Home of the 12 Olympian gods, Mt Olympus has always intrigued those who have stood before it. And since it was first scaled in 1913, people have found ever-more ingenious ways to conquer its many peaks, valleys and ravines. The question is … are you ready to find your inner Zeus?
A warm welcome in Litochoro
It all starts in Litochoro. The nearest town to Mt Olympus is part-mountainous (built in the foothills) and part-coastal (within touching distance of the long, sandy beaches of Pieria). There’s much to enjoy, whether you’re in the shade of the main square about to tuck into a colourful meze) or exploring the traditional Macedonian architecture and wooden-balconied houses in the alleyways.
A beautiful introduction in the Enipeas Gorge
Your introduction to Mt Olympus is a gentle one, but it’s also one of the most memorable excursions on the fabled mountain. Starting at Myli (400m altitude), just outside Litochoro, a 9km route follows the gorgeous Enipeas River Valley.
The densely forested path (part of the E4 European long-distance trail) takes you over wooden bridges that crisscross the gorge. You pass Agio Spilaio (where St Dionysios lived as an ascetic) and the 15th-century Agios Dionysios Monastery and, shortly before Prionia (1,100m altitude) a series of plunge pools and beautiful waterfalls. So don’t forget to pack your swimsuit.
Ascend the Throne of Zeus
Now for the big one… There are routes to a multitude of peaks, with the most popular being from Prionia (the highest point reachable by car) to the Spilios Agapitos Refuge and on to the Plateau of the Muses (the view lives up to the name) at an altitude of 2,650m (a 8.3km hike in total). You can overnight in the refuge and continue to Skala, or even Mytikas (at 2,917m, the highest point). Another option is from Gortzia (turning off the Litochoro-Prionia road) to the Pestrostrouga Refuge and on to the Valley of the Muses that way. It’s not mandatory, but it’s worth having a guide.
Canyoning along the Orlias Gorge
Things get technical now as you replace hiking boots and pole for canyoning and river trekking equipment. There are plenty of experience providers offering the gear and knowhow, with the Orlias Gorge being a favoured destination.
Prepare for water sliding, fly-foxing, abseiling and plenty more adrenaline-filled fun as you descend the ravine, with greenery, lakes and waterfalls along the way. The Orlias Waterfall creates the biggest and best plunge pool to swim in. It’s challenging but also suitable for all levels, with some providers taking children.
Into the villages, where gods become locals
Let’s lower the heart-rate now by exploring the villages around Olympus. Authenticity and peace take over in Paleos Panteleimonas, 500m above the Thermaic Gulf. It’s perhaps the prettiest village, with views not just of Mt Olympus but of the Venetian castle at Platamonas and the coast. In Palei Pori, all the narrow streets seem to lead to the square, with its huge plane tree and Byzantine church, and Palea Skotina’s church of Agios Athanasios dates to the 14th century. What better settings for a coffee or to pick up local products, like honey or mountain tea? Finally, for a different perspective, head to Kokkinopilos, the gateway to the western face of Mt Olympus.
Mountain-biking towards the clouds
Where there’s a mountain, there’s mountain biking. In fact, there are two mountains that are great for biking, with neighbouring Mt Kissavos also having excellent trails.
When it comes to Olympus, the paths around the lower slopes offer the best terrain – and you can also follow the asphalt road from Litochoro to Prionia. But nothing beats a forest path – amongst oaks, firs and pines – and stopping at an occasional natural spring or viewpoint (mountain and sea). If you pick your route carefully (or better still, join a group), you’ll have the perfect day out.
Rock climbing like a god
Surely, this is up there with anything the gods can manage. The jagged peaks, ravines and folds of Olympus provide a perfect setting for rock climbing. There are plenty of options, with some companies offering epic multi-day itineraries. The Xerolaki Ridge along the north side is the most popular climbing site, giving access to the Plateau of the Muses, and some itineraries will even take you up to Mytikas. As with all excursions on Olympus, you need to be especially careful as weather conditions change quickly. Mid-May to October are the best months for climbing but get local knowledge first.
Nature… the true guardian of Mt Olympus
So you can hike it, bike it, canyon it and rock climb it… but there is only one true conqueror of Olympus. Nature rules supreme here, more than any god could ever do. Olympus was Greece’s first National Park (1938) and is a Natura 2000-protected biotope.
There are more than 1,700 types of plant and tree (a quarter of all flora in Greece) before reaching the meadows and grasslands beyond the tree-line. More than 30 species of mammal and 100 types of bird have also been recorded… wild horses, goats, deer, foxes, wild boar, squirrels, eagles, falcons… Let’s work together to keep it that way.
Experience Mt Olympus
There are so many different ways to discover the secrets of Mt Olympus and take your place in the pantheon of the 12 gods. So which way will you choose to conquer the mythical mountain of northern Greece?