They were all (yes, all of them, without any exception) gods. To be more precise, they were river gods, sons of the Ocean and of Tethys, who were Titans, predecessors of the Olympian gods like Zeus and of his company. The river gods looked only like people from the waist up, had waters running from their long beards, and were all ugly, except from Enipeas, who as they say was gorgeous. All of this information was in Hesiod’s Theogony, we didn’t make it up.
Ladonas, about which Pausanias many centuries later wrote that it is the most beautiful river of Greece, is one of the many ugly children of the Ocean that when he grew up he married Stymphalia (and that is how the Corinthian lake took its name) and had two daughters with her, Metopi and Dafni. Apollo, as the story goes, fell madly in love with Dafni and chased her night and day in the forests around the waters of her river- father. She, for a mysterious reason, was not attracted at all by the most handsome of gods, and shouted to Hera to help her escape from this torture, so she “saved” her by turning her into the tree that we are all familiar with, the laurel.
As a natural barrier between Arcadia and Achaia, Ladonas stems from the Aroania Mountains and ends up in Alfios, the biggest river of the Peloponnese, after crossing 70 kilometers in total. Its lake, right by the Arcadian village called Mouria, is artificial. It was created in 1956, when the hydroelectric dam of Ladonas was built. The banks of the river as well as the blue lake are offered for endless strolling in idyllic natural landscapes and rejuvenating trips away from everything and everyone. The almost secret little villages around them have everything you need for a dreamy weekend- and most importantly the quietness you need.
The nicest strolls around the banks of Ladonas start from the point called Smixi (mixing) - but you will find it on the electronic maps as “rafting Ladonas”, since here is the base from which start all the descents by boat for rafting and canoeing. Rafting in Ladonas River is ideal for beginners and kids, as the waters are quiet almost throughout the entire year, and the route is magical.
However, if you like land activities, the route that you can follow on foot or with a bike from here to the banks of the lake is fantastic: Nine kilometers of an idyllic landscape, filled with green mountain slopes and golden- red leaves that are only interrupted by one or two half- abandoned villages with stone houses and marble fountains. People who hate hiking though, will be happy to know that you can drive through the route. One way or another, after one and a half hour (if you walk) or after twenty minutes (if you drive and won’t feel tempted to make a stop, which is impossible) the route will lead you to Mouria, at the bank of Ladonas’ Lake.
It is hard to believe that as you stare at the still waters of the lake reflecting the idyllic landscape surrounding it, sixty years ago Ladonas’ lake didn’t exist. The wonderful alpine landscape is due to the hydroelectric dam that today is open to visit- as long as you drive to its tip, ring the bell of the railed gate and wait for them to open. The impressive construction rises to 50 meters and enjoys the panoramic view to a big part of the lake.
At length of 15 kilometers in total spreads its surface, which is zig- zagging among the slopes of the Afrodisio Mountain that dive in its waters. The level of the lake shifts depending on the time of the year so much that its maximum width- being full- can reach the 1.5 kilometers, while in the summer the minimum does not exceed the 75 meters.
That phenomenon causes the mysterious disappearance of a bridge (literally, not figuratively): On the opposite tip of the dam the built in the 13th century arched Kyra Bridge seems odd when you first look at it for exactly that reason. Its “nude”, dirt color and its completely smooth surface are due to that for almost six months a year the bridge is sunken four meters under the surface of the water. In summer, when the rains stop and the snow ceases filling the water, the bridge emerges like new from the water.
Some of the last well kept secrets of Arcadia, the villages of Ladonas are beautiful and quiet, away from the touristic radars, with a few but very good options in accommodation and food. Tropaia is a little bit southern of the lake with the red tiles of their houses adding red splashes of color on a green hill and has some of the best food options in the area. Near it is the tiny, sweet Viziki with the two central squares, the castle towers that bring in mind Mani, the Folklore Museum and the once great Frankish castle of Akova, parts of which are saved three and a half kilometers outside the village.
A bit further north of the lake’s bank, there is Vachlia, nestled in the middle of a green mountain side that hosts on its lower part a stone tower with battlements- “the tower of Aga” as the locals call it. Next to a traditional arched bridge and an abandoned watermill passes the route that brings you to Pera Vachlia.
Next one is the beautiful Dimitra, nestled in the woods, in an altitude of 700 meters that took its name by the sanctuary of Demetra of Eleusis, few of its debris are saved today. On the cobbled square of Agios Nikolaos that is covered by a century old plane tree, when the sun rays first hit the place the cafés and the taverns of the village take out their tables.
Seven kilometers away from Dimitra, there is Kontovazaina, which is probably the most beautiful village of Ladonas: Already impressive as you enter it, with the fairytale- like stream, the stone arched bridge and its fountains, amphitheatrically built on a green side of the Afrodision Mountain, and ideal for endless wandering among the red- tiled houses with their flowery yards.Apart from the villages of Arcadia, very close to Ladonas (6.5 kilometers from the spot that start the rafting descents and the most beautiful of its routes) there is Dafni Achaias that older people call it “Dafni Kalavriton” or “Strezova”. It is a beautiful big village of 600 people, nestled on the south east side of Afrodision Mt. with stone houses, wooden balconies, and stone-built, dome fountains all around its alleys. About a kilometer outside Dafni, the waters of Paos River, tributary river of Ladonas, are crowned by a stone bridge with three arches that it is worth hiking till there- the signs write “Trikamaro Bridge”