Athens – Delphi – Kalabaka – Ioannina: A Journey Up The Spine Of Greece
In October of 2019 I took a week to get a couple of bus’s up the middle of Greece. The trip was framed by Greek Salad and Lamb but filled with an appreciation and learning of this countries magnificent ancient and modern history. I went from Athens to Delphi to Kalabaka to Ioannina to indulge in food and hiking and exploration.
I have an interactive map which notes certain places I went, and also interesting things I heard about in surrounding areas as well.
For more visit the wonderful travel blog of The Hyam.
I had the terrible feeling that without the Acropolis, Athens would be a desperate, depressing place. I am as optimistic as they come, and I would level a 100% recommendation that anyone and everyone should visit Athens given the chance. I say that without the Acropolis (which is an absolute wonder of the world) Athens would be considerably lesser because without the indicative signs of tourism that litter the centre, you are left with the an unhappy impression. The populous adorn aggressive expressions, the streets and thoroughfares are overcrowded, the traffic is without order and no one – even the locals – seemed welcome.
I am without doubt this is not the common experience and Athens is still a lovely place to be, but I couldn’t help but leave the city with a sour, dust filled taste in my mouth.
This smacked of irony to me – as a rational economist – that the very lifeblood of the city, tourism, was done so poorly and without care you were left with a self deprecating impression of the cities intentions. Athens is the gateway to tourism for Greece, and considering 20% of the nations GDP is coming from tourism, Greece should be doing better providing infrastructure from the Airport into the city, and then directing the crammingly high number of people efficiently throughout the sprawling city centre consisting of cheap, 50’s style skyscrapers and lack of foot paths which defines the Athens downtown.
BUT – enough of that, enough of the negativity. Apart from several messy and disheartening interactions I saw one of the most amazing things of my life. The Acropolis.
The Acropolis is overwhelming in its impressiveness. It sits upon one of the cities many steep hills and offers you a chance to walk on the exact and significant ground of history. The site allows you to trace the footsteps of Plato, Socrates and Alexander the Great. It is worth every bit of the €20 admission fee to get in, and worth every sweaty shoulder rub as you cram through – alongside hundreds – the ancient seat of power.
Other parts of the city to see is certainly the Acropolis Museum and the neighbourhood of Anafiotika – View My Interactive Map For More – Plus I managed to get into a very unknown public library. The Gennadius Library holds books within its walls that warrant their own museum. I wouldn’t know the difference, but this is what I have been led to believe. I was the only tourist in there, and by the reaction I got upon arrival, tourists are rare visitors. Totally worth checking out and can be found on my map.
This beautiful village – of no more than 50-60 properties – is wonderfully perched against the south slope of a steep mountain. The views are incredible, and the temperature drops significantly from Athens. From different viewpoints you can see an inlet to the sea, and from another, a deep, dry valley. I stayed at the Sibylla Hotel – which is budget accomodation – but the host was sprung with happiness and quickly restored my lacklustre impression of Greek hospitality experienced earlier in Athens.
The reason people come to Delphi is to visit the site of the Oracle. This is an old magical site. The ancient greeks believed it to be the centre of the world and at this location sat the old priestess of Apollo, Pythia who would live at the site and prophecies.
After walking through the site for about an hour I could hear whispers in the wind through waves of cold wind which ran their way up the mountain side. It turns out the whispers wanted us gone – see video below – a surprise thunder storm caught us out of nowhere and drenched all.
There is also a great little hike you can take up the top of the mountain. When the rain died down and I got a change of clothes on I made it to and back in about 2 hours. This hike is between 2-4 hours depending on how quickly you go.
At one point I heard some noises, and thought there was some shaamanistic ritual taking place, but then turned the corner and found these goats, the video gives a good feel for the hike.
For anyone travelling north of Athens, Delphi should be a committed stop along the way. One night and one day will suffice and make for an ancient, eerie 24 hours.
Kalabaka features several perilously perched monasteries and it is awesomely impressive. These have been around since the 12th century, and only edits and add ons have been made since.
The temples reminded me of the training camp for Ra’s al Ghul’s league of shadows from Batman Begins. These 5 lone buildings all independent of one another boast immense historical significance for the Greek Orthodox Church and nowadays provide income for a small greek community. It is certainly worth a visit for anyone who has managed to climb the spine of Greece this far.
Even in the down season, tourists are dominating the various sites – which always takes away from the experience – but is not as pronounced as I imagine the sardine farm of foreigners would be in Summer.
I walked everywhere – which is highly recommended – most of the tourism is elderly, so the walking paths to and from the mountains are without people. The walk is barely one hour one way and for any experience level. After watching the sunset from the top on my first night I walked the long way home which took me through a neighbouring village and by chance allowed me to stumble on a magnificent little tavern that reminded me of a Mexican setup. Sprawling space, an ambitious amount of tables, few people, low hanging plastic roofs, all plastic furniture and familial sense of welcomeness. I saw the various meats getting cooked on an outdoor BBQ and the smell drew me in. I ordered the local sausage and was thoroughly satisfied – see picture.
All in all, Kalabaka was my favourite place in Greece that I visited, and anybody who makes it to this rural part of the country would less off if they missed 2-3 nights in this village.
I only spent a few hours in Ioannina. I had initially intended to stay a night or two there but the sun was calling me so I went straight to Albania.
From Ioannana you can get a really cheap bus over to Albania. From what I have been led to believe about Ioannina is that they have incredible hikes in the surrounding mountains. But they are hikes of commitment, 2-3 days, camping, the whole 9 yards.
The place was beautiful and I will admit had some charm.