Blog post no 3. After two posts I can finally write about cars – my favorite subject! Or that is, I will write about driving – a road trip in other words. Road trip, sounds so American really. Like Route 66.
This road trip will, however, go from Athens airport, where most of our guests arrive, to Porto Heil. Not only is this a good way of describing the road but also an opportunity for me to describe a beautiful piece of driving. Stunning and varied scenery all the way. This trip takes just over 2 hours (with myself behind the wheel) but you just have to make stops along the way to take it all in. If your holiday didn’t start when you boarded the plane, it certainly starts when you get off the plane.
A road trip is not only for car loving guys (or girls for that matter, I know some of them too) but for everyone. My father has told me many stories from when he was a boy, of the many family road trips they went on. It was like an event. And that’s how is should be still, even though we are injected with CO2 and NOx wherever we turn.
So, away from the news and back to the road.
Athens airport – Porto Heli (Porto Cheli or Πόρτο Χέλι as the locals call it)
Athens airport is easy. One building where one side is terminal 1 and the other terminal 2. The car rental companies are lined up just after customs. It is always good to prebook your car and actually it isn’t too expensive for a little road races (read Toyota Yaris).
When you have found the car the motorway is next. Not too interesting but a good place to start driving in a foreign country. Greek motorways are not too congested, cost a few toll euros and are very good. They are financed by the EU. And they still have not taken them back, so enjoy while it lasts… haha. From the airport you follow the signs to Elefsina. All the major road signs are in Latin letters under the Greek ones – don’t worry!
Greeks travel pretty fast (at least compared to Norwegians – yawn!). 110 – 130 km/h, but I don’t think the Greeks use their speedometres a lot… 180 – 200 is not unusual and beware of motorbikes doing wheelies, yes, with the girlfriend on the back in high heels. Whether the boyfriend is “lucky” later on or not remains unknown… “Our” motorway rules apply but don’t expect everyone to follow them. This is Greece – welcome!
You are now driving north of and around the city of Athens (and it is huge). The signs show Elefsina and then Kortinthos (Corinth in English). Straight ahead for about an hour or so with some stops for tolls. Bring cash. The road, which has an amazing view to the sea on one side and to the steep mountains on the other, takes you passed all the oil refineries and ships which await docking permission at Piraeus harbour. I can imagine it is a bit confusing as they now speak partly Chinese, partly Greek. As if Greek bureaucracy isn’t bad enough… Greece is still a big shipping nation and port for the rest of Europe. You do the maths on why they are still in the EU…
An hour later you will turn off at Korinthos. There are two exits but the first one takes you off so that you can admire the old bridge and canal. Well worth it! This is my recommendation for a first stop (though I have probably been to the toilet already). Stop just before at the coffee place or just after and walk back. It is such an experience to stand above this gorge of a canal. It is said that Julius Caesar planned the canal before the birth of Jesus. Most probably as he lived at this time… But. The canal was not built until 1881 – 1893. This finally meant that ships no longer had to sail around the Peloponnese peninsula. A few lives were lost during construction and you will understand why. Nowadays most ships go around, and the canal is therefore used more for sightseeing, surf board paddling and bungee jumping. Yup, I will never do the bungee jump but be my guest…
Back to the car and towards Epidavros. Btw, I always eat some Souvlaki at the local restaurants before I continue. Always time for some Greek food full of health!
Now the fun stars! The next hour is varied nature, up and down, and lots of stunning views. You are driving on the country roads, toward the famous Epidavros theatre. The acoustics here are amazing. You drop a coin in the middle of the stage and you will hear it hit the ground from the top rows. And I still have not found the “Bang & Olufsen” logo anywhere. The theatre is a few kilometer away from the road but it is worth coming back to during your stay at some point. You need a whole life to cover all the interesting parts of Peloponnese.
The first part of the road goes past a beach, then through a small but long (!) village, and then through a forrest. Pine trees as far as the eye can see. In between you see the sun being reflected in the sea. Spectacular. The forrest is called Sofiko and there are signs here and there with this name on them. But you will stay on the main road. After some more up and down and a long downhill section towards the sea again you come to Epidavros. That is, outside of Epidavros. The old and new will be on either side of the road but you will be heading straight. Many lay- bys mean you can stop and take photos. I still do this as you see at the bottom of this blog post. Now the road takes you up again and down again until you come to a junction by an old bridge. You will turn right here and go under the bridge and not as I have done many times and go straight and then reversing back. There will be lots of names on the big blue sign and Porto Heli is one of them (or Porto Cheli as this is how it is pronounced). Also start looking for the name Kranidi which is 5 minutes from Porto Heli. Some smaller signs also have the Greek text Πόρτο Χέλι but it means Porto Heli – don’t worry. Confused? Haha. It is not a problem.
Now comes my favorite part. A typical mountain pass reminding me of Norway or Switzerland, though slightly shorter. A nice piece of road climbing up the next mountain. Amazing views from the top! On top of the top, there is a restaurant. I have never tried it but at least it is a proper restaurant. Not like all of our fast food chain places. Thank God the Greeks know how to eat properly.
Then it is down again. A completely different view meets you with fields of olive trees everywhere. This is olive country. The next half hour you will see more olive trees than ever before. At least I have never seen so many. The olive oil is great and part of my very limited cooking these days. I feel like a Greek… maybe a lost one…
Again, up and down the mountains.. Fruits and olive oil can be bought everywhere. And then a really nice road on the final stages into Kranidi and Porto Heli. New tarmac and a dream to drive on. A dream for a car crazed guy! And for those who are not so crazy about the driving, the view towards the sea and the islands of Hydra and Spetses is fantastic. Porto Heli is not far away now.
After a few more villages (where the speed limit is 30 but no one seems to know) and a long straight lead you to a roundabout. Lidl on your right side before the roundabout (yup, the German’s ground troops are here, though they should have been at the tax office). Now you will see a sign to Spetses and Kosta. Kranidi and Porto Heli is this way. First exit from the roundabout. Some signs are in Greek but by now you should be so fluent that you won’t notice the difference…
Greek traffic is somewhat different from the rest of Europe’s. (By the way, it is the second country in Europe where they say “in Europe” meaning all the other countries except for their own. The UK is the other but this I can understand… haha). The traffic here reminds me of a light version of Kairo or Dehli. Everyone on their own. Go! Just beware that sometimes you have to stop for people entering a roundabout. Haha. Good luck, I am sure you will be fine. I am still alive. But watch you mirrors too.
Now it is up the hill and trough the town of Kranidi towards Spetses and Porto Heli. Still the same way and after a few minutes this appears: Πόρτο Χέλι. You are here – welcome! If you want to drive straight to our villa Epsilon Horizon which I guess you will be staying at, then take a right just after the Revoil petrol station (blue). Stay on this road, pass a little church by the water, and turn into Entrance G. As in ABG. Not ABC. Alfa, beta, gamma. Yup, I have been told by many Greeks that they were there first. They created the alphabet. Ok, I will give it to them. Anyway Entrance G has a big stone wall by it (right side) so it is easy to find. Then up the mountain side which takes you to your amazing and contemporary villa with stunning views of the Mediterranean. Check out my pictures on Facebook to see. I am blown away every time.
I hope you enjoyed this road trip as much as I do. Welcome to paradise or “The Hamptons of Greece” as media puts it.
PS! There are also other roads to get to Porto Heli, if you prefer a more straight approach to driving.