The second largest Greek city Thessaloniki is a home of a very special and passionate mountain bikers who are creating Trans Olympus. The end of February was perfect timing to explore mount Olympus, Thessaloniki city vibes and see what ancient Greek gods created for mountain bikers!
We travelled from Slovenia to Thessaloniki via Croatia, Serbia and North Macedonia - 14 hours of driving with a van and 1.400 km in one direction. The time on the road was not boring, we had enough coffee & snacks breaks (one also to visit a flea market in Belgrade - unplanned of course). 3-bedroom apartment in Thessaloniki (more exactly in the Bronx part of the city) was built for mountain bikers: huge living room, two balcons (one on west and the other on east side). Jenny from the block was shouting on her kids just the first day, until the end of the week we were listening just to our Tjaša's singing. We had our own parking for a van (if Peter was not a pro backward driver we could complain just about the size of the parking - but a private parking is really a huge bonus in Thessaloniki).
Thessaloniki suburban forests
Thessaloniki is a port city surrounded by suburban hills which hide many forest roads and paths. Many of them are used by mountain bikers, even in the winter we met a lot of local riders. We got really nice weather, sunny everyday, some days with a little bit of wind, but the temperatures were really like in late spring.
Endless combinations of trails were shown to us by our local guides Tasos and Danis from Outline Adventures. We also tested trails for Trans Olympus. The surface was dry and stiff soil, in some parts also rocky. The newest trails have many berm and other features for more fun riding. One of the best parts was also an uphill trail. Especially when you ride uphill for the second of third time it is a great thing to rack the monoty. Trails are not marked for hikers and mountain bikers, but there is an unwritten agreement between different groups of users. The Outline Adventures team has a plan to build new trails also in this part of Thessaloniki.
Urban enduro riding is another unique experience in Thessaloniki. They used to have a downhill race in the city and there is a variety of stairs and other urban features to have fun on a bike even in the urban area. We just hope they will prepare urban enduro stage for Trans Olympus.
Trails of Olympus
Just an hour drive from Thessaloniki there is a village Litochoro which probably has the highest number of coffee shops per square meter in the world (for sure Disneyland for coffee lovers). Here we met our local guide Vasilis, who is an open book of history and all great stories about mount Olympus. The shuttle helped us with one part of the uphill and we were paddling up just for another 300 meters of altitude. Then a variety of different trails started. Partly the trails are hiking paths and old roads. First we imagined that the riding will not last long, but with transfers and a little bit of uphill from time to time we came to the finish line in the late afternoon. Vasilis showed us were new trails are gonna be (they are planning to build it this year), so for Trans Olympus you can expect even more riding in the surrounding of mount Olympus. Olympus has quite a specific climate - on one hand there is 2.917 meter high mountain and on the other hand there is a huge gulf with totally Mediterranean climate, so the weather can change quite fast. But the good thing is that the mountain biking trails are located in a lower part of the mountains, so you can enjoy pretty summer-ish weather even in early spring or late autumn. The surface around mount Olympus is mostly stifft soil, rarely covered with roots and some parts are a little bit rocky and sandy. When riding down to the gorge there were a few rocks more, but in generally the trails are medium technical.
Velvet trails in Velventos
About two hours drive away from Thessaloniki there is a little town Velventos. It is located more in the continental part of Greece (basically on the other side of mount Olympus). The landscape is more hilly than on the seaside, but the temperatures were also summer-ish. There is a huge artificial lake (this part of Greece produces the half of the electricity of Greece). We crossed the lake by the second largest bridge in Greece. On the other side our local guide Harrys was waiting for us. Harrys organised the first enduro race last year in Velventos and competitors were really excited about the location, trails and everything about the race. So, we wanted to know what is their key excitement factor!
First we drove with a van almost to the top of the mountain where we started to explore velvet trails. Those are hidden in the pine woods and the surface is really soft soil. The trails are combination of old paths and newly built parts with different elements. Harrys's team maintains and builds new things all year long. Short uphills and long downhills were a perfect combination that we forgot about the time (again!). When the sun was going down, we finished our riding with the really magical view over the valley of Velventos. Those trails were technically not so demanding and they have one of the longest rock gardens in the world (mother Nature created is almost by herself).
Unfulfilled wish: Meteora
On the first day in Thessaloniki we met Austrian couple Georg and Carina, who travel around the world since last June. First few days we spent together, but then they left for Meteora. We had it on our wish list, but then we decided to skip it due to a 4 hours drive in one direction. But we regret that decision - when we saw Georg and Corina photos from there, we were in love with those rocky trails. So, if you plan to go to Greece, don't repeat our mistake 😉
Weekend in Skopje
Marek from 43ride.com spent quite a long time in Skopje and he infected us with his videos of riding Vodno trails. There is a gondola to the top of the Vodno mountain and many trails. There is no marked trails for mountain bikers but when we arrived on the top of the mountain, we met three local riders and they showed us all the best trails of Skopje! Even more, they invited us to their MTB hut called TAM (named by Slovenian truck company TAM - it doesn't exist any more).
You can't paddle without great food!
George from Outline Adventures chose for us the best local restaurants which is quite hard in Thessaloniki, because there are bars, coffee shops, restaurants all over the place. The prices were really friendly and the quality of the food was amazing - quite different from what we are used from Greek islands. Many local dishes with meat, fish, vegetables and of course a lot of internationally known Greek culinary: Greek salad with a lot of feta cheese, tzatziki, fish pâté etc. (Too) many coffee shops and sweet shops have a wide variety of deserts with different nuts influenced with Turkish and Balkan traditions. But the best choice for sure was #FishTuesday dinner (even Uroš, the fish master, hasn't have so great fish dinner 😜
Full photo album from Greece find here.
For more information about Trans Olympus follow Facebook page Outline Adventures!