How’s your Greek trivia? It’s unlikely that if asked to compile a list of five resorts in Greece that the small fishing village of Kardamili would feature on many. That is unless you’re German; judging by the number of Germanic accents around the town, it would be included on theirs. How do they find these places, and more importantly, how do they manage to keep them secret?
The small town is strung out along the main road, flanked by olive groves on one side and clear, azure coloured ocean on the other. There is a pretty little port; Limanaki (St. John’s harbour) which is still home to a small, but active fishing fleet. Traditional, reasonably priced taverns punctuate the town, vying for the custom of the visiting tourists. These are also well catered for with hotels, apartments, many shops, and one simply called “Tourist Shop” leaves little doubt about their target trade.
Protected by the mountains including the highest peak in the Peloponnese, Profitis Ilias, making it a genuine sea to summit resort. There are plenty of tempting drives into surrounding hills or for the more energetic even strenuous hikes.
It was with the latter in mind that I ventured into the Viros Gorge, a rocky umbilical cord which connects the town with the summit ridge of Taygetos. Leaving the ocean and following a dried out river bed, it threads between many high peaks. Towering, steep-sided cliffs close in as the gorge narrows imposingly, but providing welcome shade from the sun. High spectacular rocky outcrops pockmarked with caves and steep overhangs, perched in the vertical walls.
The paths are often difficult to follow, they disappear into the thick undergrowth of oleander bushes. The most sensible option is to follow the old river, although this is quite rough under foot; like walking on a pebble beach, but with large rocks and even huge boulders to negotiate. This makes it unsuitable for families with young children, but I enjoy rock hopping and a good scramble is rarely passed up.
It’s almost devoid of signposts, but there isn’t any need for any; even without a map, only the most navigationally challenged could get lost here.
Apart from the dramatic scenery, the Viros Gorge is home to a couple of remote monasteries. It’s necessary to keep a sharp lookout however, especially for the first reached. Moni Lykaki is a small rundown chapel with outbuildings hidden away in the trees a hundred metres from the main route. It is signposted with a small wooden plinth, and can easily be missed, this would be a shame, as this little gem has some hidden surprises.
It consists of a tiny chapel and living quarters, it was obviously home to only a couple of monks when it was a functioning monastery. The stonework is collapsing and the woodwork rotting; outwardly it presents a picture of ruin, but inside some impressive frescos remain. Plenty of the original, vibrant colours still survive, providing visitors with an unexpected pleasant surprise.
It appeared a ‘doer upper’ to me and the write-up in the local estate agents window might go like this: “A compact, self-contained, dwelling with detached place of worship, in an out-of-the-way place. The exterior needs some work but the interior design is outstanding, with scope for development into the perfect home. Ideal for those looking for a project and seeking solitude”.
It was pleasing that I hadn’t missed the unobtrusive sign and a few others must have found it too. The chapel housed a small altar, on which there were hundreds of coins left by earlier visitors, I was even inspired to leave a few of my own.
After a further 45 minutes of picking my way around the largest boulders and clambering over those that couldn’t be avoided I found myself at the Moni Sotiros (Saviour). This was also deserted but it was obvious, that the inhabitants hadn’t left that long ago, a fact borne out by a plaque stating it had been in use as recently as 2007. If Lykaki required some imaginative description to emphasise its selling points, Sotiros was an estate agents dream.
A larger residence and chapel, daubed in gleaming whitewash, dazzling in the bright sun. Tucked away in the trees, but clearly visible from the lower path, a secluded two hours from Kardamili; the perfect writers retreat. There was even an attractive large bell to warn those communing with nature that dinner is served.
This is probably a natural retreat point, but I couldn’t help just checking out what was around the next corner, and the next and several more after that too, adding a further hour to my trek.
I was the only person hiking the gorge in the midday sun. My only companions were scurrying salamanders and majestic raptors that occasionally soared high overhead. The constant chorus of crickets accompanied me all day however, it felt like a personal all insect ‘voice’ choir.
It was eventually time to head back, taking a more recognised path, gradually climbing high to the top of the gorge, where outstanding views of the village and the chapel of Agia Sofia waited. I then descended through olive groves and immaculate, sloping, cobbled streets on the outskirts of the resort, passing by pretty stone built homes and grand, angular villas replete with large patios. Almost all were capable of winning a villa in bloom competition; walls and doorways draped with blossoming plants, subtle marigold, deep crimson or vibrant fuchsia, Kardamili is nature’s palette gone wild.
I arrived just in time for an iced espresso in one of the taverns, the perfect end to a great day in the hills of the Peloponnese.
1. It isn’t a suitable hike for young children, apart from the rough terrain, and need for scrambling, there is a huge, fallen rock and trees blocking the Agia Sofia path. It will hopefully be cleared soon, but until then it is an obstacle which requires climbing over.
2. This is an especially secluded route, in the height of summer I didn’t see a soul for five hours, which is part of the appeal. However make sure you inform the accommodation of your plans, when you expect to return and let them know when you do.
3. Wear suitable footwear, preferably which supports the ankles and of course carry plenty of water. There is a fountain at Sotiros but it is uncertain whether the water is drinkable.
4. This hike takes a leisurely five hours but the gorge is 20km long, so it’s easily possible to walk further, trekking to the foot of the summit ridge of Taygetos. An extended hike will offer time to visit the many preserved flour mills along the route. The Viros Gorge is also accessible from the villages of Tseria, Kalyves and Exochori.
*All images were taken with a Samsung WB250F wifi enabled compact camera.