Greece by bike: from the Adriatic Sea to the Aegean Sea
Crossing continental Greece by bike, leaving the Adriatic Sea behind to reach the Aegean Sea coast, wandering through the mountain roads of the Tzoumerka National Park, watching Meteora's pinnacles and sleeping under the starry skies of Thessaly... this adventure is dedicated to whom knows how to admire the mountains at the horizon while eating Mediterranean specialities, to whom loves the steep climbs but at the same time appreciates the plain, for gravel lovers and paved road admirers. This is an adventure about Greece, freedom and bicycle...
Table of content
- Continental Greece by bike
- Greece by bike, coast to coast
- Getting to Greece by bike. The ferry to Igoumenitsa
- Ioannina and Ali Pascia from Telepene's
- Greece by bike: in the Tzoumerka National Park
- In the heart of the Tzoumerka mountains
- Why visit the Monastery of Kipina?
- Kalarites, the stone village
- Aromanian shepherds and silent mountains
- Greece by bike, cycling towards Meteora
- Visiting Meteora, UNESCO World Heritage
- Thessaly and melons
- Greece by bike: dreaming about the Aegean Sea
- How to reach the Sporades Islands from Volos
Perfect for a one-week travel, this itinerary of Greece by bike develops mainly on paved roads, with some crazy steep ascent on cement.
Getting to Greece by bike. The ferry to Igoumenitsa
Igoumenitsa is one of the busiest docking points in order to reach the nation of Epicurus through the sea, and it's the starting point of our itinerary through continental Greece by bike. Small and human-size city, Igoumenitsa overlooks the Adriatic Sea, where the colourful sunsets paint its long summer evenings.
From the city centre, you start climbing towards the first peaks hiding the horizon, riding along the busy motorway which gets away from the sea. We want it to be a real adventure, so we alternate some gravel country roads and paved roads, meeting a lot of Greek wild dogs...
The first day is right away a discovery day: this country boasts one of the most mountainous territories of all Europe, with 80% of the country covered in mountains, and the temperature, especially during the summer, can be really high!Getting away from the port, we soon meet the village of Agia Marina, formed by just a few houses. After a steep descent, the road gets higher again towards Mesoboyni (Μεσοβούνι), where the orthodox church and its porch are a perfect chilling area during the hottest hours of the day.
From this village, the itinerary becomes a panoramic gravel descent, giving a sense of getting into the belly of this nation through a side entrance. While you get higher, you get a 360° view around you, into the silence and the dust of this corner of Greece. By bike, you can reach the crossing before getting down again to Gkrika, where a typical Greek tavern can help fighting the hunger.
The byzantine Paramythia awaits us a few kilometres further, with its lively streets and the Koimesis church dating back to 1200.
Ioannina and Ali Pascia from Telepene's
The track leads us through the Mediterranean scrub of Piraeus getting closer to Ioannina, the biggest city of the region. After ups and downs through mountain villages and endless horizons, we're cycling in the authentic Greece, where tourism doesn't arrive, despite the archaeological site of Dodona's Theatre.
At the foot of Mount Tomaros there's the oldest and most important religious site, where the most famous (maybe more than the Pythia in Delphi) Zeus and the Mother Goddess oracle lived. The big Dodona Theatre (hosting up to 21000 people) was built in the II millennium B.C. by Pyrrhus, the same king who defied the Romans with his elephants.
The main resources of this region are agriculture and pastoralism, and the average age is pretty high, judging by the people we meet. From these first ups and downs, we climb down to Lake Pamvotis. The city is lively and full of young people; modernity here melted with the traditions of the old and austere orthodox monasteries.
The main building of the city is the castle dating back to the Byzantine Empire. We know Ioannina thanks to Ali Pascia from Telepeni, who became the governor of the city and could form a reign independent from the Turkish domination, before being killed together with his children by the Ottoman sultan. Walking through the city streets you can still breathe that air of freedom and independence long denied.
Greece by bike: in the Tzoumerka National Park
Who could tell that in Greece there's a smaller Stelvio Pass?
Leaving the lively and dynamic Ioannina behind we cycle away from the upland where the city lays, 480 m high, to get closer to the higher peaks of the mountains into the Tzoumerka National Park. By bike, cycling down a fast descent crossing the river Arachthos, a long series of hairpin turns begins, getting higher and higher and entering officially the Tzoumerka, National Park since 2009.
High mountains, inhabited and lonely settings where you can meet a lot of shepherds, in the Tzoumerka National Park you can visit something like 47 small villages, many of which count less than a dozen inhabitants. Among the many beauties, we must make a special mention to the river Arachthos Canyon, crossed by many stone bridges. In the park, you can visit 5 places protected as traditional villages, together with many monasteries, like the most suggestive one, the Monastery of Kipina.
