One thing I love about walking in the mountains is the ever-changing scenery from the wild open peaks to the wooded valleys and clear streams below. It was a tough day’s walk to Gardiki, climbing up over the pass at two thousand metres, then down into the valley again the other side: twenty seven kilometres in all. But the scenery was spectacular, with clear skies and the temperature in the low twenties – perfect for walking.
As we slogged up the zigzags of the tarred road, two pick-ups and a motorbike passed us. All stopped to find out who we were and what we were doing. “Have you seen my sheep?” asked one, before breaking into his limited repertoire of English phrases. “My name is Bill.” Yes, we had seen some sheep, but obviously not his, as he soon passed us again going the other way.
By midday, as we picked our way along the side of the mountain towards the pass, the clouds were gathering again, and as we reached the highest point, the mist descended, swirling around the peaks. We were glad to have the reassurance of the GPS. It cleared again as we came down the far side, through starkly beautiful country, way above the treeline, with low turf underfoot, gnarled rock formations and hidden dells.
Lower down, we passed cattle and sheep pens, with dogs barking their warning of strangers. I stopped to chat to an old shepherd, who had the traditional knack of finding out everything of interest about a stranger within the first five minutes. Years ago, we used to be asked first whether we had any children, and then why we hadn’t. This man took it a stage further. Our children are in their twenties. So why didn’t we have any grandchildren? As the conversation lurched into a rather personal discussion of sex before marriage, we made our hasty farewells.
Then we were into pine forest, with wild cyclamen glowing pink in the gloom. A footpath, clearly marked with plastic streamers, led down to a rickety old bridge and an easy path along the stream to Tzourtzia aka Aghia Paraskevi. Most people seemed to know it as Tzourtzia, the old Vlach name, but Aghia Paraskevi is what it says on the map.
We reached Tzourtzia in the late afternoon, and stopped briefly for a coffee. Although we were tired, we then decided to carry on three kilometres to Gardiki, where there was a guest house. The road led uphill again, but thoughts of a comfortable bed and shower spurred us on.
We were to be disappointed. The hotel owner was away, and wouldn’t be back that night. How stupid of us not to phone before we left Tzourtzia! The consolation was an excellent supper, with steak provided by the butcher’s shop next to the cafe. We sat outside in the square, as people wandered in to chat, drink and play cards. Then, as we were looking around for a quiet spot to pitch the tent, the cafe owner invited us to sleep in his car port. It wasn’t exactly a pretty campsite, but at least we were under shelter when it started to rain heavily later that night.
The route: Tarred road at start. The map shows footpaths cutting off the zigzags, but these were hard to find. The old mule track over the pass is sometimes faint across the short turf, but easy to pick out in clear weather. Lower down, we followed the dirt shepherds’ tracks, then the footpath down to the stream and Tzourtzia, with improvised streamers as waymarks. Tarred road from Tzourtzia to Gardiki. Water at the turn-off from the road above Matsouki, at the Grekou spring (marked on the map) and from the stream. Kilometres: 27. Ascent: 1306m. Descent: 1294m. Map: Anavasi South Pindus 3.2.
Facilities: Cafe at Tzourtzia. Seasonal guest house at Gardiki, as well as several seasonal eateries (one promising crepes! ) and a well-stocked shop. Most of these are only open in July/August.