One of my favourite places on Mt.Parnitha is the Flambouri Refuge hidden in a forest on the eastern slopes of the mountain. Even a short visit by car for a cup of mountain tea and a plate of fasolada (bean soup) feels like a little outdoors adventure to me. However, to really appreciate the simple food and warm homey atmosphere you have to reach the refuge on foot sweating through the steep and rocky terrain of Mt. Parnitha.
There are multiple marked paths climbing up to the Flambouri Refuge from the Thrakomakedones neighbourhood of Athens. Therefore, it’s easy to make this a round trip and to adjust the difficulty of the hike to everyone’s needs.
Thrakomakedones are serviced by the Athenian public transport although sparsely. We found two ways to get there. The bus 504 from Kifisia goes up until the Thrakomakedones square. It leaves Kifisia metro station approx. every half an hour and the ride takes around 30 minutes. The other option is the bus no.724 from Nea Ionia, stopping couple hundred meters from the metro station. This ride is much longer and the arrival of the bus is harder to anticipate. On the other hand, it will take you all the way up to the last villas of Thrakomakedones and stops almost at the trailhead. The bus stop to get off at is Kastorias. There is a handy application called OASA Telematic for planning a trip by Athens public transport or finding live bus location.
From the bus stop we followed the asphalt road branching up until we reached the beginning of the trail marked by a wooden sign with a map. This trail is marked well by yellow signs and the path is wide and clear so it would be pretty hard to get lost. However, having a map is never a bad idea and this area is covered by the Terrain map of Mt. Parnitha.
The first section of the trail until the Kousiza spring is easy. The path ascends gently through the bushes and the views towards Penteli and the mountains of southern Evia serve as a beautiful distraction. We had some unusually cold and snowy weather here in Greece lately and the mountains of Evia remained covered in snow. I couldn’t stop turning around every few steps to take another glimpse of the beautiful white silhouette of Mt. Ochi in the distance.
From the spring there are two choices. Either continue in the direction of Koromilia spring for longer but easier climb to Flambouri Refuge. Or take the path going to the left for short but steep climb to the ridge between Flambouraki and Flambouri as we did. This one will surely work up your appetite! Once reaching another wooden post pointing to the top of Flambouraki to the left and to Flambouri to the right you know the worst is behind you.
But before heading to the refuge for the much deserved lunch break stop here for a while to enjoy the views. From this point you can see a huge part of Athens and some of the Saronic islands in the background, the Mpafi refuge shadowed by the top of Mt. Parnitha and of course the Regency Casino. The casino is a huge eyesore and according to some people it is also the reason behind the fires that burned all the surrounding forest. Why they had to destroy half of the national park to build a casino right here is beyond me. As our friend and occasional gambler said when you play the view is the last thing you worry about.
The last kilometre or so until Flambouri the path climbs slightly uphill among low firs adorned (or attacked) by mistletoe. After a while the chimney peaking above the trees signals that the refuge is near. Except for good if slightly expensive food (5.30e for a plate of bean soup) the refuge offers simple accommodation, too. For 10e you can stay overnight on a mattress in a dorm and enjoy the quiet and peaceful Parnitha after all the day-trippers are gone.
For the way back we choose to climb down to the Houni valley on the other side of the Flambouri ridge. Right in front of the refuge, there is a wooden sign pointing towards Mpafi Refuge. Follow the sign searching for a path marked by light blue paint heading straight down to the valley. This path is not very clear and almost non-existing in some places. We had to really pay attention to the faded markings and small stone pyramids to stay on track. Even so, we got lost few times. However, this was my favorite part of the hike! With all the tracking, scrambling over rocks and wading through the snowfields it felt like a real mountaineering adventure. If this doesn’t sound like much fun to you, you can follow easier but longer path winding around the hillside.
Once on the bottom, the path widens a little and runs up and down on the sides of the rocky ravine. This last section of the hike was a lot of fun. The path is quite exposed at places and involves some steep descends and scrambles. At some point it’s joined by the trail from Mpafi refuge and the last part before reaching Thrakomakedones is marked red.