For a taste of the Greek mountains, Parnassós, rising imperiously above Delphi, is probably the most convenient peak, though its heights no longer rank as unspoilt wilderness, having been disfigured by the ski-station above Aráhova and its accompanying trappings. The best route for walkers is the one up from Dhelfí to the Corycian cave (practicable April–Nov, but not in midsummer without a dawn start). For further explorations, Road Editions’ 1:50,000 map no. 42, or Anavasi Editions’ 1:55,000 map no. 1, both entitled Parnassos, are wise investments, though neither is infallible.
Arriving at ARÁHOVA, just 11km east of Delphi, you are well into Parnassós country. The peaks rise in tiers, sullied somewhat by the wide asphalt road built to reach the ski resort – the winter-weekend haunt of well-heeled Athenians. The town centre tends to trendy, chic and pricey, rather like a Greek Aspen, with its comprehensive après-ski boutique commercialization. A small number of houses in Aráhova retain their vernacular architecture or have been restored in varying taste, flanking narrow, often stepped, lanes twisting north up the slope or poised to the south on the edge of the olive-tree-choked Plistós Gorge. The area is renowned for its strong purplish wines, tsípouro, honey, candied fruits and nuts, cheese (especially cylindrical formaélla), the egg-rich noodles called hilopíttes, and woollen weavings, now mostly imported from elsewhere and/or machine-loomed.
Retracing the way back from Delphi and onto the Lamía road heading north, you come to Chaeronea, site of one of the most decisive ancient Greek battles. Here, in 338 BC, Philip of Macedon won a resounding victory over an alliance of Athenians, Peloponnesians and Thebans. This ended the era of city-states, from whom control passed forever into foreign hands: first Macedonian, later Roman. Beside the road, at modern Herónia, stands a 6m -high stone lion, said to have been erected by Alexander the Great to honour the Theban Sacred Band, composed entirely of warrior couples, who fought to the last man.