(last update: summer 2020)
On the second day of my long weekend at Helmos, my intention was to visit Lake Caves and Planitero, so I followed the round trip seen at the map above.
> I started my day by exiting Kalavryta from the road going to the Ski Resort (the same road that goes to the Place of Sacrifice) and continued this road for 8km till reached a sharp road fork.
This historic tower, built on a hill at a strategic point, was the base of the Petmezas family and the center of resistance against the Turkish occupation both in the pre-revolutionary years and during the Revolution. It is one of the oldest towers of the mountainous Peloponnese, dating back to the 17th century. Today it is preserved in excellent condition and remains a landmark and historical memory of the struggles for the freedom of the Greek people. In the past, the tower was not standing alone, but it was part of a complex which included auxiliary buildings, gardens and walls, which are demolished. Its architecture is a unique example of folk architecture of the mountainous Peloponnese.
The tower is an elaborated edifice, built of local gray stone and well-worked details. At the northeastern corner of the building there is a cylindrical tower; while at the diagonal opposite southwest corner protrudes the second smaller turret (watchtower or "vigla"). Vigla is one of the elements we find quite often in the towers of mountainous Gortynia, in Mani, and other places of Peloponnese. Over the years, repairs and alterations have changed the look of the tower, but did not substantially alter its character. Until recently, the tower belonged to the Vice Admiral and for many years President of the Greek Red Cross, Golino Petmeza, and now belongs to his son, Antonios Petmezas. The men of Petmesas family during the Revolution played a leading role.
Back to the main road and after some meters I turned right (following the signpost for Ancient Lousoi) towards the heart of the plateau to visit the site of Ancient Lousoi and the Temple of Artemis Imerasias.
The temple of Artemis Imerasias (what has left of it) is built on a hillside with nice views of the plateau and the mountains surrounding it. The ancient town was built on the hill and there are several excavation sites around Lousiko Village, which brought to light houses and public buildings. There is not much to see today from this important ancient city, but the scenery really worth the detour from the main road.
I drove back to the main road and continued for 5km to the south to visit Lake Caves (Kastria Caves) - Σπήλαιο Λιμνών. The caves are located by the main road and well signed.
There are two big parking lots on site to leave your car. You can buy tickets for a cave tour at the café-bar, and then proceed to the entrance of the cave, were young and gentle guides take you for a 20min tour in the caves. You cannot visit the caves alone and photography is prohibited …but, it is not written on stone. Take some kind of jacket with you, as the temperature in the caves is around 15C all year-round. The humidity is also very high.
Tickets for Adults: 9,00 € (reduced 4,50 €).
The caves have a very informative site:
After having some icecrean at the cafe outside the caves trying to warm up a bit 😎... I continued on the main road, bypassed the village which gave its name to the caves (Kastria village) and after a total of 8km I turned left towards Planitero (Πλανητέρο). There are many (a real mess I would rather say) signposts at this turn, revealing that the place is popular. The distance from the main road to the Planitero is only 2,5km.
Planitero is a picturesque village, which is located at an altitude of 700 meters. The landscape is breath-taking: a dense plane-tree forest of exceptional beauty. The location is also known for the trout fisheries.
There are a couple of traditional taverns here, where visitors can taste delicious local dishes and trout of course. After lunch I recomend the visitor to wander around the plane-tree forest and walk along streams of cold and super-clean waters. But, do not buy any traditional products from the street vendors because they are overpriced.
The most astonishing thing of the place here is that you can see waters spring out in what seems to be the middle of nowhere, either it is a rock or the flat ground. It is here where Aronios River springs.
We had lunch at “Piges Tavern” (Ταβέρνα Πηγές), which is located next to a little bridge and a stream. You can see the waters run just 1m away from your table. This scenery certainly is very rewarding, but, just wait till your trout arrives on your table. As a starter, besides greek salad, we had smoked trout into lemon and olive oil mixture (λαδολέμονο), sprinkled with fresh parsley and onions. The best trout I ever had… EVER. And then came the main course: fresh trout roasted on charcoal. Certainly, that was the culinary highlight of my visit in the area and a must for every visitor!
> I started my way back to Kalavryta via Kleitoria. Kleitoria is a nice village with well preserved stone houses. The best spot to stop for coffee (after the hearty lunch you had at Planitero you need it) is its main square. We enjoyed some greek coffee at the “Mouries” (Οι Μουριές) tavern, under the thick shade of mulberry trees.
The landscape, all the way back to Kalavryta, is vey beautiful: high mountains, deep gorges and small villages.
The last detour worth taking is the 6km road leading to Kertezi village (Κέρτεζι). The main reason to do this is to enjoy the beautiful route along a river. The village is built in the bottom of a narrow passage among high mountains and rock cliffs. That evening of our visit the village was getting ready to celebrate the annual “Shepherd's Festival”. Unfortunately, we were very tired to stay up late and attend the celebrations. Who knows? Maybe next year.
