Writes the sign in this strange language that linguists say it has evolved from the Doric dialect of the ancient Greek- in contrast to modern Greek that is the child of the Ionian and the Attic dialects. The sign means “Welcome”. You first see it with this gigantic red rock as a background that has made Leonidio a famous rock climbing destination throughout the world. So you know that you have come to a small town that can be special in many ways.
Isolated from the rest of Greece until the middle of the past century, and being even now at the end of an amazing, yet filled with twists and turns road, Leonidio doesn’t look like any other place, neither of Peloponnese, nor of the rest of Greece. It has tiled roofs on its old mansions that nestle under the snow covered summits of Parnonas, at the two banks of Dafnonas- that if it happens and has water you should definitely take a picture since it’s rare- before giving their place to the fertile plain that ends gently in the Myrtoo Sea.
Two story and three story old mansions line up at the side of the mostly wide and cool streets that end up in a cobbled square, or in an impressive preserved building like the Primary School of 1921, or in an arched bridge above the torrent, or in one more of the scattered signs in the Tsakonian language. The sign writes in Tsakonian “Our language is Tsakonian, ask them to tell you”.
It definitely worth a visit the restored Tsikaliotis Tower that hosts a small but interesting exhibition about the Tsakonian architecture. The mansions here, you see, were not just rich people houses. They were actual defensive buildings with towers and battlements, and with smart architectural traps, like the asymmetrical steps that the unsuspecting intruder was easy to trip. The imposing Tower was built in 1808 by Constantinos Tsikaliotis, a wood merchant from Trieste and member of the Filiki Eteria (Friendly Company, which was a secret organization).
It is also very interesting the Exhibition of Cultural foundation that is hosted in the atmospheric building of 1859, which operated firstly as a primary school and then as power station. Here you will learn everything about the gastronomy and the local products of the region (mostly about the Tsakonian eggplant, but also more) and about the special culture of Tsakonia. The Tsakonian dance, for example, doesn’t look like any other in Greece: The researchers support that it is probably the ancient dance called Geranos, the one that according to Plutarch Theseus danced, along with his companions, at the sanctuary of Apollo in Dilos, representing the way they exited from the Labyrinth after they killed the Minotaur. If you watch the steps and the way the dancers dance, the one behind the other instead of next to each other, this theory actually makes sense. You would probably come out of a labyrinth the same way if you had killed a monster too.
If you start moving up from Leonidio, you will find yourself at the idyllic mountain slopes and the beautiful villages of Parnonas. If you want to move towards the sea, the road will take you firstly at Plaka, the haven of Leonidio, with the pebbled beach and its taverns that during summer spread their tables on the dock, to serve fresh fish by the sea.
As you leave Plaka, on the way to Tsitalia village, there is the typical brown sign towards Leonidio’s Palaiokastro. On the top of the hill, at the 455 meters, there is Palaiokastro, which is Frankish, built at some point between the 13th and 15th century, and it is accessible only by a path. The route till you get here will take 40 minutes and it is not particularly easy. The only part of the castle that is saved is a part of the walls, and of course the stunning view of the sea, which means that if you are not a big fan of hiking or of castles then it probably doesn’t worth the trouble.
A bit southern, 5 kilometers away from Plaka, there is Poulithra, a sweet coastal village that smells like an island, with a big pebbled beach and impressive old, stone mansions next to white little houses with flowery yards. A wonderful hiking route that crosses peaceful olive groves and quiet, pebbled beaches with crystal clear waters, will bring you after an hour of walking from Poulithra to the white church of Agios Georgios. The beach that spreads under it is perfect for solitary dips, away from everyone and everything.