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  • Tim Mathis

The Essential Menalon Trail Guide: The Greece that you won’t find in Athens or the Islands.

Updated: Jul 10, 2023

There are a lot of reasons that you might want to visit Greece. You might dream of touring the Acropolis and absorbing ancient history in Athens, or of drinking beer on beautiful beaches in the Cyclades. You should do it - that stuff is amazing.


Also though, you might want to eat piles of perfectly spiced meat and dolmades while an old man passionately shout-talks at you about local history. You might want to drink ouzo in picturesque villages and experience authentic European culture and go for nice walks to hidden monasteries while eating delicious orange cake soaked in liqueur.


Hiking the Menalon Trail gives you all of this and more in a concise package.


Typical charming scenery on the Menalon Trail
Lagkadia

The Menalon Trail is a 75km, horseshoe-shaped route through the mountains of the central Peloponnesian - just far enough off the beaten path to feel both accessible and authentic. It’s an under-visited area with a history stretching back to ancient Sparta. It’s not the Greece of blue seas and white sand. It’s not the glory of Athens. This is the Greece of rolling hills, quaint cafes, old stone houses overlooking dramatic valleys, and goats at your bed and breakfast. It’s a walk between towns where there’s one taxi driver who knows everything and will take you anywhere you want for another 10 Euros. Sorry, he’s not available tomorrow but his cousin can pick you up in the morning and give you your own personal tour if you want. That restaurant? It’s been there since the 1800’s and the pastistio hasn’t changed a bit, thank god. The Menalon passes through the kinds of places that the locals refer to as “the real Greece,” and they have a point.


If you know the Camino de Santiago, it’s a mini-Camino experience with almost as much atmosphere but nowhere near the crowds. It’s a wander between picturesque villages and cafes. It’s monasteries built into cliffs and it’s really just lovely. It was certified as one of the best walking trails in Europe by the European Ramblers Association but it’s not that heavily trafficked.


You’re clever for being here, thinking about it.


Enough with the sales pitch though. Let’s sort through what you need to know. There’s a lot of info on the official Menalon Trail site. Go there for the official details and the maps and so forth. My goal is to give you everything you need to know in a pleasantly consumable format alongside a taste of what the experience is like.


How to get there.


The trail is point to point, and can be hiked in either direction, so there are two potential starting points if you want to do the whole thing - Stemnitsa or Lagkadia. Neither are particularly close to any other major destinations, but are a part of a constellation of small, picturesque villages in the central Peloponnesian Peninsula - the mountainous, hand shaped blob of land in the southwest of Greece.


In order to get there, most people will probably rent a car and drive from Athens. Regardless of where you start, most points along the trail are between two and a half and three hours drive from Athens.


If you aren’t driving, the easiest way to get to the trail from Athens is to get the bus from the big, central Kifisou station to Tripoli, then make your way from Tripoli to the trail.


There are regional buses that serve several of the small towns along the Menalon, but if you don’t speak Greek and don’t have a lot of time, it’s a bit of a handful to sort out routes. You can catch a taxi from Tripoli for a relatively sensible price to the place where you plan to start. That’s what we did. (For us it was around 65 euros for the hour trip.)


Booking the Athens-Tripoli bus was a bit hard to sort out online, but at time of writing, buses left around every hour and don’t typically sell out. We went in high season, just showed up at the station, and had no problem getting on the next bus. It seems like that’s what locals typically do too. For us, they sold us an open return ticket, which meant we just had to show up back at the Tripoli station when we wanted to return to Athens, have the ticket validated and jump on the next bus. Easy enough.


The bus from Athens to Tripoli took about 2.5 hours, and the taxi from Tripoli to Dimitsana (where we based ourselves) was about an hour. The whole trip is beautiful and you’ll pass over the Corinth Canal and through the rolling mountains of the central Peloponnesian. Very scenic, and the trip didn’t feel like a chore.


The road into Stemnitsa

How long does it take to do the Menalon Trail?


It depends, of course, on how fast you walk and whether you do the whole thing.


The whole route is 75km. It’s officially broken into 8 stages (which I’ll list below), but most people will be able to manage at least two stages a day. We broke our walk down into 5 casual and pleasant days (for experienced hikers), with a day of transit on either side back and forth to Athens. So, for the whole experience we budgeted a week. If you’re fit, you could definitely walk the whole route in 4 days comfortably. 3 if you’re very fit. You could also stretch it out if you want to savor the experience.


How difficult is the Menalon Trail?


