LLR Books

Walking where Aristotle did


The philosopher's hometown in Greece now offers an Aristotle tour with fabulous views and landscapes
Aristotle, the ancient Greek philosopher, scientist, political theorist and critic, and universal guru, was - according to
legend - a great walker. One story has it that his own brand of philosophy became known as the peripatetic (wandering) school because he walked around as he lectured. Appropriately enough, visitors to northern Greece can now do their own, more strenuous, Aristotelian walk, on a magnificent trail near the town of Stagira, where the philosopher was born in 384BC . The trail is in the Halkidiki region, which has three distinctive "fingers" sticking out into the Aegean. Stagira is in a sheltered spot not far from where the eastern finger, Athos, meets the mainland. Athos - or the Holy Mountain - has been occupied for centuries by a group of orthodox monasteries.
Ancient Stagira was a one-horse town, notable for little more than its celebrity philosophical son. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, after his death in 322BC, local people made attempts to capitalise on his fame and attract tourists.
Over the past few years, the modern inhabitants of Stagira have been even more energetic, and Aristotle is fast becoming a big attraction in Halkidiki. In addition to the Aristotle Trail, a mountain and a local municipality have been renamed after him, and there is even an Aristotle theme park nearby. More tasteful than you might fear, the park offers children the chance to try out for themselves some of Aristotle's scientific discoveries, under a statue of the great man.
The trail

The centrepiece of the new initiative is that Aristotle Trail. The main path runs for about 12 miles from the ruins of ancient Stagira to the tiny modern village of that name, through glorious countryside, and lined with plants that a romantic might imagine once stimulated sthe young Aristotle's interest in botany. Not much of a botanist myself, I did pick (at the guide's prompting) a handful of wild oregano - currently drying in my kitchen - and was envious of the wild cistus flowers that have never sprawled so successfully in my garden.
Energetic types could do the whole walk in a day. But it can be tackled in easy sections, and a range of shorter walks or mountain bike tracks link to it or run close by.
The most memorable was a short hike off the main trail up to a stunning waterfall. But it did require some clambering and jumping back and forth across a stream. Not all require such exertion, but - in addition to the short, helpful guide produced by the tourist office - it would be stupid not to take your hotel's advice about the levels of difficulty, and perhaps take a local guide for the day.
Landscapes and history
For those who prefer to give hiking a miss, this part of Greece has beaches aplenty and seascape to die for.
There are a few interesting historic sites too, though Halkidiki probably isn't the ideal holiday spot for keen archaeologists. The ruins of old Stagira stand at one end of the main trail, with enough recognisably ancient buildings amid the trees to make for a happy couple of hours' exploration, even if you don't walk the trail. But for me the ancient highlight was on another of the subsidiary walks: the canal of Xerxes. When the Persians invaded Greece in 480BC, they came this way. King Xerxes was mindful that on an earlier attempt to thrash the Greeks, the Persian fleet had been wrecked as it rounded the headland of Athos so, according to the Greek historian Herodotus, he drove a canal through the narrowest part of the "finger". There is not really much to see today, but it is fun to walk along its route. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2014