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Mount Parnassos is one of the few Greek mountains that doesn’t need much introduction. It is a well-known winter destination thanks to its modern ski-resort and the close-by trendy town of Arachova. But there are other corners of Mount Parnassos where nature still has the upper hand.
The Velitsa Gorge (or Kachala) just outside of Tithorea is one of them. This natural wonder is filled with dense forests, caves, bubbling streams, and some of the most impressive waterfalls I’ve seen here in Greece.
Moreover, the trail to Liakoura (2465m.), starts from Tithorea and passes through Velitsa on its way to Parnassos’ highest peak. This is a grueling two-day climb though so let’s leave that to some other time.
Getting to Tithorea from Athens
Tithorea lies only about a two-hour drive from Athens with the majority of it taking place over a highway (Athens – Lamia). Leave the highway in Kastro and follow signs for Livadia and Tithorea.
However, Tithorea is one of the few places in Greece accessible by train as well (in combination with a short taxi drive). It lies on the Athens – Kalambaka / Thessaloniki line. The train leaves from Larisis Station in Athens and reaches Tithorea in less than two hours. A return ticket cost us 21 euros at the station.
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 waiting outside of the station 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 on the way up and 5.50 euros on the way down – a price difference that I cannot explain.
Not only is Tithorea the starting point of multiple hiking trails through the Velitsa Gorge it is a pretty mountain village. Our favorite part is its small but pretty central 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 as well providing the last opportunity to get supplies for the hike.
Don’t go too crazy with water though. One of the biggest advantages of the hikes in Velitsa Gorge 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 disinfection when drinking from unknown sources. However, we didn’t and never had any issues.
Maps, signs & when to go
Spring and autumn are generally the best seasons for hiking in Greece thanks to lower temperatures but still plenty of sunshine. However, Velitsa is surprisingly great for summer hikes as well.
We hiked to the Tripi waterfall on a very hot May weekend and to Dipotama on an even hotter July Saturday. Both hikes were not only bearable but even pleasant thanks to the abundance of shady forest and cool streams all around.
In general, the hiking trails in Velitsa valley are marked quite well, at least for the Greek standards. There are multiple signposts at the beginning of the trails near Tithorea pointing towards the main sights of the area while the rest of the trails are marked by paint on the rocks and trees.
However, our map of Mount Parnassos proved useful as well on all the hikes below on all our hikes described below and would be absolutely necessary for the more challenging ascends to the summits of Mount Parnassus.
Tithorea to Dipotama Hike
The trails to Dipotama, Tripi Waterfall, Odysseas Androutsos Cave, and the peaks of Mount Parnassos all start at the upper part of the village near the church of Profitis Ilias. There is a spring nearby and a terrace with a beautiful view across the Kachala Gorge. From here, a narrow trail runs along the right edge of the gorge for couple hundred meters before dropping down to its bottom.
Follow the signs here and red markings in order to stay on the correct trail. On our second trip to Velitsa we got excited by the rugged beauty of the canyon and descended too early following an unmarked goat path. Once we realized our mistake we were already too deep into the gorge and too lazy to return so we ended up hiking through this bottom until we stumbled upon our trail.
This was fine in July when the river bet was completely dry and we just had to scramble over a few huge boulders and dry waterfalls. It was actually quite interesting to walk among the staggering cliffs and to admire all the strange rock formations created by centuries of river flow. But during spring, when the water level’s high and current strong this would be a completely different adventure. And probably not the best idea.
Once we found our path, we crossed the stream and claimed up on the other side of the canyon. This is a steep and exhausting climb especially when the morning sun finally hits the rock face. Therefore, it is better done as early in the morning as possible especially on the warmer days.
After leaving the canyon we crossed a grassy meadow and a small aqueduct-like structure that kept us company for the bigger part of our hike to Dipotama. Soon enough we reached a dirt road leading all the way up to the Agios Ioannis Chapel. Look out for a shortcut on the right side of the road.
Above the church, the path splits into two, the left branch ascending towards the summits of Parnassos and the right leading to Dipotama and Tripi waterfall. There is a sign at the crossroad so it is easy to choose the correct trail. From here, the trail dives into a fir forest and doesn’t leave it until Dipotama.
For about half of the distance, it is accompanied by the small aqueduct mentioned earlier providing fresh cool water and lovely babbling sounds. Until Dipotama, the well-defined trail runs across the wooded slopes with very little elevation gain. Thanks to the mossy forest, colorful wildflowers lining the path, and beautiful views opening up towards the rugged peaks of Mount Parnassos this was my favorite section of the hike.
