Walking The Byzantine Path With Julie Fison

April 29, 2024

Photo By John Fison

The island of Paros is the quintessential Greek holiday destination. With its charming fishing villages, fantastic seafood tavernas and impossibly blue water, it is the perfect place to sample the Cyclades. If you can manage to tear yourself from the sparkling Aegean, you’ll also find an ancient pathway tucked into the mountains. The Byzantine Path was built more than a thousand years ago, and while hiking might not be the first thing that comes to mind on a Greek island holiday, you’ll definitely want to relinquish your sun lounge for this trail.

The mountain village of Lefkes is the starting point for the pathway. During medieval times, attacks by pirates made living in coastal villages a risky proposition, so the population gravitated to higher ground for safety. Lefkes, sitting 300 metres above the sea, became the capital of Paros. The village is dominated by the massive marble-clad church of Agia Triada.

It’s the second largest church on the island, only outdone by the Ekatontapiliani in Parikia. The pedestrianised old town is popular with artisans. The main thoroughfare meanders between small craft shops, whitewashed houses, bright blue doors and sleeping cats, ultimately opening up into the village square. On the wall of the square’s kafenion we find the first signpost for the Byzantine Path. After a few confusing twists and turns through the village, we eventually spot a white stone that marks the start of the trail.

The Byzantine Path is part of a much larger network, but this is the best-preserved and most popular section of the old route, and provides spectacular views all the way across the sea to the neighbouring island of Naxos. The path was originally paved in marble from the nearby quarry, which was favoured by craftsmen and artists across Greece. The Venus di Milo, one of the most iconic statues from the period, is said to be made from Parian marble.

Marble paving still survives on parts of the path, while other sections have become a wide, brown dirt trail, bordered by stone walls, herbs, wildflowers and farming land. Aside from the steady flow of hikers, the scene looks like it hasn’t changed in centuries.

The path is largely downhill, making it a relatively easy 4km walk. There’s no need for hiking boots, but the surface is uneven, so decent footwear is useful. My eyes are on the track for much of the time, making sure I don’t stumble on the damaged paving stones, but it’s worth having regular breaks to take in the view, and to turn and admire the village behind, clinging to the rocky slope.

The coast is just 9km away. We’re not going that far today, but the seaside village of Piso Livadi, near the end of the route, is definitely worth a visit. The quaint little harbour is lined with tavernas, octopi hang from restaurant fronts, flags flutter from brightly painted fishing boats and cats snooze on practically every available flat surface. On the outskirts of town is a tiny country church.

With its faded frescoes and crumbling stone, the 13th century Ayios Georgios Thalassites is another Byzantine treasure.

Our destination for today is Prodromos, about an hour down the mountain. The outskirts of the village are not very promising, but the old town is magical. The whitewashed archways, flagstone lanes and bursts of pink bougainvillea are so perfect they look like they’ve been staged for a photo. We oblige by taking a hundred pictures to share with the world, and finish the adventure in traditional fashion – having lunch in the nearest gyros shop.

From Prodromos, it’s an uphill slog back to Lefkes, or there’s a local bus. We’re here with another family and have the advantage of two cars. One has been left at Prodromos. The other is at the top of the mountain. It feels like cheating to take the car (especially after a gyros), but I’m suddenly desperate for a swim. The sparkling Aegean is calling and there’s a sun lounge with my name on it.

Julie Fison is a Brisbane author and travel lover. Her debut novel for adults, One Punch, is a compelling contemporary drama that tells the story of two mothers facing impossible decisions after one life-changing night. When not at her desk, you can find Julie hiking a bush trail with her energetic border collie, exploring the outback, or chasing the perfect sunset. She is a committed traveller and enjoys sharing tips for midlife adventure. www.juliefison.com

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