In a throwback to September last year, we recently received this lovely write up about our guests visit to GCH.  Great to have a ladies perspective of our the Island…

‘It’s not what you know, but who you know’.

As far as the ‘what you know’ is concerned, to come down a hill, first of all you have to go UP!

The who was Joseph Burn, videographer son of friends. I saw his youtube photos and video he had made whilst staying with GCH. Having visited Greece in the past and loved it, I was very much taken with the look of the villa, the surrounding area and the packages GCH had on offer, and recently had got back into cycling, I thought WHY NOT?

I opted for the all-inclusive 7 day package at the end of September, hoping that the weather would still be good but not too hot for cycling. Steven asked what my food preferences/allergies/dislikes were (no allergies, eat anything-makes life so much easier). The other question was a bit more difficult. What was my level of cycling and what did I have in mind as far as daily mileage etc was concerned? I gave him some idea of my capabilities and said I would leave the rest up to him. After confirming my booking a daily menu and possible daily routes were emailed to me, one more ‘appealing’ than the other, and ‘yikes’ was one word that sprang to mind.

Day 1

The first day consisted of more miles than I usually cycle but thought what the heck.  One reassuring thing was that Steven said if the worst came to the worst he would come and get me. After being introduced to my ‘steed’ (I opted to hire rather than take my own bike) I set off, armed with two maps for good measure, a packed lunch, water and my camera. The first part was along the main road following the coast line through a couple of small towns stopping on route to take photos including some of a very picturesque church perched on the sea cliff.  The cycling continued through undulating countryside until such time as I realised I was probably going the wrong way. I stopped near some trees by some form of memorial to have lunch and look at the maps and Garmin compass. And yes I was going in the wrong direction, in fact, 20Km it turned out, in the wrong direction and it was hot. I then retraced my tyre tracks, deducted the extra kilometres so as not to miss the magic 44.9Km mark, and set off.  The scenery was lovely and passed the dry Lake Dystou so stopping to take photos is a good way to regain some ‘puff’ ready for the next part of the climb. The destination was Porto Buffalo a small, pretty fishing village. After a look around I found a bar, bought a beer and phoned Steven to see if he would come and get me as there was no way I was going to attempt the return hill and also by this time it was about 4pm. Whilst waiting for Steven I sat in the sun and watched the goings on of the local humans and cats. That night after dinner of  crispy tortilla with spicy guacamole, honey and mustard marinated pork chop with feta and oregano butter, roasted tomatoes and French fries I had a long and most welcome soak in the Jacuzzi.

 

Day 2

Dawned bright and sunny. In fact the sun shone every day and the daily morning routine was much the same as the first day. The route started and finished in Chalkida, a town to the west of Ereteria. Steven dropped me at a convenient spot once we had passed through Chalkida and off I went. It wasn’t long before I had stopped at a church and graveyard to have a look and take some photos. The route followed the coast with lovely views and rolling hills towards Lake Paralimni. The lake was a beautiful blue colour which contrasted with the brown of the soil surrounding it, save for the men working the cultivated area. Of course a hill was involved and when I got to the top of the rise there was an area that was cultivated in cotton-white fluffy balls in various stages of maturity. The next stop was the small village of Mouriki where I had a very welcome beer (I did not have to pay for this, I think the owner took pity on me) and a coffee. The views were spectacular back towards the lake and the hills. Along the road were wild, pale pink crocus growing in the dry soil, providing a welcome splash of colour. The route passed through some olive groves and a couple of small villages where storks had taken up residence atop the electricity poles. Having gone UP, I then of course had the pleasure of a nice steep descent.  I eventually arrived back in Chalkida and had a look around the area of the river and the old bridge but was unlucky and did not witness the Evripos tidal phenomenon, which only occurs for three days, twice in any one month. Once again Steven was on hand to pick me up and take me back to the villa for the evening’s dinner of shrimp spaghetti, garlic bread, mixed salad, followed by Tiramisu and  lovely cold beers.

