Trekking Mount Athos

Rating & Duration
Conditions on Athos make essentially easy or moderate hiking days seem difficult. Your morale and attitude will be improved if you bring along snacks to supplement the monastic diet, and scale down over ambitious plans. Much of your day will be taken up moving from one community to the next, and even so you would need several visits to Athos to walk all of the remaining paths.

Because of the number of possible entry and exit points, walking permutations are pretty varied. The dirt road which links the port of Dafni and the monastery of Iveron via Karyes not only cuts the peninsula roughly in half, but also divides the monasteries into two equal groups - not so arbitrary as it seems, since the two halves feel very different, and the remaining path system seems to reflect the split.

Possible recommendable itineraries include, going clockwise: Day l, Boat from Uranoupoli to Arsanas Zographou, then hike to Zographu or Chelandariou; Day 2, to Vatopediou, overnight Pantokratoros; Day 3, walk via Stavronikita to Iveron, boat to Great Lavra; Day 4, walk to Panagia chapel and overnight, or to Agia Anna via Katounakia, or to Agiou Pavlou; Day 5, climb summit of Athos, then north to Dionysiou, or Agiou Pavlou to Osiou Gregoriou or Simonos Petras; Day 6, depart on morning boat.

Or, more ambitiously clockwise: Day l, Boat from Ierissos to Esphigmenou, walk to Vatopediou, overnight there or at Pandokratoros; Day 2, walk to Iveron via Stavronikita, boat to Great Lavra; Day 3, walk to Agia Anna via Katounakia; Day 4, dawn ascent of peak, descend to Dionysiou/Osiu Gregoriou; Day 5, boats as far as Xenophontos, then on foot to Docheiariou and Zographou; Day 6, depart from Arsanas Zographou or - more energetically - Arsanas Hilandariou.

Going counterclockwise: Day l, Boat from Ierissos to Arsanas Hilandariou, hike to Zographou by evening; Day 2, walk via Konstamonitou and Dokhiariu to Xsenofondos, pick up midday boat to Simonos Petras or Osiou Gregoriou; Day 3, coastal hike to Agiou Pavlou or Agia Anna; Day 4, dawn ascent of Athos Peak, continue to Kafsokalivia or Great Lavras; Day 5, afternoon boat from Great Lavras to Iveron, possible walk to Pantokratoros; Day 6, walk to Vatopediou, afternoon boat out.

Midsummer on Athos is worth avoiding if you have the choice, as are weekends - at both times Greek pilgrims arrive in biblical hordes, and you'll face intense competition from other foreigners for the allotted permits. May or June are excellent times: Athos summit sports a few attractive snow patches still, the heat at sea level is tropical only at midday, and long days permit the completion of ambitious itineraries. The peak, incidentally, can only be safely climbed between May and September. Early autumn is also a pleasant time to visit.

Get these in Thessaloniki or Uranoupoli beforehand.

The single best map of Athos is unquestionably the two sided, topographic product entitled Athos (Agion Oros), compiled by Reinhold Zwerger and Klaus Schopfleuthner. It is often on sale for about $8 in Uranoupoli, but if you want to make sure of snagging a copy write to the publishers in advance at the above address. The entire peninsula is covered, and while it is not perfect, the cartographers cannot be blamed for such inaccuracies as the new road between Morfonou Bay and Great Lavra.

Another very useful aid is the sketch map prepared by Theodoros Tsiropoulos of Thessaloniki (2310 430196). This small A4 sheet has no contour lines, but shows the complete surviving trail network on the Mountain, as signposted with red placards bearing white Byzantine lettering between 1980 and 1989 by Tsiropoulos and others. There are a few minor errors, especially on the coast between Arsanas Zographou and Docheiariou monastery, but in general this is an extremely reliable itinerary planning device. If you are unable to contact Mr. Tsiropoulos at the number provided, you might try SEO-Thessaloniki at (2310-224710).

Korfes has re-gazetted Mt Athos in issues 97 and 98, but despite improvements on the previous effort the map is a poor substitute, as would be the YIS 1:50,000 Athos and Karyes sheets on which it's based. Coverage on the Korfes map only extends as far as Docheiariou on the south western coast and Stavronikita on the north eastern shore - this plus the Tsiropoulos map together would still not do as well as the Austrian sheet.

