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Walking on the Greek Islands

contributed by Colin Murison Small of Hidden Greece


Rule one for happy walking in Greece is: “never ask a Greek about the route, the terrain or the length of the walk.”

The reason is that no Greek sees any reason to walk anywhere and does not do so. If he needs a loaf of bread from the shop 100 metres down the road he jumps on to a scooter or into a car. That may also explain why large scale island maps have never shown a scale and have frequently featured paths which don’t actually exist – presumably the locals, at the behest of the local Council, sat round a taverna table fabricating maps which the tourist would find useful. Which, of course, he doesn’t.

But now all has changed and new Greek maps, even for the least visited islands, are available, all graced with scales and co-ordinates for your GPS. To say that you can count on the footpaths being where they are shown, or navigable even if they are actually there, would be a dangerous over-statement; but at least you will be able to pinpoint your position as you settle down for a chilly night under a bush.

On many islands, you will find guide books for walking which are almost invariably the work of British or German ex-pats. They vary, of course, but usually will suggest which are the best walks to pin-point on whichever map[s] you are using. The maps are now usually available in local shops, but if you are anywhere near Stanfords (Long Acre, WC2) you can fore-arm yourself.

Corfu is now in the brochures of several specialist brochures for its apparently well way-marked route leading from end to end of this wonderfully scenic island. Naxos, largest of the Cyclades, has rewarding itineraries and a bus service which enables you to travel quickly to somewhere near the top of the hill and then walk down to a valley village to get the bus back. Indeed, unless you are hiking and camping, there is much to be said for choosing islands with good bus services, although two couples hiring two cars, one to reach the start, the other to return you to it, is a convenient if somewhat cumbersome modus operandi. Samos is another good island with superb panoramas and plenty of pretty villages. For a fairly benign initiation, try Alonnisos (Sporades) which is small, scenic and has a good reputation amongst walkers.

The mountainous regions of mainland Greece – notably Epiros in the NE opposite Corfu, the Pelion peninsula on the east coast facing the Sporades islands and, above all, the Mani in the centre and south of the Peloponnese offer the most serious walking in Greece. Because of the climate, most organised walking in those areas takes place outside the high summer months and is often concentrated on the winter months. In short, you need to decide whether you are just a holiday stroller or a serious walker and choose your area and season accordingly.

Whenever you walk off the road in Greece, travel properly equipped and try not to walk alone. It is quite easy to get lost and if you have sprained an ankle it may be a long wait before any finds you, especially if you have not told anyone (e.g. your hotelier) where you are going. Obviously if you can use a GPS (remember spare batteries) that is a great help; a water bottle is essential; a whistle might be useful and a dog dazzler which is battery powered and emits a high-pitched whistle which most dogs hear and dislike but which harms neither them nor you; though dogs are almost always chained in Greece so the risk is not great. Treat the country with respect: outside the tourist hot-spots, Greece is sparsely populated, wild and rugged. In many areas your mobile may not get a signal. Cross-country walking can be hazardous – what looks like a short cut may hide a ravine or include area so densely covered with prickly, entwined, foliage as to be impassable.