Just back from a few weeks work/climbing trip to Leonidio so I thought I’d share some observations…..
From mid Jan to end Feb - Weather was as expected really, mostly good, chilly to begin with, and with the odd rainy day, so we aimed for the sunny crags. Depending on your grades, there are many sunny options available for the winter, especially on the main ‘red rock’ above town if you’re after low to mid 6’s or multipitch climbing. Later on as the temps improved, we were searching for a mixed bag of shade, warmth, peace and grades.
Peace sadly, was in short supply, especially at the honey pot crags of Theos, Mars, Twin Caves and Cemetery Gates, so if you’re a tad anti-social, you might want to avoid Leo in winter.
In comparison to say, Kalymnos, the crags in Leo are smaller and don’t accommodate crowds easily at all. 12 people on the Mars ledge and its crowded. Jupiter is the only crag we found that absorbed multiple parties with relative ease. We even had this majestic crag to ourselves one day
We noticed an awful lot of camper vans. Everywhere!! The town centre car park was full of vans and the lovely free public loos were in regular use. It surely won’t be long before camper vans are banned from the main car park, especially as the behaviour of some was plain rude and disrespectful to the local people. Climbers changing clothes in full public view, dogs and kids running riot, loud music playing from vans…. Not good. The Panjika cafe kitchen was closed for meals so lord knows where the van folks were eating.
Some of the crag parking areas were also overrun with vans, making it very hard for cars to get parked. We ended up having a plan A, plan B, and plan C for most days based on the amount of vans and cars in the parking bays! We got it right on a few occasions, but when we got it wrong it got very busy very quickly around lunch time as often multi van parties arranged to ‘hit’ certain crags together for a fun day out. Contents of rucksacks were scattered all over belay stances and footpaths as the ‘lost and found’ threads on social media can testify!
Overall, great climbing, but, crags are a good long drive away, especially if you want to avoid crowds. The van situation may just be a covid bump? Not sure, but its our main (negative) take away from this trip.
Leonidio is a lovely small town with fresh fruits and produce aplenty and one or two fine restaurants - Metropolis being our favourite, Gouzalitto was nice, En Leo, Pritaneon and Myrtoon in Poulithra all ok too.
Accommodation is plentiful but not cheap and this may explain the vans. Leo needs to provide decent cheap faculties for camping, and people need to use it before they either get banned or the locals get grumpy.
Finally, climbing in the sun is already getting too hot… its a short season there and many of the routes on the red rocks will be super hot by March.
That pretty much corresponds to my first impressions from my first visit in November, although the van plague wasn't out in full force yet. Lovely little town, and I found the landscape & scenery especially down the coast towards Kyparissi stunning, but the rock architecture and the actual climbing didn't impress me as much as Kalymnos.
Very sorry to hear about the van situation, which sounds like a new problem since our visits in 2018 and 2019.
This is a real shame because there is a really nice campsite about 3km from Leonidio, Camping Semeli. Very friendly owners, relaxed atmosphere and beachside pitches (and lovely hot showers!) make this one of our favourite campsites in the world (and we've been to a lot.)
Most importantly, you're putting something back into the local economy in an area where its needed. It's €8 a head for two people sharing a van - so if you're going by van to Leonidio I really would encourage you to pay this small price rather than exploit resources in this lovely town.
Ah yes, Semeli. My mate told me there was one van in there!
Looks nice, in fact the area around Plaka is ideal for van parking. Thats where I would go for sure.
Not trying to put people off at all, just providing some recent beta as to what you might expect if you are heading there soon. In fact I hope its just a post pandemic bump and things will return to more like normal over time. The cost of fuel may well have an effect too before long.
By the end of our trip I was caught in that time where on some days it was too hot in the sun and a wee bit chilly in the shade. In a couple of weeks the shady crags will be prime, but then they will take their turn at being mobbed unless things ease or somewhere else becomes ‘in vogue’…
I’ll be going back to the area without any hesitation. I lived in a camper for a while so I kinda get the joy and freedom of the lifestyle, but not the mass of vans in full public gaze in the centre of a small town… Thats not cool. Hopefully the situation will be addressed soon, somehow, for their benefit and for the locals, but even so, the crags are still great and the town is still utterly lovely.
