(Hitch)Hiking Encounters on Mount Chortiatis

As the first weekend of the autumn came to Greece and the weather looked promising, we, Sacha and Filip, decided to go for a hike and check out Mount Chortiatis – one of the highest mountains in the Thessaloniki area (1.201m).

The way there

To get there, we took three public transport buses from the center of Thessaloniki: number 21, 57 and 61. The last bus took us to the village of Chortiatis, directly below the mountain with the same name. At the last stop of line 61, we got off the bus. After a short consultation for directions with the map and with locals, we started walking upwards onto the steep terrain of the mountain. Luckily for us, around ten minutes later, one of the first cars passing us stopped (without us even trying to hitchhike), and the friendly-faced driver asked us if we needed a ride. Even though we had decided to go for a hike to move our muscles a little bit, we could not resist this sweet offer and we got into the car.

View from mount Chortiatis
View of Thessaloniki from Mount Chortiatis

An unexpected guide

The driver of the car introduced himself as Thanos. He was going to the top of Mount Chortiatis to say goodbye to one of his favorite hiking places, as he was leaving the country soon for a new job. Coincidentally, the place that Thanos had chosen for his job was in Brno, Czech Republic, a city well-known to Filip from his university years. For this reason, Filip had a lot of interesting tips for Thanos about places to visit in Brno. In return, Thanos showed us several interesting places that hikers should visit on Mount Chortiatis: for example, an abandoned cottage, a tourist refuge, or the US military base on the very top of the mountain.

Abandoned baseball pitch on Mount Chortiatis
An abandoned basketball pitch
Antennas and transmitters on the mountain

Thanos’s presence was very pleasant and thus we decided to stay in his company even after getting out of the car at the top of the mountain. Walking through the forest, he showed us his favorite place for camping, located in a small meadow in the middle of the forest. It was a nice, quiet spot, close to the hiking trail and a natural water supply. We set up our tent there, and in return for Thanos’s help, we offered him some of the fruits that we brought as a snack.

Mysterious buildings

After an enriching discussion, we walked Thanos back to his car and picked some mushrooms in the process. At this point, we asked our guide about the possibility of visiting the military base on the top of the mountain. When asked about this, Thanos became a little skeptical: “Well, I would not recommend you to go up there. I mean, the soldiers will not stop you, but they will arrest you.” This funny paradoxical answer sounded like enough of a warning for us to stay away from this vicious place.

The military base

After coming back to the car, Thanos took us back to the asphalt road from where we could take numerous wonderful photos of the panoramic view of Thessaloniki bay, covered with the soft light of the setting sun. At the very end of our encounter with Thanos, he told us that in case of emergency, we could give him a call and he would bring us some food. This level of Greek hospitality was truly mind-blowing for us.

Antennas and berry bushes

After saying goodbye to our lovely guide, we photo-documented some of the mysterious abandoned buildings in the area nearby the radio antennas. There was an abandoned cottage, a garage, and a building that looked like it had never been finished in the first place.

The abandoned cottage

Back to our tent

After exploring the abandoned buildings, we decided to slowly start walking back towards our tent, as we still had a while to go. We managed to find a new pet: a dog started to follow us along the mountain road. We were almost ready to adopt him, but then he stayed behind on the road.

Our new pet

On our way back to the tent, we were pretty lucky with hitchhiking once again, as we managed to get a lift from a local traveling couple. Interestingly enough, these people also had some connection to one of our home countries. Sacha found out that one of them used to work in the Netherlands as a computer programmer before moving back to Greece with his family.

Sleep and coffee

Shortly after coming back to the camping area, the sky was almost completely covered with darkness, and thus we decided to have dinner and go to bed directly after. After the chilly night, which we survived warmly dressed in several layers of clothes and wrapped in our sleeping bags, we woke up to the lovely morning that awaited us upon the sun covered meadow in front of the tent. After breakfast, we spent some time sunbathing and relaxing on a blanket in the silence of the forest. Unfortunately, this idyllic state did not last long, because a loud group of children came to our spot around an hour after our breakfast. For this reason, we decided to quickly pack our things and move to the nearby tourist refuge close to the top of the mountain.

The gate of the refuge on the mountain

The refuge itself was a huge cottage made of stone. On its porch, various groups were seated: tourists, mountain bikers, and hikers, all there for some food, a snack or some rest before continuing their trail again. Although the menu in the refuge offered all sorts of delightful treats, we decided just to have a simple and heart-warming cup of coffee. While warming up our hearts and spirits, we found out that the refuge is usually open only during the weekends. We also found out that in case of hiking towards the military base, tourists should stay at least 200 meters away from its fence if they want to stay out of trouble. At this moment, Thanos’s paradoxical joke from the previous day came to mind again (‘They will not stop you, but they will arrest you’). 

The refuge

Getting home

After visiting the refuge, it was finally time to go homewards. The sky covered with cozy weekend sunshine naturally slowed our walking tempo down and gave us a chance to look around into the distance. We made numerous stops to take a look at the magnificent views from the top of the mountain, especially of the bay of Thessaloniki. 

View on Thessaloniki bay
View on Thessaloniki bay

Once we made it to the asphalt road we got lucky once again, because the first car that was driving downhill took us directly to Thessaloniki train station. During the hour-long drive, we had the chance to get to know the driver, Robert, and his son, who had his 13th birthday on that exact day, a little bit. Robert was a smiley, bald driver from Armenia. During the fast drive downhill, he managed to smoke half a pack of cigarettes and make a couple of phone calls. After getting back to Thessaloniki, Robert stopped in a parking lot in order to switch cars, which gave the last chunk of our hike a bit of a secret agent flavor.

The whole hike to Mount Chortiatis and back was a very lovely adventure. We would thus highly recommend this place to all the nature lovers and hiking enthusiasts that would like to explore the nature in the area nearby Thessaloniki.

Luckily, there is a great opportunity coming up, as Balkan Hotspot is organizing a hike to Mount Chortiatis this Saturday because it is European Week of Sport. Stay tuned for more information and the Facebook Event.

Post written by Filip Grác and Sacha Bogaers

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Post Author: Filip Grác

I am 30 years old traveller and art-lover from Slovakia, staying in Greece throughout the whole year of 2018. My main interests are nature (of reality), board gaming, music and visual arts. Thus I love to report mainly about the local cultural events and writing interviews. Since the beginning of May 2018, I was also appointed as one of the editors-in-chief for our lovely blog bubble.

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