Exploring the Remote but Enchanting Villages of Gortynia
Gortynia may be the most enchanting locality in Arcadia. Its mountainous terrain, the sometimes difficult access, its abundant natural beauty, and its remote but very picturesque villages all create conditions that encourage us to explore, far away from materialism and mass tourism. We will see many historic monasteries and hermitages in the region that perfectly fit these conditions.
We begin our presentation with beautiful Tropaia. An administrative and commercial hub for the region, it is located on the southeastern slope of Agios Georgios. By the little church of the Prophet Elias in the pine-covered grove where the rural veterinary practice is situated, we have the best view of the village for a photo. Notice the churches of Saint George and the Dormition of the Virgin Mary, as well as the former elementary school, one of the most beautiful elementary schools in the Peloponnese, which was built at the beginning of the 20th century, thanks to a donation from Andreas Syngros (who also financed many other schools in the region).
Two kilometers south of Tropaia, we can see one of the most beautiful villages in Gortynia, Vyziki. This very lovely historic village is officially listed as a traditional village. In addition to the many well-maintained traditional stone houses and manors (such as that of Stasinopoulos) and the fortified Venetian dwellings (towers), we should also notice the beautiful, imposing marble church of Saint Nicholas and the church of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary, which dates back to 1650.
Three kilometers east of Vyziki, on the road to Perdikoneri, if we look to the right we can discern in the distance the half-demolished towers of the legendary Frankish Castle of Akova. Built in the 13th century, it was destroyed by the Turks in the 15th century. Akova was one of the baronies founded in the Peloponnese by Geoffrey of Villehardouin. A few hundred meters south of the Castle of Akova, the road stops at the stone church of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary, which was once a Catholic monastery.
Heading south 2 kilometers, we find the next village after Vyziki, the very lovely Stavrodromi. A trading center for the region in the past, it now offers very good facilities for accommodation and dining. Notice the church of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary (1910), the former elementary school (1909) with the Museum of Folk Art, and the Ravine of Mavrada.
South of Stavrodromi, we can see the villages of Touthoa and Fouskari with three stone bridges over the River Touthoa. Higher up, we find Aetorrachi, a village named after an eagles’ ridge. The wide courtyard of the central church of the Transfiguration of the Savior there, which is nicely laid-out with stone paving, offers an amazing view that extends to Zakynthos on clear days. A wild beauty surrounds the church, with the Touthoa Gorge to the south and the Goura Ravine to the north. If we follow rough paths, we can also find the seven story Cave of Giannikoulias.
South of Aetorrachi, the landscape starts to become more serene. We make our way toward the villages of the verdant valley of Iraia, where the remains of ancient Iraia are still awaiting excavation. The villages are divided into Ano (east) and Kato (west) Iraia.
In Kato Iraia, the best known touristic village is the Loutra of Iraia, and the nearby medicinal hot springs, as well as the Byzantine churches of the Virgin Mary and Saint George, which were built in the years of Palaiologos.
Chrysochori, above the Ladonas Bridge, is not high up in the mountains, yet it has areas with a beautiful view of the surrounding verdant valley. Ancient Iraia is most likely “hidden buried” in Agios Ioannis. Excavations have shown that in the Roman epoch, affluent citizens built their mansions there. Notice the church of Saint John the Baptist (1873) and the elementary school, one of the oldest in the region (1863), as well as the villages of Lotis, Liodora (between the valleys of Ladonas and Alpheios), and Agioneri. On March 20, 1812 at the Aloni of Kallinteris in Agioneri, the first banner of the Revolution was raised.
Parnassos is a little more mountainous, with traditional houses and an endless view that extends as far as the Ionian Sea; it is worth coming here for the sunset. Visit Papadas and Ochthia, which climbs a hillside in the foothills of the mountain range (like the villages of Lyssarea and Aetorrachi). The central square of the village is considered the “balcony” of Gortynia, because from here one can enjoy a breathtaking view toward the 60 villages in the area.
The Arcadian Arachova is located 2 kilometers northeast of Raftis. According to some, the small Castle of Araklovo of Doxapatri Voutsaras is located here. Ruins of the old settlement are scattered over the slope that descends toward the headspring.
The traditional stone houses of Sarakini and Lyssarea were built on the slopes of lush foothills full of oak, yew, and maple trees. The church of Saint Nicholas, the former school, the small village churches, and Goura Gorge are noteworthy.
