The ancient city of Delphi is without a doubt one of the most famous archeologic sites in Greece. Everyone I know living in Greece has visited Delphi at one point or another. Equally, anyone planning holidays in Greece has stumbled upon at least one photo of the characteristic columns of the Tholos of Delphi.
But there is more to Delphi then “just” the oracle. According to the legend, the city was built around the Naval of the Earth guarded by a dragon/snake called Python. I believe the view and the location played an important role in the decision-making process, too. Delphi lies in a stunning location on the foot of Mt.Parnassos. Placed on a top of a high cliff, the village overlooks the Corinthian Gulf and the seaside towns of Kirra, Itea, and Galaxidi. The sun goes down at the perfect spot, too, creating spectacular sunsets that can be enjoyed from one of the taverns or cafes in the village.
But we didn’t come to admire the archeologic site this time. Our plan was to explore the ancient paths around the village. In the old days of the oracle, most visitors come to Delphi on foot from the port at Kirra and some continued up to the Corycian cave sacred to Pan and the nymphs. These centuries-old paths have been used and maintained until today and make for a great day hike. The 20km long trek to the cave and back was the main purpose of our trip.
We decided to stay overnight in Delphi to explore part of the path to Kirra and to visit the neighboring mountain village of Arachova the next day. The paths are marked well mostly as part of the E4 long distance trail or by local signs. However, the Anavasi map of Mt.Parnassos proved useful at times even if it doesn’t cover the whole descent to Kirra.
Delphi is very easy to reach, either by car or the public transport. The drive from Athens takes around 2,5 hours and regular KTEL buses operate in the area. The return ticket from Athens to Delphi costs around 30 euros. The bus leaves from the Terminal B at Liosion Avenue in the center of Athens. By car, the fastest road is via the Lamia highway exiting at Kastro. From here just follow the signs for Delphi and Arachova. There are plenty of accommodation options in the village for any budget. There are two campsites between Delphi and Chrisso, too, both offering swimming pool with amazing view besides other things.
Contrary to the popular opinion, the best time to visit Greece (especially for hiking) is the early spring. There is a big chance of warm and sunny days but the crippling heat of the summer is still far away. The hills are lush and green and colorful flowers cover every bit of the surface. Walking through the blossoming countryside inhaling the sweet smells and listening only to the bees tirelessly buzzing from one flower to another is my favorite form of meditation.
The 20 km long hike to the Corycian Cave and back took us around 8 hours to complete. It’s quite long but not difficult at all except for the last push to the cave. There are a couple of springs along the way to refill the water bottle. However, do not expect any taverns or shops and take enough food for the whole day.
We started our hike at the northern side of the village at the end of an asphalt road with a small parking lot. The beginning of the trail was a bit unclear winding through the overgrown grass. However, after a while, the path widens until it finally joins the ancient cobbled path zig-zagging up the slope. There is quite a lot of elevation to gain but the path ascends slowly in long arcs and the stunning views take the mind off things.
This was my favorite part of the hike! The way back was especially stunning with the striking landscape and colorful blossoming meadows lit by the golden afternoon light. Even if time doesn’t permit for a full day hike to the cave I recommend climbing at least few hundred meters above the village. This way you will get completely different perspective on this otherwise very touristic place and take away far more spiritual experience.
Once reaching the top of the cliffs the path flattens and continues through a small ravine to the Kroki spring. From here, the E4 long-distance trail proceeds straight towards Kalania while our path to the cave branches off to the right passing the springs and a small stone chapel. After filling our bottle at the spring we caught a first glimpse of the snowy peak of Mt.Parnassos poking above the horizon. For a moment here, we couldn’t believe we are still in Greece. The scenery of white peaks towering above bright green fields full of colorful flowers and peacefully grazing cows looked more like a kitsch 80′ postcard from holidays in the Alps. But Greece is full of beautiful surprises like that.
From the spring the path passes among few wooden summer cottages scattered over the fields until it merges into a fir forest. This part of the trail was slightly confusing and the Anavasi map of Mt.Parnassos come on handy. Without map look for faded red markings painted on the ground. Once in the forest, the trail continues through a shallow mossy valley until it joins a dirt road just before the Panagia Church. There is another spring near the church with fresh running water. It’s a good idea to take this opportunity for refreshment before the last, strenuous section of the hike.
