Sunday, April 20, 2014

Ηorefto-Ai Giannis (Agios Ioannis), routes A and B

Agii Saranda beach, view from the south

Distance: 8,6 km (route A) or 7,5 km (route B)
Duration: 3-3,5 hours (walking time 2,5-3 h)
Altitude: from 0 m. (Ηorefto) to 260 m.(route A) or 190 m. (B) to 0 m. (Ai Giannis)
Total ascent/descent: 400-420 m. 
Signing: red marks
Drinking water on walk: no (A) -Panagia Faneromeni chapel (B)
Download GPS track: Route A:  from Everytrail   from Wikiloc
Route B:  from Everytrail   from Wikiloc

       Τhis route connects the two main tourist beaches of Pelion`s eastern coast, Horefto and Ai Giannis, passing from another three beaches that lie in between (Agii Saranda, Banikas, Plaka). It is not entirely coastal though, as it reaches a maximum altitude of up to 260 meters. There are two alternative routes, A and B. Their difference lies mainly in the section between Banikas and Plaka. Route A is easier, a bit longer and uses earth and asphalt roads. Route B is more beautiful but also more difficult, by virtue of the steep and overgrown path we walk on. So if we choose that, we should wear long trousers and carry a hand tool to clear potentially disturbing vegetation. Also, signing with red marks is incomplete in both routes and high attention is required to keep on the right track.
Route A

Route B
           Starting from the camping at the south end of Horefto beach, we walk uphill on the asphalt  and then left to a narrow earth road (route A), that eventually ends at a fenced grove. The path originally went under the grove just above the sea but now it has collapsed and disappeared, so in order to reach the nearby Agii Saranda beach we have to pass through the fence and the grove, provided that the owner permits (which is rather doubtful). To avoid any trouble, it is preferable to follow an alternate path as shown in route B.
Agii Saranda, view from the north
          So, leaving Horefto in route B we keep walking on the asphalt uphill until the third right turn, where we head straight to guesthouse ''ENASTRON''. Passing right to the building, we continue straight ahead on a path which soon joins an earth road. We head left and then to the right, and pass just under a summer hut on our left side. After that hut, the path is obvious and goes downhill to reach the narrow asphalt road leading to the beach of  Agii Saranda.
Agii Saranda beach (in February)
          Having reached the large sandy beach of Agii Saranda, we walk to the other (south) end and climb through the last taverna or through summer bar ''Monk'' (closed off season but allowing to pass through) to an earth road going uphill.
          After about seven hundred meters we reach a junction with a narrow road to a southerly direction and follow this to the left. Further down, at a sharp right bend of the road, we head straight on to a surviving section of the old path and we soon get down to the quiet pebbly beach of Banikas.
On the path to Banikas
          We cross the stream (called Mega Rema) that opens there to the sea. To our left is a deserted house next to the sea and to the right a renovated cottage.
Banikas beach
         At the end of the beach is a third cottage and we take the earth road starting from there going uphill (route A). After about one kilometer, as the main road takes a sharp right bend going towards Anilio vilage, we go straight ahead to a narrow road heading east and at the following junction uphill to the right. If we look up, we can see a few cypress trees on the ridge at the distance. That is our next destination.
A cottage at Banikas
          We walk through an olive grove and take the earth road that starts from there going uphill. At a  sharp left bend of the road we find, next to the cypresses, the small country chapel of Evangelistria, built in 1705 according to the inscription on a stone. At the nearby area one can find three more chapels, Stavroutsikos, Pantokrator and Agios Charalambos.
Evangelistria chapel (route A)
       Continuing on the road, we go right at a junction, opening out on the asphalt road coming from Anilio and then head downhill. After about 1,5 km we notice the kalderimi (cobbled stone path) coming from Anilio joining in the asphalt from the right. A little further on is a junction, where the road to the right goes to Ai Giannis. We go left, pass next to the fence of Eden Hotel and immediately come to a road sign in Greek. Here the two routes A and B meet.
Looking down at Ai Giannis (route A)
        Describing now route B, leaving Banikas just after the last cottage, we take a narrow earth track to the left. At the end of the track, noticing the red marks, we climb with some difficulty on the steep slope to find the path a few meters above, having been cut off by the earth track. The path is steep and overgrown by vegetation at some spots, so we need to wear long trousers and clear some disturbing brumble with a hand tool. Eventually we come to the chapel of Agios Charalambos and continue on earth road. After 100 meters at a right turn of the road (attention!), watching on the left side, we find the continuity of the path, which is overgrown again. It opens to another earth road, on which we walk to the left. After another 100 meters, at a left turn of the road (attention!) we find the path on the right going downhill.
       We join another earth road at a junction with signs. Here we continue downhill for ten minutes, to reach the quiet  chapel of Panagia Faneromeni. Built on a rock just above the Aegean sea, this is an excellent and beautiful example of Pelion`s hidden treasures, an absolute gem. Take some time to relax in quiet and refresh drinking the cool water that comes from a spring through the rock.
Panagia Faneromeni chapel
       Retracing our steps on the road, back to the junction, we now head left to the south on the road and after 500 meters we reach the aforementioned road sign, meeting route A.  At that point we head towards the sea (to the east), walking downhill on a path/kalderimi leading to Plaka beach. Some sections of the old kalderimi have survived and others have been rebuilt, but unfortunately not to the best standard (the flat stones that were used can be quite slippery when wet-attention).
Plaka beach in summer
         We walk next to a kiosk with a fallen pole and soon end down to the excellent sandy beach Plaka, which, like Banikas, used to belong to Anilio village. In the past this used to be a quiet remote place (fortunately remains unaccessible by cars), but nowadays the bar-restaurant of Eden hotel makes it more lively by virtue of the loud dance music played all day in summer (thankfully not heard at the ends of the beach).
Plaka beach (in February)
       We continue along the beach to the south, pass over the rocks at the end of it and arrive finally to the tourist seaside settlement of Ai Giannis.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Veneto-Pouri (O2 trail)

