The village of Sitena nested in its green plane tree filled valley
Our home area is the largest National Park on land in Greece. And because Greece has some of the greatest biodiversity in Europe, we walk here surrounded by fabulous nature and unique flora.
Add to this that our area has sights from the Ancient era through to Byzantium and into modern times. So every path and village is steeped in history.
Put the two together in the sun and light that Greece is famous for and we have the perfect rural idyll that is Arkadia.
Below you can read about the sights, sounds and smells we encounter during one of my favourite walks. I invite you to put on your walking shoes and come along…
During our walking holiday ‘Explore Arcadia‘, we have many tracks and paths to share and here you can read about one of our favourites.
Lots of Greek villages are named after saints and we start in a mountain village of St. Pantelimonas (Patron saint of everything else!). It’s set on the foothills of the Parnon range in the Eastern Peloponnese and gives panoramic views back to the blue seas of the Myrtoon Gulf and ahead to the green summit of Parnon at nearly 6500 feet.
Our walk initially follows a dirt track which climbs slowly along the hillside with views to the mountain villages above. They are all nestled in their own small valleys which are special in their own way. First we see Sitena perched just below the Parnon summit. Platanos comes into view next over the shoulder of the mountain in its green plane tree filled valley. Below the two is Loulouga gorge with a Byzantine castle built into the rock face. In the dark days of the middle ages guards waited and watched the easiest approaches to the villages above, the gorge river beds. They were the early warning system and first line of defence.
Finally we see the third village of Kastanitsa, set in the dark green of the chestnut forest. Kastana is the Greek word for chestnut and this village is famous for its cuisine using chestnuts for everything… We’ll get to taste them all later!
At this point from our track we can see the Mazias gorge, which is set in black pine forest with the brighter green of plane trees in the river bed. We also get a spectacular view down into the Kastanitsa gorge, 300 metres below us, and can pick out the old cobbled donkey track that was the only way to the village until the mid 1950s.
In spring our track is filled with wild flowers and we often see golden eagles and rock nuthatches here. We turn the final bend and spot the abandoned Monastery of John the Baptist hanging above us… This is our first stop for the day.
We approach it from the old spring with the cypress tree that is always planted nearby as a guide to strangers. Climbing up the steep track we can see the Monastery buildings and the beautiful church set in this peaceful place. It is only used now on the name day of John and otherwise it lies empty and serene.
Our visit here takes in the fabulous frescoes and old marble stone work in the church itself and we have time to appreciate the wonder that these have lasted from at least 1150 when the Monastery was mentioned in letters to Constantinople.
Also in the lower Monastery building, in the late spring through the summer and into early autumn, we have a bat colony nesting here to escape the summer heat.
Leaving the Monastery we then head towards Prastos, the hidden village that now lies empty all winter. The village was completely destroyed by Ali Pasha in July 1826 as retribution for the locals rising up against the Ottoman Empire which was the start the Greek War of Independence. Now some of the houses have been renovated and villagers return in the summer months but other ruins remain, including the main church in the square that has been left roofless as a reminder of the destruction.
We climb to the village on the original donkey path following the stream bed. This is why Prastos was helpless against the attack of the Turkish forces as the path was clear to the village. When we reach the top we stop to enjoy a mountain tea with George, who runs the local bar, which he keeps open until the winter snows arrive.
We wind our way upwards through the alleyways of the village, passing the lovely churches with their slate roofs and look back down the valley which we have climbed. At the top of the village the old path starts that leads us to a wonderful picnic spot overlooking the gorge and up to the summit of Parnon. In spring the whole mountain is awash with colour of orchids and other endemic flowers, and the air filled with the smell of the herbs underfoot, oregano, thyme and sage.
We rest here and enjoy the picnic that we have had delivered to us by our team. Fresh local bread, salads and homemade spinach pies are a favourite, followed by a traditional sweet of orange cake. The only sounds up here are the birds and goat bells and we relax and breathe in the clean mountain air.
Our afternoon walk takes us down the cobbled donkey path and into the Mazias gorge to cross the river and climb back up through old pine forest. The dappled shade and zig zag path makes the climb easier than it might appear and at the top we arrive into the huge natural chestnut forest above Kastanitsa village. The walk down into the village is lined with cyclamen and endemic violets and we are often accompanied by the yaffle of the green woodpeckers and drumming of the lesser spotted woodpecker.
Kastanitsa was saved from destruction by Ali Pasha because of its position on a huge ridge of rock that juts out into the gorge. It is a jumble of wonderful stone built and slate roofed houses that make it the most beautiful village I have ever visited. We wander through the streets and climb up the defence tower high above for a fabulous view all the way to the sea.
Our walking day done we settle into Anna’s small cosy taverna on the square and savour all the local cooking with chestnuts washed down with a lovely rose wine. Sometimes we sit outside in the sun and others inside near the wood burner. The welcome is always warm and the food fabulous!
The description above is just a small sample of what you can expect when you go walking in Arcadia. For more info, feel free to get in touch with me. Also have a look at my guided walking holiday: ‘Arcadia: Between the mountains and the sea‘