When we started walking, people in the shops and cafes would wish each other “Happy Summer”, just as we’d say Happy Christmas or Happy Easter. Now they wished each other “Happy Winter!” In the little cafe at Kamenitsa, the stove was blazing and they were unloading more firewood from a pick up outside. The skies had turned grey, and it was getting colder. By the time we reached Vlacherna, nine hundred metres up, there were storm clouds massing overhead.
The day’s route had been complicated by the lack of maps, with a gap between the two Anavasi maps, which made it hard to work out the best off-road options. Much of the farm track to Kamenitsa turned out to be tarred, and the green fields, walnut and apple orchards soon turned to less fertile country – dry and dusty pasture with scattered thorn trees and the occasional flock of sheep. No doubt it sparkles with flowers in springtime, but now at summer’s end, it was parched and uninviting.
At Kamenitsa , there was a decision to be made. We could either continue along the E4 south to Vitina and then through the Mainalon massif, or we could turn east to Vlacherna and approach the Mainalon from there. Our minds were made up by a leaflet describing new routes through the Mainalon, which we’d come across in the Dhara hotel. The Tripoli Mountain Club, together with the local association of guides and ecologists, had ambitious plans to open up the old paths and the leaflet described what had been done so far. We decided to check them out, starting from Vlacherna.
So it was that we arrived in Vlacherna after a long slog mainly on tarred road, only to find there were two tavernas but nowhere to stay. There was a weather warning of thunderstorms and heavy rain so we didn’t want to camp. A shopkeeper came to our rescue. He phoned a friend who owned a hotel that was being renovated. It wasn’t ready, and there was no hot water – could we come back the next day? We said we’d make do without hot water and were shown up a highly dangerous spiral staircase to an attic room with three beds crammed into it. All the rugs were hung out to air and there were piles of stuff everywhere. We negotiated a lower price due to the lack of hot water, but we weren’t inclined to be picky.
The local taverna was more welcoming, with a roaring fire and a comfortably round and chatty woman in charge. We were the only customers. She explained that she cooked anyway, and if nobody turned up then the family ate it all themselves. As talk turned to the Crisis and her family’s attempts to find work, she confided that she wouldn’t swap her lively village social life and the strong sense of community for anything. She’d visited Sweden on an EU exchange, and one of her sons was thinking about going to work in Qatar, but none of them wanted to leave Greece. We agreed that quality of life was more important than earning lots of money.
The route: E4 to Kamenitsa, easy walking along dirt or tarred roads. The E4 then continues to Vitina, from where the original route through the Mainalon has apparently now been much improved with much of it now off-road. The route from Kamenitsa to Vlacherna is all on tarred road. Water at Kamenitsa. Kilometres: 19. Ascent: 416m. Descent: 215m. Map: Anavasi 8.2 Chelmos-Vouraikos and 8.5. Mt Menalo. Gap in the middle!
Facilities: Cafes at Kamenitsa. Two tavernas and a guest house at Vlacherna; regular buses to Tripoli.