Arcadia in the Peloponnese has a lot going for it. A long stretch of scenic coastline, small archaeological sites, charming traditional villages, Byzantine churches and monasteries, rivers, lakes and most of all mountains! To my mind, the combination of beautiful historical villages (with some great small hotels) and stunning nature make the mountains of Arcadia rank among the most beautiful holiday areas in Greece.
The mountains of Arcadia
A good guidebook* on Greece published in 1999, writes the following about the mountains of Arcadia: “The Arcadian highlands suit those who look for low-cost excursions among natural surroundings and traditional Greek villages, far from mass tourism. With the exception of Vytina, you will have to forgo your comforts and nights out and for a few days at least adapt to the local way of life.” It is amazing how fast things have changed. Fortunately, the natural surroundings and traditional villages are still there (and beautiful as ever) and there’s no mass tourism anywhere near. But at only two hours’ drive from Athens, the area has become a popular weekend destination for Athenians and to cater to them, comfort was introduced as well. There are now several wonderful small hotels and guesthouses where you won’t have to rough it at all. Nightlife isn’t exactly developed in the area (and hopefully will never be), but you will find plenty of nice places to have a meal or a drink.
Things to see and do in Arcadia
Athenians may only come for the weekend, but the area is fantastic for longer holidays as well. There is a lot to see and do: the mountains are wonderful for walking and hiking, there are several immensely pretty, historical villages to explore, you can visit the cliff-hanging centuries-old monasteries in the Lousios Gorge (some are easily accessible, to get to others it’s better to go with a qualified guide), you can arrange to go river trekking and rafting, and in the winter you can enjoy snow sports at the (small!) Menalo ski centre.
The traditional villages of Arcadia
Two villages that are definitely not to be missed are Stemnitsa and Dimitsana. In Stemnitsa, which in the past was famous for its highly skilled metal workers, (church) bell-makers, silver- and goldsmiths, you can visit the superb Museum of Popular Art, as well as some quite impressive 16th- and 17th-century churches. Dimitsana is known for the important role it played in the Greek war of resistance against the Ottoman rule – it was the base of the gunpowder production. Just outside the village you will find open-air hydraulic power museum where you can learn how it was done. Other villages worth visiting include Vytina, Andritsena, Magouliana, Lagadia, Karitaina, Isari and Alonistena. If you’re in for some further driving, you can make a day trip to Ancient Olympia.
* Greece – Only the Best, published and edited by Alexander Kyrtsis
Small hotels and other special places to stay in Arcadia