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  1. #1
    Junior Member Jim Picardy's Avatar
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    Greece - can anyone advise?

    Hi,

    I've been tourist cycling for a few years now, and this year I'm off to Greece. To be honest, I'm a little nervous about cycling in Greece and I'm looking for tips. For one thing, I'm not sure about what route to take. I've been using Google Earth, "real" maps and Ride with GPS, but I really need to hear from people who know the country.
    I'm arriving in Thessaloniki and making my way southwards (the exact destination depends on my wife's progress in a sailing boat but it'll be somewhere in the northern Peloponnese). There are two places I'd ideally like to go to (Meteora and Delphi) but I'm not fixed about the route there. So far I've tried planning to Meteora and I hesitate between two options:
    1) Thessaloniki -> Katerini -> Elassona -> Deskati -> Kalampaka
    This route is the most direct and looks stunning - but I'm a bit worried about the road from Katerini - is it safe for cyclists? It looks like there's a heck of a climb between Katerini and Elassona - and as I'll be there on a fully-loaded bike in the very height of summer I'm a bit nervous about it. Also, I may need to wild-camp as there are no camp sites. And what about dogs? I've heard some stories about them.
    2) Thessaloniki -> Katerini -> Dion -> Larissa -> Kalampaka.
    This route seems less interesting and less direct - but a lot easier than the other. However, finding the best road to Larissa seems a challenge as it looks like the most practical way there can only be done by a motorway-ish type road.
    Apart from the route itself, does anyone have any tips for cycling on Greek roads in general? Has anyone done a route they recommend?

    Thanks a lot for any help!

  2. #2
    Senior Member thesearethesuns's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Picardy View Post
    Hi,

    I've been tourist cycling for a few years now, and this year I'm off to Greece. To be honest, I'm a little nervous about cycling in Greece and I'm looking for tips. For one thing, I'm not sure about what route to take. I've been using Google Earth, "real" maps and Ride with GPS, but I really need to hear from people who know the country.
    I'm arriving in Thessaloniki and making my way southwards (the exact destination depends on my wife's progress in a sailing boat but it'll be somewhere in the northern Peloponnese). There are two places I'd ideally like to go to (Meteora and Delphi) but I'm not fixed about the route there. So far I've tried planning to Meteora and I hesitate between two options:
    1) Thessaloniki -> Katerini -> Elassona -> Deskati -> Kalampaka
    This route is the most direct and looks stunning - but I'm a bit worried about the road from Katerini - is it safe for cyclists? It looks like there's a heck of a climb between Katerini and Elassona - and as I'll be there on a fully-loaded bike in the very height of summer I'm a bit nervous about it. Also, I may need to wild-camp as there are no camp sites. And what about dogs? I've heard some stories about them.
    2) Thessaloniki -> Katerini -> Dion -> Larissa -> Kalampaka.
    This route seems less interesting and less direct - but a lot easier than the other. However, finding the best road to Larissa seems a challenge as it looks like the most practical way there can only be done by a motorway-ish type road.
    Apart from the route itself, does anyone have any tips for cycling on Greek roads in general? Has anyone done a route they recommend?

    Thanks a lot for any help!
    If you will be in Northern Peloponnesos, there is the old national highway, with absolutely fantastic vistas of mountains, sea, sunsets, and incredible nature. You will encounter water the color of sapphire, rolling hills nestled with olive, lemon, orange, and eucalyptus trees perfuming the air, as you gaze down at the picturesque alcoves of hidden pebbled beaches, stately churches, and views of ancient volcanic mountainsides dotted willy nilly with wild flowers. You will pass through small fishing villages with tavernas serving freshly caught seafood, beachfront/view restaurants serving a wide range of delightful, fresh, and on the whole healthy country fare, and will come across guesthouses and sea-side bungalows for rent, low cost hotels, and even campgrounds dotted periodically along the route.

    All this said, here's my big, no, HUGE warning:

    I don't know where you're from or what type of driving habits you are used to (I'm from the New York City Metropolitan Area, and have experience commuting to work on bike), but I absolutely, positively guarantee that you will need time to adjust to the driving style of Greek motorists in order to gauge your own competence in sharing a road with cars in Greece, unless you are like me, and are Greek, and have spent considerable time in Greece--and I would still hesitate in deciding to travel more than 20 miles in any direction from my father's native city.