More below, but every stage is officially graded as moderate. That seems about right. It’s not easy. It’s not terribly hard. It’s a good, sturdy walk. Some sections are slightly more challenging than others, though none will give an experience hiker much trouble. This isn’t wilderness trail, and it’s well-maintained and very well marked the entire way. However, if you want to challenge yourself and push big miles, you could turn it into a decent challenge.


View from Xenonas Orizontes Guesthouse, Dimitsana
View from Xenonas Orizontes Guesthouse, Dimitsana

Accommodation along the Menalon Trail


Most people opt to stay in hotels and homestays in the small towns you pass through along the way. I’ll be more specific below, but word to the wise - it’s best to book all of your accommodation ahead, particularly in the smaller towns (i.e. everywhere except Dimitsana and Vytina). This is sleepy country and in a lot of instances there might not be anyone on hand at your accommodation if you just show up without a booking. Have a look on Airbnb for options in places where there are no hotel options. I’ll note where the reliable hotel options are in the stage descriptions below.


You could also conceivably tent camp if you were keen. There aren’t many official sites and wild camping isn’t technically legal but I’ve heard that it’s well-tolerated and through most sections it wouldn’t be difficult for a seasoned bandit camper to find a spot to put up their tent. I tend to be in the “don’t break the law in foreign countries” camp, even if the locals do it, but I’m not much of a risk taker. If I were going to do it, I’d stay low key and set up camp in a discrete location near or after dark.


What to pack


On that note, you don’t really need to take proper backpacking gear unless you really want to. Just a few changes of clothes and what you’d take on a day hike. Bring some paper money because small towns tend to be largely cash economies, and don’t forget your raincoat and sunscreen. Much of the route is exposed to the elements, so both heavy rain and intense sun are possibilities for most of the year. We found a fair number of bathrooms along the way to use but do plan appropriately for some wilderness wees and poos. As far as footwear, we wore trail runners and that was totally fine. Heavy boots not required. There was some underbrush and prickly plants so there were times when light long pants might’ve been nice but I wore shorts every day. We did encounter a fair number of stinging insects, so prepare with meds if you have allergies.


Many days you’ll have the opportunity to buy food along the way, but we always packed a lunch and snacks because the taverns and cafes along the way often don’t keep reliable hours.


Similarly with water. Usually you won’t go more than 3 - 4 hours between water sources at most (either restaurants or public fountains), but we normally carried a couple liters for a shoulder season hike.


On food and water, I’ll give a few more details for each section.


Weather


Summer can be brutally hot. It snows regularly in the area in the winter. The shoulder seasons are the most pleasant. It’s a generally warm, dry climate but it’s the mountains and cold and precipitation are more common than in, for instance, Athens. December through February can be properly cold, normally dipping below freezing overnight. June - August are the hottest months, with normal highs in the 80s with a lot of sun exposure.


Tech to use


I bought a local SIM card in Athens and had phone service in a lot of places, which is handy.


For the trip, I recommend downloading:


1) Google Translate - for navigating any language barrier.


2) Maps.Me - and download the local maps for offline use for those times when you don’t have service.


3) GPX tracks (available on Wikiloc) - handy but not essential.


4) Paper Maps - also handy to have though not essential. We didn’t buy them but luckily they had a copy at our hotel in Dimitsana. Signs with maps that can be photographed are at most trailheads.


5) We didn’t use it, but at time of writing, the Hiiker App seems to also be a good way to go - it has the GPS integrated and accommodation and amenities listed.


Taxi services


At every junction between sections there’s a map with phone numbers for the local taxi drivers. In most cases we had phone service at the junctions. This is good to know, because it means that, no matter your strategy, you don’t necessarily have to find a place to stay near where you finish your hike. In fact, some people use one town as a base and taxi back and forth from the trail every day. That’s what we did with Dimitsana. It’s not the cheapest option by any means (transport costs were typically around 50 euros daily for us), but if you can’t find a place near where you want to finish a day’s hike, you can always just plan to taxi to a nearby town.


The taxi drivers we met were often colorful people who gave us a bit of insight into the local history and culture, and they’re hurting for business up there, so it’s not a bad part of the experience to jump in a taxi from time to time.


The Menalon near Zygovisti
Dimitsana from near Zygovisti

The Menalon experience


The people of the Peloponnesian are a proud lot. Their ancestors were Spartans and more recently locals were instrumental in the modern Greek struggle for Independence. In the hills they’re struggling economically now, and have been for some time it seems. There’s a bit of tourism economy, some agriculture, and not a lot else. It’s beautiful country though, with dry, scruffy mountains that often reminded me of the landscape around Big Bear California if you’ve been.


