By Greg Chapman
Located in the Aegean sea 100 km southeast of Athens is the Greek island of Tinos. Part of the Cycladean archipelago, Tinos is best known for its Marian Shrine of Panagía Evangelístria, the largest in Greece. What it is less known for is its extensive granite bouldering: four distinct areas serve up hundreds of incredible climbs in stunning and varied locations, and all with a quintessentially Greek vibe.
The unusually steep slopes of Tinos rise from the Aegean to meet whitewashed villages which scatter a complex landscape of natural obelisks and seemingly endless granite blocks, particularly prevalent in the North West corner of the island. It is perhaps this facet of its geography that has meant the island has less beaches (along with nowhere to put an airport!) than some of its Cyladean neighbours and thus, bar a steady stream of orthodox pilgrims, has remained a beautiful backwater from a tourism perspective. Where the sea and rivers have conspired, coves of deep azure have formed to offer hidden havens for those willing to seek them out. These host everything from small fishing villages, to bouldering areas and even surf beaches! All this plays out below the gaze of Exomvourgo, the iconic granite peak in the heart of the island and signature view of Tinos.
Header image: The author making the first ascent of the amazing finger crack, Teeth of the Hydra (8A) at Kakia Skala. Boulder 29 project in the guidebook.
First thing’s first. The rock is rough - for a flavour, think Eskdale, Dartmoor, Brittany or Targassonne. Essentially, just take things steady as the rock will devour your skin given half a chance. The best approach is to limit attempts on individual problems/moves and avoid hard climbing in the direct sun. If you follow this advice you should have a great time as the climbing is generally excellent, offering everything from technical slabs and walls to steep roofs and gnarly finger cracks.
Due to the fact the island is relatively newly developed and has not seen a depth of climbing visitors, the grading is a little hit and miss. In particular, the lower grades can seem a bit harsh. This is probably down to the ability level of the original developers being pretty high. On the flip side, you can certainly find the occasional harder line arguably on the soft side. This is a factor you just have to accept with “new” or less frequented destinations and it’s all part of the experience. With regards to Tinos specifically, an ability level of 6C> would be an advantage, as you will have plenty to go at regardless of any grading discrepancies.
A superb and varied area on the far North West tip of the island, overlooked by the impressive ridgeline of Mount Tsiknias (723m), the sectors start at the picturesque beach and cove of Livada and work back up the valley towards the small village of Mirsini. Livada Beach is home to a number of iconic and photogenic lines, including the island’s hardest problem, Kreativity (8B).
Slightly less frequented but certainly well worth seeking out, is the sector of Katska, which sits on the hillside 1km up the valley from the beach. Here a jumble of impressive blocks are the centrepiece to a classically rural mediterranean scene, complete with dilapidated terraces, sporadic olive trees and worldweary goats. A quartet of smaller, sub-sectors lie on the fringes of Livada Beach and Katska, however the best climbs are undoubtedly within the main two sectors.
Five of the Best
Kreativity (8B), Ballerina (7A+), Stretch (7A), Fata Morgana (6C), Blue Planet (6A).
Julia Entwistle tussling with the excellent Blue Plant (6A), Livada Beach.
Perhaps my favourite sector, Kakia Skala is an open, elevated area above the north coast of the island providing a glorious view of the Aegean and the island of Andros silhouetted against the horizon. The rolling meadows are home to hundreds of granite boulders, most with decent grassy landings and eye catching lines. The setting is family friendly and the climbing is, for the most part, excellent - just watch out for the occasional sugary hold. The only negative aspect of this area is that it can feel pretty exposed on particularly blustery days, especially within winter or early spring when the air temps are lower.
Five of the Best
Teeth of the Hydra (8A), Meet the Crunch SDS (7C), Fondobolo (7A+), Melee Arete (6A), Windmill (5C).
The author making the first ascent of Meet the Crunch SDS (7C), Kakia Skala.
The smallest area in the guidebook but still featuring some quality climbing, Petriados neighbours the more extensive Volax and is essentially an eastern continuation of this larger area. Plonked smack bang in the heart of the chaos and with a slightly more elevated position than Volax, climbing here feels like being cast adrift in a sea of boulders!
Five of the Best
Moby Dick (7C+), The Apple (7B), Mangler (7A), Adam (6B), Surprise (4C).
In Elatirio (6C) this area is not only home to the most spectacular boulder field on the island but also its most famous problem - top drawer by any standard! Starting out of the the quaint little village of Volax, the climbing begins with the small sector of Livadaki on the edge of the village. Here a ring of grass hemed blocks make for a great starting point or quick hit and are conveniently home to the essential tick of Elatirio. From here you descend into the boulder chaos (split into a further three sectors), an undulating morass of rocks set against the familiar backdrop of ancient terraces hidden streams and forgotten orchards.
Five of the Best
Switcher (7B), Panselinos (7A), Elatirio (6C), Koufio (6B), Svarniaris (6A).
The author enjoying the superb Elatirio (6C), Volax.
How to get there
Not quite as simple as your typical trip to Font or Magic Wood, but hey this isn’t your typical bouldering trip! Fly to Athens and from here catch one of the regular buses which leave from the airport entrance to the port of Rafina for a nominal fee (30 minute drive). You will need to prebook a return ferry (Rafina to Tinos) via one of these websites www.openseas.gr or www.ferries.gr and obviously tie it in with your flight times. I’d recommend getting a hire car once on the island, as taking a car on the ferry will likely double the costs. However, if you want to make life a little easier and budgeting isn’t a priority, then hire a car from the airport and take it on the ferry.
Whilst there are plenty of hotels and apartments available in Tinos Town, I’d recommend using AirBnB to find yourself a nice apartment in one of the villages closest to the climbing. This makes for a more authentic experience and limits the amount of driving up and down the steep road to and from the town.
Getting around & Amenities
You will need a car. I’d recommend Jason’s Rent a Car, based in Tinos Town and a stones throw from the ferry terminal. Contact them directly, tell them what you need and I guarantee they will endeavour to make hiring a car as straightforward as possible and all at a fair price. Literally the best car hire experience I’ve ever had.There are a few small shops and bakeries within the mountain villages, but realistically you will need to visit Tinos Town for major food supplies. There are no climbing shops on the island so be sure to bring enough chalk, brushes etc. for the duration of your trip. Be aware, out of season (October-May) many restaurants only open at weekends or on select evenings, even in Tinos Town.
When to visitThe guidebook recommends winter as the best time to visit and whilst it's hard to argue this is when you will get the best conditions, as with all mediterranean islands, you will see more rain from November through to February. We visited in early March and I would suggest this is a good time to come, as you get drier more clement weather, yet it’s generally still cool enough to climb hard. You will also be treated to some lovely displays of wild flowers, particularly in Volax and Kakia Skala. Finally, avoid any religious holidays, as the island becomes a mecca for churchgoers from across Greece.
During the holiday season there’s a wealth of things to do here on Tinos, so if you're combining some bouldering with a family holiday in early or late summer then your options are plentiful: from boat trips and scuba diving to fishing and even surfing! Out of season, choices are little less prolific, however, hiring bikes makes for a great way to explore the island. Other options include walking, visiting the Marian Shrine, windmill spotting (there’s over 80 on the island!) or simply relaxing by the sea with a bowl mussels and a glass of Retsina.
There is a small topo guidebook covering the bouldering on the island produced by Gebro Verlag and written in German, English and Greek. Purchase Tinos Bloc.