My partner and I are in Leo currently, have been for about 3 days now.
We haven’t found the van situation to be nearly as bad as OP is suggesting but maybe we’ve missed the rush?
Don’t get me wrong there are plenty about but we have had no trouble at the crags.
We did head up to twin caves today and found it to be full but this was probably due to the forecast rain. We simply rolled 2 minutes down the hill to hot rock and saw about 4 other people there spread across the crag.
If you just head that little bit further (5-10 minutes from the centre of town) we have found the crags to be pretty quiet, even so far as to have sector H.A.D.A completely to ourselves all day yesterday.
I spent quite a bit of time in town as I was doing a little work there in late January. I was in or around the car park quite regularly. If you live there you’ll see many a sight you wouldn’t wish to see lol. I also object to being forced to listen to another persons choice of music coming from wide open van doors…. Honestly, I just feel for the residents a bit now that Leo has hit ‘the big time’.
Its a quandary really, as I know the municipality actively encourages climbers to visit and arranged for the new Aris Theodoropoulis guide to be made last year. I want us visiting climbers to leave a good impression on the town, not to force changes to their behaviour to accommodate some of the less respectful climbing visitors, or worse, to begin to resent us.
We got lucky at the crags too. We had Yellow Eyes to ourselves twice and even Jupiter, which was an amazing days climbing! Balcony twice, Nemaste, King of Thrones, Arcadia and Andreos, all to ourselves … Just needed a little planning and flexibility.
We tried Twin caves and also ‘rolled down’ the hill to Hot Rock on one occasion. We had even more joy driving up the hill to the crags up on the plateau. Once we even drove over the top to Agios Andreos, in a mild snow storm. The road became single track and eventually a dirt track. The descent to Tyros was super scary!!!
Yep, very true. Kalymnos does get very busy at times, October especially. Most (not all) crags have room to spread out though, and not so far to go to find another crag.
Im just guessing here, but xmas and NY are probably quiet times in most places, but a good choice if you can get away then for sure.
Thanks for taking the time to write this up - I've never been and was wondering what it's like so it's good to get your first impressions on it.
Hope the van situation can get sorted in a way that suits climbers and the locals too. It's a fairly new destination, so maybe the scene there and the rules just need mature a bit.
Europe is a big place and there is a huge amount of bolted limestone. Surely there is enough room for everyone if people would spread themselves out more. It seems at the moment that there is always an "in" new place (or an "in" old place in the case of Chulilla) which is great for a bit but then gets mobbed and spoilt. The circus then moves on. Maybe people need to think a bit harder where other people will not be.
Spent some time in and around leonidio last year(21),March, April and May to be precise. Greek covid restrictions in full effect so visitor/climber numbers were down but there were plenty of euro van climbers about. Germans,Austrians,Brits,French etc.
Was blown away by what we saw regarding the van life scenes.
Plaka had been turned into a ghetto. People leaving tables,chairs and laundry out on display whilst going climbing for the day.The public restrooms were in a real state. Not good.Many vans parked in town parking lot too which isn't a good thing.
I can't imagine the local residents and municipality will tolerate this behaviour much longer.
It sounds like you would be happier at a less popular destination. Why go to a honeypot like Leonidio if you would prefer peace and quiet? There are literally hundreds of destinations in Southern Europe to choose from. E.g. I spent 6 weeks in Jan/Feb in Crete and we only met 1 other climber the entire time.
A few notes from the end of Feb:
Public toilet fantastic, really first rate.
Inconsiderate van parking in the middle of town still an issue. It's a minority of van drivers though. And it's worth noting that in Greece in general, everyone parks wherever they want, rules or not, it is not at all like the UK or even France or Spain. Didn't see any rude or disrespectful behaviour by van-lifers though.
Even 4 star crags were pretty calm, a couple of times I've waited a few minutes for someone to finish a route but never been in a queue and there were always alternatives.
I'm pretty sure
The grades are hilariously biased - anything on a slab or vertical wall is between 2 and 3 french grades easier than the guidebook grade. However things on an overhang seem pretty fairly graded (evidence, if it ever was needed that today's climbers all get strong in the gym but have no technique or route reading ability )
Too hot in the sun but there are a fair number of cloudy and breezy days when you can climb on South-facing walls. There are plenty of shade alternatives, especially if you start at about mid-day.
