We had spent just over 6 months cycling through Europe and now it was time to head into the Middle East. The last leg of our ride through Greece would be a good test of the coming months as there were few places to stay and mountains to climb. We would be back to wild camping but now in winter,
We started off with warm weather and sunny days leaving Chalkidiki in sunshine. We camped in some beautiful spots with fantastic views. We followed the coast as far as Kavala and then headed inland.
We camped above Pigadikia with great views across to Mount Athos and Sithonia
We met a couple of touring cyclists on the road to Kavala, Borise and Simon who were heading to China. They had 7 months off work and looked pretty loaded.
We passed the ancient statue of the Lion of Amphipolis 400 bc
We had one day of heavy rain which filled the rivers. In most cases these just crossed the roads as fords rather than bridges so we often ended up with wet feet. Fortunately we stopped at a garage for some coffee and water and managed to dry out our shoes and socks by a brazier just before we hit the mountains.
The roads were almost empty with just an occasional car passing every hour or so as we climbed. The temperature was steadily dropping and we were battling a head wind. We camped by the side of a gorge for the night. We managed to stay warm in our sleeping bags despite the temperature dropping to below freezing.
We carried on climbing the next day up through the snow, through stunning scenery, and were glad when we were over the top and dropping down below the snow line again. We had another night in the forests before reaching a few small villages the next day.
We tracked along the Bulgarian border before reaching the border crossing to Turkey. We met the most cheerful customs officer on the Turkish side who was full of enthusiasm for Turkey and after paying 15 euros each for our 90 day visas we were into Turkey and the next stage of our journey.
We spent a couple of days exploring Thessaloniki before heading down to the middle prong of Chalkidiki, Sithonia. Thessaloniki is a bustling city with more cars than parking spots. We arrived at the beginning of December, the shops were full and despite all the noise in the press there were no obvious signs of any economic crisis. Restaurants were busy over the weekends and the bars were full. There are quite extensive Roman ruins and huge city walls dating back to 200BC and numerous Byzantine churches.
Sea front with White Tower and cycle track.
We found a great cycle track out of the city taking us past the White tower along the sea front and past a lot of the urban sprawl. Once we got clear of the city the roads were very quiet and we took a couple of days to get to Toroni on Sithonia where we had booked a small villa through airbnb. We planned to winter in Toroni for a couple of months before heading on to Turkey.
Toroni was very quiet, there was one small supermarket open and only a few locals around. It is a small village on the coast with a lovely beach with golden sands. It is not overdeveloped with a scattering of holiday apartments and a few cafes all closed. We enjoyed our time here exploring the area on foot and unladen on bicycle. We had great views across to mount Olympus on a clear day and when we crossed to the eastern side of the peninsula lovely views of Mount Athos. The rocky hills are covered with a mixture of scrub and pine trees, criss crossed with rocky trails. We would meet the occasional goat herd with a flock of over 100 goats but rarely see anyone else. The herds were guarded by large fierce sheepdogs. The area is renowned for it’s honey and there were bee hives everywhere. On warm days the bees were still active even in January seeking out flowering heathers and early lavenders.
Pip being attacked by sheepdogs
We kept hearing news of the UK being lashed by gales and flooding which made us feel a bit guilty as we mostly had beautiful weather with temperatures in the high teens. The nearest small town was Sikia, a lovely ride across the tracks to the other side of the island. We found eveyone very friendly, and loved the time we spent in Toroni, Sithonia is very beautiful and relatively unspoilt. There are still wild beaches with no buildings in sight. We are sorry to be leaving.