Because of the availability of two decent maps and the existence of the red signposts, the trail descriptions in the stages below will not be on a rock by rock basis, but will concentrate on point to point walking times, so that you don't end up being locked out of a monastery by arriving too late.

Esfigmenou to Pandokratoros via Vatopediou (5 1/2 hours)

After obtaining your diamonitirion at Arsanas Hilandariou, stay on the boat until the next stop, the monastery of Esphigmenou This, built directly at sea level, is reportedly one of the strictest houses on the Mountain, and a banner recently hung out the window of an upper flor, reading 'Orthodoxy or Death' (in Greek) would seem to bear this out - and does not encourage a casual visit. Do disembark, though, for the three hour path south east to Vatopediou. Much of the way this does not follow the shore, but keeps 500 to 700 meters inland, climbing to a low saddle before dropping down to the edge of Vatopediou's vast bay.

Vatopediou compares with Great Lavra Lavra (see Stage 2) in wealth and importance, and exceeds it in size; the cobbled, slanting courtyard with its free standing belfry seerns more like a central European town plaza, surrounded by stairways and cells for more than 300.

The katholikon (main church), one of the oldest on Athos, is noteworthy for two mosaics of the Annunciation and the Deisis (Christ, the Virgin and John the Baptist shown together) flanking the door of the inner narthex (porch). The refectory is engaging, with well lit l8th century frescoes.

Forty monks live here, mostly young and two thirds Cypriot but also nine Australians and, at last look, some French novices. Also present are whole families of cats, in brazen violation of the avaton but a fairly common monastic foible. This is a popular monastery to visit, but the old fashioned arhondariki is also quite large, so space should not be a problem if you wish to stay.

Continuing to Pantokratoros, you'll initially walk an hour up a dusty track, passing two signed turn offs to the hermitage of Kolitsou; the short cut path shown on the Austrian map is marked at its start but quite badly overgrown.

In either case, at the top of the grade beyond the second Kolitsou turn off, follow the marker towards Pantokratoros, pointing down an abandoned driveway. Within 15 minutes this has dwindled to a path again by a dry fountain; an hour from the track you have your first glimpse of Pantokratoros and Stavronikita The descent is steady, often sharp, but the occasionally cobbled trail is good under foot despite obstructing bushes. It's a total of 2 1/2 hours walking to the door of Pantokratoros.

The setting is superb, on a hill overlooking the arsanas, which is more a fishing harbour; the courtyard with its eight ornamental orange trees suggests Andalucia. Most of the 35 monks are welcoming, with a bit of that air of the old gentlemen's club which the new wave of novices so disparages. Unless the community succumbs soon to pressure from its peers, this will be your only chance to stay at a large idiorhythmatic institution. A lay worker cooks for pilgrims, the guest wing overlooks the sea, and there is even a cold shower. In a valley overhead poke the spires of the enormous Profiti Ilia skiti, built during the l9th century Russian expansion drive and today home to just nine monks.

Pantokratoros to Great Lavra via Stavronikita & Iveron (1 3/4 hours plus boat)

Head south over the creek bridge, passing the arsanas, to find the marked start of the coastal path to Stavronikita. lt's 50 minutes' walk door to door - fairly easy going with some ups and downs. Stavronikita is one of the more interesting monasteries architecturally, with some of the best views of Athos peak by virtue of its position. Essentially a fortified tower surrounded by neat, aqueduct fed kitchen gardens, it was recently renovated rather starkly. The katholikon occupies most of the gloomy courtyard, and the refectory, normally opposite, had to be positioned upstairs in a sparse stone and wood room enlivened only by l6th century fresco fragments of the Last Supper and the death of Saint Nicholas, the monastery's patron. It has always been one of the poorest houses, and is currently home to 15 monks (including several Australians), but they're hard pressed to handle the relatively large number of visitors and it no longer rates as one of the more outgoing foundations. The guest quarters, despite another wondrous shower, are cramped, fill quickly and for the most part face inland.

