Green Immersion in Attica

With green parks, forest and mountains to explore near the capital, Athenians are spoiled for choice when it comes to nature activities.


TATOI ROYAL ESTATE
A spectacular natural spot, only 27k from central Athens, the lush green Tatoi Estate on the southeast-facing slope of Mt Parnitha is an expanse of thickly wooded forest.  Aleppo pine, oak and Arbutus trees abound, but you’ll also see olive, strawberry and plane trees. Outdoorsy Athenians go there for a breather, mainly at weekends, to explore over 90k of unmarked paths that wind through the forest. Europe’s smallest summer palace (4,000 sq.m.) – King George I of Greece wanted nature to feature as the estate’s key element – was built in 1874. Greece’s royal family summered here up to 1948 and later made it their permanent home, until the Greek state seized the property in 1973, following a constitutional referendum that abolished the monarchy. Tatoi Estate is ideal for cycling, hiking, jogging or, weather permitting, an outdoor picnic (the old vineyard, now a grassy patch surrounded by olive trees, is a particularly attractive spot), although local visitors usually prefer to satisfy their post-exercise appetite at nearby tavernas such as Leonidas, Thea and Aghios Mercourios, which serve grilled meats (the lamb chops are especially popular).

INFO

Open all week, daylight hours only. The Tatoi Friends Association offers tours at weekends, starting at 10:00 (payment by donation). The meeting point is beside the yellow gate of the Lefkas Street entrance. For more info or to arrange a private tour, call (+30) 697.594.7248 • www.tatoi.org

PARNITHA, THE HIGHEST MOUNTAIN OF ATTICA
Leaving behind the district of Thrakomakedones as you start your ascent of Parnitha mountain (1,413m), against a spectacular backdrop of Attica and shimmery strips of sea, you enter one of the city’s green treasures, a magnet for fitness fanatics and nature-lovers especially at weekends. You’re sure to see them: hardcore mountain bikers putting on helmets; runners in team t-shirts preparing for some serious training, speed walkers strutting their stuff; small groups paying attention to curbside rock-climbing lessons; even one or two miscreants, like the elderly couple caught red-handed picking wild greens, being reprimanded by a ranger. And although the mountain teems with human life at weekends, you’re just as likely to come across a Cervus elaphus, the mountain’s red deer, as it forages for food, or perhaps a golden eagle hovering overhead.

Covering a huge area of over 30,000 hectares, Parnitha is home to 132 species of birds, 42 types of mammals and around 1,100 species of plants. Despite the devastating fire that burned 5,600 hectares of forestland in 2007, life on the mountain definitely goes on. A good way to start your exploration is by visiting either of the two refuges, Bafi and Flabouri, both of which offer standard or tailored packages for groups as small as two.

HIGHLIGHTS

WALKING Try one of the following walks: Aghia Triada – Skipiza – Mola (2 hrs), Bafi refuge – Houni Gorge – Thrakomakedones (2 hrs), Mola – Saloniki – Avlonas (3½ hrs), or Fyli -Keladonas – Pan’s Cave – Arma – Moni Kleiston.

• MOUNTAIN BIKING The best trail is the circular one beginning at Kithara (Tatoi) and Metochi – 
Aghios Georgios – Tamilthi.

• 
CLIMBING Mikri Varasova, Korakofolia and Petra are the most popular climbing spots. More experienced climbers can attempt Arma and Flabouri summits.


• FLABOURI refuge Yiannis Lykidis, tel (+30) 697.2256.215.


• BAFI refuge Stephanos Sidiropoulos, tel (+30) 210.240.3556.


• MAPS by Terrain and Anavasi  (both in English) are highly recommended.

MT HYMETTUS
The Hymettus mountain range, just a 20-minute drive from downtown Athens, is ideal for relaxation, walks and workouts, which can also be combined with cultural discovery. Hymettus (highest peak 1,026m) comprises a precious ecosystem with over 100 species of birds and an extensive network of pathways (many signposted), ancient and religious ruins as well as caves.
Hymettus, nicknamed “crazy mountain” (Trellovouni), is popular with joggers, hikers, mountain bikers, picnickers and groups of excited kids on school excursions to plant nurseries and botanic gardens.

One particularly interesting half-hour walk begins at the 11th century Kaisariani Monastery on the western slope. For a 2 euro entrance fee, you can tour the site inhabited by monks until the early 1830s.
You can then follow the path up to the intriguing Church of the Ascension (Analipsi). In about 15 minutes you will arrive at the ruins of the Fragkomonastiro church and the restored church of Taxiarches, where the view is simply awesome.


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