours, some of which will almost inevitably be spent
retracing your steps when you have inadvertently strayed from the proper route, you should reach the
pretty mountain hamlet of Kosmadei. The village rests in a small depression about 2000' above sea
level, and abounds with flowers and fruits of all kinds. Its vineyards are especially prolific, and on the
occasion of my initial visit most of the villagers were busily engaged in the preparation of must, the
rotting vegetation strewn everywhere, and its pungent odour pervading the whole village.
From Kosmadei one may either return to Lekka by the main road which is rather circuitous, and
passes through the hamlet of Nikoloudes, or alternatively one may divert down a deep gorge on the
left, just before reaching Nikoloudes, and after hitting the coast at Seitani, return thence along the
shore. Should the light be fading, the former alternative is the safer; but in any case you may cut off
one or two of the more tedious bends by resorting to the old path on the left. As you pass through
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Nikoloudes, stop at the cool fountain-house on the left to sample the excellent spring water, whilst at
Lekka, if it should be August 29, you will savour the varied delights of the panegyry which lasts well
into the night.
2. The ascent of Mt. Kerkis (1453 metres) via Kosmadei and the Convent of the Virgin at Kakoperata.
All but the most energetic walkers will prefer to start this fairly arduous climb from the village of
Kosmadei, which is the nearest to the final summit, as well as being itself 600 metres above the sea.
Public transport from Karlovasi does exist, but not on a daily basis, and it tends to leave extremely
early in the morning, mainly for the benefit of those who begin their labours in the fields at first light.
There are however taxis which will take you there in less than ½ hour for a very modest fee. As you
leave the village South, take a sharp right bend onto a path which contours round the ravine, at first
ascending gradually, and then descending and passing a vineyard on the right. Ignore the first path on
the right which leads down into a minor gorge, but at the next junction, which you should reach in
rather less than an hour from Kosmadei, turn right into a larger ravine, and in about 5 minutes you
will reach the isolated monastery which is dedicated to the Dormition of the Virgin.
In 1981 the place was inhabited by a solitary nun called Synkitiki, who after the premature death of
her only daughter had resorted to the seclusion of the monastery, which had been abandoned and had
fallen into ruins, in order to restore it and forge for herself a new life. A small community of 5 sisters
had gathered round her, but one by one they have died off, leaving her once again the convent's sole
occupant. She is extremely hospitable and resourceful too, and when I arrived she was busy preparing
a curious substance called 'trachana', with which she feeds both herself and her goat during the winter,
when snow and storms can isolate the monastery for weeks on end. Wheat is soaked in milk and then
spread out to dry, and thus dehydrated, is proof against mould and decay. But when reconstituted with
water and boiled it makes quite a nutritious porridge or gruel, all the more welcome in the winter
when shepherds and goatherds take their flocks down to the shore for protection, and hence milk is
scarce. Synkitiki makes also a fine cheese, less salty and moist than feta but equally palatable, grows
her own tomatoes, potatoes, beans and fruit, and keeps both a turkey and a hen for eggs. But cocoa,
coffee, sugar and bread are hard to come by at this altitude, and will always be graciously accepted in
return for her hospitality.
As you leave she will explain the subsequent route and point out the direction of the path which
descends and crosses the stream, along which a path leads down to the monastery of Agios Ioannis.
Avoid this and instead climb up through the pine trees quite steeply, in about ½ hour reaching a small
ravine. Ascend this and in a further 10 minutes you will reach a grassy meadow where often goats are
found grazing, and which is intersected by a confusing number of tracks threading their way through
the parched grass. The natural tendency is to make for the hillside on the right; but this route is hard
going, the steep slope being covered by loose scree, and there being a tricky ravine to negotiate.
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ROUTE UP MOUNT KERKIS
In fact the orthodox route descends quite steeply though a coppice for about ¼ hour, and then begins a
gradual zigzag ascent by the side of a huge ravine, to reach the shoulder in about ¾ hour. Once you
have reached the ridge, all is plain sailing, and after all the loose scree through which you have toiled
below, you will so relish the firm surface of the knife-edge, that the final summits, some ¾ mile
distant, will be reached with little fatigue, despite the steep gradient and the blustery winds that
inevitably batter such an isolated and exposed eminence at every season of the year. The views are
awe-inspiring beyond description - S.W. the Fourni Isles, and behind them peering dimly through the
mist the rocky outline of Ikaria; S.E. the majestic mountains of Turkey, separated from Samos by the
narrow straits of Mykale, barely 2 miles wide; to the N. a long peninsula with jagged peaks
terminating in Cesme, and further W. the low lying mastic hills of Chios. In the nearer foreground
there stretches out the fertile plain which separates the two main mountain masses of Kerkis and the
humbler Ampelos, tree-clad right to its summit and more than 1000' below.
Return by the same path, making first for the shoulder, and thence descending the stony zigzag path in
the direction of a small meadow, the huge ravine now on your right. Continue your descent on the
edge of the ravine towards the pine wood, where for a change you must climb up to reach the meadow
where the goats were grazing. After crossing it, descend the little ravine by the dry river bed, but be
careful to branch off right after 10 minutes to avoid falling into the lower depths of the ravine, and
very soon you should be heaving a sigh of relief as the familiar shape of the monastery comes into
sight. The total time from the monastery to the summit and back again will vary between 3 and 5
hours, depending both on fitness and how lucky or skilful you are in finding the path. Sister Synkitiki
will doubtless be anxiously awaiting your return, and will soon revive your flagging limbs and spirits
with her lively conversation and generous fare. From here you will enjoy a comparatively leisurely
walk back to Kosmadei, and will look back with some wonder through the trees towards the shining
summits which you scaled in the heat of the day.
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Once in the village I was treated first to generous helpings of karpouzi and ouzo, and then to a
charming display of dancing given by a group of local youths in the main square. The music was
provided by a tape recorder which the leader held close to his ear in order to relish the intoxicating
rhythms at close quarters. His eyes glowed with delight as the dancers wreathed in and out the circle,
whilst the slimmer, younger pair leapt lithely into the air, manifest joy infusing every limb and muscle
of their bodies. Meanwhile the sun suddenly slid down behind the mountain, bathing the red roof tiles
in a glorious golden hue, and as the twilight gathered, a braying donkey and solitary cock-crow
pronounced the final benediction upon the day. But not upon the dancers who, as the music penetrated
the darkness with an enhanced and all but tactile intensity, surrendered themselves more and more to
the demonic power of the dance, gyrating in an ecstasy of wild, unceasing motion, body and spirit
united with the God!
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PATMOS
Patmos may be reached either from Rhodes and the other Dodecanese in the South, or from Tinos by
boats sailing East via Mykonos and Ikaria. The seas in this central area of the Aegean are notoriously
rough, and hence boats are frequently delayed, even up to 12 hours. But such is the beauty of the
island that it is well worth enduring all the hazards to reach it.
Its area is so small - barely 15 square miles – that detailed description of the many footpaths would be
superfluous; and for the walker one of the obvious delights is the paucity of motor roads and hence of
vehicular traffic. Although a new road has been constructed from the port of Skala to the main town,
Chora, the old, steeper mule track is still in existence, and the town's fascinating staired alleys will
never have to suffer the stench of diesel oil and the roar of engines.
About half way between Skala and Chora lies the tiny monastery of the Apocalypse, and the cave of
St Anne, where St. John, having seen his 'revelation', dictated it to his pupil Prochoros. To Orthodox
Greeks the place is particularly sacred, since it was here that the Almighty deigned to make his
appearance to the human race, as represented by. St. John, for the second time, Moses being the only
other mere mortal to have been so favoured. However that may be, the eleventh century monastery
founded by Christodoulos the Bithynian is undoubtedly one of the richest treasure houses of the
Christian faith, containing amongst other precious relics a superb sixth century manuscript of St
Mark's gospel, its gold and silver letters inscribed on a rich background of purple vellum. The library
has also in its possession a large collection of Classical texts, mostly of the eleventh century, and in
excellent condition, while the view from the monastery roof leaves one little doubt about the source of
St John's poetic inspiration and contemplative genius. The bold, rugged contours of an island almost
entirely devoid of trees, the translucent clarity of the air, the invigorating, lustral presence of the
encircling sea, all seem divinely ordained to produce that bold asceticism and searing penetration
which are the hallmark of the visionary and mystic. Another cherished memory which my brief visit
to Patmos left indelibly imprinted on my mind is that of the night sky as it appeared from the
windswept streets of Chora. Whether it was the absence of other illumination either from the moon or
street lighting, or the powerful gales which had swept every vestige of cloud from the sky, I shall
never know: but never have I seen such myriads of stars illuminate the velvet vault of heaven with
such staggering brilliance. It is in such simple delights as this that Patmos is so rich - the young
shepherd boy who carried a sprig of basil in his cap for its fragrance; the limpid, turquoise waters of
the tranquil bay; the serene faith of the devout nun; the ingenuous pride one of Chora's chefs takes in
his incomparable 'kephtedes', are but a few of the treasured memories that impress the island's unique
character upon every visitor. Those who set the comforts of an hotel high in their list of priorities will
stay down at the port of Skala: my own preference would always be for the more elevated atmosphere
of Chora, with its aristocratic 16th century houses, their tall rooms rising around a central court, its
tortuous streets, elegant squares and innumerable belfried churches filling the resonant air with
constant peals of praise.
On the assumption that you are staying at Chora, it will be possible to see the whole of the Southern
peninsula in half a day, and to walk the perimeter of the considerably larger Northern section of the
island comfortably within the span of a single day. The walking is by no means arduous, although the
paths suffer from a surfeit of loose stones, and water is scarce. So too is shade, there being virtually
only one forest, and that too a small one on the Northern tip just South of Lampi. The complete
absence of towering crag and beetling precipice rob the landscape of that dramatic element which one
so often encounters on even the smallest islands of Greece. But that Patmos is beautiful and possesses
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a charm as compelling as it is unique, it would be churlish and insensitive to deny. Of all the views
perhaps the most lovely is that from Chora down to Skala, and beyond, the intricate configurations of
the coastline and the offshore islets, and the bold, clear lines of the grey hills a source of constant
delight and infinite variety as the sun in its course alternates light and shade with kaleidoscopic effect.
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l. The South
This walk is best done clockwise in the early evening, and incorporates the ascent of Mt. Prophetes
Elias, which though only 269 metres is the highest point in the island, and hence commands the most
extensive panoramic view. Leave Chora by the stony path to Grikou, and proceed along the bay to
Kalikatsou, opposite the island of Tragonisi, and thence along the shore to Diakophti, the tiny isthmus
which connects the most Southerly 'head' of the island to its central 'body'. From this peninsula a path
leads in about ½ hour to Psiliamos, a small but sandy bay on the West coast which has in recent years
been much frequented by nude bathers. In the centre of the isthmus you will encounter the old paved
track which climbs gently up in the direction of Chora. Just after the track joins up with the more
recent road, a slight detour West will bring you to the monastery of Prophetes Elias. Here you will
enjoy a spectacular view of Chora dominated by the fortress-like monastery of Christodoulou, and
also of the surrounding islands. N.W. one can trace the long spine of Ikaria, due N. the Fourni Islands,
and beyond them the huge dome of Mt. Kerkis on Samos.
From Prophetes Elias descend to the twin adjacent chapels further down the hill, whence you will
discover that a short scramble brings you to the Convent of the Annunciation - Evangelismos. The
buildings have been recently renovated and extended, and currently house some 40 nuns. If you wish
to enter, however, you must visit in the morning, since the convent closes its doors to all visitors at 11
a.m. From here a steep climb up the winding lanes will bring you back to Chora in time to enjoy one
of the glorious sunsets which so frequently bathe the elegant squares and spotless streets of this
gracious city in their sumptuous splendour.
2. The North.
To gain the maximum advantage from the sunlight, the Northern circuit is best done anti-clockwise,
so that the sun will illuminate the Eastern coast in the morning, and the Western in the evening. In this
way too the more difficult path-finding will be faced in the morning when one is fresh, whilst in the
evening one will return via the carriageway which is certainly much more easily discerned and
generally not overcrowded with traffic.
Having descended by the paved footpath to Skala, take the road and path signed to Melloi, and thence
'tack' back NNW to join the main road. The path begins on the left of the dirt track, just after you have
passed the first gate to the Camping Ground at Melloi, and winds gently up to the crest of the hill and
the military barracks. Thence take the road down to Agriolivadi (signed), but branch off immediately
on the left onto the old track which descends far more quickly to the beach. The path continues around
the bay, gently climbs the hill, and then descends to the broad beach of lower Kampos, passing on its
way an attractive chapel overlooking the sea. At the Northern end of the beach take the road,
branching off right (S.E.) to cross the headland and in a few minutes reach Vagia. Be careful not to
follow the track too far, as it leads across the terraces: instead go down right onto the beach, and then
climb over the headland by the wide track which leads down to Livadi Yeranou, a broad strand lined
with a grove of tamarisk trees.
From here take a path which begins at a gate at the far end of the beach and leads to the Hermitage of
Apollou. Two ferocious dogs began barking as soon as they spotted me in the distance, bared their
teeth, and snarled in a terrifying fashion as I dared to trespass on their patch, but stopped immediately
once I had passed through the gate. So proceed boldly in the knowledge that your route being circular,
once past these formidable Cerberi, you need never encounter them again. The track follows the wall
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on the left, slowly swinging round to the right as it climbs, and then passes through another gate onto
the shoulder of the hill. To reach the Hermitage, which is generally closed except on its patronal feast,
the eighth Sunday after Easter, contour round and then scramble down the terraces on the far side of
the long wall leading down to the sea. The place has a certain serenity and tranquil charm which will
refresh you for the next lap of your journey. Return up the hill by the same route by a path which is
clearly defined and eventually reaches a cairn marking a crossing of routes. Avoiding the better
defined path on the left which leads down to Livadi Yeranou, take a bearing N.W., keeping the saddle
between the two hills South of Lampi in your line of vision. Several slender goat tracks traverse the
hillside, running parallel and crossing two small culverts, both absolutely bone dry, and after crossing
another slight depression, eventually merge into a much more discernible path which mounts the
shoulder of the hill. Finally passing through a gap in the wall it enters left into an orchard full of
arbutus trees, their branches laden with wild strawberries of varying hues, some already very red and
ripe for eating. Eventually it emerges onto the carriageway exactly opposite the spot where the path
climbs up the hill en route for the Hermitage of Livadi Kalogerou, which you will visit later on in the
afternoon. For now, however, turn right and descend towards Lampi, cutting off the huge bend on the
left by taking the old path through the forest on the right.
You should reach Lampi in time for lunch; and I can strongly recommend the salad of tomatoes and
onions, both of which ingredients are grown in the garden adjacent to the sea, and therefore of
excellent flavour. You may well have time for a swim and to collect the attractive multicoloured
pebbles which adorn the beach. Return by the same route, but when you reach the point where you
emerged from the arbutus forest, take the path opposite on the right and climb up to the crest of the
hill where you will find several cairns. Look out for a square white building in the plain below, and
make towards this and thence follow a well trodden path leading right (N) to the Hermitage of Livadi
Kalogerou. Beyond is a lovely bay, and surrounding the monastery is a large, fertile garden in which
several labourers were toiling at the time of my arrival in mid afternoon. The curator will open up the
chapel for you to see and bring you appropriate refreshment: but a melancholy air pervaded the place,
perhaps deriving from the ineluctable poverty which has wracked the island for centuries, and on
many occasions would have led to its total abandonment, but for the tenacity of the monks, and the
perennial attraction of Patmos' chief jewel, the Monastery of Christodoulos.
Leave by the same path, and having reached the plateau continue S.W. to Upper Kampos, whence you
may return to Skala by the main road. You will arrive in time to see the whole bay richly drenched in
the rays of the setting sun, the multicoloured fishing smacks bobbing in endless motion as the evening
breeze gently ruffles the surface of the sea, producing the 'numberless smiles' which Aeschylus' bold
metaphor so perfectly encapsulates. If time and strength suffice, it is worth making a slight detour to
climb the prominent hill West of Skala, believed to be the site of the classical capital, and known
locally as Kastelli. It commands an excellent view of Skala and its long sheltered bay, as well as of all
the Western coast.
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CHAPTER X: KARPATHOS, KOS, KALYMNOS, LEROS
KARPATHOS
Karpathos, lying almost exactly midway between Crete and Rhodes, and hence easily accessible both
by boat and plane from either of its larger and more celebrated neighbours, certainly repays a visit, not
least because it has mercifully, unlike them, escaped almost unscathed from the worst excesses of
tourism. The island resembles a rather misshapen and elongated pear, and because its remoter,
Northern section is still unconnected to the more populous South by any regular land-based service,
unless he is prepared to endure a 30 mile trek with full pack, or run the expense of hiring a taxi, the
walker will need to make two landings, one at Pigadia in the South, and the other at Diaphani in the
North, both of which ports are situated on the slightly more sheltered Eastern coast. Pigadia itself is as
convenient a centre as any from which to explore the South: but the North is best seen from Olympos,
a remarkable village which lies much closer to the West coast, and is reached on foot from Diaphani
in about two hours.
Karpathos, which in its heyday supported a population of 78,000, has an area about equivalent to that
of Kos, and is thus accounted the third largest island in the Dodecanese. But it is considerably more
mountainous then the latter island, and its highest peak, Mt. Lastos, rises to a height of 3675', and is
thus easily the highest summit in the whole archipelago. All the Southern part of the island is very
well watered by copious springs, and hence it is extensively cultivated. There are many villages which
still support large populations, even despite a substantial exodus to the U.S.A in 1974 when the
threatened war with Turkey caused widespread fear of enlistment and consequent mass emigration.
A skeleton bus service radiates from Pigadia to the surrounding villages, leaving at 7. 30 a.m. for
Aperi and Volada, 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. for Othos, and 1 p.m. for Menetes and Arcasa. The last
mentioned bus does not return until the morning of the following day, the service still being designed
to suit the needs of the local population rather than of tourists. Hence there are no buses at all on
Sundays: but in fact the sturdy walker will find that at least the return journey from even the remotest
village is well within his compass, especially if use is made of the surviving paths which tend to take
the steeper but more direct route, thus saving valuable time.
The following 5 walks, of which the first 3 are in the South and the last 2 in the North, will provide
the explorer with a fairly representative sample of both the area's varied terrain and of its extremely
attractive and indeed unique village architecture and culture.
1. Menetes, Laki and Amopi.
This circular walk should take no longer than 5 hours; but since its final destination, Amopi, has one
of the finest beaches on the island, with deep, soft sand and crystal sea, few walkers will find it easy
to resist the temptation to spend at least a couple of hours enjoying the delights of sun and sea in a
truly idyllic setting.
Leave Pigadia by the main road running S.W. to Menetes. Should you rise early and time your
departure to coincide with sunrise, you will admire on your right the strong, bold outline of the rugged
hills which encircle Pigadia to the North. The clouds, that so often at this time of year gather during
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the night to enshroud the highest summits behind Aperi and Otho, are burnished with a fine patina of
gold as the first morning rays penetrate their craggy abodes, and before long dissolve them into the
upper air. Look out for short cuts, mostly on the right, where eventually you will discover the remains
of the old mule path leading directly up into the village. Perched high on a steep rock is the chapel of
Agios Ioannis, well worth a visit, as also are the traditional houses which survive in surprisingly large
numbers. The design of them all is identical, the rear of the square living room invariably dominated
by the nuptial bed - the so called 'sofa' - raised up on a platform about four feet, approached by a small
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staircase, and separated from the rest of the room by an elaborately carved wooden screen. The
dowry, consisting of beautifully embroidered bed linen and painted ceramics, often of considerable
antiquity, is also traditionally displayed here.
Proceed S.W. to Prophetes Elias, situated on a hilltop about a mile outside the village, whence it is
possible to reach Laki and Amopi cross-country. Be warned, however, that the going can be rough,
and that there are a couple of ravines to cross, and a sea of abandoned terraces which one must
descend with great care. In the middle of nowhere you may well come across a football pitch - a relic,
I imagine, of the Colonels' late regime. For in their final years, in a vain attempt to distract the
populace from the deteriorating political scene by a massive campaign to promote sport, they decreed
that every village, however small or remote, must have its stadium. Once you reach the coastal plain
the going is quite easy, and your efforts will reap a rich reward in the wonderful deep sand and
emerald sea of the wide bay.
From Amopi a dirt track leaves North for Pigadia; but after only a few yards look out for a path on the
left, marked by a series of cairns, and red spots or arrows painted on convenient rocks, or alternatively
on the olives and pines which provide most welcome shade. By following this path you will reach
Pigadia in a little over an hour
2. The Northern villages – Aperi, Volada, Otho and Kouri.
It takes about 1½ hours to reach Aperi on foot via the main road, there being no alternative route
unless one goes via Agios Ioannis and Kouri, by which I recommend that you return. Those to whom
walking on a metalled road is anathema, would therefore be well advised to use the 11 a.m. bus
service. Aperi has a sizable population of some 400 souls, is the seat of the Archbishopric of
Karpathos and Kasos, and was until 1892 the island's administrative capital. It is well watered, and
being well over 1000' above sea level is cool even in the heat of summer, and possesses an attractive
restaurant which rejoices in the somewhat boastful name 'Epigeion Paradiso' - the Earthly Paradise!
An air of prosperity pervades the whole village, possibly deriving from the ½ million $ which my
informant told me are received every month by the local bank from expatriots in New Jersey and
Connecticut who are mostly employed in the catering business!
You may reach Volada, some 650' higher up the mountain, by the cobbled street on the left, which
soon turns into a staircase. As you climb up, you cannot fail to admire the traditional houses with their
gaily painted classical pediments and lovely flower gardens. High up on a conspicuous beetling rock
is the Church of the Transfiguration where a panegyry is celebrated on August 6th. Further on is
Othos, at an altitude of 507 metres, and a distance of 8 miles from Pigadia, and possessing an
interesting Folk Museum where pottery and textiles are displayed along with the techniques by which
they are manufactured.
From Othos take the path descending S.E. to Agios Georgios. Be careful to avoid a left turn which in
fact leads to another chapel, that of Agios Vasilios, near which there is a spring. Agios Georgios lies
just over the brow of the hill and is hence hidden from sight: but once you reach it you will remain in
no doubt, since it possesses not only fine icons, but also guest rooms and cattle. Here you must turn
left and after two or three bends right, and within about ½ hour, you should find yourself safely on the
dirt track leading to Kouri and Agios Ioannis.
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3. The Mountain Lastos – 1215 m.
In view of the distances involved if you are starting from and returning to Pigadia, walkers are
advised to take advantage of the 7.30 a.m. bus to Volada, thus saving two hours' walking as well as
reducing the height to be climbed by well over 1000'. Take the track which begins near the Hospital
and climbs around the left shoulder of the mountain above Volada, running due North. In about 10
minutes you will reach a small hamlet with several churches and a wonderful cold spring. When I did
this walk on August 6 a priest was celebrating at the small chapel on the right which is dedicated to
the Transfiguration of Christ, and as I paused to drink, the circular Communion loaves were just about
to be distributed amongst the quite large congregation which were mostly gathered outside. When I
told them that I was bound for the mountain, all agreed that the day was most appropriate, and assured
me that I should meet 'polis kosmos epano' i.e. masses of people on top - a prediction which proved to
be rather sanguine, since apart from a solitary shepherd in the foothills, I didn't encounter a single
person during the whole day. Leaving the village, the track climbs up amid superb mountain scenery,
the predominance of limestone evoking strong recollections of the Yorkshire Dales, and the only
dissonant sight in the whole landscape being the inevitable rubbish tip which unfortunately disfigures
a steep ravine on the left. There are three places where a path clearly avoids a tedious loop in the
track, and in about 1½ hours you should reach the scattered hamlet of Lastos, where you will require
the good offices of a kindly shepherd to direct you to the spring. You will do well to drink deep and
fill your water bottle to the brim: for this is the last source, and wind and sun generally conspire to
produce a raging thirst.
When you reach a conspicuous patch of green which the shepherd will doubtless point out, you must
turn right. The path is reasonably clear, and winds up a rocky valley, then over terraces on the right,
and finally veers to the left to reach a plateau which I believe goes by the name of Kali Limni. At this
point I spent a considerable time searching in vain for a path to the highest summit which rises up on
the left. Further North is a secondary summit, and a path leads towards this, then descends through a
forest where many trees showed signs of a recent conflagration, ascends again through the pines, only
to plunge again steeply in the direction of Apella and Spoa. Finally in desperation I returned to the
plateau, and forged my own route straight up over the steep crags, finally making the summit in about
an hour. In fact there is a fairly well defined goat track along the Southern face down which I made
my descent again in the direction of Lastos. Here you have the choice of either returning by the same
track as you came, or alternatively exploring the path to Stes which travels parallel to the former but a
mile or so further to the West. Should you have missed the last bus from Volada back to Pigadia, a
taxi will return you thither at a modest charge.
4. Diaphani to Olympos.
Unless in the meantime a regular bus service has been instituted, the most convenient and cheapest
way of reaching the North of Karpathos will be by boat. The journey takes about 2 hours, so that you
may well have to spend the night in Diaphani - a prospect which my own experiences there would
cause me to regard with some misgivings. Diaphani was built in 1890 to serve as Olympos' port, and
its inhabitants are not at pains to deny that they greatly resent the fact that most tourists use its
facilities, such as they are, only briefly en route for Olympos. Accommodation was in 1979 both
scarce and spartan, oil lamps being the order of the day, and sanitation and washing facilities so
unhygienic as to render their use of doubtful avail!
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A rough road leads up to Olympos, and if you wish to avoid carrying your pack up the steep path,
arrangements may be made for its transportation for a small fee, on a vehicle which also takes
passengers according to demand. Those wishing to walk will find that the path begins on the right of
the road, at first running parallel to it on a lower level, but soon beginning to ascend much more
directly and steeply. A pleasant stream runs through the valley, in which pines, oleanders and scented
acacias grow in wild profusion, and since the route is clearly marked with red spots and arrows, you
should experience no difficulty in finding your way. In about an hour you ought to reach the crest of
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the pass where you will emerge onto the road. Look out for two places, the first on the left and the
second on the right, where you may cut out tedious bends in the road before it begins to descend
towards the Western coast. The wind up here was unbelievably ferocious, and had produced
extraordinary distortions in the growth of the pines which suggest that its force on the occasion of my
visit was by no means exceptional. In a few minutes you should catch your first breathtaking view of
Olympos, clinging precariously to the side of its steep, gritty mountain, with Mt. Prophetes Elias to
the left, its summit shrouded in swirling mist. A few paces further on you will see a path on the right
descending into the valley where the rocky terraces are interspersed with green patches representing
fig trees, olives or vines. You will be well advised to take the path, even though you inevitably lose
height, and will therefore have to face a final stiff climb to reach the village: for the road, in seeking
to avoid the gradient, has interminable bends, and seems to circle round the village, never getting any
closer to its final goal. At the foot of the valley you must cross over the stream which forms a verdant
pool just by the church which crowns a hillock on the left, and brace yourself to face the violent
assault of the wind as you make the final ascent into the village. The spring which feeds the stream
provides the whole town with water, which is pumped up into a large cistern above so that it may
supply the houses by gravity.
PATHS IN THE REGION OF OLYMPOS AND DIAPHANI
Olympos is undoubtedly the most fascinating village of the island. Founded in the fifteenth century by
refugees from Vroucounta and Saria, it has been continuously occupied up to the present day, and its
sheer isolation has led to the fierce preservation of its traditions undiluted and uncorrupted by
influences from the outside world. Most of its inhabitants, the Mayor included, expressed grave
misgivings about the devastating effect that the new road might well have upon the life of this
erstwhile sheltered community, and they were very sceptical of the idea that tourism could ever
provide a permanent and satisfactory solution to the island's problems. I tend to agree with them, and
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feel that ultimately only the provision of light industry and a return to agriculture will arrest
depopulation and bring back new life to the islands. For the present, however, one can but marvel at
the tenacity of these astonishing people whose faith in the traditional virtues of hard work and the
simple values of their forefathers has enabled to turn their back on the Western world and all its
glittering prizes.
The houses are often decorated externally, especially the balconies, with lively murals, whilst inside
interest is focused on the 'sofa', approached by three steps, and underneath which are several store
cupboards, whilst on the upper level the whole dowry is displayed. Adjacent there hangs an
elaborately embroidered drape, which I was told used to adorn the central pillar of the house when the
roofs were all made of timber and earth. Several such still survive; and I recall on my arrival
witnessing a group of elderly women clad in the traditional long, leather boots known as 'stiphania'
energetically demolishing the old bakery roof, and raising clouds of dust in the process. When the
rains are due in Autumn, off they go to fetch more clay, which when trodden in, miraculously holds
out the water. Communal ovens are still in use, and there is still one windmill out of the original 20 or
30 in working order. Here I observed the customary mixture of wheat and barley being ground for
bread making, while in a tiny basement barely 4 yards square I witnessed a woman busily operating a
hand loom whose mechanism was activated by a foot treadle. Traditional costume is regularly worn,
at least by the womenfolk, and I was privileged to watch the two daughters of the family with which I
was staying being dressed for church by their proud mother on Sunday morning, a daunting procedure
which fully occupied an hour. First the newly washed hair was brushed and combed, and arranged in
long, neat pleats. Then a white petticoat, handsomely embroidered at the edges, was donned, and over
it a black robe with big sleeves, and meeting in the middle, the bodice brightly decorated with
coloured cloths and sequins. There being no buttons, this garment was held in place by a wide, ornate
belt, and over it bright pinafores were worn, blue for the older girl and red for the younger, their vivid
colours set off magnificently against the velvety black robe worn beneath. Next a remarkably ornate
sari was fitted to the head, and twisted and knotted in such a way as to reveal the bright colours; and
finally brilliant beads were tied to the ends of the pigtails, and soft, sequinned shoes were fitted on the
feet.
The reader will already have deduced that Olympos itself amply repays exploration; and if one is
fortunate enough to arrive during a wedding feast, quite literally the whole population is invited to
participate in the celebrations, which may well continue for a whole week. I was not so lucky: for
during the whole of my stay there, the weather followed a most uncharacteristic pattern, cloudless,
warm days being interspersed, with cold, grey ones when low swirling clouds conspired to give the
place an even more unreal appearance and reinforced the impression of total isolation from the rest of
the world. Those who enjoy more clement conditions should certainly seize the opportunity of
climbing Mt. Prophetes Elias. The path begins at the line of ruined windmills which rise almost
perpendicularly at the Southern edge of the village, and the summit should be reached easily within
the hour. Of the rather more distant excursions I would recommend the following.
5 Avlona and Vroucounta.
Vroucounta, the final destination of this walk, is believed to be the site of Vrykos, one of the four
ancient cities of Karpathos, and lies on the N.W. point of the island at the head of a fairly well
protected bay. There is a plethora of tombs and finely constructed walls to explore, as well as two
Christian churches: but there is no restaurant, so that unless one arrives on August 21, the day of the
local panegyry, both food and water will need to be carried.
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Leave Olympos by the steep path which descends to the now familiar, well watered valley. In about
half an hour you will begin to ascend quite steeply in the direction of the chapel of Agios
Konstantinos which will soon appear, high up astride the saddle on the left. As you toil up the hill
pause to look back at the superb vista of Olympos, its white buildings brilliantly illuminated by the
early morning sun, and the whole village surrounded by row upon row of craggy peaks, which come
into view with a staggering cumulative effect the higher you rise. There is a temptation to take a
secondary path diverging on the left, but since this simply leads to the terraces it is best avoided.
Agios Konstantinos should be reached in about 1¼ hours from Olympos, and you will be grateful for
the chance to refresh yourself in the cool nave of the chapel, where the intense silence is broken only
by the gentle tinkling of sheep-bells from flocks which are so well camouflaged that they are scarcely
visible against the grey background of the encircling hills. Leaving the chapel, turn left along the dirt
track to Avlona: but if you find this tedious, look out for the small path which begins in about 50
yards on the right, and descends to Avlona more steeply and more directly across the terraces.
Avlona is a strange village, surrounded in August by fields of stubble where once wheat and barley
have grown. A narrow paved and walled street borders the houses, each of which seems to possess its
own private threshing floor opposite on the left, where heifers now graze, kept no doubt for ploughing
as well as for their meat and hides. There are frequent taps; but having been warned that the water was
bad, I refrained from sampling it. On the far side of the village the path begins to meander around
fields now bursting with magnificent grapes, mostly of the plump, black variety, and which taste
every bit as good as they look. Emerging from the vineyards the path climbs up the hill, becoming
more and more stony, until it finally descends between the two mountains to the shallow bay of
Vroucounta. The configuration of the land is very curious, the even slope towards the sea being
suddenly interrupted by a large, level platform, and as so often in Greece, the lack of any appreciable
weathering indicating even to such an untrained eye as mine the comparatively recent origin of so
much of that country's geology. The total walking time from Olympos should be in the region of 2½ 3 hours.
On the left of the path is a conspicuous rock in which several graves are set at different levels. On the
right, large waves pound on the shingle, and a man and his son are busily filling sacks of sand, to be
later loaded onto a patient donkey, I presume to make cement. The path to Agios Ioannis which is
situated on the left arm of the bay passes by several tombs, one with a large burial pithos still in situ,
many ruined houses, and two sections of wall constructed from finely carved masonry which I would
judge to be of the Hellenistic period. The chapel of St. John the Baptist is built into the bare rock and
is approached by a narrow staircase on the right of the path. Judging by the scale of the preparations
which were already underway when I visited almost a fortnight before, I would imagine that the
panegyry which occurs there on August 21 is quite a large affair. As you return, you may if you wish
visit the chapel of the other John, the Evangelist or Theologian, as the Greeks call him, which will be
clearly visible now on the right of the path. In less than an hour you should be back in Avlona; but as
you leave the village, just where the dirt track takes an abrupt right bend, continue straight on along a
path which will take you up to Agios Konstantinos by a more pleasant and direct route. About 50
yards from the chapel, the path branches off on the right, neatly zigzagging into the depths of the
valley, and climbing thence by the now familiar route across the rough, gritty hillside before it finally
merges with the labyrinthine streets of the village.
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KOS
Although, after Rhodes, Kos is undoubtedly the most popular of the Dodecanese islands, it affords in
my opinion the least attractive walking of them all. The main town, Mandraki, despite its having been
developed too quickly and with too little foresight, is yet undeniably beautiful, its splendid mediaeval
castle, graceful Turkish palaces and elegant porticoes and squares, ablaze with hibiscus and
bougainvillea, a constant delight and irresistible temptation to the eye of artist and photographer alike.
Likewise its extensive antiquities from every period of history, its well displayed museum, and above
all its celebrated and unique Asclepeion, cannot fail to stimulate and engage the interest of any visitor
with even the most rudimentary knowledge of and cursory acquaintance with Hippocrates, father of
modern medicine, and most distinguished son of Kos. Nevertheless it seems to me that judged purely
in terms of natural beauty, while possessing indisputably good beaches, the island is for the most part
singularly unprepossessing. For despite its abundant water, the landscape is exceptionally arid, the
only forested area being on the Northern foothills of Mt Dikeos, and that too extremely small.
Moreover the hills tend to be featureless, except in the immediate vicinity of Mt. Dikeos, and the
villages are likewise devoid of character and charm.
It must be admitted that I was perhaps unfortunate in arriving close upon midnight, and hence, after an
hour's fruitless search for accommodation, in being forced to spend my first night on a park bench.
The opportunity to watch the stars sailing silently by in a sky as black as jet, and observe the palm
branches above swaying gently in the night air was hardly an adequate compensation for the lack of a
comfortable bed. The following day's attempt to find lodgings inland, in the area known as
Asphendiou, proved equally unsuccessful, mainly owing to the ubiquitous presence of the army - a
presence necessitated by the continuing threat of war with Turkey. Finally in sheer desperation I was
reduced to taking a room in the remote village of Mastichari, half way along the North coast, and a
village which I later realised owes its continued existence chiefly to its proximity to the Airport at
Antimachia which serves not only Kos itself, but also the adjacent island of Kalymnos, whence
passengers arrive at Mastichari by sea. Possessing only two restaurants, no shop, and a bus service to
the capital town only three times weekly, it could hardly be regarded as a convenient centre; and the
combination of all these disadvantages may well have conspired to produce in me a slightly jaundiced
view of the island and its inhabitants. However, notwithstanding the long route marches frequently
required to reach the areas which I wished to explore, I succeeded in making a fairly comprehensive
survey of the existing paths, only to conclude that, Mt. Dikeos apart, the landscape of Kos is generally
no more inviting than I imagine that of the moon to be. Its enormous popularity throughout the whole
period of the Roman Empire serves simply to support the theory often advanced, that the more
material prosperity becomes one's goal, the more is the spirit atrophied, with the inevitable result that
one's aesthetic perceptions become stultified and dulled - a theory which so many modern
developments might indeed seem to confirm only too well. It is perhaps even more true to say that
most ancient Greeks and Romans were no more in the habit of taking long walks in the countryside in
order to enjoy the beauties of nature than are their present descendants. On the contrary, practically all
the available evidence would suggest that the spectacular mountain terrain, such as one finds for
example in Western Crete, filled them with abhorrence and fear rather than wonder and delight.
Be that as it may, the contents of the Museum, most of which were found in the palatial Casa Romana
now attractively restored by the Italians, are evidence of a high degree of sophistication, at any rate in
the realm of the visual arts. Particularly noteworthy are the statues of Hermes, wearing a winged hat the petasos - as well as the more familiar winged sandals; Hygeia feeding a snake with an egg;
Dionysus embracing a Satyr, whilst at their feet a tiny Eros fondles a panther; and a fine mosaic
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depicting the God Asclepius being welcomed ashore by a Koan noble, while Hippocrates looks on
from his seat in the corner.
