Spring has given a spring to my step and I cannot seem to be able to confine myself at home. It was Florina a few weeks back, last weekend I aimed closer: Peloponnese, ideal for excursions from Athens, whether short or long, planned or spontaneous. I went for spontaneous, a day trip at Kalavryta.
Nested in Helmos slopes, Kalavryta is much famed as a ski resort. I’m definitely not the type for skiing and I immensely enjoyed being up there in May. As the weather starts to warm up, everyone runs to the beach and that’s exactly the point when you can enjoy the mountains and have the place almost to yourself. You can probably tell from the photos the day was slightly overcast. The low breeze and fragrant firs made it all worthwhile. There are many interesting things to see and do around the area.
Our first stop was Diakofto, a small sea-side town with a tiny railway station. If you are a fan of trains, you will find our odontoto and its 22 km railway line, dated 1889, quite charming. The rail line crosses the mountain and Vouraikos’ gorge, a wonderful route that you can soak up in an hour long trip to Kalavryta or Zachlorou. Unfortunately it was fully booked. I have to admit Greece is not a place to ride a train, especially last minute, the network is not what you would call extensive or errh… reliable.
We drove straight to Kalavryta, the route is equally scenic. You get all the mountain range of Aroania unfolding in front of you and once you look back down where you drove from, you stare down at the Corinthian gulf and the coastline across it.
Kalavryta is nested in the peaks of Helmos and its low roofs and cobbled streets give the fresh mountain air an extra boost. The pedestrian road was doted with traditional creamery shops, and all sorts of local produce: from olive wood carved items to dried herbs. Did I mention they are extremely famous for their cheese-pies and galaktoboureko too? Well, now you know. Many modern cafés and eateries are also present to remind you that you are on a ski-resort town.
I also got my history injection in Kalavryta, the town has been severely scared by WWII. In 1943 the balance of power within the Axis was shifting. Italy’s position was weakened and German forces were establishing their presence in Greek territories hard and loud. Greek resistance was holding strong, it was paid with a bloodshed in the area of the Peloponnese. The German forces deployed Operation Kalavryta that culminated in a massacre: the biggest loss of unarmed population for Greece during WWII. The municipal museum hosts a detailed account of the facts that you can also access online.
A bit of a sombre account but what I mostly kept from Kalavryta was the wonderfully creamy galaktoboureko – Kalavryta’s dairy produce is well praised – and the following sign: there are no Victory in war.
The next stop was much more refreshing: the cave of the lakes. An ancient subterranean river has carved the depths of the mountain for approximately 2km with wonderful lakes, stalagmites and stalactites. I walked along the first 500 meters that is open to the public. The rest is bat territory and some 200 thousands years ago it was hippo territory too! Unfortunately pictures are not allowed in there, but you can see some at the official website of kastria caves.
Best part for the end: lunch at Zachlorou! On your way down, you can see the rail tracks by the side of Vouraikos river, some parts wide, some parts narrower stretching all the way down to Zachlorou.
Zachlorou is one of the tiniest and prettiest villages around. Its few houses are built on the sides of the gorge of Vouraikos. There is a handful of taverns and food is simply exceptional. The area is well known for its grills and stews with excellent quality meat. Wild boar proudly features on the boards of the taverns – not very common in the capital. I was tantalised between a cockerel and a wild boar stew. The decision was made for me, they had run out of cockerel – it must be popular, so wild boar stew it was. Sausages, fava beans and salads were all mouth watering.
Food was truly delicious and there are many local producers that go from pasta to sweets. So if you ever find yourself at Kalavryta or the surrounding area, here is a top five food-things to savour:
- Game, they make excellent stews and grills with venison and also wild boar
- Rodozahari – the local rose spoon-sweet (I got mine and forgot it there)
- Fir tree honey
with love from Athens