On the 3rd day of my trip I visited the beautiful cluster of villages located at the south eastern slopes of Helmos: Mesorrougi, Solos, Peristera and Zarouchla, which, in the popular tradition it has prevailed to be called “Golfo’s Villages". Here, in this area, was supposed to live the heroine of the 1893 theatrical play “Golfo” written by Spyridon Peresiadis.
The story of the play goes like this: Tasos is a young shepherd in love with Golfo and intends to marry her. However, the rich shepherdess Stavroula with the help of her father manages to lure him with the promise of a dowry. Eventually he realises his mistake and returns to Golfo, but she has poisoned herself. Driven by guilt, Tasos commits suicide.
The story is so popular, that most people do not know that the persons of the drama are fictitious and believe they were real persons. Local authorities take advantage of this and several villages claim to be Golfo’s village. They even have built a fountain from where Golfo supposed to go and bring water home.
> I left from Kalavryta and followed the road going to the Ski Resort (the same road that goes to the Place of Sacrifice). After 8km there is a sharp road fork. One road goes to Lakes Cave (this is the trip I described in the previous chapter) and the other goes backwards and up to the mountains and to the ski resort. There are road signs.
> When I visited (during summer), the ski resort was closed (of course). But, even during summer it is worth visiting as the scenery is rewarding and driving alone in the huge parking lot, one has the feeling of driving on a racing court or an airport apron! The peaks of Helmos at this altitude are bare.
By the main parking area (while facing the main building, on the right hand) starts a dirty road (it is easy to drive if you have a pickup truck or a big 4x4 vehicle, but it is better not to try driving this road on a proper city car) that goes up to a mountain shelter and the Helmos Observatory (National Observatory of Athens), located at an altitude of 2340m. The area, where the observatory is built, is one of the darkest areas in Europe, thus perfect for sky observations. The telescope of the facilities has the name of the great ancient Greek astronomer Aristarchos. http://helmos.astro.noa.gr/
Aristarchos (Αρίσταρχος) (310 BC - 230 BC) was a mathematician, philosopher and astronomer. He was born on the island of Samos and was the first to propose a heliocentric model of the solar system, a hypothesis violently rejected by colleagues and fellow citizens since it was displacing the Earth from the center of the universe (geocentric model). The latter was largely affected by the ideas of Aristotle and Ptolemy. Aristarchus' model was put aside for almost 18 centuries for many reasons when it was finally revived, developed and fully confirmed by Copernicus and Brahe. Aristarchus was a copious writer but only one of his works has survived, which is based on a geocentric view of the Cosmos. The title of his treatise was "On the Sizes and Distances of the Sun and the Moon".
> The road that leads through the Golfo’s villages, although well paved, has lots of sharp turns. There is not much to do at the villages themselves as there are no restaurants and cafes. Nevertheless, the nature here is at its best and the place is dotted with small churches made of limestone, which when are lit by the afternoon sun resemble of golden sculptures. Drive slowly thru the villages and the woods and stop from time to time to admire the bare peaks of Helmos and the black trace the water of Styx or Mavroneri (black water) has left on the mountain.
> Up there on the peaks of Helmos, a steep shady rock springs a source that the ancient Greeks called Styx Waters and today is called Mavroneri (Μαυρονέρι=black water) due to its dark color. The waters of the spring form a waterfall, then pass underground and come up again, at lower grounds of the same area, to unite with the river Krathis.
The dark appearance of the waters, according to the myth, has to do with goddess Demeter: when she transformed into a mare (to escape Poseidon who had fallen in love with her and was after her), she looked at her reflection on the waters here; the image displeased here and she straightway made the river black, so that it not able to reflect anything anymore.
In Greek mythology, Styx (Στύξ) is a deity and a river that forms the boundary between Earth and the Underworld, often called "Hades". The river Styx and other four rivers supposedly all converge at the center of the underworld on a great marsh, which sometimes is also called the Styx. Styx was primarily a feature in the afterworld of classical Greek mythology, similar to the Christian area of Hell in texts such as Dante’s “The Divine Comedy”. The ferryman Charon often is described as having transported the souls of the newly dead across this river into the underworld.
Dante put Phlegyas as ferryman over the Styx and made it the fifth circle of Hell, where the wrathful and sullen are punished by being drowned in the muddy waters for eternity, with the wrathful fighting each other. In ancient times some believed that placing a coin (Charon's obol) in the mouth of the dead of the deceased would pay the toll for the ferry to cross the river, which would lead one to the entrance of the underworld. If someone could not pay the fee it was said that they would never be able to cross the river. This ritual was performed by the relatives.
The deities of the Greek pantheon swore all their oaths upon the river Styx because, according to mythology, during the Titan war, Styx, the goddess of the river, sided with Zeus. After the war, Zeus declared that every oath must be sworn upon her. According to Hesiod, when two gods were quarreling with each other, and Zeus could not tell who was telling the truth and who was not, he made the gods to swear in front of the water brought from Styx. The perjurer paralyzed and became dumb and breathless. For a whole year he or she would remain in this state, furthermore would be mortal. Even after this yearlong coma, the perjurer would be barred from the councils and the symposia of the gods for another nine years. For this reason, the people of the area would also come to Mavroneri and take an oath here.
