Walking the ancient paths
[caption id="attachment_7625" align="aligncenter" width="1920" caption="Kalarites village, Epirus"]
As the temperature rises, many Greeks return to their ancestral villages high in the mountains to escape the city heat. Seasonal cafes and guest houses open and village squares, deserted for much of the year, ring with the bustle of people on holiday.
As you climb up over 1000 metres, the air cools and the ancient cobbled paths beckon the stranger to explore.
[caption id="attachment_7626" align="aligncenter" width="1920" caption="Cobbled mule path, near Kampos, Peloponnese"]
Throughout Greece, these paths, known as kalderimia, connect the remotest hamlets. Often only a metre wide, you can see them zigzagging up the mountainsides. Before the car was invented or roads were built through the mountains, mules were the only means of transport and the paths were essential for all village trade. Most were built in the 18th and 19th centuries, although a few are said to date back to medieval times. Today some have fallen into disrepair, and all traces have disappeared into the undergrowth. But more and more they are recognised as an important part of the Greek heritage, and well-maintained and signposted.
[caption id="attachment_7627" align="aligncenter" width="1440" caption="Path into Mainalon range, Peloponnese"]
Some lead through woodland, with the original stones now almost covered by years of leaf fall. Some wind up above the trees into the high mountains, where there is no longer any need for a path: you can see for miles along the open ridges.
[caption id="attachment_7628" align="aligncenter" width="1920" caption="Path from Matsouki to Aghia Paraskevi, near Trikala"]
Perhaps best of all are those that descend to a long-forgotten stone bridge, with a perfect picnic spot on the river bank and clear pools for swimming.
[caption id="attachment_7629" align="aligncenter" width="1379" caption="Bridge, Zagoria"]
There are sometimes shrines or little churches along the way. These have often been built near a spring, and may even have picnic tables for the passing walker. It’s cool inside, and if you’re lucky you’ll discover frescoes dating back to Byzantine times.
[caption id="attachment_7630" align="aligncenter" width="1541" caption="Wayside church, Lousios valley, Peloponnese"]
Walking along the cobbled paths is a delight. You very quickly get away into the solitude of the mountains, with only a hawk soaring high above for company. The path isn’t usually too steep, as mules preferred gradual zigzags: good news for those of us who struggle uphill! There’s plenty of short walks, perhaps from one village to the next, or out to the local monastery. Or you can walk for days, making the most of long-distance footpaths like the O3 national trail, which runs all the way from Ioannina to Nestorio on the edge of the Grammos mountains.
[caption id="attachment_7631" align="aligncenter" width="1776" caption="Path below Mount Vardhousia, Central Greece"]
About the author: You can see Jane’s account of her walk from the northern Greek border down to the southern Peloponnese at greekhiking.com