 

Day 3

At breakfast there was a talk of a rest day and Steven went off to do some business.  After some consideration I thought ‘don’t be a wimp’ and decided to follow the proposed route on the original itinery-afterall I had maps, a Garmin, how difficult could it be -the first mistake of the day. Off I set heading for the town of Gymno, a round trip of 31Km. The first part of the route took me through a local village on what appeared to be market day. On display on either side of one street was a great variety of fruit and vegetables of many shapes and colours. Further down the road there were a couple of trucks that had cages on them displaying ducks, geese, hens, turkeys and selling eggs. I cycled onwards through a village with a dry river bed and the obligatory church.. I headed towards the town that on the map was to be my turning point to head back towards Eretria passing sheep, a farm with goats feeding on hay, another church/graveyard, and an elderly lady going for a walk and stopping for a very welcome coffee despite the fact that time was running away from me. I turned left for Eretria and headed, yes, you guessed it UP a hill. It was a long slow incline and on the way I was passed by four other cyclists who I met up with at the top of the hill whilst taking in the lovely sunset. I had a chat with the guys but thought I had better get on my way as the light was fading and I was glad that Steven had put lights on the bike the previous day. As I was starting to leave the guys were all putting on lightweight jackets, and yes it was getting chilly but not that cold, or so I thought. OMG -I was soon to realise why they had put on their jackets as they hurtled past me one by one, probably doing about 50-70Km/hour and hugging the hairpin bends as they did so. I was travelling at a much more sedate pace, given I did not know the road and it was getting dark but it was certainly an adrenaline moment. When I finally reached the bottom I phoned Steven to check whether I should turn right or left to get back to the villa, after the day I’d had I didn’t want to go the wrong way.  Many a welcome beer was drunk that night along with roast skewered chicken marinated in yoghurt and spices, homemade pita bread, pasta salad and yoghurt panna cotta with honey and roasted peaches and a post mortem of the day with Steven.

 

Day 4

Was definitely a rest day! Steven suggested a cycle route that involved a ferry crossing to the mainland and promised no hills.  I cycled into Ereteria and waited for the ferry for the short 40 minute crossing that connects Evia to the mainland during the summer months. The village on the mainland was quite busy with the main street narrowed by cars parked on either side so it took a little time before I could cross to the correct side of the road, but soon I had left the bustling streets and was cycling alongside the azure coloured sea towards a small fishing village. I passed through the village to the road end with one purpose in mind-to sit in the sun and swim in the sea.  I spent a very pleasant couple of hours reading and relaxing before heading back towards the fishing village. I had a look around and watched the passing parade in the waterfront cafes and on the beach. There was a lovely looking church but it was on the hill and I had promised myself that I would not be going UP at any stage that day! I eventually cycled back to the ferry stopping at one of the cafes for a very welcome coffee. Whilst waiting for the ferry I watched the many coloured sails of the kite surfers in the distance.  It was quite nice to arrive at the villa at a reasonable hour and I had plenty of time to enjoy my dinner of pasta salad, a delicious pizza from the wood oven and strawberry cheesecake.

 

Day 5

By now the original itinerary was completely out of the window, but Steven had come up with Plan B. He suggested another relatively easy cycle towards the west of the island. After a short while I stopped to look at a church and then headed along the coast where there appeared to be a fairly large tidal flow, exposing a vast expanse of sand as it was low tide.  I turned off the main road towards the road running alongside some shops and leading out towards a church and a windmill. I spent sometime looking at both buildings before heading off along the main road. I passed by what could perhaps be considered ‘a farm’ as there were goats, sheep, turkeys, geese and dogs all enclosed within a wire fence.  And then it happened-I got a puncture, just as I was about to go downhill! I managed to find a place in the shade near some local residences and set about fixing the puncture, all the time accompanied by the barking of a dog in one of the properties. Eventually a gentleman appeared to ask if I needed any help, and although I had fixed the puncture I asked if it was possible to wash my hands as they were black by this stage. The retired couple was very obliging and offered me a cup of tea which was very welcome and the gentleman spoke very good English having travelled the world as the captain in the Greek merchant navy.  After the welcome rest I took my leave but before I had travelled much further I was dismayed to discover I had another puncture-how could this happen as I had checked the tyre and could not find anything in it?  There was nothing for it but to stop and phone Steven and ask him to come and pick me up.  Unfortunately by now it was the heat of the day and I knew it would be awhile before Steven could collect me but I still had my sandwiches! Whilst I was waiting the man on the stall asked if I wanted to sit in the shade but I declined as I thought I might not be visible to Steven but instead he brought over a bag of tomatoes for me to enjoy. When Steven arrived I asked him to thank the man for his generosity and then loaded the bike in the back of the van. By this stage the urge to cycle had disappeared and Steven’s idea of a beer was much more attractive so we headed back to the place with the windmill and church and found a shady spot in a bar overlooking the area and watched the world go by before heading back to the villa. It turned out I had a thorn in the tyre which caused the punctures which was virtually invisible. I felt a bit of a fraud tucking into my soy and ginger marinated fresh fish of the day (cooked on the bbq) with stir fried greens and Asian noodles followed by grilled pineapple with honey and yoghurt when I had hardly done any cycling, but did not feel guilty at all.

