If someone asked a Greek 5-10 years ago to name the mountains of Peloponnese, he would probably forget Parnonas even if it is Peloponnese’s largest mountain mass. It makes sense though, if you consider that just a few years ago we started slowly rejecting the tourist development and realizing that you can have fun in places without many infrastructures, and also finding alternatives to the <<room- tavern- café>> pattern. Alternatives include virgin natural landscapes, frozen in time villages, and idyllic paths that connect all of them. It was then that Parnonas entered our travelling agendas.
The holy mountain of Titan Cronos, rises on the 1.934 meters, separates (or perhaps connects?) Arcadia with Laconia, starts from Tegeas’ plateau and ends up, 100 kilometers and two million acres later, to Cape Maleas. Its summit is called Kronio or Great Tourla. Arcadians refer to the mountain as Malevos, while Laconians call it Parnonas. But enough with the patriotism.
Nestled on an altitude of 1.150 meters, with the red tiles of the houses popping up from fir, chestnut and walnut trees, Kosmas is the head village of Parnonas southern side, and it is easily accessible by (Arcadia’s) Leonidio and from (Laconia’s) Geraki.
In the central cobbled square with the century old oak trees, stands since 1886 the church of Agioi Anargyroi. Around it spread tiny, cute cafés and taverns, while from here start cobblestone alleys that climb to the village’s houses, to the library/school/folklore museum and to the incredible chest nut forest at the tip of the village, which is perfect for autumn strolling on its rural paths. We use the word “autumn” strolling so that you can pick up chest nuts too, otherwise the forest is amazing throughout the year.
If you come to Kosmas from Geraki and you are a little bit observant, you will notice that the paved road ends up rather abruptly to the central square’s cobblestone. This has an interesting explanation: In 1951, when there still wasn’t a road network to climb the side hills of Parnonas, the residents of Kosmas decided to ignore the state and the promises for funding and decided to make a road by themselves, using hoes and axes. The road would be used on 1st July, the day of the local feast festival, to bring the icon of Agioi Anargyroi to the square of the village. By car- and that was the bet.
The road was indeed completed in almost three months, its story became a film (you can find it on YouTube) and the road was known as “the Road of the 100 days”. Upon this road that ends up today a bit abruptly on the village’s square, was plotted with slight deviations the road that brings you from Laconia’s side to Kosmas.
A few kilometers away from Kosmas on the opposite direction, on the way down from Leonidio, the impressive monastery of Panagia Elonis stands all white after a steep turn, wedged on an alcove of red rocks, and it definitely worth a visit.
From Kosmas starts one of the nicest car rides in Parnonas. The route is circular, passing by tiny villages such as Palaioxori, Agios Vasilios and Platanaki, constantly zig zagging among dense fir forests and you meet behind every turn another sight: a stone fountain sprouting crystal clear water, a medieval tower standing in the middle of nowhere, or another monument for the victims of the Civil War and the Resistance.
The route is almost entirely paved, with a few kilometers of rural road that is accessible by non 4x4 cars too. If you decide to stop at one village, this would definitely be Agios Vasilios. With just 20 permanent residents, the small village with the big square that is adorned by century old plane trees and elaborate marble fountains with lion heads on them, enjoys the panoramic view to the green slopes of Parnonas and has hidden in its alleys impressive mansions, like the Ottoman Tower of Chionis that dates back to the 18th century.
A bit further outside the village, on the way to Platanaki, rises the meta-byzantine Tower of Palaiopanagia. Its 20 meters height is impressive, even if you don’t know that the tower was once part of a 13th or 14th century castle (probably Frankish), built on the debris of Ancient Glyppia’s citadel- that’s why the tower is usually referred to as Castle of Glyppia. Very close to the tower is the small church of Palaiopanagia, which was the catholic of an old monastery built here in 1456 and was abandoned in 1831.
They were renamed as Polydroso when the trend to change all the Albanian local names spread from Athens to the entire Greece- otherwise, they are still called Tsintzina by the people. So, Tsintzina is a beautiful village in the Laconian part of Parnonas, with its red tiled houses adding red strokes on the green, like a renaissance painting, landscapes that surrounds it.Nestled on an altitude of 1.100 meters, with a bunch of people migrating to Goritsa during winter and returning in spring, the village with the stone byzantine churches and the running waters of nine springs is particularly loved by hikers. Seven signed paths of various difficulty start from Tsintzina to cross the fir coated slopes of Parnonas, passing by stone bridges, next to rivers that bubble and through forests that could easily be inhabited by fairies. One of the nicest and easiest hiking routes is the one that brings you after an hour and a half of hiking from the village’s center to the monastery of Agioi Anargyroi, which is decorated by the wall paintings of Fotis Kontoglou.