From Stavronikita it's again just under an hour to Iveron, by trail as far as the tower of Kaliagra (officially the arsanas of Koutloumousiu monastery) and on a mixture of path and beach track thereafter. Despite the name - 'of the lberians' (Caucasian Georgians) - the last Georgian died in the 1950s, and today it is home to 35 Greek monks, many of whom moved over from Stavronikita. If you meet him, Father Sinesios is particularly welcoming.

The monastery's pride is the miraculous ikon of the Portaitissa ('She Who Guards the Gate'), housed in a special chapel to the left of the entrance. Great disasters will visit Athos if She ever leaves the Mountain, it is said. The katholikon is among the largest on Athos, with an llth century mosaic floor and more recent, undistinguished frescoes. More impressive are the assorted decorative items such as the Persian influenced gold crown of the chandelier, two Hellenistic columns with ram's head capitals from a Poseidon temple which once stood here, and a silver leaf lemon tree crafted in Russia.

A signposted trail leads up within one hour 20 minutes to the monastery of Koutloumousiou at the edge of Karyes, much the most pleasant way of walking there if you need to. From there and onward, marked path takes you via the skiti of Iveron within 2 1/4 hours to the monastery of Philotheou, and from there a track then a trail to Karakalou in 40 minutes more, but I'd advise against this route for several reasons: the path system between Karakalou and Great Lavra has been completely destroyed in recent years, neither Philotheou or Karakalou are of surpassing architectural or artistic interest, and both houses forbid non-Orthodox attendance at liturgy and trapeza. If you do go, you'll find relatively comfortable guest quarters and good food at Philotheou; Karakalou was swept by fire in I988, a fairly common occurence on Athos, and has a very limited capacity to host guests until repairs are completed, with preference given to Orthodox pilgrims.

To finish the basic stage, take instead the midday boat from Iveron to Great Lavra - do not in any circumstances attempt to walk the distance on the road. Rides are not forthcoming and it will take you nearly seven hours!

Great Lavra is the oldest and first in rank of the ruling monasteries, and physically the largest structure on Athos. No less than 15 chapels sprout in its enormous courtyard, and (uniquely) it has never been ravaged by fire - though there are a substantial number of additions from late Ottoman times, including the rambling guest wing. The treasury and library are accordingly rich, though the non Orthodox traveler is unlikely to get a look. As is usual in such cases, several monks of the 25 here have complementary keys which must be turned in unison to enter.

In the western apse the Last Supper is being eaten, an understandably popular theme in Greek Orthodox refectories. Just outside the door stands a huge fount, largest on the Mountain, with pagan columns supporting the canopy. The katholikon-admission only for services - contains more excellent frescoes by Theophanes.

Great Lavra to Agia Anna via Katounakia or Kafsokalivia (5 1/2 - 6 1/2 hours)

This stage encompasses some of the most beautiful and wild country on Athos, hopefully never to be desecrated by a road. Not surprisingly it was a favourite home of the earliest Athonite anchcorites, and there are still a number of hermitages and idiorrythmatic skites clustered near the sea.

Heading south from Great Lavra (at 200 meters), take the direct, right hand, upper trail signposted for Agia Anna; the lower option to the nominally Romanian skiti of Prodromou, a cenobitic dependency of Great Lavra, quickly becomes a dreary track of over an hour's durationt.The high trail leads, within the same period of time, with a final sharp right turn over a small pass, to a cross and a wooden bench at 500 meters for enjoying the views over the sea. From here you can, if you wish, bear left and down to visit Prodromou at the expense of an extra half hour. But the old Romanian monks whom I met in 1981, conversing with the outside world in rough French, seem all to have disappeared, and there seems every reason to press on with what will be a very demanding day.

