Greece doesn’t normally inspire thoughts of mountains, snow and craggy limestone. Years of beach holidays, limpid seas and retsina has distracted brits from an incredible landscape.
80% of Greece is mountainous.
Destination: The Parnassus Massif, 2 hours North West of Athens.
Flights: Heathrow to Athens (3.5 hours) (£130 return each)
Base: Arachova, 970 meters above sea level and approx 30 minutes from the coast.
Transport: Hire car (£78 for 7 days), fuel (£70)
Accomodation: Airbnb (£200), central two bed apartment for 6 nights.
There were 4 of us sharing costs which made everything very, very affordable.
Flights, car hire, accomodation, supplies and eating out cost us £342 each for the week.
Parnassus is two hours from central Athens, the drive is easy and on good roads. Arachova is a great base; it’s high up, 15 minutes from great mountain routes and 30 minutes from both ski lifts and the coast.
We really loved the contrast of weather and geography. Our Airbnb was at 1000 meters above sea level, there was patchy snow from 1400 meters and consistent, deep, snow from 1800 meters.
The daytime temperature ranged from 2 degrees on the top of the mountains to 28 degrees at the coast, it was easy, and a little surreal, to spend a day up high in the snow then head to the beach for sun, sand and tavernas in the evening.
The area is has incredible history; Delphi, The Corycian Cave and the Athena Pronaia Temple are 10 minutes away.
There’s lots of convenience stores in the area, the prices aren’t inflated and the quality of supplies is great.
Eating out is a highlight, tavernas and restaurants are everywhere, prices are low and the food is good. We ate out every night, our most expensive bill was £72 (split between 4) for three courses and wine, our cheapest bill was £28 for a main course and wine.
Access is great, if you want to start your day high up there are lots of 4x4 tracks and two gondolas which will take you to between 1600 and 2050 meters.
There are lots of ridges, peaks and interesting walks, much more than you could explore in a week.
There are NO crowds - we spent 4 days in the mountains and didn’t see any other walkers or climbers.
We spent one day really close to Arachova on a limestone ridge, parking on a 4x4 track at approx 1250 meters, hitting patchy snow at 1500 meters, and climbing up to 2100 meters through consistent deeper snow. It was a fantastic route of about 12 km with panoramic views that took us 10 minutes to drive to and a little less than 6 hours to complete.
There is lots of choice and it’s easy to focus a day on whatever most interests you, we spent some of a really warm day walking up to The Corycian Cave (1350 meters), the contrast between a day of winter kit, snow and cold and spending the next day walking through pine forest at 24 degrees was remarkable.
When to travel? We visited towards the end of April, the ski lifts were still running and every shop and restaurant was open. For more consistent (and lower) snow the beginning of April might work best, for warmer weather May would be perfect, It gets hot after May.
Getting about - hire a car, public transport is very limited beyond the main roads, car hire is cheap, fuel is expensive (we used a full tank of fuel during the week = £70). I suggest getting dropped off by a 4x4 if you don’t fancy long walk ins on some routes, there’s a few companies that offer this service. Drive safe - Greek people are crazy when they get behind a wheel.
Corycian Cave - take some good head torches and at least a 30 meter 8 mm rope with a sling or two if you want to have a proper explore, the cave goes back a long way, we bottled out after a few slips and trips.
Eat out! The restaurants are cheap and very good; small plates cost £3 - £5, most ‘main’ courses cost £6 - £9. Don’t order everything at once or it’ll be brought to your table en-mass. Wine by the kilo is tasty and cheap. Desserts and a shot of something local are normally free at the end of your meal.
Clothing and equipment. We wore three season boots, carried waterproofs and relied on a few thinner layers for warmth. Bring shorts for hot lower days, hats and sunscreen are important.
Do - spend a day up high in the snow then head down to the coast for meze or dinner by the beach, go for a swim, eat seafood.
Don’t - expect to find much travel/ tourist information online or in English, Google will not help much in planning routes or working out logistics.
Do - visit Delphi, it’s incredible - go early before the coaches from Athens arrive.
Don’t - expect to find maps, boot laces or climbing equipment for sale in Arachova, there’s some ski shops but walking and climbing equipment can’t be found.
It amazes me that these accessible, affordable, incredible mountains aren’t explored more, they’re much, much cheaper than the Alps and there’s no one there.
You’ll want this map: Anavasi Topo 25 - Central Parnassos 1:25,000, don’t rely on detail, many paths are very overgrown.