 


Day 6

Unfortunately the last cycle day had arrived and as my ‘puff’ had started to run out Steven said he would take me to the mountain village of Steni, for the start of the cycle and then it would be downhill (not quite) all the way home.  Steni was a very pretty village with a lovely church and I had coffee at one of the tavernas even before I started to cycle! Once I had left the village the terrain became quite mountainous with steep cliffs rising on one side and a deep river valley on the other with some hairpin bends to make it even more interesting. I reached another small village and stopped for coffee at a café where a group of men had gathered in the shade for a chat. Refreshed I headed off again hoping that my Greek and map reading skills had improved over the week so that I was not heading in the wrong direction-luckily this was the case. Some more hills followed and I came past on the periphery another hillside village which would have been worth a visit but decided that I had better try and be back at the villa at a reasonable time, for a change. One more stop for a cold drink and a rest followed before I eventually reached the coast and cycled along the same road I had cycled on the first day, so in some respects had come ‘full circle’ and despite my good intentions the sun was just setting as  reached the turn off for the villa. A delicious meal of veal “giouvetsi” (tender veal baked in the oven) with orzo pasta, green salad with herbs and a graviera and honey dressing, bannoffe and cold beers rounded off another, and sadly, the last day well spent in the saddle.

 

Last Day  

Having not managed to return to the villa on any of the previous days in time to look around Ereteria I decided that as I had most of the day free before heading to the airport for my night flight home I would take the short walk in and have a wander and look around.

Eretria is a small seaside village with a port and ferry to the mainland.  The site was inhabited in the 3rd to 2nd millennium BC and at the beginning of the 8th century BC it was one of the most important cities in Greece but was abandoned in the 2nd century BC. It was repopulated after 1830. The remains can be seen at the archaeological site and there is also a small museum.

There is a good selection of restaurants and tavernas, some overlooking a small beach and although not a lot of English spoken I found the people to be very friendly.

I found Evia to be a very varied and pleasant island, with very good roads, not a lot of traffic, especially in the hills, and with courteous drivers who occasionally would give a toot of the horn which can give you a fright but also a friendly wave. It provided for me some cycling challenges and I realized that part of the problem could have been exercising at altitude plus the warm weather. There were exhilarating hairpin bends, especially Theologos Hill with a chance to get speeds up to 70kmph-not for the faint hearted-but also gentle undulating terrain and some very pleasant flat cycling.

The villa was spacious, modern and comfortable with an undercover outdoor area which had a pizza oven, BBQ pit and bar-all the mod cons required if visitors decide to opt for self-catering. The grounds were well kept and contained a variety of fruit trees, shrubs, flowers and an outdoor seated area in front of the Jacuzzi. There was also a good selection of books, maps, information and DVDs in the villa and everything was provided even down to shower gel.

Service from GCH was exceptional. The food was awesome and plentiful with a good selection of alcoholic beverages to accompany it. The cycle I hired was well maintained and the daily routes prepared in advance to suit ability and experience of the cyclists was varied and always with the option to change.

Steven is an excellent host and was always available to answer questions. I think I definitely had an advantage being on my own in that I had the option of a pick up if required which would possibly not be an option for a bigger group.

If you have never had a cycling holiday I would thoroughly recommend a visit to GCH, you will not be disappointed.