In Greek and Roman mythology, the mythical region of Arcadia was described over and over as an earthly paradise. Today, you can see what influenced such stories by exploring this breathtaking mountainous region situated in the Peloponnese.
Spotlight on the Mythical Region of Arcadia
Arcadia is a mysteriously beautiful destination where nature speaks: the leaves whisper, the lakes murmur and the birds sing. Nestled in central Greece, Arcadia is just a two-hour drive from Athens. Getting there is half the adventure since the road opens up luscious green landscapes, enchanting traditional villages and a view of the Greek mountains.
The soul of Arcadia is Mount Mainalo. Over the centuries, the routes leading to this mountain peak inspired mythical legends of gods and heroes who sanctified every stone, spring and tree. Follow the sounds that flow through the pathways where the god of music, Apollo, used to wander. Embrace its wild side knowing it was once the playground of the god of the wild, Pan. Finally, Arcadia’s rich flora and fauna was where Asclepius, the hero and god of medicine, practiced his healing arts. Legend has it that upon healing a snake he acquired a secret knowledge which could bring the dead back to life.
Adventures for the Gods: Mountains, Lakes and Rivers
Zeus, the god of the sky and ruler of the Olympian gods, would enjoy his frequent baths in the gorges of Arcadia. The rivers here were also important to the ancient world. Ladonas River, known as the “dragon,” was the battle meeting point of the twelve Olympian gods.
The Lousios River with its historic bridges and the 110-kilometer Alpheios River which is the longest river in the Peloponnese, are also perfect for rafting adventures. The Erymanthos River, with its powerful water flows, guarantees an exciting time as well.
From pretty rivers to beautiful lakes, there is more to explore. Surrounded by valleys of apple trees, Lake Taka is one of the most important wetlands in the Peloponnese. The blue-green waters of Lake Ladona often reflect a picturesque mountain backdrop.
In winter, adventure lovers can hit the eight slopes at the Mainalo Ski Center, one of the oldest ski centers in the country. Any time of the year hikers can be found trekking the trails, from easy to moderate difficulty, which carry the myths, legends of the history of Arcadia.
Mountain Ranges: New Discoveries – Sanctuary of Zeus
Arcadia is home to three mountain ranges: Mount Mainalo, Mount Parnon and Mount Lykaion. Mount Lykaion, in the west, is debated to be the birthplace of Zeus. Since 2004, a Greek-American archaeological team called the Mount Lykaion Excavation and Survey Project, has been working at the sanctuary. This summer, they revealed their findings so far including pottery as early as the Neolithic, Early Helladic and Middle Helladic periods. They also uncovered evidence of animal sacrifices, proving that Zeus was worshipped here in the early Mycenaean period.
Explore Mythical Arcadia
Rising high above the Lousios River the archaeological site at Gortys remains as home to several fantastic temples, the sanctuary of Asclepius and several baths dating back to the second century B.C. Another site worth noting is Orchomenus, a renowned setting for many Greek myths a commerce center during the Mycenaean times. Set foot among the remains in the ancient city of Lykosoura, once claimed to be the oldest city in the world by the ancient writer Pausinias.
Witness the beauty of nature’s accomplishments by visiting the stalactites of Capsia Cave. Listed as one of Greece’s most important caves, the imposing cavern features multi-colored stalagmites and stalactites that reflect on the surface of the small ponds.
Traditional Villages: Rustic Charm
Arcadia’s traditional villages own their distinct rustic charm. Dimitsana is one of the most famous, home to one of Greece’s most important thematic museums, the Open-Air Water Power Museum. The Louisos gorge sits at its foothills with a few notable monasteries including the 12th-century Timiou Prodromou which was used as a base and shelter during the 1821 revolution. The Philosophou monastery houses remarkable Cretan style murals. During the Ottoman empire it was the center of literacy and culture, where the secret school known as the Krifo Scholio educated the enslaved society. Built inside of a rock, the Emialon monastery was utilized by freedom fighters during the revolution against the Turks.
Another beautiful village called Stemnitsa was once the informal capital of the Greek nation – for one day – when Theodoros Kolokotronis made it his temporary base during the revolution in 1821. Stemnitsa has a long history of being a silversmith center since the post-Byzantine period. For nearly four deades, the Silver and Gold Smithery School of Stemnitsa teaches students the fine art of jewelry by combining traditional techniques with contemporary design.
Right on the Alpheios River you’ll find little Karytaina. In the mid-13th century the village became the seat of a barony which led to the construction of the Castle of Karytaina, built by Baron Geoffrey of Biel. Explore the remains of this Frankish castle and several other medieval and Ottoman monuments.
Travelling farther to the villages of Leonidio and Tyros, a different kind of Greek dialect is spoken. Known as the Tsakonian language, it is derived from the Doric dialect of the ancient Greek language. The Tsakonian language was taught up to 1997 and is considered to be the most ancient and vivid language in Greece.
Another fantastic and “hidden” mountainous retreat is the village of Vityna which is set on the slopes of Mount Mainalo amidst a fragrant fir tree forest. Here any visitor can enjoy the best views of the countryside and local cuisine.
Culinary Delights in Arcadia
Arcadia is not only famous for its mythical character but also for its delicious cuisine. The stew called lagoto is a famous rabbit dish prepared with broth and walnuts. For those with a sweet tooth, local spoon sweets are made from chestnuts (abundant in this area), walnuts and carrots.
Pasta lovers can order hylopites which are wide strips of pasta served with meat and sauce. The cheese made in Arcadia are perfect on their own or as a filling inside the famous pitas (savory pies). Want to learn more about this traditional Greek dish, read our previous blog post: Greek pita: A savory history.
Where to Stay in the Mythical Region of Arcadia
If you are looking forward to a charming and quiet mountain getaway in Greece, Arcadia is the place for you. Spend your evenings gazing at the fireplace in one of the traditional guesthouses or relax and retreat in one of the cozy, romantic boutique hotels located in Levidi, Dimitsana, Stemnitsa, Vytina and Karytaina.
At Fly Me to The Moon we are dedicated to creating unique itineraries and to exploring destinations which are authentic, lesser known and off the beaten track.
Have our stories and tales inspired you to explore the mythical region of Arcadia? Pack your bags and let’s go.