No visitor to Kos should leave the island without at least one visit to the sanctuary of Asclepius;
which like its mediaeval counterpart, the Castle of the Knights, is constructed on a truly monumental
scale. The site is situated S.W. of the main town, and takes but an hour to reach on foot. En route one
passes by a quite famous ceramics factory where an interesting division of labour is operated: the
designs for the pots are made by youths, women throw them, girls paint on the decoration, while the
small boys dip them in the glaze. Just before reaching the sanctuary you will arrive at a small village
whose population is still predominantly Turkish, the Turkish mainland being only some two miles
distant. The temples in honour of the god are arranged on three massive terraces cut into the pine-clad
foothills of Mt. Dikeos, approached by a lovely avenue of noble cypresses, and overlooking the strait.
A grand and elegant staircase connects the terraces one to another, and the view as one descends is
both restful and imposing, and like the essential spring must have contributed in no small degree to
the healing processes for which the sanctuary was internationally renowned. As far as one can deduce
from the surviving evidence in the form of Hippocratic texts and inscriptions dedicated by grateful
patients, the procedures followed were more 'scientific' than those practised at Epidaurus, although
Hippocrates was certainly fully aware of both the psychosomatic element in so many diseases and of
the effectiveness of psychotherapy in their treatment.
Most visitors are likely to stay either at the main town of Kos, which is situated almost at the Northern
extremity of the island, or at Kardamena or Kamari, both of which are on the South coast, the former
more or less midway, the latter about six miles from its most Southerly point. Although there is by
now quite a regular bus service connecting these three towns, the following three walks can be done
most conveniently from each of these three centres. I offer them in the hope that they may prove a not
unpleasant diversion from the predominantly beach centred activities which I suspect will long
continue to constitute Kos's main attraction to tourists.
1. The Ascent of Mt. Dikeos – 2780'.
I did this excursion in 1977, taking the bus as far as Zipari; but it is possible that in the meantime
public transport may have reached as far as the cluster of villages known as Asphendiou, which lie in
the mountain's Northern foothills. In any case the trip is likely to take up most of the day, the paths
being at times indistinct, and covered with loose scree of the sort that for each two steps forward one
seems to slip at least one back!
Should you be compelled to walk from Zipari, proceed uphill along the dirt track, looking out for the
old mule path which branches off on the left, is pleasantly shaded, and leads directly into the village
of Asphendiou which is now visible above at an altitude of c. 800' above sea level. After about half a
mile the paved surface begins and continues right up into the village. Once having arrived turn right,
passing the Primary School, and take the Zia road out of the square. Again you may cut off a large
bend by taking a track on the right which should land you safely in Zia in approximately one hour
after leaving Zipari.
Take the path beginning right of the Public Lavatory and signed 'ZIA GIFT SHOP', passing en route
the ZIA COFFEE SHOP. At the former, turn left continuing till you reach a small plane tree and a
sign pointing right and marked ΚΕΦΑΛΟΒΡΥΣΗΣ - i.e. The Head Spring. In about 20 minutes you
will hear the refreshing sound of freezing water cascading down concrete conduits to irrigate the
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prolific fields and orchards of the village. From here the path continues to ascend, enclosed on the
right by a small wall, until in a further 20 minutes it reaches a shepherd's cottage on the left where
water is available. The path continues, now beautifully shaded by fir trees, but when the wall stops
you must fork left uphill. Meanwhile you will have passed a huge ravine on the left, up which a
difficult path, certainly not to be recommended, leads up to the final summit. After another couple of
minutes another left turn is required, and the path zigzags up, requiring just over an hour to reach the
top. After about ½ hour the path begins to ascend steeply up some difficult scree, requiring great
caution, especially when descending, and eventually emerges between two large rocks. From here the
going is rather easier, and the final summit is reached in about ½ hour. Avoid climbing the subsidiary
summits on the right: the highest peak is crowned by a chapel dedicated to Christos, but barely visible
until you arrive. At the saddle where the two rocks are situated, another path leads right, and appears
to climb up from this side, but I suspect with some difficulty.
The view in every direction is superb. To the South lies a great chasm plunging down precipitously to
the dark blue sea S.E. one can descry the mountainous Knidos peninsula, due South the island of
Nisyros with its huge volcanic crater, and still further South Tilos appears as a misty speck on the
distant horizon. From the chapel looking in the opposite direction one sees due North Kalymnos and
Pserimos, and behind them Leros and Patmos, and when the visibility is good, even the dome-like
outline of Mt. Kerkis on Samos, at least 50 miles away. To the right the coastal plain stretches out
towards the capital city, whose harbour, Mandraki, sparkles in the sun, while beyond, there rises the
steep coastline of the Bodrum peninsula known in Classical times as Halikarnassos, and birthplace of
the celebrated historian Herodotus.
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Unless one is prepared to risk the treacherous scree route which descends the great chasm now on
one's right, one is obliged to descend to Zia by the same route as one ascended. Alternatively one
might follow what appears to be a fairly well defined path down the precipitous South face of the
mountain towards either Piso Therma or Tolari on the South coast.
DIAGRAM DESCRIBING THE ROUTE UP MT. DIKEOS OR CHRISTOS
2. Kardamena – Antimachia - The Castle of Antimachia.
Kardamena lies about half way along the South coast and is served by a fairly regular bus service
from the capital town. In addition, infrequent caiques sail to and from Nisyros, especially on August
15 when a large panegyry is celebrated at the latter island at the celebrated monastery of Panagia
Speliani. Kardamena has in recent years become a very popular centre for package tours, and hence it
is well furnished with restaurants, and has an undoubtedly good beach. The extensive coastal plane is
watered by abundant springs, and the rich volcanic soil is very fertile, growing excellent vegetables,
two crops of wheat and maize annually, and fruits of all kinds, especially water melons. A local priest
assured me that in Classical tines the area supported a vast population of 75,000, the city stretching
from the foot of the mountain in the North; and as far again to the South; and it only requires someone
with both the necessary technical expertise and capital to exploit all these natural resources, thus
restoring the area's former prosperity and increasing its population from the mere 1500 souls to which
it has currently dwindled. When I visited the place 7 years ago, agriculture was still predominantly the
chief occupation, but it was practised by the traditional labour intensive and highly uneconomic
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methods. For example I saw two old women hoeing a field of vegetables with hefty mattocks, and at
the same time carrying on a most furious argument; and a little later I came across a man ploughing
with a team of oxen and a wooden plough exactly resembling that described by Hesiod in the eighth
century B.C. For the time being, however, the visitor will have the best of both worlds - enjoying the
creature comforts of the twentieth century A.D. along with the antique charm of the pre-Christian era.
The excursion to the Castle of Antimachia is to the practised walker no more than a gentle stroll
which could be easily fitted into half a day or an evening, and which can incorporate a visit to the
village of Antimachia too. The latter is reached easily within an hour by the road, and is also the
location of the Airport. The village lies in a plateau at about 450' above sea level, and is a curiously
dispersed community, the houses clustering around several squares, and there being no recognizable
centre. The official route to the castle diverges right from the main road to Kos about half a mile from
the village: but there is a far pleasanter track which begins on the Kardamena road on the right, about
500 metres before you enter the village, leading initially in the direction of a small chapel. You will
see the huge castle clearly in the distance sitting on top of a beetling crag, and despite the many bends
and the steep final gradient, you should find little difficulty in reaching it within about ¾ hour.
A huge semicircular escutcheon guards the main entrance of the fort, which has crenulated
battlements above, and is constructed on the rather unusual plan of an equilateral triangle. Inside one
is confronted by a somewhat melancholy morass of ruins, relieved only by a few stunted oleanders
and several withered figs, parched and mocked by the howling Meltemi, whilst outside lies a barren
wilderness of sun-baked rocks and gaunt ravines. Only one church survives, that of Agia Paraskevi,
whose icon issues the solemn admonition not to deny the Lord.
Outside the main gate you will discover a path leading due South to Kardamena, descending quite
sharply, but a welcome relief to the feet from the tarmac of the road. Half way down I suddenly
became aware of two shy faces hiding in the thicket, which on investigation turned out to be a
mischievous trio of urchins engaged in illicit rabbit trapping with a home made device which they
were soon exhibiting along with its four hapless victims! They gingerly admitted that shooting was
strictly forbidden except in one or two specific months: but when I observed their thin, emaciated
bodies, I could scarcely blame them for using their wits and ingenuity to supplement a diet which was
clearly not a little deficient in nutritional value.
3. The Kephalos Peninsula - round trip to the two chapels of St John.
A regular bus links Kos with the Southern town of Kephalos, the journey taking about 1½ hours,
mainly since from Antimachia onwards the road was, at least in 1977, still unsurfaced and full of
potholes. In fact Kephalos itself is a mile or so inland on a spur of Mt. Zini, so that practically all the
available accommodation is situated down at its port, Kamari, where consequently most visitors will
stay. Just after you cross the narrow isthmus, barely a mile wide, you will pass the ruins of an early
Byzantine basilica known as Agios Stephanos. Here one can take a splendid photograph in the
sunrise, the pillars of the church glowing in the soft morning light, behind them the islet of St.
Nicholas with its shining white chapel encircled by a sparkling sea, with the great mass of Mt. Zini
forming a magnificent natural backcloth to the whole scene. It is reputedly here that Zeno, founder of
the great philosophical school of Stoicism, rested from time to time in his endless wanderings round
the Aegean, On its summit is a monastery dedicated to the Virgin, and on its slopes one may find the
cave known locally as Aspri Petra, where archaeologists have found several objects from prehistoric
times.
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The mountain is now somewhat disfigured by mining operations - for it is rich in perlite, an insulating
material which is exported in considerable quantities: but it has preserved some of its ancient pines
and arbutus trees. The vast majority of the inhabitants, however, still eke a precarious living from the
soil, poor though it is, keeping poultry and one or two pigs to enrich their vegetarian fare, and still
grinding their corn in the surviving windmills which straddle the ridge overlooking the bay. Mass
emigration to Australia and the States has reduced the place to a mere shadow of its former self: and
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yet those seeking a restful and unsophisticated holiday in an area as yet relatively unchanged by the
tourism which has almost swamped so much of the rest of the island, could do worse than spend a few
days in this rather quaint corner of Kos. Should you tire of the beach and feel the urge to explore the
rest of the peninsula, the following round trip, incorporating churches of St. John the Baptist and St.
John the Theologian, and taking, in all, between four and five hours, may well prove a pleasant
diversion, and is by no means arduous.
If you are staying down at Kamari, you may avoid Kephalos altogether on the outward journey by
taking the road running South towards the quarries. Turn right in the direction of the dried up river
bed, from which the path diverges on the right. Though rather overgrown with thorns and briars, it
ascends directly and certainly saves time. When it divides, take the right fork, and in about ½ hour
you will reach the dirt track leading from Kephalos, inter alia to the monastery of St. John, and built
by the Italians during their period of occupation of the Dodecanese. About a mile further up you will
reach a rock where the road bifurcates, the left branch climbing Mt. Zini and giving access to the
mines, the right being marked To the OTE. Follow the latter and in about ¾ hour the monastery of the
Baptist will come into sight. The feast is on August 29, and people gather from far and wide to make
merry in honour of the prophet. To the left of the chapel there is a well with purest water which during
the rainy season overflows to feed a cistern below, thence watering the small valley beneath.
The path to the other chapel of St. John the Apostle at first descends through the collapsed terraces,
and verges N.W., sticking to the right side of the ravine. In about ¼ hour it enters a small pine forest
which gives most welcome shade, and after passing a white house ascends to the isolated chapel
which is situated about half way along the West coast of the peninsula. From here the return path
ascends N. E., the OTE installation which appears on the summit of Mt. Latra (1404') giving you
more or less the right bearing. After about ¼ hour it descends and crosses a ravine, whence it climbs
up sharply through some very dilapidated terraces, eventually to join the main road in a total of about
¾-1 hour after leaving the chapel. About 1 mile further on, one reaches the OTE sign junction. If you
take the other branch on the left you reach a shrine, and a path leading to the cave of Aspri Petra
where several prehistoric objects have been found. The main road descends, reaching Kephalos in ½¾ hour.
The present capital town of Kos was built only in the fourth century B.C., the original and only earlier
city being called Astypalaia and being located in the vicinity of Kephalos. Make your way towards the
windmill, whence you may descend to Kamari by the old mule path which cuts through the soft
sandstone, in the sides of which you will observe dozens of caves hollowed out, and now used as pens
for animals, though they were perhaps originally designed also for human habitation. In the steeper
parts of the descent paving stones are still intact, but eventually the path becomes a dust track. Up in
the village I had enjoyed a long conversation with the grocer, who was really a master builder by
trade, and who explained in fascinating detail how the community used to operate in the old days. On
the way down to Kamari I was invited into a simple house to eat figs, water melon and village bread the real stuff, rough textured and made from a mixture of barley and wheat. The old grandmother had
been to Australia too, but decided to return when her son had showed her the cemetery where they had
decided to lay her to rest: "Much rather die in my native land!" she croaked, with a wicked glint in her
eye, while outside the pigs and hens respectively grunted and crowed their approval!
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KALYMNOS
The rugged and octopoid island of Kalymnos nestles midway between Kos and Leros, its most
northerly tentacle coming to within a mere mile and a half of the latter island's southern tip. It consists
basically of three parallel ridges running diagonally S.E. to N.W. and intersected by two valleys
whose verdure contrasts vividly with the stark and arid mountains which so closely confine them;
whilst its coastline, unlike that of Kos, is deeply indented and flanked by cliffs too precipitous to
admit of any substantial coastal plain. The main port, known as Pothia, is situated on the S.E. coast
and now forms the largest community, although formerly the capital was at Chorio, some two miles
inland, and as so often all but hidden from sight when viewed from the sea. Apart from Vathy, a fairly
large but scattered village which sprawls from the East coast up the more northerly of the two valleys,
all the other inhabited areas are situated on the West coast, which is somewhat protected from the
elements both by the craggy, volcanic island of Telentos, and by the long mountainous peninsula of
Arginontas which forms a natural barrier against the Northerly winds.
The poverty of much of the soil and the mountainous terrain have effectively precluded agriculture on
any large scale, nor does one find grazing of sheep or even goats in any significant numbers. Tourism
is slowly beginning to gain a foothold, especially at Myrties and Massouri, both of which lie on the
Telentos Channel; but traditionally the majority of the male population have been occupied with
maritime business, and especially with the collection, processing and distribution of sponges. Most of
the diving is now done off the African coast or in the Persian Gulf, which means that many of the
menfolk are absent during the summer months. Those that remain however proved during my visit to
be some of the most friendly and hospitable whom I have ever encountered in all my travels, and
certainly confirm the theory often advanced that whilst agricultural societies thrive on acquisitiveness
and exploitation, naval communities, being so much more at the mercy of the elements, tend to be far
more generous, sociable and welcoming of strangers.
For the walker I imagine that Dassos, situated half way up the valley between Vathy and Stimenia and
thus the most central point of the island, would prove undoubtedly the best base. Dassos also lies
closest to Mt. Prophetes Elias, which at 2250' is the island's highest summit, and it is served by a daily
bus which travels via Vathy from Pothia to Stimenia, although there is also a track running directly
from Pothia which reduces the distance by over a half to only a little over two miles. Using Dassos as
a base it would be possible to plan attractive circular walks to the gulfs of Arginontas and Pezontas
and Vathy, incorporating visits to the many churches which flank the main valley, as well as to the
more distant monasteries of Prophetes Elias and Panteleimon Imatiko in the West, and Panagia Kyra
Psili in the East. The only problem is to find accommodation: for since the vast majority of visitors to
any island prefer to stay close to the sea, it is naturally here and not in the hinterland that most of the
accommodation is available.
Arriving in the small hours when the hills were still swathed in swirling mist, I was myself strongly
advised against staying in Pothia which is noisy and polluted and was in any case full, and instead I
was whisked by a most obliging taxi driver first to Myrties and thence to Massouri. Here I found
excellent accommodation in the Hotel Joanna managed by a certain Niko Antinopoulos, one of the
most kindly and. courteous men I have ever been privileged to meet. Because of a recent confinement
his wife was indisposed, so Niko, who goes to sea during the winter, was running the place singlehanded. Typical of his unstinting concern for his guests' welfare was his daily baking of a large cake
which he served with breakfast. Seldom was more than half of it eaten, and the oven could easily have
held two such cakes: but rather than give his clients anything less than the very best, he insisted in
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baking only one at a time, and gave what was not consumed that day to the dog! Below the hotel is a
good restaurant run by Niko's parents and sister, and the beach is only a five minute's walk down the
hillside. I can assure any visitors staying here of excellent service and the most solicitous concern for
their wellbeing: but for walkers the situation is far from ideal. For in the first place there was in 1979
no bus service to Pothia so that either one had to take a taxi with all the frustrating delays and
undesirable expense that that entails, or else undergo a six mile routemarch in either direction.
Regrettably there is no alternative to the main road, and it being mid August traffic was heavy, and
the consequent stench insufferable. Moreover a youth whom I met on one of my long forced marches
told me quite horrific stories of fatal accidents caused either by taking the concealed bends too
quickly and plunging to a watery grave in the sea, or through inebriation failing to exercise due care.
Secondly one is virtually restricted to the coastal routes, which whilst affording fine views across the
bay, tend to be rather boring as walks, since they leave one little alternative to returning by the same
route, involve very little climbing, and because of the coastline's numerous indentations reach their
destination only after a frustrating length of time. Nevertheless of the following three walks the first
two are not devoid of challenge or interest, while the last could possibly be rendered more attractive
by taking the alternative path to Palionisson as I have suggested.
l. Telentos.
A small motorboat plies constantly across the narrow but deep channel which separates Telentos from
Myrties, the crossing taking about 10 minutes. Until the beginning of the Sixth Century A.D. the
island was joined to Kalymnos, but it became separated in the course of a violent earthquake. As you
cross the strait, the ruins of mediaeval buildings can be seen in the depths of the sea, while looking
back to the shore you can clearly apprehend the volcanic origin of the rocks behind Myrties, whose
soil is, as invariably happens in such circumstances, exceedingly productive. The boat lands at the
tiny village where there is situated the mediaeval monastery of St. Basil; but the most rewarding
excursion is to the ruined fortress which lies scattered over the hill of St Constantine, some two miles
N.W. of the village.
Follow the coastal path N. for about ½ mile until you reach a secluded cove now much frequented by
nude bathers. Here you must turn inland, the path crossing over a rough headland, and climbing gently
N.W., sometimes skirting little hillocks, and occasionally mounting them, only to descend once more
into the scrub. Opposite on the main island, the hamlets of Scalia and Emporio appear so close in the
crystal light, and boats scud to and fro across the glassy sea. Eventually, after about ¾ hour, the white
dome of the church of St. Constantine comes into view, perched on the top of a precipitous cliff. The
path now circles round the ravine, and then comes to an abrupt halt below some steep rocks on which
large white graffiti have been daubed in paint. On the left there rise gaunt terracotta crags perforated
by countless deep caves, while on the right the cliff falls away steeply towards the sea. To reach the
church, which by now is completely hidden from sight, you must scale the rock by means of a ledge
rising diagonally at an angle of about 45º, and just wide enough to hold your foot. You will require to
use your arms as well as your legs in order to surmount the last few metres, after which a rough
scramble over the tumbled stones of the ruined fortress will bring you at last to the church, or rather
what remains of it. For there is left only the apse, which has been rudely walled up to protect the
surviving structure and its contents, namely a couple of icons and one or two frescoes adorning the
dome.
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I advise care in exploring the many tracks, for most of them end in precipitous rock faces negotiable
only with ropes. One, however, travelling West reaches in about ¼ hour a spur from which one can
gain the final summit of Mt. Rachi. Should you wish to avoid returning by the same perilous route by
which you came, make for the ruined building just below the church, whence a rough path descends
the deep ravine to the sea, exactly opposite Kasteli on the main island. Proceed with caution over the
loose scree until you reach the water. From here a goat track contours around the base of the island at
about 300 yards from the shore, thus avoiding all its innumerable indentations. In about 20 minutes
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you will reach a steep gorge ending in precipitous cliffs, to negotiate which you will need to climb up
until you finally rejoin the path by which you travelled on the outward journey, at a point about a mile
from the village. Because of the difficulty of the terrain, it is advisable to leave about 1½ hours each
way for the journey to and from the church and for the ascent of Mt. Rachi.
2. Arginontas, Dassos, Vathy, Pothia and Chorio.
This round trip will certainly take the whole of the day if you decide to do it all on foot: but taxis, or
public transport if it has meanwhile been instituted, could reduce the time and relieve one of the
tedium of endless miles on the unrelenting tarmac. Leave Massouri by the road running due North,
looking out for an interesting sculpture on the roadside depicting a Muse playing her lyre, and
executed by the local sculptor Michael Kokkinos. If you tire of the metalled surface, a little further on
on the left is a path descending to the ruins of Kasteli and its chapel of the Virgin. The path continues,
to resume the main road at the corner, and in a further ½ hour you should be at Arginontas.
Hence the path climbs up the valley in the direction of a peculiar olive tree whose tortured form
stands out clearly from the hillside, etched against the azure sky. After a few yards the path narrows,
and after passing the olive tree continues to climb slowly, veering gradually Southwards, and after
about an hour descends to the dirt track which traverses the valley from Vathy to Stimenia. En route
you should pass a spring and the chapels of Agios Dimitri and the Archangel Michael. The upper
reaches of the valley are devoted to vines and figs - the latter some of the most succulent that I have
ever tasted; but as one descends towards the sea the celebrated tangerine and mandarin, orange and
lemon groves fill the plain as far as the eye can see. Unfortunately all these citrus fruits ripen in the
winter, and thus in summer they are still quite small and green. But I can recommend the locally
produced lemonade, whose exquisite flavour leaves no doubt about the authenticity of its ingredients.
From Vathy one can either continue to Pothia along the old mule track which begins about a mile up
the valley and takes the more direct route S.W. over the mountains, or alternatively follow the coastal
road which affords splendid views over the strait towards the islands of Pserimos and Kos. Pothia
itself is not particularly attractive, but at least it has several restaurants and zaharoplasteia where you
may replenish your energies for the rather boring trek back along the motor road, to which there is no
alternative, except for a fairly obvious short cut on the right as you approach Myrties. As you climb
up from the town you will pass more sculpture made by Kokkinos, namely a girl carrying a water-pot,
whilst on the left the three collapsed windmills which straddle the ridge make an attractive backcloth
for the composition. Chorio, the original capital, has more to commend it than Pothia, and it is worth
climbing up to the ruined Castle perched on the hilltop to the right of the town. Just North of Chorio at
a place called Pigadia, just beyond the junction which goes off to Linaria, you will find the only
classical remains which have so far come to light. The present dilapidated structure, of which only the
apse survives, was erected by the Emperor Arcadian on his return from Jerusalem, when he took
refuge in Kalymnos after being overtaken by a violent storm. But it is clear from an inscription carved
on the pillar which forms the left buttress of the apse, that Arcadian used the masonry from a former
classical temple which had been dedicated to Apollo, the foundations of which are still visible side by
side with those of the Christian edifice. There are also several Mycenaean chamber tombs in the
vicinity.
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3, Skalia, Emporio or Palionissos.
Proceed as in (2) to Arginontas, which if you go direct takes only an hour to reach. The church there
is dedicated to Panagia Galatiani - i.e. the Virgin of Galatas, one of the suburbs of Constantinople, and
has an elegant Italianate belfry bedecked with brilliant bougainvillea. The priest had served there for
over 50 years, since he came over there as a refugee from Turkey in 1923, and in the intervening years
he has slowly renovated the building, which he found almost in ruins on his arrival. The revered icon
of St. Antony was given him by one of his compatriots to accompany him into exile. There is a
panegyry here on August 14, i.e. the eve of the Dormition of the Virgin, whereas on the 15th the main
celebration is held at Vathy. Half an hour later you will reach Skalia, just off the road on the right,
where a gigantic plane tree shades the cafeneion as well as the spring. The whole mountainside on the
right is perforated with huge caves, whilst on the left one enjoys enchanting views across the bay
towards the towering mass of Telentos, which appears to float in a sea whose colour ranges from a
marvellous turquoise near the shore to an inky blue in the unfathomed depths beyond. About ten
minutes after leaving Skalia you will pass the chapel of the Archangel Michael, and in less than ½
hour you should reach Emporio. The place was aptly described to me by the daughter of Massouri' s
doctor as 'exochi tis exochis' - an untranslatable phrase which denotes the absolute epitome of rural
remoteness. The village is as desolate and melancholy a sight as its ruined castle, which has been
largely dismantled to build terraces for growing figs, whose roots thrive on hard stony ground. Only
the church is new, having been recently reconstructed by a curious, suspicious man with a stammer,
who resolutely denied the existence of the ancient remains, which are clearly marked on the local
map. The old path which leads down to the shore is choked with litter and debris; the parched fields
are meanly fenced with barbed wire; a few bedraggled and emaciated sheep vainly scour the scrubby
hillside for fodder, while above, the enormous caves yawn menacingly, as if threatening to devour the
whole village and put an end to its misery.
In retrospect it might be wiser to avoid Emporio, and instead follow the staircase which begins at the
cafeneion at Skalia, and crossing the peninsula at its narrowest point finally descends to Palionissos
on the East coast. Exactly what awaits the intrepid traveller there I cannot say: for the good people of
Skalia simply held up their hands in horror at the very idea that I should even contemplate such a
journey in the fierce midday heat. 'Makria, makria!' they howled in concert so convincingly that I was
deterred from making the attempt. But whatever there is there, I doubt whether it could be more
depressing than Emporio!
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LEROS
Leros, which resembles its Northern neighbour Patmos both in area and shape, is in atmosphere poles
apart, and has an infinitely larger population. The official guide claims that it has successfully
combined the incompatible - the old island culture with modern urban development: but it seems to
me that the latter is winning 'hands down', and for that reason alone I cannot in all honesty commend
it to walkers. The streets and even the minor lanes are choked with incessant traffic, while the
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enormous strategic advantages offered by its large natural harbour have attracted a large military
presence which is almost certain to become even more dominant once the Airport has been enlarged
and extended to carry civilian passengers in addition to military personnel. As I threaded my way
through the busy streets, nauseated by the stench of exhaust fumes from army trucks, innumerable
taxis, motorbikes and scooters, and deafened by the blare of portable radios and cassette taperecorders, I was forcibly reminded of Tacitus' cynical observation upon the obsequious speed with
which the native Britons adopted all the trappings of so called 'Roman civilization'. 'Idque apud
imperitos humanitas vocabatur, cum pars servitutis esset' - by those who knew no better that was
called 'civilization', though in fact it was part of their enslavement. (Agricola 21.3)
The main port, Porto Laco or in Greek Lakki, was laid out by the Italians in a ludicrously pretentious
style, broad avenues lined with exotic trees and grandiose, decaying mansions, leading to nowhere,
and wide boulevards fringed with either embarrassing empty spaces or absurdly incongruous hotels.
But the worst feature of all is the water, which is so brackish that not only is it totally undrinkable, but
one cannot even wash properly in it. Malicious rumour attributes the high saline content to the
unscrupulous mayor whose simple solution to the inadequacy of the drinking supply is to mix it with
sea water, meanwhile using the revenues provided for his own rather more questionable purposes. The
island's only redeeming features are its delightful beaches and bays, and delicious figs. The latter are
indeed so soft and sweet that as you pluck them from the tree they disintegrate, the viscid juice oozing
out like honey and trickling up your arm. As for the beaches, Panteli, just South of the capital
Platanos, is much favoured and is lined by several good tavernas, whilst Agia Marina due North is
also very pretty and with its long 'rollers' is well suited to windsurfing. Those however who seek
seclusion may well prefer Gourna, a large and generally deserted sandy bay on the West coast. It may
be reached easily by climbing over Mt. Rachi from Krithoni, or by the road from Lakki, the whole
round trip on foot taking only a little over two hours.
The only classical remains, those of the temple of Artemis, are situated at Partheni on the island's
Northern tip, but because of the extension of the Airport they are currently inaccessible. The highly
indented coastline hereabouts still retains some of its pristine charm, but unfortunately much of it is
designated a military zone, and hence in the sacred name of peace the public are excluded. Once again
the bitter comments upon the methods and effects of Roman imperialism eloquently voiced by
Calgacus before the battle of Mons Graupius, and recorded in Agricola 36.6 seemed singularly apt:
'ubi solitudinem faciunt pacem appellant' - where they make a wilderness they call it peace. Of the
relics from the mediaeval period, the Kastro, reconstructed by the Knights of St. John, is worth seeing
both for its imposing architecture and also for the view one gains from it of all the island. It is
approached from Platanos on foot by a winding staircase, and at its entrance you will find a Church
dedicated to the Virgin, where an impressive service is conducted on August 23-4 by the Archbishop
of Leros, Kalymnos and Astypalaia, assisted by 15 priests! The citadel is occupied by a garrison, so
that admission and photography are forbidden. On the East side of the fort you will discover a small
chapel with a barrel-vaulted roof perforated by numerous holes. These are in fact the necks of bottles
containing incalculable treasure which had lain hidden for centuries, until some 25 years ago someone
stole into the fortress by night, and with the help of a mediaeval plan and a stick for tapping the roof,
located the bottles, broke them open, and disappeared with their entire contents!
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CHAPTER XI: SYMI, TILOS, NISYROS, ASTYPALAIA
SYMI
It is well over 24 hours' sail from Piraeus to Symi, so that those who lack either the time or the
appetite for such a long sea voyage would be well advised to fly to Rhodes, from which at least two
boats daily make the relatively short crossing in only two hours. The island is blessed with an
extremely dry climate and nil humidity, in consequence of which its inhabitants are renowned for
their longevity. In 1982 I heard of a celebrated and colourful local woman who had just died at the
ripe age of 117! After reaching her century, she deemed working alongside the fishermen hauling in
the nets rather too arduous, and hence retired from the sea to devote her remaining years to a milk
round, bearing the heavy churns suspended from a wooden yoke across her sturdy shoulders. The
temperature can in mid-summer soar above 100º F; but despite the superficially arid appearance of the
island when seen from the sea, in the hinterland above 1000' there are wonderful forests of fir, cypress
and pine, whose leafy canopies provide ample protection from the searing sun. The light is marvellous
for photography, especially in the early morning and evening, and the town itself is irresistible,
whether seen from afar clustering around the steep sides of its narrow bay, or at close quarters, where
its fascinating corners and ruined mansions form most intriguing compositions. Most of the present
3000 inhabitants are centred here, and earn their living by tourism, although a few still practice their
traditional skills of boat-building and fishing. The many monasteries are now sadly depleted of
monks, but often have a resident guardian. The long tentacles of Turkey, which embrace the island
like an octopus on every side except the South, afford grateful protection from the winds, so that the
visitor enjoys calm seas for bathing and sailing, and wonderfully warm water in the numerous
sheltered bays formed by the extremely indented coastline. In fact the only amenity in which Symi is
rather lacking is good water for drinking. Most of it is collected from the winter rains, the only
substantial spring being at the monastery of Zoodochos Pigi on Mt. Pigalia S.E. of the town. The
supply is adequate, and now supplemented by a solar still: but being devoid of minerals, it tends to
taste somewhat flat.
If one discounts the 200 or so guest-rooms at the Monastery of Panormitis in the South of the island,
which are generally monopolized by devout Orthodox pilgrims, most visitors will choose to stay in
the main town, which lies just about in the centre of the N. coast. The majority will prefer Yialo, the
port, which has both expensive hotels and cheaper pensions and rooms, as well as many eating places.
But those who eschew crowds and are in search of tranquillity and the more old-fashioned atmosphere
which prevails in Chorio, as the much older, upper town is called, will have to resign themselves to a
steep climb, either up the 500 steps of the Kali Strata which begins in the Plateia tis Skalas, or up the
zigzag path by the side of the dry river-bed known as Odos Kataraktis. Alternatively, simple
accommodation is available at the hamlets of Pedi in the East, or Emporio in the West, both in
sheltered bays and about 1½ miles distant from the main town.
The architecture of Symi is noteworthy, there being many excellent examples of Neoclassical
mansions with pedimental gables, most of them constructed in the 19th century, when the island
reached the zenith of its prosperity and supported a population of 30,000. The Symiotes, being to all
intents surrounded by Turks, had the wisdom to surrender to them, in return for which they enjoyed
many privileges, including valuable estates on the mainland opposite, and a free port. Their divers
were accounted the best in all Greece, in 1900 recovering the famous Anticythera ephebe now in the
National Archaeological Museum of Athens, and annually securing the Sultan's continued favour by
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supplying him with the choicest sponges, for which they were accorded the free and unconditional
monopoly of sponge-diving in all Turkish waters. Likewise Symiote 'skaphs', small wooden sailing
boats, were the fastest in the Aegean, and hence acted as messengers between the Sublime Porte and
the Turkish fleet. The women of Symi too achieved such a high reputation as bakers that they were
employed as such in the Sultan's harem, while the famous ship's biscuits which they produced were
yet another important source of revenue and employment. In 1912, however, the Italian occupation of
the Dodecanese, coupled with the advent of the steamship, resulted in a sharp decline in Symi's
prosperity and population. The islanders began to emigrate to America and Australia, the fine marble
mansions were abandoned, fell into ruins, and received the final coup de grace in the bombardments
of the Second World War.
The main object of historical interest in Yialo is the house on the so-called Mouragio where in 1945
the Dodecanese Islands were transferred to the Allies. It is now a restaurant: but a plaque set into the
wall records the joyous event. A little further along and carved into the rock face in relief is a copy of
the famous ship incised at the foot of the acropolis of Lindos in Rhodes; and nearby is an inscription
which translated reads:"Today freedom spoke to me secretly. Cease, twelve islands, from being
pensive. 8th May, 1945." Up in Chorio is an interesting Museum, to which one is directed by a series
of arrows guiding one through the intricate maze of narrow streets. It contains an assorted collection
of costumes, icons, chests, pottery, and musical instruments, as well as a few classical fragments. On
the opposite hill further W. one finds the mediaeval Castle of the Knights, built in the 16th century
and incorporating some of the masonry from the classical temple to Athena. Adjacent is the lovely
church of St. Demetrios with its marvellous frescoes, while on a hill even higher up one finds the
imposing church of Agia Triada whose courtyard is paved with black and white pebbles arranged in
an intricate pattern. There are superb views over the harbour towards the barren offshore island of
Nimos in the N, which is separated from Symi by the narrow straits of Diapori.
Of the following 5 excursions the first 2 are comparatively short and simple, involving no more than 7
or 8 miles walking each, while the last 3 are considerably longer and more arduous.
1 Agia Marina Bay – c. 1½ hours each way.
Leave by the Kali Strata, the broad, paved staircase ascending from the small square known as Plateia
tis Skalas up to Chorio. Then take the lane on the left which goes up to the line of ruined windmills,
some 20 in all, which are built on the crest of the hill so as to catch the breeze, and are a stark
reminder of the island's erstwhile fame for baking bread and biscuits. Follow the track up past the
windmills, and notice an especially large, circular base, which is thought by some scholars to have
held the triumphal monument set up by the Spartans to commemorate their spectacular defeat of the
Athenian navy, commanded by Charminos, off the Knidos peninsula in 411 B.C. The track soon
becomes a steep path, at first climbing and then descending a little, and finally ascending to the brow
of the hill which commands a superb view of all Symi, which is best taken early in the morning, just
as the sun creeps over the hill of Noulia, flooding all the bay with light. The path now swings right
(E.) over the shoulder of the mountain into a small plateau containing a parched field and many sheep.
Black crows circle overhead, and many partridges nest in the scrub, waiting until you are nearly upon
them, and then suddenly darting up with a startling flurry of beating wings and their strange, whining
cry. Soon you will see the bay with its calm, turquoise water, and tiny islet on which is built the
chapel of Agia Marina, where a panegyry is held on 17 July. As the path descends through the
collapsed terraces you will see in the distance the Knidos peninsula which has two very distinctive
volcanic cones in its centre.
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The bay is popular with swimmers, and if you are lucky you may cadge a lift in one of the cruise
boats returning to Yialo. If you visit in the evening you are almost certain to see fishing boats leaving,
the larger boats having in tow a whole flotilla of smaller ones as they chug across the bay for the
deeper waters offshore. It should in theory be possible to work one's way S.W. along the shore to
Pedi, and return thence by the track which ascends to Chorio, thus making a round trip. If however
you choose to return in the evening by the same path, simply follow the sun, which causes the rocks
worn smooth by countless generations of hooves and feet to glint in its powerful rays. Where the
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passage of time and feet has worn down the rock and ground it to a fine, reddish soil, you will be able
to trace your footprints: but on the two occasions where the path ascends through dilapidated terraces,
some gentle shepherd or considerate wayfarer has erected small cairns to guide you safely through the
morass of uneven stones.
On reaching the crest of the hill in some 35 to 40 minutes, one is suddenly presented with a
tremendous panorama of the whole of Symi resplendent in the dying embers of the sun, and a worthy
reward for all one's efforts.
2. Emporio.
This is only a gentle stroll of some 4 miles in toto, and can be made a circular walk by going via the
coastal path and returning by the inland route, or vice versa. Leave by the boatyards E. of the
Mouragio, and then climb up past the solitary church of the Panagia Evangelistria on the crest of the
hill, and continue past the isolated coves where the nudist bathers disport themselves. Wheel round to
the W. and descend in about 40 minutes to the gleaming bay of Nymporio, as it is now called. Here
cheek by jowl are three chapels – Panagia, Agia Kara and a little higher up Sotiris, standing on the
foundations of an early Christian basilica. At the far end of the bay is the monastery of Mercurios,
alas uninhabited, and above this is a small path which ascends the headland in the direction of the
chapel of St. Spyridon or Analypsis which guards the narrow strait separating Symi from Nimos.
