Lifestyle & Culture

Christina Hudson in Athens: Kalavryta is a destination for all seasons and all reasons

Located in the Peloponnese (the peninsular region of southern Greece)Kalavryta is a place for all seasons and reasons. And a place of historical significance, where one can reflect on the vagaries of war, so apropos today, while enjoying the best in Greek outdoors.

It has a lot to offer solo travelers and couples, as well as families. You can meditate alone in nature among the spring wildflowers, take romantic summery walks by a cool river, go on a serious hike in a stunning gorge, ski your heart out on Mount Helmos (also known as Mount Aroania) or enjoy a relaxing and unique train ride over a gorge on a rack railway (the Odontotos).

Photo by Christina Hudson

About a two and a half hour drive from Athens and two times that from Thessaloniki, Kalavryta is a lovely little town to wander around. It is bustling now at the end of winter because of the nearby ski area. Autumn is lovely for walking in crackly leaves and enjoying the ubiquitous fireplaces, spring fills the area with gorgeous greenery and colorful wildflowers and, in summer, the fresh mountain air brings cool relief to city dwellers who are there for a respite.

There are two nice playgrounds right in the center of town and a lovely large square where kids can run around and others can enjoy a quiet stroll. Visitors can enjoy hearty mountain meals in and around the village square.

Two standout tavernas in Kalavryta are To Spitiko and Peri Orekseos. There are also lots of sweet little cafés and shops selling local goodies, such as honey, mountain tea and even sweet preserves made with rose petals.

Ask where the World War II cannon is – it overlooks the village and is right next to a chapel whose bell you can ring if you feel so inclined. (Both the cannon and the bell are big hits with kids, of course.)

A sobering history

Sadly, Kalavryta was the site of a horrifying historical event during WWII. In December 1943, nearly 700 male residents of the town were executed by Nazi firing squads and the town was burned to the ground. Hundreds of local women and children were rounded up and locked in an elementary school, which was then set ablaze.

Thankfully, they managed to escape, some say with the help of an Austrian soldier. These atrocities were carried out in retribution for the capture and killing of approximately 80 Nazi soldiers by Greek Resistance fighters in the area.

Representatives from the German government have since tried to atone for the Nazi atrocities, offering aid to the village and expressing shame and sorrow. Visitors can visit a hillside memorial commemorating the victims. It offers an important reminder of the hell that is war.

There is also a municipal museum where history buffs can learn all about life in the area before WWII, during the occupation and about the shocking mass executions. This is not an easy experience, but is definitely an important one if we are to keep in mind why war should be avoided at all costs.

All aboard!

A ride on the Odontotos (the historic rack railway. aka a cog railway), is a must. It was built in the late 1800s and was an impressive engineering feat of its time. The tiny train runs from Kalavryta to the seaside town of Diakopto, down through the very scenic and quite steep and dramatic Vouraïkos Gorge, making a stop in the dreamy hamlet of Zahlorou and a couple more on demand.

Be sure to book tickets in advance as the train only runs a few times a day.

Hikers can enjoy the 22 km down the gorge to Diakopto in about five hours. It’s a beautiful hike. Be sure to bring a flashlight for the tunnels along the way. Many hikers have lunch in Diakopto and then take the train back up to Kalavryta. (Again—don’t forget to book tickets in advance!)

Cave of Lakes (Spilaio ton Limnon)

Just 20 minutes from Kalavrita by car and near the village of Kastria are some pretty impressive cave lakes complete with bats, stalagmites and stalactites. Ask about the tours – they take about 40 minutes.

Planitero

Natural springs, waterfalls and seemingly enchanted forests make this small village which is
just a short drive from Kalavryta well worth your while. Be sure to enjoy a fresh trout meal
while you are there!

Monastery of the Big Cave (Moni Megalou Spilaiou)

Carved right into the mountain, this historic monastery was originally constructed in the 4th century AD. It has been destroyed and rebuilt several times in its history and has unique icons, murals and historic manuscripts on display for visitors to enjoy. The views are breathtaking and not too far from the monastery you can visit the remains of an old castle.

The monastery is located about 10 km from the center of Kalavryta.

Photo by Christina Hudson

Mount Helmos (also spelled: Chelmos and known as Mount Aroania in ancient times)

Its highest peak is at over 2,000 meters. Trekking, skiing, photography, butterfly spotting (check out the Chelmos blue butterfly), you name it – this mountain has something for everyone.

The Kalavryta Ski Centre is a medium-sized affair (13 runs) and a decent place to hit the slopes if you are in the area.

About the author:

A Pittsburgher by birth, Christina T. Hudson is also half Greek and has – so far – spent most of her life in Athens, the chaotic but captivating capital city of Greece. She studied Language and Literature at Moravian College and has worked as a teacher, an editor, a writer and a photographer.

You can see more of her work here at A Pixel for Your Thoughts.

You can see more of her posts here.

See more about Greece in Dispatches’ archive here. 

See more about Athens in our archives here.

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