The visitor can access the river via the many well signed trails of the gorge, but also by car at two points.
👍The first point is where the road (Lousios Rd) from Dimitsana to Philosophou Monastery crosses the river.About 200 m after exiting Dimitsana from the south you take the narrow road on the left towards Dimitsana Open-Air Waterways Museum.The road is narrow but reasonably paved.
👍The second, and most interesting, point is further south next to the location of Ancient Gortys.To arrive there: from Dimitsana south exit follow the road to Stemnitsa village, cross it and at about 1,5 km at a road fork, follow the road to the right towards Elliniko and Megalopolis.After driving for 8 km you arrive at the beautiful village Elliniko.The place is very well signed and there is no way to lose the central road fork where you have to turn right for the final 6km towards Ancient Gortys and Lousios River.
You leave the car at the parking lot and walk under the bridge where the river forms a small but beautiful beach.This is the perfect spot for swimming and for cooling down in a hot summer day.
Lousios (Λούσιος) is a small river which originates in the area of the Karkalou Plateau at an altitude of 1,000 m. The river is about 23 km in length and flows into the Alfeios River close to the town of Karytaina.
According to ancient Greek traveler Pausanias and the local tradition, the river was named Lousios because the father of the gods, Zeus, was bathed (λούζομαι) in it when he was born. The springs located in the area of ancient Gortynia gather an impressive volume of water. Lousios water is famous for its coldness, which it maintains during the summer months, as well as its purity.
Many mountain activities and sports take place here all year round, such as rafting, trekking, canyoning and kayaking.
Throughout the area that Lousios crosses, it forms one of the most beautiful gorges of the Peloponnese, the Lousios Gorge.This is a gorge with great history and rare natural beauty. Impressive lush vegetation spreads across all the gorge area, while the spotless landscape on its wooded slopes acts as a natural mechanism for cleaning the environment, providing the perfect conditions for the growing of variform flora and the sustainability of rear fauna.
Access of Lousios River, from Dimitsana (top) and from Elliniko (bottom).
The little church of Agios Andreas.
Ancient Gortys was an important Arcadian town in antiquity. Even today its ruins continue to attract the interest and admiration of the visitor, combined with the natural beauty and tranquility of the landscape. According to mythology, Gortys, the son of Stymfelos and great grandson of the king Arcadas, built it. From its founder, the city took its name.The city had a sanctuary of Asclepius (ναός του Ασκληπιού), large healing baths, two strong fortifications (citadels), other sanctuaries and fine public buildings. Balneotherapy was also directly connected with the worship of Asclepius. Today, the visitor can see the remains of the temple of Asclepius and the baths.
Cross the bridge on foot and on the other side of it you can visit the ruins of Ancient Gortys (Αρχαία Γόρτυς) as well as the little byzantine church of Agios Andreas (Αγιος Ανδρέας).
There is another road leading to this spot starting just before entering Stemnitsa from the north, but that road is narrow and has lots for sharp turns.
The ruins of Ancient Gortys
While being in the area, it is a very good opportunity to visit the splendid town of Karytaina (Καρύταινα). Drive back to Ellinikon and follow the signs.Karytaina is only 10km to the south. Karytaina is built on the slopes of the hill of Achreiovouni, some 550 m above sea level, on the right bank of the Alfeios river, near its confluence with Lousios river. Driving up the hill towards the town you have a full view of the impressive town.
Karytaina seen from the castle.
The village dates back to the Middle Ages, but its history is unknown before the crusader conquest ca. 1205. Karytaina became the seat of a barony under the Frankish Principality of Achaea, and the Castle of Carytaina was built in the mid-13th century on a steep rocky outcrop (hill of Saint Elias) by Baron Geoffrey of Briel. The area returned to Byzantine control in 1320, and came under Ottoman control in 1460. After a brief period of Venetian rule (1687–1715), Karytaina returned to Ottoman control, and prospered as an administrative and commercial centre. Karytaina and its inhabitants were among the first to rise up during the Greek War of Independence of 1821–29.
