Winter Climbing in Leonidio, Greece
Leonidio, Greece has recently appeared on the radar of winter climbing hotspots in Europe. This idyllic village lies about 3.5 hours south of Athens and rests on the coast of the Peloponnese, a historic mountainous peninsula with a deeply indented coastline that juts into the Mediterranean Sea. Having already climbed in Kalymnos, we were curious to see what mainland Greece had to offer, and our short, two-week trip in late December allowed many favourable comparisons.
The Climbing – Like Kalymnos, the rock in Leonidio is limestone and comes in many different forms. Although we spent most of our time at the tufa cliffs, plenty of vertical and off-vertical crags were also available. Twin Caves and Mars are best for pumpy tufa wrestling, but if face routes are more your style, head to Hot Rock which features a really nice selection from 6a to 7b, some on very interesting stone. I was pleasantly surprised to discover no seepage problems at any of the crags in December, but that could change from year to year.
When to Go – Winter is the best season to visit Leonidio. Many of the cliffs face due south and get sun all day long, so cold air temps are best. However, some new crags have been developed at higher elevations and these face north providing options if you have unseasonably warm days. Regardless, for the popular crags such as Twin Caves and Hot Rock, you’ll want winter conditions unless you enjoy gripping greasy holds in the midday sun.
What to Bring – If you visit in winter, it’s best to come prepared for warm and cold conditions. During the day, temperates reached into the upper teens (Celsius) and at night dipped close to freezing. If you climb the long routes at Mars, an 80-m rope is pretty handy as are 20+ quickdraws, preferably with long slings. Edging shoes will be helpful if you target the off-vertical faces, but for the steep tufa routes a softer shoe, good for smearing and heel-hooking, might be best. Sturdy approach boots will help on the the moderate, sometimes loose, approaches, and a large cragging pack that you can cram full of clothing will be very handy. Finally, the guidebook recommends a helmet for the belayer due to the fresh nature of many of the routes. Based on a few close-calls I witnessed, I’d definitely concur.
Where to Stay – Leonidio is popular with tourists, so climbers have a variety of accommodation options including quaint hotels, bed and breakfasts, self-contained apartments and camping. Which you chose will depend upon your budget and how far you want to drive each day. We chose Agroktima, a small working farm two kilometres east of town that rents pretty stone cottages and provides a typical Greek breakfast each morning. The owners were very friendly, spoke English and were helpful in planning our daily activities.
Other Activities – Within a 1-2 hour drive of Leonidio are plenty of interesting distractions. Travelling west accesses the quaint mountain village of Kosmas on the forested slopes of Mt Parnon, and beyond that is the legendary city of Sparta with the castle ruins of Mystras, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, nearby. To the south of Leonidio are some beautiful stone beaches, perfect for swimming and beach-combing, and one hour distant is the small enclave Kyparissi, poised to become yet another world-class tufa-tugging destination. Visiting Kyparissi is worthwhile for the drive alone. As you drop off the upper plateau and descend steeply toward the sea, the exposure on the highway is exhilarating, even for those used to dangling on the edge of a cliff! Finally, mountain biking and diving are both popular activities in the region. Asks your hosts for more information.
If nothing else, Leonidio proves that mainland Greece has a phenomenal amount of high quality stone. With my guidebook in hand, I’d love nothing more than to tour this interesting country and see what other gems are hidden in the most unlikely places, far from the hectic crowds of Kalymnos. Feel free to get in touch if you want more information about planning a trip.
Marc Bourdon, Squamish BC