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Paths of legend

Steve Jack, 01 February, 2018
There's a great deal of meticulous planning involved in creating Inntravel's Greek walking holidays – it's a true team effort and a labour of love.
 

There's a lot to love about Greece: its myths and legends, the gods who dined on fragrant ambrosia, and the sun-kissed islands on which promenade tavernas serve up a riot of seafood and convivial meze alongside a dazzling, deep-blue sea.

There's also a lot to love about walking in Greece: views of the Aegean lit by warm Mediterranean sunshine; Minoan palaces and hill-top temples; island-hopping joys; and winding kalderimia (ancient mule trails) that criss-cross the land.

But despite this profusion of age-old paths, used long ago to connect one settlement to the next, creating a series of Greek walking holidays over the years has proved to be a monumental challenge. You see, once motor vehicles and roads became more widespread, the paths were used less and less.

A footpath might still be used to go and admire a castle, reach a striking viewpoint or seek out a hidden chapel. And Greeks are not averse to a gentle stroll as part of a weekend outing, a jaunt to a favoured picnic spot, or to celebrate a religious holiday. But using their free time to willingly follow a longer walking route, designed purely to pass the time? Walking for walking’s sake? This has not (until relatively recently, at least) occurred to the majority of the local population as a remotely worthwhile – or even interesting – thing to do.

So, despite the wonderful landscapes, cultural riches and bountiful climate this amazing country has to offer, there are not many ready-made networks of walking trails with which to piece together walking holidays. Signposts are few and far between, unused footpaths often become overgrown (or are even bulldozed away), fences might mysteriously bar the way, or paths might disappear altogether, subsumed by more practical and efficient asphalt by the time the next walking holiday season comes along.

It has therefore been a gradual and painstaking process – a true labour of love, in collaboration with the people behind Dutch travel company Stapreizen – to research and explore Greece’s most promising corners, to piece together what seem to be the most attractive routes, and then to ensure they are well maintained and usable from one year to the next.

Els Hom (pictured above), one of Stapreizen’s team of Grecophiles – and an expert on Greek archaeology, as well as a dedicated walker and nature-lover – explains: “How often do we get surprised looks from people when we ask them for directions to the old kalderimi? ‘But you can walk on the asphalt road now,’ comes the answer. ‘Why use the old way when a car is far more convenient?’ As you can imagine, going out there and discovering the trails – finding them by asking the locals, and recording them – is one thing. But to create walking routes that will last for several years often turns into quite a challenge. As the locals rarely use footpaths these days, walking in Greece means regular return trips to check, re-route, waymark, cut bushes and sometimes sadly even abandon our chosen trails.” 

But the situation is beginning to change. “It is good to see that, in the last few years, something of a transformation is taking place,” reports Els. “Hiking, mountaineering and trail running are becoming increasingly popular activities, and have begun to attract Greeks as well as foreigners to the paths. More and more Greeks have started to take up serious walking!” 

This, in turn, has its own benefits: local groups have begun to preserve and restore networks of ancient paths – on some of the islands, as well as the mainland. Sifnos in the western Cyclades is one such example, where efforts have been made to clear and waymark walking routes across the herb-clad hillsides.

On the mainland, one of the pioneers of Greek route-making has been Georgios Iannakeas, owner of the Notos Hotel in the charming seaside town of Kardamyli. As a member of the local mountaineering club, he helped to organise the restoration of the wonderful paved paths on the western side of Mount Taÿgetos, enjoyed by many of the Inntravel customers who embark on a journey through the Peloponnese.

Inntravel’s approach – in partnership with Stapreizen – is to take a careful look at the routes which are being renovated; and, together with routes found independently, to craft an itinerary that is just right for Inntravel customers. A good example is the initiative around Paleochora on Crete, where Henk from Stapreizen (pictured below) initiated a thorough path-clearing and waymarking project so as to increase the walking options.

Of course, the location of good-quality, characterful accommodation is a key factor; and the occasional transfer by road might be added into the mix, ensuring that each day’s walk is of manageable length, while taking in the real highlights of the immediate area.

One way or another (and it can sometimes take years of hard work!), Inntravel's aim is to be able to present carefully planned and sustainable walking holidays, following the best paths that Greece has to offer, which all Inntravel customers can enjoy.

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