Friday, January 2, 2015

Ano Kerasia-Alfons memorial-Flamouri monastery (circular)

Distance: 18 km
Duration: 7 hours (walking time 5.40')
Altitude: from 660 m. (Ano Kerasia) to 965 m. (maximum)
Total ascent/descent: 834 m.
Signed with red paint marks
Drinking water on walk: at Flamouri monastery
Download GPS track: from Everytrail   from Wikiloc

        On January 15th 1981, 75-year old Alfons Hochhauser arrived at snow-covered Kato Koromilia peak at about noon, equipped with a bottle of brandy and some raisins. Shortly before dying from cold as he intended,  he wrote a note advising the team that would come searching for him, saying: ''Don`t come to search for me from Veneto, but rather (come) from Kerasia''. Οf course, his rescuers could not possibly get this advice, as the note would remain in his pocket until he was discovered in two months` time, when the snow started to melt. The note ends with these words: ''Unless some miracle happens, I will soon be frozen. Yes, I`m happy, happy to be on my way. Enough is enough...''
            In this circular walk, taking Alfons` advice, we set off from the end of the asphalt road at Ano Kerasia, to visit the memorial at the site of his death at Kato Koromilia peak and the monastery of Flamouri that is nearby. In comparison to the other similar circular walk in the area (Flamouri monastery-Kato Koromilia (Alfons memorial)),  this walk here suits those who do not want to stress their car (or do not have a 4X4) driving on the rough earth road to go near Flamouri. On the other hand, it is 1,5 hour longer in duration. After the walk, one can have lunch at the square of Kato Kerasia, where there is a restaurant open all year round.
            Leaving our car at the end of the asphalt, we continue on the earth road which leads to the square of Ano Kerasia, where lies the restored main church of Agii Apostoli. The village was burnt down by the German occupation army in 1944 and still remains in ruins, with only a handful of houses restored.
Agii Apostoli church before restoration
         A downhill cobblestone path (kalderimi) starts from the drinking water fountain at the entrance of the square and leads down to the old main drinking water fountain of the village. From there, we continue slightly uphill for a short distance on the slope, having on our right a deserted half-ruined stone hut, and soon come to cross a dry stream, next to the ruins of the old arched stone bridge that survived severely wounded until the early `80s.
The damaged stone bridge of Ano Kerasia in 1980, shortly before its collapse
        Climbing on the opposite slope on  kalderimi, we come to the end of an earth road and to a fenced grove on our right. In front of us is a path junction (attention). The path to the left leads to Flamouri monastery, following the course of the stream on a northerly direction. We take the path to the right going northeast and in a few metres (attention to the marks) turn right and start climbing on the rocky slope. There are two parallel paths, the one on the right has blue and red marks and is direct and sharp, while the other one on the left has red marks and climbs more gently taking turns, in order to help the mules that were carrying heavy loads. Further up the paths merge  and we come to a clearing, now for the most part overgrown with low cedar trees. We walk amongst the cedars to the east and at the upper side of the clearing find the continuity of he path, entering a beautiful beech forest. This area is called Kosta Rachi. From a certain point, we can see at the distance the overgrown peak of Pourianos Stavros (1624 m.).
            We cross an earth road and continue on the uphill path which opens to a road junction and we take the road to the left on an easterly direction. Further on, there is another junction and we again take the left road going northeast. After 50 m, we notice to the left the signed path to Flamouri monastery. We don`t take that, but continue on the road. After about one kilometre, as we are now heading north, we find the path again on the right, next to a pen (watch for the red marks). We climb uphill on a naked slope, crossing the earth road a couple of times and then join the road for a short distance. At the junction we turn left and immediately find the continuity of the path on the right entering the beech forest.
Beech forest  near Koromilia
             After a while, we come to a rocky area where trees grow scarce. Here we are at the site of Alfons` memorial, an engraved bronze piece of his boat ''Thetis'' prepared in advance by himself, fixed onto a rock by his friends.
Alfons` memorial at Kato Koromilia
         Alfons Hochhauser (1906-1981) was born in Styria, Austria but spent most of his life in Pelion, becoming a kind of a local legend. He left his home at the age of 16 and began wandering around the Mediterranean sea. After coming to Pelion in 1926, he lived as a shepherd and a fisherman and was involved in numerous sea diving expeditions. Returning back after the war, he created with his wife Chariklia a hostel for tourists wishing to spend their vacations close to nature, initially at Trikeri island and later at Koulouri beach near Veneto. Being diagnosed with cancer at the age of 75, he decided to climb to Koromilia peak on a snowy winter day and remain there, deliberately freezing to death. The story of this extraordinary man can be found in Kostas Akrivos` book ''Ποιος θυμάται τον Αλφόνς'' (''Who remembers of Alfons'', in Greek) and at the website (in German). Read also Werner Helwig`s book ''Raubfisher in Hellas'' in German (Greek edition: Οι ληστές του βυθού, εκδόσεις iWrite).
Descending on the rocky ridge
           From the nearby concrete pole marking the peak of Kato Koromilia (827 m.), we start descending on the rocky ridge on a northerly direction, enjoying excellent view to the Aegean sea. If the sky is clear, we can see Athos mountain at the distance. Further down we change direction to the west.We come to a signpost, where we ignore a path with blue marks on the right which goes to Veneto`s Paliokastro and keep following the red marks.
          We cross the stream of Vathoulomeni and climb on the opposite slope, until we reach a yellow signpost at the ridge. Here we take the wide uphill path-kalderimi, which leads us to the monastery of Flamouri.
Flamouri monastery
       Built in the second half of 16th century, it still follows the athonite rules, so entrance is not allowed for women, who must remain outside. Male visitors, however, are welcome inside and can also stay overnight upon arrangement. Restauration works are ongoing. It currently has four monks and celebrates on the 6th of August (Transfiguration of Christ the Saviour). The monastery still operates without electricity, inaccessible by cars, keeping a unique, authentic feeling.
The entrance of  the monastery
         After filling our bottles from the drinking water fountain, we continue uphill initially in chestnut forest and then in beech forest again. A narrow path goes off to the left but we keep on the main path and cross a stream in a spectacular scenery, with water running through large rocks and tall beech trees.
Crossing the stream on the way to Stavros
           Further up, at the location called Stavros, we come to a parking lot where an earth road comes to end (the nearest you can get to the monastery by car), and walk on this downhill. At a junction we go left. After about half an hour, we reach the flat area of Kato Goura. Here is a junction, where an earth road goes uphill towards Ovrios beach and Pouri. We continue straight ahead for 150 m. and notice on the left a water pond and a watering trout for cattle. Now, we could return to Ano Kerasia by walking on the road, but it is preferable to take the path instead. So, we turn left and follow the red marks, passing near the spring of Kato Goura, located under a large beech tree (nowadays connected to the water system).
On the return path to Ano Kerasia
       Our path follows the course of the stream on our right side, on a southwesterly direction. Eventually, we come to the familiar path junction near the fenced grove and follow the route backwards to the start of our walk.
Restored Agii Apostoli church at the square of Ano Kerasia

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