Almost immediately past the cross there's a fork down to the hermitage of Agios Nilos and the skiti of Kafsokalivia; this is a beautiful route, but involves an 800 meter altitude change (300 down, 500 up) to rejoin the main trail later, and will consume an extra hour compared to the usual path. This continues, shunning another left fork five minutes later, for 20 minutes to an unreliable tap wired to an oak tree. An hour past the cross, twist through a densely forested ravine and reach another signed turning to Kafsokalivia. Within another quarter of an hour, or 2 1/4 hours from Great Lavra, the permanent Kria Nera stream spills over the trail in deep shade, making a fine lunch stop. Coming onto the three hour mark of the day, you'll pass two more turn offs down to Kafsokalivia and shortly after a pair to the colony of Kerasia, an oasis in a valley between two rocky spurs. A four way junction at about 760 meters, the high point on the traverse, is reached 3 1/2 hours from your start. Right (north) and up is the path leading to Athos peak; ideally you would stay at Kerasia the night before an ascent, but there are no formal facilities for guests there. Straight ahead leads to Agia Anna, but since you will very likely be coming up this at dawn of the next day, take instead the left hand (south westerly) option for an extremely 'scenic route' via Katounakia with little extra effort (since the altitude change is identical), and only an additional hour of walking.

Ignore an almost immediate, unmarked level option to Agiou Vasiliou and keep to the marked path right which drops within a hour to about 325 meters elevation as it crosses the ravine cutting through the cottages of Katounakia hermitage. The large building above and to the right is the Danieleon, a small academy devoted to the perfection of sacred chanting. Cottages fleck the rocks and terraces, with a chapel here and there; the tenants are elusive, and you'll need more than the extra hiking hour to await their return or find an occupied hut.

There is another collection of even more severe hermitages down the cliff to your left, known as Karoulia ('Pulleys') after the preferred method of hoisting supplies from passing boats before any of the precipitous access trails were opened. Here live dwindling numbers of the most isolated hermits on the mountain, dividing their lives between prayer, meditation, and the crafting of devotional articles. The last of the French speaking Russians who arrived after the 1917 revolution, the famous Father Nikon, died a few years back (in rather murky circumstances, according to Maximos's book) and was arguably on the path to sainthood; others may be simply halfmad from a surfeit of hardship and solitude.

Beyond this haven the path climbs briefly to a pass giving onto one of the most stunning perspectives on Athos: much of the south western coast of the peninsula, doubtless glimmering in the afternoon sun, with the buildings of Agia Anna tumbling down its ravine just like in the old woodcuts, Nea Skiti down by the sea, and the monasteries of Dionysiou and Gregoriou visible up coast. After no more than two hours from the four way junction you should be at the gate of the kiriakon, having just filled water bottles from the cascade below.

Agia Anna, like the entire south western tip of Athos, enjoys a balmy climate capable of coaxing lemons to ripeness; for this reason it has been a favourite site of idiorhythmatic and anchoritic settlement, and a preferred target of Greek pilgrims who often fill the place. There is a guest wing at Agia Anna, but the food may leave something to be desired; still, it is the closest likely bed to the peak if you don't have a sleeping bag with you.

Up Athos Peak (8 hours return)

You can arrange to leave a full pack at Agia Anna while you tackle the summit in the morning. The dikeos has an exaggerated fear of the mountain, and if you tell him of your plans he may insist that you take a companion. As long as the weather is holding, though, the ascent of Point 2030 is no more daunting than that of any other major Aegean hill such as Fengari (Samothrace) or Kerkis (Samos).

From the kiriakon, it's one hour 15 minutes up with a daypack to the four way crossroads. Bearing north here towards the peak you'll pass a concrete trough which was a healthy spring a decade ago but is now dried up and filled with rubbish, whatever its appearance on maps. Another one hounr 45 minutes will see you along a marked trail through oak and fir to the treeline, and the chapel shelter of Panagia on a grassy saddle at just over 1500 meters. There's a well inside, some wooden pallets for spreading sleeping bags, and a fireplace. If you overnight here, you'd have the opportunity of being on the summit for sunrise.

Carrying on to the peak, zig-zag up to the ridge visible on the north, where a few stubborn firs cling to life up to the 1900 meter contour. You've just over an hour up to the prominent hogback, followed by a sharp left into a defile flanked by boulders. You'll glimpse the iron cross atop the chapel of Metamorfosi (Transfiguration) just ahead, where there's a visitors' book to sign and another cistern, with tastier water than at Panagia. On clear days (rare in summer) you should be able to see from Mt. Olymbos on the west to Anatolia on the east; more often, though, you'll see nothing more than the peninsula at your feet - and the reason why you've been hiking the perimeter and the south of Athos: roads everywhere, and the great scar from a 1989 fire.