Today Karytaina is a protected by law traditional settlement (like several other in the area: Dimitsana, Vytina, Stemnitsa, etc) and has, alongside the remains of its Frankish castle, several other medieval and Ottoman monuments.
Its unique townscape has earned Karytaina the moniker of the "Greek Toledo", and was depicted on the reverse of the Greek 5000 drachmas banknote of the period 1984–2001.
The view from the town over the plain of Megalopolis is magnificent, especially from atop the castle. We had a coffee and an ice-cream at the best-view balcony in town and certainly one of the best I have ever seen: “Café Toledo”.
5000 drachmas note depicting the Karytaina bridge and the town at the background.
The town is full of stone multi-storey mansions and beautiful churches.From its churches stand out Zoodochos Pigi, in the central square, built in the 16th century, with its marble three-storey bell tower, the 17th century church of Agios Nikolaos with very interesting frescoes inside. On the south side of the castle hill lies the "Panagia in the castle" church, bearing remarkable marble capitals.
The church of Zoodochos Pigi.
The famous Greek writer Nikos Kazatzakis wrote about Karytaina in his book «Ταξιδεύοντας (στο Μοριά)» (traveling in Peloponnese):
«H Kαρύταινα είναι αληθινά το Τολέδο της Ελλάδας… τα κάστρο έρημο, σταχτόμαυρο σα γεράκι, σηκώνεται στην κορφή και βιγλίζει. …..τα σύννεφα είχαν πληθύνει και περνούσαν γρήγορα, ρίχνοντας τεράστιους ίσκιους απάνω στα βουνά και κάτω στον κάμπο. Κι όταν αντικρίσαμε πάνω από το λόφο το ξακουστό κάστρο της Καρύταινας, νιώσαμε πως σήμερα, σε τέτοιο ανήσυχο φωτισμό και με τέτοιες σύγχρονες έγνοιες, το κάστρο τούτο το άγριο, το πολεμικό, το απότομο, διατυπώνει πιστότερα από κάθε ελληνικό ναό το τοπίο γύρα μας και μέσα μας».
The church of Agios Nikolaos.
The old Karytaina bridge still stands under the modern concrete bridge. The chapel of Virgin Mary’s Birth is built in one of its arches.
Drive back to Elliniko and then to Stemnitsa, which is only 6km from Dimitsana. Built on Mount Mainalo at about 1050 m elevation, Stemnitsa has been identified with the ancient Arcadian city Hypsous (Υψούς).It was already ruined in the 2nd century AD, when it was visited by Pausanias. Hypsous was founded by a son of Lycaon.
Upon Alfeios River, near Karytaina, two old stone bridges are preserved, the bridge of Koukou and the bridge of Karytaina. The first is a single-arched bridge, built in 1880 and is preserved in good condition. The second one is a five-arched bridge, of which, during a battle of the civil war (late 40s-early 50s), the main arch was destroyed and thus remains to this day ruined. The chapel of Virgin Mary’s Birth is built inside one of its arches.The Karytaina bridge is located under a modern arched bridge on the main road going to Megalopolis.
From the new bridge one has a view of the Alfeios Gorge, but not a good view of the old Bridge bellow. To approach the old stone bridge, take the unpaved road which starts 10-20m before the modern bridge (on your right coming from Karytaina). You can drive down the bridge, but it is better to walk there as the road is muddy at some point and you may get stack there.
Zeus turning Lycaon into a wolf; engraving by Hendrik Goltzius.
In Greek mythology, Lycaon (Λυκάων) was a king of Arcadia, son of Pelasgus and Meliboea, who, in the most popular version of the myth, tested Zeus' omniscience by serving him the roasted flesh of Lycaon's own son Nyctimus, in order to see whether Zeus was truly all-knowing. In return for these gruesome deeds, Zeus transformed Lycaon into a wolf (wolf=lykos, in Greek), along with his offspring. Nyctimus was restored to life.