The especially picturesque large village of Servos was the birthplace of the independence war local leader Fotis Daras. Of special interest are the church of Saint Paraskevi with the Trani Fountain, the church of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary, and the church of the Life-Giving Spring, which was built in 1855 in the main square of the village. It is next to the former elementary school, which is now a cultural center. Four kilometers south of Servos, we find Lykouresis. The famous Goura Gorge starts there; it ends in Kokkinorachi, with the homonymous headspring.
Beautiful, picturesque Raftis offers the best accommodation and recreation facilities in the villages of Ano Iraia. Especially noteworthy: the fortified hermitage of the Archangels, the Venetian fortified caves, and the churches of Saint George and Saint Dimitrios.
Visit Agalo with its very beautiful sunset, and lovely Palouba, with the Plapoutas Tower and Leniko Hill, site of what remains of the Ancient Citadel of Melainees and the little church of the Ascension.
Continuing southeast, we can see Kokkoras, with its charming fountainhead of the Virgin Mary, and Kakouraiika in the valley on the right side of the Alpheios River, where the ancient Melainees were once found. We will see rich vegetation and crystal clear water from four headsprings (the most important of which is Golemi’s). Leaving Kakouraiika to head toward the Iraia valley, we can see on our left a sign for the Mycenaean Tomb that has been converted into a small Christian church. The little church inside the cave of Lagafti is dedicated to Saint Athanasios, Bishop of Christianoupolis.
Returning to Stavrodromi, the road west takes us toward the villages of west Gortynia. The first one we encounter is Kalliani, which is little known but abundant in natural and cultural attractions, such as the half demolished stone ruin of the village’s first elementary school, which was built in 1859, making it one of the oldest in the region. Heading out of Kalliani on the way to Stavrodromi, we can follow the sign to the right for the fish farm in the Gourna Ravine (formerly the area with the region’s watermills). In a marvelous location, we will find the trout farm in the water of the Touthoas River.
A road that heads off to the northwest from the larger road that joins Stavrodromi and Kalliani takes us (in 2 kilometers) to beautiful Doxa, with its splendid church of Saint Nicholas (1910) and its old stone elementary school (1927).
In west Gortynia, we can acquaint ourselves with several lovely, little known villages, such as Elaia, with its many natural beauties (such as waterfalls). It is next to the Erymanthos River, the final boundary of Arcadia before we cross over to the Prefecture of Ilia and the Municipality of Foloi.
Higher up, we find Chora, with its historic church of Saint Athanasios, whose wooden altar screen is ‘embellished’ with bullet holes from August 23, 1943, when the Germans executed 11 village residents inside the church. Just outside Chora are the Monastery of Kapeli and the Erymanthos Gorge, with the stone bridge known as Pournogephyro (1718).
North of Chora is Raches, a very beautiful hilltop village near Tropaia with an unrestricted view of the whole area (Chelmos, Lagadia, Iraia, Lalas). The road from Raches descends to the south toward Toubitsi, which is next to the Ladonas River, with its old stone bridge not far from the new bridge on the main highway.
From Toubitsi, an alternate route on a dirt road starts to the left of the bridge over the Ladonas River and takes us to the road to the village of Voutsis, passing through small villages such as Arsinoi and Stavri. We can see the beautiful stone bridge on the site of the ancient bridge that joined the banks of the Arsin River. The Arsin River is mentioned in texts from antiquity that describe the area of Ancient Thelpousa.
Ancient Thelpousa covers the area from the hydroelectric plant of the Public Power Supply Company (DEI) at Kato Spathari, north of Toubitsi, up to Chrysochori in Iraia. It reached its peak during the Classical period, flourishing until the 4th century BC, when it was superseded by Ancient Vanaina. Its ruins can be seen north of Toubitsi. After the junction for Vanaina (after the little bridge), follow the dirt road on the right that leads to the ruins of the Early Christian basilica of Saint John (5th century BC), with its abundance of ancient findings, probably from the sanctuary of Asclepius. A few meters higher up, we can see the ruins of a building that was probably a Roman spa.
In nearby Vanaina, in an idyllic location with small creeks and plane trees, we can see the little church of the Virgin Mary, which was built on top of the ruins of an Early Christian church.
After Kato Spatharis and the hydroelectric plant of the Public Power Supply Company, the road goes up to the right toward the little known but very lovely Spatharis, with its stone houses and its architectural jewel, the elementary school donated by Andreas Syngros. From Spatharis, a dirt road takes us to Kiosi, the point where a footpath starts. This path passes through the Spatharis Gorge, ending after a three hour hike in Kato Spatharis. On the road to Kiosi, we can see on our left the far-off Holy Monastery of Kleivokas, which was built atop a sheer rock (and is accessible from the road to Kontovazaina). Embedded in the rock across from it are the fortified Magazia (where fleeing Greeks found refuge from Ibrahim).