    I was just there a few weeks ago (Patras, in north-west Peloponnesos), and I can report that I did see a fair amount of bicycle tourists, mostly couples, meandering through the seaside towns, and mostly avoiding country and mountain roads (although I did spot two sets of bicycle tourists on an especially windy and narrow stretch of mountain road on the other side of the Gulf of Patras.)

    Here are my main concerns for anyone planning a cycle trip in Greece. First, the roads in Greece on the whole are not maintained as well as many other countries in Europe that tourists frequent. I have heard about people traversing northern Greece, or sections of northern Greece, but I am not too familiar with the area, so I'll leave that alone for the moment. Many of the roads that you are likely to encounter in Peloponnesos will be windy and narrow, and have not been engineered for high commuter traffic or heavy commercial traffic. That said, these roads tend to be packed with 18 wheelers/lorries overtaking one another, while cars straddle the shoulders in the opposite direction. In fact, the shoulder is most often used as a sort of "third" or in sometimes "second" lane in either direction. There is also a different sense of distance between cars and the shoulder/edge of the road in general. Greeks tend to drive very close to one another, so they might not see you on the side of the road, and you might not see them following behind the car in front of them.

    If I were you and your wife, (and I will assume do not have intensions on crossing over into neighboring countries) I would find a nice little island (you have about 10,000 to chose from) and plan a seaside cycle tour with as few cars/tourists as possible. Check out Ithaca, Lefkada, and possibly Corfu for starters.

    Good luck, send postcards!
    "Wheels on fire, rolling down the road..."

  3. #3
    Junior Member Jim Picardy's Avatar
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    Hi thesearethesuns

    Thanks very much for your reply. Your description of the Peloponnese sounds enticing! However, I am likely to do very little cycling in this area as my flight is already booked for Thessaloniki. My wife's parents have been sailing in the Mediterranean for a few years now and my wife joins them in the summer holidays. Personally I hate sailing and, being a cyclist, I arrange to meet them later in the holidays to spend (suffer!) a few days on the boat with everyone. This means that this year we can't find one of those nice islands - that's next year, hopefully. So I'm stuck with my route, really. So the problem is how to make my way down to the Perloponnese from Thessaloniki, ideally joining Meteora and Delphi, on the quietest roads possible on a fully loaded bike in the middle of summer?

  4. #4
    What, me worry? Telly's Avatar
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    Hello Jim!

    Living in Greece from the mid 80's, all I can say is that you should definitely take into account what thesearethesuns is saying. Road conditions vary from newly constructed to pot-hole stricken death-traps. But what you have to really take into account is the mentality of the typical Greek drivers, especially when on country roads, which don't know how to react to cyclists sharing the same space. I've had cars brush past me doing more than 70 miles an hour, and in other situations had an elderly driver tailgate me because he was afraid to overtake me! Trucks and buses are especially dangerous since the drivers are usually over-worked and tired.

    The upside is that this is a very beautiful country, and you are guaranteed to be mesmerized by it! The first route you talked is especially beautiful but has some major climbs when reaching Kalabaka.
    One more thing I need to mention... Greece has serious problems with stray animals, and you will find packs of dogs on country lanes, so keep an eye out for them.

    Feel free to contact me if you need any further info!

    Telly

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    Junior Member jellochaos's Avatar
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    I was about to tell you about the "Friends of the bicycle" club in Athens but I see lyhadj from podilates.gr already told you.

  6. #6
    Senior Member tblendell's Avatar
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    hey there! many years ago i followed the route in Cycling Europe by Ken and Terry Whitehall published by Mountaineer press.
    basically it was around Crete and then up the Peloponnese back to Athens. especially on Crete there was very little traffic and it was beautiful riding, although challenging. i would think that the farther you are from big cities the easier the traffic is. have fun!

