A Royal Ride: Skirting Mt Parnitha - Attic Explorations - CycleBlaze

March 6, 2022

A Royal Ride: Skirting Mt Parnitha

A combination of weather (bad) and work (too much) meant that I didn't get much more 'proper' cycling done in February: just another trip or two up Hymettos (but you already know what that looks like).

In early March, though, the skies (literal and metaphorical) cleared a little, and it was time to get properly back out there.  Today's goal was the old royal palace at Tatói, which I planned to reach by a Circuitous Route...

Step one was to skip a bit of city riding by taking the train out to Agios Stephanos: only about 30 minutes from the central station, but a world away from central Athens.  After only two or three false starts (much to the amusement of the man operating the -- hand cranked! -- level crossing barriers by the station...), I found the right road out of town, and was off into the countryside.

North of Agios Stephanos. There were terrible fires in this part of Attica in 2021 (and before that in 2018), and the scars are still very visible.
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After a bit of gentle (actually, not so gentle: who put these hills here...?) riding, I reached the Marathon reservoir and dam.  This is an amazing structure: built in the 1920s to create a water supply for Athens (which at the time was exploding in size, particularly because of the arrival of refugees from Turkey after the disastrous war there), but also intended as a symbol of the power and heritage of the Greek state, with various (and not very subtle) allusions to Marathon's place in the Greek wars against Persia: a conflict which turned out a bit better for Greece than the one they'd just fought...

Marathon Reservoir (with Mt Parnitha behind)
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Pentelic marble: if it's good enough for the Parthenon, it's good enough for a dam. And that building at the bottom is an exact replica of the (C6th/5th BCE) Treasury of the Athenians at Delphi, where the ancient Athenians made offerings to commemorate their victory at the Battle of Marathon...
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Apart from all that, though, it's a cracking dam to cycle over!

A dam(n) fine road (sorry...)
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After crossing the dam, I started to head west and up into the hills. The (unsurfaced) road here was a bit gloopy at times, after all the recent rain, so the going was rather slow.  But the views back out to the sea, and to Evvia beyond, were smashing.

The hills above Marathon, and Evvia across the water.
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After bouncing over the hills for a bit, I rejoined the tarmac in the valley, and crossed under the motorway and over the railway line (both heading, ultimately, to Thessaloniki).  Then it was onto Parnitha proper, on some steep tracks through what was once thick forest.

More fire damage on the slopes of Parnitha.
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It was quite a relief, then, to emerge onto the tarmac, at the mysterious (to me, anyway!) 'International Hippocratic State' -- some sort of Garden City-cum-Gated Community, tucked away high on the slopes of the mountain. For my purposes the key thing is that, whoever these people are, they seem to have a very good road maintenance budget.

I don't think there's anything in the Hippocratic Corpus about the therapeutic effect of Beautiful Smooth Roads -- but there probably should be...
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From here, the last bit of the climb to the (low) pass was a breeze: never too steep, on quiet and smooth (well: smooth-ish) roads.  The peak of Parnitha loomed up to the right.

Approaching the pass, through yet more burnt forest.
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Going down the other side was even nicer, so much so that I don't seem to have stopped to take any photos til I reached my (official) goal: the old royal estate at Tatói. This is another fascinating place -- successively owned by and confiscated from the Greek royal family as they came into and were ousted from power over the course of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  To be honest, I'm not completely certain what its current legal status is -- and even an on-site inspection doesn't wholly clear things up.

Royal Palace Gates: Keep Out!
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(Unless you want to come in, in which case feel free to make use of this handy hole in the fence. Don't worry about the no photography sign either...)
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De facto, then, if not de iure, the grounds are a pleasant and popular place for a gentle walk, and there a fair number of families here today doing exactly that.  I head on up to the small hill beyond the estate buildings, with a particular (work-related) purpose in mind: this was the site of the fort which the Spartans established in Attica in the final phase of the Atheno-Peloponnesian War of the late C5th BCE -- part of the process of slow strangulation which eventually led to Athens' defeat.  There's not much left to see here now, but it's still nice to check out the location.

The (ex-)royal estate at Tatói, with Parnitha behind.
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Royal graves at Tatói. The Spartan fortification is underneath these, somewhere!
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I had another -- non-work-related reason -- for wanting to cycle this way today.  Just a little bit further down the mountain there are a couple of very nice tavernas, specialising in grilled meats of various sorts. On top of that, today is the last day before the start of (Orthodox) Lent, and so, for a lot of people, the last opportunity for a while to eat meat with a (theologically, at least) clear conscience.  In other words: today is a more than usually good day for a slap up lunch on Parnitha.

I stop at the second taverna -- they have a man out on the road to control the traffic, to give you an idea of how many customers they're expecting today -- and, although they're busy, the cheerful hosts (complete with masks, for Carnival) find a space for me, sit me down, and consent to serve me a pitifully tiny (in their view...) amount of food.  

Healthy cycling food. I like to imagine that the Spartans enjoyed something similar when they were camped out here...
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Luckily, it's pretty much downhill from here all the way back to Athens, and with the Marginal Gain of a stomach full of sausage and chips I make good speed down the rest of the mountain, and through the suburbs -- first posh, then increasingly urban -- back to base.

Tomorrow is 'Clean Monday', the first day of Lent, and traditionally a day to go out to the countryside and fly kites. Which means that today is a good day for the roadside kite-sellers of Athens: there's a stall like this at almost every big junction on the way home.
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Today's ride: 73 km (45 miles)
Total: 109 km (68 miles)

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