One more time, the arrival of Easter Holidays found us planning the Easter Tour. We were only two this time, so the final destination was quickly on the table of the negotiations. The Immortal Villages of Tzoumerka mountains. These villages during the Ottoman Empire years were the home for many Klephts (Anti-Ottoman insurgents who retreated into the mountains during the 15th century and they carried on a continuous war against Ottoman rule) who were taking advantage of precipitous nature of the area and kept causing trouble until the Sultan gave their villages a sort of independence.
Those legendary mountains are very well known for their beautiful scenery and their rich history. We had 6 days to go there by bike and explore the area (a small part of the west side). Though the initial route was to cross the mountain from Melissourgi Village to Theodoriana via a very rough trail, we had to cancel it and take the easy option due to the risk of getting stuck in the snow on those big altitudes.
It was a great adventure full of great moments and breath taking scenery that left a bitter-sweet taste in my mouth. You can see the past glory fading in those historic villages. Rich people have built huge houses that look out of place and visit only once a year, the population is ever-shrinking and the beautiful traditional stone houses are starting to be replaced by new boring modern houses. As the modern civilization is more and more city-centered, all those mountain villages – monuments of our past will become theme parks of our collective memories.
This has become our ritual. Just before the departure we make all the fine adjustments so we can have a smooth journey. Here, in Thodoros house, I am fixing my DIY stand.
For Touring cyclists that want to visit Patras or Peloponnese or from Peloponnese want to visit the rest of Greece, this road has been extremely integral. But being narrow, with big inclinations, heavy traffic and a steep cliff on its side, it made me scared and stressed out every time I was crossing it. Fortunately, a new national road just opened and this part is almost free of cars nowadays. What a joy!!!
So far the trip is very relaxing, with very few cars and a flat road. We decided to have a small break on a small field close to the road to eat some spinach pie. I love small breaks like this, and that makes it harder for me to sit on the saddle and ride again.
This is a beautiful pass between big rocks and colorful trees. It is just before our first big stop, Agrinio city. Unfortunately heavy traffic doesn’t allow you to enjoy it properly.
After a very long break in Agrinio city eating ice cream and drinking coffee in small coffee place, we reached Amfilochia, a nice small city by the sea. We had to ride for half an hour around until we found a proper place for sleep. During the night a van stopped by and few people went out with a torch to look for something. I don’t think they saw us, but they did wake us up.
After some easy kilometres, we found Arta, the last big city before the Tzoumerka mountains. There, we found few more friends of Thodoros and we stayed for a walk in city’s pedestrian road, a coffee (almost impossible to find a free table in the city’s coffee shops this time of the year), some eastern cookies and finally proper lunch in Thodoros’ friend house. They offered their car to take us closer to Tzoumerka, but as true cyclists we stick to the plan. Only bikes.
After the first taste of Tzoumerka’s intense inclination, the sun was setting and we had to start looking for a place to sleep. If you need silence and zero disturbances, cemeteries are pretty good for stealth camping. This is me enjoying the serenity of the place.
I think this was the hardest day of the trip. As we were climbing the steep gradient roads we could see in the distance our destination, the mighty Tzoumerka mountains. I could feel my sweat dripping from my face as I was struggling on the slopes and I could only think of one thing…cold water!
How this is possible! While I was on foot pushing the bike on the hill I see Thodoros sitting next to a spring waiting for me. What a moment! I left the bike and put my head under the cold water from the spring. We ate some more spinach pie and I was ready for more climbs!
We are in Pramanta village! The biggest settlement of Tzoumerka. Pramanta is right under the magisterial summit of Stroggoula. We went to the local super market to buy some biscuits and bananas and then…
..went to the main square of the village where there is the perennial plane tree, the historic fountain Arapis (from 1887) and the beautiful church of St. Paraskevi. We had a Greek coffee and rest our tired legs.
The village of Pramanta is literally inside a thick fir forest. So it wasn’t hard work to find a magical clearing like this. We found it few hours before sun set and we have enough time to enjoy the silence along with forest sounds.
This was my favorite village. Melissourgi. It was a small village surrounded by huge mountains. It had amazing view over the mountains, beautiful squares (one was big enough to host football games) and friendly people (only 20 permanent residents were left). I didn’t have much time to explore and appreciate this beautiful village as much as I wanted, but I promised myself to come back as soon as possible.
Melissourgi looks like it’s the only high altitude flat place on this dense mountainous area. And that makes it very special. Especially for cyclists that appreciate nice scenery and quiet roads like me.
A small stop in Agnanta village to check our map. As true old fashioned cyclists we didnt use any electronic means to navigate ourselves, only traditional maps and some knowledge from friendly local people.
We are close to Katarraktis village (means waterfall). A beautiful little village surrounded by powerful waterfalls and springs.
I enjoyed this place so much. We sat for the main square for one hour or two and ate cake and dry nuts. You can see the big mountains buried in clouds right behind the houses in the pic.
As we were told in good seasons, especially before crisis, this green square was covered with people from all over Greece who were coming to eat some food in traditional tavernas here, enjoy the beautiful scenery and the fresh mountainous air. This time of the year the village is quiet with few residents drinking coffee in the main coffee shop (previous pic).
Possibly the finest part of the trip was the gravel road from Katarraktis to Voulgareli village (it is the gravel road you see at your left right after you enter the village). It has some tricky parts that can confuse you, but if you know the route is an unforgettable route. Zero cars, thick fir forests, mountains as far as you can see.
This is the highest point of the gravel part. The pics don’t do justice to this place. It is definitely one of the 3 best ‘cycling routes’ I have done so far.
One of the highlights of our trip the St George Monastery (founded in the early 18 century). This was it’s ‘garden’ with two crystal clear water springs. Everything about this monastery was beautiful and fairy tale like. In 1811, In it’s church the War leaders of Tzoumerka and Rathovizion signaled the start of the Greek War of Independence.
The church in Voulgareli’s main square. We sat here briefly for a quick snack.
After a good sleep in a nice spot after Voulgareli village close to the road with a small river running by, a rude awaking at 6 o clock from the rain made us start the journey home earlier than we expected. I can’t say that enjoyed the 3 hours of riding under the heavy rain, but at least the steep gradients seemed easier without the sun.
After hours of climbing up and down hard hills we are finally in Arta again. Without loosing too much time we keep pushing until we are in Amfilochia city to enjoy some nuts and chocolate. This is where we decided to skip the stops and go straight home. Covering 220 km in one day was probably the longest continuous ride I ‘ve done with a loaded bike.
When we reached Agrinio the sun was setting and we knew we would ride in the dark. We sat in the only open souvlaki place we found and ate until we could barely move. Then, we sat on our saddles again and rode home. As you can see this is how my bike looks from behind. A stick with a bright light, a reflective jacket and an other red light underneath. You can’t be ridiculous enough on High traffic roads! The more you look like a circus on the road, the more safe you are! After more than 20 hours, we have covered 220 km and we were safe back home in Patras.
It was a very hard and tiring journey full of beautiful images, sounds, smells. The mighty Tzoumerka are indeed mountains full of pulsing history and vibrant nature that begs you to come and explore them by bicycle. I will never forget them.