Hiking in Athens’ Parnitha Mountain
Athens gets a lot of credit for the man made stuff. And rightfully so. All those temples and grand structures are a measure of man’s excellence, serving as a beacon for humanity even today. Amidst the cascading waves of modernity, Athens still retains that elusive jai ne se quoi, almost effortlessly.
But few, if any, ever explore the city’s full capabilities. Athens, after all, is a city that is effectively surrounded by mountains on one side and the Aegean on the other. It combines alpine and sea perfectly and all within an hour’s (half if it’s August) reach.
The geography of Athens has it sitting at the basin of a natural fortification of about 5 mountains. And given that Greeks are very environment conscious, the landscape is pristine (apart from the odd charred trees from some summer blaze), the flora and fauna thrive and the air quality is superb. Not many people get around to it, but Athens is somewhat of an underrated hiking destination. You heard it here first, folks.
Mount Parnitha is the pick of the bunch. At 1,400 metres altitude it’s certainly no slouch. Despite that, the terrain and inclination are more than do-able, even for a beginner. And the fact that Parnitha is in fact a designated National Park (the only European capital with such close proximity to one), well… that’s just the cherry on top. More than 300 square metres of fir and pine trees scent the air, even in winter. An approximate 30 different mammal species reside there, including deer, rabbits and foxes. As well as about 120 avian species and close to 1,000 plants endemic to Parnitha, alone.
Parnitha has been inhabited for a good 4,000 years, and is littered with caves. One of them (Panos Cave) is said to be the home of the mythical Pan-the half human half goat God of merriment and deviousness. Stalagtites and stalagmites adorn the walls, and it is worth noting that a plethora of ancient artefacts was recovered, including oil lamps dating back several eons.
That’s not the only sight to see, though. In addition to the caves, Parnitha is home to a sizeable amount of churches (of course) and monasteries, many of which are still operational. And on top of that, there is the Filis fortress. This 4th BC century edifice was re-built a couple times during the years but it stands pat as an observatory tower from which to survey any incoming threats.
There are several paths with varying degrees of difficulty (there is a funicular, fyi), ranging from 3,5 to 4,5 miles in distance, although there are even more unchartered hiking trails, no doubt for more seasoned naturalists.
Good thing for those two refuges, then. Bafi and Flamouri, each one with a capacity of over 50 people, offer some much needed respite, and some stunning views of the surrounding area.
One of the best winter and fall activities in Athens, for sure. During the summer, go right ahead and hit the Athenian Riviera.