North and east of Stavrodromi, Vyziki, and Tropaia, we can acquaint ourselves with the villages that are situated on the south side of Lake Ladonas: Galatas and Perdikoneri (with a view to their east of the half demolished towers of the castle of the barony of Akova), Syriamakos, Bouliaris, and Phteria, the last lakeside village by the artificial lake with the dam before the Kyra Bridge (which sometimes rises above the lake’s water and at other times is submerged). Of special interest on the bank of the lake, below the village, is the fountainhead with its springs and the watermill submerged in the lake water.
North and west of the lake, we can get to know the beauty of the forgotten villages of Pera Meria, such as the lakeside Mouria, the mountainous, isolated Xirokaritaina, and Dimitra, by the beautiful Ladonas Gorge. The route through the gorge reaches the dam of the lake.
We can visit the main village of Kontovazaina with its four districts, and above it on Mount Aphrodisio the sanctuary of Aphrodite of Erykini and the small church of Saint Peter. Velymachi is to the northwest, with the little church of the Assumption on the peak of Mount Aphrodisio.
Access to Vidiaki, with its ancient wall and the beautiful Domokos Bridge over the Erymanthos River, is easiest from the opposite side of Ilia. Near Vidiaki, we can find Monastiraki, with the tower of Ali-Farmakis and the bust of the Greek Independence war General Theodoros Kolokotronis.
From the eastern side of the lake and Kyra Bridge, we go up toward Mygdalia, Palaiopyrgos, with the ruins of the Frankish watchtower beside the church of Saint George, Pournaria, the “gateway” to the lake area, coming from Daphne, and Kourouveli and Olomades, with the cave of the Holy Archangels hewn into the side of a cliff near them, to end up in Valtesiniko, one of the most beautiful Gortynian villages with developed tourist facilities.
Traditional houses, churches, natural beauty, and footpaths create a combination that will satisfy even the most demanding traveler. Three kilometers from Valtesiniko, on the way to Olomades, we can see Palaiomonastiro in the Kapsalys Gorge. Dedicated to Saint Nicholas and the Ascension of the Virgin Mary, this historic monastery was built in 1550 inside a cave in the cliffside.
From Valtesiniko, the road heads southeast to Magouliana; at an altitude of 1,250 meters, this is the highest inhabited village in the Peloponnese. Above it, with an endless view toward every corner of the Peloponnese, the Frankish Castle of Argyrokastro stands even higher at 1,450 meters altitude.
The road from Magouliana continues southeast to join the main road from Vytina to Dimitsana. If we turn left and head northeast for 5 kilometers, we reach cosmopolitan Vytina, with its ample facilities for tourists and natural beauty we can enjoy on endless walks. One such walk follows the path to Zarzy Bridge over the Mylaontas River, and then turns toward the little church of Saint Nicholas.
Because of its excellent alpine climate, the area in and around Vytina was selected for the construction of sanatoriums during an outbreak of tuberculosis in the years between the World Wars. The most important sanatoriums were on the road to Valtesiniko. One was the Manna Sanatorium, which was built from 1925-28 thanks to the initiative and fundraising of the sister of Pavlos Melas, Anna, who was known as Manna. Another was the Ithomi Sanatorium in Agios Tryphonas, which was built in 1927-28 by the pulmonologist Bobolas; it closed in 1941. There is also an unfinished sanatorium of the pulmonologists Bobolas and Geroulanos just outside Alonistaina, before we turn toward Kokkinovrysi. Above it is the Diporti Cave, a refuge for Greeks fleeing from the Turks. Today, all three sanatoriums are ruined shells in the midst of a fir tree covered landscape.
Near touristic, cosmopolitan Vytina, we can see villages that are less well known which nevertheless offer abundant points of interest, such as Nymfasia, just 3 kilometers from Vytina, with many beautiful sights, forest footpaths, stone fountains, the Kernitsa Monastery, the Tzavaraina Bridge over the Mylaontas River, and the Hermitage of Sfyrida. North of Nymfasia is Kamenitsa, with its Neolithic cave and the Hermitage of the Ascension, which we can reach by crossing the Mylaontas River.
From Kamenitsa, the road ascends to the northwest, toward the villages of Agridi, with its church of the Holy Trinity (1865) with its impressive altar screen, and Prasino. From Prasino, the road heads west on the slopes of Drakovouni (the dragon mountain), toward Drakovouni, the site of the historic Battle of Goglova against the Germans in 1944, and Theoktisto.
