This year, we went on holiday. Holiday is great, with relaxation, nice food, swimming, drinks... but sometimes more movement is necessary. We had checked out Mount Pantokrátor both in the guidebook and from our little 20hp boat, looming above Nisaki. It is the highest mountain on the gorgeous Greek island of Corfu, standing at 914/911/908/906m, spelt Pantokrátor/Pantocrator/ Pantokrátorus/Pandokrátor (all depending on source) and meaning “ruler of all” or “almighty”. Walking to the summit felt like a challenge, but not an excessive one as long as we left early enough in the intense July heat.
Information on the hike is sparse and poor on the internet, predominantly the same article rehashed in different places. The most useful accounts that we found were a couple of detailed personal descriptions on Tripadvisor, hidden amongst short pieces about the scariness of the drive to the summit. After a lot of research we concluded that trying to follow idyllic footpaths would probably be near to impossible to plan from the night before, but that walking from the village where we were staying would be fine. We used Google Maps to find a route, bought a pile of snacks (us: Italian maize biscuits, peanuts, apples; Sam: a huge local fruit and nut bar, fig pate, jelly sweets) and set our alarms for 6.15am. Preparation complete.
Hike in Numbers
Moving Time: 3:31:54
Total Time: 3:47:52
Calories (!): 955
Sam, my brother Sam, and I set off in the early light from Kalami, a village made famous by the Durrells and still pretty despite prolific tourism. The distance to Pantokrátor is not dissimilar to that from Kassiopi, and slightly further than from Nissaki. We tailored our route slightly to leave from our apartment above Kalami, hiking straight up to the main road rather than dropping through the village. This had mixed success; it's a nerve-racking road to walk along, sandwiched between a crash barrier over a steep drop, and the trucks thundering past, drivers honking and waving cheerfully, frappes in hand. Nevertheless, the views across to Albania from this height are stunning and the villages have a more authentic feel than the tourist oriented sites below.
At Kentroma we made the turn inland, through streets bright with geraniums. The climb began in earnest, up a tree-lined lane passing fields, farm houses, olive groves and of course the odd villa. The quiet road took us steadily up to Porta, a peaceful village. A well-reviewed restaurant, “The Old School” looks both nice and intriguing, but shut until dinner. The road vears up again, towards Megoulas. This hamlet was tiny and lifeless at the time we passed through, other than an insistently friendly little grey cat with a long face and big eyes. There is a big old mill house in Megoulas, derelict, but the millstones can still be seen leaning against each other, huge and rough, through the barred windows.
We took a track up from Megoulas, and that was the last we saw of civilisation for a while. It meanders round the hillsides, through course yellow plants and little rocky outcrops. As we walked, we could hear the rustles of lizards and snakes retreating from our footsteps, and flutters of crickets. Some flashed coral as they flew, then became invisible as they tucked their wings away on reaching the ground. This part of the walk was the most tranquil, no habitation around other than the abandoned village of Old Sinies below, just wildlife, open skies, and stunning views of Albania and Corfu..
After so long isolated in the hills above the coastline it was almost a shock to emerge onto a tarmacked road. Vehicle traffic was regular, bikers and walkers scarce. The last stretch felt long, despite cheerful assurances that “it was only ten minutes” from a Germanic family on their way back down. It was hard to get a gauge on where the top was, with the hillside appearing in and out of cloud. Some goats emerged out of the shrouds, looking quizzically down at us. We finally emerged to a chaos of parking arguments that made us happy to be without a car, and the stout legs of several radio masts that loom over the tiny monastery crowning the summit. It is all a bit surreal.
The monastery has stood in some form since the fourteenth century, and is still inhabited now. We wandered around the gardens, becoming surprisingly quickly accustomed to the mast squatting overhead, and entered the monastery itself. It is small, intimate, warm surroundings and cool temperatures. Paintings illustrate the walls and amazing pieces of beaten metalwork form internal doors. To enter, you must cover your shoulders, (and presumably more but that seemed to be all that was specified). We finished with a frappe at the cafe on hillside seats, where the clouds finally broke around the view.
There appear to be a few options to return down, but all involve at least some walking unless you hitch. We had enjoyed the 'up', and were happy to retrace our steps... to a point. Just after Porto we were feeling pretty weary, and stuck out a tentative thumb to a small car that passed by. A lovely couple from the UK stopped and happily squashed the three of us into their little back seat, dropping us five minutes from home. It was only the summit we were aiming for.
Birds Eagles? Buzzards? Serious bonus point to anyone who can identify the bird in this fuzzy photo, we'd love to hear from you; shrike – The quiet hillsides above Megoulas were dotted with scrubby bushes, and in some of these we saw pale, black streaked shrike, eyeing us suspiciously; hooded crows: hopping indolently in and out of the fog near the top, shrieking occasionally.
Insects crickets were everywhere, all different sizes and some with a slightly alarming habit of flying loudly into your face. Play it cool... On the descent we saw a couple of large praying mantis, swaying drunkenly on the path. Possibly European green mantis?
Reptiles at early afternoon we saw several big green lizards, possible Balkan Green or European Green. We also saw the tail end of a few snakes of varying sizes.
Plants the plant life was probably past its finest, in the heat of July. It still made an atmospheric backdrop to our hike, with seed heads standing jaggedly against the horizon.
If anyone can give us any further information on the wildlife in our photographs or on the island of Corfu, please comment or get in touch, especially for the 'eagle'. Thanks!
The Rough Guide to Corfu, Nick Edwards, 2003. Old, but still useful and very cheap now!
Walking the Corfu Trail: With Friends, Flowers and Food, John Waller, 2015
The Companion Guide to the Corfu Trail, www.corfutrailguide.com/ (Hilary Whitton Paipeti?)
Albarracin is considered one of the most beautiful towns in Spain, has a long and colourful history of human habitation and has been proposed as a world heritage site by UNESCO. During our first few weeks there, we had spent most of our time between the (also very beautiful) Piñas Rodenas forest, climbing on the boulders, and a small, windswept car park outside and above the town. Thus far, the majority of our cultural appreciation of Albarracin had been from this car park, which does provide a cracking view but is a little lacking in intimacy. We were running low on skin, money, friends, and food. It felt like a good time to do the tourist thing.
The 25 Bosses circles les Trois Pignons, the vast playground of woodland, beaches and boulders within Fontainebleau forest, taking in the high points along the way. It translates (less romantically) as something like the 25 bumps. We had the walk pegged, in all our wisdom, as a good rest day or rainy day activity. As it turns out it isn't really either unless you have a pretty decent hiking fitness, or don't mind sliding down wet jumbles of rocks - although we managed it, not objecting to the latter, our fitness is probably substandard and we definitely felt it the next day.
An idiot abroad.
As a way to really experience the size and variety of landscape in les Trois Pignons, it couldn't be better. We went on a journey, along higgledy-piggledy rocky paths, through deep, quiet, shadowy forest, emerging to sunny hillsides speckled with purple dots of heather and then more forest that bordered on the tropical, steamy and lush with small sprawling chestnut trees. The viewpoints are epic and almost definitely worth the climbs, especially to see the ring of hilltops that we had already topped, and the surrounding fields spread away.