There's a few different ways to get to the mountain village of Elaioxori, which literally translates into "olive lands." I've done it a few different times, and I think the best route is the one that will have you descending from the North side of the village, facing the village of Axladokampos on the opposing mountain face. The reason is that they descent on that side has long, sweeping roads that you can really open up on, without much technical demand around sharp turns.
For those of you that caught the descrption of the ride to the right, on this particular day I came across some aquatic shore-bird (I think it was a stil) that had been hit by a car and I'm the kind of person who, if I didn't take it to a vet, would still lament the poor thing for years, long after it would have certainly died. There it is in the pic below, biting me when I picked it up to take to to a vet.
Like any ride that's going to take you north and west, this wills start out with the flat, cresent ride around the Argolic Gulf. You'll almost certainly see herons and stilts, and
occasionally flamingoes as well.
The castle of Larissa, above Argos, is another prominent landmark on this road, and as you come around to the other side, you can see some ruins above the town of Milous. At Milous, you'll turn left at the T intersection, about 10 meters past some train tracks, passing the springs where Hercules killed the Hydra monster (a dismal and easy to miss sign marks the spot, but it's across the street from a little bakery that you can always fuel up on or get a coffee from).
You continue straight down that road for a couple of miles, passing another prominent landmark...an old watchtower that's the only standing part of a fortress on the hill.
It's at the end of this stretch where you veer right, and begins the first of many ascents on this ride, taking you up to what's known as "kolosourti," which translates into "ass drag." While it's a very fun descent, I think I actually like it more as a climb. As a climb I think I'm able to appreciate the views more...and if you do it early enough in the morning, you can see the sunrise out of the mountains behind Napflio way in the background. That basically means leaving my house at about 5 am though, so...maybe not. But it is one of those ascents that leaves you with better views of Nafplio after every switchback. In the spring, there's poppies growing on the side of the road, and the surrounding mountainsides are green with patches of various colors from the different wildflowers. If I wanted to try and be poetic, I'd say it's like a fuckin' nature quilt. Depending on the time of day, you'll also come across goats being herded by sheep dogs. And even when you can't see the goats, the bells on their necks are often echoing from various peaks, the sound being carried and delayed by breezes and winds through the canyon to the right.
The switchbacks in the top right of the collage above are the last switchbacks of the ascent before it starts to straighten out and become dynamic again, and you'll pass some old abandoned gas station to the right (this road used to be the highway between Nafplio and Tripoli). There's also a dirt road on the right that goes out to a secluded monastery on the mountain side..once again, beckoning the need for a proper gravel bike in this country.
A few kilometers out and you'll see signs for the village of Axladokambos. Though the name suggests a history of "pears," from the Greek word "axladi," the name is actually quite augury. In the war of independence against the Ottoman Empire (1821), the legendary leader of the Greek forces, Theodoros Kolokotronis, employed a scorched earth campaign. At the time, the village where today's Axladokambos is was known for olive trees and thus, olive oil production of very high quality. When the forces of Kolokotronis razed the olive groves and the people in the surrounding regions saw the smoke coming from the olive trees, they exclaimd "ax....ladi!" This translates into "ahhh....oil." Hence the name, "Axladokambos."
While you can detour to the left and enter the village, I'd save that for a different ride and keep straight on the main road that will take you through various turns, rises and small descents, curving through and around the mountain side. The next landmark to look out for is a spring that's been turned into an actual faucet to the right. It probably used to look a lot nicer, but it's been mostly discaded and there's a lot of loose rock that's come down the sides from the mountain, most likely from when a dirt road was built that goes up to the wind park in the peaks above. If you've got the bike for it, this is definitely a place to ride around in. I'm not exactly sure how legal it is...it's not closed off or anything and I didn't see any prohibitory signs. I didn't look for them either. But the views are exhilerating, as is the slow, whoosing sound of the gargantuan propellers. It's also the fastest I've ever gone on my cyclocross bike.
Past the fountain there's a long, curving descent before flattening out again as you take a long, crescent left overlooking the valley below that lays between the very top edge of Elaiochori on one side and Axladokambos on the other, and you'll pass a church built into the mountain high up on the right side. From the road it looks like a monastery actually, and to the left there's another little church-like building with icons and candles. I almost always see dogs around here but they've never so much as even barked at me when I've ridden by.
The video below give you a glimpse of what the road is like in this area, and I was lucky enough to catch a guy on a very light bike-backing trip making his way down one of the descents.
You'll ultimately be arriving at one final little climb, passing by another site of an ancient civilization, Mouhli. So you don't have to strain your eyes, I've copied the inscription on the marble tablet of the church, mispellings and all.
"BYZANTINE TOWN CASTLE
THE TOWN CASTLE OF MOUHLI WAS ESTABLISHED IN 1296 BY THE GENERAL ANDRONICUS ASAN AT THE TIME IN WHICH BYZANTIUM GENERAl WAS ANDRONICUS B PALAEOLOGUS. IT WAS ONE OF THE MOST FORTIFIED PLACES IN PELOPONESSOS.. THE CATHEDRAL OF MOUHLI TOWN WAS THE CHURCH OF PANAGIAS MOULIOTISSAS. THE TOWN WAS DESTROYED IN 1460 BY THE TURKS CONQUERORS. TODAY THERE ARE THE RUINS OF THE TOWN AND CHURCH."