The crags are really close to Leonidio, it's like a 5-10 minute drive at most to get to parking (unless you go to a few which are further up the valley).
The popular overhanging tufa-fests are getting fairly polished, sometimes just 6 years after bolting - a testament to just how popular the place is.
Mostly there have been a few other parties at the crag but never busy, I'm pretty sure you could select a less popular crag that was a bit more of a walk-in or drive away and be alone.
Edit: Forgot to say, no problems with parking for any of the crags yet.
Yep. And circus is the right word Rob.
I understand the choice of venue, weather, quality routes, nice area, relatively cheap etc. what I don’t understand is how ‘we’ behave.
Many were respectful and parked away from town and tried to keep a low profile…. Sadly the younger ones seem to feel some form of entitlement to do as they please, where they please, and its this behaviour and the effect it has on our wider community and on local residents that I object to.
As I mentioned earlier, I had to do some work there. And as I also mentioned earlier, we did find peace and quiet. Why bother to comment if you can’t be bothered to read the previous posts properly?
Crete is on my list
Karpathos was excellent (but don’t tell everyone
I was in a que for a route at Hot Rock, but only once. We left after I’d done it. Way too busy.
If you were to restrict your drive to 5 - 10 mins, you would be missing many of the top crags (unless you drive a very fast car).
For more interesting and entertaining ‘slab’ style route grades, try King of Thrones. Totally agree with your indoor gym comment. Very true.
Yes, I noticed some polished routes too, most notably at Mars.
So bad parking by Greeks is seen as an excuse to do the same? Anyway, I have no issues with parking as such, other than vans taking up twice as much space as a car in the town centre car park. Pop over the bridge at least…. A bit further to walk to those excellent toilets but it would save the locals having to do so wouldn’t it.
You’re lucky to have not witnessed what we did, well done, and also lucky (so far) to have no parking issues at crags. I hope your luck continues. Have a great trip
Sadly I have to agree re Plaka.
Semeli is the place to go but Plaka off-season seems a reasonable option too. However, I did visit an old friend parked there last week and did pop to the loo…. Yep, totally disgusting. But, at least they were open and while most cubicles were locked closed, they had left one open for people to use.
> Karpathos was excellent (but don’t tell everyone
In few weeks I'm going to a fairly recently developed area in Greece which I had never heard of until a friend suggested it and nobody I've mentioned it to seems to have heard of it (though I am sure you have!). I'm expecting it to be pretty quiet and, hopefully, superb. So, if it is superb, should I keep quiet about it (despite the fact that the locals seem to be actively promoting it) so that it remains quiet as long as possible (well, until I've had a couple more trips maybe anyway!) or should I help let the cat out of the bag, so that it maybe becomes the "new Leonidio", taking pressure off the old one but possibly getting trashed in turn itself? As I said, I think that, ideally, the more "Leonidios" the better, to spread the vans, the pressure and economic benefits around, but there is the danger that the circus just relocates.
I bet I do know yeh….. I hear good things. There’s a lot of good areas in Greece, and Athens itself has a lot to offer.
Any area in Greece where there is potential to get on the gravy train that kalymnos started is always “actively promoted” by the municipality and local businesses. Money talks.
I did think about going for a taster on this trip but accommodation costs put me off a little. Have a great trip, same to you Chris
> I spent 6 weeks in Jan/Feb in Crete and we only met 1 other climber the entire time.
What’s Crete like for climbing? Clearly enough to keep you going for a while, is it as good quality as more well known destinations?
> Why bother to comment if you can’t be bothered to read the previous posts properly?
I contracted ADHD from the internet so I stopped reading after the first few posts. In this case I probably should have put the effort in to read a little further. In general I don't think it's completely necessary to read the whole thread before you reply to the op though - that's not realistic on a lot of UKC threads.
> Crete is on my list
The locals in Leonidio told me the routes in crete are run-out and there is no current guidebook because the locals there don't want it to become a honeypot.... But the guy I met in crete was really keen to get the word out and have more people visit.... he said, she said, who knows where the truth lies - it's like a debate about a Franco Cookson ascent.