  7. #7
    Junior Member Jim Picardy's Avatar
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    Thanks for your input guys!
    Yes, jellochaos is right! JimP on podilates is really Jim Picardy in disguise! Dash! You blew my cover!
    Yes, indeed. After I started this thread, I thought that I may get some very good answers if I asked the Greeks themselves on a Greek forum. So, I cunningly wrote the word for cycling in Greek, pasted it in Google, and fumbled my way through the forums to create an account and ask for advice. What a great bunch of people they all were! I got loads of input, and I got even more from the email exchanges I had with the Friends of the Bicycle association in Athens. Here's the tread:http://www.podilates.gr/?q=node/15660
    After all the advice, I decided to go along with my original route, but keep an alternative route in case it was too ambitious. Here are the links to the maps I created on RidewithGPS:
    The main route is this:
    http://ridewithgps.com/routes/429931" title="Route

    The alternative, less hard route is this:
    http://ridewithgps.com/routes/429924

    What do you guys think of these routes?
    As I said in that thread, I still have a couple of worries: I'm not sure about how to deal with dogs (I know there's a sticky on that somewhere here) and where I can wild camp in safety away from any canine threat. I'm also still a bit worried about getting food and water (although I've been told that there are fountains in most villages) and I'm not too sure about how best to make myself visible. The Bike group says that I should be fine - my bags will make me obvious enough (and I will be wearing a very visible jersey). But would any of you consider getting a flag?

    Last edited by Jim Picardy; 05-23-11 at 04:12 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Picardy View Post
    But would any of you consider getting a flag?
    A red flag with some cosmic objects on it (such as a star and maybe the Moon) in white (for contrast with the red background) will make you more visible.

  9. #9
    Senior Member thesearethesuns's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Picardy View Post
    Thanks for your input guys!
    Yes, jellochaos is right! JimP on podilates is really Jim Picardy in disguise! Dash! You blew my cover!
    Yes, indeed. After I started this thread, I thought that I may get some very good answers if I asked the Greeks themselves on a Greek forum. So, I cunningly wrote the word for cycling in Greek, pasted it in Google, and fumbled my way through the forums to create an account and ask for advice. What a great bunch of people they all were! I got loads of input, and I got even more from the email exchanges I had with the Friends of the Bicycle association in Athens. Here's the tread:http://www.podilates.gr/?q=node/15660
    After all the advice, I decided to go along with my original route, but keep an alternative route in case it was too ambitious. Here are the links to the maps I created on RidewithGPS:
    The main route is this:
    http://ridewithgps.com/routes/429931" title="Route

    The alternative, less hard route is this:
    http://ridewithgps.com/routes/429924

    What do you guys think of these routes?
    As I said in that thread, I still have a couple of worries: I'm not sure about how to deal with dogs (I know there's a sticky on that somewhere here) and where I can wild camp in safety away from any canine threat. I'm also still a bit worried about getting food and water (although I've been told that there are fountains in most villages) and I'm not too sure about how best to make myself visible. The Bike group says that I should be fine - my bags will make me obvious enough (and I will be wearing a very visible jersey). But would any of you consider getting a flag?


    If you can do the first route, I think it would be well worth the extra miles to see Thessaloniki, Haldidiki (Sithonia is really set up for tourists from what I hear, and the beaches are nice), and Peloponnesos where the views are incredible, the route from Aigio to Corinthos specifically has some fantastic views.
    "Wheels on fire, rolling down the road..."

  10. #10
    Junior Member Jim Picardy's Avatar
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    Thesearethesuns, sounds like you really like the Peloponnese! Now, here's the million dollar question: if you had to choose between doing a tour in Haldidki and in the Peloponnese, which would you choose?

  11. #11
    Senior Member thesearethesuns's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Picardy View Post
    Thesearethesuns, sounds like you really like the Peloponnese! Now, here's the million dollar question: if you had to choose between doing a tour in Haldidki and in the Peloponnese, which would you choose?
    Haha, well, like I said, I haven't really experienced Northern Greece at all, but Haldidiki looks fabulous! I probably wouldn't want to roll into Thessoloniki (or any large city in Greece) on a loaded touring bike, but I hear it's a nice place as well. I guess what it boils down to is whether you are interested in seeing a range of places in Greece, or would be happy just chilling out in a place like Haldidiki, which I've heard only good things about, and is big enough to offer a great deal of variety in terms of terrain and things to see and do and is small enough to navigate comfortably. Such a plan might be one option to consider. Remember, the lifestyle and pace in Greece is much more relaxed then most of us not living there may expect. If you have the need to make miles, then perhaps continue with the route through the mountains of Greece down into the Gulf of Corinth, you'll still experience some nice views, and come through some amazing towns (I have been across the Gulf on the northern side, and there are some very picturesque towns dotted along the way, and you're guaranteed some fantastic sunsets.)