According to some versions of the myth, Styx had miraculous powers and could make someone invulnerable. According to tradition, Achilles was dipped in the waters of the river by his mother Thetis during his childhood, acquiring invulnerability, with exception of his heel, by which his mother held him.
Ancient Greek and Roman historians refer that Alexander the Great died when he was poisoned by drinking water of Styx, which had secretly put into the wine Iollas, his cupbearer. The conspiracy organised by Antipatros, while Aristotle may has provided poisonous water.
> On the way from Mesorougi to Solos, one has the best view of Mavroneri. Midway between the two villages, there is an old road sign with “ΚΑΤΑΡΑΚΤΗΣ” (cascade) written on it. Leave the car there and take the path on the right. After about 10min walking you arrive at Krathis river (more like a stream than a river), into which the waters of Mavroneri flow. The waters of Krathis have a light blue color due to the limestone rock bed. The place is empty of people, so you can take off your clothes and enjoy the super-cold waters. Do not expect a real swim, as the waters are not deep enough, but you still can enjoy the river.
> Back to the main road. Less than a kilometer down the road there is a sign and a sharp turn right. The sign says “ΥΔΑΤΑ ΣΤΥΓΩΣ, ΚΑΣΤΡΑΚΙ, ΓΚΟΛΦΩΣ ΒΡΥΣΗ” (=Styx waters, Kastraki, Golfo’s Fountain). It worth taking this detour to visit the “Golfo’s Fountain”. The road is wide enough, but due to erosion at several points sharp rocks have emerged, which makes it precarious for the car tires. Drive carefully and have in mind that in every road fork you encounter take the right leg. With some patience and after about 2-3 km you are supposed to see Krathis river, by which stands Golfo’s Fountain. I say “supposed” because I did not follow the last third part of the road. The reason for that is that there was a misleading paper sign at that point and I could not decide which way to take and also, I was not sure at all this was the right road to the fountain anyway. As I wrote earlier, Golfo did not exist, so there should be no fountain where she used to go and bring water. This modern monument is just a tourist attraction, and one of those things you have to visit while in the area. It is Golfo’s fountain after all!!!!
> Zarouchla (Ζαρούχλα) is the furthermost village of the cluster, 7km south of Solos. Zarouchla is the biggest of all villages in the area, and the place where there is a chance to have some good food or a drink. The village boasts some beautifully restored stone mansions, limestone old churches, of which some date back to Byzantine times, and what is more important: several taverns and cafés!
We parked our car on the main road next to the “Church of the Transfiguration of Our Savior” and the “Tower of Charalampis Sotiris”. We walked around and had some cold water from the fountain in front of the church, before heading to “Giannis” Tavern (Ο Γιάννης). This traditional tavern has a big room inside (during winter it gets really cold here) and a couple of tables outside by the road. We sat outside and ordered saganaki (of course), green salad (I really do not like the translation “greens”, which is often used and it is the exact translation from the greek “χόρτα”, as it doesn’t mean anything in English) with lots of lemon and olive oil, chickpea balls (as opposed to meatballs), porkchop (the greek way, which means the best porkchop you ever had) with French fries and the famous local sausages. The most delicious grilled sausages I had for ages!!! The lady who served us was very kind and she was chasing stray cats away from us all the time believing that they bother us!
The most “Greek”, though, moment was when we asked for water: the lady took a jar and filled it up from the public spring by the road, next to our table. Things like this make me wonder what a special people we are the Greeks. We may argue all the time about anything and complain about our life as we seem to be never satisfied, etc, etc,... but then there is something so small, like this lady’s gesture, that makes you forget all the bad things and feel happy you live in such a beautiful country.
“Coffee Market”, also on the main road serves refreshment, cakes and coffee at a beautiful yard.
I left the best attraction for the afternoon of my third day in the area: Tsivlos Lake (Λίμνη Τσιβλού). I exited Zarouchla from the north and tppk the road to the right, towards the village of Agia Varvara. After driving on this road for 14 km (this road goes to Akrata, which is a town by the sea on the Gulf of Corinth) I turned left at the sign “Λίμνη Τσιβλού». In less than 2 km you there is a great bellavista of the lake. This is probably the best view over the lake.
I continued on the road that follows the east shore of the lake all the way to the northwest, where “Paradeisos Tavern” (Παράδεισος) is. On the eastern circumference road of the lake there are two dirt roads that take you down to the shores of the lake, there are picnic facilities there. Paradeisos is built at the most beautiful part of the lake, among pine trees.
The lake created on March 24, 1913, when the riverbed of Krathis River blocked by a large landslide. The lake has an area of about 83 acres and a depth of about 80 meters. The Lake took its name from the village of Tsivlos, which was partially damaged after the landslide. The locals call the name Mavrolimni (=black lake) for the harm it caused and not because of its color which is a bright blue.