Finally, this three-day trip in the heart of mountainous Arcadia is about to become the magical autumn escape in the nature of Menalon among the green fir trees. September is one of my favorite months for excursions and I always look for places to empty the mind from the madness of summer, to calm the soul, and to prepare the spirit for the cold Winter. Especially at the end of September, when everyone has had enough of summer vacations and there are fewer, it is worth going to places that are crowded during summer but magical at that period!
The taste-local plan imposed a little dose of Arcadia, with a small detour by our beloved Nemea.
First stop at noon on Friday for a good red wine, in Nemea. It was the end of September, and the harvest was well underway. A large part of the wine world is gathered in Nemea and the wider area where the famous Agiorgitiko wine is produced. The whole plateau of Nemea was buzzing with activity from the systematic harvesting of the grapes. The vineyards were full of people picking the wonderful deep red fruit, the tractors were coming and going full of grapes and the wineries were working at full capacity. The harvest continued unabated, saturating the air with the rich aroma of must.
A stop in Ancient Nemea is essential to see the wonderful ancient monuments, but also to awaken the imagination of the little ones with the myth of Hercules and the lion of Nemea:
The Lion of Nemea lived in the region and spread fear. It was the fruit of the love between Typhoon and Echidna (Viper). According to Greek mythology, the terrible Echidna would lure unfortunate passers-by into her cave and eat them alive. Her terrible reputation was because she gave birth to some of the most fearsome monsters of all time! Killing the lion was the first labor assigned to Hercules by Eurystheus (King of Mycenae).
The Lion possessed an impenetrable hide that defied the thrust of any weapon. In initial attempts, Hercules employed his bow and sword to no avail. Ultimately, he grappled with the creature bare-handed, ultimately strangling it to death. Efforts to skin the beast proved futile until the goddess Athena suggested utilizing the animal’s own teeth. Following her advice, Hercules successfully obtained the hide. He thereafter donned it as protective armor, and the lion’s lifeless body was transported to the heavens by the Gods, where it became the constellation Leo.
When the hero arrived in Nemea to kill the lion, he was hosted by Molochus, a local shepherd. According to tradition, Molochus was the first person to bestow divine honors on Hercules.
Leaving behind Nemea and with a few bottles of Agiorgitiko in our luggage, we wandered among vineyards and dreamy landscapes. This time we took the road towards the mountains but instead of taking the shortcut through Leonteio to Levidi, we took the junction to the right towards Aidonia and Psari on the mountain paths of Agiorgitiko!
A stop at Aidonia is necessary! Apart from the imposing Mycenaean cemetery that you will admire, a small detour will lead you directly to the waterfalls!
Enjoy nature and if you are adventurous enough, take a dip in the cold lake for a quick local cool-down. I always carry swimwear and river sneakers, as I have dubbed them…
Yes, there are many waterfalls in Greece, even next to Athens. The waterfall of “The Dreams” of Rapentosa, on our beloved Mount Penteli, is so close to Athens, that every Athenian walker should have bathed in its icy waters!
The surrounding nature rages, and the roar of the cascading waterfall is majestic like loud songs, keeping you close! Enjoy it as much as you can because you can rarely find something similar! And if you find yourself in the same area, remember again that you are close to the amazing temple of Apollo Epikourion in Phygaleia and of course the waterfalls of Neda of Nymph of the Peloponnese that are worth a visit.
And after the uplifting of the spirit and the soul, we should also take care of the poor body! So, from there we hit the road straight to Psari village and to the Bourazos tavern for local food! And if you are lucky enough and they have a piglet on the spit, do not hesitate at all and do not miss it! Otherwise, indulge in the perfectly roasted cutlet along with the fine local wine.
Choose some Kazantzidis songs on the old jukebox and dance between the tables to culminate the feast!
And now let us see who will drive to the hotel…
From there we had to be patient for another 45-minute drive to get to Levidi, the beautiful village spread out at the foot of Mount Menalon for our next stop, with classic stone-built architecture, and mansions dominating, narrating the long tradition and history of the village. The central town square dominates and fills the traveler with the smells of cutlets and pork chops or piglets on the spit abounding in the area. For us, the coffee in the square will keep us going all the way to nearby Vytina.
If you go to Levidi from the highway without stopping in Nemea and decide to spend the day there, you will have a wonderful time! Do not forget… Mainalo the green mountain of Arcadia; Famous hikes will recompensate you, for enjoying the surrounding nature.
In Levidi there are many mansions and apartments to rent, all built nicely and according to the local tradition, as well as many small and large guesthouses that I am sure will satisfy you. We suggest you eat at Koumpouris or at Vareladiko the classic taverns in the central square, which are the places with the right local Greek cuisine and classic rotisseries.