Coming down, it's 50 minutes to Panagia and nearly one hour 45 minutes back down to the junction. Returning to Agia Anna, a brief level stretch precedes a sharp descent, an hour in all, luckily in partial shade even in the afternoon. Don't dawdle at Ayia Anna (300 meters) after retrieving your pack, since you'll certainly want to reach a monastery by evening and must allow for the possibility of your first choice being full.

Agia Anna to Dionysiou (2 hours)

It's barely half an hour to the turn off for Nea Skiti (Theotoku), with a spring just before. Within another 30 minutes you emerge at the intersection with the track heading 10 minutes up to Agiou Paulou monastery, impressively visible above the shrubbery for some moments before. The view, with a northern spur of Athos peak plunging down, hasn't changed much since Edward Lear painted it in the 1850s, except for the jagged scar of the modern road heading in. About 35 monks, mostly from the island of Kefallonia, live here today, in this most castle like of the Athonite houses, squeezed into the head of a valley out of reach of pirates.

Daylight permitting, you may wish to proceed to Dionysiou The track leads down to the pebbly bay, where it ends near a spot secluded enough for a swim - if armadas of disgusting white jellyfish aren't already there. The onward route seems to be bottled up by an impassable cliff, but wayrmarks point you inland towards the phone lines and over the problematic spur. An hour's total trek separates Agiou Pavlou from Dionysiou.

This recently renovated house, perched defensively on a coastal cliff, has overcome a former reputation for grimness and is one of the better monasteries to stay at, and an interesting one in the bargain. The food is usually good - the arhondaris seems to know that many pilgrims come here directly from the peak, hungry - and so is the monastery's very own Monoksilitiko wine produced at a remote kelli.

Dometios and Chrisostomos, two of among 40 monks, tend to greet pilgrims, showing them to the neat and airy arhondariki which compares well with often claustrophobic facilities elsewhere. Unusually they may also offer, unbidden, a tour of Dionysiou's points of interest. The buildings themselves, largely spared from fire, dated mostly from the l6th century before the remodelling regrettably stripped the half timbering from the exterior. The monastery is electrified cleanly by a water turbine installed up the canyon behind.

The library, curated by a Cypriot monk, boasts illuminated Gospels on silk blended paper, a wooded carved miniature of the Passion week, and ivory crucifixes. You've little chance, though, of seeing the great treasure, the three meter long chrysobull (imperial eharter) of the Trapezuntine emperor Alexios III Comnene.

It is also difficult to see, even when guided, the l6th-century frescoes by the Cretan artist Tzortzis in the dim katholikon (as ever the monastery perimeter blocks out sunlight), but not so the brilliant contemporary ones by Theophanes on the inside and outside of the refectory. The interior features the Entry of the Saints into Paradise and the mystical Ladder to Heaven; the exterior wall is ablaze with a version of the Apocalypse, complete with something akin to a nuclear mushroom cloud.

Dionysiou to Dhafni via Osiou Gregoriou & Simonos Petras (2 3/4 hours and boat)

The path from Dionysiou to Osiou Gregoriou is rougher than the preceding coastal stretches, and would be out of the question after a day spent going up and down the peak.

Curl down anticlockwise around the base of Dionysiou, cross the scrappy beach, and make the stiff climb to a point about 225 meters up, some 40 minutes out. Then plunge down on a kalderimi surface before climbing again to another saddle of the same height 15 minutes later - you can see Simonos Petras far ahead.

Now you drop into a major ravine, rollercoaster a bit more on the way out of it, and finally, one hour 20 minutes beyond Dionysiou, find yourself at the door of Gregoriou, the only monastery to be built virtually at sea level. In the wake of a devastating 18th century fire there are few buildings or treasures of note - except perhaps the quirky palm tree in the courtyard - and Osiou Gregoriou was always hierarchically unimportant. But it has long been one of the friendliest, most gracious monasteries and an excellent place to gain a better understanding of Orthodoxy. In the comfortable guest study you can read a small collection of English material on monasticism while gazing out at the northern Aegean just beyond.