Unfortunately however the cliff becomes very precipitous in the region of Kokkinochoma whither the
path descends, so that it is feasible to visit the chapel of the Analypsis only by boat. In order to return
to Yialos by the inland path, find the chapel of St George, and follow the clear path S.E. until it
reaches the Town Hall Square - Plateia tou Demarchiou.
3. The Monastery of the Archangel Michael Panormitis.
The monastery at Panormitis is one of nine foundations dedicated to the island's patron and protector,
the Taxiarch - or as he is more commonly designated in the West - the Archangel Michael. It is
situated in a wide but well sheltered cove on the S.W. coast about 10 miles distant from Symi by the
path, and a road which will eventually lead there is at present under construction. Most pilgrims arrive
by boat; so that any walkers who are deterred by the prospect of a 20 mile trek may generally make
either the outward or the return journey by sea. It is regrettable that the roadworks have in several
places destroyed the path; but one hopes that when the construction of the former is complete, efforts
will be made to restore the latter, for the benefit of those who still prefer to exercise their limbs, and
who also share my belief that a certain degree of effort and hardship enhances rather than detracts
from the value of visiting a religious shrine.
Hikers intending to walk both ways should leave no later than 7 a.m. departing by the Kali Strata or
the Odos Kataraktis. As you emerge from the Southern edge of the town you will find the old stone
path which zigzags slowly up the slopes of Mt. Vigla. In about 10 minutes the path joins the new
road, which traverses the West flank of the mountain, and not the East, as the local map suggests!
Avoid the temptation to follow the new road Westwards – for in fact this is a branch road which will
eventually lead to the other large monastery dedicated to the Taxiarch Michael, and known as
Roucouniotis. Instead scramble up to the higher road some 100 feet above, turn right, and then a few
yards further on turn right, off onto the old path which climbs up past a house and a small church
(Agia Paraskevi) before again joining the new road. There are two subsequent occasions where one
may repeat this procedure by diverting right where the road takes a large sweep to the left. The old
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path is clearly visible, and finely constructed of large, dressed stones on the outer courses which rise
to a considerable height where it crosses over a ravine like a miniature viaduct; but the centre is filled
with rubble, and the surface is now very rough and broken.
In about 1½ hours you should reach on the right of the main road a small chapel named Panagia
Strateri, where I participated in the tail end of a service arranged by a group of émigrés visiting for the
summer, with the help of a priest from the church of Agia Triada in Symi, and a young 'psaltis' called
Michalis who possesses a fine, resonant baritone voice. After receiving communion bread and having
the remains of the holy water sprinkled over my head, I was invited to drink coffee, and afterwards
Michali offered to accompany me as far as the lovely monastery of Sotir Megas which is situated on
the right of the road about a mile further on. The chapel here has some very finely executed murals
depicting traditional scenes from the life of Christ. A little further along the road one catches glimpses
through the dense forest on the right of the monastery of Panormitis nestling at the edge of its
eponymous bay; and one may take two short cuts on the left where the old path has survived and is
pleasantly shaded by trees. In about ¾ hour, however, the road suddenly comes to an end, and one
must scramble down the rocks to reach the old path below, which has been severely damaged by
landslides caused by the bulldozing required to level the mountain in order to support the road. One
passes a small chapel on the right of the path (Prophetes Elias), and finally descends to an arid plain.
From here the path is evident enough, being quite broad, and one can cut off a bend or two by
following a small track on the right which descends pleasantly through the pines, crosses the little dry
streambed, and finally enters the monastery precinct through a small gate. The total walking time
from Yialo is 3½ - 4 hours.
The buildings are mostly eighteenth century and rather Italianate, and hence look slightly incongruous
in such a typically Greek landscape. Above the entrance is a highly ornate baroque bell tower built in
1905 and modelled on Agia Photini in Smyrna. The interior, however, is distinctly more attractive, the
shady balconies resplendent with vivid hibiscus and bougainvillea while the 'templo' in the catholikon
is magnificently carved, and the ceiling ribbed and adorned with many frescoes. The icon of the
Archangel looms larger than life on the right of the 'templo', and is splendidly embellished with silver
and countless 'aphieromata', several depicting boats. There is also a Treasury and a library containing
several precious works of art and books, and the monastery contains a large number of guest rooms
where visitors may spend the night. There are cooking facilities as well as a small restaurant.
On the assumption that you will be walking back to Symi, and realising from my own experience how
different the path appears when approached from the reverse direction, I offer a few helpful hints.
About 10 minutes from the monastery, look out for the short cut on the left, passing through the pines,
crossing the streambed, and after 5 or 6 minutes rejoining the main track to descend into the plain
with its scattered houses. Half an hour after leaving, one begins to climb diagonally up the formidable
cliff in the direction of the small chapel, which you should reach in about ¼ hour. A further ¼ hour
and a scramble up the avalanche of boulders caused by the road building will bring you onto the new
road near a deep cutting. In 5 or 6 minutes look out for a useful short cut on the right; and after
rejoining the road, continue a similar distance and repeat the same procedure, after which yet a third
track will soon appear, again on the right. This path is somewhat longer and beautifully shaded, first
travelling N., then swinging round left to the W., and finally veering yet again to the N. In the places
where one is likely to go astray, the rocks have been obligingly marked with red spots. In ½ hour or so
one emerges onto the road, but immediately opposite on the left one may divert onto a stretch of the
old path which leads straight to the chapel of the Panagia Strateri. From here it is but 1½ hour's walk
to Symi.
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4. Agia Marina, Prophetes Elias, Panagia Chamon, Zoodochos Pigi.
These four monasteries all lie in the mountains S.E. of Symi, and the total distance walked will only
be in the region of 10 miles. Agia Marina, which is reached by a straightforward path from Chorio in
about ½ hour, is now in the care of a wizened, deformed old man, and once possessed a famous
school which was founded in 1765. Pupils generally boarded from Monday morning to Saturday
afternoon, and lessons were conducted under the shade of the great holm oak. From Agia Marina a
small path leads up the terraces to Prophetes Elias, which lies higher up the slopes of Mt. Vigla.
Unfortunately there is no curator, and the main chapel is kept locked: but you will be able to visit the
adjacent chapel of Agia Anna, to which on December 9 the unmarried and childless bear sweets and
drinks in the hope of marriage and conception.
To reach Panagia Chamon, continue straight up the ridge, and after ½ hour's hard slog you will reach
a prominent tree, a few yards beyond which is a small staircase cut in the rock which marks the
beginning of a fairly well defined path circling round the ravine and then climbing to another
prominent tree on the crest of the hill on the right. Having reached this you will see the monastery
nestling in a fertile valley on the right. Above, on a high ridge to the South one can discern the
monastery known as Mikros Sotir. Panagia Chamon is also deserted, but there were signs of recent
habitation in the form of clothes pegs, which proved useful for weighting my plastic water bottle in
order to draw water from the well. On the floor of the valley is a rare sight - a prolific vineyard with
scarecrows so effective that I was deceived into believing them to be labourers gathering in the
harvest!
Leaving Panagia Chamon, take a goat track climbing gently diagonally E. to a small saddle where you
will join a well defined path descending to the monastery of Zoodochos Pigi, the Life-giving Spring,
situated appropriately enough beside the only substantial spring on the island. In the extensive garden
grow many pomegranates and figs, and in the courtyard itself even mulberries; but above all be sure
to avail yourself of the excellent and abundant water which is piped down to Chorio. From the
monastery take the path running due N. in the direction of Pedi, and as soon as you reach the brow of
the hill you will be surprised by a most spectacular view over Symi. From the hill of Gria a good path
frequently marked with red crosses leads down in less than an hour to the cemetery of Agia Marina.
Should anyone wish to do the walk clockwise from here, simply cross the concrete bridge, go through
the wooden gate, and where the dirt track goes slightly left, continue straight on and upwards. In a few
minutes you will discover the path enclosed between two very dilapidated walls, and liberally marked
with red crosses daubed on the rocks.
5. The Taxiarch Michael Roucouniotis and St. Emilianos.
This is a rather longer walk, this time S.W. of Chorio, and including 7 churches in its itinerary. The
total distance covered is 16-17 miles, if the return journey is done on foot rather than by boat - an
alternative which is invariably possible whenever one's ultimate destination is on the coast. In favour
of walking back in the evening I would urge the superior quality and clarity of the light at that time,
which both increases visibility and vastly enhances the beauty of the landscape.
Leave Yialo by the inland road to Emporio (see plan), and if you wish to go direct to the monastery of
Roucouniotis, turn left at the church of Agia Elikonis, and simply follow the zigzag path. Otherwise
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continue towards Emporio, and then follow a track on the left which at first runs parallel with the bay,
climbing gently, and then after about ½ hour turns inland South towards the chapel of St. Dimitri.
If time is running short you may avoid the latter and proceed direct to the Panagia Katholiki, whose
curator had returned 6 years ago for his children's sake from Los Angeles to the healthier environment
of his native Symi. Continue South up the hillside, and in a mere ¼ hour you should arrive at
Roucouniotis. Outside the impressive main entrance stands a huge spreading cypress tree, under
whose all-embracing canopy the festivities take place on November 8th, the monastery's patronal
feast. The church is cared for by an elderly woman who lives with her young son, a carpenter and
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amateur accordionist. Provided that you are soberly dressed, she will open up the catholikon which
has a richly carved screen and excellent murals, the dome being adorned with two figures instead of
the usual representation of Christ the Pantocrator. It is regrettable that such a fine monastery has no
longer any resident monks: as the curator wryly observed, the day is not far hence when there won't
even be a priest to bury you!
On leaving the monastery make S. descending towards the military camp, and cross the terraces
wheeling round towards the nearby monastery of Agi Anargyri, an imposing edifice due W., and
commanding splendid views of the entire plateau. Again the place is uninhabited; but the string
fastening the door is easily unfastened, the chapel is open, and the well is built in the thickness of the
courtyard wall and enclosed within a niche. From here the path continues W. to the saddle where you
will see a conspicuous coppice of firs. At this point one encounters a veritable morass of stones, in
crossing which one must edge round to the left in order to hit the correct path. Once you have found
it, it is very well defined, contouring gently through the forest almost parallel with another path
slightly further N. and leading to the bay of Maroni. In about ½ hour you should pass on the left the
small chapel of St. John the Theologian, outside which there is a welcome tap where you may quench
your thirst. About 10 minutes further along, the path divides, and you must be careful to take the right
fork which begins to descend in gentle curves through the forest, affording fine views of St. Emilianos
framed in trees, and floating on its tiny island which is connected to the mainland by a narrow
causeway. About half a mile from the sea, the path finally emerges from the trees, contours round the
valley left, crossing the little dried up streambed, and swings again to the left to approach the
monastery of St. Philemon across some terraces. On the occasion of my visit in 1982 St. Philemon
was occupied by a Greek family whose afternoon siesta was rudely interrupted by our arrival, but who
nevertheless kindly arranged to take back by boat one of our group who was fatigued by the length of
the walk and the unfamiliar heat. From here a concrete path leads down to the beach and then
continues across the small headland to the monastery of St. Emilianos. The sea hereabouts is
magnificent, and the setting idyllic, so that it was no surprise to find the place occupied by an
international group of French, English and Italian, all spending the summer here, and vying to give us
hospitality. The chapel has little of merit except its fine acoustics.
If you plan to return on foot, leave no later than 4.30 p.m. in order to enjoy the evening light at its
best. The most arduous part of the walk will be the climb through the forest to the chapel of St. John;
but on arrival you will enjoy a magnificent prospect extending as far as the spectacular Knidos
peninsula on the Turkish coast. In a further mile or so you will reach the stony plateau, where the path
circles round to the right, before descending the hillside with its little plantation on the left. Here one
is again overwhelmed by a superb panorama embracing all the Northern part of Symi as well as the
island of Nimos beyond, and beyond even that the Turkish coast. The colours, drenched in the rich
evening light, are sumptuous beyond description, while the clarity of the distant scene is quite
breathtaking. If you fail to find the path to the monastery you may walk with impunity right through
the military camp, the laxity of security being quite remarkable considering the proximity to Turkey.
A few hundred yards on, the new road brings you to the crest of the hill, where yet again you are
presented with another spectacular view of Symi town bathed in unctuous light, its white houses,
domes and belfries glinting in the glowing embers of the setting sun.
Take the path on the left, and go immediately left again down the old paved, but now rather damaged
street. After a while, when it takes a broad sweep to the left, you may turn off right, descending a
track where the rocks have been much eroded into rich, red soil. Finally one passes through a curious
midden, where cows, oxen and dung fill the streambed with their distinctive noise and odour, after
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which the path becomes a staircase descending by the side of an impressive house with a twin gable
and flagpole. The total walking time, allowing for generous stops, is 3 hours.
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TILOS
Tilos, a small but extremely mountainous and deeply indented island, is situated about 25 miles and
two hours' sail S.W. of Symi, and roughly midway between Nisyros in the N.W. and Chalki in the
S.E. Fifty years ago its population numbered well over 2000 souls, most of whom were engaged in
agriculture or fishing, and were especially concerned with the cultivation of almonds, of which more
than 1000 tons were exported annually. Now, however, the island can scarcely muster 400 permanent
residents, most of whom live at Big Village - Megalo Chorio, which lies about a mile from the bay of
Agios Antonios in the N.W., but faces S. overlooking the island's only substantial fertile plain which
slopes down gradually to the Southern sea at Eristos. Here most of the younger travellers congregate,
sleeping on the sandy beach, and eating either at the Nausikaa taverna or up in the village, where Telis
restaurant, although two miles distant, offers a tempting variety of food. Opposite the restaurant there
was in 1981 an attractive new hotel with well appointed rooms each equipped with private showers
and available at very modest prices. Perhaps, however, more strategically placed for the walker who
wishes to explore the whole island is the main port of Livadia, which occupies a fairly central position
at the end of a deep inlet on the N. coast. Steamers call here two or three times weekly on their way to
and from Rhodes, some boats returning to Piraeus via Nisyros, Kos and Astypalaia whilst others
continue to hug the Turkish coast as far N. as Samos. At Livadia too there is a modest but clean hotel,
three tavernas and two cafes; and a rough road built some 20 years ago links the port with the
principal village of Megalo Chorio, an open wagon making the trip according to demand, since the
paucity of the population does not justify a regular bus service.
In the absence of tourism on any significant scale or of any mineral deposits, the islanders support
themselves almost exclusively by fishing or agriculture. Almonds are still the main product, but the
trees have been blighted by a cancerous growth, and at the moment of writing urgent appeals for help
are being addressed to the Ministry of Agriculture. In addition, Tilos produces some small but very
tasty pears, succulent figs, and a few grapes; in the vicinity of Megalo Chorio cattle and sheep are
raised, while the hills provide fodder for goats and bees, the honey of the latter and the meat of the
former both being highly regarded.
There is only one copious spring, and that is situated on the N.W. coast at the monastery of Agios
Panteleimon, so that for drinking water the island is dependent on boreholes, one at Livadia and the
other in the plain S. of Megalo Chorio. A further deterrent, especially to bread-loving Greeks, is the
complete absence of any bakery, with the result that all farinaceous products have to be imported from
Rhodes. Needless to say, the necessity of a four hours' sea voyage in the summer heat makes the
provision of a fresh supply virtually impossible. There is a similar and equally regrettable lack of
locally produced wine, even retsina being available only in the inferior bottled variety. These and
similar deficiencies in basic amenities, which were widely advertised in a recently published article in
a popular Athens evening paper, naturally provoked bitter resentment in the local residents, and are
not likely to promote a big boom in tourism. Nor, to be honest, is the walking as exciting as I had
hoped when I first passed by the island in 1982, and saw its gaunt skeleton and craggy heights rising
in silent supplication to the cloudless skies. For as so often happens, the construction of the road, and
the ever dwindling population have caused the paths, in the N. at least, to become abandoned and
often entirely overgrown.
Most people will be content with 4 or 5 days' sojourn, during which they will find solitude, and as
they begin to feel accepted by the local community they will slowly grow to like the place for its own
and its people's peculiar merits. The keen mountaineer will certainly find no shortage of peaks to
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conquer, the challenge of which consists not so much in their height, which rarely exceeds 2000', as in
the difficulty of finding or making the path through the boulder-strewn and scrub-entangled terrain.
Those who have the opportunity and inclination for a more protracted stay will doubtless discover that
the island has many hidden treasures awaiting those who are prepared to wander off the beaten track,
and they will rightly conclude that the following fairly obvious excursions do little but scratch the
surface
1. Mikro Chorio.
Leave Livadia by the main road, which goes up the hill and leads eventually to Megalo Chorio. About
¼ mile from the village, just after the surfacing stops, look out for 4 crude steps cut into the bank on
the right, which give access to the old paved path which avoids the long bend that the road takes to the
left. Where the path emerges onto the road, cross over and continue to the dirt track which winds up to
the OTE installation on the top of the mountain. Turn left for about 200 yards, and then right, cutting
off the loops in the track at the obvious points, and reaching the village of Mikro Chorio in about 4045 minutes in toto.
For the last 20 years the place has been totally abandoned, and apart from the main church it now lies
in ruins, trampled over by sheep and goats and presenting a melancholy spectacle of neglect and
decay which excites a mixture of grief and anger in its former inhabitants. The exodus apparently
began even before the second world war, and was initially provoked by the women's constant
complaints about the hardships they endured in carrying their heavy pitchers from the only well,
unfortunately situated in the lower extremity of the village, to the considerable heights of the village
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above. Thus many came down to the port below, and even more emigrated to America and Australia
in search of a higher standard of living; and I heard rumours of famines and mysterious plagues which
combined to accelerate the process of depopulation. There is however one day in the year when the
village suddenly blossoms into life - and that is August 15th when the great Feast of the Virgin still
attracts large crowds of expatriots, some of the older women clad in the brown skirts and long leather
boots which form part of the attractive national costume. The murals in the church are interesting and
well executed; and a little higher up the hillside and slightly to the right is small chapel with even
better murals, one in the apse illustrating the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham and another in the nave
depicting St. Christopher bearing the grotesque head of a horse. (According to the legend, he acquired
the latter when, distressed by the fact that he was far too handsome ever to become a saint, he prayed
to God to make him ugly!) Proposals have been made to the Greek Tourist Board to revive the village
by creating there an International Youth Centre under the auspices of UNESCO, and dedicated to the
promotion of peace between the nations. A similar suggestion is currently being implemented on the
likewise depopulated island of Chalki to the South. The young man who first told me of this plan, and
was its keenest advocate, insisted that the old schoolroom, which is adjacent to the church and indeed
shares a common wall with it, should be made into a Folk Museum. But others were more sceptical
about the venture, fearing that it might introduce narcotics and undesirable aberrations into the island,
and hence preferring to await developments on Chalki before giving it their unqualified approval.
Walkers who dislike returning to base by the same route may prefer to take the path from the top of
the village leading up to the OTE installation, from which they will enjoy a fine view of much of the
island. From here a track descends down the S.E. side of the mountain and eventually joins up with
the main road to Megalo Chorio.
2. Megalo Chorio and the Elephant Cave of Charkadio.
Leave Livadia as in (1), but after the first short cut continue on the road. The total distance is 4½-5
miles; but traffic is minimal and hence no impediment to progress or enjoyment. As you pass the
watershed and begin to descend, after about a mile, notice on the left of the road a big hole, down
which a path descends, crosses the gully and then ascends to a small chapel, the only building in the
deserted village of Messaria which has survived the ravages of time. About ten minutes beyond the
chapel, and just above a prominent cypress tree on the right of the path, is the entrance to a cave in the
mountainside, where in 1972 a remarkable discovery was made. For centuries shepherds had penned
their sheep here; but by chance a passing Austrian archaeologist noticed a white object which turned
out to be the petrified skeleton of a dwarf elephant which lies in a stratum dated to 45 millennia B.C.
It is reasonably certain that at this remote time neither the Mediterranean nor the islands existed, but
Europe, Africa and Asia all constituted one vast land mass, so that it is quite conceivable that
elephants could have first arrived here from Africa. A South African whom I met on Tilos remarked
how much the topography of the island resembled that of the Transvaal, a consideration which adds
plausibility to the hypothesis. The cave is now locked; and two large notices, one in English and the
other in Greek, and both clearly visible from the road, explain that entrance is forbidden since the
excavations are continuing under the auspices of the Palaeontological Dept. of Athens University and
assisted by a team of scientists from Vienna. So far 30 skeletons have been exhumed, and carbon tests
suggest that they are to be dated 8000-7000 B.C., a time when the island already had human
occupants. Their miniature stature - they stand only 1.2-1.6 metres high - is a great puzzle, the theory
that they adapted to the island landscape being ruled out by the absence of any precursors of more
standard proportions, and also by the fact that a stag of normal size has been discovered in the same
stratum. One can only hope that subsequent investigations will be able to shed some light on this
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tantalizing enigma. Should you visit the cave on the way back to Livadia, once you have climbed
down from the chapel into the gully, you may follow the streambed almost up to the watershed,
instead of scrambling back onto the main road.
As you approach the village of Megalo Chorio you will pass the lane on the left which leads down to
the beach of Eristos, where, I have recently learnt, plans have just been granted for the construction of
a new hotel. The mountain on the left is Prophetes Elias, the highest mountain on the island, rising to
a height of 2145', and surmounted by a small chapel to the prophet, but climbed only with difficulty,
as I was assured by a young shepherd with whom I conversed. The more modest eminence on the
right, on whose slopes Megalo Chorio is built, is crowned with a fine ruined Venetian castle. The path
to it exits from the village right, i.e. N.E. where the water cistern (dexameni) is constructed, and from
there it swings round to the left and slowly zigzags to the summit. Here one finds the foundations of a
classical temple to Zeus and Athene with a well preserved marble staircase and several ancient
inscriptions lying around. The pagan sanctuary was converted to a Christian Church dedicated to the
Transfiguration of Christ, and several murals as well as various fragments of sculpture survive in the
apse. An inscription on the present church's outer wall down in the village, records the removal of the
church from the Kastro to its present location in 1827 at the expense of the villagers. At this time
Tilos, eagerly joining the insurgents, had liberated itself from the Turkish yoke: but after the war of
independence it shared the fate of the rest of the Dodecanese and was returned to Turkey in exchange
for the island of Euboia, whose proximity to the mainland made her inclusion in the new kingdom of
Greece more desirable and more of a practical possibility. The Mayor of Megalo Chorio explained to
me with some pride that his compatriots' love of Freedom and Democracy is long standing, as is
attested by a Hellenistic inscription now in Kos, which informs us that the Tilian oligarchs who had
been exiled to that island were to be allowed back home only after swearing an oath not to upset the
Democracy! From the acropolis walls one can peer down the sheer precipice to the peaceful bay of
Agios Antonios below, or gaze out North over the tranquil ocean to the neighbouring island of
Nisyros, where the beetling village of Nicaia, perched on the rim of the volcanic crater which
occupies all the centre of the island, stands out very clearly, its white chapels and houses gleaming in
the brilliant light of the sun.
After toiling up to the Kastro and exploring its remains you will, on returning to the village, be able to
savour the experience of sampling a well earned glass of 'soumada', a drink which is served chilled,
and is produced from almonds which are picked in the spring when they are still unripe and filled with
a rather bitter juice. All around you will see the trees which earned Tilos in the old days the
appellation 'The Island of the Almonds'. Figs and pears are grown too, and a little corn which is
threshed on the circular threshing floors adjacent to many houses. Cattle, sheep and goats, often
hobbled so as not to elude their aging guardians, are quite a common sight in the pleasant lanes that
surround the village, which still bustles with activity, is redolent with flowers, and even possesses a
town hall.
3. The Monastery of St. Panteleimon.
This, the island's only surviving monastery, is situated about 4½ miles W. of Megalo Chorio, where
you must obtain the key from the 'epitropi' to gain admission, the place having neither permanent
monk nor curator. It lies in a verdant ravine, a veritable oasis amid an extremely wild and arid
landscape, at about 1000' above the sea, and it is reached by a tortuous track built about 20 years ago
to replace the original footpath. The latter has survived, although very overgrown now through disuse,
and begins just after the road crosses the dry riverbed after leaving the bay of Agios Antonios. It
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ascends to a small white chapel, whence it reaches in about ½ hour a tall cypress tree near which there
is a spring, and thence it climbs over the shoulder of the hill to reach the monastery in another ½ hour,
the paving being intact in parts of the latter stretch. One could thus make a circular walk, going via the
path and returning on the road, or vice versa.
As one enters the peaceful, cobbled courtyard one hears the spring gushing forth from the rock on the
left into a marble font, whence it flows into a great cistern on a lower level. Here one finds also a long
stone refectory table, now used only at the panegyry which takes place annually on July 27, the Feast
of St. Panteleimon. There is a high tower with several floors recently restored, and reached by a
moveable ladder which one hoists up in order to reach the next level. Up the stairs beyond the
catholikon are several cells, a kitchen with a fireplace in the corner, and above is the bakery. The two
implements, one like an oar for putting in the bread, and the other like a rake for pulling it out, are still
there in a corner of the kitchen. Outside are numerous terraces descending the ravine to another spring
lower down the valley, in which cicadas sing incessantly and mating pigeons coo. An inscription
above the main entrance to the catholikon records the founding of the monastery in 1703; but in fact
there was an older building already in existence in the west section of the central aisle of which it now
forms a part. The dome is particularly beautiful, dominated by the icon of Christ the Almighty, while
in the apse there is an equally lovely painting of the Holy Trinity.
4. Panagia Politissa, the Kasteli Agriosyki, Agios Sergis.
Leave Livadia S.E. on a road which continues from the Hotel Livadia, running at a distance of about
300 yards from the shore, and parallel with the coast road which goes to the bay of Agios Zacharias.
The dirt track continues up the valley as far as the tiny chapel of Panagia Politissa, so called because
its foundress lived most of her life at Constantinople, which is still regarded by many Greeks as the
Polis par excellence. The chapel was founded in 1937, on the site of an older one which had fallen
into ruins, and as the result of a dream, and it celebrated on August 23, i.e. on the ninth day after the
Dormition of the Virgin. About a mile before you reach the chapel, a smaller but well constructed
path diverges on the right and proceeds to zigzag up the hillside, supported by a substantial wall. On
the right is a rocky hill crowned by the Venetian castle known as Kasteli Agriosyki. There is said to
be a path to the top, but it is difficult to find, and I must admit to failure myself. The main path
continues to climb up the valley and finally reaches a saddle between two craggy eminences, the one
on the right surmounted by a white trig point. The view back down the valley is very fine, three
gullies converging before flowing into the broad bay of Livadia, and behind, many serrated summits
in the N.W. of the island, all in the region of 2000'. In the far distance one can see quite distinctly the
much higher mountains of Turkey. After reaching the saddle, the path crosses a plateau, from which
one can see the Radar installation on the E. point of the island known as Yera, and on the S.E. coast
some quite precipitous cliffs. In about a mile one reaches a huge fig tree bearing marvellous black
figs, and from this point the path begins to descend quite steeply to the beach at Agios Sergis. The
light, however, began to fail, compelling me to return: but I have no doubt that this region of Tilos,
unspoiled as it is, will amply repay exploration.
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NISYROS
Nisyros is as yet comparatively unknown by tourists: but of the few who have had the good fortune to
visit the island, none whom I have met has ever failed to fall beneath its captivating spell. Its hitherto
lack of popularity is possibly mainly due to the absence of protected beaches and bays; for unlike its
neighbours Symi and Tilos, Nisyros' coastline is almost entirely devoid of indentation. Moreover its
pentagonal shores are constantly assailed by winds from every quarter, as is made abundantly clear on
the only available map - a photostat copy of a mediaeval document which identifies no fewer than 16
of them! On the credit side, however, the interior of the island possesses a unique feature in the form
of an enormous volcanic crater more than 2¼ miles in diameter, which not only constitutes a spectacle
of rare topographical and geological interest, but also promises to be a source of abundant natural
energy. The volcano last erupted in 1872; and in recent years a group of Hungarian geologists have
been making experimental boreholes inside the craters in the hope of exploiting the steam which
issues hence from the earth's thin crust in considerable quantity and at very high temperatures.
According to reports which I heard in 1983 production has now begun, and the scientists believe that
when fully harnessed. these chthonic powers are capable of generating electricity sufficient to satisfy
the needs not only of Nisyros but of all the Dodecanese! Nor is it solely in the field of energy that the
volcano is the island's chief benefactor and indeed progenitor - for mythology ascribes the island to
Poseidon, god not only of the sea, but also of earthquakes. For the thermal springs at Therma and
Loutra on the North coast have been famous from antiquity, and have led to the establishment there of
extensive bathing installations, while the luxuriant vegetation which covers the whole island from its
shore even to the highest mountain peak must in no small degree be attributed to the abundance of
minerals in the soil, and of subterranean streams beneath it.
Apart from the mining operations carried on on the North coast and on the offshore island opposite,
the inhabitants of Nisyros survive chiefly by fishing and agriculture, supplemented now by a little
tourism. They live in four communities, Mandraki and Pali on the North coast, and Emporio and
Nikia, both inland and situated on the rim of the volcano. The boats, both the regular ferries on the
Piraeus - Rhodes route, and the smaller caiques which cross over from Kardamena on the South coast
of Kos, land at Mandraki on the N.W. extremity of the island, and it is hence here that most tourists
will choose to stay. The main hotel is to the left (E) of the jetty, but the rest of the village is built
around the L shaped main street which runs parallel with the coast, at first travelling West, and then
diverging south in the direction of Palaiokastro. Accommodation is available at a number of private
houses, and there are several tavernas both in the vicinity of the main square and hidden away up the
narrow side streets. As one travels up the main street one passes on the right the War Memorial
inscribed with the celebrated Laconic injunction ' Η ΤΑΝ Η ΕΠΙ ΤΑΣ ' - 'either with it or on it', the
characteristic words with which Spartan mothers used to bid farewell to their sons as they went forth
to war, the 'it' referring to their shield, to abandon which would be unthinkable, and which was used
as a bier in the event of death. A little further up there is a small play area for children, and the whole
village is well cared for and displays that fresh appearance which comes from being constantly laved
by the ocean and scoured by the winds. There is a Museum, but during my brief visit in 1982 it was
permanently closed. On the other hand I was lucky to make the acquaintance of a fascinating
character called George, who began life as a cobbler, next turned his hand to agriculture, then opened
a cafe, and was finally promoted to the more congenial occupation of Curator of the Castle. For local
history is his main love, and he is the proud possessor of a diverse collection of antiquities ranging
from Mycenaean stirrup vases to mediaeval pipes - the smoking variety. In his sitting room at the T
junction just past the Town Hall square, the welcome visitor will also be enthusiastically invited to
examine a twelfth century codex, a working model of a classical lock, another locking device known
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as the 'stravlo klidi' - to mention but a few of his intriguing exhibits. On the opposite corner of the
street in the converted cafe is a gallery containing inter alia paintings and diagrams illustrating the
development of Nisyros from the volcano which last erupted on an appreciable scale in 1872.
In the village itself the two main areas of historical interest are the headland occupied by the Castle of
the Knights of St John built in 1315, adjacent to which is the celebrated Monastery of Panagia
Spiliani, and the much older 'Pelasgian' fortifications known as Palaiokastro, and situated about a mile
to the South. The latter structure is extremely well preserved, especially when one considers its great
antiquity. Its walls, built in the sixth century B.C. from solid granite, are on a monumental scale, the
massive, superbly dressed blocks held in position by sheer gravity. At this period it seems that the
island fell under Persian control, and along with neighbouring Kos and Kalymnos it formed part of the
domain of Artemisia, queen of Halikarnassos, a Dorian colony on the Turkish mainland opposite, now
called Bodrum. Artemisia was the infamous queen who while fighting against the Greek fleet at the
battle of Salamis in 480 B.C. sank one of her own vessels in order to procure her escape. Inside the
fortress you will see the remains of a stadium from the classical period and a ruined Byzantine church.
There was also discovered here the earliest Doric inscription ever to come to light. It now resides in a
German museum, and it explains that the area 5' outside the wall is 'damosion' - i.e. public land, and
hence not available for private building.
The much more recent mediaeval castle constructed by the Knights of St John of Rhodes when they
occupied the island in 1315 is far less well preserved, but nevertheless well worth a visit. Adjacent
and approached by a staircase of 130 steps cut into the rock is the famous Monastery of the Virgin of
the Cave, so called because its Catholikon is hidden deep in a cave in the cliff, suspended some 35
metres directly above the sea, for which reason it is sometimes described as the 'Meteora of the
Dodecanese'. Of the original 9 cells only 3 survive: but the lounge and library are finely furnished,
and after receiving the usual hospitality, visitors will be invited to descend the narrow staircase to
view the Catholikon which very much resembles a catacomb. We have no documentary evidence for
the existence of the monastery before 1600 A.D.; but it is likely to be contemporary with the Castle.
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Tradition ascribes its foundation to a miraculous icon of the Virgin which, emitting a strange light,
was discovered by a traveller on a hillside near Loutra at a place known as Vreton – i.e. the
Discovery. By common consent it was lodged in the Church of Potamitissa, but during the night it
disappeared; and naturally recriminations ensued. Some time later, however, it was found by a
shepherd who lived in the cave above the sea, and hence it was decided to build the monastery in this
very spot, inaccessible though it be. According to tradition the original icon, which is very small, is
hidden behind the left hand of the Virgin in the much larger icon which now resides to the right of the
Templo. In a small cave off the narthex you may visit a secret school of the Turkish period, where the
priest, as so often the sole educator, gave clandestine instruction to the younger members of his flock,
one of whom would stand guard at the entrance to the cave to give due warning of the approach of the
authorities.
At present the only surfaced road on the island begins at the harbour and connects Mandraki with the
other three villages - Pali, Emporio and Nikia; but an unmetalled track takes a more direct route to the
craters of the volcano, passing en route the chapel of Evangelistria. On the other hand there is a
profusion of footpaths, many well shaded by the abundant vegetation, but many overgrown and thus
requiring strong footwear, care and determination. The following two trips cannot fail to bring delight
and adventure, and they will admirably fulfil the main intention of this book if they stimulate the
walker to pioneer further routes for himself.
l. The circuit of the island via the chapel of Stavros and the villages of Nikia, Emporio and Pali.
As so often happens, I embarked upon this enterprise more by chance than design, after spending the
first half of the morning helping a distracted student to buy a boat ticket from the widow Eleni, who
appears to exercise a monopoly over the sale of tickets and of reliable information, and yet at the same
time contrives to be the most elusive person in the village. Consequently I missed the first bus to the
volcano, and was frustrated of my resolve to catch the next by its failure to depart - presumably
through lack of sufficient passengers to make the trip worthwhile. On foot the journey takes 7-8
hours, and may be done either clockwise or anti-clockwise, my own preference for the latter being
based simply on the fact that it generally affords more favourable conditions for photography. There
will naturally be innumerable variations on the route that I followed; but all of them are certain to
include spectacular views into the craters of the volcano from its southern side, which after midday
will be well illuminated by the sun.
Leave Mandraki by the coast road going E. in the direction of Therma but in a few yards divert right
onto a dirt track which leads to the Church of the Annunciation - Evangelistria - about three miles
distant, and ultimately to the volcano. After several paces, where the road bends right, you may follow
a path left which climbs quite steeply up a gully inhabited by thousands of dark-winged butterflies
similar to those found on Rhodes and on Paros. In about 5 minutes you will emerge onto the dirt track
once again: but look out for two more places where, this time on the right, you may cut off large
bends, and avail yourself of the more shaded and congenial terrain of the narrower mule path. Just
before reaching the Evangelistria, which is situated just off the road to the left, follow a path on the
right which is covered with cinders from the volcano, where one must tread cautiously to avoid losing
one's footing. In about 10 minutes it passes a water cistern, shortly after which a stone stairway on the
left leads up to a ruined chapel. If you continue straight on, however, descending a little and passing
through a gate, you will reach a small house inhabited by a man called Elias, and lying at the edge of
an oval plateau with neatly kept fields where the odd donkey browses away the hours. The soil is rich
in minerals, and hence yields the most delicious fruit, as I soon discovered to my profit when Elias
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invited me to sample his peaches - quite the most delectable that I have ever tasted - and filled my bag
with others for the journey.
Proceed along the long, narrow field, and slightly behind on the left you will marvel at the tiny white
chapel of the Diavates, perched on a precipitous summit and hiding the slightly higher peak, dedicated
as always, to the Prophet Elijah. At the far end of the plateau is a gully which you will climb with
difficulty, the old stone terraces having collapsed and the path having been long since overgrown by
nature. Apart from the ubiquitous holm oaks with their thorny branches and prickly leaves, and other
light grey bushes whose vicious spines are sharp as needles, there is the additional hazard of snakes.
But persevere, carefully picking your way from rock to rock, and within ½ hour you should have
surmounted the worst section of the defile with only a few superficial scratches and torn garments as
proof of the rigours you have endured. As you mount higher and gradually contour round to the left
you will with luck find a small goat track descending into another plateau of considerable size, where
delicious figs, soft and warm from the sun, abound, and several chapels vary the green landscape with
a splash of distinctive white. At the far end of the plateau a broad track leads down, at first well paved
but deteriorating as it proceeds, and wheeling round to the left. Straight ahead you will see a wide
plain covered with olives and many other types of tree, and stretching right down to the southern sea,
while on the right are some curiously shaped and precipitous cliffs on the S.W. extremity of the island
known as Petra tou Kalogerou.
