Three-plus hours of exercise and socializing in the Greek countryside
On Wednesday night (June 12), Mitch and I hiked across Skopelos Island from Skopelos Town to the little seaside town of Panormos. The three-hour hike was organized by Heather Parsons, founder of Skopelos Trails.
I had heard of Parsons last fall when I found her in an online search. It seems when you research Skopelos Island, her name will eventually surface. Her organization, Skopelos Trails, is dedicated to restoring, maintaining and improving the ancient stone pathways, called calderimi, that are sprinkled across the island.
Parsons has written and published a book as well, called Skopelos Trails. It shows the paths for the island’s many walking and hiking trails. Parsons has provided detailed—almost step-by-step directions— for finding and following the paths either on your own or with guidance from her or her business partner and our guide, Emmanuel.
According to a post on Facebook just today, the local forestry department recently asked Skopelos Trails to provide them with details of all the closed trails.
In the post it says that Emmanuel had drawn in by hand 116 km of trails on the department’s terrain map. Clearly, Skopelos Trails knows its the land better than most.
Parson’s book also contains hand-drawn illustrated maps that appear alongside the directions and description of the Trails. The illustrations may not be drawn to scale and if a business was used as a landmark on the map, it may have changed, especially if you are using an older edition of the book.
The trails are marked and rated by level of difficulty and the trail we walked Wednesday night, the Coast to Coast Trail, is considered “not strenuous,” or at least that’s how Parsons described it to me in her reply to an email I had sent her as we were making arrangements. (Since I had a 7 a.m. ferry ride to catch the next morning, I wanted to make sure the three-hour Coast to Coast Trail would not wipe me out for the next day’s travel to Venice to see my daughter.)
With Parsons’ “not strenuous” description, we decided to sign up for the 25€ hike, but we opted to take the bus back later from Panormos to Skopelos Town instead of going to a restaurant with the other hikers. I would have loved to socialize more with the others, since during the hike we were able to visit for only a short while.
The plan was to meet at 5 pm at Kahili’s Bakery and Cafe down on the harbor front street or at 5:15 further up the hill near our apartment, where the calderimi, which started just down the hill a small distance, passed by.
As we stood near the telephone pole with a Skopelos Trails trail marker (a 3″- diameter white circle with a yellow hiking boot footprint), we began to hear huffing and puffing from an approaching group.
To our left, trudging up the hill with the entire town of Skopelos spread behind them as a backdrop, proceeded two couples from England; Anna, a young Athens native who lives in Skopelos; a woman from Skopelos who had built a brand new home in the mountains of Skopelos; and our guide, Emmanuel.
Our addition to the group included Mitch and I plus Grayson and Victoria Phillips, who is serving an artist residency at Skopart.
In total, there were eleven of us—quite a good number for an end-of-day stroll (and I use that term loosely) across the island.
The previous Thursday, according to the Skopelos Trails’ Facebook page, a group of five hiked the path starting at 9 a.m.
It would have ended in the heat of the day, so maybe an evening hike, with it’s cooler temperatures during the latter two-thirds of the hike, makes for a more tempting outing and attracts more participants.
TWe did stop occasionally during the hike— about five times. During our stops, we would take a photo, drink water, or refill our water bottles at a natural spring. There are several of these springs on the island and many islanders use them for their drinking water.
The water was cold and clean, Emmanuel assured us. Our bottles were nearly full, so we didn’t drink from the spring, but I wish I had. Should have tasted natural Greek spring water. How often do you get to do that? I did scoop up some of the icy water and rubbed it on my arms and neck for a cool-down, though.
We arrived right on schedule at 8:15 pm in Panormos, having traversed the island through olive groves, along stone-walked paths, on top of stone-bordered terraces, alongside pastures where goats and an occasional horse roamed.
The hike took a solid three hours and fifteen minutes. I’m writing this post in Venice; when I return to Skpelos, I’ll look into my copy of Skopelos Trails to see how many kilometers we covered. I’m guessing right now about five.
We also came upon five tiny and well-maintained Greek Orthodox churches. Our guide told us that many of the churches were built by families so their members would have a central location for burial. In at least one, a single candle flowed in the darkened nave.
I was tired when it was over. I would definitely label the hike “moderately strenuous.” It’s very rocky, and very steep in parts, and in many places we were walking in thigh-high grasses or on steep grades that were covered with a cushion of small, smooth leaves (a eucalyptus variety?) that made a few of us nearly fall.
Even though it was a challenging three hours, it was very enjoyable literally getting off the beaten path to see the rural Greek countryside, and rugged and forested mountains, which are particularly unique to Skopelos.
We also enjoyed meeting and visiting with people from around the world. As Judy, an English hiker from Bristol said, “It’s so interesting when people from all different parts of the world with different lives come together to connect in this way.”