Maleas to Astros
The Most Beautiful Bike Route in Greece
APRIL 17TH, 2022 | PELOPONNESE | 16 MIN
In my private ranking of the most beautiful coastal cycling routes in Greece, the following route has taken the first place. Along the eastern “finger” of the Peloponnese which means the Maleas Peninsula, mostly on its eastern side. About 200 km in length and 4,100 meters of elevation. Of course, the competition is strong, especially the route around the Mani peninsula (also in the Peloponnese), which has extraordinary magic, but is definitely shorter and much less varied.
the magic of the end of the continent
After three kilometers of such a path, I reach the place where I had previously left my bike. This is where the road begins, although it is still dirt route for the next three kilometers. From the Archaeological Park of Agios Nikolaos there is asphalt to the very end of the section described.
It seems to me that different “ends” of our continent have some unusual atmosphere. This is the case on the (almost) southernmost Cape Matapan (Tenaro), which I last visited more than a year ago (see my text Peloponnese by Bike), it is – judging from the photos – on the western tip, Cape Roca in Portugal (planned for next year) and probably the same in the north on Nordcap (I’m not going there – too cold).
Secret Life of Cicada
wide, empty roads
Monemvasia - a town on a rock
It was through such excellent quality roads – passing small bays and peninsulas – that I was slowly heading towards Monemvasia – an extraordinary island and city, which is no longer an island or a city. The rock of Monemvasia is about 1 kilometer long and 300 meters wide. It is positioned with a narrow edge towards the land, so from the side of the dyke it is soaring and sharp, all the more so as it is about 300 m high. From a distance however, it looks exactly like the elephant in the belly of the serpent from the Petit Prince novel, especially since the causeway and bridge that now connect the rock with the mainland exaggerate this impression. In the 6th century, a fortress was built on the top, which later grew into a city, and this in turn gained two parts, the upper and the lower – situated on the south side. There is hardly anything left of the upper part, the lower part on the other hand seems to have gained a new life. However, it is difficult to call it a city, since, as the waiter told me bringing morning coffee in one of the cafes, five to six people live here permanently. Monemvasia however, makes an amazing impression. We have very distinct defensive walls with several gates and a sea of ruins in the middle. But not only the ruins. Among these ruins there are many preserved and rebuilt buildings: there are churches, hotels, “houses”, squares, a whole network of streets. Of course, there is nothing to go on, because firstly they are very narrow, and secondly they consist mainly of stairs. So we have an example of architecture that seems to emerge from nothingness, from non-existence. At least that was my impression. Unlike a very large part of Greece – which is plunging into oblivion (ruins are ubiquitous here), Monemvasia seems to be coming back to life. The defensive walls are clearly rebuilt, many ruins are somehow secured, and others are rebuilt and turned into guesthouses. It is therefore mainly a tourist life, but a life nonetheless. And indeed, I met tourists there, maybe not some huge crowds, because most of the hotels were still closed, but preparations for the season could be seen everywhere, which in this case mainly means increased traffic of mule caravans – the basic means of transport.
The section from Cape Maleas to Monemvasia is only 50 km long, it is mountainous but not in absolute numbers, since the highest point on the route is only 250 m high. I took my time, it took me all day to cross this section. I spent the night among the ruins, because the evening and the morning are always the best way to tame any place.
land of gentleness
crazy downhill to Kyparissi
Seal Of Pylos
non-existent road to Fokiano
Moving on this road makes an amazing impression. I drove there slowly, stopped for breakfast and taking pictures, finally in Fokiano, sat for a long time on the beach and looked at it. All of this took me no less than 6 hours. During that time, three (!) cars passed me. Two of them at the beginning and at the end, two times in both directions. So the drivers went from one end or the other to some olive grove nearby (nothing else is there) and returned. So the entire distance was passed by one car for 6 hours. And my bike, of course. But I don’t need such a highway, the local, narrow road would be enough for me; it could even be dirt road. Also, one car every six hours does not need such an artery. So what’s the point of it? Of the many madness in Greece, this was the biggest one for me. Spending huge millions of euros to build a line in the mountains, the main advantage is that you can see it from space? Certainly with a large share of European funds. As if there were no other needs. Well, but the EU has long been eager to finance the so-called infrastructure projects, to the detriment of anything else.
And if the routes on Google Maps are created mainly thanks to the recording positions of platform users, maybe this road does not exist – after all, nobody registers anything there, because nobody is there?
Relative normality returns in Fokiano - a village much smaller than Kyparissi and wonderfully situated on two bays. There is only one tavern here, but it is (apparently) only open on weekends. The houses are almost invisible because they are hidden among mostly wild olive groves.
Leonidio - oranges and climbing walls
And Leonidio seems to be ruled by oranges and… climbers. Situated on a large triangular plain sandwiched between the mountains and the sea, the town is surrounded by an enormous amount of orange groves, sometimes only supplemented with mandarins. Oranges that ripen in November are still hanging on the trees in April (an amazing quality of these fruits), even though the same trees already have new flowers. So there is an amazing, fresh and refreshing scent of blossoming oranges (flowers smell different from fruit) and still a lot of orange color in the landscape. There is also an intense red. To the north of Leonidio, but actually still within the town limits, there is a huge red rock with a length of several kilometers – the largest climbing area in Greece after the island of Kalymos. Leonidio has climbing shops, lively and numerous taverns and cafes and climbers that can be seen everywhere, at any time of the day. After all, all this creates a completely unique atmosphere, unlike anything else in Greece.
bends, bays and peninsulas
The road returns to the “coastal terraces” and, like between Kyparissi and Fokiano, it is cut in the steep slopes of the coastal mountains; similarly, it is also wide and even. In this section, however, it existence seems more justified. Car traffic is greater here (although still very comfortable for a cyclist), there are various settlements and side routes. The road winds with countless bends, descents and climbs, bays and peninsulas. Of course, you can see the sea on the right at all times, in countless shades of blue. For those who, like Christopher Columbus, believe that the sea brings new hope, a sight gives relief and peace. The more so because in this section neither the ascents nor descents are particularly steep or long, allowing you to enjoy the views. At kilometer 185, I say goodbye to the sea, the road turns left up the last 150-meter climb. The end is already flat, we reach the town of Astros, where I have set the conventional end of the 200-kilometer section of the “most beautiful bicycle route in Greece” described here. Of course, I went on, all the way to Nafplio, but the last 30-kilometer stretch in front of the former capital of Greece is not so attractive and beautiful anymore. Contrary to the city of Nafplio, which still makes a stunning impression on me, but that’s a topic for another text.
some practical remarks
At the beginning of April, when I was crossing this route, the weather was almost perfect for cyclists, especially those who do not like heat. Temperature around 15-17 degrees C, lots of sun every day, no rain. The only nuisance is a stronger wind for two days (out of more than two weeks I spent in the Peloponnese), but there are so many bends on the mountain roads that sometimes it was also wind in the back. As I mentioned above, the quality of asphalt is very good to sensational, you can easily go here by road bike (I rode the mountain bike Surly Krampus). There are practically no bicycle shops on the described section, the nearest one is in Nafplio. Virtually in every village you pass you can find at least one open tavern, in larger towns also grocery stores. There are no real campsites on the route, you can spend the night in many guesthouses or hotels, or simply in a tent on the beach. People on the entire route (as everywhere in Greece) are very welcoming and accommodating to cyclists. The drivers slowed down many times and greeted me from their vehicles and sometimes even offered me a ride!
A bicycle paradise!
Written at Boho City Hostel, Chania, Crete, during Catholic Easter time
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