Take the onward path to Arsanas Simonos Petras (45 minutes), entering the edge of the fire damage zone dating from 1989 - not an appealing prospect for further walking. From the arsanas it's nearly 40 minutes up to Simonos Petras (Simopetra), sprouting from a pinnacle like a Tibetan lamasery. The name, meaning 'Rock of Simon', stems from the foundation legend that the hermit Simon was moved to build a monastery by a mysterious light hovering over the sheer pinnacle here.

The most externally spectacular of the monasteries on this coast, Simonos Petras is visible (as you'll probably have noticed already) from as far away as 10 km. Its original walls were destroyed in a devastating 1891 fire, but the plaster and cement replacement still manages to attract numerous admirers. The creaky wooden balconies which girdle the top four floors of the 10 storey structure are not for the acrophobic-directly underneath yawns a 250 meter slanting drop to the sea.

Along with Philotheou, Simonos Petras is one of the most vigorous communites on Athos, with more than 50 monks from nearly a dozen countries in residence. Unlike Philotheou, you are allowed, even encouraged, to attend the liturgy, and the chanting here is particularly fine. Unfortunately, because of its reputation, Simonos Petras is frequently crowded with foreigners and might best be admired from a distance in high season.

Quality walking stops here for the time being - there are no surviving onward trails to Dafni, and you're advised to cover that distance on the morning boat. For a suitable fee, the skipper can often be persuaded to take groups a bit further, to the monastery of Agiou Panteleimonos, before returning to meet the main ferry from Uranoupoli and take passengers back to Agia Anna. This is a wise investment, since the coastal trail from Dafni to Agiou Panteleimonos is not the greatest.

Dafni itself consists of a post office for mailing your postcards, some rather tacky souvenir shops, and a customs station - the baggage of all departing passengers is inspected, to impede the traffic in smuggled treasures. Beware of the secular police in their distinctive eagle-brooch caps, always ready to pounce on real or imagined breaches of the rules by pilgrims. There's also one taverna where you can get a beer and a bowl of soup, but there are no grocery shops for topping up your stock of trail food.

Agiou Panteleimonos to Zographou via Xenophontos, Docheiariou & Konstamonitou (4 1/2 hours)

It might be worth your while taking the regular noon ferry beyond Agiou Panteleimonos to either Xenophontos or Docheiariou to save some time if you intend to spend the night inland at either Konstamonitou or Zographou - since while the coastal hiking here is mostly on trails, the scenery doesn't compare to that of south west Athos, and you could save your stamina for the more beautiful paths slipping over the Athos crest to the inland monasteries.

For completeness's sake, the stage description will start at Agiou Panteleimonos also known simply as the Rosiko (Russian) after the origins of most of its 38 monks. This ethnic predominance is strongly reflected in the onion shaped domes and the different style of the frescoes. Most of the buildings were erected virtually overnight in the latter half of the 19th century, as the leading edge of Czarist Russia's campaign for preeminence on the Mountain, and have a utilitarian, barracks like quality that was not improved when the outer dormitories were gutted by fire in 1968. The sole outstanding features are the corrosion green roofs and the enormous bell (second largest in the world) over the refectory which often provokes speculation as to how they got it up there. If you're an architecture buff, Rosiko can probably be skipped without regret; aficionados of Belle Epoque kitsch will be delighted, however, with the mass printed liturgical calendars, gaudy reliquaries of assorted saints' bones, and a cornucopia of gold (or perhaps just gilded) fixtures in the top-storey chapel.

