There are medieval castles built on top of steep summits that let your eyes wander across half of the Peloponnese. Peaceful villages hidden in the depths of gorges. Stone fountains that sprout crystal clear water. Enormous waterfalls shaping dreamy little ponds to cool your dives while swimming. A forest that you can find nowhere else in Europe. And paths, hundreds of paths that all connect among them, zig zagging through idyllic landscapes, under shadowy oak and cherry tree forests and over streams, the names of which you’ve never heard before. The northern part of Parnonas includes North Kynouria, the Tsakonian villages and the villages of western Laconia. It is an absolutely magical place.
On the Arcadian side of Parnonas, very close to the borders of Laconia, there is the beautiful Kastanitsa, one of the Tsakonian villages. It is built on an altitude of 840 meters, with its white stone houses reflecting the sunlight and its brown grey roofs looking like they’re from Epirus- but they aren’t: They are made with the famous Malevou slate. Colorful wooden balconies, traditional mansions that count three centuries of life, and flowery yards, complete the picture.
A cobbled path with a wooden fence climbs from the villages center to its highest point, where there are saved debris of the Tower that was built by the Byzantines of Mystras Despotate in the 14th century. The byzantine tower is called today Kapsampelis Tower, named after the resident of Kastanitsa who paid for the renovation in 1810- only to be blown up in 1948, during the Civil war. The fantastic view from up here that lets your eyes wander from the village to the picks of Parnonas and to the Argolis Gulf, is a reason all by itself to venture climbing.
If you can take some more hiking, there are amazing paths that connect Kastanitsa with the equally gorgeous Prastos, the old capital of Tsakonia, the impressive mansions and stone tower houses of which are deserted during winter, when the few residents migrate to the coast to spend the winter. In Prastos you will find scattered historical churches of the 17th and 18th century, while here is highly possible to hear them speak the Tsakonian language, the charming local dialect that is the closest thing we have to the Doric dialect of the ancient Greeks (modern Greek came from the Ionic- Attic dialects).
Under the highest pick of Parnonas, Kronio or Great Tourla as it is called that rises at the 1.934 meters, nestles a small village, Sitaina, with its few stone houses, running waters and bushy chestnut trees that every autumn make the landscape seem golden.
Eight kilometers outside Sitaina there is another doll- like village, Platanos, with its small waterfalls sprouting water at the square and the chimneys steaming above the red tiled roofs of their houses. The stone fountain of the square warns <<Platanos water cannot be found elsewhere, with just a sip you won’t need doctors again, with two sips you will find your other half>>. So be careful.
One of the first mountainous villages of Greece that got a hotel, Agios Petros of Kynouria is hanging at the 961 meters at the Arcadian sides of Parnonas. It is also a beautiful head village, nestled among fir and chestnut trees, with tower mansions, out of which the Trikalitis Tower of the 18th century stands out and many stone-built fountains that sprout crystal clear water.
Five kilometers away from Agios Petros there is the famous Panagia Malevi Monastery that dates back to the 14th century. Crowds of people gather here to admire the icon of Panagia that it is said was painted by the Evangelist Lucas himself and was brought here from Athos- that’s why Parnonas is called “the second Agio Oros”.
Two kilometers away from the monastery, a rural road will lead you to the amazing cedar tree forest of Parnonas. Protected by Natura 2000, this rare juniper forest, which cannot be found elsewhere in Europe, spreads on an area over 740 acres and it is offered for strolling at its shady paths that wind next to gigantic tree trunks and above running waters.
Two out of the many miracles of Parnonas, the one is natural and the other one is human, need walking to reach them, but they worth the trouble, we promise. To the Frankish Orias Castle or Estella Castle, you will get there after an hour of hiking on the path that starts outside Xirokampi (there is a sign). The castle that was possibly built in the 13th century, it is saved today in a rather bad condition, but it offers a fantastic view from the walls to the entire Eastern Peloponnese.
Lepidas waterfalls, in the depths of the homonymous gorge, will be approached after 4 kilometers of hard but accessible for non 4x4 cars too rural road that starts outside the village of Agios Giannis. At the end of the rural road you can park your car and follow the short path that leads to… heaven: The “small” waterfall falls from 45 meters and forms a wonderful blue lake, perfect for cool spring dives (in the summer it doesn’t always have water, so if you want to go there just for diving you should ask the locals first). The second, the “big” waterfall falls from the dizzying height of the 70 meters, offering an image (and a sound) that you will remember. You should be careful with the rocks as they are slippery- young children that are not familiar with the adventure will probably find it difficult.
Have you ever wondered where Caryatids came from or how they got their name? The first thing you see as you drive to Laconia’s Caryes will make it clear: At the top of the hill above the village stands Erechtheion, an exact copy of the homonymous monument of Acropolis, which is supported for millennia by the “maidens of Caryes”. The village, filled with chestnut and walnut trees, and with a beautiful central square, has a population of 926 residents and sights that include the stone clock of 1900 and the also stone building of the school.
Amphitheatrically built like a balcony on the sides of Mt. Parnonas, Ano Doliana enjoy the breath-taking view to Tripoli’s plain, to Mainalo and Chelmos. It is a doll like village, nestled among walnut, cherry and oak trees, and it’s famous for its white marble from which many of the ancient temples of Peloponnese are built. Among its stone houses with the wooden porches wind cobbled streets that you can’t get enough of walking. Its sights include the Historical and Ethnographical Museum of Doliana that is hosted in Christofilis House, the known as “Tampouri of Nikitaras” from its role in the famous battle of 1821- the Battle of Doliana, to which a big part of the museum is dedicated.
Less than 10 kilometers away from Ano Doliana, the villages of Kastri are seven tiny, adorable villages that have earned the title “Pilio of Peloponnese”. Kastri, Oria, Nea Xora, Elatos, Perdikovrisi and Karatoulas climb on green slopes of Parnonas, hide behind the oak and cherry trees, dive their “feet” on Tanos waters (the river in which Euripides places Elektra in the homonymous tragedy to say that it is “the border of Sparta and Argos”) and are adorned with stone- built squares, cute watermills and picturesque alleys that go up and down among their stone houses.Near Kastri starts a path that brings you, passing by an incredible creek, to the carved in rocks Monastery of Timios Prodromos that tradition says it was established here in the 8th century, probably at the spot where Pausanias describes that it was the cave and the temple of god Pana.