Hiking the Menalon Trail is one of the most exciting activities one can embark on when visiting the Arcadia region in central Peloponnese. The first certified trail in Greece by ERA (European Ramblers Association), promises nature lovers a truly rewarding experience.
Hiking the Menalon Trail with Vitina Trekking
Hiking in Greece is an unforgettable experience, from the terrain to the fauna and flora, this country is most certainly blessed with breathtaking scenery. In the beginning of July, we set out to explore Arcadia, although I highly recommend that you opt for hiking the Menalon Trail during the cooler months — despite the scorching heat of summer I greatly enjoyed our two day outdoor experience with Vitina Trekking.
During our initial contact Lambros asked all the right questions to determine our level of experience and stamina prior to planning out the route.
The Menalon Trail stretches along 75 kilometres passing through nine traditional mountainous villages, historical monasteries, bridges and the scenic Lousios River Gorge which is hugged by the slopes of Menalon Mt., the valley of Mylaion River and the northeast Gortynian Mountains.
The trail is marked by signage and complies with all the technical and qualitative parameters, in order to be certified as a qualified and safe mountain route.
The trail is divided into 8 sections, and as such visitors can plan their daily activities based on their interests.
How to get to Vytina from Athens
The Menalon trail is located approximately 200 kilometres from Athens, which is about 2 hours and 30 minute drive. The road is easy and easily accessible.
If you are coming by plane you can either fly into Athens International Airport (245 km) or to Kalamata International Airport (110 km).
For those coming by boat can either reach the port of Piraeus or the port of Patra which is located in the Peloponnese.
Day 1: Hiking the Menalon Trail from Vytina
We started our hiking from Vytina which is the main village of Arcadia and is known for its dynamic presence which resulted from its flourishing activities throughout the 20th century such as food, textile and carpentry. In the winter the village also attracts visitors who come here to enjoy the snowy peaks of the Mount Menalo Ski Centre.
There are several accommodation options in Vytina, we stayed at the Traditional Guesthouse Sinoi which is located right at the entrance of the village a few meters walk from the main square.
On our first day our hike lasted approximately for 4 hours and we passed parts of the Menalon Trail (Section 4) reaching an altitude of almost 1000 meters above sea level. We also followed other routes that have been marked and discovered by the team of Vitina Trekking.
Passing by Zarziou Bridge where we stopped and cooled ourselves off in the running spring (there was not much water given the time of the year). After a few hours of rewarding exercise we stopped for a short 15-minute break and enjoyed some local cheese and tomato flavoured bread-rusks. As Lambros explained salt gives the body a boost when hiking.
We then headed uphill and crossed the mountain making our way towards the Monastery of Kernitsa dedicated to the Assumption of Virgin Mary which during the Greek Revolution offered refuge to warriors and fugitives. Opening up to soaring views of the valley set at 840 meters above sea level it is famous for the miraculous icon which was found in a cave under the monastery known to have cured the crippled and the mental ill. The monastery closes for a few hours during the day, however we got here just in time before the opening at 16:00.
The Monastery of Kernitsa is one of the oldest in Greece and most likely the oldest in the prefecture of Arcadia. Since 1680 the monastery was also used as a secret school where students learned the Greek language and traditions. Until 1940 it served as a male convent and was later converted into a nunnery. The hospitable nuns offered us freshly made cake and Greek coffee, and after enjoying their thoughtful hospitality we concluded our hike by following the trail that leads towards an asphalt road where Lambros had parked his car to take us back into the village of Vytina.
Tip: if you plan your hiking trip with a local company like Vytina Trekking, your guides will arrange all the pick-up and drop off details to ensure that you conveniently cover the area.
Visit the Folklore Museum of Vytina
In the afternoon we visited the Folklore Museum of Vytina which is housed in a building right on the main square of the village. The museum is only open on the weekend from 11:00-17:00.
The museum was started by two local gentlemen Koukas and Anagnostopolos in 1986 it was later passed on to the municipality of Vytina. The godfather of Anagnostopoulos immigrated to the US in 1929, he went by the name Lonto short for Leonidas Petropoulos and his photo can be found on display at the museum. Among the items one can admire here are approximately 650 artefacts depicting everyday life from irons, to agricultural machines and household utensils. You will also find a collection of shoes which were made from pig’s skin. A fascinating introduction into the every day life of the locals.
Dinner at Palia Vytina (Old Vytina)
We ended our wonderful day at the local taverna, Palia Vytina translating as Old Vytina located on one of the side streets just off the village’s square. After having worked our appetite — we were welcomed by the owner Panos Larry who initially studied jewellery making but later followed his passion for food.
Inside his beautiful restaurant you can admire a display of fine glassware, silver cutlery and a collection of various musical instruments among other fascinating household objects. For dinner we enjoyed delicious pork knuckle with roasted potatoes, baked vegetables, and zucchini fritters served with yogurt sauce. Prepare yourselves for a memorable meal when you visit Vytina.
Day 2: Hiking the Menalon Trail from Dimitsana
On the morning of our second day in Arcadia, after breakfast at one of the coffee shops located at the main square of Vytina we headed towards Dimitsana which is approximately a 20 minute drive.
During the Greek Revolution in 1821, Dimitsana played a crucial role as an ammunition supplier. After the war it was the financial and trading centre of the region. Dimitsana is protected by the Ministry of Culture as a traditional settlement — famous for its historical, architectural and cultural importance. The River Lousios is the place where the ruler of the gods, — Zeus had his first bath. The main trail that goes along the Lousios Gorge is about 10 kilometres and takes approximately 5 hours to complete.
We spend the night at the Koustenis Village hotel which is located a short distance from the main square, next to the Open-Air Water Power Museum (one of the starting points of Menalon Trail). This one of its kind museum in the Balkans displays a collection of water powered mills, tanneries and gun powder mills dating back to the pre-industrial period.
On the second day we hiked with Giannis, who runs Vytina Trekking together with his cousin Lambros.
On our second day of hiking the Menalon Trail, we completed most of the route of Section one which commences in the village of Stemnitsa, known as the village of the goldsmiths and the headquarters of the Peloponnesians Senate in 1821. We started our route from Dimitsana, — Giannis did however arrange to leave the car close the the Monastery of St. John the Baptist in order for us to get back to Dimitsana after we completed the hike. If you are opting for a self-guided hike you can also arrange to come here with a taxi.
This route passed through fig trees lined by running water streams, shaded by various species of dense trees. As we admired the flora and fauna, we made our way towards New Philosophou Monastery founded in 1691.
After a short rest we followed the narrow path that passes by the Old Philosophou Monastery dating to 963. You must take another road to reach the monastery. We continued our journey though the Lousios gorge which led us to the final stop of our hike and that is the impressive Monastery of Prodromos (Monastery of Saint John the Baptist) built inside the cliff of the Lussius ravine.
The Monastery was used as a shelter and a hospital for the fighters during the Greek Revolution. It is located along the route that leads towards Ancient Gortys, an ancient settlement that thrived from the Archaic period up until the Hellenistic era. Here visitors can admire ancient ruins of the Temple of Asklipios and the healing spa baths.
After approximately 5 hours of hiking we returned to the settlement of Dimitsana.
Dimitsana is a popular destination all year round as it offers visitors an array of experiences throughout the year. In winter you can enjoy skiing at one of the ski resorts (Mainalon and Helmos ski resorts) and other activities in the surrounding area include, mountain biking, canoeing, trekking, etc. During the summer several cultural events take place in Dimitsana during the month of August.