***: quite worthwhile mountainbiking high above city and sea; unfortunately, access to the summit is forbidden
Thessaloniki, 2m - Chortiatis, 535m - Mount Chortiatis road, 967m - Chortiatis - Exochi, 515m - Thessaloniki
5 1/4h (2 + 1 + 3/4 + 1/4 + 1 1/4)
++++: to Chortiatis gravel roads of variable quality +-++, Orgasmatron trail challenging throughout +++, last 200m very steep ++++, gravel roads down to Thessaloniki +-++
d: nobody apart from a couple of stray dogs and two turtles in the woods between Thessaloniki and Chortiatis; otherwise cars and hikers
Beware of fierce dogs guarding isolated houses. Also the packs of stray dogs lying around in several places are quite scary.
I was at a conference in Thessaloniki and I had a free day before the conference started. So, I rented a mountainbike for 6 hours. My goal was Mount Chortiatis which dominates Thessaloniki with its distinctive summit observatory in the east. First I had to get out of town through its endless, hilly suburbs. First I just followed my nose into the desired direction. Later I had to look on the pictures of a map that I had on my phone in order to find a bridge over the motorway in Malakopi. Once I got past that the tarmac got sketchier, the roads steeper and finally I had reached the edge of the woodland that covers the hills below Exochi. I stopped to look at my maps again in order to find the right forest road as suddenly a dog started barking fiercly at me from the garden of a nearby house. Fortunately, the dog was chained securely. I continued on a dirt road leading uphill via a canyon-like valley. Now and then packs of dogs were resting on the road. They took notice of me, but ignored me otherwise, which was reassuring. Still, the deserted, sparse woods felt simultaneously dull and eery. In the maze of gravel roads I had to stop several times to find a suitable road that would lead me towards the tarmac road that climbs from Panorama to the Exochi. Finally, I reached that road and followed its numerous turns up to the ridge. A long straight road led directly into the village of Chortiatis, perched against Mount Chortiatis. It was already noon and got hungry. So, I stopped at a bakery with lots of amazing pastries. I bought some nutritious pieces and continued to climb on a steep tarmac road towards the summit. The landscape changed completely. It looked more like alpine pasturages now. After some time I reached a parking with view to the summit on the right and a huge amount of antennas on the left. There was a road barrier and after a hundred meters there was a road sign that I didn't understand. I tried to translate them, but couldn't exactly get the meaning, except that the road is for military purposes. So, I returned to the parking and asked someone there who told me that it is not possible to access the summit. I should rather take the road on the left around the antennas. So, I did that. The flat gravel road led around the mountain to its north side. Here the woods were much denser. I encountered lots of hikers. It was already after 1pm and I had a long way back to the bike rental. So, I decided that I would take the first path leading down back to Chortiatis. I found a path that looked suitable. I saw several bicycle traces, which was reassuring that it would not end in the nowhere. The large path was quite rocky and washed out in places, but easy enough for me. After a few hundred metres I suddenly arrived at a grassy cleaing with a nice view down to Koronia lake. Of course, I didn't want to end up at the lake, but there was a forest road traversing to Chortiatis that would have to hit at some point. I encountered a couple of hikers, which gave me further reassurance. At some point I turned left on a single trail that was really playful to ride. However, later it began to fall steeply. I stopped to confirm my position again. Suddenly, I heard some noise in the leaves that covered the ground. Maybe a mouse. The noise was there again. Now I looked closer and couldn't believe my eyes: a tortoise in a steep, rocky wood 1000m above sea level. I carried the bicycle down on some extremely steep sections until I arrived at the expected gravel road that I followed back to Chortiatis. After that enjoyable ride I stopped at the same bakery again and bought some ice cream. The visibility had become a bit hazy now. So, I hurried to continue downhill. Nonetheless, I wouldn't take the same way down, but wanted to explore another road. I pedalled to Exochi and turned left towards Ksanos. After a bit of searching I found the right gravel road that led in a long traverse of the woodlands to Saranta Ekklisies. The road was really wide throughout so that two trucks could easily pass. I stopped several times to take pictures of the view down to the sea and the city. Once I suddenly saw another tortoise, dangerously walking in the middle of the road. After having crossed the motor way I had to fight may way back in heavy traffic to return the bicycle.