Blue skies and sunshine the next morning made up for the storms of the night before. It was incredibly peaceful, as we sat outside the sheep shelter, drinking our morning coffee and watching the ladybirds on the glistening wet grass. We took a last look at the Grammos peaks rising out of the clouds that still hid the valleys, then climbed back to the ridge path through Alpine meadows,and down into beech woods again, heavy with the smell of wild garlic.
Suddenly, rounding a corner, there was Smolikas in all its snow-capped glory, with the crags of Timfi over to the west. It’s the second highest mountain in Greece, after Mount Olympus. Overhead, an eagle called. We were at sixteen hundred metres. The summit towered above us over on the other side of the valley, a thousand metres higher. There was not a village or habitation in sight.
The path gradually became more overgrown and hard to find, while the waymarks disappeared completely. A deer bounded away into the undergrowth ahead of us. Two frogs were mating beside a spring, flaunting their gorgeous orange underbellies. The final descent into Aghia Paraskevi was steep and confusing.
Aghia Paraskevi (Saint Friday) was a thriving permanent village with a taverna, guest house, cafes and shop, all clustered round the village square with its spring and enormous plane tree. It was siesta time, and nobody was about, so we took off our boots and stretched out in the shade. The village used to be called Kerasovo (Place of Cherries), so I had a quick look round for cherries – but no, it was too early in the season.
When the guesthouse owner turned up, he was rather disgruntled to find two customers waiting. One hundred and fifty mountaineers had stayed over the weekend, sleeping in every available space, and he was still recovering. His son, who ran the guesthouse and did the cooking, was away. But he relented, found us a room and said he could manage an omelette for our supper. Alan joined a handful of people clustered round the big screen in the cavernous restaurant below, watching the World Cup. Outside, old men were now playing cards, both players and spectators participating loudly and dramatically.
But the best thing about Aghia Paraskevi were the peaches. We hadn’t seen a shop since Dipotamia a week before, it was still too early for local fruit, and none had been available at the two guesthouses. So it was a treat to find fruit and vegetables in the little shop. Then a pick-up passed selling more fruit, including peaches, juicy and delicious. Bliss.
The route: Faint but well-waymarked path (O3) at first through the Alpine meadows and high forest, but much harder to find as it descends. Spring and stream at the start of the descent into the woods. Kilometres: 16. Ascent 310m Descent 853m. Map: Anavasi 3.3. Gramos Smolikas Voio Vasilitsa.
Facilities: Guesthouse with taverna, cafes, well-stocked shop.