Five million trees that almost touch the sky. To be more precise, there are five million oaks that consist a magical forest. The most important thing you need to know about the oak tree is that its height usually reaches the 20 meters and on the most unusual cases, the 40 meters height. That is why Foloi’s oak trees seem to touch the sky.
It is worth wondering how a place like this, 20 kilometers away from Ancient Olympia, has remained one of the best kept secrets in the Peloponnese. Actually, Foloi is one of those places that when you mention its name everybody looks at you in wonder, making you feel that you are its only visitor, and gives you the pleasure of revealing a destination that hasn’t been trampled by the crowds yet.
We’ve mentioned that Foloi is 20 kilometers away from Ancient Olympia, to which municipality it belongs. The southest oak forest in Europe- and the only one in the Balkans- spreads in 42.000 acres that are offered for hiking and cycling, thanks to the completely flat plateau on top of which it is located. The locals call Foloi’s plateau as “The Balcony of Ilia” since if you walk towards the edge of the forest the astonishing view will explain you the reason why.
Mythology has it that it took its beautiful name from the Centaur, Folos, who lived in the forest. Folos was one of the two good Centaurs- the other one was Centaur Chiron in Pilio. The rest of them were actually bad and that explains why Folos was killed by mistake by his friend’s Hercules arrow, when the latter tried to defend their friendship against the other Centaurs that had attacked them. The sign of the last turn before the forest, on your way from Olympia, still reads as “visit the balcony of Ilia, the place where Centaur Folos lived”.
To begin with, the best season to visit the Foloi forest is spring and early autumn. The oak trees are deciduous trees, which means that during winter the forest is bare while during summer the temperatures rise and are not suitable for hiking. The golden red leaf carpet of the autumn makes a magical image, though completely different from the one of the green and flowery spring.
The routes that cross the forest can be better explored on foot or by bike. One of the most beautiful routes is the one that starts from the Environmental Museum of Foloi, at the entrance of the forest (which, during opening hours, will give you important information about the included in the Natura 2000 region and analytic recommendations for its beautiful routes) and follows the tree path to the Erymanthus Gorge, next to arched small bridges, watermills and small caves. Also popular is the “neck tie path” that crosses eight kilometers through the heart of the forest the route is easy and you can easily walk it in two hours.
However, if you are not the hiking type, or of the exercise type in general, we should point out to you that many of the forest paths can easily be crossed by a car. In fact, one of these forest routes, the one that starts from St. George chapel and ends up near the Foloi- Koumanis intersection, was one of the special routes of Acropolis Rally.
There are two pocket sized villages that touch with Foloi forest: Foloi and Koumanis that might not excite you if you expect to see the astonishing architecture of other mountainous villages of the Peloponnese but they are still worth visiting for their taverns that offer the necessary supplies after your all- day tours in the forest.Additionally, 12 kilometers away from Foloi forest, there is one of the most beautiful mountainous villages of Ilia’s prefecture, Lampia (that people also call it Divri). Nestled in an altitude of 900 meters high, at the sides of Erymanthus that Pausanias says that it was the sacred mountain of god Pana, with little stone houses that are covered by red tiles and steaming chimneys, Lampia has traditional dorms, picturesque cafeterias and taverns that always serve homemade food.