Walking Holiday? It's all Greek to me!
By Imran Arshad
First, some facts about me: I smoke, drink a bit, have a few extra pounds around my waist, never exercise and prefer to drive to work. I sit in front of my computer at work all day and in front of the TV in the evening as well as at weekends. I do have a busy family life though and consider running around after them is good exercise, as it is certainly isn't a walk in the park!
Knowing my fitness level, my huge appetite for culture, history, good food and the usual, sun, sea and sand, I booked a moderate graded walking holiday to Evia, Greece. I was taking on the biggest challenge of my life, as I don’t like walking!
I went out thinking that I was going to miss a few walks as I might find it tough. When I arrived at our beachfront hotel, I was sure it would be worth missing a couple of the walks as our hotel offered a perfect setting for some leisurely strolls on the beach.
During his first team brief the night before, Thanos, our brilliant leader, explained that the first trek would be a gentle one to ease us all into our mountain legs! I happily opted in thinking to myself it would be a real shame to miss the first walk and the chance to get to know everyone.
The rest of the group seemed to enjoy walking a lot more than myself; they found the first day very leisurely. Although struggling, I somehow managed to drag myself up to Castello Rosso, one of the grandest castles of the 4th Crusade that sits on top of a mini mountain about three miles up from our hotel.
Used to leading mixed ability groups, Thanos always makes sure the slower walkers in the group (only me in this one!) are not left behind. He'd stop at various points of interest to explain a thing or two about them. I was not only getting used to the walking, but also getting a comprehensive lesson on all things Greek. We were on a journey as old as Greek history. "Evia is where it all started", he told us. Thanos’ knowledge of Evia is certainly unmatched as he was born here and regularly visits this beautiful island when leading Exodus trips.
After lunch (which we had whilst sitting at the top of Castello Rosso overlooking the stunning harbour), I was starting to get hooked! Because what goes up must come down, my journey back was downhill, crossing clear streams, traversing scented meadows, local farms and villages.
Despite wanting to stay in bed on day two, I got ready and joined the rest of the group for the day's walk, which ends at a spectacular cove on the south-east of the island. It turned out to be even better than day one. Our cab dropped us in the mountains, we descended through a winding valley, visiting a picturesque Albanian village along the way (yes I know we are in Greece!) and joined a river path that led us to an idyllic beach.
Day three's agenda sent shivers through my spine… 'a tougher hike today' Thanos anounced chirpily! My legs were screaming nooooo...! I reluctantly tagged along. After arriving at the Acropolis of Styra I realised it was well worth the effort. The site stunned me. What a reward. This brought home the fact that a walking holiday was not a bad idea after all.
Much to my surprise, on the free day I was up for walking again! We visited the coastal town of Marmari and enjoyed a leisurely paced coastal walk. On our second last day, we travelled to Castello Rosso again to start another trek and visited an astonishing Roman marble quarry. I was walking happily and the idea of being on a walking holiday started making even more sense.
Evening meals arranged by Thanos with accompanying local wines and beer made every evening a memorable gastronomic experience. Great walks, remarkable sites, delightful company and some amazing food worked magic on my fitness. I must admit that I felt a lot fitter and energetic towards the end of my first walking holiday.
I also had some interesting conversations about the benefits of walking and active living with some of my fellow travellers. They must have more than 500 years of walking experience among them. Since coming back to my city life in London, I have taken up walking as a hobby. I have also invested in some walking gear (wish I had done this before my trip though!).
By Exodus' Imran Arshad