Just about everyone has heard of The Acropolis – big hill, Parthenon, major historical site in Athens … yeah, that’s the one. At 490 feet above sea level, it towers over Athens. But have you heard of Mount Lycabettus?
Neither had I until we moved into our apartment. Four blocks behind us the road ends and the side of the mountain seems to go straight up. No joke! And it’s almost double the height of The Acropolis! Reaching nearly 1,000 feet into the sky, Mount Lycabettus is the highest point in the city. One of the guide books said it looks like a giant soufflé. I concur.
The base is covered in vegetation, then it turns to white, craggy limestone (“Cretaceous Limestone” according to my resident Geologist) the rest of the way up. And at the tiptop you can see a bell tower and a Greek flag. It’s one of those views that makes you tilt your head way back and say, “Wow!”
Then we read that there’s a 19th century chapel and theater up there, with a funicular to ride to the top. Cool! So we figured that since it’s literally in our back yard, we’d give it a go. It would be the perfect picnic opportunity. We’d pack a lunch, hop on the funicular, glide to the top, see the sights, snack on a little salami and cheese while basking in the Greek sun, then stroll back down at our leisure. Sounds pretty relaxing, right?
Well, somewhere along the way the plans … evolved. It started with James saying, “Hey, there’s a path to the top. This guy on the internet says it’s just a big hill, an easy walk, not steep, well marked, no problems.” Uh oh. Of course I found the other guy who said, “Don’t try to walk up (pilgrims used to, but it’s an Everest for the faithless).” Who to believe? Hmmm.
Needless to say, after much dithering, we decided that it would be great exercise to hike to the peak, and we could still do our picnic lunch. Maybe we’d even find some pinecones for Christmas decorations. AND we would earn the T-shirt, “I Climbed Mount Lycabettus.”
So we set out. Did I mention the origin of the name? The Ancient Greeks called it “path of the wolves.” Evidently wolves used to roam freely as this was their last refuge in Athens. Fortunately for hikers, the wolves are gone.
The terrain is very much like the Desert Southwest of the US, with lots of Century Plants, Prickly Pears and Yuccas.
Long story short … the hike was great! Definitely not the “easy stroll” version. We kept aiming for the bell tower at the top, and slowly but surely it got closer. The path was a workout, and when I saw the (pearly) gates at the summit I wanted to kiss the ground!
When we popped up on top the cold wind nearly knocked us down! It was one of those blasts that blows your feet out from under you when you take a step.Yikes! We pulled up our hoods and tightened our scarves. But the panoramic view was spectacular. We could see the ocean, mountains, Acropolis, the park where James jogs, and we even spotted the apartment building across the street from us (thanks to their bright yellow paint)!
When we turned around there was the tiny, white Chapel of St. George (of dragon-slaying fame). We entered its warm, hazy chamber and saw elaborately painted walls cloaked in soot, various depictions of St. George with his nemesis, and tall skinny tapers burning in a sand-filled urn. We purchased some candles from the ancient lady who tends the church, and lit them for our parents, knowing that somewhere John & Sally, and Maxine & William were smiling – well actually my Dad was probably laughing that we’d even climbed this mountain!
Obviously a picnic was out of the question, given the gale-force winds. What were we thinking? So when we’d had our fill, we descended the mountain, gleaning Christmas pinecones and greenery as we went. When we reached the base it was sunny and warm, so we picnicked and laughed … and tried to decide what color T-shirts we’re going to get!
P.S. If you want to see our video from the top, check it out here!