Mt.Parnassos is one of the few Greek mountains that doesn’t need much introduction. It’s a well-known winter destination thanks to the modern ski-resort and the close-by trendy town of Arachova. But there are other corners of Mt.Parnassos where nature still has the upper hand. The Velitsa Gorge just outside of Tithorea is one of them. It’s full of natural treasures like caves, streams and endless forests. However, the sovereign winner of all this beauty is the Tripi Waterfall we come to visit. Moreover, the trail to Liakoura (2465m.), Parnassos’s highest peak, starts from Tithorea and passes through Velitsa on its way up. But it’s a long and challenging climb according to those who already made it to the top so let’s leave that for some other time.
Tithorea is one of the few places in Greece easily accessible by train. It lies on the railway connecting Athens with Kalambaka and Thessaloniki and is serviced by frequent trains for both destinations. The train, leaving from the Larisis Station in Athens, reaches Tithorea in about one and half hour. The ticket bought online costs just 6 euro (7,80 if purchased at the station).
There are few particularities related to the Greek railways worth mentioning. Booking a certain seat online is a good idea. However, finding it and claiming it is not all that easy on the Greek railways. The carriages are almost never numbered and the first one after the engine is not always no.1. So when the train arrives the passengers start running erratically up and down the platform asking each other in the order to find the correct carriage. Only after few train journeys, I learned, that the trick is to listen to the arrival announcement where the order is mentioned briefly.
However, even after successfully boarding the train the battle is not over. The second step is to make an elderly traveler leave your pre-booked seat. I know that this goes against the nature of any well-mannered citizen but do it anyway! They usually have their own seat booked somewhere close by and are just enjoying the feeling of anarchy sitting somewhere else.
Last but not least, there is the ticket inspection. Unlike anywhere else, on the Greek trains, there is no need for a printed ticket, booking reference or ID. You just provide your name to the conductor, he checks it off the list and of we go. And if looking foreign enough like me sometimes even the name is not necessary.
Tithorea has two parts. Kato (Lower) Tithorea where the train stops and Ano (Upper) Tithorea at the rim of the Kachala canyon. The easiest way to reach Ano Tithorea from the train station is by taking one of the taxis parked up front at the arrival of the train. Apparently, the taxi driver also sells train tickets between the rides so he is well informed about the train timetables. The taxi cost us 8 euro each way and the ride didn’t take more than 10 minutes.
Tithorea is the starting point for the trails to the Tripi Waterfall, the Cave of Odysseas Androutsos and to the peaks of Mt.Parnasos. It has a small but pretty square with a couple of cafes and a tavern shaded by a giant, more than a century old plane tree. There is a mini market near the square which is the last opportunity to get supplies for the hike.
Don’t go crazy with the water though. One of the biggest advantages of the hikes around the Velitsa canyon is the abundance of fresh clear water running from the mountains. I managed all the hikes with one 0.75 liter water bottle refilling it constantly from the springs and streams. It is generally recommended to use some kind of disinfection when drinking from unknown sources. However, I didn’t and I’m still alive a week later writing this post so…
The hike to the Tripi Waterfall can be easily done in one day and Tithorea could be a good base for an overnight stay. However, we wanted to enjoy the beautiful nature of Mt.Parnassos to its full potential. Therefore, we decided to camp in the woods near the Agios Ioannis Church instead.
The trail to the Tripi Waterfall starts at the upper side of the village near the Odysseas Androutsos square (yes, he’s the Zorba of Tithorea). From here a narrow path follows the right face of the Kachala canyon before dropping down to its bottom. Skipping across the boulders we crossed the stream and started the steep climb on the other side of the canyon. This wouldn’t be particularly difficult under different circumstances. However, carrying all our camping gear in 35 degrees heat made this part of the hike absolutely exhausting. Once on the rim we almost run towards the refreshingly looking shade of the distant forest. Around one hour after leaving the village we finally reached the Agios Ioannis Church and stopped for a much-needed break.
