Exploring Grameno

After the mildest, and (worryingly) the driest winter for decades in Paleochora, the searing heat of summer is now here, making long walks inadvisable and potentially dangerous.  So why not ‘Explore’ the small peninsula of Grameno, just 5km west of the town, where there is much to discover, then relax under shady juniper bushes, swim off either of two beaches, and enjoy a meal at one of the nearby restaurants.

Grameno sign
Grameno is just ten minutes away by car or taxi, but walking or cycling there in heat, with fast traffic, is not recommended.  The 10.15am KTEL bus to Krios (summer only) will drop you off, returning at approx. 2.50pm, giving an ample four hours to explore.

Grameno East beach

Grameno East beach

The south facing peninsula gives a beach to either side ; the east, facing Paleochora, of shingle, the sandy west enclosed by a shallow bay, both provided with sun-beds & parasols, and each with a small “cantina”.  Small paths disappear into the juniper bushes; it’s easy to find a secluded spot among the dunes, although access to the sea is often difficult away from the two beaches.

Grameno dunes

Grameno dunes

A walk around the perimeter of Grameno, boulder-hopping over the rocks, will take around an hour.  At the south tip, in June/July, it’s possible to collect sea salt from pools where the winter waves have washed in and subsequently dried out.

Sea salt

Sea salt

Near the SW tip of the peninsula is a shallow ‘lake’ with a cave behind, which is connected to the sea by an underwater passage.  Strong swimmers (only!) can take a face mask & flippers, deep breath, and head (literally) for the light at the end of the tunnel.

Grameno sea cave

Grameno sea cave

Slightly less intimidating is a climb to the concrete surveying pillar, on rocks at the highest point of Grameno, at only 4m a.s.l. giving fine views to Paleochora ; but even this isn’t easy, so be sure to remember the way down again.

Grameno summit

Spring at Grameno sees the arrival of many migratory birds, especially the unmistakable hoopoes, always seen here in March/April, in passage from Africa northwards.  And from August to October the sands are covered with ‘sea daffodils’ (Pancratium maritimum), which decorate the beaches every summer. In late autumn the lightweight black seeds float away on the sea, which disperses them along the shoreline.

Sea daffodils

For most of the year, apart from rough seas in winter,  Grameno is calm and peaceful. The exception is on “Clean Monday” – ‘kathara deftera’ – which marks the first day of Lent, and falls 40 days before Easter.  Here the community meets to fly kites, and enjoy a buffet provided by the town council, with traditional food of ‘lagana’ bread, black-eyed beans, and sea-food.  Weather permitting, this is a fine day out, enjoyed by all.

Grameno kite

Grameno kite

To conclude your visit, why not visit either of the two nearby restaurants, ‘Houmas’ on the shores of the sandy bay, or ‘To Grameno’, slightly further away, both highly recommended, and offering a wide range of Cretan and Greek dishes.

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The Vikos Gorge

Vikos Gorge 2The Vikos Gorge

“Greece has two great and unforgettable gorges ; the gorge of Samaria in Crete, and that of the Vikos in Epirus.  It is hard to decide which is the more beautiful of the two, since each is unique in its way.  In my view, however, Vikos takes the prize … “ George Sfikas  –  ‘The Mountains of Greece.’

I’ve descended the Samaria Gorge to Agia Roumeli many times, but never the Vikos, and a visit to the Pindus Mountains in Northern Greece last summer gave the opportunity to walk through the gorge as part of a 4-day trek in that area.  We had arranged our trip with ‘Walking Holidays *’, were met at Thessaloniki airport by our guide, Thanasis Pantes, and after an evening meal and brief tour of the city, next morning drove to Ioannina, in the region of Epirus, for lunch.  Then a short 30km drive north to Vitsa, one of the Zagori villages and, since 1973, part of the Vikos/Aoos National Park.

Vikos Gorge 3

The Zagori villages consist of 46 “traditional settlements”,  dating from the 17th century or earlier,  built of local grey stone, where commercial development is forbidden except for limited eco-tourism.  Until roads were built in the 1950s, they were linked by stone-laid paths and beautiful arched bridges, now part of a network of way-marked trails.

Konitsa bridge

Konitsa bridge

Our accommodation in a small, family-run hotel was excellent, as was the evening meal and substantial breakfast.  Then a quick transfer to Monodendri, from where we would descend into the Vikos Gorge, following it N and NW before a sharp climb to Vikos village, a walk of around seven hours.

Vikos Gorge signA sign informed us  (Guinness Book of Records 1997) that the gorge is the World’s Deepest Canyon, at 900m, with just 1100m between the rims.

 

With all day to reach Vikos (where our luggage would be waiting for us), we took our time and many photographs, enjoyed a picnic lunch by the river (Voidomatis), and admired the spectacularly sheer walls rising high above us.  The path is straightforward and, in contrast to Samaria in June, we met only a handful of other walkers.

Descent to Vikos 2Thanasis had told us that here, in the Pindus Mountains, is the last European stronghold of the brown bear, although he admitted to only ever seeing a distant glimpse of one.  We walked warily, heard many birds, but the only wildlife was a slow moving tortoise next to the trail.

Vikos tortoise

Vikos tortoise

A warm welcome awaited us at Vikos, in a simple village taverna with “all-home-produce” meals, comfortable beds, and at dusk, a memorable view down into the gorge we had walked through.

Vikos taverna

Vikos taverna

Next morning we re-descended into the gorge for an hour or so, as far as the Voidomatis Springs, where the water, refreshing but ice-cold, had dropped quickly from snow level.  Then a short, but steep ascent to the delightful village of Mikro Papigo, where Thanasis has a dream of building a home for his family.

Papingo Towers

Papingo Towers

It’s dominated by the impressive Towers of Papigo, below which we would walk, a day later, on the climb to spend a night at Astraka Refuge, a mountain hut situated at 2000m, below the peak of Astraka itself, 2436m, part of the Gamila range.

Mt Astraka

Mt Astraka

Our last day in the high mountains was from the Refuge to the stunningly beautiful “Dragon Lake”, or Drakolimni, and from there a long and far from easy descent into the Aoos Valley, to spend the night at Konitsa.  And the following day, a pleasant walk along the lower reaches of the Voidomatis river, now placid and tree-lined, before it joins the Aoos.

Vikos lower gorge

Vikos lower gorge

*  ‘Walking Holidays’ was excellent in every way, our experienced guide Thanasis very knowledgeable, informative & looked after our every need.  Details from http://walkingholidays.gr

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