Greece has over 100 mountain refuges and emergency shelters scattered throughout its mountain ranges. Some are open all year round while others are open from spring to autumn. Yet, all of them boast both short and long nature trails in an incredible scenery.
They are often visited by avid hikers and mountaineers, who usually join together to map out the next day’s routes. However, even if you don’t fall into either of the above two categories, staying in a mountain refuge is a unique experience per se.
Still, you need to bear in mind a few things, such as that you may need to bring your own sheets, or that the lights go out early – usually, around ten o’clock at night- and that in order to go hiking you need to be properly equipped, depending on the route and the weather conditions.
On the virgin mountain of Agrafa, often called the “Switzerland of Greece”, at an altitude of 1,536 m. on the Karamanolis plateau, lies a relatively small but very atmospheric refuge.
To get there you’ll need to drive about 4 hours, but it is really worth it. You can take a break in the city of Karditsa to enjoy a cup of coffee while stretching your legs and then get back on the road – it’s a short drive from there, mostly through dense forest.
Located in a clearing, the refuge is surrounded by lush fir trees. From there onwards the alpine landscape begins. The refuge’s large front balcony overlooks an endless green meadow with fir trees, while the back side overlooks the peak of Templa. The interior is beautiful and very well-kept, coated mainly with wood and stone, featuring a cosy fireplace for the cold winter nights.
The best spot to enjoy your morning coffee – with your jacket on of course, as the weather here is no joke- is the balcony. And unless you climbed all the way up here to stay in the refuge all day, dress appropriately and start exploring the area, always taking the weather conditions into account.
The route B3 that starts from the refuge and leads to the villages of Kalivia and Neraida is relatively short. The descend will take you about an hour and a half, while the ascend back will take you a little bit longer. It is advisable to bring trekking poles with you, which help a lot on the descend.
The route B2 – from the refuge to the village of Neohori– is the most beautiful. This route does not cross the main road at all and features a few nice spots where you can take a resting breath, such as the charming stone chapel of Agia Paraskevi. This route is longer, namely it requires about 2,5 to 3 hours. For easier routes take the forest roads around the refuge. You may walk as far as you like and then return.
If you continue hiking after the villages, the aforementioned routes can also take you to the shores of Lake Plastiras. If you want to get the best view, climb to the peak of Templa, about an hour’s walk on a moderately difficult route. From up there you will be able to marvel at the vast mountain peaks of Agrafa on one side, while on the other your gaze will travel over Lake Plastiras and beyond.
The refuge’s café and restaurant are always open. Even if you choose another accommodation or you are just happen to be passing by the area, do not let the opportunity slide. Just make a phone call before your arrival, just in case the guys who manage the refuge have gone grocery shopping in Karditsa.
Karamanolis Plateau – Municipality of Nevropolis, +30 698 8586292, +30 698 9802742, www.agrafarefuge.gr
The refuge is nestled in a wonderful alpine landscape at an altitude of 1.782 m./ Photo: Shutterstock
Defner refuge – Mt Parnassos
Nestled in a wonderful alpine landscape at an altitude of 1.782 metres, Defner refuge on Mt Parnassos is only half an hour away from cosmopolitan Arachova.
Going up to the ski centre, you will come across a sign that reads “Athens Ski Club – AOFS” (in Greek “Αθηναϊκός Όμιλος Φίλων του Σκι – ΑΟΦΣ”). Turn right and after a short way through fir trees, you will reach the refuge, located in a clearing.
At the back of the refuge looms the peak of Gerontovrachos, while in front of it lies a magnificent fir forest. Self-sufficient in terms of electricity and water, the refuge boasts a capacity of thirty three beds.
Featuring comfortable sofas, wooden tables and a large wood stove that warms up the space, the living room is perfect for snuggling. When the weather is nice, you may enjoy a steaming cup of tea or coffee on the open-air porch while gazing at the mountains of the Peloponnese, Helmos and Ziria, as well as the Corinthian Gulf.
You can either spend time in the refuge, reading a nice book or playing board games with friends, or put on your hiking shoes and discover the area.
Evgenia and Kostis can suggest beautiful nature routes you can follow, such as the one to the precipice of Drakokarkaro, a cavern near the refuge passing by the chapel of the Transfiguration of the Saviour, or the European E4 trail that goes through fir trees, as well as some regional trails that can be enjoyed by both children and adults.
The refuge has a kitchen and offers home-cooked meals, so before you head out on adventure, let them know if you’ll be dining there when you return. In winter, when it snows, you can also go mountain skiing from the refuge to the road that leads to the upper lifts of the ski resort of Kelaria.
The refuge operates by arrangement with the managers and requires a minimum of six people to do so, so get your friends together. But, even if you don’t fill the number, it may already be open for others.
Arachova – Mt Parnassos, +30 698 6055080, +30 693 6861064
It is located just 2.5 km away from the beautiful picturesque village of Vovousa, Ioannina/ Photo: katafigiovaliacalda.com
Valia Calda refuge
This refuge is not owned by a mountaineering club. It is a private business created to provide the refuge experience. It is a hybrid of a guest house and a refuge, aiming for all guests to eventually become friends.
It is located just 2.5 km away from the beautiful picturesque village of Vovousa, Ioannina, on the border of the Pindos National Park, with the river Aoos passing right behind it. The refuge is open daily, featuring a restaurant that offers local dishes, coffee and drinks, top choice being tsipouro (a quintessential Greek spirit).
There are many hiking routes here, too. But the cold is bitter so you will need appropriate clothing and equipment. Perhaps the shortest route you can take is the one from the refuge to the village of Vovousa, wander through the scenic alleys and marvel at the stone bridge in the centre of the village, one of largest single-arched bridges of the region.
Another route is the one beginning from the village and leading to Eikonitsa, while there is also one more, a little longer one, leading to the chapel of Agia Paraskevi. Fortunately here the lights stay on after ten o’clock at night.
Vovousa, Ioannina, +30 26560 22200, www.katafigiovaliacalda.com
Vardousia refuge – Hellenic Alpine Club of Amfissa
If you are looking for a well-rounded refuge experience, this is the one for you. And by “well-rounded” we don’t just mean hiking the surrounding trails, but also hiking all the way up to the refuge.
Located at an altitude of 1.918 metres, Vardousia refuge is ideal for all those who have the heart for it, as you will have to walk for about three hours to get there, carrying your backpacks of course.
The refuge operates by arrangement with the manager Mr Kostas Papageorgiou and requires several participants to open. Particularly, due to the heating costs, a minimum number of 25 people is required. However, as it is among the first choices of many hiking and climbing clubs, it is not so difficult to find a date to climb there.
You will not miss out on warmth, food (soups, meat etc. simple but delicious food) and nice hikes.
Starting from the refuge you can climb to Korakas peak – about 4 hours walking- through an alpine landscape with a view that reaches all the way to the mountains of Oeta, Giona, Velouhi and even the Peloponnese. Also, the European path E4 passes near the refuge and you can follow it to reach the small village of Athanasios Diakos. This is actually the path you will also take to climb the mountain. The whole route is covered in fir trees.
The refuge is already under renovation and from November on it will be able to accommodate visitors in a much more comfortable environment. From late spring, when the snow melts and the road is dry, you can get there by car, but in winter you can only get there by hiking, of course it always depends on the amount of snow on the mountain.
Athanasios Diakos – Fokida (Prefecture), +30 698 4282111, +30 697 48244562, +30 2650 62195 (Refuge)
*Staying in the refuges is subject to the current regulations for limiting the spread of Covid-19, the same applies for visiting their restaurants.