Written by James Cave, RSGS Communications Officer

Along with an old university friend, our grand plan was to cycle from the south coast of the Peloponnese to Corfu, just shy of the Albanian border. It was to discover the real Greece, meet the locals, and avoid at all costs the tacky tourist traps that do the country such a disservice. And for my companion Oliver, it was to discover his cycling legs, as his first day in Greece would only be his second ever in the saddle!

80% of Greece is apparently considered mountainous. But in return for the punishing climbs we were gifted with some of the most rewarding, traffic-free mountain roads I’ve ever cycled: steep-sided passes with exciting, boulder-strewn bends; sleepy villages surrounded by olive groves; and flocks of goats sauntering down the road, herded by sun-gnarled shepherds. In spite of this quaint beauty, however, it was difficult to ignore the staggering amount of litter strewn on the roadside. Continuing unbroken for literally hundreds of miles, it really put into perspective the challenge we face globally to improve and protect our environment.

Having to cross the Gulf of Corinth afforded us a day of flat cycling along the north coast of the Peloponnese, and allowed for several refreshing dips in Greece’s crystal-clear blue waters, even at this time in late October. That evening we recharged in the well-heeled port town of Nafpaktos, where we ate a standout meal of feta, tomato and fennel-topped mussels before heading back into the hills on a more north-easterly trajectory.

Just near Greece’s largest natural lake, Lake Trichonida, however, our bikes began to fail us, the wheels struggling under the weight of our panniers. On several of our most punishing days, we ended up having to almost double mileage to find the nearest bike shop, to fix broken spokes, reshape square wheels, and buy inner tubes. But, without fail, when problems arose we found the Greek people possessing hearts of gold and, on two occasions, flatbed jeeps just the right size for a broken bike and an exhausted cyclist to ride in!

On day nine, we arrived at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Meteora, which was simply awe-inspiring. It plays home to several Eastern Orthodox monasteries dating back to the 14th century, each of which sits atop a striking pillar of sedimentary rock. We then turned due west into the wild and uncompromising surrounds of the Pindus mountains. Keeping our eyes peeled for brown bears and a never-ending stream of stray dogs, we worked our way towards the Mparos Pass, a snaking alpine road with a breezy high point of 6,250ft, one of the world’s most dangerous roads, which I had to descend with broken spokes and a flat tyre!

Just after the pass, we stayed in the charming village of Kalarites. For people who want to get away from the modern world and travel back to a simpler time, it’s a place I cannot recommend enough. The roads here were entirely cobbled so the only traffic was the village donkey, and there was only one place open for food, reminiscent of a traditional hikers’ hut and presided over by a bubbly middle-aged woman with a warm hug and flowery apron. Along the walls, wooden shelves spilled over with dried pasta, tinned foods and cured meats. The local men were set up for the night, smoking, playing cards and watching the news flicker on an old television.

Sitting there with ouzo in hand, it reminded me why I am so passionate about cycle touring.