greece guide

Driving from Athens to Patras

Athens to Patras - North Peloponesse  Isthmus of Corinth Xylokastro Akrata Psathopyrgos Derveni Rio Antirio Bridge Castle of Rio

Isthmus of CorinthOn our way back to the UK we decided to take a long and easy going driving tour until we take the Greek ferry from Patras to Ancona. The journey from Athens to Patras takes about 2 hours by car ,but if you want to enjoy the amazing coasts of Northern Peloponesse and take the old National Road from Corinth it can take up to 4-5 hours. This road is definitely worth taking instead of the National Toll road particularly for the driver who is anxious about the potential kamikazi driving skills of the typical Greek driver, speeding dangerously along the single lane motorway that also goes from Corinth to Patras. The railway also runs alongside this road and intermittently turns inland and back along the coast nearly all the way to Patras. By taking the coastal road, although longer, you will enjoy views and tranquillity which are well worth the extra time. Olive, lemon and orange groves are in abundance, in august the oleander trees and roses are in full bloom and the grass was fresh and green.

Starting from Athens or Piraeus you will drive through the industrial area of Skaramangas and Aspropirgos towards Elefsina. From Elefsis either you can continue on the new highway or take the old National road that goes along the coasts of northwest Attica passing from the sea resorts of Megalo Pefko ,Kineta and Agioi Theodoroi.

Isthmus of Corinth: If you are driving along the new toll highway and you want to stop over the Corinth ship Canal , be sure to take the exit towards Loutraki. The Corinth Canal (Isthmus of Corinth) is 6.3 km long and the second longest man made Canal of the Mediterranean sea after the Suez Canal. The Isthmus of Corinth connects the Saronic gulf with the Corinthian gulf and cuts Peloponnese from Sterea Ellas.During the antiquity the ships where passing over the land from a stone ramp the Diolkos.The ship Canal of Corinth it is still today a main passage for many ships up to a certain size. The Isthmus of Corinth was build between the years 1882-1893.

On the way from Corinth to Patras the old national road runs along the coastline through the charming seaside towns and villages along the Corinthian gulf. Among these are Kiato and a few kilometres further ins the popular resort of Xylokastro, a favourite destination for many Athenians due to its clean beaches and sea, pine forests that fringe the edges of the beaches and many well run hotels and services that holiday makers may want.

This beautiful coastal road continues always by the sea, passing through pretty villages. If you have time you can park the car under a tamarisk tree next to a beach tavern for a refreshing dip in the clear aquamarine sea and sampled some of the taverna's delicious fare before continuing onwards. However, just a few kilometres before Aegion the second largest city of Achaia county, you can stop off and stay overnight at Akrata. Akrata is one of the most beautiful seaside resorts of the Corinthian Gulf.

Akrata: We reached Akrata about 5pm and found the delightful small seafront hotel, "Antonios rooms". It was exactly what we needed because not only were we able to have a very comfortable second floor apartment with balconies overlooking the sea, but also Antonio has secure underground parking facilities for his guests. With our car loaded with our possessions safely parked we took our overnight things to the apartment and sat drinking coffee on the balcony to admire the view and marvel at the milky turquoise sea. Soon however, merely observing it was not enough and we left our apartment, crossed the small promenade that separates the hotel from the sea and had another swim in a sea that felt like silk on your body.

AkrataAs evening approached we strolled along the promenade to eat at one of the many taverns and restaurants that line the promenade. Although it was late August there were still a fair amount of visitors around, 99% of them appearing to be Greek. Consequently, we did not experience any hassling from waiters to eat at their establishment (which you often find on the large tourist places and islands in Greece). We chose to eat at Lambros Grill Tavern which had tables directly adjacent to the beach. The food was delicious but the boiled courgettes, in particular, were exquisite - by far the best we have tasted anywhere. Not a hint of bitterness that this vegetable often has but, instead, they were creamy and almost avocado-like in their consistency. the evening was a wonderful treat after our uncomfortable previous night spent sleeping on deck on the ship from Leros to Piraeus and the hot and sweaty car journey from the Port of Piraeus.