    As far as Peloponnesos is concerned: In my experience, I have seen camping facilities, and small towns with places to stay along the way on the old highway that runs parallel to the coast on the Peloponnese side. I have seen people ride this rode, (I'm not sure if they were locals or tourists) but again, please be aware that truck traffic could be a major issue on this road as it's very narrow, even for a national road. If you find through your research that the roads will be better north of Peloponnesos, then I would stick with that plan.

    BTW-- the leg of third leg of Haldidiki, Mt. Athos, is off limits to women, so you might want to take that into consideration.
    "Wheels on fire, rolling down the road..."

  12. #12
    Junior Member Jim Picardy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by thesearethesuns View Post
    BTW-- the leg of third leg of Haldidiki, Mt. Athos, is off limits to women, so you might want to take that into consideration.
    So I guess that means they'd probably not be too delighted to see a sweaty guy in lycra shorts! Isn't Mount Athos impossible by bike anyway?

  13. #13
    Senior Member thesearethesuns's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Picardy View Post
    So I guess that means they'd probably not be too delighted to see a sweaty guy in lycra shorts!

    Haha, probably not considering it's a monastery and considered a very sacred place.


    And yes, I think you're probably right about not getting very far by bike on Mt. Athos...
    "Wheels on fire, rolling down the road..."

  14. #14
    Wild Horse Country revelo's Avatar
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    I've hiked in Greece. One thing you should really do is go to the Anavasi map publisher and bookstore, 210 72 93 541, Stoa Arsakiou 6A (corner of Panepistimiou and Arsaki) in Athens and buy the 1:250,000 map for the Peloponesus. Then get a simple GPS (Garmin Foretrex 301 is what I recommend) so you can find yourself on the map. Mapping GPS's are more trouble than they are worth outside the main cities. All you need is a GPS that can find your position accurately so you can find yourself on the paper map. Turn the GPS on when you need a position fix, then turn it off afterwards. If you use it like this, a single set of AAA batteries will last for several months with the Foretrex 301.

    Anavasi maps use GGRS87 (Greek Geodetic Reference System 1987) datum. If GGRS87 is not listed in your GPS device, then use the following settings (grid describes the transverse mercator projection from latitude-longitude to GGRS87 northing-easting coordinates, datum describes the Molodensky transformation from WGS84 ellipsoid to GGRS87 ellipsoid):

    * User Grid: Longitude origin=+24.0E, Scale=.9996, False Easting=+500,000, False Northing=0
    * User Datum: Dx=-200.1, Dy=73.9, Dz=246.0, Da=0, Df=0

    Much of the E4 trail that I hiked in the Peleponesus was over dirt roads. Very little traffic. Occasional farmes in their vans rolling at 10mph on their way to/from an olive grove. Beautiful country in the spring when I walked through. Too bad it all burned that same year in the summer.

    Crete is also very good for biking, or so I heard from other travelers there on bikes. The hiking trail I took was mostly a true mountain foot-path and totally unsuitable for bikes. But occasionally I walked on country roads, some paved, some dirt. All of these roads where very quiet. Anavasi sells 1:100,000 maps for Crete.

    Anavasi maps are the best, but Road Editions is another possibility. Their office in Athens is Solonos 71 (corner Ippokratous). There are also Harms and Rough Guide maps for Crete.

  15. #15
    Junior Member Jim Picardy's Avatar
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    Hi guys

    I've just come back! One of the best tours I've ever done! I didn't feel in any danger from the drivers, only when I was in a car! They were very respectful to me, far better than the southern Italians. The country is stunning and the people amazing. My only complaint was the roads and the general infrastructure - and that is set to get worse with the crisis that's hit the country. I kept a blog of my tour, if anyone should be interested. You can find it here:

    http://jamesingreece.blogspot.com/

  16. #16
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    Thanks Jim - I look forward to reading your blog, as I would love to tour Greece one day. Have you read "Greece on my Wheels", by Edward Enfield? He's the father of the British comedian and actor Harry Enfield. Second-hand copies available from the river people for GBP (or USD) 0.01.

  17. #17
    Junior Member Jim Picardy's Avatar
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    Ah! Shame I hadn't hear of that book before settting off! I might order it all the same.

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