My love for wine has led me to follow several vineyards online, some of which are close to where I live. One of these is Ktima Vassileiou, owner of one of my favourite Greek red wines, HGEMON 2004 Grand Reserve, Nemea. They also produce a lovely subtle retsina, ‘Retsina of Attica’ and some summery, fresh whites such as ‘Siban’ as well as the deeper ‘Fume Vassileiou’. I have been on their mailing list for the past year and when the weather took a sharp upward turn for the better, I received an invitation for a hike across Mount Imitos. The path chosen would follow in the footsteps of the legendary Aegeas and end up at the vineyard for lunch and wine tasting, all for the price of 15 euros.
After the winter season of nonstop eating and drinking, this seemed the healthiest option for my weekend. I recruited another 3 wine loving friends who were eager to fight off some winter weight and we all prepared for an 8 am Sunday wake up to climb a mountain.
The meeting point was to be at a monastery where the 6 km path began. The hike was to last 3 hours and there would be 2 breaks in between where our guide would recall historic moments from the path of the great Aegeas. There was a group of around 50 of us of all ages, shapes and sizes, along with the vineyard owner himself, Mr. Vassileiou and our guide, the renowned professor, Mr. Korres (not of the beauty brand). The path was one that Aegeas used to traverse across the mountain and reach the sea. We were told it was to be a ‘grade 2’ hike- although none of us knew what this meant.
20 minutes into the hike our guide tripped, had a small accident and was unable to continue with us. The 50 of us had a small concession and agreed to continue along thinking ‘how hard can this be?’ And guided by someone’s mobile GPS. Little did we know there would be no mobile reception and hence no internet. Therefore, unknowingly we took a wrong turn that led us to a ‘grade 6’ path-only visible by some red/orange marks on some rocks, every not so often.
Blissfully unaware of this fact at the top of the mountain the view was breathtaking. You could see all of Athens sprawled out, from the Akropolis to Piraeus, where sailing boats were out in drawls and the sea looked like a lake. We pushed on towards the other side of the mountain en route towards the vineyard with typical Mediterranean shrub land and mountains of pine trees.
Following the few people who had connection and hence GPS here and there, we moved on towards what we thought was the right direction. The downhill slope became steeper and eventually the path disappeared and we slowly had to start using our hands to carefully climb down rocks. Eventually the path became so steep, we were wary of slipping and falling down the mountain, with no hope of ever having our promised glass of chilled wine. Tempers in the group rose as the difficulty level went up, with kids becoming restless and the elder not sure they would ever make it down. We had now been hiking for 3 hours already and saw no sign of reaching the bottom of the hill.
At this point of no return, a faint sound of music began to grow louder and the group’s hopes were raised with signs of civilization. As we got closer to the music, we were trying to distinguish the language when one person in the group called out that we had finally reached the hunters lodge- what was suppose to have been our halfway point. At this time my legs were shaking, the sun was getting to my head but the promise of wine and music tempted me to walk faster toward the festivities. Finally arriving towards the bottom of the mountain, we realised it was in fact Pontian music and a birthday party was underway at the hunters lodge. BBQs were lit, beers were being drunk, people were dancing and others already intoxicated were singing into a microphone, with ghastly voices blasting out into the mountain air. Exhausted and gutted that noone from the party offered us a beer, our starved, thirsty group began to arrive and collapse on any spare benches like zombies emerging from a battlefield.
The embarrassed vineyard owner had already made some calls and organised for a mini van to drive up to the hunters lodge to pick up the old and weary and take them to the proper path where the bus was waiting to drive us to the vineyard. By this time we were ready to eat and drink completely guilt free and during the last kilometer walk to the bus, we were already laughing about how bizarre the day had ended up and how, miraculously, we were vastly enjoying it.
Arriving at the vineyard, tables were laid out and ready for us and Ben Maries were steaming with delicious smells. Eager to please a tired, hungry crowd, bottles of wine of different varieties were brought out onto each table. He also announced to us that because of the day’s mishaps, we would not be charged a cent. To this the whole group let out a general murmur of appreciation and thanks and spirits were vastly improved. With everyone’s mood (including the elder people’s) now merry, we finally began drinking our perfectly chilled wines. We queued up for the buffet and stuffed our plates with whatever we could find as we were famished. The food turned out to be absolutely delicious and worth the trek, especially a slow roasted pork with peppers, mushrooms, roast onion and gravy that made us go back to the buffet several times.
The sun was setting and it was the perfect spring weather to finish off our day. As we sat at our tables and chatted with our fellow hikers, sipping our never ending bottles of wine, we all realised what an amazing experience the day had been- hiking, feeling the grip of adventure and excitement all topped off with a lovely meal and scrumptious wine. After the meal we were led into the impressive cellars for a tour of the premises-could not have asked for a better ending to a pretty epic day with friends.