After just a few weeks in Greece I have to confess I had more photographs of olive trees than anyone can ever really need … I can’t help myself. I am attracted to the gnarled, twisted trunks, the small grey-green leaves of these trees that make a gentle rustling sound in the breeze and the tiny flowers that eventually become delicious olives. These Greek olive trees have cultural connections too and each tree is rooted in myth and history. One Greek myth tells us that the Goddess Athena, the daughter of Zeus, and Poseidon, Zeus’ brother, both coveted the city of Athens [then called Attica]. Yet, while Poseidon drove his trident in to the Acropolis producing a well of salt water, Athena made an olive tree grow next to the well. Zeus ordered a tribunal to decide which of the two gods should be enshrined in the city and this court decided that the olive tree was the greatest gift and chose Athena. giving the city its name.
We drove through the ancient olive trees around Amfissa to the stuunning mountainous Pelion Peninsular [sometimes Pilion], on the east coast of northern mainland Greece. Here we found fantastic walking on old cobbled donkey tracks or kalderimis. These kalderimis were built to bring produce down from the mountains and today these and other paths and tracks take walkers from the rocky coves and beaches on the coast, through the olive groves and up to the mountain villages among the sweet chestnut and beech trees. Each village of narrow winding streets has a square with a cafe. In the centre of each square is a plane tree that was planted many decades ago and is now huge and gives generous and welcome shade to the customers in the cafe.
On our first day we walked to the village of Pinakates, following the steep path through the terraced olives. As we climbed higher we brushed beside mint and thyme plants, releasing the sweet smells and our route was alive with butterflies. There are springs on the Pelion and alongside the path were narrow stone channels rushing with clear water. We tried to play poo sticks at one bridge but the sticks hurtled away in a blur. The path had a signpost from the coast road, was well marked with red dots and we met few other people walking. We rested under some shady pine trees and stopped to look at the various chapels on the way. The paved paths of Pinakates (at 640 metres) weave their way along terraces to the attractive main square, overlooked by the church and with a burbling fountain. We had the best cheese and spinach pie we had tasted yet in the cafe here, the pastry was crisp and the filling fresh and it was coiled in the traditional pattern.
The next day we explored two mountain villages on a 11 kilometres circular route. We expected more of the same but this hilly landscape constantly revealed new surprises and landscapes and the walking was never boring. The ascent to Milies was easier as it is only about 440 metres above sea level and the village was bustling with people as the small tourist train had just arrived at the pretty station. We continued along the ridge to Vizitsa from a path near the station and soon came to a cool, shady gorge with a waterfall that was a perfect spot to eat our lunch and enjoy a paddle. We followed a narrow and overgrown path that gave us occasional views over the hills. At a spring we climbed steps to the chic village of Vizitsa and found a square where two musicians were playing Greek music. We descended a different way, climbing over a ridge from a tiny white chapel that had great views over the railway line and back to Vizitsa and Milies. Our little used path then joined another of the narrow water channels as we descended the mountain. On the hillside dotted with farmhouses we sat enjoying the view and dreamt about moving to a small house with a view of tree-clad mountains and blue sea.
Our time in the Pelion was short and we could have spent longer here but sometimes a campervan trip doesn’t go quite according to plan. In the next installment I will tell you how our Greek odyssey became a bit of a tragedy and how we dealt with this.