Mount Parnitha is my go-to destination for an easy escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. It lies close enough to Athens to be reached by public transport but there are corners of the mountain that feel very far away. Many hiking trails crisscross the slopes of the mountain and there are two refuges providing shelter and refreshment.
From the two, Flambouri is by far my favorite. Its surroundings were spared from the devastating fires of 2007 and are still covered by a thick lush forest. The Mpafi refuge wasn’t so lucky. Even though the buildings of the refuge were mostly saved, the forest between the refuge and the casino is gone opening up sad views of damaged land and ugly, thoughtless architecture.
It still has its charm though and some very pretty trails so we decided to give it a try. As usually, we started our ascent from Thrakomakedones neighborhood, spreading near the lower station of the casino’s gondola. The fastest way to get to Thrakomakedones is by the no. 504 bus from Kifisia metro station. It runs every 30 – 40 minutes and is not all that easy to anticipate. However, once it comes, it is just a half an hour ride. At Thrakomakedones get off the bus at the Agia Triada church and follow the Thrakis street until it’s last houses. From here, a trail marked by red signs starts its ascent towards the refuges of Mt Parnitha.
We used the same path couple of times before when returning from the Flambouri refuge and I loved it every time. The path wanders through a deep forested valley crossing the dry river bed multiple times. The first section passes under the impressive cliffs of the Flambouri ridge to the right. It’s quite popular among trail runners so be prepared to make space for the elderly runners skipping sprightly down the hill.
After about 2 kilometers there is a fork in the path with Flambouri sign to the right. For Mpafi take the second trail (without a sign) climbing gently to the left. After about 10 minutes it reached a plateau and we finally caught the first glimpse of the refuge perched on a hill like a tiny castle.
From here, the trail continued through a treeless landscape. However, it was far from dry and flowerless as one would expect at the beginning of the hot Greek summer. Thanks to a small stream running through the ravine, the meadows were full of colorful blossoms and the air filled with delicious smells and nonstop whir of bees and other insects.
The last climb to the Mpafi refuge was probably the most challenging of the whole trek especially with our stomachs rambling wildly. But before long we were sitting on the terrace of the refuge enjoying the views and a traditional plate fasolada (bean soup).
Except for a tasty meal with mountain views the Mpafi refuge offers simple accommodation in dorms and all kinds of outdoor activities. There are organized hiking excursions, speleology, bike tours, rock climbing classes and more to choose from. Or just pick one of the marked trails running in all directions from the shelter and get lost in nature far a while.
To avoid returning back to Thrakomakedones the same way, we decided to walk to the casino and descent along the lines of the gondola. Even though the section between the casino and Mpafi is very popular for those coming by the cable car it wasn’t my favorite. We passed the barren landscape as fast as possible not only because of the shower that caught us unprepared in the middle of nowhere.
Once at the casino keep to the right of the buildings where a narrow path follows a broken fence. The casino and its surroundings are not a pretty sight either and I was just starting to regret choosing this return path when the views suddenly opened up in front of us. From here almost all the way down to Thrakomakedones we could admire a stunning panorama of the metropolis from a bird’s eye view. And it wasn’t just Athens. The view from this part of Mount Parnitha reaches as far as the Argo-Sardonic islands to the south and Evia to the east peaking between Mt.Penteli and Mt.Ymittos.
The path itself, although steep and slippery, was very pleasant. Reinforced by wooden steps, occasionally secured by metal railings and marked by cheerful yellow signs it was fun to follow. However, if you had enough of walking at this point just pass through the casino to embark on a free gondola ride down to Thrakomakedones!