Here at i-escape, we love to get well and truly under the skin of the countries we visit. And sometimes there’s no better way to do that than to lace up your hiking boots, pack a picnic in your rucksack and set off on foot.
Two people who have taken this passion to new extremes are Michael Cullen, our Director of Hotels, who grew up in Greece and knows the country inside out; and Guy Hunter Watts, who lives in the mountains of Andalucia and has been reviewing i-escape hotels in the region for over 10 years. Both have recently published brand new hiking guidebooks: the fruit of many years of exploration, distilled into the very best trails, complete with detailed route descriptions, maps and photos.
Here, as part of this month’s focus on mountains, Michael shares some of the stories which inspired him to research and write his labour of love. And look out for Guy’s post later this month…
“What I love about walking is that it allows you to explore spectacular landscapes which would be inaccessible by car; to enjoy wildflowers and chattering songbirds that would whizz past unnoticed on the road; and to meet people in remote communities which feel a world away from the cookie-cutter streets and life-sapping computers back home. And if it means foregoing the creature comforts of our beloved boutique hotels for a bit – well, that just sharpens my enjoyment of them next time around.”
The Peloponnese Way, Greece
Ever since I led my first hiking tours in the Peloponnese back in 1992, I’ve been dreaming of creating a continuous hiking route across this spectacular and varied corner of Greece. Finally – with the help of local volunteers and co-author Tim Salmon, it’s come together.
Though it’s best known for the ancient cities of Olympia, Sparta and Mycenae, there’s far more to the Peloponnese than that. Our route runs from Diakofto in the north to near Kardamyli in the south, with 225 km (140 miles) of hiking over 15 days. It route crosses four 2,000-metre (6,500-foot) mountain ranges, passing virgin fir forests, mythical caves, deep river gorges and tiny shepherd hamlets en route. There’s a chance to cool off in mountain streams, to visit remote monasteries, to explore the Byzantine town of Mystras, and to relax by some of Greece’s loveliest beaches at the end of it all.
One of my favourite spots is the hermits’ hideaway of Agia Kyriaki, tucked inside the overhang of a cliff deep in the forested folds of Mt. Parnonas. Here time feels as if it has stood still since the 18th century, when it was abandoned by the last Orthodox monks holed out here in defiance of the Ottoman Turks.
Another favourite is the mountain village of Planitero, where shepherd families produce tangy goats’ cheese and spicy olives, or sell fresh-picked mountain herbs at open-air stalls by the crystal-clear springs of the River Aroanios.
For sheer spectacle, nothing can beat the plunging views from the snowcapped summit of Mt. Taygetos (2,400m / 7,900 ft), dominating the jagged peaks and the deeply indented coastline of the Mani peninsula.
But perhaps the greatest pleasure comes at the end when, after a fortnight of continuous hiking, you can put your feet up at one of the loveliest coastal villages in Greece: Kardamyli. By good fortune (and no coincidence), you can also book two of its best hotels right here on i-escape: Elies and Notos. There’s no better place to fill up with good food, long sleeps and restorative swims.