Whenever I feel like hiking but don’t want to travel too faraway I head to Mt. Ymittos. Living in the Kaisariani neighborhood of Athens at the foothills of western Ymittos this means a 5 minute drive or 30 minute walk to get to the entrance of the forest park. The area around Kaisariani monastery is definitely the most beautiful part of the whole mountain. It’s probably the only part never touched by the summer fires thus is still covered by thick pine forest. There are monasteries and old churches scattered all over the hillside and many hiking trails to choose from.
However, this time I wanted a change of scenery and decided to explore the mountain little bit further. After some research we chose to climb up from the northernmost tip of Mt. Ymittos at Agia Paraskevi, visit the Leontari Cave and continue towards Kaisariani over the main ridge. From the Ag. Ioannis square in Ag. Paraskevi to the bus station in Kaisariani this hike has around 15 km.
To get to the trailhead take the blue line of metro and get of at Nomismatokopio station or Agia Paraskevi. From the metro continue by bus no. 407 (Nomismatokopio) or 406, 408, B5 (Ag. Paraskevi) to the Ag. Ioannis Square. The bus stop name is 9th or 10th Ag. Paraskevis depending on the bus you take. From the square continue up towards the mountain, crossing the highway until you reach the Monastery Agiou Ioannou Kinigou.
I didn’t get a map thinking its “just” Mt. Ymittos and instead I followed the directions I found HERE. There were few moments during that day when I regretted this decision. Even though the trail to the cave is described very well and with a lot of detail the web page must be quite old and the quality of the markings has changed. Thanks to that we haven’t found the cave at all (at least not the first time) but it was a beautiful hike anyway!
The trail starts at the end of the asphalt road just behind the monastery. About 10 meters after the metal bars it leaves the main dirt road and runs left on a narrow path marked by red dots painted on the rocks. We followed the path for about 2km passing some old underground tunnels of (at least to me) unknown origin until we reached a dirt road. Walking to the left for about 50m there is another road climbing up to the pylon of DEI. Here we joined the trail no.10 and followed it uphill.
After a short climb, we ended up on another dirt road where we turned left and continued for about 1km searching for our path to the cave. This part was a bit tricky. The path is not very clear and the red markings indicating it’s beginning were almost gone. Even though we found the correct path, in the end, we missed the branch to the cave and climbed all the way up to the ridge. At this point, we were lazy to return but I was curious where we went wrong and climb back up there to search for the cave couple of weeks later.
It was actually pretty easy to find the second time around. There is a big red sign on one of the rocks saying ΣΠΗΛΙΑ (cave) and narrow path branching to the right. The cave is only some 20 – 30 meters away. The entrance to the cave is just a small opening in the rock face and nothing indicates that there is a large cave hidden behind. I am not a big cave person so I just snapped few photos from the entrance. However, the cave is some 50m long with two stalagmites in the middle and few dangerously looking pits. According to some, the cave was home to the last lion of the area, therefore, the name.
Leaving the cave the path continues straight up until it reaches the main ridge. At the small wooden sign pointing down to the cave, we turned left and followed the ridge for a couple of kilometers. This was my favorite part of the hike. The views open up with Athens on the right side and the airport to the left. On a clear day, you can see as far as Evia. I especially love seeing Athens from high above. The loud and shabby capital suddenly turns into a large white village surrounded by mountains and glistening sea. Somehow, it always reminds me of the pretty Cycladic villages I love so much.
As if this wasn’t enough the bushes around the path were covered with small spiky fruits playing with all the shades of yellow, orange and red. It looked like the whole mountain was getting ready for Christmas all adorned with colorful ornaments. We spend the rest of the walk taking photos of the multicolored fruit and wondering if it’s as tasty as it looks. I don’t know about the taste but we found out later that it’s actually edible. The plant is called Arbutus Unedo (Strawberry tree) and is used to make sweets, marmalade or in case of Albania raki kind of spirit.
After reaching the asphalt road we continued straight down to Kaisariani as we run out of time. However, there are many paths crisscrossing the forested slopes of Mt. Ymittos above the Kaisariani Monastery. So, if you still have enough time and energy choose one of them to make the last part of the hike more fun.