More amazing places appear on the radar faster than I can visit them. But Leonidio stood out as perhaps the top of the list of venues in recent years. But is it worth the hype?

Leonidio is very definitely of the sport holiday style. Think easy access, great weather, lovely scenery and a touch of foreign culture mixed with the essential ingredients of single pitch sport climbing on perfect limestone. It’s generally well bolted with a bunch of holiday grades if you can find them, and are happy to take them! Leonidio sits alongside places like Kalymnos and Geyikbari in Turkey which have rightly gained international status as must go venues.

First the cons. For a start it’s not that easy to get to, it’s not like a quick nip over to Siurana. The flight is 4 hours and the drive from Athens Airport is a further 3 and a half of winding roads. Basically its 14 hours of travel, a full day. There won’t be any afternoon crag hits. Despite this, plenty of people still go, which can lead to some busy cliffs, and even queues for routes, which certainly isn’t to everyone’s taste.

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But so far, I’m struggling to think of many more issues. OK the journey is a drag, but Kalymnos is probably worse, and for your efforts you get to feel like you’re far away from home in a different culture. And as for the busy crags, you can tell from the lie of the land which these are going to be, and they are easy to avoid. Perhaps the extensive choice of cliffs is what makes Leonidio stand out from the crowd, with a huge number of cliffs, though all within a relatively small area. You’ll need a car (but you’ll already have one anyway), but all sectors are really within a 20 minute drive, ranging from almost sea level to 800m, roadside to 40 minute hike, sun to shade, steep to slabby. And busy to deserted. The grade range is extensive too, with everything from easy 4’s to 8c+. Many cliffs can cater for mixed team abilities too which is unlike many areas, with quality 6b’s alongside 8a’s.

Of course what you want to know is just how good the routes are… Well the routes are awesome. We are talking the fun style, like the kids playground version of climbing: swinging around on tufas and blobs and all kinds of amazing rock formations. It’s pumpy and physical and just so good you’ll struggle to take a rest day even though your body will be crying for it! The master of the kneebar will do well, and this is the first time I’ve noted many people donning a pair of knee-pads as a matter of course; as part of the standard equipment alongside harness and boots. They make a massive difference, not only to the grade but also to the state of your skin on your knees and legs.

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And talking grades, well, you are on holiday, so of course you can expect to feel good! But actually there won’t be a mass downgrade as seen in other venues, and overall the levels are not out much at all. A couple of crags seem to be a tad soft perhaps, like Twin Caves and Mars (the two busiest venues, surprise surprise!), but others like Hada and Elona are fairly bang on, with even the odd tough number thrown in. Basically, you can be happy with your efforts, and most likely not disappointed when your lifetime best is sadly downgraded.

Perhaps what makes it for me though is the mix of ingredients. Years ago it was only the climbing for me: I was happy with a crappy quarry in an industrial estate as long as the routes were good, but now I value the package just as much. The picturesque town feels untainted by tourism, but with just enough of what you know to feel comfortable. There are good restaurants and bars, and a collection of local shops, but you’ll not find a massive supermarket for many miles. But you will find the sea in just a few miles, with rocky coves and crystal clear water: I was snorkeling in December and it was amazing, albeit with a thin wetsuit. There is great walking and scrambling, and a whole bunch of multi-pitch to add real variety to a trip. This place could even work as a family beach/climbing holiday, though you’d have to choose your timing carefully.

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And when to go? The weather is generally great in December, January and February, with cool crisp mornings down to 6 degrees, rising to maybe 17 or so in the afternoon, and feeling warmer in the baking sun. But as with everywhere things vary: it can rain, be even hotter, or cloudy windy and freezing! Early Autumn and Late Spring are likely to be pretty hot, but still doable especially at the higher cliffs.

Overall a total thumbs up. It’s got everything I can think of, regardless of what level you climb. I reckon I’ll be back pretty soon.

More info is here on the Climber website.

Climber article by Keith Sharples