The remaining structures are so well blended into the moutnains that they are quite easy to miss. It's almost like a camouflage...I remember times going by with the car and thinking I could see some ruins but then not being to able to see anything for certain. It wasn't until I went by on the bike that I was certain, and on my birthay in 2021 I actually went up there to get better photographs. The most remarkable thing I noticed, is that there's still original paint on the interior of the church, underneath the arches behind where the alter must have been. What that means is that even if the church was painted on the day of its destruction, the paint you're looking at is 562 years old.
Once you come up over that hump, you actually get some relief from the climbing and ease up as you descend casually towards a village called "Agiorgitika," with expansive views of various farming plots and grapevines in the valley below. But just before coming into that village, you're going to turn left through those valleys. This stretch of read is like something you'd see in cycling magazines that feature country roads. It's just casual cycling beauty. I have also never seen a car on these roads.
This road will bring you into the small town of Partheni. I remember first coming into it and thinking it was almost certainly abandoned as there were no signs of any permanent residents, and it was almost eerily quiet. As it turns out, there's a little cafe by the old train station of the town, and sometimes you'll see a few people sitting outside. In the colder months, some of the houses will have thin whisps of smoke coming out of their chimneys. Despite the disappearing population, an enormous church was erected on the left side of the road in the last few years. I imagine that some of the fields outside the town are maintained or owned by some of the few permanent residents. I couldn't find much information about the town itself, but I have sat and spoken with the son of the cafe's owners and had extensive conversations about political ideals, various philosophies, and the endless hiking trails through the mountains in the area. On another occasion I struck up a conversation with a family that lived in Athens but were in town to visit parents who were from the town. And in one of the endless displays of hospitality here, they invited me to their parent's home for lunch.
Leaving the town there's a short but steep incline and from there's it's a fast and very winding descent that you get some quick bursts in here and there but you'll employ heavy use of the breaks on many of the switchbacks. The notable things to look out for on this section are some of the old train bridges through the mountain, many of which were initially made of stone and blown up during the civil war. You can recognize those because of the metal that's replaced the stone sections.
When the road flattens out again, you'll come to a T intersection..where if you turn right you'll eventually get to Tripoli. On this route however, you turn left and it's a long fast descent that will ultimately bring you to the town of Astros. But about a kilomoter or so down, you'll make a left into a road that runs along a canyion, and this is the final ascent that brings you into the village of Elaiochori.
The town itself sits on the slope of the mountain, and there's two main roads that run through it. Like any Greek village, it starts with sparse country homes before they start getting closer together and you get the sense that you're actually in a village. In the spring, the grassy hillsides of the road you're on are erupting with flowers to the point where there's almost more lavender than green. And as is always the case, photos don't capture the extent of the blooms. They are practically infinite. Towards the beginning of where the town begins, there's a large church, and the road continues up, eventually bringing up to a couple of taverns.
Just when you think you''re about to reach the top, the steep ascent continues even further before you finally get to a flat section with a tiny little plateia with some old kind of machinery that's on display. I think it was part of a loading station for the train that used to pass through the small tunnel on the left.
I can't not include a story from the town. On one of my first rides there, coming from the opposite direction and not knowing the town's layout, I got to the square with the train tunnel, and from the first house to the right, I could hear (quite notably), the music of Greece's most beloved folk singer, Dimitris Mitropanos. It was his earlier music, and some of my favorite by him. I was also starving, so I walked up to the house where I saw a woman folding clothes, and I asked if there was a cafe in the town I could grab a snack from. She looked at me and said, "There is but..why go there? I'll feed you?" The back and forth could have gone on endlessly, so after a few "oh now, you don't have to" statemtns from me, I politely obliged and she gave me a "kouloura," a thin ring of bread with sesame seeds and some cheese to spread on it. We talked for some time and she told me all about her family and how much they all loved coming back to the village and walking around the mountains in "the nature." It's hard to imagine otherwise. It's beautiful up there, and you can see across the valley below to Axladokomabos on the other side.
After almost a year from posting the photo of the "kouloura" and from outside the house, that woman's daughter came across it on social media and reached out, telling me that they had all just been in the village for her daughter's wedding. Even more coincidentally, I had ridden through the village on the day of the wedding and on the way up, I saw the huge bus and my first thought was "what could be happening in this tiny village that would require a big tour bus like that?" And just after, I passsed by the church where I saw the wedding ceremony.
These are the little moments that I love collecting...these little glimpes into the pieces that come together to make a life full of extaordinary connections that become a part of you and you become a part of.
descending in the other direction, towards the road to Astros/Tripoli
From this point...it's pretty much all descent for at least 18 kilometers...long, sweeping descents that are fast but easy to control. They are almost casual, and the views are expansive.
You will ultimately descend into the almost microsopic village of Andritsa, which despite being so small, has some beautiful homes in it, and the area is surrounded by olive trees which I've seen being harvested as I've ridden through. The descent continues there, bringing down to some switchbacks that go over a train line. Now, not to dissuade anyone from riding..and I've never had an issue, but on several occasions I've come across a pretty protective and territorial sheepdog around here. He's always been on the ridge that's above the road, and there was one time where he was running along that ridge, parallel to where I was riding. I won't lie, I was a little scared he'd ultimately come down to the road at the turn but he never did and he never has. So...I guess, just be aware.
At this point in the ride, the road starts to flatten out and you're riding through the valleys below the mountains you just descended, coming through one more little village called "Velanidia." This place also has a spring that you can refill at, and it's situated on the side of the road in what basically the center.
You will ultimately arrive at a stretch of road lined with Cyprus trees on the sides, before closing out the loop on the same road you turned right on to get to "kolosourti," from which point it's maybe 25 minutes before you get back to Nafplio.