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A little further along on the right of the path, and approached by a concrete whitewashed stairway, is
the chapel of Stavros, locked by the curious key resembling a bent nail, and known as the 'stravlo
klidi'. By its side are several guest rooms showing signs of recent habitation, and opposite, a kitchen
and dining room, and yet other bedrooms all closed. (I later discovered that a sizeable party was going
there from Mandraki in order to whitewash the chapel for the forthcoming panegyry.) Returning to the
main track you will forthwith be conscious of a strong, acrid odour, harbinger of the superb views
down into the extensive sulphurous craters of the volcano which will soon greet your astonished eyes.
Behind them there rises almost vertically the magnificent mass of Mt Prophetes Elias (2270') and to
the right the conical peak of Visternia A path on the left leads down directly into the abyss; but if you
continue on the main path you will descend more slowly until the path becomes a substantial cinder
track leading left into the volcano, and right to some unidentified point on the South coast. You will,
descry, straight ahead and crossing the hillside diagonally, the old path which leads up at a steep but
even gradient to Nikia, a charming village perched on the lip of the volcano. The wind up here can be
quite ferocious, and the path is rather overgrown, especially at the start, where much of the vegetation
appeared to have been destroyed by a recent fire. But by now you will be inured to such hardships,
and will be able to comfort yourself by the prospect of civilization and refreshment which will await
you on arrival in the village. As you leave, on the left is a signed path leading down to the church of
Agios Theologos, i.e. St John the Apostle, and thence into the craters, while a little further on, on the
left of the road is a fountain. A mile or so further down, you reach a left fork signed 'to the
Hephaesteion' i.e. the volcano, while the next left fork goes to Emporio, the third in size of the island's
four villages. The main road here turns right and begins its descent via a long series of snake-like
bends: but all these can be avoided by following a footpath which begins in a hole masked by bushes
exactly at the junction of the two roads. About a mile after you resume the main road, a path on the
right and marked with red spots on a rock a few yards from its start leads down to Pali, where you will
relish the freshness of the large breakers pounding the shore. Unfortunately you have to ascend again
onto the main road in order to complete the round trip to Mandraki: but by this time a certain degree
of fatigue may have set in, so that the even surface of the metalled road will not be too unwelcome.
2. The ascent of the Mountain, comprising visits to the churches of Prophetes Elias, Diavates,
Evangelistria and Agios Armas.
It is wise to begin early in the day so as to take full advantage of the fresh morning air and the
pellucid light. But be warned that the temperature can be quite low before the sun is fully up, whilst
even at midday strong winds can render the mountain top chilly enough to require the wearing of
sweaters and wind jammers.
Leave Mandraki by the steep lane which rises right of the Primary School in the direction of the
football ground – 'to stadion'. You will soon recognise this as the track which you joined in (1): and
you may take the same short cuts on the right. Just before you reach the Chapel of Evangelistria, again
follow the path opposite on the right. In about ½ mile you will reach on the left a water cistern where
delicious figs grow, as fresh from the morning dew as if they had been kept all night in a freezer.
Hence the path is enclosed by two dilapidated walls; and immediately the walls stop, branch off from
the main track and mount a staircase on the left which leads up to a ruined chapel with a Gothic door.
The path to the mountain begins just behind the ruins of this chapel, and rises diagonally to the chapel
dedicated to the Virgin Diavates which glints perched high on its rocky eyrie, and drenched in the
brilliant radiance of the sun. In about ½ hour you will reach a saddle identified from afar by some
curiously shaped bushes which stand out on the skyline, their dark contours clearly etched against the
blue of the sky. Here the path turns right to reach the summit in a further ¼ hour. The stones may well
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be slippery from the clouds which, brought by the Pounentis, so often shroud the mountain summit
during mid August, and occasionally one may go slightly astray where landslides and goats have
combined to destroy or at least obscure the correct path. But vigilance and constant care will soon
bring you to your goal, having attained which you will marvel at the sheer splendour of the view. The
greens of the mountain are myriad, whilst its flanks are everywhere redolent with thyme, heather and
rigani (oregano). In the distance Mandraki glistens, a dazzling white fringe alongside the azure sea,
the Panagia Spiliani, its proudest jewel, resplendent against the dark blue sky, while immediately
below at the foot of the precipice, the neatly cultivated fields of the little plateau sparkle in the genial
sunlight.
The chapel is dedicated to the Virgin, but it also contains an icon of John the Baptist, or the
Forerunner, as Greeks call him to distinguish him from his namesake the Apostle. The second chapel,
which is dedicated to the Prophet Elijah, sits on the island's highest summit (2270') about ¼ mile
away to the S.W. and approached by a path beginning on the far side of the enclosure wall, and
climbing gently up the hillside where scree and vegetation compete for possession. Inside the chapel
at the foot of the icon one reads the inscription: 'And the ravens brought him bread in the morning and
meat in the evening, and he drank water from the brook'. Outside and a few feet above is the trig point
and if you descend a little from here you may peer down into the seething cauldron of the volcano.
The silence is intense, broken only by the occasional startled cry of a partridge in flight, or the distant
throbbing of a caique's engine far out on the encircling sea.
It is possible to continue from here down into the craters, and so make a round trip. But since I had
fallen in with a group of Greeks who were accompanied by a Deacon, I was persuaded to return with
them, for once by the same route. The Deacon's presence was required mainly in order to sing services
both at the two chapels on the mountain top, and also at the chapel of Evangelistria at its foot, and
subsequently at the now deserted monastery dedicated to the obscure saint Armas, and situated just
off the road on the left about a mile further down in the direction of Mandraki. The main chapel here
has some well preserved murals, and adjacent to the refectory is a still for making ouzo which is quite
intact. There are also hidden catacombs, and it is likely that the original foundation is of great
antiquity. Indeed some have even attempted to derive the saint's name from a Doric form of the pagan
god Hermes; but as yet no evidence of a classical shrine to that god has come to light to support the
theory.
At the right bend in the road, keep a look out for the old track down which you will descend very
rapidly, the while enjoying magnificent views of Mandraki straight ahead. As l remarked above, my
own day was made especially enjoyable and memorable by my chance meeting with a group of
Greeks who, as always, had come equipped with copious provisions which they shared with
characteristic generosity on the mountain top, and in whose ebullient company I sang and danced my
way back to town in that effusion of joy which only those who have experienced it for themselves can
fully comprehend.
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ASTYPALAIA
Astypalaia, the most Westerly of the Dodecanese and about equidistant from Kos and Amorgos, is an
extremely indented island whose Western section is joined to the Eastern by an isthmus only 100
yards wide. Its fertility and the abundance and variety of its flowers earned it in Classical times the
appellation "The table of the Gods" – a fact which is scarcely credible to current visitors to whom it
presents a totally treeless and for the most part exceptionally barren appearance. Its present sterility,
however, would seem to be largely the product of depopulation, since there is still an amazing number
of springs which guarantee an excellent supply of water throughout the whole year, while the
cultivated areas continue to yield substantial quantities of high quality food, including meat. Most of
its thousand or so inhabitants live either at Kastello, the main town, which occupies a dominant hill in
the centre of the island, or at the port of Periyialo which lies squeezed between the hill and the sea,
and possesses several hotels and tavernas. S.W. however, lies the hamlet of Livadi, nestling at the
head of a sheltered, sandy bay, behind which there rises by far the most fertile valley of the whole
island, and here too one finds good tavernas and simple lodgings.
The walking is pleasant rather than exciting: for the absence of a commanding mountain peak (the
highest point of the island is only 1660') precludes the dramatic scenery which both its neighbours
Nisyros and Amorgos can offer, while the demise of the village communities is an equally regrettable
though potentially remediable deficiency. Indeed in recent years there have been some encouraging
indications that Astypalaia is beginning to attract back both more permanent residents and increasing
numbers of younger tourists. A visit to the mediaeval castle built in the thirteenth century by the
Venetian family of the Quirini is to be recommended, mainly for its commanding view, since both the
churches inside are locked. Just before the entrance, however, is a curious row of six adjacent chapels
which are open and worth a visit. The best walking is in the Western half of the island which is more
mountainous: but in the East there are pleasant bays at Vai and Vathy, and even nearer at Maltezani
which was at one time the principal port. If one walks there from Periyialo one crosses over the
narrow isthmus, which is geographically perhaps the island's most interesting feature, and one may
experience the rare delight of lush green meadows running right down to the edge of the sea.
The following two excursions, both in the Western section, can easily be accomplished within a single
day, and the walking is nowhere in any sense arduous.
1. Palaiokastro and the chapels of Agios Ioannis and Prophetes Elias.
As you climb up the road from Periyialo to Kastello you are sure to be impressed by the brilliance of
the flowers, especially the hibiscus and bougainvillea, whose vivid red and purple are an eloquent
testimony to the quality of the soil and more particularly the water. Gazing up at the solid Venetian
fortress you will be amused to reflect upon the ingenuity of its mediaeval defenders who, when once
under siege, are reported to have adopted the unorthodox but highly effective expedient of pelting
their hapless assailants with beehives teeming with irate bees! When you reach the windmills in the
centre of the village, take the right fork uphill, since the left one descends to Livadi. In about 5
minutes you may take a useful short cut on the left, which resumes the main track after about ¼ hour
at a small white chapel. On reaching the brow of the hill a little further along, take the left fork: the
right one after a while becomes a path leading past a prominent shepherd's enclosure, called in Greek
a 'mandra', and then after about a mile descending on the right to the interesting chapel of Agia Livi
which is partially built over a cave, and possesses a vivid dark blue dome. (If you make this detour,
once you reach the 'mandra' you may turn right and descend directly to the main track.) Hence it
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circles all the way round the valley, at first descending a little, and then climbing up the other side,
gently contouring round the outcrop of limestone bluffs on the left which are very reminiscent of the
Yorkshire Dales. On the right and crowning a small hillock is the chapel of the Prophet Elijah: but the
road to Agios Ioannis here branches left, reaching the chapel in a further 10 minutes.
Should you wish to enter, you must obtain the key from the priest in Kastello, as it is generally kept
locked. Beneath is an extremely verdant valley through which a lively stream flows, eventually
reaching the sea via a steep ravine, half way down which is yet another spring. A few yards below the
chapel is the house of the 'chora-phylax' - a sort of country warden whose extensive and well irrigated
garden grows excellent grapes, peaches, pomegranates and quinces, as well as tomatoes and curious
small cucumbers shaped like pears. In this simple dwelling which he and his wife have occupied for
30 years he has raised six children, all of whom now live and work in Athens. As I arrived, his wife
was busy baking bread: their main diet, apart from fruit, is beans and farinaceous products, which are
supplemented by a little milk and cheese brought by neighbouring shepherds, and only very
occasionally by meat. A path leads down the ravine to the beach some 800' below, while on the rocky
spur to the right are situated the remains of Palaiokastro. On your return journey it is worth climbing
up to Prophetes Elias, whence you have a good view of all the surrounding countryside, and can
observe how suddenly the shale gives way to the outcrops of limestone. Mostly the land is barren: but
frequent patches of green indicate the presence of numerous springs. Just after the chapel of
Phanourios and Vassili, whose icon has regretfully been stripped of all its precious silver, where the
path from the 'mandra' and the main track converge, branch off up a small path in the direction of a
fairly large ruined building and the trig point. For from here you will enjoy a superb panorama of all
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the Eastern part of the island, including the narrow isthmus and many of the tiny offshore islets.
Further to the right Kastello gleams in the opulent light of evening, the castle and its twin guardian
churches boldly etched against the dark blue sky. The small goat path continues to join the main track
below; but when you reach the small, recently restored chapel, remember to take the old path on the
right from which you will relish yet more enchanting views of Kastello, and its row of eight windmills
standing like sentinels along the windswept ridge, and brilliantly illuminated by the sun as it now
hastens to its setting in the Western sea.
2. Livadi and the chapels of Agios Panteleimon, Agios Georgios and Constantine and Eleni.
Climb up to Kastello as in (1), but at the War Memorial take the left fork and after about 10 minutes
branch off left down the steep dirt track which leads down more directly to the shore. At Livadi are
several coffee bars and tavernas, and also a good sandy beach. The path to the monastery of St.
Panteleimon begins in the dried up river bed - to revma - behind the town at the point where the
church of the Annunciation - Evangelistria - occupies a prominent knoll due West of the shore. Hence
it climbs up the ridge, where you will enjoy the full benefit of any breeze that happens to be blowing,
thence swings round to the left, and in ½ hour or so reaches a shoulder where several paths intersect.
Keep to the left, climbing up on the right of a prominent outcrop of rock, and eventually you will
reach a field which is sometimes sown. Keep to the edge of this and begin to descend, and you will
shortly see a lovely little chapel set amid rocks in a steep valley. Nature is very wild hereabouts, the
intense silence interrupted only by the occasional tinkling of sheep-bells, while curious goats
scrambling with enviable agility over the rocks eye one with that disdainful gaze which makes one
feel quite guilty for daring to intrude into their Arcadian solitude. In about 1 hour after leaving Livadi,
where the path divides take the left branch, going for a while due South. Soon you will enter on the
right a very green valley with plantations protected by bamboo fences, and before long the monastery
will appear, sitting comfortably in the saddle between two limestone ridges. The walking time is
exactly 1½ hours each way, and there is really no alternative to returning by the same route, since
cross-country walking in unexplored territory is in my own experience both arduous and fraught with
manifold hazards.
On reaching Livadi again, make your way through the maze of gardens teeming with rich produce of
all kinds, including flowers, vegetables and wonderful pomegranates, mandarins and peaches. After a
swim and some lunch you will feel refreshed for the afternoon excursion to the chapels of St. George
and Constantine. You have the choice of either the footpath which undulates along the cliffs or the
dirt track which turns a little inland to cross a deep valley, fed by a fairly substantial stream. Continue
along the wild plateau and soon the chapel of St George will come into view on the left, and by its
side a small house occupied by a charming couple, Kostas and Maria, who own the whole plot,
including the chapel, which they keep in immaculate condition. Their house in which they reared 8
children consists of a long, narrow room, the bed occupying the far end, and by its side a tiny window
from which a constant breeze blows up from the sea, rendering the place delightfully cool. I was
invited inside to drink coffee, eat grapes and sample a tasty cheese cake fresh from the oven, the crust
crisp and hard, and the pungent goats' cheese inside flavoured with spicy herbs.
Here I learnt that most of the mandras are owned by the church, which charges the shepherds an
annual rental of up to 2000 drachmae, while they are obliged to slaughter a certain number of animals
for the priests at panegyries. Kostas had great contempt for their avarice. "They should shave off their
beards," he said disparagingly. "They charge extra for a panegyry, and marriages and funerals cost
2000 drachmae a time!"
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Down the valley nearer to the sea is the chapel of Constantine and Eleni. The track used to continue
down, but several years ago, the fierce winter rains destroyed it, so that now it is reduced in several
places to an overgrown path. In the early evening light the scene is irresistible, the familiar frangosyka
and pikrodaphni now interspersed with the occasional palm tree. On the shore, the waves lap gently
upon the bows of a solitary boat, and in the distance Kastello illuminates the skyline with its brilliant
splash of white. Originally a path ran along the coast back to town; but in recent years the land has
been enclosed with a fence, making the path impassable. About half way back, however, you can
clamber down and continue .along the cliff top past the cove now haunted by the 'Naturalists'. As one
draws closer to Kastello, the views become increasingly attractive, especially about 5 p.m. when the
blue of sky and sea takes on a pellucid quality which any photographer will find hard to resist.
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CHAPTER XII: CHIOS, LESBOS
Chios and Lesbos are easily accessible from Piraeus by steamers, some of which continue North to
Kavala making it possible to extend one's travels to the rarely visited northern province of Thrace.
From Chios there is also a daily caique to the Turkish coast which lies only a few miles distant: but
the journey is expensive and communications from the landing stage are bad, giving one the distinct
impression that the two bitter rivals are anxious to discourage traffic between the two states. It is not
long since a friend of mine who was being entertained by a Chian host was given a rifle before
retiring to bed, in case the Turks engaged in sudden reprisals for a sheep-rustling foray carried out by
the Greeks some months earlier. The dreadful massacres perpetrated by the Turks on the island during
the 1820s in retaliation for the part played by Chios in the revolution and resulting in 25,000 dead and
47,000 enslaved have left a deep mutual suspicion which more recent hostilities over Cyprus have
cemented rather than eradicated.
CHIOS
1. The main town and Nea Moni.
Despite its Genoese castle and picturesque Turkish quarter, the main town of Chios, which shares the
same name as the island is not particularly prepossessing, whilst accommodation in the high season
can be difficult. It is nevertheless worth enduring a couple of nights' discomfort if only to see the
celebrated mosaics of the monastery of Nea Moni situated five or six miles inland, and built at the
beginning of the 11th century by the Emperor Constantine IX Monomachos. There is a regular bus
service as far as Caryes, and from there one follows the carriageway up the hillside, cutting off the
bend where possible. A footpath on the left leads to the small monastery of St. Mark, and from there a
tiny track descends into the pleasant and once rich valley where the larger monastery is situated.
Alternatively you may prefer to avoid the steep slope up to St. Mark's by remaining on the
carriageway which divides about a mile further on, the left fork leading down directly to the
monastery. All traces of the village, totally exterminated by the Turks in 1821 have vanished; but the
charnel house on the left of the entrance provides a sombre reminder of how thickly populated and
prosperous the area once was.
2. The North: Kardamyla (Marmaro).
It must surely have been Northern Chios which Homer had in mind when he described the island as
'paipaloessa' – 'craggy'; for as one climbs steeply from Vrontados one enters a region of dazzling
white precipices whose splendour is matched only by the sparkling seas into which they tumble. The
attractive village of Kardamyla makes a convenient centre from which to explore this area; and if one
prefers to be nearer the sea, the lower village sometimes called Marmaro offers both a modern hotel
right on the beach, or a simple pension near the centre. Those wishing to climb Mt. Prophetes Elias,
the ancient Pelinaeon, may take a bus on alternate days to Viki, the usual starting point. For the less
energetic I suggest the following two excursions.
(a) Nagos.
This delightful hamlet lies about two miles to the N.W. and is approached by a dusty cart track. The
sea there is pure turquoise and quite the clearest that I have ever seen. Photographers and admirers of
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fine scenery may like to ascend the track which branches off on the right about a mile short of the
village and leads to a small white chapel with a spectacular view both of the bay below and the huge
bulk of Mt. Pelinaeon behind. In fact if you dislike walking on roads at all, it is possible to reach this
chapel from the windmill at the northern end of Marmaro bay, but it is quite a rough scramble through
briars and treacherous rocks. In any case the opportunity of bathing in the crystal waters of Nagos
should on no account be missed.
(b) Delphinion
This excursion is of particular interest to the Classicists, for here they will discover the fort built by
the Athenians in 413 B.C. in a desperate attempt to resecure the loyalty of the island, which had
revolted on receiving news of the disastrous defeat sustained by the Athenian navy in the Great
Harbour of Syracuse in Sicily. The easiest way of reaching the place is to take the Chios bound bus as
far as Langada, itself an attractive resort, whence a small path leads North round the 'dolphin's tail' of
the bay, whence presumably the name derives, reaching in about half an hour a tiny chapel and
cottage enclosed by a moat. From here the ruins of the fortress, excavated in the 50s by John
Boardman, are just visible on the top of the rocky outcrop which stands in the middle of the valley
about half a mile from the shore. Walls and angle towers can easily be traced, and if one feels inclined
one may proceed up the dry river course passing some fourth century B.C. houses. When the path
splits into three a little further on, take the central one which will eventually lead you round onto the
main Kardamyla road. After about half a mile on the road you may take a track on the right towards
the two ruined mills which command excellent views of Marmaro with the curious double
indentations of the bay, and from there you may descend directly into the village passing the
secondary school, which was endowed by the rich Livanos family. The prevailing N.E. winds make
this walk particularly invigorating: even on a hot day the air has a refreshing cutting edge, and imparts
a remarkable clarity to the bold mountain scenery.
3. The South: the Mastic Villages.
The south of the island is in many ways the exact antithesis of the north. Instead of the stark bare
crags which characterise the Kardamyta region, one finds smooth undulating hills covered with the
curious green lentisk bushes which ever since they were touched by St. Isidore's (or St. George's)
sword have exuded the mysterious mastic from which both chewing gum and an aromatic liqueur are
produced. The fact that the trees require very little care, and that their strange produce has always
been highly prized, led in the middle ages to a proliferation of villages, each containing a stout citadel,
surrounded by a symmetrical wall, and ringed by a circle of watchtowers whose occupants constantly
scanned the seas for would-be marauders. Pyrgi, the largest of these villages, occupies a conveniently
central position from which to explore them all, and also boasts a restaurant and one simple 'pension'.
Its narrow shaded streets and curiously stuccoed houses with their ornate balconies, from which the
locals suspend onions and peppers to dry for the winter, make a colourful spectacle and encourage the
visitor to stay longer to imbibe the peaceful relaxed atmosphere of this thriving, closely-knit
community. There are quite attractive beaches at Pasa Limani to the N.W. and Komi to the S.E., each
served by frequent buses; but those who seek greater seclusion and don't object to an hour's gentle
walk to reach it, may prefer Phane Karynda or Emporio. The former two are approached by a well
defined cart track diverging left from the metalled road to Olympi a few yards outside Pyrgi, and
passing through pleasant fields and eventually descending through narrow ravines filled with
excellent figs. There is no food at the beaches, but light refreshment may be obtained at the shooting
pavilion about half way between the shore and Pyrgi. The following two rather longer excursions may
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prove acceptable ways of passing a couple of days for those interested in combining archaeological
exploration with gentle walking, interspersed when convenient with a dip in the sea.
(a) Emporio.
This interesting site, excavated by the B.S.A under John Boardman in the early 50s, is reached in
about one hour from Pyrgi, provided that one cuts off the rather tedious bends by diverging on fairly
obvious sheep tracks. The earliest ruins to explore, built one presumes in a period of comparative
peace, lie on the flat area between the black volcanic mountain on the right and the much later Roman
acropolis situated on the small peninsula guarding the bay, and finally destroyed by the Arabs in the
seventh century A.D. Having examined these, it is well worthwhile climbing the steep conical hill to
the N.E. whose summit is crowned by the dazzling white chapel of the Prophet Elijah. On the way up,
one passes the foundations of a small sixth century B.C. temple dedicated to Athena and the extensive
ruins of a flourishing community established in the early tenth century B.C. by one of the waves of
emigration following the Dorian invasions, and apparently destroyed at the beginning of the fifth
century, most probably by the Persians in their first thrust into the Aegean Sea. It was such
foundations as this which perpetuated what survived of Mycenaean civilization during the so called
Dark Ages; its discovery here lends plausibility to the long established tradition that Homer was a
native of Chios. From the summit there is a fine view of the volcanic mountain, whose eruption most
probably destroyed the Bronze Age settlement, and in the opposite direction of the coastline
northwards, with the mastic villages dotted here and there on the undulating slopes of the hinterland.
The ascent will have been a scramble, but there is a good path down to Komi where one can enjoy
safe bathing, and then return to Pyrgi either by evening service bus, or on foot via Kalamoti and
Armolia. Alternatively there is a coastal path running back from Komi to Emporio. You will probably
lose the track after skirting a ravine thickly planted with mastic and fig trees: but if you make for the
towers on the hilltop, a short scramble down the hill will soon land you safely back in Emporio.
(b) The Mastic Villages.
After leaving the walls of Pyrgi by the West gate, one proceeds up the valley due North towards Elata
on a fairly wide and dusty track which narrows as one begins to climb. The guard towers which lie a
mile or so outside all the Mastic Villages are a good landmark. Elata lies in a slight hollow, and from
the village one can ask directions to the monastery of Phaneromeni, perched on a ledge in a steep
ravine at the end of which lies a good beach. The monastery itself presents a rather sad spectacle of
decay, its once rich and carefully tended lands now the anxious care of a single, aging monk.
Returning to the village and rejoining the surfaced road, after a while turn right off the tarmac by a
stony path which clearly leads down to the isolated village of Vessa. Leaving Vessa behind, again one
may avoid the tedious bends and unshaded exposure of the main road by ascending directly to the
narrow ravine by a rather overgrown but otherwise reasonably paved path which meets the new road
at the brow of the hill. The next village, St George, celebrates its local patron saint in late August with
much ouzo and dancing, performed to the accompaniment of exciting drums and a curious wind
instrument made out of a goat's skin and resembling the bagpipes in tone. From here a delightful path,
well shaded by trees and adorned with refreshing springs, leads down to Tholopotamos. By now the
setting sun sets ablaze the jagged peaks of the Kaki Rachi range behind, and illuminates one's path
ahead, turning the six mile strait between Chios and Turkey into a veritable sea of crimson. If one
times the walk carefully, one may return to Pyrgi by the service bus, which en route passes through all
the remaining mastic villages which you have not visited on foot.
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LESBOS
The large and lovely island of Lesbos, famous in antiquity as the birthplace of the poets Alcaeus,
Arion and Sappho, was also much favoured by men of a more practical bent, namely the great Roman
generals Pompey and Agrippa. Its capital Mytilene has a well preserved Genoese castle commanding
fine views of the two harbours, one commercial and the other military, which in classical times were
joined by a canal running roughly along the line of the present moat. The ancient theatre, set on a
pine-clad hill behind the city, has been recently excavated and is a good vantage point from which to
view the whole town, especially when bathed in the soft warm colours of sunset. Though by no means
as picturesque as its northern rival, Mithymna, Mytilene is certainly more attractive than most of the
larger islands' capital cities, and has a good selection of zaharoplasteia selling excellent yoghurt and
ouzo. Moreover, a well organized bus service radiates to all parts of the island – an important
consideration on an island which is rather too large to be traversed on foot in the span of a relatively
short stay. The following three excursions are to be recommended.
1. The Petrified Forest.
The now arid Western half of the island was once covered by a dense forest which, on the eruption of
the volcano which formerly occupied the Gulf of Kaloni, was covered to a vast depth by volcanic ash,
and thus preserved for posterity. Subsequently the action of hot water containing silicic acid and iron
pyrites petrified the trees and gave them the colourful appearance which, as weathering now slowly
reveals them to sight, so astonishes the viewer. Regular full day excursions by private pullman coach
are organised, ending up at Singri, a fine sandy beach protected from the full blast of the north
westerlies by the long island of Megalonisi. However, if you can steel yourself to an earlier departure,
you may travel more cheaply by the public service bus and also include in your itinerary Eresos,
reputedly the birthplace of the poetess Sappho.
2. Agiasos – Mt. Olympos.
Agiasos is situated in a fertile plateau fed by excellent springs from Mt. Olympos and hence
producing food of first-rate quality. The crystal purity of the air has led to the foundation of a
Sanatorium for chest complaints on the hillside South of the town. If one visits Lesbos around the
15th August one will see thousands of pilgrims making their way, often on foot, to participate in the
great Panegyry celebrated in honour of the Dormition of the Virgin, to which the main central church
is dedicated. This festival is second in importance and size only to that which takes place at the same
time on Tinos, and attracts on average about 40,000 visitors annually, most of whom are carried up by
a constant fleet of buses. Consequently it is virtually impossible to travel by public transport
anywhere else on the island during this period. The services last most of the night, and at their
conclusion at about 9.30 in the morning, the miraculous icon is paraded with great ceremony around
the church. Meanwhile the streets are thronged with bands of dancers and pedlars who prolong the
festive air for as long as visitors remain.
Even though now crowned by a hideous television aerial, and disfigured by a monstrous road, and
moreover overtopped by one metre by its northern rival, Mt Lepetymnos, Mt. Olympos is still worth
climbing. The path leads off South from the main street, traversing abundant orchards of apples and
pears whose windfalls make a delicious breakfast, while the several springs of freezing water you will
encounter en route make it unnecessary to burden yourself with the extra weight of a water bottle. As
the bare, silver cone of the summit emerges, one crosses the new road and has an easy climb to the
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windswept apex of the principal peak, where a solitary fire-watcher keeps vigil over the sea of olives
which form one of the island's chief exports. The soil which holds the roots is carefully protected from
erosion by stone walls which encircle the trunks, and there are over 100 refineries as well as several
soap factories. On a clear day, especially at dawn or sunset when the air is relatively still and hence
free from dust, one can see not only the whole of the island stretched at one's feet but also well into
the mainland of Turkey.
3. Plomari.
Plomari was once the second town of the island, but earthquakes and depopulation have combined to
give the place a depressing air of desolation and decay. The route, however, passes through pleasant
countryside and affords good views of the Gulf of Gera and the tree-clad foothills of Mt. Olympos,
while the town itself still produces excellent ouzo and lemonade. Moreover at Agios Isidoros, about a
mile short of the town, there is a reasonable sandy beach where food is available.
4. The North: Mithymna.
Mithymna, more commonly known by its mediaeval name Molyvos, has preserved all its mediaeval
charm intact, its steep, cobbled, streets shaded by trellised vines, being entirely free of traffic, and the
only modern hotel being situated on the shore well away from the main town. The ancient acropolis is
crowned by the well preserved ruins of a Genoese castle, and there are several good tavernas offering
excellent food and also fine views over the bay towards the distant mountains of Turkey. Simple
accommodation is available in private houses, where provided that one does not dwell too
enthusiastically on the merits of Mytilene and the South of the island, one can be assured of a warm
hospitable welcome. For the rivalry that existed in the fifth century B.C. between the two principal
cities is still very much alive today, and what Molyvos lacks in size it makes up for in quality. At
Petra some four miles to the South one can find superb frescoes in the chapel of St. Nicolas, while the
monastery which crowns the precipitous monolith celebrates a panegyry on August 15th that for
fervour of devotion compares very favourably with that of Agiasos in the South. Not even in the
literary sphere is Molyvos without its pioneers; for just as in the sixth century B.C. Arion rose rapidly
to fame by his invention of the dithyramb, so in the last century did Ephtaliotes achieve distinction by
first using 'demotiki', the vernacular, in the composition of verse and short stories. His birthplace in
the town is marked by a plaque, while at the foot of the hill the Athens Rotary Club have erected in
his honour a bronze bust beneath which one of his verses is inscribed. The village of Ephtalou in
which he later lived and from which he derived his pseudonym lies about 2½ miles to the East, and
before one arrives one passes close to the ruined tower where the author often used to go for
inspiration.
Should you wish to climb Lepetymnos, which is in fact the highest mountain on the island, it is
possible to start from Ephtalou by climbing up the dry river bed immediately behind the village.
Eventually one reaches the village of Argenos, and either from here or the adjacent Lepetymnos, paths
lead up to the two summits, one of which is adorned by a chapel dedicated, as is usual to the Prophet
Elijah. I must confess that I was thwarted of this intention firstly by leaving too late in the day, and
secondly by meeting a young shepherd gathering brushwood to protect his vegetables from the wind.
He was so horrified that a total stranger should be attempting to climb this elevated peak alone, that he
offered to accompany me: but on reaching the village his newly wedded wife, who naturally viewed
this foolhardy exploit with some disfavour, caused him to withdraw his generous but slightly
impetuous offer. I am certain, however, that there is much good walking in this area which I have
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visited all too briefly. All that I can report from my own experience is that I had an exciting return
journey back from Argenos. After two abortive attempts to forge a way up to the summit through
impenetrable undergrowth, I was forced by failing light to abandon the mission and take to the road
home. Soon tiring of this, I diverged onto a track on the right which although proceeding in the right
direction finally plunged into a deep ravine with scorching boulders and sheer drops from 10 to 15
feet which I negotiated only with considerable difficulty. Emerging with some relief I sat down to
finish some pears and figs which the kind shepherd had given me; but a little later I was set on by two
vicious dogs who pursued me tenaciously through the maze of tortuous lanes which form the outskirts
of Molyvos, and in fact did not desert me until I had finally reached the safety of my lodgings. It is on
such occasions as this that I find my faithful Athos stick, without which I never embark on any
lengthy walk in the hills, such an invaluable ally and comforting friend!
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CHAPTER XIII THE IONIAN ISLES (1)
The Ionian Isles, with one exception, all lie off the West coast of Greece, and are so named because
they form the Eastern limit of that great expanse of open water separating Sicily from mainland
Greece, and known as the Ionian Sea. Being seven in number, they are frequently referred to as 'ta
Efta Nisia' – 'the Seven Islands' – viz. enumerating them from North to South, Kerkyra (Corfu), Paxi,
Lefkada, Cephalonia, Ithaka, Zacynthos (Zante) and Cythera (Cerigo). The last is the odd one out,
being geographically far removed from the rest, lying off the Southern tip of the Peloponnese, and at
present technically within the 'nome' of Attica. Notwithstanding, at the beginning of the nineteenth
century, when rescued from the clutches of Venice and subsequently of France, they formed at least
nominally the Septinsular Republic, thus achieving a degree of independence which enabled them to
remain aloof from the bitter struggles which racked the rest of Greece during the wars of 1821 – 1827.
Politically and economically the Ionian Isles have always had strong ties with the West, and these ties
have left an indelible stamp on their culture, which is especially evident in their public architecture
and musical tradition. To exemplify the latter, one might cite the prevalence of brass bands and the
once common and charming practice of singing 'cantades' - love songs in three and four part harmony.
Linguistically too the high incidence of the suffixes –ata, -ada and –ades in place names has invested
them with a distinct Italian flavour; and indeed many of the indigenous population speak Italian
almost as fluently as their native tongue. Nor must we ever forget that the first President of Modern
Greece, Kapodistrias, was a Corfiote aristocrat of Italian extraction, his true title being Count of Istria.
Furthermore in terms of climate the Ionian Isles are quite distinct from the rest of Greece; for as the
first land masses to receive the warm moist Zephyrs, they enjoy a far higher annual rainfall, which in
turn gives rise to a far lusher vegetation than occurs on the mainland or on the Aegean islands.
It is therefore not surprising that despite their long political integration and their ethnic integrity, the
people who inhabit these seven islands have developed on rather peculiar lines, and still exhibit quite
different features from their cousins living on the adjacent peninsula or on its more eastern
archipelagos. More refined and less rugged, as products of a gentler environment, they lack much
both of the austerity and impulsive warmth of the majority of their compatriots; but on the positive
side they display a more polished veneer of civilization, and a more instinctive regard for the common
conveniences and proprieties of life.
Of the seven islands, Cythera has already been dealt with in Chapter IV, whilst an untimely dose of
Autumn 'flu intervened to prevent my visiting the small but idyllic island of' Paxi. The remaining five
I describe in the order in which I visited them, i.e. from South to North, in the vain hope that by
October Corfu would be entirely devoid of tourists. The walking is nowhere of any great severity,
though the distances involved are occasionally rather long. Nor is the terrain as rough as in many
other areas of comparable size and altitude, and hence that element of drama and excitement which
one frequently encounters even on quite small islands elsewhere in Greece is here generally lacking.
But beauty and interest are present in abundant measure. Moreover the amazing proliferation of tiny
villages still bursting with life and agog with curiosity, ensures that help and friendly advice, food and
shelter are never far to be sought. Thus here above all one gains the distinct impression that Nature
has been tamed and tailored to serve the needs and further the welfare of man, everything having been
reduced to a comfortable, congenial and readily comprehensible human scale.
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ZACYNTHOS
Zacynthos, or Zante to give the island its mediaeval appellation, by which it is still quite commonly
known, is most easily reached from Kylini, a small harbour on the N.W. point of the Peloponnese,
whence throughout the summer regular ferries make the crossing to the main town in 1½ hours. Buses
for Kylini leave from the large and rather scruffy bus station in Kiphisou, which is situated about 2
miles W. of Omonia Square, and served by Bus No 51 which leaves at regular intervals from Odos
Menandrou slightly downhill from the square. The total travelling time is about 5½ hours, and the bus
generally makes short stops at Corinth and Patras. Since however Zacynthos now possesses a large
airport, direct flights are obtainable from Europe as well as from Athens.
It is my considered opinion that the island has very little to offer the serious walker, who will for a
variety of reasons most likely find it uncongenial. In the first place easy communications have led to
its being over developed for tourism, with the result that the main town is exceptionally crowded, and
despite an abundance of hotels, in the high season accommodation is difficult to find. Peaceful sleep
is even more at a premium, owing to the ear-splitting roar of motorbikes and scooters which
habitually career around the narrow streets during the whole of the night. Moreover all the centre of
the island consists of a huge plateau, which although undeniably green and fertile, is also extremely
flat and unexciting, even the villages sprawling amorphously and lacking any real focal point. A
further disadvantage to the walker is the fact that the plateau is intersected with a plethora of roads
often busy with heavy traffic; and although a regular bus service exists, it is designed to suit the needs
of the residents rather than those of tourists, the buses often leaving very early in the morning, and
returning to the capital immediately on arrival at their destination. Consequently one has generally
little alternative to walking on the roads, and the distances involved tend to be rather too long to cover
comfortably on foot. Finally the architecture of the churches and public buildings is Italianate to the
extent that one feels a jarring incongruity, while the inhabitants, perhaps sickened by a surfeit of
tourism, often lack that openness, warmth and generosity which, especially on the islands, one has
come to expect and relish.
Nevertheless, one must in honesty admit that on the credit side Zacynthos does undeniably possess
fine beaches, grows excellent fruit, especially melons of both types, and even a few bananas, and
enjoys on the West an interesting coastline with several attractive caves, including the celebrated Blue
Grotto at Cape Skinari, the most Northerly point of the island. There is a splendid. Venetian castle at
Bochalis, just N. of the main town; a unique lake of pitch just N. of Keri, which forms the Southern
apex of the island; while the main town itself contains the mausoleum of Solomos, the famous
nineteenth century poet and author of the Hymn to Liberty which has become the National Anthem of
Greece. A son of Zacynthos too is credited with the composition of the music to which it is sung.
The following four excursions will give the walker a fairly representative picture of the island, and
may all be achieved without undue fatigue if one makes sensible use of the local bus services.
