Long, long ago dragons lived in the alpine lakes of Greece, and whiled away the time throwing rocks at each other. You can still see the rocks today as you clamber up to the Smolikas Dragon Lake, although the only dragons are the little alpine newts.
The lake lies at two thousand two hundred metres, and it was a hard climb up, through changing landscapes: mixed pasture at lower levels, then forest and finally the steep rocky slopes leading up to the lake.
But the flowers provided a good excuse to stop and rest. There were drifts of forget-me-nots, in different combinations – with electric blue gentians, with pale yellow orchids and with mauve geraniums. Beside the lake there were masses of crocuses at the edge of the melting snow. Little yellow tulips were tightly closed, waiting for the sun.
It had started to drizzle. We were tired, cold and getting wet. We abandoned our plans to camp by the lake, and headed for the refuge in the forests lower down. Alas, it was closed and deserted. There was a second hut a little further on, where we could have camped under shelter. But the rain was now coming down heavily, and the village of Palioseli was only seven kilometres away, all downhill.
It was after eight o’clock when we reached the village. We’d been walking for twelve hours and done over thirty kilometres with a climb of more than a thousand metres – the longest day yet. But as we came down into the village, it looked grey, dour and neglected. It was still raining. Luckily, the village cafe was open, and we snacked on cheese, olives and a sort of dark spam, while the owner phoned to find us somewhere to stay. We were in luck. Dina had really stopped renting rooms, but she made us welcome in her little upstairs flatlet. She and her husband had worked in Germany for thirty years, before she retired back to her home village to tend her garden and grow roses.
The route: Well-marked path (O3) up to the Dragon Lake (1.5 hours from the lake to the peak, according to the sign), and then down to the refuge. The villagers of Palioseli used to make an annual pilgrimage to Aghia Paraskevi, and you can still see traces of the old mule path in places. From the lake, the route is slightly different from the one shown on the map, and goes along the ridge, then down to the refuge. Dirt forestry road from the refuge to the village, with occasional footpath shortcuts. Spring (marked on map) about half way up, then near the refuge and shelter, coming down. Kilometres: 31. Ascent: 1397m Descent: 1274m. Map: Anavasi: 3.3. Gramos Smolikas Voio Vasilitsa.
Facilities: Cafe providing simple food at Palioseli.