A rustling sound nearby catches our attention. Two birds, perched on the same branch of an olive tree laden with fruit, are fluttering their wings, but before we manage to lift our smartphones to capture the moment, they disappear.
We continue our walk, trying to identify the wild herbs growing along the length of a dirt path surrounded by low Mediterranean shrubs, scattered olive trees, acacias and pines.
We’re high up on Faskomilia Hill in Vouliagmeni, and the sage plants that gave the hill its name (the Greek word for “sage” is “faskomilo”) are not quite as abundant as one would expect, but we come across more and more bunches of them as we hone our skills of observation.
It’s quiet, and only now and then do we come across others who are also enjoying this little-known “balcony,” located close to the main coastal road of Poseidonos Avenue yet far enough away so that the hum of the traffic below does not reach us.
The hill attracts runners and mountain-bikers, too, but most people come here for the amazing sea views. Looking down, we can see below the whole of the Lemos peninsula, the empty beaches, the calm waters of Lake Vouliagmeni, and the Saronic Gulf stretching out into the distance.
Access to the nearly 300-acre park is relatively easy, and possible from two different spots: either from Limanakia, at the 25th kilometer marker on Poseidonos Avenue, or from Argonafton Street, which is the one we recommend. To reach Argonafton, turn off Poseidonos Avenue just after the main square in Vouliagmeni, then take Panos Street until you can turn right onto Sapfous Street. As you head uphill, you’ll find Argonafton Street, which leads to a small parking area and the start of a network of dirt pathways that branches out over the hill. There are many different trails, but please be aware that they don’t all connect.
To keep your bearings, it’s a good idea to remember that turning right at the forks in the trails will, when you’re heading away from the parking area, lead you first seaward and then take you back in a circle towards the center of the hill. There isn’t much shade along the way, but at this particular time of year that isn’t a concern. Make the most of the explorer that dwells within us all and, with the Saronic Gulf at your feet to help guide you, wander freely over the hillside.
Bring food and water! There are no natural springs or water sources on the hill, and nowhere to buy snacks, either.
Soon after you first set off on the trail from the end of Argonafton Street, you’ll see a path to your right, lined with prickly pear plants, that overlooks Lake Vouliagmeni. You’ll come across a wooden bench, one of many to be found at various spots along your way; this one is ideal for gazing down at the Lemos peninsula and at Fleves, an islet that was once a naval fortress. There are also small rubbish bins located regularly along the routes – for the most part, the hill is clean and well-kept.
We turned right at the first fork, and continued going right at the next one as the path took a gentle route downwards towards the sea, with views down on the coastal road above Limanakia, before leading us back to the intersection we started from.
We turned right at the next fork as well, where the vegetation gradually becomes thicker and taller for a small stretch, with eucalyptus trees looming overhead. Heading down towards the sea and then doubling back up the hill, we enjoyed a two-hour walk and wonderful views from the different little vista points – natural “balconies” with benches overlooking the Saronic Gulf.
Lake Vouliagmeni: temporarily closed, but always beautiful
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Lake Vouliagmeni (which you can admire from many different spots on Faskomilia Hill) will remain closed to the public until further notice. Named a site of outstanding natural beauty by the Ministry of Culture and included on Greece’s national NATURA 2000 list, this special geological phenomenon has it all: imposing rock formations towering above it, verdant vegetation ringing it and a labyrinthine cave system of underwater tunnels that plunge beneath it to unknown depths.
The lake owes its current form to the collapse, some 2000 years ago, of what was a vast cavern due to corrosion by the lake’s thermal waters. Over 3000 meters of the rest of the cave system have been explored to date, but so far its total size is still unknown.
The brackish waters of the lake are constantly replenished by seawater and by subterranean thermal springs. With a constant temperature of between 22◦C and 29◦C, the waters offer a unique wellness treatment throughout the year, one enriched by the miniscule Garra rufa fish which also inhabit these waters. When visitors enter the water, the fish hurry to welcome them, carrying out a gentle if ticklish skin exfoliation process.
Among the other living organisms that help make up the lake’s ecosystem, the marine anemone Paranemonia Vouliagmeniensis, first discovered here in the 1980s, stands out.
This article was first published in Greek on kathimerini.gr