1. The Venetian Castle, Venato, Agios Kirykos and Agia Marina.
There are two routes to the Castle. The first follows the main road W. to Bochalis. About a mile from
the centre of Zacynthos at Lofos Stani look out for a small side street on the left named Agios
Georgios Philikon, and leading to the tiny but historic chapel of St. George. Here in 1821 the oath was
administered to all the members, including the famous general Kolokotronis, of the Philiki Eteria, a
revolutionary society founded in Odessa by expatriot Greeks with the intention of delivering their
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native land from the Turkish yoke. Return to the main road and follow it uphill to the brow of the hill,
where a small track leads off left to the hamlet of Bochalis. Alternatively, to avoid walking on the
main road, turn left at the foot of the hill immediately after the small pension called NEA
ZAKYNTHOS. Take the first lane on the right, and follow it round right until it becomes a small
footpath zigzagging up through the pine trees. Half way up it passes on the right a small open air
theatre, and finally in about 10 minutes it emerges via a staircase into the corner of the square of
Bochalis just by the side of the church of Zoodochos Pigi. Here you will find a beautiful icon of the
Virgin made in the ninth century in Istanbul, whence it found its way to Zacynthos via Crete.
Originally it was located in the Castle, but when in 1840 an earthquake destroyed the chapel it was
removed thence to its present site. On the reverse side is a painting by Nicholas Kantonni (17681834), one of the most ardent members of the Philiki Eteria.
Just behind the village there rise the impressive walls of the Castle whose history spans three whole
centuries from 1600-1900, during which period it was continually in use. The main gate opens at 8
a.m. but if you take a path on the S.E. of the Castle and follow it up, you can penetrate the battlements
at the S.W. corner and so gain access to the fort. Its area is enormous, and it commands extensive
views, especially over the plateau to the N., and in the distance one can make out the dark dome of
Mt. Enos, the highest mountain not only of adjacent Cephalonia but also of all the Ionian Isles, and
covered to its summit with a unique species of fir tree. The interior of the fort is densely planted with
trees, thus confirming Homer's frequent reference to the island as 'wooded Zacynthos', and here one
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may visit the ruins of two chapels, a Venetian prison and powder-store, the H.Q., and even a games
pitch, dating of course from the period of English occupation in the early nineteenth century.
Return to Bochalis and follow the main road down into the plain, turning right for Venato, a village
surrounded by prolific vineyards. Hence proceed to Agios Kirykos, and thence to Agia Marina which
you will see due W. and just to the right of the large quarry which makes a conspicuous scar in the
hillside.
Agia Marina snuggles in the foothills of Mt. Vrachionas (556m) and is completely enveloped by a
thick forest of verdant pines. The church, built in typical neo-classical style, is worth seeing, and just
above the village is a restaurant from which one enjoys a superb panoramic view of the whole plain.
A couple of miles along the rough track will bring you to a series of deep caves known as the Megali
Spelia.
One may make the return journey via the villages of Agii Pantes, Philiotis and Langadakia, the whole
round trip being in the region of 16 miles. Alternatively, continue N. to Skoulikado and Agios
Dimitrios, where you may catch the bus returning from Katastari at either 4 or 7 p.m.
2. Mt. Skopos (483m) returning via Kalamaki.
Take the main road which crosses the river S. of the town, passing on the left the church of Agios
Charalambos, and a little later Agia Ekaterini, a dependency of the famous St. Catherine's Monastery
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at the foot of Mt. Sinai. Follow the road S.E. to Argasi, a long, sprawling village extending some two
miles along the coast. Just beyond the cancellation sign for Argasi, after negotiating the large bend,
take the more right of the two cart tracks which climb the hill, winding up to a large quarry, and
thence to the monastery of the Virgin of Skopiotissa. The church, built in 1400 from the ruins of the
classical temple of Artemis, is kept locked, since it contains a precious icon of the Virgin which was
sent over to Zacynthos from Constantinople after its fall to the Turks in 1453. But from the summit
there are good views of the whole peninsula. Fairly obvious, well-shaded paths proceed N. to
Xirocastello, E. to Vasilikos on the furthest extremity of the island, or S.W. to Kalamaki. The latter
passes two quarries, one above the other, before eventually reaching the shore at the popular bay of
Kalamaki, situated at the beginning of the huge southern bight known as the Kolpos Lagana, and
extending 6 miles to the harbour of Keri in the West.
3. The Monastery of Hyperagathou Sina, Macherata and Melinado.
This monastery of the Virgin is the second dependency of St. Catherine's on Mt. Sinai, and is situated
in an extremely verdant area on the southern shoulder of Mt. Vrachionas. There is no priest, but the
place is currently farmed (1985) by a family of 7 children who because of the unprecedented drought
have been unable to make the place pay, and are therefore threatening to leave. One of the church's
best icons, which depicts the risen Christ forbidding Mary Magdalene to touch him – Noli me tangere
– is now displayed in the recently opened Kanellopoulos Museum in the Plaka.
The monastery is far too distant to visit on foot, so that one is obliged to catch the 5.30 a.m. bus to
Agios Nicolaos and alight about ½ mile N. of the village. The path off to the right is signed, and
during the ensuing ½ hour you will have the pleasure of seeing the surrounding forest sparkle in the
warm rays of the rising sun. The monastery was founded in 1608 by Kostis Parthenios, and dedicated
appropriately enough to the Virgin 'Good above all others' - 'Hyper- agathou'. In 1679, however, the
place became a dependency of the Orthodox community on Mt. Sinai, and has remained so to the
present day.
You may retrace your steps on foot at least as far as Macherato, continuing from there by the bus
which leaves for Zacynthos at 2 p.m. En route you will pass again through Agios Nicolaos with its
attractive belfried church, whilst at Macherato you will have a chance to inspect the church's fine
interior as well as the miraculous icon of Agia Mavra to which Queen Olga dedicated a precious
necklace. A large panegyry takes place there on the first Sunday in June. At Melinado, situated about
600 yards to the N. you will find amid the trees just to the left of the road a ruined chapel which was
built on the foundations of a classical temple to Artemis.
4. Round tour of the monasteries of St. John the Baptist, Panagia Speliotissa (Orthonies), Agios
Georgios Kremnou and Anaphonitria.
This is quite a marathon journey which is possible only by availing oneself of the local bus services,
leaving for Katastari at 7.30 a.m., and retuning from Anaphonitria at 3 p.m. The outward bus travels
via the pretty villages of Skoulikado, Kalithea and Pigadakia, while Katistari itself is one of the
largest and richest communities on the island. The monastery of St. John Langadas is situated just N.
of the village and left of the main road to Orthonies, which one has unfortunately no alternative to
following for the next 5 miles, as it traverses a wild, mountainous region where the austerity of the
landscape is relieved only by the brilliance of the verdure that clothes the hills. At the crossroads take
the track on the right leading up into the village, from which the Monastery of Panagia Speliotissa is
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about 2 miles distant in a Northerly direction. There is a path running there directly from Orthonies but it is simpler to follow the road which runs N.E. to Koroni, and descend thence as soon as the
monastery appears down in the hollow to the left.
Built in 1548 by a monk called Ioannis Kopsidas, it used to contain a library of rare books and
manuscripts, but this was alas destroyed by fire several years ago. The sole surviving monk, who was
born in the village, has now served the monastery for a total of 30 years, and despite the formidable
task of looking after the extensive buildings and adjacent lands, now single-handed, he remains very
generous and hospitable to strangers. From the monastery a newly made track winds its way through
the densely forested hills W. to Volimes, passing in about a mile on the right the cave in which the
icon of the Virgin was found, and after which the monastery is named: 'Theotokos Speliotissa', 'Virgin
of the Cave'. In just over an hour's time you will emerge onto the main road running N. to Volimes,
where the church of Agia Paraskevi has an unusual campanile and also contains some fine paintings.
From here a reasonable track travelling S.W. will land you in about ½ hour at the Monastery of St.
George Kremnou, currently under the care of an elderly curator who will be pleased to show you
round. The whole of the surrounding forest had been burnt by a disastrous fire about ten days before
my arrival in August, 1985. On the hilltop on the right you will see the remains of a classical temple,
and in a further ½ hour you should reach Anaphonitria, formerly called Plemonario, but renamed after
the icon of the Virgin which was found 'calling up' from the sea. The icon is now situated in the
monastery which lies about ½ mile S.W. of the village, just to the right of the road leading down to
the sea at Ormos Vromi, and it is well worth the slight detour required to visit it. In an adjacent
building one may see the cell of St. Dionysus, the patron saint of the island, who lived here most of
his life, and displayed saintly compassion by forgiving his brother's murderer.
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CEPHALONIA
Cephalonia is the largest in area of all the Ionian Isles, boasts the highest mountain of the whole
archipelago, and comprises a staggering total of 365 villages - one for each day of the year. The island
moreover contains several unique geological, botanic and zoological phenomena. Foremost among the
former are the Katavothres, curious swallow-holes near the shore N.W. of Argostoli, into which the
sea water is sucked, to reappear in the Lake of Melissani near Sami on the opposite side of the island.
Hardly less curious was the Kounopetra, a large rock off the tip of the Palic peninsula S. of Lixouri,
which used to mesmerize passing ships by its ceaseless motion, until as a result of the cataclysmic
upheavals of the 1953 earthquake it was suddenly stabilized. The boundless forest which covers the
shoulders of Mt. Enos to its very highest summit 5310' above sea level, is composed almost
exclusively of a tall, dark foliaged species of fir which until 1824, when it was successfully
transplanted by Sir Charles Napier, the British Commissioner, used to exist only on this island.
Perhaps most engaging of all are the small, harmless snakes which appear annually in the village of
Markopoulos in the S.E. corner of the island, and find their way into the church of the Virgin, for the
celebration of her Dormition on August 15th. The small black crosses on the snakes' heads have been
regarded as endorsing the popular belief that these mysterious creatures are indeed messengers of the
Virgin.
The extremely mountainous nature of the terrain has through harsh necessity produced a race that is
resourceful, thrifty and industrious, and one which has great respect for learning and the arts
generally. The late Professor Marinatos, the eminent excavator of the Minoan site of Acrotiri on
Thera, Vergotis, the multi-millionaire shipping magnate, are both typical products of the island; and
though many have emigrated, especially to Rhodesia to pursue their careers in medicine or business,
they not only return regularly to their homeland for their summer vacations, but have often been very
magnanimous in their benefactions to their native island, especially after the devastation wrought by
the earthquake of 1953.
The size of the island will render it essential for the walker to base himself at least three of the four
centres which coincide roughly with the four main city-states of the classical period, viz. Sami in the
East, Argostoli, the present capital of the island, in the West, and Fiscardo, which is situated on the
Northern extremity of the island on the peninsula known as Erisos. The Palic peninsula in the South
West, which is in my opinion the least attractive part of Cephalonia may be visited from Argostoli by
using the regular ferry service from there to Lixouri, its principal town. But for any who possess the
requisite time and leisure a two day sojourn in Lixouri would not come amiss.
The normal access to the island is from Patras, whence a ferry sails in the afternoon, reaching Sami on
the East coast after a voyage of some three hours. Alternatively one may sail from Kylini to the
Southern harbour of Poros three times daily in the high season, and travel thence by bus to Sami, a
journey of 1½ hours' duration approximately. The walking on Cephalonia is often perforce along
narrow roads or unsurfaced tracks, where the dust raised by passing vehicles and the wind can
constitute a nuisance. But traffic is rarely heavy, and the goals of one's endeavours amply repay any
slight hardships involved in reaching them. The following 12 excursions are based on Sami,
Argostoli, Lixouri and Fiscardo respectively, and some involve the use of local transport.
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A: Based on Sami
Sami is an attractive and fast developing fishing community, with good, sandy beaches close by and
an extremely verdant hinterland. Moreover two lakes and several caves in the vicinity, as well as the
large site of the classical city of Sami, located on an adjacent hill and known as Palaiokastro, provide
yet further stimulus to the visitor's interest. However, there being only 3 hotels, accommodation is
severely limited at peak periods: but rooms may be rented quite cheaply at private houses, and there is
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a well organized camp site on the shore about a kilometre West of the centre of the town. A track
which climbs gently up the foothills of. Mt. Alepovouni N.E. leads you in about 2 kilometres to the
Antisamis Gulf where a fine beach is to be enjoyed. Just before one arrives, a side track on the right
climbs up the hill to the splendidly situated monastery of Our Lady of Agrilion. Presently occupied by
a single monk, the monastery commands a very fine view of the neighbouring island of Ithaka which
is especially beautiful at sunrise and at sunset where the track divides, the left branch circles round to
the monastery, the right continuing to Palaiokastro.
l. The caves of Drogarati and Melissani.
The cave of Drogarati, situated about 4 kilometres from the centre of Sami, has an admission charge
of 70 drachmae. There are two chambers, both well illuminated and containing many stalagmites and
stalactites, and the second resembling the Albert Hall in shape, dimension, and its sonorous acoustics.
To reach the caves follow the Argostoli road and at the junction about 2 miles from Sami turn off
right and follow the signs. Theoretically one ought to be able to make one's way across country direct
to the Melissani cave by following a bearing due N: but in fact the paths are overgrown with scrub, so
that it is safer and easier to return to Sami and take the footpath running along the shore past the
camping site and gypsy encampment to the village known as Karavomilos. In 30-40 minutes you will
reach a freshwater lake by the shore which drives a water-wheel as the strong current issues into the
sea. The exact provenance of the water is uncertain, but there is a widely held local belief that it
comes from the Katavothres at Argostoli, travelling underground the entire width of the island.
Leaving the first lake behind, turn left up the hill, and then right for about 400 yards, until a sign
directs you left to the Limni Melissani. Going down a steep tunnel you find yourself in great chamber
lit by a hole in the roof, and flooded to depths ranging from 15 to 30 metres. The direction of the sun
causes the waters to change their colour constantly from deep indigo to pale turquoise. At a modest
charge of 60 drachmae 2 boats convey visitors in about 20 minutes around the adjacent chambers,
which are joined by a narrow passage where the water is relatively shallow and the strong current
carries the boat through unaided. A crocodile, a gaggle of turkeys hanging by their tails, and a praying
nun are among the strange shapes assumed by the many stalagmites and stalactites, and pointed out by
the obliging and imaginative ferryman. Here archaeologists discovered a grotto dedicated to Pan, and
containing many oil lamps and a plaque depicting girls dancing around the ithyphallic god. The latter
may be seen in the Argostoli Archaeological Museum.
2. Kastro and St. Nicholas Church.
This is an interesting circular walk in the foothills of Mt. Alepovouni, taking between two and three
hours, and including a visit to the impressive ruins of Palaiokastro, the classical town of Sami, with its
huge Pelasgic walls.
Take the track which runs by the side of the main old church, and eventually leads to the Cemetery
above. After 100 metres, follow a tiny path rising steeply on the right through the dense forest, and in
about ¾ hour you will discover rising on the left the fortress of Kastro, built from fine, well-dressed
blocks of stone about 2 metres in length, and possessing no fewer than 22 entrances. This was the
ancient city of Sami which put up a heroic resistance to the Romans in 187 B.C., enduring a 4 months'
siege before being finally starved into submission. On joining the track which comes from the
direction of the monastery Hyperagias Theotokou Agrilion on the left, turn right to reach in a further
½ hour a small deserted hamlet. Here you will find considerable remains of a classical temple, inside
which there is built a ruined Byzantine church destroyed by the earthquake, and by its side, its
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recently built replacement, dedicated to St. Nicholas. Hereabouts archaeologists discovered a house
with fine mosaics, one an excellently executed Roman head of the third century A.D., now exhibited
in the Argostoli Museum. Continue on the path SW, and on the right you will discover a cooling
spring flowing into a natural bowl of rock, thence into a trough, and finally issuing into a large cistern
which irrigates all the prolific vineyards down the valley below. The path becomes a track, and in 5
minutes a small side track climbing the hill to the left leads to a farm growing magnificent grapes,
which it is worth the slight detour to sample. Resume the main track, and 400 yards further down look
out for a lane running off at an acute angle on the right. This soon becomes a path, delightfully shaded
by orchards of quinces, pomegranates, apples and pears, while a tangle of blackberries grows in the
hedges on either side. A little later the path begins to zigzag down through small but fertile vineyards,
eventually emerging on the main Argostoli road just before the sign for Sami.
3. Poros – the Monastery of Hyperagia Theotokos Atrou, 895 metres.
Take the 8.30 a.m. bus to Poros. Although only 25 kilometres the journey takes 1¾ hours, in its later
stages the road being very tortuous and as yet unsurfaced. One passes through a dozen or so villages
sandwiched tightly between the parallel ranges of Enos on the right, and Kochini Rachi on the left.
The ride is both exciting and spectacular, and at Agios Nicolaos one passes by the celebrated lake of
Avithos, which was once considered bottomless and in whose deep, silent waters are reflected the
surrounding dense forests.
Poros has a beautiful beach and a harbour whence boats sail three times daily to Kylini. There is a
track running along the coast N.W. to the monastery: but it has become very overgrown and much
eroded by torrential winter rains. One's best route to the monastery is therefore from the village of
Tsanata, 4 kilometres above Poros. In case the monastery is closed on arrival, it would be a good idea
to replenish your water bottle at the fine spring in the centre of the village of Tsanata, just beyond the
junction for Sami as you travel towards Argostoli. Retrace your steps to the Sami road, and follow it
for 300 yards where you must take the second track on the right, which soon becomes a path
following the direction of the telegraph wires. After a few yards it verges right, descending to cross
the dry river bed in some 5 minutes. Thence it climbs up for a while, following the water conduit
which irrigates the surrounding orchards and vineyards, and occasionally even floods the path itself.
Overhead fly thousands of dark-winged butterflies, such as one finds in the Petaloudes Valley in
Rhodes. In a further 10 minutes the path emerges opposite a ruined building, where you must turn left
along the track, and then a few paces later, right towards a church and some prominent cypresses. A
little before one reaches the latter, a signpost directs the walker right up a narrow path to the
Monastery Atrou. Where it become a little indistinct, the path is occasionally marked with red spots
and the odd blue cross, and from this point it takes c. 1½ hours to reach one's ultimate destination.
The monastery is in a fine position near the summit of Mt. Atros at an altitude of just below 3000',
and commands extensive views over Poros in the SE. The buildings are very spacious, but the original
church was severely damaged in the 1953 earthquake, so that a new edifice was raised in the 60s to
replace it. The surviving monk, who has sole charge of the buildings and lands, was unfortunately
absent on the occasion of my visit, having descended to the village on his mule in order to lay in
supplies for the impending panegyry held annually on September 7-8 in celebration of the birthday of
the Virgin. I had hence to content myself with climbing over the fence and drawing water from the
deep well, rather than seeing the interior of the monastic buildings, all of which were securely locked.
Regrettably the bus back to Sami leaves at 12.30, so that unless you have winged feet you will miss it,
and thus be obliged to return on foot - a journey of at least 6 hours. Those who are daunted by this
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prospect have the alternative of taking the 5 p.m. bus to Argostoli, and of returning thence to base
either by taxi, currently 800 drachmae, or hitch-hiking. One advantage of adopting the latter course is
the chance of viewing from the bus in comparative comfort the awesome southern face of Mt. Enos, at
this genial hour brilliantly lit by the evening sunlight. En route too you will pass through the village of
Markopoulos, where in mid-August there occurs the strange phenomenon of the snakes. You will also
pass a little later, in the middle of the Lourda Gulf, what survives of the monastery Theotokou Sision,
reputed to be a corruption of Assisi, whose celebrated Saint Francis is believed to have founded the
monastery in the thirteenth century.
4. Mt. Enos – 1628 metres (5310').
There must be several more attractive ways of climbing the Megalos Soros – the Big Peak, as it is
locally known, starting off from the many villages which cling to its southern or northern flanks. But
using Sami as a base, one is obliged to follow the forest track a distance of some 15 kilometres from
its junction with the main Sami-Argostoli road. Leave therefore on the earliest bus – 7.30 a.m.
weekdays, 8.15 a.m. Sundays, both times being approximate, since the bus connects with the Ithaka
ferry - and alight at the crossroads at the summit of the Agrapidines Pass (1800'). From here it takes
about three hours of steady plodding to reach the final peak. About one third of the way up one passes
on the left the tiny chapel of Agios Elevtherios, which celebrates on August 3, with free goat, chicken,
local wine, beer and the usual ebullient dancing and music. Further up on the right is a huge Radar
installation, soon after which you enter the immense forest of unique dark green firs, which led the
Venetians to describe the mountain as 'Monte Negro'. During the long period of Venetian occupation
the trees were felled mercilessly to supply the needs of the Venetian fleets; but since the whole area
was in 1962 designated a National Park, the forest's survival is ensured by legislation. Just after
entering the forest look out on the right for a small house occupied by the Forest Warden, outside
which is a deep well whence freezing water may be drawn in a tiny plastic bucket. Half an hour later
you will pass on the left the ruins of a Sanatorium, and a further hour's climb will bring you to the
final summit, crowned by a huge Television mast, and a smaller aerial for the Forest Warden. The
view is superb, especially to the South, where the many indentations of the Lourda Gulf give the
appearance of a massive blue carpet fringed with delicate lace, whilst beyond, there rises from the
misty horizon the distant shape of neighbouring Zacynthos. In the opposite direction one can usually
see Ithaka and Lefkada and on especially clear days even Corfu is dimly discerned crouching in the
North beside the rugged Albanian coast.
5. The circuit of Mt. Kalonoros.
Leave on the 9.15 bus to Fiscardo (Erisos) and alight after ½ hour at the junction for Divarata. Turn
right into the village, and take the road on the left which zigzags up the mountain side. You may
easily cut off the initial bends by following the small walled path on the right, crossing over the road,
and continuing up. After proceeding along the road for a further 200 yards divert again on the right,
cross over the track once again, and continue along a deteriorating goat track, which eventually
emerges via a rocky gully onto the main unsurfaced road. Continue contouring round for a further ¼
hour, until the road ceases, becoming a small but well defined path traversing the hill and eventually
entering a large cultivated plateau. On the left you will find a well, and a little further along a shrine to
the Ascension - Analepsis. Hence a dusty track continues N.E. to the beetling villages of Patrikata,
Karya (walnuts ) and Komitata. Next comes Neochori (New Village), the most impressive of all, a
veritable mountain fortress, clinging tenaciously to its high hilltop, and commanding fine views over
adjacent Ithaka and the intervening strait. Orchards of plums, pomegranates, and vines abound,
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enhancing the stippled, verdant hillsides, each with its peculiar shade of green. About a mile further
down the road and opposite a huge plane tree you will find on the left the attractively situated
monastery Theotokou Anatoliki. The road continues to descend thence precipitously via Dendrinata to
the peaceful roadstead of Agia Evphemia, where you will be able to indulge in a well earned bathe
and a refreshing drink on the delightfully situated beach. The evening bus back to Sami leaves at
about 5 p.m.
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B: Based on Argostoli
Buses leave from Sami to Argostoli at 7.30 and 8.15 a.m. and 5 p.m., except on Sunday, when the
earliest bus leaves at 8.15 a.m. The journey of some 24 kilometres takes about an hour, and for the last
half hour one enjoys enchanting views of the deep gulf, some 15 kilometres in length, at the Southern
end of which Argostoli is situated. On arrival, instead of crossing the gulf by the bridge of Drepano,
built during the British occupation of the island in the early nineteenth century, the bus makes the full
circuit of the lagoon which forms the Southern extremity of the gulf of Argostoli. The town of
Argostoli, for many years the administrative capital of the island, occupies the Northern tip of the
Lassi peninsula and offers a great variety of accommodation in campsites, private houses, and hotels
of all categories not only within the central area, but all along the peninsula's West coast, facing the
open sea.
Although almost totally destroyed in the earthquake of 1953 which razed many elegant and
irreplaceable edifices of previous centuries, Argostoli is still a most attractive town of broad vistas,
and wide, flower-bedecked squares. It possesses two museums and the famous Kephalos Theatre, reerected on the site of the charming nineteenth century building constructed by anonymous subscribers
and so tragically lost through German bombing in 1943. In the Folklore Museum, situated in the
basement of the Koryalenios Library, one may see among many other fascinating exhibits several
dramatic and nostalgic photographs of the old buildings of the town, and of the havoc wrought by the
disastrous earthquake. The Archaeological Museum, which is situated opposite the main Post Office,
houses many fascinating exhibits stretching from the Mycenaean to the Hellenistic period. During
mid-August there has been instituted in recent years a Choral Festival which is beginning to attract
choirs from the rest of Europe as well as from the Greek provinces.
A short evening or morning stroll around the Lassi peninsula is highly recommended. At the Northern
tip of the headland, one discovers the curious swallow-holes known as the Katavothres, while the neoclassical tholos which contains the lighthouse can constitute a fine composition when illuminated by
the rays of the setting sun. If on the other hand one does the walk in the early morning, from the top of
the Pharo hill just West of the town one enjoys a splendid view over Lassi towards the Palic
peninsula, with Lixouri in the background brilliantly highlighted by the ascendant sun.
The following four excursions may all, with the exception of the first, be facilitated by using the
extensive network of bus services which radiate from the capital. The walks themselves are not
intrinsically of any outstanding merit: but one's interest is constantly stimulated by what one finds en
route, while one's senses are continually excited by the beauty of the landscape through which one
travels.
5) The circuit of the lagoon and the ancient city of Krane.
This very simple, straightforward walk is best done either in the early morning or early evening when
the light is most favourable for photography. Leave Argostoli by the main road running S, and avail
yourself of the footpath which follows the shore of the lagoon, and in the evening affords fine views
of the Enos range of mountains in the E, where the immense forest is brilliantly etched against the
silvery rocks which shine resplendent in the lowering sun. Where the footpath rejoins the road, take
the track into the trees which line the lagoon's southern shore, and follow it round left (E) and then
right. Circling the hill on one's left one sees the impressive remains of the Cyclopean walls of Krane,
built between the seventh and sixth centuries B.C., and also of a Doric temple dedicated to Demeter.
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Here was found a statue base bearing the inscription ΤΡΙΟΠΙΣ ΔΑΜΑΤΡΙ ΚΑΙ ΚΟΡΑΙ,
commemorating the gift of a statue of Demeter and her daughter Persephone by a woman called
Triopis, and probably of Messenian origin. The inscription may be seen in the museum. A small path
climbs up amid the thistles and makes the full circuit of the hill, descending on the N.E. to rejoin the
main road just as it turns 90 degrees to round the Southern end of the lagoon. As one continues N.W.
towards Argostoli a profusion of figs, almonds, prickly pears and grapes all tempt the hungry
wayfarer to sample their delights. But should you be tempted to divert from the road, beware of
snakes which also abound in this region. The return to Argostoli is via the bridge, in the centre of
which stands an obelisk erected to commemorate its builder, Colonel de Bosse, who constructed the
fine arched edifice in 1813 as part of the extensive road building undertaken during the British
occupation.
7. The monastery of Agios Andreas, Kastro, Agios Gerasimos, Frangata.
In order to have time to complete this excursion before the departure of the 4.30 bus back to Argostoli
from Frangata it will be necessary to leave c. 7.30. By doing this one will also avoid much of the
heavy traffic which uses the Kastro-Argostoli road during the rest of the day. If the traffic becomes
too much of a nuisance, you may turn off right at the sign for Kokolata, and follow the track which
diverges immediately on the left to serve several isolated farmsteads. You will inevitably acquire a
few bruises and scratches as you negotiate the complex network of paths and tracks which traverse the
dense scrub: but this is a small price to pay for freedom from pollution and the incessant roar of
vehicles up and down the main road. When in 1½-2 hours you reach Travliata and Peratata, take the
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path on the right by the side of the restaurant called Kastretsa, and after descending a few yards, cut
diagonally across the field on the left to join a dirt track which in 5 minutes lands you on the crest of
the knoll on which the monastery of St. Andrew is built. In the new church one may see the right foot
of the saint still wearing a slipper, and the blood still visible on the bone – a strange relic which
reached the monastery in the early seventeenth century by a devious route through Italy. In the old
church, now restored, look out for several fine murals which were revealed when the earthquake
shook off the plaster which had been covering them for centuries. The convent is presently inhabited
by 6 nuns who gave me loukoumi, coffee and sweet paximadi after I had sung for them in the church.
Thus refreshed, retrace your steps to Peratata and proceed from the village up the zigzag road to the
castle of St. George. At the first bend to the left, continue straight up on a steep path serving an
isolated house, and in 5 minutes cross over the road to enter the centre of the village by a series of
steps. The magnificent castle of St. George , rising to a height of 320 metres, dominates the landscape
for miles in all directions; and indeed till 1757 the adjacent village was the capital of the island. The
castle dates back to Byzantine times when it was the headquarters of the 'theme' of Cephalonia. After
the crusades the castle fell into the hands of the Franks; and later after a brief tenure of some 16 years,
the Turks were expelled in 1500 by a combined force comprising Cephalonians, Venetians and
Catalans. The present structure with its triple bastions facing N.W. towards Argostoli, E. towards Mt.
Enos, and S. towards the village, dates mainly from this period, when the fort was repaired and
enlarged to include an area of 16000 square metres within its stout polygonal walls. Inside one finds
the remains of private and public buildings including barracks, cells, a hospital, warehouses etc., and
the ruined Catholic church of St. Nicholas, as well as the Council Chamber used during the Venetian
occupation by the Parliament of Nobles. At midday there is a superb view down the valley towards
the Gulf and City of Argostoli.
As you retrace your steps and descend into the village, take the path on the left immediately opposite
the village store. In few minutes this emerges onto the other road leading up to the castle from the
West side. Turn left downhill, and at the junction take the road running right via Mitakata and
Troianata to the monastery of Agios Gerasimos. As you approach the latter village, famed for its oil
and excellent 'robola' (red wine), and once possessing 800 inhabitants, take the DEH road on the left,
this cutting off a tedious loop taken by the main road. 1¼ miles further N., where the road takes a
sharp turn to the left, and begins to zigzag up the hill, continue straight on along a path which climbs
up steeply to rejoin the road in 10 minutes at the brow of the hill. In a further 10 minutes you will
suddenly see the monastery nestling in the centre of the plateau of Omali, and surrounded by a
abundance of prolific vineyards.
Gerasimos was born at Trikala, son of the noble Notaras family which had risen to fame at
Constantinople during the Palaeologue dynasty in the early thirteenth century. After serving his
novitiate 12 years in Palestine and 5 years subsequently in Zacynthos, he finally settled in a cave at
Spelia on the Lassi peninsula (1560) and devoted his remaining 19 years to the reorganization of the
monastery in the plain of Omali, dying on August 15th, 1579. When 2 years later on October 20th his
remains were removed, the body was still intact and moreover emitted a sweet fragrance. Thus he was
canonized and became the island's patron saint. His cell is in a triangular cleft below the main chapel,
and approached by a narrow ladder. Here you may see the marrow used by the saint as a bowl. At the
feasts celebrated on August 15 and October 20 vast crowds of pilgrims gather from all over Greece,
whilst on the island itself the miracle-working saint has become so popular that every other boy is
christened Gerasimos after him.
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Proceed along the road to the villages of Valsamata and Frangata, both rebuilt by the British after the
earthquake. As you await the return bus you will have an opportunity to sample and purchase very
cheaply at the restaurant the excellent local robola wine.
8. Skala.
The bus leaves Argostoli at 9.45 a.m. and returns either at 12.15 or 5 p.m. Skala is situated on
Cephalonia's S.E. point, about 10 miles S. of Poros; and despite the 1½ hour's drive required to reach
the spot, it is well worth a visit both because of its fine beach and because of its interesting geological
and archaeological sites. After diverging from the Poros road (v.(3)) the bus passes through Katelios,
which is also very popular with foreign tourists, and later through the inland village of Ratzakli,
where on August 29 and subsequent days is held an annual panegyry in memory of the beheading of
John the Baptist.
Skala's most interesting remains are those of a Roman villa built in the second century A.D. and
excavated and restored by the Americans in 1955. Immediately above the villa there was founded in
the Christian period a church dedicated to Agios Athanasios which was destroyed in an earthquake in
the seventeenth century. The church must have followed exactly the ground plan of the villa, since the
mosaics are still in situ and very well preserved.
In the main entrance hall is a large rectangular apotropaic mosaic (1) representing Phthonos –
Jealousy - flanked by two leopards below which are two inscriptions, one in dactylic and the other in
elegaic metre. The more Southerly room (2) is furnished with a very well executed third century
mosaic showing two men sacrificing a bull, a ram and a boar at an altar. In the opposite room (3) is a
colourful geometric design of labyrinthine complexity and vivid colouring. Behind the reception hall
to the West is situated a large kitchen, with an oven in the S.W. corner, a long bench seat running all
along the W. wall, and a deep well in the centre.
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On the Poros road about a kilometre N. of Skala you will find a Fish Restaurant called Sakou. A few
hundred yards further on, observe on the left a small path leading up the hillside to two adjoining
caves where many prehistoric remains have been discovered, viz. Stone Age tools and implements
now on display in the Argostoli Museum. Continuing in the direction of Poros in a landscape of
brilliant colours and rich vegetation you will discover on the right the tiny chapel of St. George.
Around are the stunted pillars of a Doric temple believed to have been erected in the seventh century
B.C. As such it is one of the most ancient temples to have survived in Greece, being roughly
contemporary with the famous temple of Hera at Olympia. Only one of the capitals, of an extremely
rare design, has survived intact, and is now displayed in the entrance hall of the Argostoli Museum.
Should you chance to be in Skala on August 30th it would be worth your while to walk back to
Ratzakli to participate in the festivities there. If you tire of the main road, after ½ hour turn off right
and follow a complex series of paths and tracks through the forest E.N.E. which will land you in the
village in a further 20 minutes. If time permits follow the concrete track S. to the coast, passing
several attractive new flats and houses, and thence W. along the beach to Katelios – a distance of
some 2 miles along the sand and rocks - where excellent bathing is to be enjoyed.
9. Circular tour of the Livatho district.
The main merits of this walk are aesthetic, since one passes through some of the most beautiful
villages of the whole island. But there are the additional bonuses of visiting two spots much beloved
by our compatriot and great philhellene, Lord Byron, and a Mycenaean site of unique interest. One
may do the tour either clockwise, as I did, or anticlockwise, depending on which bus you catch, Those
leaving on the odd hours follow the coastal route anticlockwise, passing through Platy Yialos. In this
case you should alight at Tomata (sic) or Kourkoumelata, whence you may steadily make your way
back to Argostoli by the higher, more scenic route. Alternatively leaving on the even hour take the bus
as far as Lakythra and follow the itinerary as described below. The great advantage of this latter
course is that you have the afternoon free for bathing; but on the other hand, if you follow the route
anticlockwise you will have an opportunity to visit at Spelia the cave where Agios Gerasimos lived as
a hermit, and also of enjoying a wide panoramic view of Argostoli and its lagoon when the sun is in
the West, and conditions are thus ideal for photography.
Take the 10 a.m. bus as far as the sprawling village of Lakythra, passing en route through Spelia,
Chelmata and Kompothekrata. Just after leaving the Bella Vista - Kalithea - which is situated at the N.
end of the village and has one of the best restaurants in the whole region, look out on the right for a
sign directing the visitor to the ΒΡΑΧΟΣ ΒΥΡΟΝΟΣ – Byron's Rock - a fine vantage point
overlooking the fertile plain, beyond which there spreads the vast expanse of the Ionian Sea. The
present Airport strikes a rather incongruous note in the scene of rural tranquillity: but the beauty of the
view still makes one sympathetic to the poets simple tribute to the land he so much loved. Inscribed
on a stone set in the rock, it reads - 'If I am a poet, I owe it to the filth of Greece.'
On your left is a small church, and if you follow a tiny path on its left, you will reach in about 150
yards the entrance to a small but significant Mycenaean site dated 1250-1100 B.C. i.e. contemporary
with the Trojan War. Here you will discover two burial chambers, each containing 10 graves arranged
in groups of 5, each facing the other, the contents of which, excavated in 1933, are displayed in the
Argostoli Museum. Further S. one finds 4 unique shafts carved into the rock and used as granaries.
You may leave the site by the other entrance, and follow the signs back to the centre of the village. On
the left, just before emerging onto the main road, notice a rare example of a pre-earthquake house,
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constructed from timber laths arranged diagonally herring-bone fashion, covered with plaster, and
supporting a delightful pantile roof. A little further along on the right is the church of St. Anne, where
a huge panegyry is held each year on July 25th with much dancing and merriment.
Proceed through the village, which is an absolute riot of flowers of every conceivable hue and variety,
as far as the crossroads, where you must turn right towards Kourkoumelata. A few yards down the
hill, however, take the first turn left into the neighbouring village of Metaxata. The house in which
Lord Byron lived for 4 months prior to his fateful departure for Messolonghi in 1823 has
unfortunately never been restored after its destruction in the 1953 earthquake. But on the wall
opposite on the left of the road there is a marble plaque indicating the presence of Byron's Ivy, which
still thrives in the overgrown garden of the adjacent mansion. Return to the main road and descend to
Kourkoumelata, a splendid village entirely rebuilt on a magnificent scale by the local shipping
magnate, Vergotis. The houses are veritable palaces, enclosed by exquisitely landscaped gardens, and
as well as a fine Sports Stadium, the village boasts a sumptuous Cultural Centre built of marble in the
classical style.
Descend still farther to Kaligata, home of the famous Kaligas wines. The first road on the right leads
to Tomata where there are restaurants supplying excellent food. Although tomatoes do in fact grow
magnificently in the region, the name of the village derives not from the vegetable, but from 'domus',
the Italian for villa or mansion, a species of dwelling which exists in not inconsiderable numbers in
the vicinity. The plain below is a mass of vineyards where the pickers earn 3000 drachmae a day,
while the owners receive from the Kaligas factory a mere 28 drachmae per kilo. Below lies the crystal
sea, and for your delectation and pleasure one of the best beaches in the area. A fairly regular bus
service will return you to Argostoli in ½ hour; but those who have chosen to do the walk in the
reverse direction will relish the inspiring views facing them as they descend to the city, which spreads
along the shore of the lock against a verdant backcloth of mountain grandeur.