> Karpathos was excellent (but don’t tell everyone
We were going to go there but my friend said it was very windy in the middle of winter, so Crete was a better bet before early spring.
> If you were to restrict your drive to 5 - 10 mins, you would be missing many of the top crags (unless you drive a very fast car).
Hmm... In my guidebook two thirds of the crags are within 10 minute's drive, I guess rather than thinking "there are good crags that are a longer drive", I rather think "there are more than enough crags within a short drive to keep me busy for a long time".
> For more interesting and entertaining ‘slab’ style route grades, try King of Thrones. Totally agree with your indoor gym comment. Very true.
Sweet, I'll check it out.
> Yes, I noticed some polished routes too, most notably at Mars.
> So bad parking by Greeks is seen as an excuse to do the same? Anyway, I have no issues with parking as such, other than vans taking up twice as much space as a car in the town centre car park. Pop over the bridge at least…. A bit further to walk to those excellent toilets but it would save the locals having to do so wouldn’t it.
I'm not really condoning bad parking, more saying that inconsiderate parking is more at odds with the actions of locals everywhere else I've been than it is in Greece.
> You’re lucky to have not witnessed what we did, well done, and also lucky (so far) to have no parking issues at crags. I hope your luck continues. Have a great trip
> What’s Crete like for climbing? Clearly enough to keep you going for a while, is it as good quality as more well known destinations?
The gorge at Agiofarrago is very nice. A lot of the bolting is a little inconsiderate to short people and a little run out (the bolts are close near the ground and only more run out when you are high up and a fall is safe). There is climbing on both sides of the gorge which makes it perfect for choosing sun or shade (you can literally change from sun to shade with a 1 minute walk). The access dirt road is fine for cars and small campers but not suitable for big campers with overhanging asses. I did a fair bit of walking and cycling (great place for cycling dirt roads up and down mountains with barely a vehicle in sight) because I was easing into sport climbing again after a while off and didn't want to get injured. I thought the rock was fine, a friend said it wasn't as good as Leonidio though, I don't think I'm really a connoisseur of limestone sport climbing, it all feels pretty similar to me (nice, but similar). Some of the routes have been rebolted but some still have the old bolts from 2007 to 2009 and one of those did come out on me when I tried to clip it (looked like corrosion through a microfracture in the bolt, possibly even something that was there when it was manufactured or placed). I don't have the guide in front of me but I think there were around 200 routes at Agiofarrago.
It was unseasonally cold and wet while we were there too (they even declared a national emergency for a couple of days with absolutely everything closing and people hiding in the homes because it was what we in Scotland would call "a wee bit dreich"), so we didn't investigate a number of other crags that were higher up or harder to get to. We were pretty lazy!
The municipal campground at Matala is "closed" during the winter but currently sort of free in winter - hot showers and cold toilets.
Overall I'd say Crete has masses to offer - sport climbing, winter hill walking, mountain biking/road cycling, walking, snorkeling/swimming, archaeology, etc. etc. but I think someone who is used to the Leonidio/San Vito/Siurana/Kalymnos level of development could feel underwhelmed.
Karpathos is noted for being windy almost all the time 😆
Big island with lots of rock and not many people.
Kalymnos population is around 12 - 13000
Karpathos is a wee bit bigger and around 6 - 7000 inhabitants.
Lots of bendy hilly roads. We rarely got higher than 3rd gear.
Cheers Mike and yes you are right about accommodation being expensive.
Thanks for your notes on your recent visit to Leonidio. Hopefully it’s just a ‘post’ covid increase in popularity but I think probably not. Let’s hope this can be resolved and the locals aren’t put upon with poor behaviour. I don’t remember on my previous visits seeing van users staying overnight on the main car park, most used discreet spots outside of Leonidio and on the coastal camp/van site?
October in Kalymnos was really rammed and maybe that was also a ‘post’ covid increase with the travel restrictions being lifted.
Yes, October was the busiest we’ve seen. First time I've ever heard of all restaurants needing tables pre-booked. Were you here in amongst it then??
Steve and I managed to find nice new crags to climb on and quietly carried on about our business Only once were we sucked into the fray at Yannis to get on Adolf ext.
I hope you’re right about the van parking in Leo, but that won’t put me off returning. I like it there.
