SOUTH KYNOURIA: The Land of the Tsakonians
South Kynouria is one of the five municipalities in Arcadia. Covering the southeast section of Kynouria, it borders Lakonia in the south and west, runs along the eastern foothills of Mount Parnonas, borders North Kynouria in the north, and is lapped by the waves of the Myrtoan Sea to the east. It consists of the municipal units of Leonidio and Tyros and the Community of Kosmas.
A significant portion of South Kynouria forms part of the land of the Tsakonians, that is, Tsakonia, whose capital is Leonidio (which is also the county seat of South Kynouria). The most important villages of Tsakonia are Leonidio, Melana, Tyros, Sapounakaiika, and Pragmateftis, as well as some villages which administratively belong to North Kynouria: Agios Andreas, Prastos, Kastanitsa, and Sitaina.
By the Byzantine era, the Tsakonians (or Tsakones) were mentioned as a separate demographic entity in the region, and were distinguished for their pride and their rebellious spirit. For this reason, as mentioned by Konstantinos Porfyrogennitos in the 10th century AD, the Byzantines used them to guard the forts in the region.
The Tsakones had their own particular cultural characteristics (dialect, costume, dance, and food), which they have retained to this day. One of the special features that we find while traveling in the region are Tsakonian inscriptions which supplement the Greek! Of course one should not forget to try the delicious Tsakonian eggplant in the summer.
Characterized as a traditional settlement, Leonidio is a town that offers all the modern amenities, at the same time retaining the charm and beauty imparted by both its traditional buildings (such as the Bishopric and the tower house of Tsikaliotis) and the natural scenery that surrounds it. It is located in the valley of Dafnonas, 3 kilometers west of the port of Plaka (which was the ancient port of the area), surrounded by impressive steep red rocks. A very beautiful view of the city can be enjoyed from the hill with the three distinctive windmills under the red rocks, at the northern entrance of the city.
A few kilometers beyond Leonidio on the road to Tsitalia, a 35 to 45 minute uphill path leads us to the cliff top that rises above the port of Plaka and was once the site of the medieval castle (Paleokastro). We can find remains of parts of the walls, towers, and foundations of the most important ancient city of South Kynouria, the city of Vrasia or Prasia, in the area. From Paleokastro, a 200 meter path leads us to the beautiful little church of Saint Athanasios, the point with the best view of the port of Plaka and the endless blue of the Myrtoan Sea.
In South Kynouria, the blue sea starts at Arkadiko Chorio and continues south along the coastline to Tyros, with its early Hellenic ancient Acropolis above the beach, in the picturesque little port of Sampatiki. We can admire this from above, near the little church of Saint Nicholas and Saint Fanourios outside Pragmateftis. The blue sea follows us farther south to Plaka, the seaport of Leonidio, with its beautiful beaches, and Poulithra, with the picturesque little church of Saint George on the eastern edge of the gulf.
With access by road from Tsitalia, Pyrgoudi, Amygdalia, and Pigadi, we will reach the southernmost beach in Arcadia that is accessible by land before we pass into Lakonia: Fokiano, a solitary, secluded, dreamlike beach.
Heading west and south of Leonidio toward the southeastern slopes of Mount Parnonas, we will encounter beautiful, little-known mountain villages. One of the most typical is Kosmas, with many inviting hiking trails, including the path to Kato Agiorgi. We will also find Palaiochori with the Monastery of the Archangel Mouras, Agios Vasileios with its tower houses, Platanaki with the little church of Paliopanagia and the medieval tower in ancient Glyppia, Tsitalia, and distinguished Peleta, with its beautiful homes and two windmills on two hilltops. In Peleta we should not miss the deepest sinkhole in the Peloponnese, which to date has been explored down to 630 meters.
A very beautiful off-road 4x4 trail runs from the village of Chouni to Vlisidia and then to Kosmas. 16 km long, the road is not as bad as they say! Another very beautiful wooded off-road trail is the road that starts at Agios Vasileios and ends at Prastos.
Short, steep dirt roads from Kosmas and Pera Melana lead us into hills with churches that honor the Prophet Elias (Profitis Ilias), which were built on or near the sites of ancient shrines. The church of the Prophet Elias in Kosmas was built in the area of an ancient temple dedicated to Maleatis Apollo, and in Pera Melana the local church was built on the ruins of a 6th century BC temple of Apollo Tyrita.
Around Leonidio, two historic monasteries stand out. One is the Monastery of the Virgin Mary of Elona (Panagias Elonas). Sixteen kilometers down the road from Leonidio, along the Dafnonas gorge, we will see the monastery of the Virgin Mary nestled in the red rock, with her miraculous image and numerous gold and silver votive candles. The second monastery is the Monastery of Saint Nicholas of Sintzas (Moni tou Agiou Nikoloau tis Sintzas), 6 kilometers from the Koilaso district in Leonidio. This monastery was founded in the 17th century and renovated in 1783. It has a gorgeous view of the plain of Leonidio.
These are just some of the beautiful, interesting places that you will get to know while exploring South Kynouria. Discover much more in the pages of Exploring Greece.