Gardiki to Gournes: No coffee, no lunch

The cafe owner at Gardiki had promised he would be open for a breakfast coffee in the morning. So we sat at the table in the square sorting out our stuff, and waited. And waited. We wanted to stock up at the shop too, and that was closed as well. At 9 o’clock, we gave up and set off for Athamania a kilometre or two further on. Yes, there were cafes and a taverna in Athamania, but nothing was stirring there either. Even the village dog sprawled comatose in a doorway, without  the energy to bark.

So we gave up and retraced our steps north again, but this time following the Moutsartiko river, which ran parallel to the higher route we’d taken the day before. We’d considered taking the route over the mountains to Pachtouri, described in the Mountains of Greece guide, but the weather was still unsettled and we were tired and ready for an easy day.

Roadside chapel

We stopped for elevenses at a tiny chapel at the junction of the Moutsartiko with the Acheloos river. The church is an important part of Greek life, and new churches, chapels Frescoes, roadside chapeland shrines are still being constructed throughout the countryside, sometimes in the most remote locations. They can be a life-saver in a sudden thunderstorm when there is no other shelter for miles. This was a modern chapel, well looked after with an array of plants and pot plants, a picnic table and a spring. Inside, were bright modern frescoes.

“Never mind breakfast”, we thought. “Maybe there’ll be a cafe open for lunch  in Palaiochori, a few zig zags further along the upper road.” So instead of taking the easy lower road along the river, we climbed on up through oak forest. An hour later, we were still climbing, past a few straggling houses, but with no sign of a village square or cafe. Finally, we passed a man digging his vegetable patch. He told us that he lived down in the plains, but came up at weekends to look after his garden. There were no cafes, and nobody lived there full-time.

We stopped to make some soup under the oaks and took stock. We were walking too fast and too far. Pushing on to the guesthouse at Gardiki had been a mistake, and we shouldn’t repeat it by trying to reach Armatoliko, where the map showed a cafe, by nightfall. In fact, I preferred camping out in the country, enjoying the solitude and beautiful views. On the whole, Alan preferred to camp in or near villages, where he could get a hearty meal and a beer; he didn’t mind the lack of privacy so much.  But we did agree that we should slow down, make time for lunch, and camp out if it was too far to the nearest village.

So that evening we stopped early at a beautiful campsite on a promontory jutting out over the Acheloos valley. There was plenty of time to cook supper, then relax as the light faded. Our bodies needed a respite, too. Alan’s knees were creaking, and I’d pulled a thigh muscle in the rough climb up from Matsouki. We were in our sleeping bags by dark, listening to the sound of the owls.

Acheloos river

The route: Narrow tarred road from Gardiki to Athamania, then dirt road along the river and up to Palaiochori and beyond. Not much water after the spring by the Acheloos, with only one easy to miss spring before Armatoliko. Kilometres: 23.  Ascent: 326m  Descent: Pipe with drinking water546m. Map: Anavasi South Pindus 3.2 on the paper map (3.2 and 4.2 are back to back) but 4.2 on the digital map, with a small gap between the two maps.

Facilities: Taverna, cafes and guest house, all likely to be seasonal, at Athamania.

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