In the 7th and 8th century Slavssettled in the Peloponnese. The name Stemnitsa has Slavicroots and means "woodland". Due to its remote location, Stemnitsa served as a relatively safe haven from the Ottomans, and it became a centre of Greek culture and religion during the Ottoman Era. Many old churches have been preserved.The Panagia Bafero church was built in 1185 and the Zoodochos Pigi churche in 1433. The two larger churches are Agios Georgios (17th century) on the main square and Agia Paraskevi on the eastern part of the town.
The belfry of Agios Georgios on the main square of Stemnitsa.
The central square in Stemnitsa. My 'red panda' is the great car that takes us to all these beautiful places.
Stemnitsa was a shelter for many fighters of the Greek War of Independence. After the Revolution, from the end of May to mid of June 1821, it served as the first seat of the "Peloponnesian Senate", the temporary government of the liberated Peloponnese. The first Peloponnesian Senate conferred here in a cell of Zoodohos Pigi monastery. Stemnitsa was known for its gold and silversmiths, as well as other crafts. Since the 1970s, the Technical School of Silvery, a gold and silver smithery school, operates here.
The central square of Stemnitsa is the heart of all activities and entertainment. Relax in one of its beautiful cafés sipping slowly your Greek coffee or have lunch and dinner. Here in the central square, one can see the clock tower made of carved stone and the beautiful belfry of Agios Georgios church, which dates back to 1877 and is made of white stone.
The clock tower in Stemnitsa.
Walking around the village is a real pleasure. Do not miss to visit the "castle" at the top of a rock at the south of the village. The first thing you see is the church of Panagia Bafero (Παναγία Μπαφέρω), then follow the steps lead to the top of the rock, where a small monument is built. From here you have a panoramic view of Stemnitsa.
Stemnitsa. The "castle".
On the eastern end of the village (on the road from Stemnitsa to Ellinikon) stands the beautifully preserved monastery of the “Mother of God of the Life-giving Spring” (Ιερά Μονή Ζωοδόχου Πηγής). Only the little church and a small two-story building are preserved.
Stemnitsa. The monastery of the “Mother of God of the Life-giving Spring” (Ιερά Μονή Ζωοδόχου Πηγής).
The best place to have lunch is the "Σαρακινιώτης Tαβέρνα - Η ΣΤΕΜΝΙΤΣΑ" (“Stemnitsa Tavern”) located by the clock tower (on the main square), which serves all local specialties: mainly pork, wild boar, game, lamp, etc. The tavern is open all year round.
Our lunch in Stemnitsa. Omelet with cured pork, "saganaki" cheese, cooked zucchini flowers and roasted pork with french fries.
Roast lamb (left) and veal in tomato souse (right).
Next to the tavern stands the most picturesque cafe of Stemnitsa "Γερουσία Καφε" ("Gerousia Cafe", which means "Senate Cafe"). Being picturesque is one thing, serving delicious cakes and desserts is the other and most important! The mother of the cafe owner (Mrs. Sophia) is a great "pastry chef" and makes the tastiest traditional greek cakes, like: melomakarona, diples, karydato, etc.
Mrs. Sophia recently opened a confectionary of her own, just 50 meters down the road, where one can buy cakes to take away: “Αρμπαρόριζα Ζαχαρουργείο” (Arbaroriza Confectionary). There, the charming and talkative Mrs. Sofia (she used to be a teacher of silversmithing, at the local technical college) will offer you samples to taste before deciding what to buy.
"Arbaroriza" confectionary in Stemnitsa.
The Philosophou Monastery
The Philosophou Monastery(ΜονήΦιλοσόφου) is located in the west side of Lousios Gorge, south of Dimitsana. It is dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. It consists of two monastic complexes: the Old and the New Monastery, which are close to each other.
The Old Philosophou Monastery is the most historic and ancient monastery of Arcadia and one of the oldest Byzantine monuments of Greece.
According to the tradition, the Old Monastery was founded in 963 by Ioannis Lambardopoulos, the so-called "philosopher", secretary of the emperor Nikiforos Phokas. From this name of the founder, the monastery took its name.
The New Philosofou Monastery.
