The Other Side of the Mountain: to Phyle Fort - Attic Explorations - CycleBlaze

March 25, 2022

The Other Side of the Mountain: to Phyle Fort

The next few weeks were again a bit of a loss, cycling-wise: Athens (and Greece) had an unusually long and hard winter this year, and there was still some snow, even in the centre of Athens, well into March.

March 25th, though, was both a public holiday (Independence Day) and a feast day (the Annunciation), and, as if to prove that the controlling powers of the universe are philhellenes, or orthodox, or cyclists (or all three), the weather finally took a turn for the better.  Time to hit the road!

This ride again started with a train assist -- the same line as before (the 'Suburban Railway', from Athens to Chalkida), but this time I stayed on for a few more stops, as far as Aulonas, on the north side of Mt Parnitha.  After skirting the eastern side of the mountain on my last ride, my plan today is to head over its western flank, and then back down to Athens.

Aulonas station. The children's band is doing some last-minute practice for the Independence Day parade later on.
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It would be possible to head straight up the mountain from Aulonas, but I allowed myself a more gentle start to the ride, heading west over the plain, through fertile fields where, even on a holiday, the workers were hard at it, keeping the tomatoes and lettuces coming to feed the hungry Athenians.  Along the way, I cross the border from Attica into Boeotia.

After a few km of easy (though windy...) riding, I swung south and started to head uphill.  As always, the the views provide the reward for the climb -- as well as an excuse for regular stops along the way.

Not very far up the climb yet, but already the views start to open up. I think (but am not 100% certain) that that snowy peak on the far left must be Parnassus.
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Up and up, it keeps going.  The road is good, though, and almost completely empty. I pass a few people who are out to collect horta from the mountain meadows.

Still going up, still enjoying the mountain views. The road in the middle is the one I've been riding up; if you zoomed this by a few 1000% you might spot the horta-gatherers in that meadow.
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This is a climb of two halves.  The first (and I think slightly steeper) bit gets you to just below 600m, at which point there's a plateau (and, usefully, a small village with a cafe, where I stop for a much needed orangeade and pastry).  Coming over the plateau, the final bit of the climb reveals itself.

I'm heading towards the wind turbines -- the pass is just to the right of them. (Closer to hand: in the field on the left you might just see half a dozen or so sheep-dogs, all charging over to the road to discourage me from even thinking of detouring to bother their sheep...)
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There's still some snow around up here, but the roads are clear, apart from some patches of snow-melt (which provide a usefully refreshing lower-leg ice-bath when I cycle through them).

The last of the snow, towards the top of the pass. It's been a long winter...
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In what seems like (but wasn't...) no time at all, I reach the pass, cross the border back into Attica, and start to head downhill.

Back into Attica: phew!
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Just over the pass, I detour briefly down a side road to seek out my Official Objective for this ride, and one of my very favourite sites in Greece.  (Also, conveniently, an unfenced one, so it's possible to visit today, when the guarded Greek archaeological sites are all closed.)  This is Phyle Fort, which controlled the pass between Athens and Boeotia (two states which were -- as neighbours often were in antiquity -- more often than not on hostile terms with each other). Its moment of real glory came at the end of the fifth century BCE, when there was civil war in Athens: a group of democrats fled the city and holed up here, before returning to Athens to oust the oligarchic regime and restore democracy. (For their troubles, they were rewarded with a crown of foliage and a nice monument. And the migrant workers who joined the resistance -- the shopkeepers, shoe-sellers, table-makers, and so on -- were given citizenship.  But I digress...!) The structure which is there now is a little bit later -- probably fourth century BCE -- but it's an absolute cracker.

Phyle Fort. (I later realised that I must have dropped my cycling gloves somewhere round here while taking this photo. If anyone passes this way in the future, let me know if you spot them!)
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Phyle Fort, guarding the pass.
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Also cracking is the descent from Phyle Fort: much steeper on this side than on the north face of the mountain, and with some fantastic/terrifying hairpins and views.  I pass a couple of touring cyclists coming up  -- doing it the hard way!

From the descent: a view briefly opens up towards Eleusis, and out to Salamis.
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I generally feel much safer cycling in Greece than in the UK: drivers are much more patient around cyclists, even in the cities, and especially on twisty mountain roads like this. But then every so often I see something that makes me go: hmm...
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Phyle's other, and probably these days greater, claim to fame is that it is the centre of meat-eating in Attica: the modern village must have more meat tavernas per capita than anywhere else in Greece (Europe? the World?).  Now: attentive readers will perhaps remember that on my last ride I justified my lunchtime meat-stop by the fact that Lent was about to start, and meat-eating about to become more complicated. However!  Attentive readers will also remember that today is a feast day -- the Feast of the Annunciation.  And, since feast days trump fast days, that means that the meat-tavernas of Phyle are in full and glorious swing by the time I roll into the village at about 1.30.  In fact, I can see and smell the smoke from the grills from about 2km above the village.

I stop at the first taverna I pass, and am persuaded by the waiter that it would probably be a sin not to have kokoretsi today, since it's such a special day. And why not some chips too?  After all, it is (more or less) downhill from here...

Kokoretsi: most of the insides of a sheep, wrapped in some other bits of insides of a sheep, and grilled. It's even nicer than it sounds.
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Fully refuelled (and rehydrated: cycling in the warmth takes some getting used to ...), I drag myself away from this meaty heaven, and gently pedal the last kilometres down through the foothills of Parnitha, through the suburbs, and home. 

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Today's ride: 74 km (46 miles)
Total: 183 km (114 miles)

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Scott AndersonThis is great. We’ve never seen this part of the country.
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1 year ago
Polly LowTo Scott AndersonThanks! There are definitely more spectacular bits of Greece, but this part isn't bad -- and it always amazes me how quickly you can completely escape the city...
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1 year ago