CULTURE

Power of icy waters to relieve summer heat

You realize just how short distances are in Greece when you climb its peaks and look down through the valleys to the plains and coast that sometimes look close enough to touch. This is particularly true of the mountains of Arcadia, cut by several spectacular river gorges, including the Lousios, popular with hikers and in more recent years, rafting enthusiasts. The Mainalos mountain range above Tripolis, the capital of Arcadia and just one-and-a-half hours’ drive from Athens, is criss-crossed with fairly good roads that make travel a much easier proposition than it used to be, particularly in summer. To reach Mt Mainalon, either turn off the main highway to Tripolis at the sign to Vytina, or for a more attractive route that gets you straight into the mountains, turn into Tripolis itself, through the central square and follow the signs to Silimna, which will put you on the road to Vytina via Alonistena. A 10-minute detour takes you to the tiny, abandoned settlement of Libovisi, where the home of War of Independence hero Theodoros Kolokotronis has been beautifully restored as a museum. Vytina is first in a series of picturesque towns dotting the mountains of Arcadia. To continue on to the Lousios, if you are driving, turn off onto the more scenic road via Elati, rather than the main road, to Dimitsana. A good base for exploring the region, Dimitsana is also ideal for a cool weekend away from the city heat, or an interesting prelude to a holiday on the Peloponnese coast. Strung along a ridge above the Lousios River gorge, it has views north into the mountains and south to the plain of Megalopolis. It is also handy to the other historic towns and monasteries in the region and is the site of one of Greece’s most interesting museums: the Open-Air Water Power Museum, the reconstruction of an actual water mill that was one of a number of pre-industrial manufacturing units that was fully operational from the 16th century right into the last. Nearly all the moving parts of the water mill, tannery, raki still, fulling tub and gunpowder mill have been fully restored so visitors can actually pick up a handful of just-milled flour, or watch the water surge around the fulling tub (a huge natural washing machine that used the force of the falling water) where, once, local women used to bring their carpets to be washed. The museum is in a tree-shaded grove just above the gorge, the thunderous sound of the water coursing down as it is channeled through the various mills, cooling the air. For hikers there is an excellent guide (published in Greek and in English by the Peloponnese Region’s General Secretariat) to the trails along the river, which pass through some of the many monasteries and hermitages perched on cliffs throughout the gorge. Hiking & rafting About 20 kilometers from Dimitsana is the Monastery of Prodromos, dating according to some sources from the 12th century. The monks serve coffee and sweets to revive you if you decide to continue down the path to the Lousios River to see the swallow-hole under the bridge. The hardy can continue on up to the Monastery of the Philosopher on the other side of the gorge, even though it is accessible by road from the other side of the gorge. Another choice is to continue on foot along the banks of the river to Ancient Gortys, or else return to your car and continue on to Gortys by road. There is room to park your car and picnic by the banks of the river here, although in early July the water was still too icy even for paddling. Rafting is another option, with at least four tour companies organizing excursions from Karytaina, another pretty hill town just a few kilometers after Stemnitsa, also worth a stop. It used to be famous for its silversmiths and the Technical School of Silversmiths (offering a two-year course), is still housed in a beautifully preserved stone building. The town also boasts one of the region’s most luxurious hotels, the Country Club Trikolonio, comprising four impressive 19th century stone buildings. There are two rafting routes (either seven or 14 kilometers), both beginning at the Atsiholo bridge below Karytaina. Four firms operate rafting excursions, with scheduled departures at weekends (usually one in the morning around 9.30 a.m. and another around 1.30 p.m.): Trekking Hellas (to book call 210.331.0323 in Athens, 6974.925.007 in Arcadia, www.trekking.gr); Alpin Club (210.675.3514-5, www.alpinclub.gr); Peripetia (26550.237.70, www.peripetia.com); and No Limits (6972.835.312, www.nolimits.com.gr). On Sunday, August 28, the Municipality of Gortyna has scheduled a day-long program of events on the river, in conjunction with the rafting tour firms, although by last night details had not yet been finalized, so for further information call the Municipality of Gortyna in Karytaina at 27910.312.31, or 27910.312.14.) To end a summer of cultural events, tomorrow night there will be festivals in the villages of Katsibali, Kalyvakia and Maratha.