Staying near the church overnight we decided to leave most of our stuff in the nearby bushes trusting in the goodwill of the fellow hikers and the laziness of the possible thieves. Refreshed and feeling much lighter we set off for the Tripi Waterfalls. The next part of the trail was such a relief. The path winding on the wooded hillside was wide enough and comfortable and the view towards the summits still covered in late snow just magical. But deep down we knew the real challenge is still waiting ahead of us. And it came soon enough. Once we crossed the stream the path morphed into a hardly visible trail heading almost straight up the steep hillside. The next 40 something minutes of a grueling climb made me wish we were finally at the pipes and ladders I was so afraid of.
When we reached the first obstacle in the form of water pipe secured by a rope hanging its top the physically difficult part was over. From here, it was just a pure joy and a lot of fun all the way to the waterfalls. The ladders and ropes look scary in the photos and videos but the reality is completely different. For sure they need a lot of caution and the ladder was quite wobbly. But if a chicken like me can do it and enjoy it anyone can!
From the top of the ladder, the trail passes along an exposed crag with stunning mountain vistas and the first glimpses of the waterfalls in the distance. One section secured by another set of ropes was particularly wet and jungle-like. It made me feel like I’m traveling through some Amazonian rainforest and was probably my favorite of the whole weekend.
And then there were the Tripi Waterfall! In the spring and with the snow still melting high in the mountains they were wild and majestic. The water of the first fall gushes out of a hole in the rock giving the name to the waterfalls (tripa = hole). But don’t get stuck admiring the first waterfall for too long, no matter how impressive. The second one is even better, lofty and powerful, standing 80 meters tall in its own natural rocky amphitheater. There is another rope securing the descent between the two waterfalls and crossing the swollen stream was an adventure of its own.
After descending from the Tripi Waterfall, we spend the night sleeping under the stars near the Agios Ioannis Church feeling like small kids at a summer camp. There are picnic tables and fire pits scattered in the woods around the church and running water everywhere. Unfortunately, water also means mosquitos so bring enough insect repellent! We didn’t and I was woken up at down by their vicious morning attack. I staggered from my sleeping bag still half asleep and walked out of the woods to witness an amazing sunrise slowly painting the mountain tops orange under the watchful eye of the vanishing moon.
For the second day of our trip, we choose to visit the Cave of Odysseas Androutsos staring at us from the opposite side of the valley. Androutsos, one of the great heroes of the Greek War of Independence, selected the cave as his permanent residence after discovering it around 1822.
It may not seem like a desirable living these days. But back then it offered both safety and surveillance of the valley and the surroundings of Tithorea. He hasn’t lived a monastic life in the cave either, moving in his whole family including his wife, mother, and sister. To enter the cave, they used wooden ladders and a kind of a hoist to move a cargo. Inside, he built walls creating multiple rooms, cellars, and even a small church.
Unfortunately, we haven’t seen any of the insides of the cave in the end. The entrance to the cave is facilitated by a set of three long metal ladders fixed into the rock face. Even seeing them from the distance I wasn’t too sure about climbing up. Examining them up close and realizing how poorly they were attached it just seemed too risky.
To get to the cave from our lodging we had to cross the Kachala Canyon once again. This time, refreshed and with much lighter packs, we could fully enjoy the beauty of the canyon and his red cliffs pierced by uncountable caves and tunnels. Once we joined the path connecting Tithorea with the Agios Georgios Church we turned left and continued uphill towards the church. There is a spring at the church and another one few hundred meters up towards the cave. There will be no more water during the hour and a half long hike so don’t forget to use it.
After abandoning our backpacks and one of our exhausted friends at the church, we continued up towards the cave. Except for the last scramble to the cave this was an easy hike adorned once again by the stunning mountain views of Mt.Parnassos. The path was quite clear and well marked with few obstacles at the last part.
The cave itself is set some 15 meters high on the rock face crowning the steep slopes of the valley. As I said before, the entrance is ensured by a set of dangerously looking ladders dubiously attached to the rock. So, after a few feeble attempts and re-evaluation of the situation, we settled for a short rest with a stunning view of the valley and the towering peaks. But soon enough the burning midday sun finally forced us to retreat to Tithorea for a glass of well-deserved beer!