Akrata reminded us of a small old-fashioned Riviera town. Not bright and trashy but clean with a good selection of bars and taverns on the promenade, the majority of holiday makers wee Greek and watching them take their evening stroll along the promenade made you feel it was a real traditional holiday resort. Akrata has a campsite on the beach and also a local winery.

The beach is pebbly and extremely clean. It is well shaded by trees and has a good sized pavement that separates the road from the beach.

Akrata by nightAfter dinner we returned to sit on the balcony watching the gentle evening life of the town until tiredness overtook us and we retired to have a deep and soundless sleep, waking early and refreshed to the sound of the waves crashing onto the pebbles on the beach outside.

the hotel was well resourced with double-glazing, air-conditioning, TV, plenty of electric plugs to re-charge phones, computers, etc. The studio we stayed in had a small kitchen which had everything you would need for a longer stay with electric cooker, pots and pans and cooking utensils, a sink and a fridge. Antoni's wife also provided us with coffee, milk, sugar and croissants for breakfast and offered us the use of such things as hairdryers and an iron.

the morning sea was quite different to that of the previous evening. There was surf and exhilarating crashing waves which I was thrilled to see as, having spent all summer on a small Greek island in the Dodecanese with a sea that was crystal clear but glassy smooth.

Leaving Akrata the road inclines along the coast through stunning scenery of cliffs and pine trees. The smell of the sea, pine forests and the sound of cicadas is evocative of the region.

Patras Rio CastleAlthough there are many wide river beds, as this time of year they are dried up. However, the green of the nature in this region indicates a plentiful supply of underground water. Sadly, though, there was clear evidence close to Aegion of the catastrophic summer fires that have plagues Greece this year. The landscape in parts was coloured shades of burnt umber and ash grey, with blackened tree stumps, whilst those trees that had escaped the inferno wee left standing solitary and pathetically with their once green leaves brown and parched. The smell of burnt timbers filled the air. Amazingly, two beautiful old tavernas which have stood on this part of the road (Platanies) for decades managed to escape the inferno, with the fire being halted just a few metres short of their back yards. thankfully evidence of this devastation doesn't last long and very soon the landscape changes once again back to its verdant beauty.

The next resort after Akrata is Platanos beach. The architecture in this region is quite different to that in most of the Greek islands. Small white villas with red tiled, pitched roofs, all with gardens that were bursting with fruit and flowers. the whole area at the end of August was surprisingly green and fresh which was particularly amazing when you consider the exceptionally hot temperatures that have hit Greece this summer. After a few miles you begin to see, in the distance, the city of Aegion. with the beautiful mountains of Celmos providing a stunning backdrop. As we entered the village of Diakofto from here, turning to the left, you can drive to Kalavryta or alternatively take the famous vernacular trains up the mountainside to reach this charming town. the provincial town of Aegion is like any other Greek town. However it is famous for its church of Panagia Trypiti. If you want to continue on the old road here, don't take signs in Aegion to Patras as this will take you back on the toll road. Instead, follow the signs through Aegion town to Panagia, Tripili and further on the signs directing you to the beach.

On a Monday even the small old national road becomes relatively busy as you leave Aegion. The road goes through the same landscape full of groves of tree. The first village you will meet is Selianitica and then Lambiri. this latter has a very nice beach with camp sites. Further on you passing from the sea resort of Psathopyrgos and soon you can sea the bridge of Rio- Antirio.

rio antirio bridgeRio Antirio Bridge: The amazing 2.880 meters Rio Antirio bridge is the second longest cable stayed deck bridge of the world. The bridge connects Peloponnese with Sterea Ellas from the town of Rio in Achaia to the town of Antirio. The bridge was build between the years 1996-2004 .The bridge begins next to the Castle of Rio a fort that was build in 1499 by the Othoman Sultan Bayazid II. The fort was occupied by several conquerors ,among them Andrea Doria, the Knights of Malta ,the Venetians ,the Turks and finally was returned to the Greeks in 1828. The Castle of Rio its a magnificent fortification well kept and is worth of visiting.

After Rio the port of Patras is only 8 ks.From the port there are several ferries departing to Italy every day during all the Year . Patras is the main sea gate of Greece to western Europe and the third larges city of Greece. Patras organizes every year the most famous Carnival in Greece.