Distance: 21,5 km
Duration: 8-9 hours (walking time 6.45')
Altitude: from 240 m. (Veneto) to 0 m. (Limnionas beach) to 450 m. (Pouri)
Total ascent: 1083 m. Total descent: 881 m.
Signing: O2 signs, red paint marks
Drinking water on walk: yes (Pirgakia, Kserorema)
Download GPS track:   from Everytrail    from Wikiloc

          This is a magnificent walk. Part of the national trail O2, a long trek in one of the few virgin areas still left in Pelion.  On our way, we pass from the isolated beach of Limnionas, two old stone bridges and by the ruins of the deserted village of Palia Mitzela. In short, this walk epitomises the best of Pelion mountain`s wild natural beauty and be sure, if you have the chance to undertake it, that its memory will not fade away.
          The only practical way to move is by tourist bus or taxi (Veneto lacks public bus service, Pouri has only two buses daily to Zagora-see If we elect to start from Veneto, we have the advantage of walking in proximity to earth roads for the second half of the walk, so if a hiker develops a problem then, it is relatively easy to get help.  There is a restaurant open in Veneto (tel. 6989612016) and Pouri (tel. 6909454491) for food and drink. At Pouri there are also two guesthouses offering rooms to stay. From Pouri, one can continue walking down to Horefto beach or up the mountain to Makrinitsa.
          Starting from the parking area of Veneto, we climb to the nearby square and then to the steps that open to a concrete road, on which we walk to the left (east). We pass by the chapel of Agios Nikolaos (there is a spring water fountain down below to the left) and exit the village, leaving on the right two crossings that go to Ano Kerasia and Flamouri monastery respectively. At the second pen on our way, there is a sign to the right to enter the path, which is going down to cross the stream large Kakorema. Bear in mind that from now on, more than four hours will pass until we meet an earth road again.
             After crossing another stream, we climb to a rocky plateau and reach anοther pen. Here the path is unclear, but if we walk uphill for a few meters above the pen`s hedge, we will notice the red marks and find the proper path, which continues downhill to cross yet another stream, called Vathoulomeni. After this, we walk parallel to the coastline, thirty meters above the sea. On the left is a crossing to the ruined dock of Flamouri monastery (Agios Nikolaos). From a certain point, if we look back we can see the sea caves (spilies) at the rocky coast, called Ipnoi in ancient times. At that coast, a considerable part of Xerxes` fleet sank in 480 b.C. during the Persian invasion to Greece.
The sea caves

