Earlier this month, I hiked to the top of Mount Olympus, the highest mountain in Greece. This post is to share my experience and to offer some tips in case you too are thinking of making this trek.
I’ll start by saying the experience was amazing–far more fulfilling and fun than I even expected. And then I’ll follow by saying it was WAY physically harder than I imagined. Most of the things I read suggested it was a leisurely two-day hike with an easy overnight stay in a mountain refuge. This wasn’t false, but it wasn’t exactly true either. I didn’t factor in how taxing hiking uphill for six hours would be. Nor did I imagine the refuge wouldn’t have hot showers or regular (western) toilets. There were adjustments and surprises but overall, it made for an amazing adventure. Here it is, the good and the less good. 🙂
My friend and I took a train from Athens to Katerini. The train was about 4 hours in duration and reasonably comfortable. From Katerini, we took a 20 minute/ 25 euro taxi to Litochoro, the village at the base of Mount Olympus.
We stayed at Hotel Xenios Dias (Dias means Zeus in Greek!) which was right on the plateia in Litochoro. The rooms were very comfortable with great wifi. One thing to note–the mini bar in each room is filled to the brim with products so there is no refrigerator space. This didn’t matter to me, but it might matter to you if you are bringing supplies that need refrigeration.
Litochoro itself is really charming. It has a cute plateia, very lively nightlife, and easy access to the beaches at Plaka Litochoro. Try:
Meze Meze for delicious, inexpensive, classic Greek taverna food.
Gastrodromio for more refined dining including a cheese menu with 32 types of cheese
Spitaki for a lively nightlife scene, great Negronis and tasty bar snacks.
Olympios-Zeus Bungalows and Beach for catered sunbeds and a nice taverna.
We set off the next morning by taxi from Litochoro to the base of the Gortsia trail about 14 kilometers away. This is where we began our hike. The hike is supposed to take between 5-6 hours. It took us 7 hours, but we were going slowly, stopping for lunch at the refuge along the way, etc. Two-thirds of the walk is through a forest which is very lush and peaceful. As we ascended higher, the hike became steeper, the landscape more alpine, and we were more exposed to sun and wind. There are beautiful lookout points throughout the whole hike, and I really enjoyed being so deep in nature.
The last hour of the hike was more challenging as we were getting tired and the trail became steeper. This is the point where we found snow on the ground (not fresh, but still snow!), and we were fully exposed to the elements. At the top of this trail, we arrived at our destination Refuge Apostolidis.
We stayed at Refuge Apostolidis, located on the Plateau of Muses because this is where our guide was based. Another refuge nearby is the Refuge Christos Kakalos. I think they are both roughly the same, and all the refuges we saw seem to follow the same theme: a very basic kitchen area serving simple food, an eating area with tables and benches, bunk style rooms, and very basic bathroom accommodations. For the refuges at the Plateau of Muses, showers are not available because water is an issue. And I was a bit shocked to find Turkish-style toilets (very clean, but still..) so set your expectations accordingly. For one night it was fine…Food was no problem, even for our non-meating eating diets. Don’t ask for almond milk-they don’t have it…
Further down the mountain is another refuge called Refuge Agapitos. This seemed a bit more plush and to have more options as it relates to running water, etc. but it is considerably lower down the mountain.
I hired a guide named Lazaros Botelis, and if it is your first time climbing Mount Olympus, I suggest you do too. There are seven “summits” but to make it to the top summit involves rock climbing. Unless you are an experienced rock climber in your own right, it would be intimidating (and probably dangerous) to try to do it on your own. We used ropes, carabiners, and helmets and despite the fact I didn’t fall or have rocks land on my head, I was super grateful to have a guide with me. There is zero chance I would have tried to make the summit alone. It was much steeper than I imagined.
It is easy to imagine that after the summit, you are done. Not so. Now you have to hike down 3,000 meters (~10,000 feet). We decided to take the Prioria trail on the way back so we would have a full experience of the two main trails. The Prioria trail is very exposed from the Plateau of Muses to the Refugee Agapitos (where we stopped for lunch). This walk took us about 2.5 hours (again, walking very slowly). The trail has a lot of shale so it’s not hard, but it does require some attention.
From the Refuge Agapitos, we stopped for a simple lunch and then continued to Prionia. We took our time so it took about 3.5 hours but you can do it in as fast as 2 hours if you keep a good pace. This part of the trail is through the forest so it is quite pretty. This is also where we saw the most people as it seems the Prionia trail is more traversed than the Gortsia trail.
When you reach the village of Prionia, there is a lovely taverna to have a celebratory meal. You can also call a taxi from here as it is still another 15 kilometers to get back into Litochoro.
It is worth noting that going down 3,000 meters puts pressure on your knees. Our taxi driver had explained that going up, it’s all about your lungs and coming down, it’s all about your knees. This turned out to be true. If you are serious about doing this hike, I would train for it with both of those things in mind.
So, what’s with the shoes?
You might notice I’m wearing black John Fluevog heels and a black Weston Wear dress at the top of Mount Olympus. That’s because every dream starts with a vision. Years ago when I first put these heels on my feet I thought “I could climb a mountain in these shoes!” and since then, I’ve wanted to realize this vision.
I will also confess that for the whole trip up the mountain, I wore my black Salomon Speedcross 4s, and I’d recommend those for the main hike. 🙂
Overall, it was a great experience. It combined nature, adventure, beauty, and a great physical workout. I hope you get a chance to go yourself and if you do, let me know how it goes!
Our guide: Lazaros Botelis. He’s the man. If you are going to go and you want to make it to the summit, contact Lazaros. +30 6948043655, email at “firstname.lastname@example.org”. He can also help you book your reservation at Refuge Apostolidis.
Xenios Dias in Litochoro.
Taxis: Evaggelos +30 6943841323 and Kostas +30 6987770240. Both are English-speaking, very polite, and friendly.