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C: Based on Lixouri.
A regular ferry plies almost hourly from Argostoli to Lixouri, beginning at 8.30 a.m., reaching the
Western shore of the lock in about ½ hour, the tickets costing 89 drachmae (1985). The 32 kilometre
circuit of the lock by taxi costs a little more and takes slightly longer, the road being tortuous and
hilly; but the ride is quite spectacular and in the morning one enjoys fine views of Lixouri from the
opposite side of the inlet. The Palic peninsula of which Lixouri is the chief city is in my opinion the
least attractive area of the island, the landscape being rent by frequent volcanic activity and
earthquakes, less verdant and less dramatic than that of the rest of Cephalonia, and very similar in its
arid shapelessness to that of Kos. The people, however, are very warm-hearted, by tradition extremely
munificent, and have great respect for education, learning and the arts. I met in my brief stay there
two most benevolent doctors, one of whom had bequeathed to his native village, Damoulianata, a
fitting tribute to his deceased wife, a splendid building housing the community office, a library and a
surgery. The main town used to possess several imposing buildings, but the majority fell victims to
the earthquakes of 1867 and 1953. One fortunate exception is the mansion of the Lakovatos family,
which was given to the nation by a certain Mrs. O'Tool, one of the family's last descendants, and is
situated on a small hillock on the Eastern extremity of the town. The 14 rooms have delicately
painted, coffered ceilings and contain much fine furniture, works of art and paintings, while one of
them houses a library of some 20,000 books. One of the most interesting and valuable is a complete
bilingual edition of all the works of Hippocrates, printed in Frankfort in 1595 in Latin and Greek.
There are two fine beaches, each situated S. of Lixouri, the nearer at Lepeda and only about two miles
distant, and the other at Xi near the celebrated Kounopetra on the peninsula's Southern point. The
following two walks are not especially exciting in themselves; but they comprise visits to several
interesting monasteries, and pass en route through several typical villages, where the walker will have
a chance to sample the area's special flavour and welcoming hospitality.
10. The Monastery of Kechrion, and the villages of Loukerata, Vlichata, Skineas, Katata and
Monopolata.
Done anticlockwise this circular walk takes between 4 and 5 hours, depending on how much time one
spends visiting the monastery and inspecting the villages. Leave on the main road N., passing near to
Palaeokastro, where you will find the scanty remains of the ancient Classical city of Pali. About ½
hour after leaving the outskirts of the town, turn left at the sign Moni Kekrionos, an establishment
which is now a convent, and whose chapel contains some interesting murals executed by
iconographers from Mt. Athos. Inside the church you will notice three great chains suspended from
the icon to which they were dedicated by three young men named Jacob, George and John. In 1694
they were captured by pirates and sold into slavery on the Barbary coast of Africa. In their distress
they prayed fervently to the Virgin, and after falling asleep found themselves miraculously delivered
to their native village, where they were left sleeping beneath a little bridge in the vicinity of the
monastery. Awakened by the sound of the bells pealing in celebration of the Dormition of the Virgin,
and immediately recognizing where they were, they ran with joy to the church to express their grateful
thanks to their saviour, and to spend the rest of their lives in the service of the monastery.
Proceed uphill to the small hamlet of Loukerata, and thence through the vineyards growing the minute
black grapes from which currants are made, to Vlichata and finally Skineas. From here descend to
Katata where you will join the main surfaced road returning to Lixouri via the sizeable community of
Monopolata.
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11. Monastery of Koronata, village of Chavdata, Monastery of Kipouri, returning via Chavdata,
Vouni, Manzavinata and Soulari.
This walk takes at least three hours in each direction, and has as its chief goal the spectacularly
situated monastery of Kipouri. Take the road running W. by the side of the dry river-bed, crossing
over the footbridge to the N. side of the stream. At the junction a few yards further on, turn left by the
wine factory, and immediately right. In about ½ hour look out for a sign on the right leading up to the
convent of Koronata, founded in 1500 A.D. and celebrating annually on July 2nd. Inside is a beautiful
icon of the Virgin, and the nuns offer generous hospitality in the form of coffee and kourambies, a
delicious pastry flavoured with cinnamon. Thus refreshed, continue climbing up the valley to the
village of Chavdata, where you must take the left branch at the central T junction, travelling S. for a
while until at the end of the straggling community you will pass a sign directing travellers right to the
monastery of Kipouri, 7 kilometres distant. The rough track climbs over a wild moor, windy and bare
and occasionally scarred by mining operations, and then descends steeply through thick scrub to the
impressive and historic monastery. The structure is superbly sited, being perched on the narrow ledge
of a high cliff overlooking an angry sea which pounds incessantly upon the rocky shore below. The
setting is unforgettable, and this being the most Westerly point of all Greece, the place has acquired
the appropriate name of 'Balcony of the Ionian Sea'. A solitary but most energetic monk has singlehanded rebuilt the campanile and constructed new Guestrooms, since the foundations of the old are so
insecure that the whole structure is in danger of plunging down the cliff. In addition he tends the
extensive vineyards and vegetable gardens with commendable skill and evident loving care. Just S. of
the monastery and approached by a narrow path is the 'schisma' – a huge cleft in the rock, at the foot
of which the turbulent seas writhe and roar with terrifying power.
After re-crossing the barren moor and regaining the main track, turn right (S.) for the beetling villages
of Chavriata and Vouni. These command panoramic views of all the so called Kato Meria as far as the
lighthouse of Gerogombos, and were the birthplaces of the educationalist Vincent Damodos and the
modern author Elias Tsoutsalis respectively. The adjacent village of Manzavinata contains a church
with fine murals, and one may from here visit both the Kounopetra and the famous red sandy beach of
Xi, each situated on the peninsula's Southern extremity at a distance of 3 and 2 kilometres
respectively.
D: Based on Fiscardo.
Only in the high season may one travel directly by bus from Lixouri to Fiscardo: otherwise one is
obliged to return to Argostoli, leaving thence either on the early morning bus, which entails catching
the first ferry, or in the afternoon at 1.45 p.m. The journey of about 1½ hour's duration is most
spectacular, the road clinging precariously to the mountainside, and perched almost perpendicularly
above the celebrated Myrtos Gulf, which possesses some of the bluest water and the most precipitous
cliffs that I have seen in all my travels around the Grecian isles. A little further N. one passes the
beetling castle of Assos, in mediaeval times the capital of the whole of this northern peninsula which
is known as Erisos. The further N. one travels, the more luxuriant becomes the verdure, and the
prettier the villages, until finally, turning Eastwards one descends to Fiscardo.
Fiscardo gleams like a jewel, nestling peacefully at the head of its deep and sinuous inlet, and gazing
out over the azure strait to the rugged N. shore of Ithaka. Alone of all the villages of Cephalonia it
escaped the ravages of the 1953 earthquake, and hence it has preserved intact all its pristine charm. It
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is most probably built on the site of the classical port of Panormus; but it is said that its present name
is derived from the renowned crusader Robert de Guiscard who died here in 1085 A.D. Good
accommodation may be found at a pension just behind the bakery, a three minute walk from the sea.
The place is owned by a certain Nikos Bartsoula – (Tel 51478) – is run by two sisters-in-law, and for
a modest 1200 drachmae one may enjoy the luxury of a double room with private bathroom, shower
and fridge. There are several tavernas and patisseries, but one of the most charming is Nicholas',
which is again situated just behind the shore, and possesses a spacious rear garden, well shaded and
cool. The restaurant is managed by two brothers, almost identical in appearance, called Niko and
Yianni, in partnership with their beautiful sister, who not only cook excellent food, but also serve it
with the utmost courtesy, and for good measure give spontaneous displays of colourful, local dances
for their clients' further delectation. Their grace of movement and the ebullient joy they manifest in
performing their intricate and often energetic convolutions are a sheer delight to behold.
There are several simple strolls around the bay Northwards in the direction of the Lighthouse, where
the headland is intersected by countless goat tracks, some leading down to sheltered coves on the N.E.
coast. In the vicinity of the lighthouse one also finds the extensive ruins of a curious church with
double towers of the type often seen in Norman architecture. Likewise travelling in the opposite
direction Southwards one encounters several idyllic inlets, where a solitary fishing smack is the only
sign of the intrusive hand of man in a paradise where Nature still rules supreme. The main bay,
however, has become very popular with flotillas from many lands: but the development to serve their
needs has mercifully been discreet and tasteful, with obvious concern not to destroy the beauty of the
environment.
Most tourists, especially if this be the end of their pretty arduous visit to the island, will be content to
spend their last few days relaxing in this most congenial landscape. However, should they feel the
need of a little gentle exercise, a two or three hours' easy circular walk comprising the neighbouring
villages of Tselendata, Manganos and Anitipata would suffice. A detour of 3 kilometres from the first
village would enable them to include Palaeokastro and Evreti also in their itinerary. If you tire of the
metalled surface on the last lap of the journey, on reaching Antipata you may divert right at the
church, and follow the old mule track down the valley. The path has been rather badly eroded by
winter storms in the central section, but it is quite passable with care, and emerges by the side of the
bakery. What should definitely not be missed is the opportunity to visit Assos, which will therefore
constitute my final walk of the island.
12. Assos.
Assos is generally considered to be Cephalonia's most spectacular and beautiful site. Undoubtedly it
appears at its most enchanting in the evening; and if one is dependent upon local transport, one will be
obliged to spend one night in the village to make an evening visit possible. There are several rooms to
rent, and one hotel, the Kastro, and one working restaurant, The Platanos, to facilitate a brief
overnight stay. Unfortunately one will have to leave Fiscardo on the 6.30 a.m. bus to Sami, alighting
after about ½ hour at the junction signed Assos - 4 kilometres. Descend the surfaced road to the
charming village, which is built on the isthmus and hence controls two outlets to the sea. The castle
which towers ahead is approached by an obvious dirt track: but walkers may cut off most of the
tedious bends by following a footpath which begins at the hotel Kastro, and climbs diagonally through
the trees, first reaching a bella vista on the lower hill, and thence proceeding to join the dirt track for
the final ascent. Beware of following the goat track to the 30' high battlements ahead; for they are
unscalable, and one would therefore be required to make an ignominious retreat!
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The huge fort was built in 1595 by the Venetians as a protection against piracy, and used to contain a
working prison. The land slopes gently towards the sea in the W., and was extensively cultivated by
the inmates, the well and the irrigation conduits still being visible. Inside too one may see the church
of St. Mark; but the whole area is now grazed by a local shepherd and his tetchy dog – beware! – and
all that survives of its former glory are the walls and the ruins of the governor's palace, set amid a
wilderness of wild olives, figs, and giant thistles. How are the mighty fallen!
Return either on the 2.30 bus from the crossroads, or on foot via the lovely villages of Enosis,
Vasilikades, Komidata etc. – a distance of some 12 miles in toto, but on an even, surfaced road with
mercifully very little traffic to disturb the tranquil splendour of the scene, and its refreshing, bucolic
calm.
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ITHACA
Ithaki, Ithaca, or Thiaki as the Greeks often call it, is still an idyllic island, of an ideal size for
walking, and may be reached by three different routes. For those who are staying on Cephalonia
undoubtedly the simplest method of commuting there is by the daily ferry from Sami to Vathy, an
enjoyable sea voyage of some two hours' duration around Ithaca's most Southerly cape of Agios
Andreas. If, however, you happen to have reached by now the Northern peninsula of Erisos, it would
be more convenient to make use of an alternative ferry which sails daily from Lefkada, capital of the
homonymous island to the North, calling at Nidri, Vassiliki and Fiscardo, and thence round the
Northern point of Ithaca to Vathy, its capital and principal port. Any who dislike long bus journeys
but would relish a 7 hour sea trip may opt to use this route in conjunction with the regular flights from
Athens to Actium, scene of the ignominious defeat of Antony and Cleopatra by the future Emperor
Augustus in 31 B.C., and connected to Lefkada by a frequent bus service, which crosses the narrow
channel separating the island from the mainland on a curious chain-drawn ferry. But the vast majority
of visitors arriving from the mainland are most likely to travel by the large boat from Patras, which
occasionally may continue to Cephalonia. This latter ferry carries on board a bus which leaves the
Kiphisou bus station in Athens in the early morning, drives onto the boat at Patras, and is finally
deposited in Vathy's main square - a somewhat wasteful and perplexing exercise, since Ithaca has as
yet no surfaced roads, and hence no regular bus service. The ostensible reason is to spare passengers
the fag of transferring their baggage from the bus onto the boat at Patras, as was explained to me by a
local hotelier, who was most indignant that I should regard the whole operation as amusing, and a
typical example of Greek logic!
Plentiful and varied accommodation is still obtainable at very reasonable prices either in the numerous
hotels of Vathy, or at private houses both there or in the North at Stavros and Frikes, the former
situated inland, the latter on the Eastern seaboard. The absence of a bus service compels one to resort
to mule, taxi, or one's feet, though occasionally boats may be hired to reach the more distant parts. By
and large, however, walking is by far the best and cheapest expedient; for none of the distances is
excessive, rarely does one lose sight of the all-embracing sea, while the thrill of following in
Odysseus' very own footsteps, with no less distinguished a person than Homer as one's guide,
provides a powerful additional stimulus to all who are concerned to vindicate the authenticity of the
poet's account of the events and their location.
The severe earthquake of 1953 left most of the villages of the island in ruins, and it was many months
before their luckless inhabitants ventured to leave the fields and sleep once again in their homes. In
fact the majority emigrated, mostly to America whence they regularly return for their summer
vacations, staying mostly in Vathy as the only place which offers hotel accommodation. In any case
its central position makes it an ideal place from which to explore the Northern, Central and Southern
sectors of the island, identifying to one's intense pleasure and satisfaction all the places mentioned by
Homer in his gripping narrative of the return of Odysseus.
1. The North – Frikes, Stavros, Polis Bay.
Most archaeologists are now of the opinion that Odysseus' palace must have been situated in the
North of the island, but as yet no buildings of the correct period and on a sufficiently large scale have
been unearthed. The most likely area is the ridge running N. from Stavros, for from here one can see
the surrounding seas in all directions, and we know from already discovered sites how skilfully and
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carefully the Mycenaeans located their palaces and fortresses on eminences outwardly unobtrusive,
but in fact commanding extensive views over all the immediate neighbourhood.
The failure to discover palace buildings has led some to conclude that the structure must have
disappeared down the hillside in the landslides that so often accompany the seismic disturbances to
which Ithaca is so prone. But even if the original edifice has vanished beyond recovery, the adjacent
Polis Bay not only preserves both the name (Od. 15 553) and all the geographical features recorded by
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Homer in his narrative, but has also yielded two remarkable archaeological discoveries, both
associated incontrovertibly with the legendary figure of Odysseus. The first is a series of 13 ninth
century B.C. identical tripods, the first of which was discovered by a farmer, while the remaining 12
came to light in a cave on the northern promontory of the bay. The number 13 is highly significant:
for we read in Od. 8 387 ff. (cf. 13 13 ff.) that on Odysseus' departure from Scheria, King Alcinous
and his 12 underlords presented Odysseus inter alia with 13 such tripods. And although their date
precludes these from being the originals, they may have been later replacements, or alternatively may
have been seen either by Homer or his informant in the eighth century on display in the cave, and thus
incorporated into the saga. For the second piece of evidence which the cave has produced, a fragment
of a terra cotta mask inscribed 'prayer to Odysseus', certainly suggests that at any rate in the first or
second century B.C. this cave was used for cult practices in honour of the island's legendary king.
The north of the island can easily be visited in the course of a single day by an attractive combination
of boat, taxi and foot, A small motor boat regularly leaves in the morning from the quayside of Vathy
for the small roadstead of Frikes on the N.E. coast. From here a broad track leads up the valley to
Stavros, the largest village in the North and containing several fine villas, mostly owned by American
émigrés. Pelikata, excavated by Miss Sylvia Benton in the 1930s, lies about a mile N. of the village,
and although there are no visible signs of the dig, a small museum nearby contains the aforementioned
discoveries and several other exhibits from the area, including an amusing seal ring depicting a male
and female figure accouched, and presumed to represent Odysseus and Penelope. Returning to
Stavros, one may find an obvious track running down to Polis Bay some mile and a half below. As
one descends, one can clearly see the tiny island of Asteris – Daskaleio – midway in the channel
separating Ithaca from Cephalonia. Here it was that the suitors laid the ambush for Telemachus,
hoping to apprehend his ship on its return from Sparta whither he had travelled in search of news of
his father. (Od. 4 669 ff. cf. 842 ff.). The plan fortunately miscarried – for Athene warned him (Od. 15
28 ff.) to disembark on the South of the island, most probably in the tiny bay of Agios Andreas,
whence he travelled on foot to the palace, after first visiting Eumaeus the swineherd and there meeting
his father (16 40 ff.). The cave in which 12 of the 13 tripods was discovered, and also the inscribed
sherd, is on the northern promontory enclosing the bay, while to the south runs the rough track along
the west coast, across the narrow isthmus, and eventually back to Vathy. There is no organized bus
service on the island; but any who do not relish the thought of the long trek back to Vathy will
generally find a taxi to Stavros, and the fare is by no means excessive, especially if one picks up other
wayfarers en route. The swimming down in Polis Bay is very fine, and there are several fishing boats
for those who are inclined to try their skill with rod and line.
2 The Central area - Vathy, Dexia Bay, Marmarospelia, Mt. Aetos.
A stroll of about ¾ an hour along the Stavros road leads one to Dexia Bay, whose topography
coincides in every detail with the Phorcys Bay where Homer records that Odysseus landed on his final
return to Ithaca. (Od.13 96 ff.). The Phaeacians had taken the precaution of sending Odysseus to sleep
as soon as he embarked, and even when he awoke on his native shore he was so dazed that he did not
recognise his whereabouts. (Od. 13 187 ff.). Soon, however, Athene reassured him (236 ff.), appraised
him of the dangerous situation brought about by the suitors' machinations, and advised him (363 ff.)
to hide his treasure in a cave which is described in some detail. A stiff climb will bring you in about
twenty minutes to the Marmarospelia cave from which you may admire the calm waters of Dexia Bay,
protected by its two gently curving arms, while behind there rise the steep slopes of Mt. Neritus, the
island's highest peak, still wooded and windswept as Homer describes it in Odyssey 9 21 ff. Now
turning round and descending into the cave you will encounter the first unusual feature - the so called
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'looms' on which the nymphs spun their fabulous textiles (13 102 ff.), doubtless what the poet's
imagination has made of the curious stalagmite and stalactite formations which so often adorn the
limestone caves of Greece. The second unusual feature which Homer comments upon is the fact that
the cave has two entrances, one for humans and the other for the gods. This second entrance through
which the immortals could flit in and out at will was most probably a hole in the roof which still exists
about 56' up in the apex of the cave. After concealing his treasure, Odysseus is recorded to have made
his way directly to the humble dwelling of his faithful servant, the swineherd Eumaeus (14 1 ff.). And
indeed a rough track still exists from the Marmarospelia cave due South to the Marathia plateau, the
most likely setting for Eumaeus' farm.
Descending once more to the road, continue until it divides, and then take the left fork which leads to
the small roadstead of Pisaetos, whence small cobles sail to the adjacent islands of Cephalonia. Before
reaching Pisaetos, and a little after the small chapel of Agios Georgios on the left, take a small path on
the right leading up through the trees to the summit of Aetos, 1250' above sea level. Take care to veer
to the right as you begin the steep ascent; for otherwise you are in danger of reaching the secondary
summit a little to the South, and it can be a tricky task to edge one's way along the precarious, scrubridden crags to the slightly higher, cross-marked peak. Along the way you may examine the scattered
ruins of the eighth century B.C. city of Alkamenae, first examined by Schliemann in the mistaken
belief that this hill was the correct location of Odysseus' palace - a belief still perpetuated in the local
name for the hill - Kastro Odysseos. But not only are the remains here 4 centuries too recent to be
identified with any palace inhabited by Odysseus; but their location is also too close to the Marathia
plateau to require the whole day which Homer tells us was taken by Eumaeus to accomplish the return
journey from his home to the palace. (16 154 cf. 452 ff.). However that may be, Mt. Aetos is well
worth climbing for the excellent view of the whole island which may be enjoyed from its summit, a
view which is especially rewarding when the evening light casts its soft shadows, and the contours of
the hills take on the sharp, unreal aspect of a silhouette.
3. The South – the Spring of Arethousa, Korax Cliff, Marathia Plateau and Bay of Agios Andreas.
(Odyssey 13 408 ff.).
The southern part of the island is almost entirely devoid of habitation, being covered for the most part
by uncultivable scrub supporting but a few sheep and goats - in short exactly the kind of area in which
one would expect to find Odysseus' most loyal retainer, the pig-keeper Eumaeus. In fact one doubts
whether the passage of 3000 years has wrought any perceptible changes in either the landscape or the
manner of life lived here. But the more sceptical, who require concrete evidence before subscribing to
the equation of present Ithaca with the island so named by Homer, will certainly find it, provided that
they have the energy and inclination to explore this arid, but peculiarly unspoiled region with an
attentive ear and eye.
The first object of our search must be the Spring of Arethousa, which lies opposite the small island of
Perapigadi about equidistant from the Marathia plateau and the shore. Following the road around the
bay, we climb gently up the hill, and after two or three miles crosses a bridge spanning a small valley.
At the brow of the next hill a sheep track runs down from the road diagonally bisecting the hill, and
finally reaching the spring, which nestles in a small declivity beneath the precipitous crags of Korax
Cliff. The latter is easily identified not only by its bright limestone rock, but by the deafening
squawking of the crows which for some curious reason have clung tenaciously to this desolate eyrie
for presumably well over 3000 years. The raucous chorus that heralded my arrival there in the
summer of 1972 left me in no doubt as to how the cliff had acquired its name - for Korax is the Greek
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for crow - and finally convinced me that Ithaca is, indeed the authentic setting of the Odyssey of
Homer. As for the spring itself, in summer it contains the barest trickle, inadequate to slake even the
slightest thirst, so explorers would be well advised to carry water for the strenuous climb ahead. The
path leads up through the bushes on the left side of the crags, and as you stop to recover your breath
you can admire the fine coastal scenery northwards, with the celebrated Leukadian Leap (page 265)
still clearly visible in the far distance. As you reach the plateau, the western sea too becomes visible,
giving one a good impression of the narrowness of the peninsula that divides the island at its mid
point. It was here in Eumaeus' simple dwelling that the touching reunion took place after over twenty
years between Telemachus and his father (16 180 ff.). For the former, after following Athene's timely
advice and landing at Agios Andreas Bay, had climbed the steep path (15 555-7) and so reached the
old swineherd's hut, whither Odysseus, again by Athene's intervention skilfully disguised as a beggar,
(13 430 ff.) had arrived some time earlier.
Our voyage of discovery over, it remains for me to commend Ithaca in its own right as one of the
most attractive islands which I have ever visited, attractive mainly because it is an island small
enough to be taken in at a single glance, and yet large enough to contain secret coves and hidden
places still beyond the reach of motor vehicles and the stifling tentacles of commercialization. The
one thing that it lacks - and this is a strange irony, when one recalls the proverbially wet winters
which it has enjoyed from Homer's time to the present day (13 242 ff.), is a good supply of drinking
water. The springs, if any there be, are still like Odysseus' palace to be discovered, and the inhabitants
are reduced to drinking an extremely flat liquid extracted from the sea by a plant recently installed on
the N.E. coast.
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CHAPTER XIV: THE IONIAN ISLES (2)
LEFKADA
Lefkada is said to derive its name from the white cliffs that rise 200' sheer from the sea at the island's
most Southern cape of Lefkata, a word which clearly has its origin in the adjective 'lefkos', meaning
'white'. It was here, according to a well established tradition, that the poetess Sappho leapt to her death
when suffering from a violent but unrequited passion. Both Cicero and Strabo bear witness to the fact
that in their day the 'kill or cure' remedy was successfully applied with the help of birds' wings
attached to the victim's back, and dinghies placed strategically at the foot of the precipice! As a
walking island Lefkada ranks highly in my estimation, if only because the relatively late construction
of roads has led to the preservation of many paths in a comparatively good state of repair. But the
island seems to me also to be on a more human scale than the other Ionian Isles, and moreover to have
made conscious efforts to ensure the survival of its unique, lively traditions and precious local
heritage. The outstanding beauty of its landscape, which is compounded of a perfect amalgam of
mountain and sea has inspired two of Greece's most celebrated poets, Aristotelis Valaoritis (18241879) and Angelos Sikelianos (1884-1951), both born and bred on the island. Despite long periods of
tenure by the Venetians and Turks, beginning with the Orsini family who fortified the Santa Mavra
fort guarding the N.E. approaches to the island at the beginning of the fourteenth century, the 'foreign'
influences in Lefkada appear to be confined almost exclusively to the capital, which in consequence
seems an almost alien appendage to the rest of the island.
Most tourists will reach Lefkada by road either N. from Preveza or S. from Agrinion, passing over the
artificial canal by means of a strange raft hauled over from the mainland by a chain. It is more than
likely that originally the island was connected to the main land-mass of Acarnania, and there is a
tradition that it was the Corinthians, who colonized the island in the eighth century B.C., who first dug
the canal. By Thucydides' time, however, it appears to have silted up, since the Peloponnesians are
recorded as dragging their ships over the isthmus in 427 B.C. (LII 81). The bus journey from Athens
via Patras is long and tedious, lasting 7 - 8 hours, so that those averse to enduring such hardships
might be well advised to avail themselves of the daily flights to Actium (v. Previous chapter, page
260). On the other hand visitors coming from Cephalonia or Ithaca may sail, weather permitting, on
an ageing World War II landing craft renamed the Kostas Kavafis, which leaves Vathy in the late
afternoon and Fiscardo at 7.30 p.m. until September, when it is re-timed to depart from the latter at 1
p.m. The crossing thence to Vassiliki, Lefkada's most Southern anchorage, takes 2 hours, and if the
seas are tranquil the voyage is a sheer delight. Be warned however that a slight swell can soon
transform the journey into a nightmare! It was my good fortune to enjoy ideal conditions, and to
explore the island from the S. upwards, using Vassiliki and the inland village of Karya as my main
bases. Those whose main preoccupation is with the sea may well prefer to use Nidri, a once peaceful
fishing village about half way down the East coast and facing the rugged Acarnanian shore. Stretching
along its sinuous bay and gazing out upon a strait studded with well wooded islets, including the
fabled Scorpios, home of the late Aristotle Onasis, Nidri commands a view which is claimed to be one
of the most lovely in all Greece. During the last decade it has undergone rapid development; but it is
still worth a short visit, not only because of its delightful bathing and scenery, but also because it was
until his death in 1940, the home of the celebrated archaeologist Dörpfeld, Schliemann's most gifted
pupil and devoted assistant. Dörpfeld had a theory that Homeric Ithaca was in fact Lefkada; and in his
eagerness to promote it he even went to the lengths of erecting a concrete pillar on what he believed to
be the correct location of the Crag of the Nymphs. But whether or not you accept the theory, I
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certainly recommend a visit to his house and grave which are to be found on the peninsula
immediately opposite Nidri. A small rowing boat may be hired to take you over, and a delightful path,
well shaded from the sun by tall cypresses, will lead you back around the gulf, whose still waters,
varying from azure to turquoise as the depths change, reflect the high peaks of the mountainous
hinterland. An equally attractive seaside resort which is reputed to possess the finest beach in all
Greece is Agios Nikitas, situated on the N.W. coast not more than 10 miles from the capital.
A: Based on Vassiliki
Fifteen years ago Vassiliki was a simple, unpretentious fishing village, but more recently it has
undergone considerable development as a wind surfing centre, the local conditions being ideal for that
particular sport. There is a very good hotel, the LEFKATAS, (Tel 0645.31305) offering full board and
comfortable accommodation in double rooms with private showers and balconies for very reasonable
prices. But in addition there are simpler pensions and many rooms to let, while the bay is fringed with
a considerable variety of tavernas. Buses leave for the main town at 7.30 a.m. and 1.45 p.m. daily,
travelling both clockwise and anticlockwise along the W. and E. coasts of the island respectively and
simultaneously, so as not to meet on the narrow, tortuous roads. The following 3 walks make use of
paths or tracks very little frequented by vehicles, and will give the walker a fairly representative view
of this quiet, charming corner of the island.
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1. Mt. Stavrota – 1158 metres, via Sivros and Agios Elias.
At an altitude of well over 3½ thousand feet, Stavrota is easily the highest mountain in the island.
Despite this it is very seldom climbed, perhaps because although one enjoys a fine panoramic view to
the S., the Northern aspect is severely limited by the presence of other mountains not much lower than
Stavrota. Because of the distances involved one is obliged to return by the same route: but this is a
positive advantage in that it holds the attractive possibility of obtaining refreshment at the villages of
Agios Elias and Sivros, and even transport if needed, in the shape of a small local bus which leaves
the former village at 3 p.m. for Vassiliki.
It is advisable to depart no later than 9 a m., leaving Vassiliki by the main road to Nidri which turns
off the main street right, just after the Hotel Lefkata. In about ½ mile take the minor road on the left
running N.E. to Sivros, and wonderfully shaded by huge, gnarled olives with an abundance of silvery
foliage. The gently rising plain is well watered and on either side there stretch rich fields of maize,
plentiful vineyards, almond trees laden with nuts, and orchards of plump quince, ruddy pomegranates
and luscious pears. In about ½ hour, after crossing a small bridge, look out for a sign indicating that
Sivros is 3 kilometres distant. In a further 2 minutes a quite broad track on the right leads up to a
wonderful spring gushing with abundant, cool water, and thence irrigating the whole valley. The path
continues up, reaching the village in only ¼ hour, thus saving one at least 20 minutes, provided that
one has no objection to the surface, which is strewn with loose, irregular stones.
Just after the sign for SIVROS you have the option of either continuing on the main road or taking the
back lane on the left, which passes many houses where I saw huge piles of freshly picked almonds
being shelled, maize being stripped of its attendant foliage, and lemons squeezed to preserve their
juice in bottles for the winter. It was here that on my return I sampled village hospitality at its best:
first a delicious kourambie - a seasonal pastry dripping with tasty almonds and liberally coated with
icing sugar, accompanied by a sweet aromatic Turkish coffee, served in the best delicate bone china
by an old lady wearing the long, bulky brown dress which is immediately recognisable as traditional
Lefkadian costume. Next, a little further along the lane, a jovial cooper busy constructing new barrels
for his new vintage invited me in to meet his daughter, who promptly responded to the compliment by
offering the customary courtesies reserved for honoured guests, viz. a spoon of vanilla suspended in a
cool glass of water, a liberal measure of ouzo, soon to be followed by yet another cup of viscous,
black coffee. My host also informed me that the village celebrates on September 7-8, the main church
being dedicated to the Nativity of the Virgin, whilst across the valley S.W. of the village there lie the
celebrated caves of Karoucha.
If you have avoided the back lane, and proceeded through the village via the main road, you must turn
left opposite the 'pantopoleion' – the village store, and again left almost as soon as you regain the
road. About a mile further on you may again avoid the road by proceeding along a path which runs
through the olive groves on the right, following the line of the telegraph poles. Occasional red spots
mark the route, and if successful you may enter the hamlet of Agios Elias again by the back lane
which runs parallel to the main road and on the left. The total time required to reach this, the highest
village of Lefkada, from Vassiliki will be somewhere in the region of 2½ hours. At the time of my
visit in 1985 the church was being extensively renovated, and the prominent new cafe was also
closed. But the smaller, older one which snuggles in a hollow behind the church on the left was still
offering refreshment and helpful advice on the best way of reaching the church of Agia Paraskevi,
one's last visible landmark before reaching the final summit of Stavrota, which is now hidden from
view behind the broad shoulder of the mountain. Perched high on a beetling crag to the N.W. of the
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village, the church's glistening white belfry will have long since riveted your attention. N.E. there
rises another bold peak, designated on the map as 'syngrosema elatis' i.e. 'fir plantation'. Unfortunately
the majority of the forest was destroyed many decades ago by fire, leaving only isolated dark clumps
which stand out boldly etched against the luminous silver-grey of the surrounding rocks. Enquire for
directions to the cemetery - to kimitirion - which is situated on the N.W. fringe of the village, and a
few minutes after which you will pass a small shrine on the left. Two minutes later where the path
divides take the left fork which climbs up quite steeply to reach in c. ½ hour the prominent belfry of
Agia Paraskevi. From this vantage point one enjoys a fine view S. down the valley to Vassiliki: the
chapel itself is situated slightly N. in a small hollow, where sheep were sleeping peacefully, sheltered
from the fierce midday sun by a huge spreading plane tree. Just by the church is a well where you
would do well to take your last drink before reaching the final summit.
Continue N. climbing gently by the path which runs on the right side of the gully, crossing in about 20
minutes a small dry streambed issuing from Vouno on the right, and in a further 5 minutes another
one coming from the same direction. Just after this point turn left (W.) and begin to scramble up the
loose scree between two scree-shoots. In some 10-15 minutes the path, poorly defined, turns S. to
reach the triple summit in about 5 more minutes. The total time from Vassiliki is in the region of 4
hours. The vista is all-embracing, although adjacent peaks block the view of the sea. As you descend,
the large saucer-shaped military installations situated due N. on Mt. Prophetes Elias are a helpful
guide, until in 10 minutes one turns E. towards the square tower marked on the map as Pano Pyrgos –
the Upper Tower. Those who are suitably shod and proficient in the art may hasten their descent by
using one or other of the two scree-shoots: alternatively cross over, then proceed with caution until
you reach the col, whence the comparatively easy path due S. to Agia Paraskevi and your homeward
road.
2. Circular walk comprising the villages of the plain – Nikoli, Agios Vasilios, Komilio and Agios
Petros.
This more relaxing ramble passes through the fertile Western sector of the plain, climbs gently into
the foothills of Stavrota, and finally returns to base from the substantial and attractive village of Agios
Petros via the main road. The total time required is from 4 to 5 hours, allowing plenty of time for
exploring the hamlets at leisure.
Leave Vassiliki on the main road to the W. coast, and in a kilometre, after crossing the second bridge,
turn right up the valley. Through a canopy of olives one admires inspiring views of the steep W. face
of Mt. Stavrota, where beetling villages and boundless greenery finally give way to cascading scree
and solid walls of uncompromising grey rock. In about 2 miles, and approached by a track on the left
you will find a refreshing spring: simply look out for the water on the road. On either side prolific
orchards of lemons, oranges, mandarins, narangis, pomegranates, quinces and figs are interspersed
with fields of maize. Returning to the main track, where it divides take the right branch, for a while
doubling back S. in the direction of Vassiliki before veering again to the N. At the next junction avoid
the right fork which cuts across to Sivros, and keep left, soon passing on the left another gushing
spring, from whose freezing water much mineral nutriment is derived. At this point one begins to rise
quite steeply to reach the forlorn hamlet of Nikoli, 450 metres above sea level. On the right stands the
church of St. George, and here too one may descend by a path to the stream, where multitudes of
playful frogs are plopping in the mossy pools. Continue by the main track climbing towards Agios
Vasilios where one must choose between three possibilities. The first and longest is to continue
downhill by the main road which crosses to the opposite side of the valley to serve hamlets higher up
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the mountain, and finally emerges on the main coast road at Hortata. The second possibility is to
ascend steeply by the second track on the left, which zigzags its way up to Komilio. The third and
shortest option involves taking the first track on the left which will land you safely in Agios Petros in
c. ½ hour.
Agios Petros, the second largest village of Lefkada, boasts some 400 families, a variety of shops, and
even one Phrontisterio - a private school of foreign languages. You will approach it via a
comparatively modern housing development created some 5 years ago when several families from
Roupakias, a hamlet a mile to the E. abandoned their ancestral homes, rendered unsafe by many an
earthquake, and availed themselves of a government grant to set up house in Agios Petros. The main
church possesses a fine bell tower with a huge clock, and an air of prosperity emanates from the
surrounding stone-built houses with their charming slate roofs and overhanging balconies festooned
with colourful flowers. A large central spring assures a plentiful supply of water, and the return
journey by the main road, being downhill all the way, can be accomplished in little over an hour. As
one approaches Vassiliki there are extensive views over the broad, peaceful bay, where dozens of
holidaymakers spend happy hours falling off surfboards into the refreshing, shallow waters of the
Ionian Sea.
3. Agios Nikolaos, Kontarena Agios Dimitrios.
This short morning or evening stroll should take no longer than a couple of hours. Its first objective,
the chapel of St. Nicholas, appears as a brilliant white speck amid the dense, dark forest S.W. of
Vassiliki. The path begins at Odos Miaoulis, named after the famous admiral of the War of
Independence, which begins by the side of the patisserie on the harbour. It is at first rather difficult to
follow, as it swings through the overgrown and often abandoned terraces; but a few abortive attempts,
accompanied by a rash of superficial scratches, will generally end in success, and lead you to the
chapel in about ¼ hour. From here the track continues, now well defined, at first a little downhill, but
thence ascending the wooded hilltop, whence it follows the line of the telegraph wires downhill to the
nearby village of Kontarena. One of the most attractive features of this bustling hamlet is its fine,
whitewashed houses with their typical overhanging gables and colourful pantiles. A new 'demosios
dromos' leads up through the village to reach the chapel of St. Dimitrios in about ½ hour. Where it
takes its first acute sweep to the left, search out the old mule track on the right, which has, alas, been
converted in its initial stages to the village refuse dump. So much for progress! In about ten minutes
you will emerge onto the new track, and a further ten minutes will land you at your goal, the chapel of
St. Dimitrios. The interior is kept locked, so that the key for admission must be sought from the priest
below: but outside above the main entrance is carved the following inscription: 'This is the House of
God, and the Fount of Heaven. Loose the strap of your shoe; for the place whereon you stand is
hallowed ground'. In theory by proceeding due N., one should reach very shortly the chapel of St.
