It all started with me asking Hilary what she would like to do for her birthday. Go to Epidaurus she said. OK I thought, that is doable, we live in Turkey now, near Izmir, so a combination of ferries to Athens, and then it’s no more than 3 hours, but like all of these things the plan grew and became something far more.
We have been touring in Greece before, a few years back, from London on the Softail Custom, so riding in Greece is not something completely new to us. Taking a Turkish registered bike out of Turkey (and bringing it back) was a piece of bureaucracy we had not previously attempted. However, with the extension of our insurance to cover us internationally and the purchase of a Green Card, we found we had no hassle at customs in either country, although the process can be slow.
The tour started with a run up the coast to Çeşme and a ferry to Chios, where we were met by Evangelos, a biker friend, and escorted to our hotel. Then back into town for a Name Day celebration involving a vast quantity of grilled pork, beer, and good company. Still with the Chopper Riders Club of Chios, the following day we were taken out for a tour of the island, along winding roads and through pretty villages full of history, with stops for coffee and pastries, and later for fish on the shore. Sadly our time on Chios had to come to an end, we had an overnight ferry to Piraeus to catch in the evening. We will go back to Chios to spend more time with friends and tour more of the island.
Arriving in Piraeus later than scheduled, we had a one hour tour of Athens trying to find the road towards Corinth, not the greatest experience in the world, especially in the heat of July. It was third or fourth time lucky before we were on our way to Nafplio which we had chosen as a good base from which to visit various nearby places. This was not the prettiest ride – those would come later, and were to be a surprise for Hilary. As expected Nafplio was a great place to relax in the evenings, being full of upmarket bars and Tavernas at various price levels, not to mention some excellent ice cream.
Over the next couple of days we rode out to Nemea, Mycenae, Epidaurus, doing the tourist stuff and finding some pretty roads and out of the way places on our travels. Riding around the area was also a gentle way of getting used to Greek roads which can be marked as highways but are often narrow and bendy, without the bike loaded up with all our gear. Our bike is a 2005 Softail Standard, a little modified, K&N air filter, Power Commander, raised bars, custom pipes, and some HD skull items all of which we inherited when we bought it. We have tidied it up a bit, added iso grips and pegs, and for touring, we have detachable saddlebags and windshield, and a barrel bag, not a great deal of luggage space, but more than enough to get by on.
After relaxation and sight-seeing in Napflio the more serious riding started; 2 up, fully loaded for touring, and the mountain roads of the Peloponnese, from Napflio to Olympia via Tripoli. Around the bay, then up the side of a mountain, the views getting better and better. Beyond Tripoli the road starts to climb again, passing though impossibly pretty villages on the way. Then the descent, more pretty villages, often perched on the side of mountains, the road down very narrow in places, and not for the fainthearted. Hilary’s comment when we got to Olympia, “Wow, that was like going over the roof of the world”. Little did she know, it was going to get even better….
We spent a day wandering around Olympia, the site and the museum, then it was back in the saddle. It was also Hilary’s birthday, so I had picked out a few places as a potential final destination for the day. Having good taste, she selected Mythoni, which would have been my choice, right in the south of the Peloponnese, and perfect for the plan she was yet to discover. It was on this leg that I started to feel a satnav would have been a useful investment. Road signs covered in graffiti are not a lot of use. Even the signs we could read lacked ‘follow up’, so we got used to starting out in the right direction then missing an essential turning. The coast road was pleasant enough and Mythoni was charming. We threw ourselves in the sea, found a decent bar, and a great taverna.
It was at this point I let Hilary in on the plan to ride the road between Kalamata and Sparta that is claimed by some to be the most beautiful road in Greece. We set off the following morning, refreshed and recovered from the excesses of the previous night, to Kalamata, and then into the Taygetus mountains. It is hard to find the words to describe this road. It would of course have been a lot more fun to ride solo with the bike stripped down, but this was not to be. I think Hilary got to admire more of the scenery than me, the road was narrow, very narrow in places, exceptionally bendy, and all too often with no barriers between the road and a cliff. In places the road has been blasted through solid rock, creating some very interesting tunnels with bends in. She also got to take the photos as we were going along this exceptional road, through some of the most amazing natural scenery I have ever seen.
We stayed overnight in Gythio, a pleasant enough coastal town, before tackling another mountain road the following day. Gythio, back to Nafplio, via Leonidio taking us through the Parnonos range. The mountain road was not quite so spectacular, but then it would have been near impossible to surpass the riding the day before. Again, up into mountains, through tiny pretty villages, and a stunning ride down a steep valley to the coast at Leonido. The last leg for the day was the coast road back to Nafplio, an almost endless succession of pretty coastal villages and bays backed by mountains.
Sadly good things we coming to an end, the next evening we were booked onto a ferry back towards home. We took our time getting back to Piraeus, riding the coast road between Epidaurus and Corinth and catching some good views, but nothing could really compare to the riding of the last two days. By the time we got home, somewhat weary from having to sleep on the deck of an overnight ferry, we’d covered just over 2,000 kilometres. It was an amazing tour. Would we do anything different? Not a lot, pack a few less clothes. Oh, and Hilary, about that Sat Nav…..