The Menalon Trail itself is a scrappy route that’s been established through it - passing between picturesque little towns through the hills and past some of the most important historical spots - monasteries, caves, museums and more. There’s no better way to get to know a place than walking, and they’ve done a great job of arranging a route that helps you experience some of the most pleasant and interesting aspects of the aread.


Planning can feel chaotic at times, which is true of everything in Greece, but in the end things work out. People are helpful, the trail is easy to follow, and if you get in a pinch you’re never far from civilization (or at least a spot where a taxi will pick you up and take you back to civilization).


Map


[map created by Nofootprint.gr]


Menalon Trail markings


The Menalon Trail markers have a characteristic “M”. (See below.)


One slightly confusing thing - other trails in the area use similar markings to the Menalon - square, colored blazes, but without the “M.” It’s easy enough to zone out at times and follow the wrong markers.


Another slightly confusing thing is that there are intermittent markers with distances to the next town or landmark. The distances and times were almost comically inaccurate at times, or contradictory. This was never a real navigation problem. Don’t let them freak you out. Just follow the reliable Menalon Trail markers.


And one final slightly confusing thing - the color of the markers changes between sections, so there’s a red section, a green section, and a yellow section. I’m not entirely sure why (they love a bit of chaos in Greece). All will have the characteristic “M” so that’s what to look out for.



The signs are bent in the direction you need to go. If the sign is not bent, that means continue straight.


Basically, they bend the corners of the square signs down to make an arrow pointing the way you’re meant to turn. (Click above to see Scott’s page for illustration - I didn’t take a photo myself, and don’t want to steal his!)


You’ll also come across signs with town names and distances. Distances are in familiar script, but town names are often only in Greek, so it’s useful to learn the basics of the alphabet before you go (or just use the Google Translate camera feature to help you read)!


And speaking of signs, most towns have a full map of the trail so you can track your progress as you move along.


Menalon Trail marker
A standard Menalon Trail marker

Stages


The official stages are as follows:


Section 1: Stemnitsa-Dimitsana Time: 5 hours. Length: 12.5km

Section 2: Dimitsana-Zygovisti Time: 2 hours. Length: 4.2km

Section 3: Zygovisti-Elati Time: 5 hours. Length: 14.9km

Section 4: Elati-Vytina Time: 2:30 hours. Length: 8.5km

Section 5: Vytina-Nymphasia Time: 2 hours. Length: 5.6km

Section 6: Nymfasia-Magouliana Time: 3:30 hours. Length: 8.9km

Section 7: Magouliana-Valtesiniko Time: 2:30 hours. Length: 6.6km

Section 8: Valtesiniko-Lagkadia Time: 5 hours. Length: 13.9km


How to break up the trip


There are a lot of ways you could break the trail down. We decided to do it over 5 days:


1) Stemnitsa to Dimitsana (12.5 km)

2) Dimitsana to Elati (19.2 km)

3) Elati to Nymfasia (14.1 km)

4) Nymfasia to Valtesiniko (15.5 km)

5) Valtesiniko to Lagkadia (13.9 km)


We chose our sections based on distances vs. the desirability of nightly destinations. That meant we never had a day over 20 km. It also meant that we didn’t have to carry anything beyond day hiking gear, and knew we’d be sleeping in a nice place every night. It worked in part because we decided to stay in Dimitsana and shuttle between start points via taxi. Our taxi costs added up, but we also got a great deal on a beautiful place in our favorite town on the trail. Pros and cons, right?


If you’re fit and want to stay in decent sized towns and do it as a thru-hike without taxis, you might think about a 4 day itinerary.

  1. Stemnitsa to Dimitsana (12.5 km)

  2. Dimitsana to Vytina (27.6 km)

  3. Vytina to Valtesiniko (21.1 km)

  4. Valtesiniko to Lagkadia (13.9 km)

That won’t require any massive days but it is a bit more challenging on days 2 - 3.


A quick tip regardless: Zygovisti, Nymfasia, Magouliana, and Elati are all really small places without hotels. Valtesiniko is also quite small. If you plan to stop for a night at any of these and need accommodation and food, check out Airbnb, where you might find a room for rent, or plan to catch a taxi to one of the bigger towns along the way.


Taxis aren’t a major hassle so don’t need to stress in your planning. Break it up as you see fit.


