With countless magnificent beaches and an archaeological wealth that is second to none, it’s understandable that Greece does not automatically come to mind when you are considering a ski holiday destination. And yet, Greece is actually a prime ski destination, too: this magnificent destination unites excellent slopes and facilities of international standards with charms that are distinctly Greek.
Kalavrita, nestled in a dramatic mountainous region of the Peloponnese, is a fantastic winter holiday destination for both skiers and non-skiers alike. There are excellent ski slopes, but also plenty of additional activities and sites to make for an exciting winter holiday.
The Kalavryta Ski Center at Mt. Helmos
The Kalavrita Ski Center at Mt. Helmos is one of the region’s primary attractions. 12 slopes offer a selection of ideal experiences for skiers of every level of expertise. They include three black diamond routes, four red diamond (one of which is over 2300 meters in length), three blue diamond slopes, and two green diamond slopes.
The slopes are serviced by multiple lifts. After the slopes, you can visit the charming chalet to warm up with a rich local wine or a cup of coffee as you gaze at the falling snow. Are you a novice skier? Then the ski school on site can get you up and enjoying the slopes in no time. There are also equipment rentals, and choices of delightful cafes and restaurants.
There is no shortage of adrenaline and adventure at Mt. Helmos. Other exciting ways to enjoy the slopes of Mt. Helmos include snowboarding, snowmobiling, and 4X4s.
Hiking around Mt. Helmos
There is also excellent hiking, trekking, and climbing in the area. Part of the European E4 route leads from Kalavrita through Kato Lousous, Planitero, Arbouna, Agios Nikolaos, Tourlada, and Krinofyta.
The Springs of the enchanting river Ladon and the lush region around Planiteo also make an excellent hiking destination. The river played a role in the Mythological world of Ancient Greece: Artemis hunted along its banks, and Demeter bathed in its waters.
A Historic, Scenic Train Ride
There is also another novel way to enjoy the region’s absolutely stunning scenery. A historic rack train runs through the Vouraikos Canyon. Constructed by Italian engineers at the end of the 19th century, this specially designed railway can climb the steep slopes of the canyon. The historic route begins in Diakopto, by the coast, and climbs an impressive 700 meters in elevation to arrive in Kalavryta (758 m). The route of 22 kilometers takes approximately an hour and a half, traveling at a pace of 30 to 40 kilometers per hour along the regular track and slowing to just 6 to 15 kilometers per hour along the toothed tracks, giving passengers ample time to marvel at the gorgeous scenery.
But the area has plenty of other significant attractions. The Kastria Cave is one of Greece’s most extraordinary caves. Called “The Cave of Lakes,” Kastria has a total of 13 lakes, both large and small. You can cross them on bridges as you wander the approximately half a kilometer trail exploring the cave. Dramatic formations of stalactites and stalagmites are astonishingly beautiful, and rains or melting snows can fill the cave with the music of waterfalls. The cave is also full of significant anthropological and paleontological findings, including evidence of Neolithic and Bronze Age habitation, and fossilized animal bones, including those of hippopotamuses. A visit to the Kastria Cave is a mesmerizing experience.
A Rich Taste of Authentic Village Life
This mountainous area is dotted with charming villages with authentic character – perfect places to enjoy local cuisine and wines and a rich taste of local life.
Few villages have the natural drama of Kalavryta, set on the slopes of Mount Helmos. With a classic town square, streets paved in stone, and enchanting vernacular architecture, this is a wonderful place to explore, unwind, and enjoy the unhurried pleasures of village lifestyle.
Kalavryta is also the name of the larger municipality, which includes other charming villages. Kleitoria is very close to the site of an ancient Hellenistic and Roman city called Klitoras – on the site, you’ll find the ruins of an ancient theater and walls. At an altitude of just over 1000 meters, Zarouchla is another unspoiled and lovely mountain village. This is an excellent starting point for a number of hiking trails. Returning to Zarouchla, you can enjoy deliciously hearty, rustic cuisine from the finest local ingredients.
Sites of Interest
The area of Kalavryta also has significant religious and historic sites. There are two unique monasteries close to Kalavryta. One is the Agia Lavra Monastery. First built in the 10th century, but later burned by the occupying Ottomans, the monastery was rebuilt in 1600. It was burned again by the Ottomans – twice – but not before playing a crucial role in the Greek War of Independence; it was here that the revolutionary cry of “Freedom or Death” (Eleftheria i Thanatos) was heard first.
The Megalo Spilaio Monastery is of geological interest. The name means “The Great Cave Monastery.” 120 meters above the ravine of the Vouraikos river is a magnificent monastery 8 stories tall, dug into the rock face and taking advantage of a natural cave found in the mountain. This is thought to be the oldest cave monastery in Greece.
On the top of Mt. Helmos at an elevation of 2340 meters is the largest facility of the Institute for Astronomy, Astrophysics, Space Applications, and Remote Sensing (IAASARS), an independent research institute of the National Observatory of Athens. This natural setting, approximately 15 km from Kalavryta, has very little light pollution and is one of the darkest places in Greece and in Europe overall. The observatory is not open to the general public, but the dark nights of Kalavryta offer some extraordinary stargazing.
Boutique Accommodations and Excellent Gourmet Cuisine
The Peloponnese offers luxury with character. Boutique accommodations take advantage of the rustic beauty of the local architecture for charming and comfortable accommodations with a strong sense of place: fireplaces, the warmth of wood and stone, hearty breakfasts of hand-rolled pies and mountain teas.
Kalavryta is the ideal place to experience authentic Greek hospitality. The winter season is the ideal time to really connect with the local culture.
Mountain dining in winter affords some substantial pleasures. Rooster stewed in wine is served over hand-rolled homemade pasta. Lamb that has grazed on wild herbs is slow roasted in the oven until bronzed and crisp, the meat at the bone meltingly tender. Nothing suits local dishes like local wines, which flow in abundance.
In Kalavryta, the apres ski experience is as wonderful as your time on the sparkling slopes.
Have you ever had a ski holiday in Greece?