A Trip to the Theatre: Epidavros (and More...) - Attic Explorations - CycleBlaze

April 2, 2022

A Trip to the Theatre: Epidavros (and More...)

This was going to be my last full weekend in Greece, so I decided to make the most of it: take both days off work, and embark on something slightly resembling a proper bike tour.  My goal: the Argolid (spotted through the haze from Aegina last weekend...).

Once more, I started with a train ride: this time, I took the other Suburban Railway line, which heads out to, and just beyond, Corinth.  (This line used to -- and in (very theoretical) theory, one day will again -- go all the way to Patras.  But the money ran out at Kiato, so that's currently the end of the tracks.)  Today, I get off at the stop before Kiato: a very small town called Zeugolatio (or rather: a dusty junction some distance from Zeugolatio). I was the only person to get out here -- I think the station staff were quite surprised...

I can't tell you if Zeugolatio's worth visiting, because I didn't actually go into the town. Instead, I headed south, and, after a short sharp climb, dropped down into a wonderful, secluded, and apparently absolutely deserted valley.  (There must have been people around somewhere, because all the land was under cultivation.  But I didn't see a soul...)

A rough patch, but the road on the valley floor was beautifully smooth tarmac. I wonder if the road-repair team just knocked off for a coffee break when they got to the hill...
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After about 10km of the nicest warm-up ride anyone could wish for, the road climbed back out of the Hidden Valley (it must have an actual name, but I haven't been able to find out what it is...), emerging at the hamlet of Spathovouni.  From here, there was some nifty wiggling through farm tracks to negotiate the new(ish) motorway which races down from Corinth to the Peloponnese (and, very thoughtfully, takes about 95% of the motorised traffic with it).  

Dodging the motorway through the Corinthian vineyards. (Nemea, a big wine-producing hot-spot in Greece, isn't far away...). The snowy peak in the background is, I think, Mt Chelmos.
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At Agios Basileios, I rejoin a bigger road. This was once the main road through this region, but -- see above re Magnetic Motorway -- it's now very quiet (and those cars which are on it are, as always, excellent at leaving plenty of space).  My biggest scare on this stretch comes from a couple of dogs who, very randomly (since I can't see any sheep around) decide that I'm some sort of threat and need to be urgently ushered out of their patch. Luckily this happens on short downhill, so I leave them behind easily enough.

The general trend on this stretch, though, is definitely uphill: it's never particularly steep, but it's definitely the sort of climb you know you're doing.  At the top, I take a  left turn, leaving the Nemea road behind, and heading down into the Argolid plain. It's a brilliant descent: smooth and never terribly steep, down a wooded valley. (And yet: I took no photos. Sorry...)  At regular intervals there are little stalls which, a bit later in the year, will be selling wine to passing tourists; it's perhaps for the best, given how far I plan to cycle today, that they aren't open yet.

Actually, my plan for today doesn't just involve cycling, but even something which could very very approximately qualify as work.  The road I'm heading down is lined with some of the most important archaeological sites in Greece (and therefore also some of the most brilliantly terrible tourist shops in Greece...). 

Perhaps I should upgrade to four-wheeled transport?
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Most people coming this way are heading for Mycenae, but I have another goal in mind, a little bit further down the road: the sanctuary of Hera, which belonged to (or perhaps was seized by) the city of Argos, and probably marked the edges of Argive territory in the Eighth and Seventh Centuries BCE.  It is, I think, fair to say that it is a very much less spectacular site than Mycenae.  But it is also very much less busy.  There's a guard on duty today, but I'm greeted instead by his Helpful Assistant.

Ticket check at the Argive Heraion
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The assistant then gives me a full Guided Tour of the site.  We're the only people here...

My guide and I enjoying the views down to the Argive plain.
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Temple of Hera. The settlement below the hills in the distance is Argos: 8km away. At festival time, the Argives would parade across the plain from the city to the sanctuary.
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Part of the sanctuary's water supply system. I'm tempted to go in and explore, but I'm not wholly confident that my companion has watched enough episodes of 'Lassie' to know what to do if I get stuck.
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Rich FrasierThat's the most hilarious caption I've ever read on CycleBlaze!
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After enjoyably poking around the site for a bit, I say goodbye to my new friend (and shout goodbye to the actual site guard, who hasn't emerged from his hut the whole time...), and head back down to the road.

At Tiryns, I detour slightly to find some food: there isn't much on offer in the tiny village, but the bakery has one pie left.  Even better: it's a potato pie -- what better cycling fuel could there be?

Suitably fortified, I turn east, up into the hills, through olive groves and more tiny villages.  At one point, a black-clad yiayia emerges from her house, demanding to know where I'm going: I worry for a moment that I'm on the wrong road (or the right road, but it's blocked), but it turns out that she just wants to debate the basic proposition of going anywhere on a bicycle through these hills.  Madness!

Undaunted, I push on, on a road which is perplexingly wide and well-maintained, given that (as far as I'm aware) it's heading to more or less the middle of nowhere.  The penny drops, though, when I turn a corner and see a very fancy monastery up ahead: the smart road is clearly for their benefit (or the benefit of their pilgrims, maybe).

Monastery of Ag. Dimitrios. The man with the bucket is busy touching up the paintwork on the book of 'Holy Writ' (which I think must also function as some sort of fountain?)
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After the monastery, the road becomes very notably bumpier.  And steeper (which I can't, I guess, blame on the monks...)  But the views are good!

View from above the monastery, to the edge of the Argive Plain, the Argolic Gulf beyond, and the hills of the Peloponnese beyond that.
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Then, again, it's time for another smashing descent, through more olive groves and a couple more tiny villages, until I again come to what was once the main road to Epidavros, at Arkadiko. (The new main road now runs on the other side of the valley.)

The old road to Epidavros. Forgotten to pack your pipe? Don't worry!
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A few km further on, the old and new roads merge.  There's a dirt road parallel to the new road, but in fact there's so little traffic (and a wide enough shoulder) that it's fine to stay on the smooth tarmac.  So the last few km to the site at Epidavros, even though they're slightly uphill, pass quite easily.  (A tailwind also helps.)

I haven't been to Epidavros for absolutely ages, so it's very nice to have a chance to explore again.  The theatre is quite busy with coach parties, even this early in the year, but the sanctuary site is almost empty.

Theatre at Epidavros. Too big for my camera!
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Healing sanctuary at Epidavros. I can see why people felt better after a visit here.
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It's about 5pm by the time I'm finished here, and I still have 10km left to ride.  But what a 10km: downhill, on a near-empty road, all the way to the seaside.

Downhill all the way (or all the way to Palaio Epidavros, at least)
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I'm staying the night here, at Palaio Epidavros, a very sleepy seaside town (which also has another, much smaller, ancient theatre, in case the big one up the hill wasn't enough). I celebrate my arrival with an ice-cream by the beach, but there's a fierce wind coming in from the sea, so I give the harbourside tavernas a miss tonight and head a little bit inland for an excellent dinner of fish and wine and other things, before calling it a (good!) day.

A really great dinner of fresh fish, perfectly grilled, washed down with local wine, eaten in a courtyard filled with orange trees, served by friendly and welcoming people, hungrily watched by several hundred charming cats. And yet it seems that the only photo I took was of these (also excellent, to be fair!) fennel keftedes...
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Today's ride: 96 km (60 miles)
Total: 338 km (210 miles)

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