          Leaving two more crossings with blue marks on the right, leading to Paliokastro and Ano Kerasia respectively, the main path eventually takes us down to the bed of a large stream, called Agralexi. Walking a short distance into the streambed, we come to the isolated small pebble beach of Limnionas. Here we notice the existence of some ruins and an old well, remains from the times when this place was used as a dock for transporting wood and various goods (legal or illegal) by boats. Three hours have already passed since our start from Veneto.
Limnionas beach
           The path continues from the end of the beach, climbing up onto the wild wooded slope, heading gradually away from the sea.  Eventually, it opens to an earth road, on which we walk. It crosses a stream and then approaches a second larger ravine, called Kapnoutsi. Watching to the left as we walk down the road, we notice the O2 signs and find the path (cleared on November 2013, previously unpassable), which takes us down to cross the stream over the old stone bridge of Pirgakia. Built probably during the Ottoman era, it still remains in good condition, surrounded by lush vegetation and high plane trees into the virgin ravine.
Pirgakia stone bridge

            After a while, our path opens out again to the earth road. In twenty meters we have a small spring water fountain on the right, a welcome sight (but will be dry in summer). After another fifty meters, watching out for it on the right, we find the path again, that leads us through the ruins of the village of Palia (Old) Mitzela. Destroyed by the Turkish Ottoman army in 1828 during the Greek revolution, it lays abandoned ever since. The remains of the main church of Panagia (Virgin Mary) were recently destroyed by illegal excavators searching for gold-an awful shame and disgrace.
A pile of stones, what is now left from Panagia church at Palia Mitzela
           After the institution of the Greek independent state, the village`s refugees were granted land near the state borders of the time, at Pagasitic gulf, were they built the New Mitzela (or Amaliapolis).
         Leaving Palia Mitzela, we reach the large ravine of Lagonika and the path becomes stone paved (kalderimi) as it winds down the slope. We cross the stream over the excellent stone bridge of Diakoumi, also built in the Ottoman era by craftsmen coming from Zagori of Epirus, northwestern Greece - a testimony of the Pelion villages` thriving at the time. For more information on that subject, see Nikos Haratsis` photographic book ''ΠΕΤΡΙΝΑ ΤΟΞΩΤΑ ΓΕΦΥΡΙΑ ΣΤΟ ΠΗΛΙΟ'' -Stone arched bridges in Pelion (in Greek). See also Werner Helwig`s book ''Raubfisher in Hellas'' (in German), based on the life and adventures of Alfons Hochhauser in that area of Pelion.
Diakoumi stone bridge over Lagonika stream
        The path opens out to an earth road (which to the left goes down to Ovrios beach) and we walk on it to the right (east). After about two kilometres, as the main road takes a sharp left bend downhill, we head right to a narrow earth road and follow it, finding the path-kalderimi going straight ahead and cross  Kserorema stream, the last one to come in our way. Climbing up on the opposite slope, we meet a fountain, where spring water emerges from the rock, under a big plane tree.
Kalderimi near Kserorema stream
        We come to an earth road and follow it uphill for a short bit, then walk on even ground. At an angle to the right, a concrete paved road also leads to Pouri. We prefer to head straight on. We soon reach a narrow asphalt on a sharp bend and follow it uphill.
           Reaching the lower quarter of Pouri, we notice a spring water fountain on the right. From there we take the uphill stone paved path (kalderimi), leading us to the corner of the parking lot, which is located at the upper (main) quarter of the village.