The small population fairly rattles around the echoing halls, though the collapse of the Soviet system means Agiou Panteleimonos can look forward to a material and spiritual renaissance. Already large groups of Russian pilgrims nearly fill the place in the weeks following the 27 July (9 August to the outside world) festival of the patron saint. If you are permitted to attend liturgy, do so for the sake of the Slavonic chanting, though you can anticipate that the residents, already rather indifferent to those who are not Slavic Orthodox, will be paying progressively more attention to their newly free to travel flock. The trail between Rosiko and Xenophontos takes an hour, with some thornbush in the middle and moments of tractor track at the start and end. It's not so roller coasterish as the section between Dionysiou and Crigoriou, but you do climb to the nearly 100 meters at points. Xenophontos busy sawmill lends it a vaguely industrial atmosphere, accentuated by ongoing extensive reconstuction. The enormous, sloping, oddly shaped court, expanded urpward during the 1800s, is unique in possessing two katholika.

The smaller, older one - with exterior frescoes of the l6th century 'Cretan' School - was outgrown and replaced during the 1830s by the huge upper one, where two fine mosaic icons can be worshipped once restoration has been completed. The guest accommodation occupies a modern wing overlooking the sea at the extreme southern end of the perimeter.

A half-hour walk, begun by going up anticlockwise around Xenophontos' outer walls, leads to Docheiariou, invitingly picturesque when glimpsed from sea but not conspicuously welcoming and in the throes of remodelling. The repairs haven't yet included the primitive but clean guest quarters, which see few foreigners. An exceptionally tall, large katholik6n nearly fills the court, though its Cretan School frescoes, possibly by Tzortzis, were clumsily done over in 1855. Much better are those from the late 17th century in the long, narrow refectory, with its windows to the sea making it one of the nicest on Athos. Even Orthodox pilgrims have trouble gaining permission to worship the miraculous ikon of the Virgin housed in a chapel between the church and trapezaria, near the fine pebble mosaic floor of the outer narthex.

The direct trail to Konstamonitou monastery shown on the Tsiropoulos map has been reclaimed by the forest. To get there you must first follow the pine fringed shore for 45 minutes (half on bulldozed beach pebbles, half on a trail) to its arsanas then climb 10 minutes on a dirt track through hillside olive grove, with a final 35 minutes, nearly doubling back on your initial course, on cobbles to the monastery at 250 meters elevation.

The most noteworthy feature of Konstamonitou is its enchanted, rural setting at the top of a wooded valley; the place itself seems as poor and bare as you'd expect from the lowest ranking monastery, with more grass growing up through the cracks in the courtyard pavement than is usual at the more energetic houses. Orthdox and heterodoxnare segregated here, and few foreigners stop, preferring to continue to Zographou.

The path to Zographou there leads north west over the forest hills within 90 minutes to this most inland of the 20 monasterries, which has been exclusively Bulgarian staffed since I845. Though the vast rows of abandoned cells far outnumber the few remaining monks, Zographou can, like Rosiko, anticipate something of a revival with the end of communism in Bulgaria - provided that the Greek civil authorities assent to this. If you're curious as to the feel of a Slavic foundation, this is a good choice for a night's pause, well poised also for the final walking stage.

Zographou to Hilandariou or Esfigmenou (3 hours)

West of Zographou is a multiple path junction around the ravine bridge. The eastern (left) bank route leading up the main canyon brings you within three hours and a maximum elevation of 250 meters to Esfigmenou, easily in time for the afternoon boat to Ierissos (weather permitting).

The path on the far bank of the bridge heads steadily north west up a side gully before levelling off at a plateau and dropping to Chelandariou after 2 1/2 hours. This irregularly shaped monastery was generously funded by the l3th century Serbian kings and has since then remained a Serbian foundation (and lately a focus of Serbian nationalism). The frescoes of the katholikon, originally dating from the l4th century, were for once skilfully retouched in 1801; as you'd expect for a life raft of medieval Serbian culture, the library and treasury are well endowed.

Allow 45 minutes to reach the arsanas along the connecting track, though you will possibly be able to arrange a ride there in a service vehicle.

If for some reason you wish to return to Vatopediou, a trail leads directly from Zographou, via the 350 meter high crossroads called Henra, to that monastery within two hours. In all cases you will need to leave Zographou early enough, possibly missing the first meal of the day, to be sure of meeting the afternoon boat to Ierissos.

Excerpts from "Trekking in Greece" by Mark Dubin

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