Tuesday, January 5, 2016


For our Christmas vacation this year, we decided to travel to Greece and explore Leonidio, a new area that's slowly gaining a reputation as a good European winter climbing venue. Leonidio is a small coastal town in the Peloponnese, and can be reached via a winding 3.5-hour drive south of Athens. The area's economy is based on a mixture of tourism and agriculture, and this becomes evident once you arrive in the farm-studded valley. Small, sweet eggplants are a local specialty, but they were out of season during our winter stay, unfortunately. For accommodation, we booked a stone cottage at Agroktima, a small working farm just outside of town. The owners spoke English, provided a unique Greek breakfast each morning and were very helpful in planning daily activities. This farm fit our needs well and Elise enjoyed watching the chickens lay eggs in their coop each morning.

The weeks before the trip flew by and we suddenly found ourselves poised to leave with minimal plans for our two-week stay. Luckily, the forecast looked very promising so we decided to simply go with the flow and explore anything that looked interesting. It turned out we had a beautiful bay close to Agroktima that provided ample opportunities to beach-comb and find small shells. We ended up swimming three times, not because it was hot but because the water looked so inviting. We returned to this spot on Christmas day since it was so idyllic.

The climbing, of course, was spectacular and the limestone was streaked with orange, red and brown stripes giving the appearance of cliffs on Mars. Many areas were south facing which meant we spent a fair amount of time in the sun. The hikes varied from a few minutes to half an hour and the climbing spots were quite spread out. We definitely needed a car to move around.

We explored the countryside as best we could, but even moderate distances were slow to drive since the roads were so winding. A drive of 60 km could easily take 1-2 hours. Regardless, we saw an amazing monastery at Elona, toured Mystras, a UNESCO World Heritage Site near Sparta, and explored the beaches around Kyparissi, a beautiful coastal enclave. The roads went to elevations of 1,000 m so snow and frost was a concern, especially as the weather started to change...

Although Elise complained about missing the snow (!) back home, she seemed to really relax and enjoy herself. Our cottage had a loft with a large bed and a smaller couch-bed on the main floor. Elise didn't want to sleep in the couch-bed for some odd reason so I obliged. Highlights for her were daily trips to the Greek patisserie and evening trips to the beach where she discovered a clan of stray cats living near a hotel. She fed the cats regularly and they soon learned to come running when she arrived. On our last day we brought chicken and cheese - there was a feeding frenzy.

During the latter half of our final week, the weather got decidedly worse. First, a heavy rainstorm blew through and then a significant cold front. It snowed to within 100 metres of sea level, a rarity in the region. We made the best of it and did some cold weather beach-combing and coastal driving. Afterward, we drove to elevation so Elise could build a snowman and have a snowball fight. We did not expect this on our Greek vacation, but sometimes you just have to roll with the punches. Oddly enough, Elise thought the arrival of the snow was great, kind of a highlight of her trip!

Our journey home was long, but thankfully uneventful. Apparently, Squamish had a very white Christmas and we've got much more snow in town now than at any time last year. The sunny days in Greece already seem like a distant memory. Time to dust off the skis...

Marc, Pam and Elise

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