In the heart of the Tzoumerka mountains
After having cycled on the 19 hairpin turns - not without a particular effort - getting higher on the mountain, you finally reach the first houses of Kédros and, just after, the village of Petroboyni, where you can stop at a cafe. The view from here is breathtaking, letting you imagine what awaits further on these mountains so little known. After the small Petroboyni, you'll only meet two little centres, Proselio and Mystràs, before reaching the beautiful Kalarytes. This road is very difficult, with many gradient changes and hairpin turns, steep roads overlooking the sea... In Proselio you can stop for the last coffee, while in Mystras you must fill your water bottles before climbing towards the Monastery of Kipina.
Why visit the Monastery of Kipina?
Nestled in a rocky wall overlooking the river Kalaritikos, the Monastery of Kipina is one of those places which lets you speechless, for its beauty and position. To reach its entrance from the street you need to climb the protected but still steep stairs on the valley down. You can park your bike under the small entrance arch. The Monastery was built in 1212 and you can reach it by the original wooden bridge.
Today the Monastery doesn't host any monk, but inside you can still visit some rooms, the old church with pretty decorations and orthodox icons and, for those not suffering from vertigo, you can take a look at the stream down.
Kalarites, the stone village
From the monastery, the road keeps climbing on these rocks. Riding is very demanding here, but gaining those meters is a gift since we can enjoy some breathtaking views on this remote area of continental Greece. By bike you only have to keep pushing on the pedals, conquering, metre after metre, the village of Kalarites, one of the most beautiful inside the Tzoumerka National Park.
Not so many people know that from this very village in the heart of Epirus, the history of the Bulgari family - worldwide known in the luxury field - started.
Sotirios, the company founder, at the end of 1800 produced silver objects in Kalarites, the Aromenian village of the Tzoumerka National Park, 1200 m high. In 1881 Sotirios came to Italy, in Naples and then in Rome, and in a few years started his empire.
Today only 20 people live in Kalarites all the year long, while during summer the village gets crowded by tourists and emigrants coming back home. The main feature of this village is that all the buildings are made of stone. The most important moment of this village was the XVIII century when the market and the city flourished. Today you can visit a museum telling this old story about silver and markets.
Aromanian shepherds and silent mountains
Above Kalarites there's a small football field, from which you get a stunning view around... Before getting on the road again, climbing again, we take a last look at the village below, asking ourselves how and whether it will survive in the next years...
The cured asphalt climbs in a bucolic and silent setting, reaching soon some houses. When suddenly, some shepherd dogs come closer, pointing at Nala (which as usual is indifferent). A boy with sunburned skin and icy eyes comes forward, speaking a strange language which is different from Greek. Ramon, an Aromenian shepherd, knows some English phrases and asks us where we come from and where we're going. We talk for some time, and then he says goodbye to follow his flock high in the mountains.
You'll be wondering who the Aromenians are...
The ethnic group of Aromenians lives in the southern area of the Balcans and speaks Aromenian, an oriental Romantic idiom. This population was born from the cultural meeting between Romans and the locals from Center-Southern Europe.
The last climb of the day leads us to almost 2000 m, among rocky formations, low clouds and plants. The tourists rarely reach this point, and the beauty of the Tzoumerka today is all for us. We drastically climb down to 1000 m, dreaming about summery temperatures. A roe deer waits for us at the entrance of the woods, takes a quick sight of us, then runs away.
Greece by bike, cycling towards Meteora
Our bicycle tour in Greece leads us to a completely uninhabited valley, where some picnic areas have been built for tired travellers during their movements. After some kilometres and many meeting with turtles along the way, we turn towards North-East and the village of Krani, which we will not reach.
At the foot of the fast ascent towards the village, we find a tavern with delicious typical dishes, and we can't say no to a Greek dinner. The last real ascent of this trip through Greece by bike is not far: the road rears up mercilessly, in order to overtake the mountain towards Kastania, the Meteora pinnacles and the plain of Thessaly.
Our drone flies the woods than while landing it touches the electricity cables and fells on the ground, fortunately uninjured (only two propellers broken, duly replaced by Leo!). We're finally in Kastania, where the lively main square hosts many people. We reach a cafe to have a Greek coffee... we deserve it after the western part of the Tzoumerka park. From this village, after a lot of ups and downs, we finally reach the flat region of Thessaly, where the pinnacles of Meteora are.
