Isle of Granite

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Christian Bindhammer cruises Proti Fora (V2), a classic warm-up in the Volax area.

Christian Bindhammer cruises Proti Fora (V2), a classic warm-up in the Volax area.

Tinos: Europe's off-the-map bouldering mecca

As the mediterranean tourist season wound down in October 2009, my sister and I traveled to Greece to find climbing—any climbing, really. Some Internet surfing led to Tinos, a small (75 square miles; 10,000 inhabitants), non-touristy island in the Cyclades. Tinos is old Greece—four hours by boat from Athens but a century behind.

What we found were boulders: boulders on hills and on beaches, boulders in meadows, and boulders on boulders, all surrounded by the deep blue Aegean Sea. The villages are small, the countryside lovely and terraced, and the coffee and ouzo strong—plus, Tinos is nearly empty of climbers, unlike the wellknown climbing island of Kalymnos. With only five days (I would recommend staying at least 10), we tried to visit each bouldering site at least once. Tinos has four main areas—Livada, Kakia Skala, Petriados, and Volax—each with three to six sectors housing between six and 104 problems. Development began in 2003, when the Greek climber Antonis Skevofilakas, visiting from Athens, climbed the first 15 problems at Volax. Since then, 600-plus problems have gone up, the hardest being Kreativity (V13), climbed in September 2008 by the hyper-motivated German Harald Röker, who‘s been to Tinos many times (he co-wrote the guidebook, Tinos Bloc) and calls the island a “bouldering jackpot.“ The island is perfect for adventurous boulderers who don’t care about tick marks in a guidebook—first ascents may be found at every grade.

Although half the population lives in Tinos Town, the island’s port, the main rock action takes place in the hills, between little white villages, goat herds, and tiny churches. After a 20-minute bus ride from Tinos Town and a five-mile walk, we made it to Livada Beach—a sprawling boulderfield lining a hard green sea. The clouds were charcoal, and a light breeze blew. With problems from V0 to V13, the beach had something for everyone—enough to while away at least a day, climbing and swimming in solitude. Eons of wind and wave action have sculpted Livada’s stone into Tinos’ best. The boulderfield sits golden and sunbathed, and the rock is solid, with barely any flakes or lichen.

Livada Beach was the only place we visited twice. We focused on the abundant beachside bouldering, but Livada Hill, Katsika, Skull, Raki, and the Dam areas are all within walking distance of each other and house another 140 or so problems from V1 to V11. There are easy slab problems at the beach, taller problems at Katsika, and vast potential everywhere (bring cleaning gear—the north sides of many boulders are mossy). The boulders are tightly grouped in spots, so the landings can be tough. Bring crashpads, as Tinos has none for rent.

Christian Bindhammer conquers the fun Strandpirat (V2) with the backdrop of the Aegean Sea.

Christian Bindhammer conquers the fun Strandpirat (V2) with the backdrop of the Aegean Sea.

Volax was our other favorite area. A white village surrounded by round, wind-smoothed boulders, Volax is an unbeatable inland venue. The landings are better than at Livada, since the boulders are spaced farther apart and sit in grassy fields. Glihismos (V6/7) is a great traverse on the edge of a stadium-like meadow, with boulders ringing soft, green grass. Glihismos starts on a crack, moves along a slab, and ends with a couple of nice slopers.

We saw no other climbers during our stay, and only saw other folks (beachgoers/tourists) a few times at the climbing spots. Tinos is one of the few Greek isles yet to be overrun by partying, tan-happy Euros—and is often overlooked for its hedonistic neighbor, Mykonos.

In fact, Tinos is most known for its religious zeal. The Church of Panagia Evangelistria houses the icon of the Megalochari, the Holy Virgin. It’s one of Greece’s most famous icons and is said to have healing powers. Pilgrims flock to the church year-round, and it’s common to see men and women crawling the half-mile from the ferry wharf up the hill to the church. Tinos Town, meanwhile, swells with pilgrims during the orthodox holidays.

With its temperate climate, beautiful views, and endless rock, Tinos has potential to become a significant destination for European winter bouldering. Our first day at Livada Beach convinced me of that. When we were done for the day, and the clouds turned ominous, we started the long walk back to Mirsini to catch the bus. Just as the rain began and we cursed ourselves for leaving our umbrellas behind, a truck rounded the bend—the only automobile we’d seen all day. My sister flagged down the driver, who waved us into the cab. He was an old man clad in denim; a handmade ashtray was fixed to the window. He spoke in Greek, and we smiled and spoke in English. (Since Tinos isn’t yet a tourist hub, there sometimes was a communication barrier, though all the Greeks we met loved that we’d come in the off-season.) The man pulled a flower from his pocket and gave it to my sister. This is the Greek hospitality we came to love.

We saw the old man a few days later back in town, enjoying a coffee in the sun. He smiled and said, “Yassas” (hello). Everyone knows everyone on Tinos, and after only a week, everyone knew us, too.

Tinos-Map-300_29119

The Beta:

  • Getting There: Fly into Athens and take a four-hour ferry (about €20/$26) from the port of Rafina.

  • Getting Around: Most days, we took the bus to the boulders, though the sparse off-season schedule limits climbing time. Renting a car or scooter in Tinos Town is relatively cheap and allows you to climb on your own time. The climbing areas are within a 25-minute drive, though a car might fare better than a scooter on some dirt roads.

  • Where to Stay: When you arrive in Tinos Town, you’ll be greeted by a handful of domatia owners trying to rent you a room. Vacancies can be tight in summer or on religious holidays, but rooms are cheap during the prime climbing months, especially if you bargain (we haggled down to €6.5/$8 each a night). All three domatia we stayed in were comfortable and clean.

  • Beaches: Tinos has both long, sandy beaches and private, pebbled coves. Check out Panormos Bay, an idyllic village with great beaches and cafés 17 miles northwest of Tinos Town. Kionia, much closer to Tinos Town, is also a nice, long beach.

  • Tourist Attractions: The Church of Panagia Evangelistria, built from the marble of Panormos’ quarries, is the main attraction, but there’s also a small archaeological museum in Hora, and great hiking trails between villages.

  • Guidebook:Tinos Bloc, by Karsten Oelze and Harald Röker, available at gebro-verlag.de or the Dimitris and Vidalis rental-car companies in Tinos Town

  • Season: January and February are best, with an average temperature of 52°F and around eight inches of rain a month, though spring (61°F) and fall (67°F) are nice as well. In summer, the rocks heat up too quickly. Also, avoid Greek Orthodox holidays, when rooms are most expensive.

The Ticklist

Livada Beach:Risla (V0), Diogenes’ Barrel (V1), Corn Flakes (V2), BluePlanet (V3), Ducktales (V5/6), Kreativity (V13)

Kakia Skala:Loli (V1), Amphore (V2), Tailandos sto kro (V4)

Volax:Pollux (V1), Die Kugel (V1), Cheeuee (V2), Glihismos (V4)