From Panagia, we followed the dirt road searching for a path running off to the left. There is a sign at the beginning of the path pointing to the Corycian Cave and the red markings continue all the way up. Climbing up the hillside the views slowly open up over the plains around Kalyvia and towards the peaks of Mt.Parnassos. After about 30 minutes of a grueling climb, we finally reached the entrance to the cave.
Greece is full of caves of all shapes and sizes and I’ve seen many of them during our trips. They don’t interest me very much and usually serve just as something to walk towards to. This one was an exception! At first, it didn’t look like much, the entrance is just a small opening in the rock face. However, once we entered the cave and our eyes got used to the darkness we were astonished by the immensity of the main chamber. The cave is about 60 meters long and up to 25 meters wide. At the far end of the cave, there is a smaller cavern full of stalagmites and a tunnel disappearing into the mountain. According to the legend, it used to lead all the way to Delphi some 11 km away!
The history of the cave is equally interesting. The cave was utilized since the Neolithic era both as a place of worship and as a shelter. The locals used it through the centuries to hide away from the occupying forces, be it Persians, Turks or Germans. At other times it served as a sanctuary of the god Pan and the Corycian Nymphes. During the excavations at 1970 plentitudes of ceramics, bones and other objects was found in the cave providing a peep into the rich history of the cave.
The second day of our stay in Delphi we treated as a road trip around the adjoining villages and countryside. The first one on the list was Chrisso, a graphic village overlooked by the visitors’ thanks to it’s close proximity to her famous neighbors, Delphi and Arachova. The E4 path passes from here on its way from Delphi to Kirra and we decided to walk a short part of it to the Ag.Georgios church.
This was just an easy 15 – 20 minutes stroll although gorgeous one. The small church sits on a rocky hump soaring above the valley. Resting at the church its hard to decide which part of the view to admire first. It’s pretty much perfect anywhere you look. There are the sea vistas of Kirra and Itea with the mountains of Peloponnese in the background. To the right, the terrain rises gently from the sea towards the snowy peaks of Mt.Giona. Turning around, the villages of Chrisso and Delphi appear glued to the Phaedriades cliffs. And finally, under the church lies the lush green valley of the Pleistos river filled with olive trees.
The green valley won our attention and we decided to take a closer look. There is a dirt road descending from Chrisso to the bottom of the valley and further to Itea. We used it to get down to the spring at Paleomylos for another short but pretty walk. This one took us along the dried out Pleistos river bed and through olive orchards to the Ag. Nikolaos church. Even though there were no views to admire this time the orchards were an explosion of stunning colors and smells. But the supreme winner of this flowery beauty pageant was the bright pink Judas tree or Koutsoupia as it is called in Greek. Against the monotone greenery of the olives, this colorful tree looked like it was photoshopped into the landscape by someone with very heavy hand.
After a while, all the walking worked up our appetite so we continued to the seaside Itea for souvlaki. Both Kirra and Itea are great places for a lunch break next to the sea. Except for that, there isn’t much more to see or do. Therefore, after a quick lunch, we return back to Delphi and continued to Arachova 10 km away.
My feelings for Arachova are mixed, to say the least. This large village lying on the slopes of Mt.Parnassos above the valley of Pleistos river is for sure picturesque. It’s best known for it’s closeness to the terrific ski center on Mt.Parnassos and is popular holiday spot for the Greek rich and famous. There is a plentitude of museums, cafes, taverns, boutique’s, ski rentals and souvenir shops. Same as the rest of the region it’s famous for its cheese, wine and wooden ware.
However, as good as all this sound for me Arachova doesn’t have the same charm as some of the smaller, quieter villages hidden deeper in the Greek mountains. It may be all posh and fancy but it doesn’t give me the same goosebumps like the dramatic tower towns of Many, the graphic stone villages of Zagori or my personal favorite, the lovely Vovousa in Valia Kalda. However, for others, Arachova is the place to be so do the smart thing and go to see for yourself!