To reach the Philosophou Monasteryyou have to follow this route: about 200 m after exiting Dimitsana from the south take the narrow road on the left towards Dimitsana Open-Air Waterways Museum. Follow the signs for Lousios River and/or Philosophou Monastery.
After reaching the bridge over Lousios River continue the road till you see a fork where you have to follow the road on the left.
The road is narrow and reasonably well paved to most of its length, but there are potholes here and there; so, drive carefully.
Park your car to the huge parking lot and descent the few stairs to the courtyard of the New Monastery.
At the courtyard you will meet the famous cats of the monastery, always willing to be photographed!
At the east side of the courtyard there is a metal door opening (there are 5 bells hanging over it) to the path/stairs leading to Old Monastery. The path is a bit less than 1km long, but it is very steep and tiring. Be prepared and get some water with you.
The Old Monastery is located in a wild and majestic ravine 200 meters above the river bed of Lousios, in the cavity of a tall and steep cliff. It extends into a narrow and elongated cavity. The katholikon (church) is preserved intact and is a remarkable example of Byzantine architecture of the 10th century with remarkable frescoes. Unfortunately, it is closed to public. Besides the church, are also saved remains of monastic cells, other buildings, the outer protective wall (built after the Fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans), ruins of two turrets above the monastery on the rock, a water conduit that fed the Monastery with water from a spring and a cistern.
200 Drachmas note and postage stamp depicting the painting "Kryfo scholio" by Nikolaos Gyzis.
How to arrive to Philosophou Monastery. The first part of the road from Dimitsana to Lousios River (left picture) and the second part from the river to the Monastery (right). The inserted green photo shows the path from the New to the Old Monastery.
Open the metal gate with the bells hanging over it and take the path leading to the Old Philosophou Monastery.
Old Philosophou Monastery, known as "Kryfo Scholio".
The monastery is known as “Krifo Scholio” (Κρυφό Σχολειό - underground or secret school), because according to the tradition there was a school that was secretly teaching young people during the Ottoman occupation. Later this school evolved to an important priestly school when the New Monastery was built. The monastery was flourishing in the 17th century, when the New Monastery was built, without abandoning the old one.
The 1886 oil painting with title "Krifo Scholio", by the famous Greek painter Nikolaos Gyzis, gave the necessary picture needed for the popular legend.
The New Monastery courtyard.
The New Philosophou Monastery was founded in the 17th century (1691), about four hundred meters above the old Monastery and in a more lenient position. Its katholikon (church) is a small, square and elegant building with dome and four single windows. Inside, the dome rests on four arches which recline on columns. Its interior wals are painted with important frescoes. The iconostasis is exquisitely decorated and carved with icon paintings attributed to the painter Victor (1663). Among the hagiographies are the exceptional paintings of Saint Peter and Paul. Above the entrance there is a nice bell tower made of limestone. In addition to the katholikon, several monastic cells, a guest house and the archondariki are standing around the courtyard, at different levels.
From the middle of the 17th century here operated the "Dimitsana Clergy School”, one the most important priestly schools in the Ottoman Empire. From this school graduated numerous teachers, priests, monks, high-rank priests, and leading figures of the Orthodox Church. The monastery was a center of spiritual resistance during the Ottoman domination. In 1764 the school was dissolved and moved to Dimitsana. The monastery continued to operate until 1834, when it was dissolved by decision of the newly established Regency of Greece. It reopened some years later and functions till today.
The Katholikon of the New Philosophou Monastery.
The cats of Philosophou Monastery.
The Monastery of Timios Prodromos seen from Old Philosophou Monastery.
Monastery of Timios Prodromos
On the road from Dimitsana to Stemnitsa, 2 km before entering the second, a road goes down to the Monastery of Timios Prodromos (John the Baptist).There is no way to miss the road as there is a signpost.The 7km road down is well paved, but it is narrow and has sharp turns.
This road also leads to Ancient Gortys (about 1 km before reaching the monastery at the road fork you have to turn left), but as I told you earlier, it is better to follow the other road I described in a previous paragraph.