To Henwardian…. You are clearly a more sociable chap than I am these days. Yellow Eyes and the awesome Jupiter are both excellent crags though they will take you about half an hour to get there, and Arcadia was fantastic, but oh, maybe a 40 minute drive! To be honest though, I’m more than happy for you to stay within that 10 minute drive
Ah yes, we kept ourselves pretty well away from the masses, although often to be found in the Italian ice cream shop above Mikes Bikes after climbing!!
Rory and I are almost finished bolting a few great additions to Meltemi sector. Its on UKC database. There are several new, or new’ish spots to climb on the island now, well away from the Grotto and the other show crags within walking distance of Masouri.
The 6 weeks I spent in Leonidio has only further cemented my opinion that Leonidio is good, but not as good as Kalymnos. However, for me its time to leave for pastures new. House still for sale, going cheap
I’ll check out Meltemi on UKC. Claude told me about another new crag that he was developing on Kalymnos but couldn’t follow/remember his directions! Yep agree with you, I also like Leonidio and Kyparissi but prefer Kaly. Where are you going?
Not sure yet. I need the house to go first, then we’ll see. For now kalymnos is still the base.
I’m never sure if Monsieur Idoux really develops new sectors or just changes the names on old ones
Interesting perspective overall, we have been here in the same period since Jan 15 or so and are leaving in a few days.
We have really not encountered any crowds whatsoever at any crags with the exception of Theos Cave and Twin Caves. Even at those two crags, everyone usually leaves their draws up on the routes and its super easy to just go climb on others draws which I find preferable to having to use my own and clean after. I find Kalymnos insanely more crowded than leonidio in general, and we have kept asking ourselves why nobody is in leonidio right now as its been so empty.
The camper vans thing is true, the city needs to find a balance between attracting people to come but its a bit much what's going on at Plaka beach and the city center - with that being said we've never had issues parking at crags or in town, not once.
Heading to Kalymnos in april for the first time in 2 years, let's see how the crowds are since the remote work boom!
I find Kalymnos insanely more crowded than leonidio in general, and we have kept asking ourselves why nobody is in leonidio right now as its been so empty.
Wow, which Leonidio did you go to??
Honestly… I cannot believe we were around the same town at the same time, yet have two completely different and opposite perspectives on what is and isn't busy. Interesting.
Again, interestingly, I prefer to place my own draws on lead and while I don’t mind waiting a wee while, I don’t really like being in a que, cooling down in the process while the route gets gang banged.
Yes its a real quandary for the town isn’t it. Encourage climbers to come, but somehow manage the van parking. Im guessing the idea of so many vans arriving was never a consideration, and covid has added to that, no doubt.
Kalymnos in April will be ok, probably, but bear in mind its had the wettest winter ever, and its still raining so things may be a bit moist still.
October, yes that can be nuts and best avoided if you want a little peace. There are many new quiet, out of the way crags now, more than enough for the masses that tend to stick to the major, popular and sadly now polished routes.
Enjoy kalymnos when you get there.
I’m in Leonidio now and have been for a few days. The town is quiet and sleepy and the crags are either empty or just have a smattering of people. It’s been chilly lately but we’ve had some great days too. Haven’t seen more than a handful of camper vans on the roads nearby. We have been really struck with how fresh the rock is, generous the bolting is and how lovely the village is. Will definitely be coming back. Perhaps early March is the time to come?
Ditto from me. Just got back after 3 weeks - 7 weeks total this winter. Staying very close to main parking/centre. Delightful as always.
Vans - a few around. Never experienced loud music, errant kids or people changing in public.
Never been unable to park for a crag. Drives to crags are mostly 5-15 minutes. 30 mins for Jupiter and a couple of others I guess.
If any crags are going to be busy it’s Theo’s Cave, Twin Caves and Mars. Easily avoided.
It was pretty cold much of the last few weeks, so climbing in the sun was preferred.
The ever friendly locals are perfectly capable of moving the vans on if they wish to do so. The police station is 100 metres from the car park. I understand they put up no camping signs in the summer tourist season.
For those climbing at harder grades, after mid December is not recommended, as Elona and Nifada - the best two steep crags - are too wet from seepage unless it’s a dry winter.
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