Travel & Life Digest

Vouraikos Gorge, Peloponnese

Breathtaking! That's what this trip is.
What comes to mind when you hear about holidays in Greece? Probably some beach-side story and certainly no mountain resorts, skiing and snow. 

 this area is rich in water; it leaves its' mark even on the hardest rock surface

Climbing up right next to Vouraikos River

The mountain town of Kalavryta is lodged at the end of Vouraikos Gorge and although it can be reached by car, we opted for the whimsical two-carriage cog railway.  
The track is so integrated with the natural surroundings that feels like it's always been there.

Cog tracks are part of the scenery

The last time that I took this little train I was with my girl-guides group erm...quite a few years ago; Things haven't changed much it seems: this time around the little station in Diakofto was buzzing with boy scouts waiting to board the train! It's a popular destination for nature-lovers, hikers, skiers and that attracts brownies and scouts too. Notice how I use "small" a lot? This is the narrowest cog track in the world, just 75cm wide! The new carriages are clean and shiny but I did hope for the older ones that used to squeak and shake all the way up the gorge. I guess safety comes first. 
The trip up to Kalavryta is wonderful. Within five minutes everyone is going oooooh, aaaah and wow! Why? Because the tracks run parallel to Vouraikos river, crossing over from side to side, giving unique view of the foaming waters right below! The rocks are close enough to touch and tunnels open up to what looks like an abyss, but a tiny track appears around the corner and the journey up continues...

Spot the old train bridge? 
Zahlorou village pops up halfway, half-hidden amongst massive maple and chestnut trees. Steps appear amongst the branches leading down to the river bank in an elf-like setting. Magical!

Mid-way point: Zahlorou Station

Zahlorou village on the sides of Helmos mountain
Kalavryta's main road has been pedestrianised and is filled with goods from around the local mountains...wild tea, oregano, rosemary and chamomile.
Fill up your bags for a touch of mountain air and fragrances for when you are back home. 
Wild herbs and potions for good health, flavour, fragrance, you name it! 
On the way up the gorge you'll spot herds of sheep and goats climbing up the steep sides of the mountains. Some shepherds seem to use natural caves formed on the sides of the rocks to house their herds even now, keep an eye out for hawk-like settlements. Dairy products have always been popular in this area, so try "mizithra" cheese for grating over pasta and barbecued vegetables and "formaela" cheese for frying.  There is a local producer's shop right across the railway station in Kalavryta. 

Food is very rewarding too, try lamb cooked over vines or wild boar stewed with shallots in a red sauce, "traxana" a fresh dough and milk soup, wild greens pie and rich cheese pie. Walking around the town you'll spot patisseries serving baklava and walnut cake, kataifi (vermicelli tangled with ground nuts soaked in syrup) and a sweet crème similar to crème brulee made of the ever so popular local milk. You must stop and try some sweet delicacies along with Greek coffee, prepared on wood  fire.
herds of goats on the banks of Vouraikos river
If you are looking for a place to stay, the newly opened Kalavryta Canyon Hotel & Spa is a modern boutique hotel with interesting décor and lovely bar for après-ski drinks around the log fire. Remember to pack a small bag if you are taking the cog train up, there is no room for large suitcases, if you plan to stay longer you are better off driving up. 

 Kalavryta's train station blends in with traditional mountain-style stone buildings

The elegant lobby in Canyon Resort & Spa
Tsipouro - a highly alcoholic aperitif - and log fire: we're staying right here! 
On the way down prepare for a lot of train whistling;
Quite a few people choose to hike alongside the tracks to Zahlourou, sometimes just so that they can have lunch there! Talk about working up an appetite!
For part of the route hikers walk on the tracks as there is no other place to go, rocks tower up vertically on one side and the river bubbles dangerously on the other! Others hike the whole way down to Diakofto, a good three hour route. 

waterfalls pop out of rocks; keep the train window open, the sounds are amazing...
I have promised myself that I'll dare walk through this enchanting gorge at some point in my life! x


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