We enjoyed our coffee in the square, basking in the afternoon sunshine like contented kittens, before embarking on our journey to Vytina. As we proceed, Vytina remains just a few deep breaths away from our ultimate destination.
Venturing from the eastern side, we will traverse Menalon to reach its western expanse. If you choose to follow a dirt road within the woods, be prepared to be captivated by the wonders of nature! Take the plunge—it’s truly worth the adventure!
After traversing the enchanting nature at the base of the winter skiing haven, Mainalo, you arrive at Vytina—a quintessential winter retreat. This village, nestled a stone’s throw away from the ski resort, is a haven for skiers and snow enthusiasts alike. Situated on the western side of Mainalo, amidst fir trees and the fragrant mountain air, Vytina exerts a captivating, almost magical pull that holds you in its embrace.
Upon entering the village, the Art Mainalon Hotel greets you. Without any prior reservation plans, we noticed it was open and decided to step inside. Our choice was instantaneous—HERE!
Time slipped away as we wandered through the corridors and explored various rooms, graciously guided by the owner. Each room is uniquely adorned with original paintings by Greek and foreign artists. The imposing presence of Mainalo from our balcony beckoned us for future hikes. It felt like I was transcending my daily routine, yet the warmth and beauty of the place propelled me forward.
Descending to the living room for a cup of tea beside the fireplace, I found everything meticulously arranged down to the last detail. In Vytina, numerous high-quality hotels, guesthouses, and accommodations await, offering diverse atmospheres to suit individual preferences.
And then… it’s time for dinner!
On our first night, fatigued from our extensive tour, we opted not to venture far. The gracious hotel owner recommended the hotel’s exclusive restaurant, Dipnosofistis, open solely for hotel guests. Following a similar artistic theme as the hotel, the restaurant featured spacious and comfortable tables adorned with impressive lamps crafted from buffalo horns. The cuisine was expertly prepared, exuding the meticulous care and love reminiscent of a home-cooked meal. We savoured dishes such as wild boar with figs and lamb “gioulbasi” , accompanied by a delightful red wine sourced from the nearby Nemea region.
The next day, after a two-hour hike and a walk in the village’s narrow streets, we found ourselves in front of the Klimataria tavern where we tasted excellent rooster with hilopites, genuinely nice pita with greens, and other local Arcadian delicacies, in an atmospheric place full of warmth and tradition as Klimataria has been there since 1931.
It is also worth visiting Athena’s Mansion (Archondiko) and Giannis’ Koutouki where you will eat equally well all the local and genuine food of the Arcadian land.
A coffee after lunch, in the beautiful central square of the village and a visit to the surrounding shops is an experience not to be missed. Especially if you are a honey lover this will be your paradise!
The village is full of small streets and old mansions with many shops selling local products and its central square next to the old church invites you to fall in love with it and make it your favourite winter destination.
The old wood-fired bakery of the village, with its old and beautiful tiles, attracts you with the smell of fresh bread from afar and compensates you with its old rustic taste that brings you old childhood memories. In the old classic grocery store, all things are stacked according to the old traditional recipe. One on top of the other, with a mastery and technique that would be the envy of the Medrano Circus.
The rare climate of the village, which for years has been considered one of the healthiest in Greece, renews your body and soul during the weekend. The walks in the surroundings will take you to the street of all lovers, “Agapis Street”, just outside the village centre. Try to come in Autumn, when the leaves of the trees are yellowing and ready to fall, and you will see a unique, almost magical view!!!
From Vytina you can easily go on short excursions to the surrounding villages. Of course, the historic Dimitsana, Stemnitsa, Elliniko & Karytaina are worth visiting, but also the smaller and more picturesque ones such as Alonistaina, Elati, and Lagadia, known for the stone masons. Here, you will see and taste a different kind of touristic Greece. It is Greece for the ones trying to find the way of the Greeks. All the villages have wonderful hotels and stone-built guesthouses ideal for a pleasant stay.
An interesting suggestion is to taste the wines of the producers in the Nemea area in some of the wineries that can be visited and choose your wines or take cooking classes with local products guided by local housewives! Of course, if you fall in the harvest season (August-September) you will have the immense pleasure of having the greatest experience of your life!!!!
The promise we made, on the way back to Athens, to all the new friends we made over the weekend was that we would soon clink glasses again and wish them health and long life because we here in Greece either at sea or in the mountains we always have an enjoyable time.
Finally, the three days in mountainous Arcadia welcome you to a magical landscape with Mount Mainalo offering you many hours of peace and relaxation. And if you arrive in winter with snow, even if you are not a skier, the landscape is dreamy and the “après ski” on the mountain with a hot tea is necessary, lying on a chaise longue with the sun warming you through the few clouds.
Unfortunately, all good things end quickly…
Dare to do it, even for a one-day trip, nature, the mountains, the food, and the people will compensate you.