Visiting Meteora, UNESCO World Heritage
One of the most known and visited sites in continental Greece is Meteora, the stunning religious buildings on big rocky formations. The city of Kalambaka is the starting point for the visit of these monasteries. Only 6 of all 24 declared UNESCO site in 1988 are still habited (you can visit 7 of them).
The bicycle is a good friend for this kind of visit, with a pleasant ring without having to use buses or taxi (you can follow our Meteora track). This area of Greece was a famous destination for many ascetics and hermits from the XI century, then with the Turkish invasion in the XIV century, these peaks became very famous.
These are the seven monasteries which you can visit:
- The Sacred Monastery of Varlaam
- The Sacred Monastery of Rousanou
- Agia Barbara
- Agios Nikolaos
- Agios Stefanos
- Aghia Triada
Every monastery has a ticketed entrance, regulated by opening hours.
- The Monastery of Agia Triada is the oldest one, dating back to 1476;
- The Monastery of Agios Nikolaos is the smallest and lays on an 80 m high pinnacle. To reach it, you have to climb 143 steps and an 85 steps stair excavated in the rocks;
- The Monastery of Agios Stefanos is run by orthodox nuns, like the Roussanou one, while Meteora is the biggest one;
- The word Meteora giving the name to the UNESCO site means "suspended in the air", precisely like the religious sites appear.
Thessaly and melons
Meteora is a bucolic place, out of time, where mysticism and tourism perfectly integrate. After a visit, it's time to get back on the road towards the Aegean Sea, crossing the old historic region of Thessaly.
This area, mainly dedicated to the agriculture, goes from the Pindus Mountains, the superb geometry of Mount Olympus with its National Park and the coasts of the Aegean Sea. A tangle of secondary and gravel roads among melon fields, cotton and tobacco give a touch of colours to our pretty boring passage in the area of Thessaly. By bike, there are many long and boring straight roads and some fun gravel roads... Big trucks bring the fruits from the fields to the warehouses, carrying tons of melons: we are offered with some, guaranteeing many juicy lunches for the next days.
From Kalambaka, we reach Trikala which, following the Greek tradition, is the place where Asclepius was born.
Trikala appears as a lively city, rich in cycling roads, cafes and shops of all kinds. Crossing it by bicycle is pleasant, and buying some fresh bread, getting a cold coffee (very famous in Greece) and some sweet treats is highly suggested.
While we get deeper into Thessaly, the mountains of the Tzoumerka are a far memory: the plain looks endless, without any obstacle, and with old villages sleeping and often empty... In Itea we visit the Agriculture and tractors museum, celebrating the centre of the economy and business of the region.
The exhibition hosts many tractors, old and modern, like the history of this area and the evolution of the techniques. The age of this village is pretty high, but we're not shocked: the young must have run away, to find a job in bigger cities like Trikala o Kalambaka for tourism or other activities.
Greece by bike: dreaming about the Aegean Sea
The main section of our trip through continental Greece by bike is over, but the next one will be a surprise. The plain of Thessaly gives us many beautiful views on fields, cotton, orange melons and summer sunsets...
Avoiding the city of Larissa, which boasts some ruins of an ancient theatre and a fortress, this Greek cycling route follows for a while the river Enipeas, which runs towards the Mediterranean Sea.
From the plain, this track finally starts climbing again to the small hills before the sea. We change gear and sweat a lot, before reaching the immense blue of the sea, apparently still despite the time running away inexorably. We overtake Farsala without visiting it. To this ancient Greece city, considered by Homer the Capital of Achille's father reign, the American writer Hilary Bell has dedicated a trilogy.
Continuing our bicycle touring itinerary through continental Greece by bike, we reach Velestino, natal city of Rigas Feraios, a national hero. From here we cannot find any cycling alternative, so we have to use the main road to Volos, coming from Larissa, breathing the polluted air...
Although we try to escape from this kind of motorway through secondary road, the A1 seems to attract us like a magnet. We finally leave this main road to get into peripheric ones, towards the Aegean Sea, through a maze of cycling small roads in the salty air of Volos.
How to reach the Sporades Islands from Volos
Volos is a city sworn to commerce more than tourism. But from its port, you can easily reach the Sporades Islands by ferry. These islands can be divided into Northern (Skiathos, Skopelos and Alonissos) and Southern (Samos and Ikaria).
There are mainly two ferry companies offering this service: Hellenic Seaways/Blue Star Ferries and Anes Ferries which, all year long and with many possibilities, connect the islands. A one-way ticket with a bike to Alonissos (which we chose to visit) costs 30 to 35€. If you travel with a dog you'll be happy to know that there isn't any extra fee (updated in December 2019). The trip from Volos to Alonissos takes about 2 hours and 30 minutes.
