Greece: my favourite hiking destination

[caption id="attachment_7267" align="aligncenter" width="1395" caption="Path to Astrakas refuge, Central Greece"][/caption] Snow capped mountains, endless forests of beech, pine and fir, breathtakingly beautiful lakes. This is Greece, my favourite hiking destination. Here are five reasons why. 1. The stunning variety of mountain scenery. Mountains cover much of mainland Greece, with many peaks over 2000 metres. In the far North, the snow lies on the peaks until well into June, with vast beech forests and alpine meadows sparkling with flowers at the lower levels. As you get further south, the beech changes to pine and fir, with olive groves covering the plains and valleys.  There are great rivers, too. Sometimes you can hike along a river bed, criss-crossing the stream and enjoying the delicious cooling water on your feet.  No need to take your boots off – it’s warm and they soon dry out. Or stop for a picnic and swim in one of the deeper pools. Even more spectacular are the lakes, from the alpine “Dragon Lakes” to the dreamy expanse of Lake Prespa. [caption id="attachment_7268" align="aligncenter" width="1448" caption="Lake Prespa"][/caption] 2. The walking trails and maps The centuries’ old cobbled paths and graceful stone bridges are a joy to walk on. Constructed when all travel was on foot or by mule, some are now regularly maintained for walkers. Higher up, there are shepherds’ tracks and simple footpaths. There are two long-distance European paths, the E4 and the E6, as well as national trails, such as the O3.  [caption id="attachment_7269" align="aligncenter" width="1440" caption="Bridge, Zagoria"][/caption] 3. The wildlife Spotting bear tracks in the mud, hearing nightingales for the first time, watching squadrons of pelicans in flight… It’s hard to decide what was most exciting.  But I think the wild profusion of springtime flowers was best of all: Greece is said to have the greatest plant diversity of anywhere in Europe.  [caption id="attachment_7270" align="aligncenter" width="1354" caption="Wild pansies, Vitsi range, Northern Greece"][/caption] 4. The history Hiking is the best way to discover those forgotten nuggets of history that don’t feature in any guidebook. In the Taygetos, we stopped at little wayside churches with luminous Byzantine icons. We visited the secret school, hidden from the Turks, high above the Lousios valley. And we stayed in a traditional home in the Zagoria, still with its screened area where long ago the women could observe visitors without being seen.  [caption id="attachment_7271" align="aligncenter" width="1080" caption="Elijah and the ravens, wayside church, Taygetos"][/caption] 5. Hospitality But what I remember most of all was the friendliness of the Greek people, always ready to invite us to stop for a coffee and chat, concerned to make sure that we were on the right route. The facilities were mostly simple – village cafes or traditional guesthouses – but they were clean and welcoming. [caption id="attachment_7272" align="aligncenter" width="1370" caption="Guesthouse, Monodendri, Zagoria"][/caption] So what are you waiting for? Spring and autumn are perhaps the best times to go, but in summer the high mountains are still cool enough to walk.  There’s a trail for everyone, from challenging marathon to easy day hike. And if you can’t decide where to go, do as we did: walk the whole length of the mainland, from northern border to southern shore! [caption id="attachment_7273" align="aligncenter" width="1106" caption="Lousios river, Peloponnese"][/caption] About the author: You can see Jane’s  account of her walk from the northern Greek border down to the southern Peloponnese at greekhiking.com