South of Vytina, the road passes through Methydrio, which was named after ancient Methydrio, whose few remains have been abandoned amongst the thorny bushes. The ruins can be seen on the road to the Monastery of Saint Theodore, going up toward Elati. From there, the road continues to Pyrgaki, which is now deserted, then leads to Elati, a lovely village amongst the fir trees at 1,200 meters altitude. Notice the church of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary and the renovated church of the Life-Giving Spring. From Elati, the road heads on to the Municipal Region of Tripoli, which includes Chrysovitsi.
When we leave Magouliana, instead of turning northeast toward Vytina, we could head to the right (southwest) toward Dimitsana. In that case, we pass through Karkalou, where noteworthy tourist facilities have been developed over the last few years. After a very lovely walk under the fir trees on the hill southeast of the village, we can see the few remains of ancient Theisoa, including the foundations of the sanctuary of the almighty god Zeus. 4 kilometers southwest of Karkalou, we find the village of Rados. A traditional verdant village among the fir trees, Rados offers opportunities for alpine activities. At 1,200 meters altitude, it is beautifully cool in the summer and full of snow in the winter.
Continuing southwest, we arrive at historic Dimitsana, birthplace of the national martyr Patriarch Gregory V, with an abundance of sights and significant tourist facilities. Near Dimitsana, there are many little known but very beautiful villages, such as Zatouna, where Mikis Theodorakis was exiled and where his museum stands, Vloggos, with an enchanting view toward the Ionian Sea and simple stone houses that the Technical Chamber of Greece has recommended be declared protected in accordance with European Union standards. A little farther down is Melissopetra, home to the great composer Dimitris Mitropoulos.
In Dimitsana, be sure to visit the very interesting Open-Air Water Power Museum, which was created in 1997 below the headspring of Saint John on the site where there were traditional installations with water as the energy source in pre-industrial times (water mills, water presses, tanneries, gunpowder mills, and water tanks).
Just outside Dimitsana, beside the Monastery of Aimyalos, we can visit the wine press of Kolokotronis, where a group of six brigands under the command of Giannis Zorbas (Kolokotronis) met a heroic but tragic death in 1806.
About 10 kilometers south of Dimitsana, we arrive at Stemnitsa, which some consider the most beautiful village in Arcadia. There we find the historic Monastery of Chrysopigi, founded in 1443, where the first Peloponnese Senate convened on May 27, 1821. In this village, the craft of metalworking was well developed; it is still taught there today in the public School of Silversmiths and Goldsmiths.
Leaving Stemnitsa on the road toward Dimitsana, we can see on our right a sign for Saint (Agios) Dimitrios. Here we can find the long abandoned remains of the Monastery of Saint Dimitrios, which was set on fire and destroyed by the Albanians in 1779 during the Orlov revolt.
Near the villages of Stemnitsa and Dimitsana, there are less well known but beautiful places worth visiting. These include Zygovitsi, with its monument of the Corps of the Immortals and the church of the Transfiguration of the Savior with the chandelier Kolokotronis brought as loot from the seraglio of Tripolitsa; Paleochori, where the followers of Kolokotronis and the notables of the village decided to participate in the struggle for independence during their meeting under the plane tree of the Saints Anargyri; the Lousios River (at the Kontos Bridge, built in 1864) and its gorge, with the beautiful getaways; and the exceptionally well cared for Elliniko, with the traditional wells at its entrance.
Continuing southeast from Elliniko, we pass through the villages of Syrna, Psari, Palamari, and Pavlia before arriving at the villages in Megalopoli. Continuing south, we head toward lovely Karytaina.
On the road from Stemnitsa to Elliniko, we can see a sign directing us toward Ancient Gortys and the Holy Monastery of Saint John the Baptist (Agios Ioannis Prodromos) above the Lousios River. Two very beautiful footpaths start there. The one to our right leads to the Monastery of the Philosopher (Philosophou), the old and new parts, while the second goes up toward the torrential water of the Lousios River and the former fulling mill of the Monastery of Prodromos. It continues from there, ending up at Ancient Gortys, where we can see the bridge and fulling mill of Kokkoris, as well as the little Byzantine church of Saint Andrew (10th – 11th century).
Ancient Gortys is located on the east bank of the Lousios River. It covers an area that begins at the temple of Asclepius and the thermal spas (4 kilometers northeast of Atsicholos) and reaches the citadel of Gortys, 2.5 kilometers east of Atsicholos.
Gortynia is so rich in places of interest that it is very difficult to describe them all in a short guide without neglecting some of them. So these are only a few of our recommendations of places to visit when exploring this region. Search for many more possibilities in the pages of Exploring Greece.