Visiting Alonissos by bike and other means of transportation
Alonissos is the furthest island you can reach from Volos. It's in the Aegean Sea and is part of the first Greek naturalistic reserve, because of its National and the Northern Sporades Sea Park, created in 1992. The mission of this park is to preserve the marine and land areas in the biggest European park, home for the rare Mediterranean Monk Seal.
Alonissos by bicycle is easy but also demanding: the hinterland is mainly hilly, and to reach the most remote beaches you'll have to climb and overcome some difficult par both going and coming back...
We must say, though, that reaching those areas by bike could be one of the most satisfying goals, and it's priceless. If you don't want to cycle in this area, you have some alternative means of transportation, like motorbike rental, or a car rental in Patitiri.
Which beaches to visit in Alonissos?
In one week on the island of Alonissos, we visited some beautiful beaches, almost deserted although it was July, and we truly enjoyed the spirit of this island.
- Vamvakies Beach is elongated and narrow and is near Steni Vala. This long gravel stripe has little shadow areas and a crystal clear sea. This beach is in the eastern part of the island, n the emerged land of Peristeria.
- The small Megali Ammos Bay can be easily reached from Patitiri, being on the southern part of the island too. The beach is one of the few spots where to sight, being lucky, the monk seal. Peaceful and quiet.
- Yalia Beach, isolated, can be reached by overtaking the old city of Alonissos. The peculiarity of this place is the presence of a mill, erected on the transparent bay.
- Agii Anargirii Beach can be reached by bicycle directly or adding to the ride a stunning trekking leading, before climbing down to the beach, to the panoramic church of Agii Anargirii. Next to the bucolic inlet, you can find another beautiful place, Tourkoneri Beach.
When to go to Alonissos
The best period to visit Alonissos is the end of spring and the beginning of summer or autumn since the prices get lower, and the climate less aggressive, allowing to cycle and swim without suffering the real heat and meeting too many tourists.
This itinerary through continental Greece by bike is only a sample of the many beauties of this nation and could be the starting point for an adventure through a country which has much to offer, from culture to food, from the Mediterranean hospitality to beautiful and stunning views.
- Ioannina, the capital of the Epirus region on Lake Pamvotis, Veli Pascia's Mosque and Castle
- The ancient Theatre of Dodoni (entrance fee is 2€ - opening hours: 8 A.M. to 3 P.M. - updated in December 2019)
- Tzoumerka National Park with its gravel roads, the little Stelvio, the villages and monasteries
- The Monastery in Kipina nestled in the rocks and the river Kalaritikos' valley
- Meteora, UNESCO world heritage site, a breathtaking view
- Alonissos and the Northern Sporades where to relax, swim in the crystal clear waters and - with some luck - sight the monk seal
- There are many touristic facilities all around Greece, except the most remote areas in Epirus or the Thessalian Plain, where tourism isn't present. For the majority of Western European travellers, cycling in Greece is pretty cheap (especially avoiding the touristic season during summer), and the places to stay usually respect high standards. From pensions to campings, sleeping in Greece is easy, especially in the most touristic areas along the coasts.
- Wild camping in Greece is easy in the mountains and in the remote areas, even if it's only allowed in some areas. You can read our article about Cycling Greece, especially the paragraph dedicated to camping. Please remember to always clean after your stop and leave the area better than you've found it. A valid alternative is asking directly to privates to place your tent in their private property or field: nobody denies this possibility
- There are some alternative places to stay like Airbnb apartments, which you can find on discount if you're not registered yet.
- Greece offers many Mediterranean specialities, with many tasty vegetables, olive oil, cheese (particularly Feta cheese), and spices. A very good dish you can find almost everywhere is Moussaka, a sort of Italian Eggplant Parmesan. Try some Greek Salads, some fresh fish on the coast, Pita Gyros (similar to a Kebab roll), Souvlaki (meat skewers), and Baklava or Ravani as dessert.
- There is a long Greek tradition connected to wine production: try Retsina. Finally, you cannot miss the Ouzo tasting in a typical Ouzery and greek coffee.
- Visit Greece: the official tourism website with many information to organize your bicycle trip to Greece.
- Some books to read to make even more special your trip to Greece by bike:
- Treasury of Greek Mythology: Classic Stories of Gods, Goddesses, Heroes and Monsters, by Donna Jo Napoli
- An Octopus in My Ouzo: Loving Life on a Greek Island, by Jennifer Barclay
- The Corfu Trilogy, by Gerald Durrell
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