The view of the Megalopolis plain from the church of Metamorfosi Sotiros.
Nevertheless, going down really worth the sweating because the moment you see the monastery you immediately forget all the fatigue.
Be prepared to see one of the most picturesque monasteries in the most spectacular surroundings.Hanging on the side of a reddish rock, the monastery of Timios Prodromos really overwhelms your senses. You may not be religious at all, but the tranquility and beauty of the place brings you closer to the Creator, either this is your God or mother Nature.
The road to Timios Prodromos Monastery parking lot and the path to the monastery (inserted picture, bottom right).
At the bottom of the road there is a parking lot and the little church of Metamorfosi Sotiros.By the church there is a balcony from where one has the best views over the Lousios Gorge. A must visit for nature and photography lovers.Do not park your car at this parking lot.You can continue driving for another 300m down the road and stop your car there.A path starts here which is not long (less than 1km) but it is very steep and tiring for those who are not very fit.
The path leading to the Monastery of Ioannis Prodromos (Timios Prodromos).
The Monastery of Timios Prodromos.
The Monastery was built in the 16th century and is today one of the largest and most historic monasteries in the Peloponnese. It is a male monastery and has most monks than any other monastery of Arcadia.
Its Katholikon (the church of the Monastery) is built in a cave in the rock; it has the shape of a vaulted basilica and beautiful frescos (hagiographies) not only inside, but also on its exterior. The frescoes, despite the deteriorations, are remarkable and belong to the Cretan School, and it is believed they were painted by Theophanes the Cretan. Unfortunately, the light inside the katholikon is very low (for plausible reasons), so cannot be really admired to the extend one would wish to.
The katholikon of the Monastery.
...Εκεί σαν μπώ, μες σ' εκκλησιά των Γραικών με των θυμιαμάτων της τες ευωδιές, με τες λειτουργικές φωνές και συμφωνίες, τες μεγαλοπρεπείς των ιερών παρουσίες και κάθε των κινήσεων τον σοβαρό ρυθμό -λαμπρότατοι μες των αμφίων τον στολισμό- ο νούς μου πιαίνει σε τιμές μεγάλες της φιλής μας, στον ένδοξο Βυζαντινισμό.
The monastery has a remarkable library with important theological and philosophical books.
Do not forget to visit the Archontariki (welcome room) where cold water, Greek coffee and loukoumi are offered to all visitors.From the Archontariki you can get out to the long balcony and admire the views.
The monastery has guest rooms where visitors can spend the night.
The view from the balcony of the Archondariki.
The Archondariki welcomes the visitor with cool water and coffee.
Timios Prodromos Monastery.
That was a really splendid long weekend.We had 3 beautiful days exploring as much of the area as possible.That was not the first time I visited the area, but I believe Gortynia is one of those places that every time you visit looks more and more beautiful.Besides, there are so many places you can visit and certainly 3-4 days is not long enough.Every time I come back I discover something new and interesting.This time the real “highlight” of the trip was a forest road I took non-intentionally.
It was late afternoon, one of those short and intense summer storms, after which everything looks so bright and fresh (especially if you are in a verdant area like this one), just passed by. We left Stemnitsa to go back to Vytina and get some rest before going out for dinner later in the evening.
Instead of taking the proper road back via Dimitsana, we decided to take the one exiting Stemnitsa from the east and after about 10km turns left towards the north.This road crosses a thick forest which is a wildlife reserve called “Arkoudorema-Chaliki”.Wow!!! I believe I haven’t seen a forest so beautiful in my whole life: thick timberland with glades here and there.The sky was clear and the storm clouds have long gone, but as we are in high elevation, some of them remained trapped among the tall trees, giving to the place a fairy-tale-like mysterious atmosphere. Please do it if you are in the area.
Please drive thru this road if you happen to be in the area.
The landscape brought into my mind the paintings of one of my favorite Russian painters: Ivan Shishkin (Ива́н Ива́нович Ши́шкин).
From Stemnitsa to Vityna via the Wildlife Reserve "Arkoudorema".