Dipotama is a confluence of multiple streams with small rapids and pools full of crystal clear water (and frogs and tadpoles in all stages of development). Even with all the frogs jumping around the pools are perfect for a quick dip during a summer hike.
Or, if you are feeling adventurous, you can continue walking against the stream, wading through water, or skipping across boulders. There are few small waterfalls hiding in the valley further up and the whole place is just so lush, green, and refreshing.
Overall, the hike from Tithorea to Dipotama shouldn’t take you more than three hours each way and is not particularly challenging. It is perfect for those hot summer days when you long for the fresh mountain air and rugged landscape but are not ready for any strenuous climbs. It is an awesome and safe choice for beginner hikers as well.
Dipotama to Tripi Waterfall Hike
If you are up for a challenge, reasonably fit, with a good head for heights, and experienced with hiking through an uneven terrain you can continue across the stream towards the Tripi waterfalls. This hike if not for the faint-hearted, though, and you’ll be doing it at your own risk!
To begin with, this is a long and very steep climb over a narrow rocky trail. There are a couple of scrambling/climbing sections secured by ropes and a ladder plus you’ll have to wade through a stream with a pretty strong current (at least during the spring) to reach the main waterfall.
To add to the challenges, all the ropes, chains, and ladders meant for protection are extremely old and rusty and even though we used them without any issues (in 2017) I’m really unsure how trustworthy they are. If you decide to embark on this hike keep that in mind and be ready to abort the mission whenever it feels too sketchy.
The hike from Tithorea to the waterfalls and back can take around 8-9 hours depending on your fitness level and the number of breaks you’ll take along the way. Also, watch out for the weather. This hike definitely shouldn’t be done in bad weather or after a rain or snowfall when the already challenging trail becomes muddy and slippery.
Once we crossed the stream at Dipotama, the clear, comfortable path morphed into a hardly visible trail heading almost straight up through the steep hillside. It took us about 45 minutes of a grueling climb to reach the first obstacle – about 10 meters tall rock face with a blue pipe running across.
The pipe and an old scruffy rope will help you get up quite easily. The next obstacle, a nasty old metal ladder loosely fixed to another cliff was much taller and significantly more challenging. Not only is it tall but it is not secured very well either and wobbles from side to side while climbing to the top.
From the top of the ladder, the trail passes along an exposed edge of the gorge providing stunning mountain views and the first glimpses of the waterfalls in the distance. Soon after, we met another difficult section secured by ropes and metal chains. This time, it was a traverse across a muddy, steep slope covered in grass and all sorts of wild vegetation.
While difficult and possibly dangerous, we all agreed that this was our favorite section of the hike thanks to the lush, moist, and unexpectedly jungle-like nature of the place.
And then we finally reached the waterfalls!! In late spring snow was still melting high up in the mountains making the waterfalls wild and majestic. The water of the first waterfall fall gushes out of a hole in the rock giving it its name (tripa = hole).
The first waterfall is impressive enough and it was tempting to call it a day and end the challenging hike here. Don’t do it though if you have at least a little bit of power left! The second waterfall 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. The path between the two is narrow and rocky but not too challenging compared to the previous ascent.
Even if long and challenging, the hike to Tripi Waterfall from Tithorea was one of my favorite hikes I’ve done during my time in Greece and one that I’ll happily repeat in the future. The stunning waterfalls, pristine nature, and stunning mountain views all around make it worthwhile.
Tithorea to Odysseas Androutsos Cave Hike
The trail to Odysseas Androutsos Cave starts at the upper end of Tithorea and at the beginning follows the path to Dipotama and Tripi Waterfall. However, it doesn’t cross the Kachala Gorge and instead continues along the right edge of the canyon towards a small church called Agios Georgios.
There is a spring with fresh, cool water at the church and another one a few hundred meters up – the last one before the cave. The small church, shaded by large trees all around, is a pleasant place for a break if you need one. Behind the church, the path continues along the right side of the gorge ascending gently through the partially wooded slopes.
Once below the cave, the path turns to the right and climbs uphill through the forest. This last section of the hike was quite steep and challenging enough. Fortunately, it didn’t take too long and we reached our destination.
Odysseas Androutsos, one of the 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 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 cave itself is set some 15 meters high on the rock face and to enter one has to climb a set of dangerously looking ladders attached to the rock.
After a few feeble attempts to climb the rusty, poorly attached ladders we decided that this was just too risky! So instead, we settled for a lunch break underneath the impressive cliffs with a stunning view of the valley and the rugged peaks of Mount Parnassus.