If you’re looking to find the best place to get your first great hiking experience in Greece, then start from Arcadia, in the very heart of the Peloponnese.
It’s not by chance that the word “arcadia” in English is poetically used to refer to an idyllic vision of unspoiled wilderness; of life in harmony with nature.
Where better to embark on your hiking experience if not in one of the Greek regions that dates back to antiquity and is brimming with what else? Proud mountains, bountiful valleys, gentle hills, lush forests, crystal lakes, and of course, is dotted with picturesque villages.
Considered by many to allude to a Utopian ideal, and as such, unattainable or even a perfect form of life lost, it does exist and I assure you, the Menalon Trail experience is the window or should I say door to this dream world whether you’re a hiker, a nature lover or an avid walker
What is the Menalon Trail?
The Menalon Trail is a network of eight footpaths spanning 75km of forests, valleys and rivers, and is named after the mountain range – Menalon – connecting the regions of Arcadia and Gortynia in the Peloponnese, mainland Greece.
The trail runs along the Lousios River gorge, the western slopes of Mt Menalon, and the valley of Mylaon, to and through the Peloponnese villages of Stemnitsa, Dimitsana, Zygovisti, Elati, Vytina, Nymfasia, Magouliana, Valtessiniko, Lagadia – all located on Mount Menalon.
It is also the first certified hiking route network in Greece to receive European certification and be placed among the Leading Quality Trails (LQT) – Best of Europe and has been incorporated into the Greek Paths of Culture.
What does that mean? That every single trail has been tried and tested by hiking inspectors ensuring they are safe and accessible. In this way, hikers, trekkers and walkers from across the globe know what to expect.
I want to add that anyone – beginner, amateur or professional – can try their luck on one of the routes. If you visit the Menalon Trail site you will find all the information you need before you start.
The Arcadia Hiking Adventure
Be prepared to experience Arcadia both literally and poetically. Walking any of the trails along the Menalon route is the best way to immerse yourself in Peloponnese nature in all its wonderful glory.
It’s also the best way, I would say, to discover culture as you walk through villages, by monasteries, chapels and old water mill and wood factories which today operate as modern museums.
And I’m not just saying this because it’s my mother birthplace and where I spent every single summer of my life, I’m saying it because I truly believe it offers a perfect blend of genuine experiences that will bring you closer to a Greece you probably know very little about.
Along one of the hikes, I remember meeting several villagers doing their daily chores who smiled and offered some fascinating tales.
Usually, Greek mountain hikes end up in a small village where the best thing to do after a strenuous but rewarding trekking experience is to lay back, order some red wine, dig into traditional Peloponnese dishes (more on this in a new post) and let your legs cool off and your palate do the work.
Did you know that one of the villages along the trail is known for its black truffles? Yes, black truffles! We saw playful little dogs sniffing out truffles, a new activity which is thankfully bringing life back to the villages, many of which were almost abandoned several years ago.
Hiking Greece: The Greek Vibe Tips
For me the Menalon Trail is an ideal introduction to hiking in Greece as it gives you the chance to immerse yourself in Greek nature and culture.
But if you’re the island type still keen on doing some rambling, then I suggest you visit Donoussa, Folegandros, Andros, Tinos, Evia, Zakynthos, Crete and Kythira, to name a few of the islands where hiking trails have been cleared up and signposted and unlike the mainland wilderness trails feature cliffs and spectacular sea vistas and some curious four-legged locals. You can also visit Epirus, which is as beautiful and as diverse.
I would like to add that the Menalon Trail is now expanding to include hiking on Mount Parnonas – another must-do wonderful Greece adventure that I suggest you try ASAP.
Work is actually underway to clear up paths criss-crossing the Peloponnese to create a 1,500km trail linking major archaeological sites and landmarks across the country, which will include such destinations as Nafplio, Olympia, Mystras, Sparta, Mt Parnonas and Mt Taigetos, among others. The network has been named Mythical Trails and is inspired by Greek mythology.
One of these routes opened this year: the Pan Trails, inspired by the Ancient Greek god Pan, which starts from Menalon and runs through Gortynia towards Ancient Olympia.
Who was Pan, by the way? Half man and half goat, Pan was born in the woods of Arcadia and is the Greek god of the wilderness, pasture lands, shepherds, and flocks. Due to this no temples were built in his honor, instead he was worshipped in nature, caves and the forests. Pan is also connected to fertility and the season of spring.
Lastly, the man behind Menalon Trail, Stemnitsa-born Ioannis Lagos said plans were underway to create trails for people with disability. The first is set to run between the villages of Elati and Vytina. The route is ideal, he said, because it runs parallel to the river, allowing the blind, for example, to tune into the sounds and is also level with very few inclines.
Before You Set Off
- Always get information about the best times of the year to hike. In the winter some of the paths have either been blocked by snowfall or washed away by torrential rains
- before you set off, check out the weather
- check out the distance and remember this is not walking, it’s hiking, which also changes depending on the area, islands for example usually have lower altitudes but more rugged terrain
- check out the difficulty level and whether you can take your kids along
- be prepared with all the necessary clothes and equipment (also depending on time of year): trekking shoes that have already been worn in, a light backpack with extra pair of socks, a hat, a T-shirt, water-resistant jacket, baton sticks (optional, but a good idea), suntan creme, map because cell phone signals may be lost, and lastly, mostly island trails usually lead to secret paradise coves, so bring a bathing suit, unless you prefer to enjoy in the nude.
- make sure to bring plenty of water along as well as nutritious snacks including nuts, dried fruit and, my favorite, chocolate
- by the way: hiking in Greek is called “Pezoporia”, which means “walking the path”!
♫ I end today’s post with one of my favorite singers: the late Vicky Moscholiou performing here a true Greek standard: “To Monopati” (The Trail) about the difficulty of deciding to take the high road or the road less traveled .