Years ago, when we first went hiking in Greece, there were no maps. Or rather the maps were jealously guarded by the army as a matter of national security. The only maps we could find were medieval in style: roughly drawn peaks with pictures of pipe-playing shepherds, and “here be beaches” with little parasols to mark the seashore. Venturing into the mountains was a voyage of exploration, as we gradually pieced together the paths and villages. Maybe that’s why Greece has so long remained undiscovered territory for hiking.
Since then Anavasi, a company set up in 1997, has slowly revolutionised mapping in Greece. Their detailed 1:50,000 hiking maps covered almost all the areas we walked through, and they’re bringing out new maps all the time. They’re available in digital format too, so can be used with a GPS so long as it supports custom maps. Unfortunately, this usually means the more modern and expensive models. You can download them from the Anavasi website, or buy paper versions from Stanfords or the Map Shop.
There are a few pitfalls though. There are occasionally gaps between the maps. The Prespa map stops short of Kastoria, and the Grammos one doesn’t start till well to the south. Sometimes a known footpath isn’t marked, or confusing new rural roads have been made since the map was published. Or the footpath route is changed and the old path shown on the map becomes overgrown and impassable. The digital maps can be more up to date, and sometimes cover a wider area than the paper ones.
We hadn’t used a GPS before, and we did find it useful. Especially at high level, where the paths over short turf were faint, it was reassuring to know we were on the right track. And it was good to know that if the weather came down suddenly or we got lost, then we could retrace our steps. It didn’t work in gorges, of course, but then there’s usually only one route down a gorge anyway.
We did a GPS weekend course and bought a GPS about six weeks before we left, but didn’t really have time to get the hang of it in advance. I’m not a natural with technical gadgetry and even after the course, it took ages to feel confident with it. The course was also aimed mainly at people using a GPS in the UK, where you usually buy a GPS already equipped with a package of Ordnance Survey maps. You have to load the Anavasi maps individually, using more than one memory card, so my advice to other GPS novices would be to allow for plenty of practice in installing maps and routes, and then to try it out properly in the UK beforehand.
The best hiking guide is Tim Salmon’s Mountains of Greece, published by Cicerone in 2006, and due to be updated soon. Tim also publishes occasional updates on the Cicerone site. The guide describes 41 walks altogether, with the Pindos walks forming a South to North route. Since we were walking in the opposite direction, we used it mainly to get an idea of the terrain rather than using the detailed route instructions.
In the Peloponnese, there’s a guide to the E4 in German by Rolf Roost, who’s done a fantastic job of maintaining and publicising this stretch. An English version is promised soon. The German website has a lot of detail, including route outlines, and overnight possibilities: definitely worth a look even if you don’t speak German. The Mainalon Trail through the heart of the Peloponnese has been developed by local volunteers, with excellent waymarking as well as free online information in English. There’s now even an Android app.