Saviour – Agios Sotir - whence the round trip could be completed by continuing N. to Vassiliki, but
being short of time I opted for the safer course of returning by the same route.
B: Based on Karya.
The afternoon bus for Karya leaves at 1.45, and one must be careful to catch the bus travelling to the
capital, Lefkada, via Agios Petros and the West coast, rather than that travelling to the same
destination, but in the opposite direction along the East coast. The journey to the village of
Asprogerakata, where one must alight, takes approximately one hour; thence it is a gentle 3 kilometre
walk uphill to Karya via the adjacent village of Pigadisani. On the occasion of my visit in 1985 the
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bus ride proved quite eventful, the bus almost demolishing the roof of a shop with which it became
embroiled while negotiating a tight bend in Agios Petros, and a little further along the road colliding
with a car on a blind corner just N. of the village of Hortata!
Karya, Lefkada's largest village, hangs on the lip of an extensive inland plateau at a height of about
1000' above sea level. At present the only accommodation available is in private houses, and I must
admit that it took me two whole hours' patient enquiry before I finally secured congenial lodgings
down the hill at the house of Kyria Ourania. However, a large and tastefully designed hotel with 40
beds – Tel 41303, Theodoros Katopodes - is currently being built up the hillside, and it is expected
that it will be open by Easter 1986. A large swimming pool and a subterranean disco are listed among
its appealing features, and the bedrooms are designed to command superb views across the plateau
and over the strait to the high mountains of Acarnania on the mainland beyond. The hotel is to be
equipped with a restaurant: but in any case there are two tavernas, as well as cafes in the village. The
plateau below is intensively cultivated, producing multitudes of grapes and olives, and the womenfolk
are renowned for the fine quality lace which they still manufacture. Perhaps the best view of the
whole area is obtained in the evening from the path which climbs steeply S.W. to the almost deserted
hamlet of Rekatsinata. From here one can see as far N. as the main town of Lefkada, while due East,
inspiring vistas of the majestic Acarnanian peaks fill the distant horizon. Far below, Karya itself
glistens in the brilliant evening light, refulgent like a jewel in the crown of the rich plateau over which
it presides with royal splendour. Women of the older generation stride around the cobbled streets erect
and slender in their elegant brown crinolines, very models of a regal poise, best illustrated in their
graceful dances performed with large bronze cooking pots skilfully balanced on their heads! Although
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a high percentage of the population supports the communist parties, they are all acutely aware of and
determined to preserve at all costs their precious heritage; and as part of the celebrations for the
Dormition of the Virgin on August 15 a mock marriage is staged annually in the village square.
In every way Karya would make an ideal centre for walking, and the following two circular walks,
each occupying about 4 hours, are only a foretaste of the rich delights in store for those who will
subsequently explore this delightful region of the island.
4. Circular tour of the villages surrounding the plateau.
To obtain the best advantage from the light this walk is best done anticlockwise, beginning at about
3.30 p.m. Leave Karya S. on the main road to Englouvi, but after a mile turn off left down a minor
road well shaded by tall cypresses and firs to the village of Platystoma. Shortly before arriving you
will pass a crossroads not marked on the currently available maps. The new road on the right, signed
Vafkeri, bypasses Platystoma and leads down eventually to the coast at the popular resort of Nidri.
The roads opposite on the left are newly constructed, either to serve the needs of the farming
community, or as access to the pylons carrying hydroelectric current from Epiros all the way to
Cephalonia. Continue on the main road to the brow of the hill, where Platystoma, astride the saddle
between the ridges, catches all the wind as it is funnelled through the gap, and hence earns its name Widemouth. On the left, and approached by a new concrete stairway, is the church of Agia Paraskevi
which celebrates annually on July 25. The village is on the opposite side of the road, and there I
observed typical cottage industry – women weaving colourful carpets from locally produced cotton.
The main road continues round and over the hill before descending N.E. in about ½ hour to
Alexandros, a rather desolate hamlet used by migrant shepherds, most of the original population
having migrated E. to the coast at Nikiana in the hope of making a better living from tourism. Yet a
little wheat and copious vines still grow in abundance. On the left as you leave the village you will
enjoy a fine view of the Meganoros, whose summit is crowned with saucer-shaped installations. On
the right as you reach the crest of the hill a surprise view of the strait and the distant peaks of
Acarnania is suddenly revealed to the observant visitor. The road descends, and just before it begins
to rise again, a zigzag track descends on the left to the floor of the valley, whence it climbs steeply up
to Karya. But continue uphill towards Lazarata and Pinakochori. As you approach the latter, a new
road on the left gives you the option of excluding the former village and going direct to Pinakochori
via the cemetery. The village derives its name from 'pinaka', which means 'picture' - apparently
because the charming landscape in which it is set has inspired many local artists to immortalise it in
their paintings. Continue to Pigadisani, and thence over the great chasm which plunges dramatically
into the depths of the plateau to return to Karya.
5. Mt. Prophetes Elias via Englouvi.
Englouvi, the second highest village in Lefkada, is reached in about 1 hour by the main road running
S. from Karya. The charming village was burned down by the Germans, thus destroying all the
wooden barrels used for storing the excellent local wine. More recently the superb vintage is under
threat from the EEC who are offering the local farmers tempting financial inducements to rip out the
indigenous vines, which they claim are of poor quality, and replace them by a more acceptable stock.
In the past Englouvi has always exported a certain percentage of its grapes to the French and the
Italians, who use it as colouring and flavouring for their own allegedly superior wines. Only when
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some natural disaster has befallen the French and Italian vineyards has Lefkada succeeded in selling
all its grapes, which are surplus to internal requirements.
I had a good opportunity to sample the outstanding quality of all the local produce, liquid and
otherwise, being by chance invited in to share the tail end of a marriage feast. Bridegroom and bride
had already departed, but the closest relatives and friends still remained and some dancing still
continued, although in a somewhat desultory manner. Attracted by the sound of music I found myself
urged to participate, and was offered several glasses of the potent 'kokkinelli' as a reward. Three aged
crones were contentiously engaged in mixing a large bowl of local 'halvas', into which handfuls of
unground whole grain were thrown - doubtless a survival of a timeworn fertility rite. A plateful was
shortly presented for my approval, and soon afterwards the table was set for the midday meal. First a
tasty dish of macaroni prepared in the soup of the ritual lamb; then the lamb itself, accompanied by
salads and home made cheese: and finally large platters of succulent grapes - all of which confirmed
my original suspicion that the EEC's suggestions were disingenuous, and as such should be resisted at
all costs!
From the centre of the village take the narrow path up to the spring - i vrisi - on its Northern edge.
Continue right along the road built to serve the American Air Force base on the shoulder of the
mountain: but after 280 yards, where the road takes its first wide sweep to the left to reach the huge
Radar installation, continue straight on along the old path by the icon which stands at its junction with
the road. On the left looms the ominous saucer – a part of the NATO early warning system, while on
the right the final pyramid of the mountain rears its head defiantly against the dark blue of the sky.
After some 20 minutes the path joins a track where several quarries have been dug in an attempt to
find water. The track has been recently extended to reach the summit of the mountain by a certain Mr.
Thermon, who undertook the work, completed in July 1985, in memory of his parents, wife and uncle,
as is recorded on a plaque set into the wall of the chapel. If your visit happens to coincide with the
celebration of the illustrious prophet's miraculous ascent to heaven - July 19-20 - you will retain
undying memories of the lavish local celebration of the event. But in any case the effort of climbing
up is always well rewarded by the superb panoramic view which awaits you on attaining the summit,
which is the third highest on the island. Karya itself is hidden from view by the bulk of the mountain,
but much of the plain is visible. The white buildings of the island's capital stand out clearly on its
Northern tip, whilst opposite one can even discern the town of Preveza, and beyond the dim outline of
the Gulf of Amphilocia. S.E. one distinguishes the slightly higher mount Vouno with its by now
familiar tower, and in a more Easterly direction lie the islands of Sparti, Scorpios and Mega Nisi, the
second owned by the family of the late Aristotle Onasis. Due South there sprawls the Stavrota range,
and in the W. the vast level of the Ionian Sea disappears into a haze indistinguishable from the sky.
The view is at its best in the late afternoon; but take care to leave yourself at least 1½ hour's daylight
for the return to Karya by the Western route. Descend by the same track until you reach the point
where it is joined by the path you took from Englouvi. Now follow the track round to the right,
passing the other installation once used by the OTE and resembling camouflaged golf balls. In some
35 minutes from the summit, just after the pictorial sign forbidding photography, take the small path
on the right which picks its uncertain way through the loose scree to the deserted hamlet of
Rekatsinata and thence to Karya. The necessity of proceeding with caution will give you the chance to
absorb the entrancing views, whether of Lefkada and the mainland mountains shimmering in the
distance, or of the roof tiles of Karya burnished with gold, as the sun sinks to its rest in the Western
sea. The total walking time is in the region of 4 hours.
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Several buses in the course of the day wind their tortuous way down via the villages of the plain to
Lefkada, which as so often shares its name with that of the island. The town is a most curious and
incongruous amalgam of three opposing styles. Of the greatest architectural merit are the many stonebuilt churches, unctuous in their decoration both external and internal, and bearing the unmistakeable
stamp of Venice. Cheek by jowl with these miniature masterpieces there stand ramshackle edifices
whose light, improvised structures and irregular angles evince the repeated wrath of Poseidon the
Earthshaker. Finally, in undistinguished and homogenous security rise the modern, antiseismic luxury
hotels, most of them with their backs turned contemptuously on the shanty town behind, and gazing
out upon the peculiar, square lagoon which is as bleak and uninspiring as their architecture. The
waters both of this lagoon and of the narrow channel which separates the island from the mainland on
its East are devoted to the commercial breeding of fish. More worthy of exploration and situated to
the E. and W. of the main town respectively, are the Santa Mavra fort guarding the entrance to the
channel, and the Monastery of Phaneromeni. Five or six miles on the coast road beyond the latter, one
finds the roadstead of Agios Nikitas, arguably one of the best beaches in the whole of Greece.
Lefkada boasts two museums, one archaeological and the other folklore, a brass band,
accommodation in either luxury hotel or simple antique pension, and a great variety of restaurants.
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CORFU (KERKYRA)
Corfu, or Kerkyra, is the second largest in area of the Ionian Isles but has by far the largest
population. Of the 100,000 permanent residents, 30,000 live in the city, the rest being divided
amongst the 119 villages which are scattered particularly densely in the Northern part of the island.
The incomparable beauty both of the island's beaches and of its verdant hinterland has ensured Corfu's
popularity with all tourists, and especially with the British, for reasons not difficult to understand. For
of all the islands, Corfu most resembles Britain in the luxuriance of its scenery, in the dramatic
grandeur of much of its coastline, in the compact 'knottiness' of its deeply scored and richly forested
hills, and less attractively, in the comparative humidity of its climate. And yet, despite the incidence
of tourism on an ever-increasing scale, facilitated in more recent decades by the construction of an
international airport on the Southern outskirts of the city, Corfu has managed to preserve cultural
integrity. This is especially evident in the villages, where national costume is still regularly worn, at
least by the older generation, and women are frequently seen carrying their water pots on their heads
as in days of yore. Moreover they still work alongside their menfolk, planting vegetables and
gathering the annual rich harvest of grapes and olives from an alleged 4½ million olive trees!
A mere 80 miles of open sea separate Corfu from Italy's S.E. shore, and it is therefore not surprising
that politically and culturally, Western influences have predominated in the island from the thirteenth
century A.D. right up to the present day. Arriving with the Fourth Crusade in 1204, the Venetians
occupied the island and enjoyed an almost uninterrupted tenure until ousted by the French at the end
of the eighteenth century. The defeat of Napoleon in 1815 subsequently led to a period of 50 years
when the British held sway, until in 1865 the Septinsular Republic was finally united with Greece.
The capital manifests the clearest evidence of these Western influences. The tall 6 storey blocks with
their charming balconies, separated by narrow alleys and perpetually festooned with laundry, are an
obvious legacy of the Venetian occupation. The elegant, arched arcade known as the Liston, which
fronts the Esplanade, was designed by the French in imitation of La rue de Rivoli. The Old Royal
Palace built in Georgian style, and before which cricket is still played on the immaculate turf,
constitutes a fitting testimony to the British contribution to this strange cultural 'macedoine', and yet
by some mysterious alchemy all these multifarious influences are so harmoniously blended that one is
seldom aware of the kind of incongruity which can appear so jarring in Lefkada or Zacynthos. Thus
although walking is undoubtedly best in the North of the island, I strongly recommend the walker to
spend at least two days exploring the city and its Southern outskirts. There is a plethora of restaurants,
ice-cream parlours and cafes to satisfy all tastes and pockets. For accommodation the recently
refurbished hotel KYPRO (Tel 30032) offers clean, comfortable lodgings at 500 a bed., while for
one's spiritual edification there is a modern theatre where even opera is mounted (Il Trovatore –
1985). One has the choice of arriving by plane direct from the UK or Athens; by bus from Athens as
far as Igoumenitsa, and thence by ferry – a total of 9½ hours; or by sea from Patras - a journey of c.
13 hours, depending on how many other harbours are taken in en route, or finally by boat, again from
Italy, embarking at Brindisi, Ancona or even Venice.
The walking on Corfu is not of the first order, principally through lack of footpaths. Paths there are in
plenty: but in a region so intensively cultivated, as is only natural, they lead to the fields and orchards,
and not directly from A to B. An extensive road network was instituted during the British occupation,
and more recently the Socialist Government of Andreas Papandreou has opened scores of agricultural
tracks to assist farmers in their work. Consequently one is obliged to walk either on the metalled
surface, with its innumerable bends, and now alas, almost equally innumerable scooters and jeeps, or
on the dust track where each passing vehicle threatens one with asphyxiation. Nevertheless Corfu is
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conscious of the needs of walkers, and accommodation is offered for their benefit in inland villages
such as Chorepiskopi, whose central position in the middle of the Northern sector of the island would
make an excellent base. Moreover there is such a dense proliferation of villages that one has no need
to carry provisions or even water, except perhaps on the ascent of Mt. Pantokrator, and the scenery is
so enchanting that one even relishes the presence of a smooth road surface, enabling one to devote all
one's attention to absorbing the manifold beauties of the landscape, rather than to the securing of a
safe foothold. Perhaps too on Corfu is found a greater variety of landscape than on any other island,
so that on one and the same day one may savour the restful tranquillity of a typically English pastoral
scene of rich grassy (sic) meadowland; subsequently penetrate the dense forests which clothe the
steep ravines and insinuate the round-topped hills so reminiscent of County Durham or the West
Country; a little later emerge thence into an arid zone of barren, scrubby, hills and forbidding, craggy
peaks; and finally descend to a coastline of sandy coves and precipitous cliffs which, the vegetation
apart, one might easily mistake for North Yorkshire or Devon.
1. Day's tour of the Old Venetian Castle, Kanoni and the Achilleion.
The Old Venetian Castle projects Eastwards from the rest of the city, from which it is separated by a
small canal. From the highest battlements one enjoys a fine panoramic view not only of the whole city
but also of much of the hinterland and of the imposing Albanian coast opposite. Before you leave, you
will pass the Church of St. George, built in neoclassical style only 30 years ago, but already in a sadly
dilapidated state. Immediately in front of the castle there stretches the fine Esplanade, flanked on the
N. by the Old Palace, built by the British and now housing the Sino-Japanese Museum, and on the W.
by the celebrated Liston, a fitting memorial to French elegance and grace. In the S.E. corner of the
Esplanade you will see a rotunda in neoclassical style built by the British Commissioner Maitland,
and commemorating the return of Corfu to Greece in 1868. On a little green island further S. is the
statue of Capodistrias, a Corfiote and the first President of Modern Greece till his assassination in
Nafplion in 1831. Continue down the slope to the road called Democratia which circles the curving
bay of Garitsas. A new building on the right houses the Classical Archaeological Museum which
contains many fragments from the great 6th century B.C. temple to Artemis, a unique hoard of 158
staters (2 drachmae gold coins) buried in an earthenware pot at the time of the Persian Wars, 2 well
preserved decrees on bronze plaques conferring 'proxenia' on the city's benefactors, and many objects
from prehistoric times from as far back as 6000 B.C.
Continue S. along the main road, and where it divides you may avoid the traffic by walking in the
park which occupies the central reservation. In ¼ hour you will reach the place known as
Anemomilos, where you may inspect a rare example of true Byzantine architecture. The church, built
in the twelfth century, is dedicated to the Saints Jason and Sosipater, both pupils of St Paul and
credited with first bringing Christianity to the island. Hereabouts are traces of the ancient city walls for this peninsula, reaching as far as Kanoni, was the site of the classical city built by the Corinthians
at the end of the 8th century B.C., when they expelled the Liburnian pirates and Dalmatians to plant
their most illustrious colony. Unfortunately most of the remains are not accessible to the general
public, being situated in the extensive grounds of the palace of Mon Repos. This famous palace, built
originally as a residence for Sir Fred Adam, and later acquired by the monarchy, was the birthplace of
the Duke of Edinburgh. On the left, however, as one begins to climb the Hill of Analipsis - the
Ascension - one finds the entrance to the Convent of Agia Euphemia, a pleasant, flowery spot
inhabited by hospitable nuns. On this same hill were massacred thousands of victims of the appalling
civil strife that raged between Democrats and Oligarchs during the early years of the Peloponnesian
War (431-404 B.C.) One wonders whether the name 'Mon Repos' was chosen subconsciously in an
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attempt to lay the ghost of those hapless souls whose fate is recorded with such a scrupulous regard
for truth in the poignant and memorable prose of the great historian of this war, Thucydides son of
Olorus.
Proceed uphill through the fashionable suburbs, passing several tavernas offering good food at very
reasonable prices. One of the best, situated in a most attractive garden and owned by a Cypriot called
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Solon, is called Bacchos - a name which is certainly not belied by the excellent 'kokkinelli' wine
served in liberal measure by its generous producer. A further 10 minutes will bring you to Kanoni, so
named after the cannons planted there by the French Democrats when they ousted the Venetians in
1789. The hilltop commands a fine view over the bay with its two Byzantine monasteries, and a
stairway leads down to the popular sandy beaches below. The nearer monastery, dedicated to the
Virgin, is called Vlachernae, and was founded in 1585 as a dependency of the celebrated Vlachernae
monastery in Constantinople. It closes for a short period at midday, but should be just about open
again for your arrival. The jetty by which it is approached is also the starting point for several small
motor boats which, for a modest return fare of 100 drachmae, convey pilgrims to the nearby
Pontikonisi - Mouse Island - so called because of its shape. The monastery, dedicated to the
Transfiguration of Our Saviour, celebrates on Aug 6th, and was founded in the 15th century as a
dependency of the church of the Virgin of the Strangers in Epirus. There is a popular local tradition
that the island is a petrifaction of an ancient Phaeacian ship, one of which brought Odysseus safely
back to Ithaca after his 10 years' wanderings.
To reach the Achilleion, the last and the most splendid of the sites visited in today's excursion, cross
over the bay by the narrow pavement separating the open sea from the lagoon. On one's right is the
airport, and consequently the idyllic tranquillity is, alas, frequently shattered by the ear-splitting roar
of jets coming in to land. On reaching Perama on the other side, turn left, and in a few hundred yards
keep a sharp look out for a sign on the right directing you towards the village of Gastouri and the
Achilleion. The narrow lane winds up tortuously through the dense olive groves and cypresses, and in
c. 1 hour you will see the palace, on the left, rising on its strategic eminence above the bay of
Benitses.
The palace was built in 1890-92 by Elizabeth of Austria, an ardent philhellene who was especially
enthralled by the persona of Achilles, who to her represented all that was most admirable in the Greek
concept of heroism and male prowess. The building itself, bought on Elizabeth's sad assassination in
1898 by Kaiser Wilhelm, was in 1961sold to a syndicate for use as a casino, and although of no great
architectural merit, it is in need of urgent repair. But its beautifully landscaped gardens, the statuary
and internal decorations are sights never to be forgotten. Especially noteworthy are the superbly
painted ceiling representing the four seasons in the main entrance hall, and the finely executed and
tastefully lit Trial of Jesus which adorns the apse of the small chapel. On the upper floor, used as a
gaming room and therefore excluded from general use, one may see from the window outside the
celebrated scene of Achilles triumphantly dragging Hector's body around the walls of Troy. The
terrace outside contains statues of the Muses, and of Achilles desperately attempting to remove the
fatal arrow from his heel: and finally on the belvedere gazing down over the city there stands the
enormous bronze figure of Achilles, erected by Kaiser Wilhelm in a vain attempt to surpass the
previous occupant of the palace in the opulence of his artistic patronage.
2. Kassiope
This excursion is commended principally because of the fine beaches possessed by this small fishing
village on the N.E. point of the island, and for the splendour of the coastal scenery through which one
passes en route. On a Sunday the first bus leaves at 9.30 a.m. and returns at 4 p.m., but on weekdays
the earliest departure is at 10.30 a.m. The journey takes c. 1½ hours, although only 36 kilometres,
chiefly because one has to negotiate the Eastern flank of Mt. Pantokrator which at this point tumbles
steeply into the sea. The consequent hairpin bends, especially in the region of Nisaki, test the driver's
judgement and manoeuverative skills to the utmost, and make for a memorable and exciting trip. For
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the first 10 kilometres however, as far as Ypsos, one passes along the highly developed and ever
popular Riviera E. coast, thickly lined with the inevitable tourist hotels etc. Kassiope too is much
favoured by the English and is well furnished with accommodation and eating places. For example,
immediately opposite the bus stop, Jackson's Restaurant (sic) offers good food at logical prices - only
140 drachs for a substantial Greek Salad accompanied by a cup of fine Kokkinelli: but those seeking
more exotic fare can certainly find it at rather more exclusive prices on the harbour, where prices are
obligingly converted into the English equivalents.
On the low hill behind the village stand the forlorn ruins of the Angevin castle, now overgrown by a
tangle of parched thistles and occupied by several broods of emaciated hens. The great temple of Zeus
was situated either here, or beneath the present church of the Virgin, and it was here that according to
his biographer Suetonius, that arch-idiot but great philhellene, the Emperor Nero, sang and danced for
joy on first setting foot on Greek soil on his notorious visit to Greece in 67 A.D. Moving around the
castle anticlockwise from the harbour one finds an enchanting series of delightful coves with rocks
and sand to suit the taste of all bathers. Those who are interested in pony trekking will see advertised
at Jackson's restaurant excursions to the beautiful beach of Agios Stephanos, some 5 kilometres to the
S.E.
The bus back to Kerkyra leaves at 4 p.m., and at this hour the views are even more spectacular,
especially across the strait to the Albanian coast, where silvery peaks glisten in the effulgent rays of
the declining sun.
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3. Several other excursions were recommended to me, which an untimely bout of Autumn 'flu forbade
me to make. Certainly worth climbing for the view is Ag. Deka, at 1860' the second highest mountain
in the island. The path begins from the village of the same name, S.W. of Gastouri, and the walk takes
c. 1½ hours. Immediately W. of the city lies Pelekas with its colourful houses and belvedere built by
Kaiser Wilhelm. From here one may visit the lovely beach of Glyfada, and also the monastery of
Panagia Myrtidon, a beautifully situated convent, beneath which, rather incongruously, a nudist beach
has been developed. But the best walking in Corfu is undoubtedly to be found in the N. of the island,
and it is therefore in that location that the remainder of the excursions are to be found.
A: From Karousades
It is difficult to find a centre from which the whole of the N. of the island is accessible on foot. For the
terrain is so deeply scored and the paths are so extremely tortuous that the apparent distance has often
to be almost doubled. Those preferring to be near the sea might well opt for Roda, which has
innumerable rooms for rent and is the site of a large classical temple, or Asteraki, which has the merit
of being within walking distance from Karousades, the largest community in the whole area. There
are two possible routes: either take the main road from Karousades to Roda and after ¼ hour diverge
left along the new tarmac road, or more attractively, follow the first lane on the left after leaving the
village, and after 5 minutes turn right down a dirt track beautifully shaded by olives, At Asteraki
accommodation is available either at the hotels Akti Angela or Asteraki Beach, or much more cheaply
at the Alexandra, where a bed with shower costs only 500 Dr. But be warned, mosquitoes thrive in the
flat lands near the sea, and personally I found sleep impossible, and therefore transferred up the hill to
Karousades.
Karousades is the most substantial village in the N. of the island, possessing both cafes and 4 good
tavernas. The best, according to my informant, is the last on the left as you leave for Roda and is
owned by a good humoured fellow called Esaios, who sports a large moustache and parts his black
hair in the middle, Edwardian style. His roasts done over charcoal on the spit are so magnificent that
many local housewives take them home in plastic bags rather than cook themselves. The salads are
the best that I have eaten anywhere, quite staggering in their variety and size, and all the prices are
absurdly low. I can only surmise that the produce is his own: otherwise he would certainly be running
at a loss. The only thing lacking is local wine, which during my 5 days' stay in October was
unobtainable. There are the usual Post and Telephone Offices, a barbers shop and a small school; but
accommodation is rare, there being no pension or hotel. A certain George Koskinas has two rooms
above his drapery and shoe shop in the first house on the left as you descend the road to Kavalouri,
and there were reputed to be other similar private rooms to let. The whole area abounds with trees of
every kind - cypress, olive, laurel, palm, fir, plane, walnut, almond , arbutus, quince, pomegranate,
peach, apple, pear, fig, mulberry, and the miniature orange from which the unique Koum Kouat
liqueur is distilled, said to be so good for young girls' complexion! S.W. along the road leading to the
Police Station is a pretty suburb, named Antiperni, where you will find several splendid archontika aristocratic mansions - cafes and gardens ablaze with all the flowers that grow, whilst immediately S.
begins the sprawling village of Kavalouri. The following 4 walks all begin and end in Karousades.
4. A short clockwise tour of the immediate vicinity – 3/4 hours.
Turn left at the end of the main street of the village and go downhill past the small school to
Kavalouri, passing on the right the football pitch and the new building which is reported to be the new
grammar school. Where the road divides take the right branch, descend the little valley, and then
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climb uphill to Agraphi, so named because it was founded by refugees from Agrapha in Epirus. Turn
right into the village proper which is ablaze with flowers, and boasts the most beautiful church in
Kerkyra - the Panagia Odegetria built on top of a commanding hill and hence visible for miles around.
The main building is approached by a pillared colonnade, and behind, further up the hill is the village
cemetery where you will admire a finely sculptored bust of a young woman of the Provata family who
died aged 26. The luminous white marble is beautifully framed by a halo of crimson bougainvillea.
Pass through the village with its narrow winding lanes and compact houses, each with its garden, even
in autumn still bursting with blooms of every hue. On the left is another church dedicated to St.
Nicholas; and further down the street I was given dozens of walnuts which were being washed for sale
by a garrulous group of industrious women, all bedight with national costume.
Proceed downhill, turning left at the first junction, and then right to join the main road running S.W.
across the plain where a typical English, bucolic landscape, with sheep grazing on lush grass strewn
with windfalls from apple trees, will greet your astonished eyes. A mile or so further on, a track on the
left leads to the large olive oil factory whence oil is exported in large quantities directly to Italy (sic).
At the big junction turn right towards Velonades and Sidari; but notice the small cafe on the roadside
just opposite, where you will enjoy an excellent mixed salad and a cup of local wine (at last!) for a
mere 110 Dr. Thus refreshed, you will accomplish the next hour's rather dull walking on the main
road without discomfort. Sidari itself has in recent years been much developed by several English tour
operators, and is renowned for its fine, sandy beach. There are abundant shops and restaurants, and
conditions are ideal for the currently popular sport of windsurfing. The historian will be interested to
learn that in 1965 much early neolithic pottery and flint tools were discovered, the oldest dating to
6000 B.C., thus making the region one of the first on the island to be occupied by man. There are
some peculiar rocks nearby, and there is an old local tradition that any maiden who swims the
intervening strait will obtain her heart's desire - though it must be added that very few have found the
courage to attempt the crossing! Offshore at a distance of 7 miles N.W. lie three small islands –
Epikouria, Othoni and Mathraki, whose small fishing communities constitute Greece's most Northerly
subjects.
To return to Karousades follow the rough track E. along the beach for about a mile, and then turn
inland to climb steeply through the olive groves, reaching one's destination in c. 1 hour.
5. Mt. Pantokrator – 906 metres – via Platonas, Nymphi, Episkepsis and Strinylas.
Unless one has help with transport, it is essential to make a very early start, since the mountain is far
more distant than it appears, the highest summit, crowned with a tall radar mast, being obscured from
most angles by intervening ranges which deceive one into believing that they are the highest.
Moreover all the paths are extremely tortuous, and one is obliged to climb up and down the lower
peaks before reaching one's final goal. The route I describe may not be the easiest – but it is full of
interest and passes through several charming villages.
Leave as in (4) via Kavalouri, but instead of turning right continue straight on passing on the left the
Platonas cafe at the end of the village. In about 3 kilometres, on reaching a large market gardening
establishment on the right, with sheds for growing the produce, turn right along a narrow dirt track to
reach the village of Platonas in c. ¼ hour. Cross over the main road, and continue by a small path by
the side of the small village store. In 5 minutes, where the path divides, go right (S.W.) descending to
cross the stream by the stepping stones. Climb up left, and continue till you reach the main road which
winds up precipitously, in c. ½ hour reaching the beautiful mountain village of Nymphi. Here are
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many places of refreshment offering wholesome fare, and at the far end of the straggling village you
will find a large spring where the freezing water issues from a row of metal pipes into a series of
cisterns. Here, where the main road swings round to the right, take the track opposite on the left,
which leads in about 1½ hours through the dense forest to Episkepsis. In some 5 minutes take the
right fork, and at the next division turn left, the right branch leading up to a small hamlet completely
hidden by the impenetrable foliage of the ubiquitous trees. On the left is a deep ravine, which at one
point, despite the prohibitive sign, is used as a rubbish dump. About 4 miles after leaving Nymphi
cross straight over the intersecting track to reach the main asphalt road some 5 minutes later. Here
turn left into the attractive village of Episkepsis, of which you will for some time have caught
tantalizing glances through the trees.
Episkepsis is a good place to pause for refreshment, before proceeding on the next stage of the
journey – for there is no shortage of eating places. Just past the first cafe on the left take the steps on
the right, climbing up and bearing right to join a lovely mountain path which winds through olive
groves and scrubland. In c. ¼ hour this reaches a new road being currently constructed by the army
from Strinylas. Proceed uphill on the road, looking out in c. ½ hour for some delicious figs on the left,
some 10 minutes before you reach the beetling village of Strinylas, 630 metres above sea level, and
furnished with several tavernas selling a mellow red wine produced from the acres of tiny black
grapes which surround the area. The old path leading to the final summit some 6 kilometres distant is
regrettably overgrown, so that one has no alternative but to follow the tedious dirt track for the next
1½ hours. In 10 minutes avoid the left fork which descends to Petalia The terrain is now totally
different from that through which you have passed in the earlier stages of the walk - bare, craggy
peaks soar skywards, the naked strata denuded of vegetation, and creating the impression of freshly
raked fields of silvery snow. On the final ascent you reach on the left a tiny isolated copse beside the
church of the Ascension, from which it is only a further ¼ hour's steady plodding to the topmost peak,
crowned with its huge, disfiguring mast. The total time required, allowing a short break for eating at
Episkepsis, is in the region of 6½ hours.
The monastery of the Pantokrator which occupies the highest point of the whole range was built in
1347. It celebrates with a huge panegyry from August 1-6, and surrounding the church are many
dining rooms and dormitories for guests. On my own visit the sole surviving monk was away on a
pilgrimage to Jerusalem, so I was unable to enter the catholikon. The well outside was badly polluted
by thoughtless idiots who had fouled the water with cigarette stubs: but the lower church has in the
forecourt a cistern equipped with a bucket for drawing. The view is all-embracing. E. one sees the
Acroceraunian mountains of the Albanian coast, and Butrint with its two lakes, castle and river so
much beloved by Cicero's devoted correspondent and faithful friend, Atticus. S. lies the city of Corfu,
beyond which there stretches the S. peninsula with Paxi and even Lefkada in the dim distance, while
N.W. on clear days there appears on the far horizon the Italian coastline.
Follow the same route back as far as Episkepsis, but thence take the road down N. to Lazaratika, there
turning left to descend sharply through the olives to the main road at Acharavi. Here with luck you
will find transport back to base: otherwise a long tedious haul of 1½ hours along the road awaits you an ungrateful return for all your efforts.
6. Circular Tour of the N.W. villages – 8 hours, 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Beginning at Chorepiskopi one traces the lip of a huge bowl containing a plateau of great fertility, and
watered by a stream which finally reaches the sea at Sidari. Regrettably most of the route follows
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surfaced roads, except for an hour's welcome respite when one crosses the verdant plateau by a series
of charming paths. The chief delight of the excursion, however, is reserved for the evening, when the
last villages are bathed in the glorious mellow rays of the setting sun, and the whole landscape is
drenched in a superb patina of golden light.
Take the main road S. through Kavalouri, avoiding the right turn to Agraphi, and simply following the
sun all the way. At the next major junction go left, and about a mile further on turn right over the
bridge, since the left fork leads to Ag. Douli and Xanthata. Climb the olive-clad hill, and in c. 1¼
hours after leaving Karousades you should have reached the amphitheatrical village of Chorepiskopi.
Here at the first taverna on the left l ate my cheapest meal ever - a delicious salad accompanied by
wine and bread for a mere 80 Dr! Leaving the village behind, look out for a small but cobbled path on
the right, which descends zigzag through the olives and continues due W. through the plain with its
well cultivated gardens and orchards. By using this path you will avoid both the large, unsightly
quarry just S. of Chorepiskopi, and also making a long detour via Kastellani. Eventually the path
broadens out into a cart track, and when the latter finally joins a new dirt track, turn right along it.
After a while the track narrows, and you notice on the right a recently restored chapel of St. George.
When you reach the small shrine containing the icon, turn right and follow the path amid the olives,
where it divides going left along the paved surface, to emerge after a steep climb in c. 5 minutes onto
the tarmac road. Turn right, and in exactly 1 hour after leaving Chorepiskopi you should reach the
large village of Agros. The village has a fine church dedicated to Agios Athanasios and placed high
on the hilltop, and a new school requiring a whole fleet of buses to deliver the pupils to their outlying
homes in the afternoon.
At the junction in the centre of Agros take the left fork to Daphni, which you will reach in 35-40
minutes via Manades and Aspiotades. Almost immediately you will see on the hilltop due W. the
long, low Guestrooms recently constructed next to the restaurant in Daphni, while on the left one
enjoys an enchanting view of the broad sweep of the inviting bay of St. George. Immediately after the
cancellation sign for the sprawling community of Aspiotades, take the path on the right which leads
up directly into Daphni, where you will be glad to refresh yourself with a lemonade at the cafe on the
left which also rents the aforementioned Guestrooms. As you leave the village, Rachtades appears
ahead due N.: but the road circles round the edge of the intervening depression, affording fine views
of Mt. Pantokrator in the E., now boldly etched against the sky by the evening sunlight. Rachtades has
on the right a fine church of St Nicholas, and one may go thence by a small paved path to the adjacent
village of Velonades. But in order to see the rest of the village, follow the main road, passing on the
right another church approached by a flight of steps and commanding a splendid panoramic view. In
the small village square I met 3 women, one leading her sheep home for milking, another spinning
upon on a distaff, and the third knitting, thus comprising a perfect vignette of the whole textile process
in microcosm.
The road circles down precipitously through the olive trees, beneath which the black nets with fine
mesh were already spread for the gathering of the harvest, reaching Velonades in c. 20 minutes. Here
there was evidence of much new building, attractive, detached houses costing only about half the
price of their English equivalents. Hence the simpler route back to Karousades is via the Sidari road,
diverging to the right after about 2 miles. But I opted for the more scenic route via Agraphi, whose
now familiar whitewashed church was beckoning from its hilltop, now bathed in unctuous evening
splendour. Delightful pastoral scenes greeted me at every bend in the road - an old man with straw
'psatha' saddling a mule; sheep and goats grazing in the rich meadow; windfalls lying like a carpet of
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russet red beneath the arched boughs of their parent tree - all steeped in the benign rays of the
declining sun.
7. Circular tour of the villages in the N. foothills of Pantokrator.
The main object of this expedition, which unless some form of transport is enlisted, takes from 8-10
hours, was to explore the deserted village of Perithea which nestles in a hidden valley due N. of the
summit of Mt. Pantokrator. Unfortunately one cannot avoid a boring stretch of some 4½ miles to
Acharavi in each direction along the main road, which is bordered on either side by a continuous trail
of litter. On one random section, in the space of 5 minutes, I counted without any probing, no fewer
than 60 cigarette packets alone – and this was but one species of a whole plethora of disgusting detrita
which permanently disfigure the landscape. As a slight compensation for this lamentable state of
affairs, just before reaching Acharavi on the right of the road there is being excavated a large Roman
building with a hypocaust - possibly a bathhouse from the 2nd century A.D. Take the second road on
the right, signed Agios Martinos and Lafki, and currently undergoing extensive widening. As you
look back down the hill you will see the curious lake formed at the island's most Northerly tip at Agia
Ekaterini, and as you climb yet higher you will observe the typical rounded, tree-clad knolls which
rise up suddenly from the valleys, and form a very characteristic feature of the geomorphology of
Corfu. In about 4 miles you will reach Lafki, whose church of Agia Paraskevi holds a large panegyry
on July 26. The restaurant on the right serves good feta cheese and a pleasant 'moschaton' - a medium
sweet local wine, and you are advised to eat here to fortify yourself for the rigours of the next part of
the journey.
