Once upon a time, when Lynne and I were exploring that area, we came across a sign for an “Outdorsy Pathway” between Sassalos, Malathiros and Makronas. But although we found and enjoyed the route from Makronas to Malathiros, we never located a path through the Halasses gorge to Sassalos. And I know why now – there isn’t one. Further research and local enquiries over the years gave more information. The cafe owner in Sassalos told me the gorge was “oxi diskolo, alla oxi efkolo” – not difficult, but not easy, and it would take around three hours, but that the gorge is only possible during the dry months of summer. From the Internet, webcrete.net suggested the gorge was “Medium, 3-4 hrs, not clearly marked in some parts.” Not at all, as it turned out!
So Colin and I set out to explore, taking climbing gear for possible abseils or lowers. Sassalos is a pleasant 30km drive from Paleochora, through Plemeniana to Aligi, then over to Milones and down the chestnut tree lined valley, around 45 mins. Not indicated in any way, access to the gorge is north past the turning to Floria, then left through houses to reach a ford, dry in summer, and the riverbed. This we entered too soon, emerging scratched from brambles to walk easier on a track alongside to reach a concrete water cistern, then left below walnut trees and through a wire gate into the gorge proper, wide at this point.
Easily at first, and after passing an inexplicable picnic site, the gorge soon becomes boulder-filled and route-finding serious. In 4km it will fall 200m, much of it inside the first kilometre.
Although we never used the rope, our old climbing skills were necessary to drop down short walls, occasionally under enormous boulders, and sometimes briefly out of the ravine before
re-entering. An opening in a fence was marked by a plastic container (as was another lower down), and then came some respite at a small plateau, with a threshing circle and evidence of crop growing on terraces above.
The lower section is less difficult, though still requiring concentration, especially when descending to a rock “tunnel”, which proved easier than it looked from above. After a similar one, and the second fence, the gradient eases ; we climbed left out of the streambed to meet a track through olive trees taking us to a fence and a three-way junction. We saw no path or waymarking in two hours from Sassalos, and any stone cairns would be washed away during the winter, when the water surging through the gorge must be spectacular.
From the foot of the gorge, the track ahead leads to Makronas and on to Voulgaro. We took a less obvious route up to Malathiros – on a narrow path once carefully maintained but now in some disrepair. No longer marked, it begins above a stream, keeping initially parallel with it before rising out of the valley, always climbing, then heading east, below cliffs, to a small cave/grotto with a tiny waterfall. Continuing above here, it will eventually turn right (ahead is impassable) to lead, through a series of gates, to reach a rough track. Go right, rising to wooden fencing, and then up left into the village of Malathiros, the main road, Agios Giorgos church, and in front of it a little square shaded by plane trees – ‘Platea 28 August 1944’.
This is a lovely peaceful spot, but also one of the saddest places I know. It was on that day that German soldiers came to Malathiros and nearby villages, took 61 of the men and executed them. The youngest was just thirteen years old, and the oldest sixty-six ; a marble memorial lists their names, as many as seven from the same family.
From Malathiros it’s an hour’s walk, 5km, back along the road to Sassalos, passing en route a shrine and rocky outcrop with a superb birds-eye view into the gorge. It was late afternoon as we reached the village outskirts, having left around midday. Then, Sassalos was totally empty, and we had seen no-one. Now, as we turned the final bend, there were cars parked everywhere, and Greek music was drifting down from above the village.
Curious, we followed the music up to the former village school, long since closed, but now with several hundred people seated at long tables, music playing, and dancing in full swing, like a scene from the musical “Brigadoon.” “Elate!” people called to us, “come and sit down, join us!” It was the annual Sassalos Chestnut Festival, tables laden with roast chestnuts, local wine, inevitably “raki”, and “souvlaki” grilling on barbecues. We stayed for over an hour, and had we not arranged to meet Colin’s wife Jill for dinner, would have been there long into the night …
Footnote: Colin and I first enjoyed this route in Oct 2013. This year, having ascertained that the Chestnut Festival began at 4pm on the 12th October, several friends and I repeated the walk through the gorge, up to Malathiros, and back along the road into Sassalos to find it ……. completely deserted. Maybe it was all just a dream ……