Most maps mark a road from Lafki to Perithea - but rest assured, this is pure fiction, the road in fact
leading to Strinylas. To save time take the path on the left, just opposite the church, which emerges on
the road after a steep climb of some 5 minutes. The unsurfaced track climbs through increasingly
rugged scenery which appeared even more desolate as a result of a recent fire. Avoid the first two
tracks running off on the left to isolated farmsteads; but exactly 35 minutes after leaving Lafki, just
where the track swings round to the right, i.e. S. towards Strinylas, take a goat track on the left which
leads S.E. along the right side of the valley. Some 10 minutes later, after reaching the brow of the hill
you will catch sight of Perithea nestling below and straight ahead. But as so often, intervening valleys
and hills prevent direct access. Continue S.E., after ¼ hour veering Southwards, where the bold
eminence of Pantokrator will now frequently dominate the scene. When you have been following this
tiny goat track for 35 minutes, on reaching the head of the gully the path suddenly reverses direction,
turning N.E. and traversing the windy ridge before descending steeply into the small streambed which
separates you from the village. Cross over the stony torrent, and in a few moments you will be safely
installed in the deserted village.
A solemn silence now reigns in what 2 decades ago was a flourishing community. Many ancient
tombs have been found in the vicinity, and according to local tradition the place was built in
mediaeval times as a refuge from the double scourge of mosquitoes from the lake and pirates from the
sea. But with the advent of tourism some 15 years ago, most families sped seawards to their original
abodes, in the hope of quick profits and a better life. Now, however, that the road to the coast is being
improved, there is a movement back again, and even a taverna exists already! At present a poor track
leads N. to Loutsa, whence a bus departs for Nea Perithea at 4.15 p.m. The scenery has a wildness not
found elsewhere in the island, the denuded hills revealing their curious layered strata, doubtless a
geologist's paradise. From Loutsa a surfaced road winds down to the coast , and on the left at fairly
obvious points, one may cut off some of the more tedious bends. From Pelekito it is a good two hours'
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slog to Karousades along the litter strewn and traffic polluted main road. Public transport being non
existent except for the brief stretch between Acharavi and Roda, I can only suggest and hope that you
hitch a lift from some passing vehicle.
The final 3 walks are based on Krini, a small hamlet above Palaiokastritsa. A bus leaves Karousades
at 11.15 a.m., arriving in about an hour at a point known as 'gefyra ton iatron'. Here you must alight to
intercept the Palaiokastritsa bus on its way from the main town. It should arrive in a few minutes, and
in a short while you will pass on the right the factory where much of the Koum Kouat is made. To
reach Krini, one is dependent on a taxi from the junction for Lakones, unless one is prepared to walk
the 6 kilometres from there. There is, of course, plenty of accommodation of all kinds in
Palaiokastritsa itself: but I imagine that most walkers would prefer the tranquillity of Krini to the
rather rowdy atmosphere of the town. Here too one has the advantage of height – no mean
consideration when one is dependent on muscle power alone to reach one's destination. Simple
accommodation is available at the Panorama Hotel (Tel Krini 41393 – Kostas Matsaianis – bed with
breakfast 1000 Dr.) Alternative rooms are rented at the same price at neighbouring Vitsonas. As for
eating, the best food locally is found at the restaurant at the crossroads, a five minutes' walk down the
hill towards Makrades.
8. Round trip to Palaiokastritsa – c. 4 hours.
This excursion is indispensible. For not only does Palaiokastritsa boast to be one of the seven most
beautiful places in the world, but it is also commonly believed that it was the location of the Homeric
Scheria, where the shipwrecked Odysseus was aroused from his exhausted sleep by the shrill voices
of King Alcinous' daughter and her companions playing ball.
From Krini, named after the spring on the left of the road as you enter the village, retrace your steps
Eastwards to Lakones, where from the famous Bella Vista one enjoys a superb panorama of the whole
coastline, whose intricate and delicately carved configurations constitute one of the chief beauties of
the area. At the far end of the village a path descends through the trees to reach Palaiokastritsa in 2025 minutes. About half way down, after crossing a patch of schist, one must turn left onto a dirt track
which leads directly to the coast, emerging by the side of the Hotel Odysseus. The sheltered coves,
with their crystal, turquoise waters, are a sheer delight, and one should not miss the opportunity of
visiting also the Monastery of the Virgin Platytera. Founded in 1228 it stands firmly embedded on a
rock 300' above the sea and contains a famous icon of the Virgin made in 1494. The best view of the
monastery itself is obtained from the knoll N.W. which may be climbed by a path on the left as you
leave the monastery gate. Return to Krini by the same path, planning to reach the Bella Vista at
Lakones about one hour before sunset, when the view of the bay is at its best.
9. Angelokastro – 2 hours.
Angelokastro, so named because the chapel on its summit is dedicated to the Archangel Michael, was
built in the 13th century A.D. by Angelos Comnenos, Despot of Epirus. It occupies a precipitous hill
just S. of Krini, and is best photographed in the morning from the dirt track which crosses the hill to
the East. Follow the road round from the Panorama Hotel, but where Angelokastro is signed to the
right, keep left. To enjoy the best view from the castle, one should climb up in the evening. Follow the
sign right along the new track: but if you wish to use the old mule path, ignore the first turning off on
the right, but 50 yards further on follow the path on the right. In two minutes it crosses over the new
track, leaving it again on the right to emerge immediately opposite the entrance to the castle. As one
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climbs up, there are spectacular views left over Palaiokastritsa, and right into the sea which shimmers
some 1500' below. On entering the fortification through the gate, the path on the left leads up to the
chapel on the summit via two sections of the wall, while that on the right leads to the same point via
some underground cells. To observe from this magnificent vantage point the sun setting over the
Ionian Sea, tinging the ocean with its crimson flood, is a sight never to be forgotten.
10. Circular clockwise tour of 6 villages – Makrades, Prinylas, Pagi, Vatonies, Aleimatades, Vitsonas
– c. 5½ hours.
Leaving Krini proceed to the adjacent village of Makrades, and ascend thence by the zigzag road to
the crest of the hill on the outskirts of Vitsones. The observant and experienced walker may find one
or two paths which cut out some of the more tedious bends in the road, and will also pause often to
admire the amazing symmetry of Makrades below, the mellow stonework of the buildings forming a
perfect triangle of brown, neatly framed by the encompassing green olive groves. En route you will
pass several booths where local honey, wine and nuts are for sale, and likewise at the brow of the hill
you may well encounter another jovial soul selling almonds, grapes and knick-knacks of various
kinds. Here you must turn left along a dirt track signed to PAGI. The track ascends through fine,
mountain scenery, the steep crags clothed with dark forest, until at the summit one is suddenly
confronted by a superb vista comprising not only the tranquil bay of St. George which lies spread at
one's feet, but also all the villages in the N.W. sector of the island stretching even as far as
Karousades. Below in the plain lie the twin hamlets of Prinylas and Pagi; behind there rises the high
steeple of Agios Athanasios and the unmistakeable Guestrooms of Daphni; beyond, the belfry of
Rachtades peeps out from the encircling forest, while far in the distance, perched high on its
commanding hilltop, there glistens the now familiar church of Agraphi. Descend steeply to Prinylas
and as you leave the village, on the right by the cemetery, take the old, stone-paved footpath which
brings you down to Pagi in only 5 minutes. The village store there sells yoghurt and soft drinks for
your refreshment, and the road continues to wind its way down to Vatonies. Half a mile from the
centre of the village at the second bridge, take the path which continues on the right, at first running
parallel with the road, and then climbing up steeply through the olives. In a while you will rejoin the
road, whence you must climb up above to reach the new dirt track which is currently being
constructed to the beetling village of Aleimatades. A steep zigzag route will bring you in about ½
hour into the hamlet which lies on either side of the road. Turn left into the higher of the two sections
of the straggling community, and if the cafe on the right has no provisions, proceed uphill, taking the
path on the right as you leave the village. Press on up the steep incline, cross over the road and
continue by the path on the other side until you reach the 'centre' which occupies the crest of the hill.
Here you may partake of an excellent meal at very modest cost, a village salad and glass of first-rate
local wine costing a mere 110 Dr.
Your energies thus adequately restored, continue right on the main road to Vitsones, pausing to
admire the fine views back over Aleimatades and of Chorepiskopi beyond. About a mile further along
the road it is well worthwhile climbing the ridge on the left, from which you will enjoy a wide
panorama embracing Mt. Pantokrator and all the East coast, with Doukado straddling the plain below.
Due South there stretches the whole vista of the Gulf of Liapades and of the highly indented coastline
in the region of Palaiokastritsa.
In order to return to Kerkyra from Krini, catch the 7 a.m. bus, which will retrace the latter half of the
journey just described as far as Aleimatades, to which the bus descends, with difficulty negotiating the
tight bends to reach the centre of the village. Returning, it then continues to climb yet higher, to the
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windy summit of the Trompetta Pass, from whose dizzy heights you are presented with an even more
spectacular view of the whole plain. The mist, swirling above the trees, or suspended from their
myriad boughs like delicate, dryad cobwebs, invests the phantom landscape with an insubstantial,
dreamlike quality very reminiscent of a Japanese watercolour. The bus finally reaches the city at 8
a.m.
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APPENDIX – TRAVEL, CLOTHING, FOOD, ACCOMMODATION
This appendix is mainly designed for the benefit of the tourist who is either making his first visit to
Greece, or at any rate is still relatively unfamiliar with the country. Ignorance of a country's traditions
and the way in which the various services operate can not only waste much valuable time, but may
even virtually ruin a holiday and cause such a violent antipathy that subsequent visits are rendered
unlikely. It is to avoid any embarrassment, and to prevent any such unfortunate consequences that I
have deemed it advisable to include the following remarks. From the more seasoned traveller who is
already acquainted with Greek customs and ways, I must crave indulgence for stating what is well
known and obvious, and hope that if he troubles to read my remarks he may find them entertaining if
not instructive.
l. TRAVEL
I am assuming that most readers will be dependent on public transport services, which are not only
relatively cheap, but also give one far greater opportunities to observe Greeks in their daily lives than
are usually possible for those using either private transport or the far more expensive and luxurious
'pullman' coaches provided by the numerous tour operators, and equipped with such absurd
extravagances as bathrooms and television sets!
(a) Bus.
Most of mainland Greece, and many of the larger islands, are served by the KTEL, which has some
twenty odd divisions operating from a variety of depots known as 'praktoreia'. In the larger towns
these are fairly easily recognised, and contain the usual ticket office, cafe, left-luggage department
etc.; but in smaller villages and remoter areas the 'praktoreion' may well be situated in the village store
- the 'pantopoleion' - in a convenient cafe, or even a tailor's shop or bakery, which may also contain
the Telephone Exchange and Post Office. As one might expect, several divisions have their termini in
Athens; and this can create problems, both because some of the depots are a considerable distance
from the centre and from each other, and because there is very little liaison between the various
divisions of the KTEL. Even in the smaller towns, if one must change bus and enter into another
region of the KTEL, one will invariably have to enquire about the whereabouts of the appropriate
'praktoreion' in order to complete one's journey. (The idea of a central bus station, if it has ever
occurred to the Greeks, appears to have been rejected.) The only practical advice that I can offer is to
ask on arrival, if possible losing one's inhibitions and shouting loud and clear in order to attract
immediate attention. If it is a question of making a quick dash between distant 'praktoreia', do not
hesitate to use taxis, which are remarkably cheap, while their drivers are generally well informed and
extremely obliging.
When taking a long journey one normally reserves a seat, for no extra charge, at the same time as one
buys the ticket, and on the more popular routes it is possible and advisable to book at least one day in
advance. As well as the departure time, the ticket has on it the seat number - thesis - which coincides
with the number on the back of one's seat. This leads to natural, if absurd confusion, since as one sits
in one's seat one views not one's own number, but that of the seat in front. If however, the journey is
not of long duration, e.g.. suburban routes in Athens, or local routes in the smaller islands, tickets are
distributed on the bus by the conductor. In such cases seats are not reservable, and hence it is
particularly imperative to be in good time. In any case if one has luggage, it must be stowed either in
the various compartments or on top of the bus, an operation which generally begins about ¼ hour
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before departure. If one intends to alight before the final destination, it is advisable to make this clear,
especially if travelling in the night time, when even identifying, let alone retrieving one's bag can pose
considerable problems. In the remoter areas where illiteracy and innumeracy is still prevalent, an
official sometimes takes passengers names as they book their seat, and then proceeds to direct each
traveller to his appointed place. In view of the Greeks' tendency towards impetuosity and excitement,
especially when in the throes of travel, it might be a good idea if this wise precaution were applied
more widely! The tickets themselves are often rather flimsy, so take good care of them, as inspections
are very frequent.
Most Greeks feel no compunction to surrender their seat, once possessed of it, to the elderly, and
certainly see no reason why women should take precedence over men, since they are so clearly not
only the hardier but also by far the more aggressive sex when it comes to charging the entrance and
staking their claim to a seat! Some deference is expected by and often surprisingly shown to priests,
irrespective of age, and any sacrifices that one may feel inclined to make to those in need or distress
are eventually accepted with touching gratitude, even if initially pride causes them to be repudiated.
The buses are often crowded beyond belief; even when assurances are given that another bus is
following behind, an innate scepticism recommends the immediate seizure of the present means,
whatever the discomfort may be, than reliance on promises all too often proved vain. The congestion
is exacerbated by the enormous burdens which are often hurled around, and all but obliterate the
traveller - huge sacks of stones for making whitewash: great panniers full of fresh figs of and local
cheese; gigantic bundles of herbs and brushwood; pieces of domestic furniture and farm implements nothing is too heavy or unwieldy to take. In addition to such private assignments, in the remoter areas
the buses are the official conveyors of mail, parcel post, newspapers, drugs, spare wheels, in fact the
needs of the entire community are dependent upon the public transport system. The conductor is
entrusted with the delivery and despatch of all these items, and as well as operating the doors,
assisting the driver to negotiate tight corners, collecting the fares, loading and unloading baggage, he
is also required to open and close the windows, raise and lower the sun-blinds, settle the disputes that
invariably arise when half the bus is roasted while the other half freezes, distribute vomit-bags,
comfort the prostrate, and generally attend to all the manifold requirements of his innumerable and
often very exigent passengers. In observing the long suffering conductor engaged perpetually and
simultaneously in these multifarious ministrations, I have often reflected upon the unfairness of the
rhetoricians' and historians' frequent strictures on the Greeks for being 'polypragmones' - busybodies.
For when nature's barriers have rendered communications so difficult, and have made communities of
necessity so small and isolated, how could they be any other than 'polypragmones'? For to be so was
the first condition of survival. And so Greeks have come to expect from their drivers and conductors
an expertise and versatility unheard of elsewhere, while they in their turn have learnt to respond
efficiently and cheerfully to their passengers' constant demands, and to bear their complaints and
fulminations with a remarkable equanimity.
I recall once travelling on a bus from Athens to Loutraki in order to visit a friend who was stationed in
Army camp there. The bus was scheduled to proceed along the old, coast road instead of the new toll
road: and on discovering this innocuous fact, one of the passengers stood up and made the most
appalling scene, alleging that we should all be asphyxiated by dust, demanding that the fare be
reduced or the bus rerouted, and all but threatening to lynch the defenceless conductor unless he
complied - all of which he bore with a truly saint-like patience. On another occasion the conductor is
viciously reviled for extortion by illiterate travellers unable to read the price on their tickets, or the
driver is imperiously ordered to drive to a village miles off the official route so that they may avoid
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changing buses. A lady implores the driver to pick up a friend at the next stop: he obligingly accedes
to her request, even though the bus is already severely overcrowded, only to be castigated for not
letting the lady enter at the front entrance - the exit - so that they can sit together!
Such examples of the sheer unreasonableness and selfishness of passengers' demands are legion: but
despite them all, most drivers that I have encountered have displayed both good humour and a high
degree of genuine concern for their passengers' welfare. By way of paying tribute to this, may I
witness the following two instances? We had stopped for refreshments at a cafe at a village
somewhere in the West of Lesbos, and shortly after leaving, an elderly gentleman remembered that he
had carelessly left his hat behind on the table. He informed the driver who, because it was difficult to
reverse in the narrow lane, immediately stopped the bus, and ran back two or three hundred yards to
the cafe to retrieve the hat. On another occasion in Chalkidice while returning from the Holy
Mountain, someone reported to the conductor that a foreign gentleman had failed to reboard the bus
after it had made a brief stop at the previous village. Immediately the bus was halted without demur
and in the blazing heat the conductor ran back a considerable distance to search, albeit in vain, for the
missing traveller. Such manifestations of concern for the welfare of total strangers are not uncommon
in all walks of life in Greece. Indeed the obvious delight taken in rendering pleasant, efficient service,
without the slightest trace of obsequiousness or officiousness makes a great impression on all visitors,
and helps one to understand why in Greek the word 'xenos' serves both to render 'stranger' and also
'guest'.
Finally a word of explanation about the way in which timetables are devised. Many of the larger
islands which have by now become geared to tourism, both internal and foreign, have regular
itineraries which are generally available to the public on request at the main depot of the KTEL. Other
places however are as yet not quite so highly organised, and requests for 'to dromologion' are
answered by the counter request, 'Tell us where you want to go, and we'll tell you when, or if the bus
leaves.' - an offer that is singularly unhelpful if one is trying to devise a walk around the availability
of buses. The fact is that the service may be a purely ad hoc arrangement, dependent purely on
demand – a system which has its drawbacks, especially if trying to plan ahead, but which at least has
the virtue of flexibility, when for example suddenly vast numbers are all hopefully travelling to the
same destination. It pays one always to keep an open mind, to be prepared to make last minute
changes, and to improvise, making the best use of what turns out to be available. In yet other areas
which have as yet escaped the far-reaching tentacles of the KTEL, a reasonably cheap service is
provided, again according to demand, by fleets of taxis or even open lorries, which are always ready
to squash in an extra lonely wayfarer, or give him an entirely free ride, just for the pleasure of his
company, if returning empty back to base.
One last caution. Never rely on buses departing exactly at the appointed time. In the first place,
islands use local time, which may vary up to 10 minutes from official mainland time. Secondly, if
there is only one bus available, it will tend to depart when full, especially if it's the only bus in the
day, and the driver has several delivery jobs, and some rough roads to negotiate. In such
circumstances if one wants a seat it is safest to arrive ½ hour before the official departure time,
especially if the bus links with an incoming ferry or crowded connection from Athens. Despite, and
sometimes because of all the anomalies and hazards of the service, travel by Greek buses is always
eventful, and frequently unforgettable for its rare blend of humour, pathos, drama and spontaneous
joie de vivre.
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(b) Train
The mountainous terrain of Greece has precluded the development of an extensive railway network,
while the steep gradients involved have denied the railways the advantage of higher average speed.
Breakdowns and delays are quite frequent, and the coaches crowded and hot: but soft drinks and
souvlakia are supplied at frequent intervals to ameliorate the hardships and tedium of the journey.
Moreover there are 3 passenger lines which do afford advantages and amenities superior to other
modes of travel. The first is the electric system which operates between Kephisia in the N. to Piraeus
in the S., and provides a very cheap and speedy means of travelling from the city centre either to the
harbour or the Northern suburbs. The trains are invariably crowded, but run at frequent intervals,
while the journey is occasionally enlivened by the intrusion of a barrel organ and buskers of various
descriptions. A second line which I would recommend for its scenic qualities is the main line running
N. to Salonica, which not only gives one an excellent impression of the arid wasteland of Attica, and
later of the huge N. face of the Parnassos massif, but also ascends Mt. Kallidromo – a fine piece of
engineering – whence there are superb views of the Malian Gulf, the Spercheios Gorge, and the site of
the famous battle of Thermopylae. The third line is unique in Greece, being the sole example of a rack
and pinion to have survived. Starting at Diakophto, half way along the S. shore of the Gulf of Corinth,
it climbs, by means of a cog which engages in a central line, up the magnificent gorge of Kalavryta,
passing en route the celebrated Megaspelion Monastery, whose beetling position and intriguing relics
make a visit well worth the effort of climbing up the almost vertical rock face in which it nestles. The
Peloponnese is served by a narrow gauge line carrying small diesel units; and by a curious piece of
Greek logic, the Railway Organization (OSE) operates a bus service which leaves from outside the
principal stations and runs in competition with the KTEL.
(c) Boat.
Although several of the larger islands now have airstrips and a regular air service to the capital, most
tourists will opt to reach the islands by boat, and not only for economy's sake: for there is no more
relaxing and enjoyable mode of transport. Notwithstanding, there are snags – as Thucydides remarks
in Book IV – when dealing in an element subject to such violent and volatile vagaries as is the sea.
Sudden storms and consequent high seas can cause long delays, even in midsummer, and even
cancellations, or – even more frustrating – unexpected changes in the itinerary. There are generally
perfectly acceptable reasons for these re-routings, such as the deepening of harbours etc.: but agents
have an infuriating habit of fobbing off incensed passengers with absurd and patently false excuses. A
further and equally exasperating problem is that of island-hopping, which is rendered extremely tricky
by the fact that most sea routes tend to radiate like separate spokes, with few interconnections, from
the central hub of Piraeus. Unless therefore, one is prepared to entrust oneself to a frail caique, it is
often impossible to avoid the tedious return journey to Piraeus, even though one's destination may be
clearly visible only some 20 miles or so distant. The proliferation of rival companies likewise makes it
difficult to plan a journey ahead, or even to find the appropriate agency – 'praktoreion' – for since all
are in fierce competition with each other, they are obviously not anxious to impart information about
the itineraries of their rivals. The Athens evening papers often carry lists of departures from Piraeus,
and there is near to Omonia Square, on the corner of Stadiou and Aiolou, a busy Tourist Agency,
where if one is prepared to wait at least an hour, information and tickets are available. But on the
islands, unless one knows the telephone number of the required 'praktoreion', it is virtually impossible
to find reliable information about sailings to and from other islands which do not happen to lie on a
direct route from where one is. For local arrivals and departures, the Harbourmaster's Office – 'To
Limenarcheion' – provides the most accurate and up to date details. But there is no attempt to create a
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coherent service, or to time arrivals and departures so as to avoid overnight stays; and some services,
as for example the Cretan ones, are still clearly designed to suit the convenience of businessmen who
commute and therefore prefer to travel overnight in order to save time.
Despite being surrounded by the sea, many Greeks are very bad sailors, and hence even the smallest
boats are equipped with cabins; but since unless one travels first class their number rarely exceeds
demand, it is wise on a long journey to book early. For deck passengers aircraft type reclining seats
are provided, and on some boats there are also limited numbers of bunks for use at no extra cost.
Tickets may be bought on board either at the Purser's Office, which is generally located in the middle
of the ship, or from the officers who do the ticket check. But on busy routes and at peak periods such
as Easter and mid August it is as well to obtain tickets from the agent as soon as possible, since there
is a restriction on the number of deck passengers each ship may carry. The agent often closes the
office about an hour before departure time, and does business from a portable booth on the quayside.
As well as the customary Bar, many modern boats have self-service dining rooms offering simple
meals at very reasonable prices at midday and in the evening. But as very few of the more traditional
restaurants have survived, it is rarely that one finds the luxury of a formally served breakfast, so that
travellers will have to be content with coffee and bacon sandwiches at the Bar. For those wishing to
prepare their own food, on the more modern boats tables are provided, and conveniently situated close
to the Bar. As with all modes of transport, the longer journeys work out the cheapest, short trips
proving relatively far more expensive. It is always possible to have one's ticket extended at the
Purser's Office should one decide to travel further. On a long journey the more islands the boat calls
at, the cheaper the ticket: in other words one pays for the convenience of sailing direct to Piraeus and
the consequent saving in time. Passengers intending to sleep on deck on a night crossing are advised
to arrive at the ship as early as possible in order to stake their claim to a comfortable and sheltered
spot: for once the sun has sunk there is a rapid decline in temperature, while the Aegean is far from a
millpond when lashed, as so often, by gale-force winds.
2. CLOTHING
Because of the rough terrain strong footwear is essential: but personally, objecting to the unnecessary
restrictions around the ankles I have always eschewed the wearing of boots, and have found
substantial trainers quite adequate. Generally one has never to contend with wet ground, even the river
beds being in summer bone dry, and the land always well drained. The correct path is often
indistinguishable from the streambed or the goat track, and hence the likelihood of going astray is
quite high. In this event the going can be very hard, by reason of the uneven lie of the land and the
dense scrub with which it is invariably covered; and in such conditions and because of the danger of
stepping inadvertently upon snakes, I do not recommend the wearing of shorts, which in any case are
much frowned upon in churches, and strictly forbidden in monasteries. The winds can be ferocious,
especially in mid August, so that at heights in excess of 2000' a sweater does not come amiss. The
lighter one's pack, the better, in a land which is all mountain, and where the hills are so deeply scored
with steep ravines. Fortunately the climate is such that washing clothes and drying them overnight
never presents any problems, so that it is easy to exist on a bare minimum.
3. FOOD
Basic foods tend to be rather cheaper and more wholesome than in England, but what is imported is
considerably more expensive, even when bought in the supermarkets which are now gradually
beginning to replace the old village store – the 'pantopoleion'. Greeks have always been big bread
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eaters, and in restaurants bread arrives automatically in advance of the main course, and is charged
'per capita'. It is best bought from the bakery – 'to fourno' – which is usually open from 7 a.m. In such
a warm, dry climate it inevitably becomes stale very quickly; but one can buy a type of very hard, dry
toast, known as 'paximadi', which being totally dehydrated, is almost indestructible. Although almost
inedible in its raw state, it can easily be reconstituted by soaking it in water, or dunking it in milk or
whatever other liquid is available. Some islands suffer from an acute shortage of water, so that when it
has to be imported at considerable expense and inconvenience, careful economy is imperative. Most
islands, however, are blessed with excellent spring water, some of which travels incredible distances,
often beneath the bed of the ocean. It is always safest, in view of the uncertainty of being able to
locate the springs, to carry water, which in the parching climate of Greece is far more essential to
survival than food.
Fruit and vegetables grow in plenteous abundance, and hence in their season are both cheap and of
superb quality. They are sold in the greengrocer's – 'to manaviko' – and frequently also from barrows,
mobile vans or donkeys, and especially in the case of fruit, at prices so cheap that few people bother
to order a dessert in a restaurant, where one would be charged at least double what one would pay
outside. Since fruit is never picked until ripe it tends to rot rather quickly, so that the desire to make a
quick sale again helps to keep the price at a minimum. Far more canning factories are desperately
needed to obviate the tragic and criminal waste of thousands of tonnes annually by dumping in the sea
or down mountainsides. In the spring the choice is limited to apples or oranges; but in the summer
there are peaches, apricots, pears, grapes, damsons, plums, both types of melon, and figs and prickly
pears, the latter generally growing wild, and either rotting or being eaten by wasps. Apart from Easter
lamb and goat, most meat is imported and thus rather expensive, and although fish is plentiful,
because of inefficient refrigeration and distribution, it too is not as cheap as one might expect.
Chicken is invariably the least expensive dish, and when of local provenance it is very tasty. Shell fish
is popular in certain areas – for example the mussel beds of Thessalonike are famed throughout
Greece – and Greeks also relish things like snails and sparrows which the conservative English would
rather die than sample. A vegetarian diet is unquestionably the cheapest and the healthiest, there being
a considerably greater variety of vegetables than here, and the Greeks generally being so fond of
beans that they are often jokingly referred to as the national dish of Greece. Salad is in any case eaten
along with the main course: but the 'choriatiki' or 'village salad' which contains as well as tomato and
cucumber also onions, olives and feta cheese, herbs, oil and vinegar, can constitute a meal in its own
right. Yoghurt made traditionally from sheep or goats' milk, or a mixture of the two, has a thicker
texture and a stronger flavour than that made from cows' milk, which is only half the consistency of
the former; but in recent years tourist demand has led to the production of the more familiar Western
type which is called 'sphragismeno'. Yiaourti me meli – yoghurt with honey – is a particularly
nutritious and delectable combination, and when it is served, as often, with a bread roll and glass of
water, it can sustain one for many hours.
Eating is still quite departmentalised in Greece, the various establishments specializing in their own
particular type of food or drink. Most hotels, however, do have restaurants where standard meals are
served: but for the best main course one has to go to the taverna. During the summer the tables here
are generally set out in an open courtyard, or on the pavement or waterfront, and it is here that one
finds the best retsina, served direct from the barrel in copper measures holding ¼, ½ or 1 kilo. No two
retsinas are identical, since each man makes his own, often from grapes grown in his own vineyard
and from resin collected from his own pines, and much care goes into the preparation of the huge
barrels, into which flower petals and aromatic herbs are introduced. For the sweet course it is best to
repair to the 'zacharoplasteion', where in addition to the usual continental type 'pastas' one may savour
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the more Middle East delicacies such as baclava, kataifi, amygdalotes, as well as milk based
concoctions such as 'crema', 'galatoboureko' and 'rizogalo', the latter flavoured with cinnamon, and all
accompanied by a glass of iced water. Here too one can obtain coffee, tea and sometimes even
breakfast. The true cafeneion, on the other hand, serves only coffee and spirits, but has an important,
inalienable function as the social focus of the community, where menfolk gather to discuss politics,
local, national or international, to play tavli (a type of backgammon) or cards, or simply to observe the
world going by. Gradually the once rigid distinctions are being blurred, largely because of tourists'
demand for more heterogeneous service; but I suspect that the cafeneion fulfils such a vital role that it
will never wholly disappear. Instant coffee is generally regarded as far inferior by Greeks, and
whatever the brand, goes under the generic name of Nes, short for Nescafe. Greek coffee, or
Tourkiko, to give it its correct appellation, is served either glyki (sweet), metrio (moderately sweet,
i.e. equal quantities of sugar and coffee) or sketo (unsweetened) and is credited with none of the
deleterious effects upon health which are attributed to the former variety. Of the spirits drunk, ouzo is
the most popular, since it may be drunk either like a liqueur with coffee after a meal, or as an aperitif
accompanied by a 'meze' before it. It resembles the French 'pernod' and the Jewish 'kimul' and is most
often distilled from the residue after the grapes have been trodden, though it can be produced also
from other fruits, as for example figs, and is always flavoured with aniseed. Brandy, called either
'coniac' or, from the brand name, 'Metaxas', is of 3, 5 or 7 stars, and though apt to be scorned by the
connoisseur, is in my opinion very palatable. Beer, although produced in Greece and drunk in ever
increasing quantities as a thirst quencher in the summer, is not indigenous and tends to be very light.
Of the soft drinks the only two which spring to mind as being peculiar to Greece are 'visinada' which
resembles Ribena and is made from black Morello cherries, and 'soumada' which is very sweet and is
made from almonds.
4. ACCOMMODATION
Rooms are obtainable either in hotels, pensions or private houses. Hotels are classified from A to E.
and one pays considerably less for equivalent facilities than in other countries. Rent is charged for the
room rather than for the bed, and the price and services are subject to government control, and must
by law be displayed behind the bedroom door. Space permitting, extra beds may be introduced, a 3rd
bed increasing the room rate by 25% and a 4th by 15%. Single rooms are difficult to find, so that
people travelling alone may have to pay the full price for a double room. Most modern hotel rooms
are equipped with a private bathroom: but any wishing to economise may sometimes find rooms with
a washbasin only, and shared bathroom facilities. Breakfast is often optional, and in hotels without a
proper dining room it may have to be served in rather cramped space in the foyer. Rooms may be
booked in advance, and must be vacated at midday on the day of departure. The pension or
'xenodocheion ypnou' as the Greeks call it, is still found, especially in the less developed areas; but
the facilities are naturally less luxurious, and all meals must be taken outside. Rooms in private
houses are quite often the best places to stay, the atmosphere being less formal, and Greeks being
exceptionally hospitable and generous to foreigners – virtues that more than compensate for the
comparative simplicity of the rooms and the inadequacy of the plumbing! Tourist pavilions are
situated on most harbours, and if they are closed, the local Police Station, open all night, often keeps a
list of available rooms, and the officer on duty spares no pains in his efforts to find the weary
wayfarer a bed. It is also quite common for local residents to meet incoming boats, and one is always
invited to inspect the accommodation before committing oneself to using it. There are one or two
official camping sites: but generally speaking Greeks scorn the idea of camping themselves, and tend
to regard campers as cheating the system by depriving the poor local residents of the very modest
charges they make, and which constitute a small but very much needed supplement to their meagre
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incomes. There is also a very real risk that campers may accidentally start fires, through which
thousands of acres of priceless forest are destroyed each year, or pollute beaches by inconsiderate
disposal of litter etc. In an attempt to minimise the numbers of beach sleepers, threats are frequently
made that tourists may be forbidden entry unless they can produce positive evidence of room
reservations. But I have personally never found any instances of the fulfilment of the threat, and in my
own experience provided that people behave reasonably and with due regard to certain religious and
social conventions hallowed by long usage, most Greeks are very tolerant.
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GLOSSARY OF GREEK TERMS
Agios, Agia, Agi
Aphieromata
Athonite stick
Athos
Cafeneion
Caique
Chora
Chrysobull
Cleruchy
Catholikon
Colonels (Junta)
DEH
Demarcheio(n)
Demotiko
Despot(is)
Drachma(e)
Dromos
Esperino
Glyko
Gymnasio(n)
Holy Mountain
Halva(s)
Kokkinelli
Icon
Karpouzi
Kastro
Kataphygion
Keftedes
KKE
Kouros
Kyrios, Kyria
Loukoumi
Mandra
Saint, holy.
Votive offerings, left in church with a prayer for the sick or as thanks for a
cure.
Gerald's walking stick, acquired on his first visit to Mt Athos in 1970.
Mount Athos, the Holy Mountain: a male only autonomous community of 20
Orthodox monasteries located on the Athos peninsula in Northern Greece.
Cafe, in particular where local men socialise, play cards and backgammon,
discuss football and politics.
Wooden fishing boat, also used for transport.
The traditional capital town of an island, often located well inland in
medieval times as protection from pirates.
"Golden Bull", a decree with a golden seal issued by the Byzantine emperor.
An Athenian colony where the colonists retained Athenian citizenship.
Large central church (as opposed to smaller local churches or chapels).
The military dictatorship which seized power in 1967, imprisoning or driving
its more vocal opponents into exile, killing at least 24 civilians in suppressing
the Athens Polytechnic uprising in1973, and fleeing in disgrace after its
attempt at a coup in Cyprus in 1974 prompted the Turkish invasion and
continuing occupation of Northern Cyprus.
Public Electricity Company.
Town Hall.
Primary School building.
Alternative title for Bishop in the Orthodox Church.
Pre-Euro Greek currency, abbreviated Drach or Dr. In the mid 1970s the
exchange rate was c. 70 Dr. to the pound, dropping to c. 200 Dr. to the pound
by the mid 1980s.
Road.
Vespers
Sweet, in particular sweet vanilla or fruit paste served on a spoon inside a
glass of water when welcoming visitors.
Secondary School building.
See Athos.
Sweet made of sesame seeds, honey and nuts, served in slices.
Light red wine flavoured with pine resin, less common than Retsina.
Orthodox religious painting, in stylised two dimensional flat plane form,
traditionally on wood block, with gold leaf highlighting and possibly a silver
casing.
Water melon.
Castle, usually medieval.
Mountain shelter.
Fried meatballs flavoured with ingredients such as onion, garlic and mint.
Communist Party of Greece.
Statue of a standing, naked youth from the Greek Archaic period.
Mr, Mrs and a respectful form of address to a gentleman or lady.
Turkish Delight – cubes of sweetly flavoured gel covered in icing sugar.
Stone wall enclosure (possibly with hut) for keeping sheep, goats etc.
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Meltemi
Moni
Odos
Orektika
Ormos
OTE
Ouzo
Panagia
Panegyry
Pantokrator
Papas
PASOK
Paximadi
Pension
Phrangosyko
Pikrodaphni
Plateia
Pounentis
Psaltis
Psatha
Retsina
Re(v)ma
Semantron
Skala, Scala
Souvlaki
Taverna
Templo
Tsipouro
Volta
Xenos
Zacharoplasteio
Strong north wind blowing down the Aegean in summer.
Monastery or convent.
Street.
Hors d'oeuvres, appetisers.
Gulf, bay.
Greek Telecommunications Organisation.
Spirit distilled from wine press residue and flavoured with aniseed.
All Holy Lady, i.e. the Virgin Mary.
Feast held to honour a church or chapel's saint on his/her saint day.
Stern image of the 'all ruling' Christ as judge of humanity.
Greek Orthodox priest.
All Greek Socialist Party
Thick slice of bread preserved by baking into a rock hard rusk, made edible
again by dipping into water, milk or wine.
Guest house or hostel.
Prickly pear.
Oleander.
Square, usually the central square in a small town or village.
Damp west wind.
The chief singer/chanter in an Orthodox church service.
Wide straw hat.
Dry white wine flavoured with pine resin.
Dried up bed of a stream, often turning into a torrent during rainfall.
Monastic percussion instrument, usually a wooden plank or board struck with
a wooden mallet as a call to prayer.
The main port of an island.
Kebabs in the form of small cubes of meat on a wooden skewer.
Small, inexpensive restaurant, serving local dishes and local wine.
Wooden screen on which icons of the saints are placed (also called an
iconostasis), separating the main church from the altar behind.
Like ouzo, but unflavoured.
Stroll by groups of family members and friends, usually just after sunset,
around town squares or along promenades.
Stranger, but also meaning guest, reflecting traditional Greek hospitality.
Patisserie.
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