Other bits of housekeeping:


There are reliable ATMs, markets and restaurants in Stemnitsa, Dimitsana, Vytina, and Lagkadia. There’s a reliable tavern in Valtesiniko. There are only hit or miss taverns in Zygovisti, Elati, Nymfasia, and Magouliana. One or two of those will probably have a place open when you arrive, but don’t bank on it.


Coffee in Stemnitsa
Day 1 Coffee - Stemnitsa

Stemnitsa to Dimitsana (12.5 km)


A lot of people think this is the prettiest and the hardest stage. It’s definitely the most popular, and I can see why. The hike is down a steep, beautiful gorge and back up. It has more than 3000 feet of climb and descent across about 8 miles. There aren’t many water sources - just a fountain shortly after leaving Stemnitsa and then a stream a few miles before Dimitsana. Most of the climbing is in the middle so carry plenty of water. There is a decent amount of tree cover but also long periods of exposure to the sun so it gets hot. Start early if it’s Summer. You genuinely can’t get lost - or, well, it would be very hard because every intersection is well marked and there are plenty more markers along the way for peace of mind.


Stemnitsa is a very cute town in the hills, made up of lots of stone houses with clay tile roofs organized into compact, narrow streets. As we were getting started, a nice old gentleman directed us into the coffee shop with a smile, a gesture and some Greek we didn’t understand. Friends were sitting on the square as we got started early in the morning. Our coffee and pastries were served by a smiling, round 75 year old lady who spoke no English at all. It was all just adorable. This is civilization!


There are three monasteries along the way on this section, two of which are still operating. To me, the best was the Old Philosopher because it’s from the 10th century, and it’s a cool collection of ruins. The monks at the New Philosopher are supposed to make delicious candy - like Turkish Delight - but there was no one around when we went through unfortunately. St John the Baptist (Prodromus) is probably the most photographed, and is set back dramatically into a cliff. I’m pretty sure you can go in for tours, but we didn’t. If you plan to, take long pants for men and skirts and shoulder coverings for women. We did receive a blessing from a couple of black-clad, silver-bearded monks and saw a mule scratching its butt on a fence.



Prodromus Monastery
John the Baptist (Prodromus) Monastery

This section is not a fast hike because of the up and down and all of the places to stop and look. It took us 5.5 hours including more than an hour spent at the Open Air Water Power Museum about a mile from Dimitsana. This mostly outdoor exhibit is worth visiting. It’s an old gunpowder mill/tannery/grain mill combo, and it helps you understand a lot about traditional ways of living here. It cost 4 Euros to get in and there is a small cafe.


The whole area is famous for its gunpowder, and our taxi driver gave us the rundown. The Peloponnesian helped produce the firepower that eventually allowed the locals to fight off the Turks and the Ottoman Empire who’d been in charge since the 16th century when the Greeks fought for their independence in 1821.


For some interesting and grisly history, one of the area’s most famous sons is Gregory V, who was an Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople in the Orthodox Church. Roughly speaking, that means he was the Orthodox Pope. He was in charge at the time of the uprisings that kicked off the Greek War for Independence, and because the Ottoman Sultan at the time didn’t feel he was doing enough to stop it, he was lynched and killed. I don’t see how that sort of behavior does anyone any good. Clearly it didn’t stop the Greeks from kicking out the Sultan.


It’s a region that’s been seen as mildly feral for quite a while, but with history like that you can see why they wouldn’t trust outsiders. They’re proud hIllbillies with their own identity, like my own people in Appalachia. Some of the terrain reminded me a bit of West Virginia and Kentucky - even if the landscape is a bit more dramatic and the community a whole lot older. Locals here fought in the Trojan War. Most of them have moved away, but the few thousand who’ve stuck around seem to have a strong sense of history and identity.


Dimitsana, to me, is the highlight of the trail towns. It’s just a magical place, with stone houses crowded together on top of a dramatic hill with expansive views in all directions. All of the towns are scenic, but Dimitsana is just the best. Imagine sitting in a bar balcony on a warm evening, affordable beer in hand, with a traditional dish of pasta and a view across miles of rolling green hills, densely packed old stone houses perched on impossibly steep grades, cool breeze on your face…


You get the picture. It’s just one of those places.


Dimitsana to Zygovisti to Elati (19.2 km)


Our second day of walking was a very different experience from the first. The terrain up to Zygovisti is rocky and exposed, with fantastic views back to Dimitsana. The climb is steep at times but short - less than 5 km after Dimitsana and you’re in Zygovisti, which is a very small village. It has several taverns but only one was open when we arrived. The place is picturesque, but sleepy. Even on a weekend day, we didn’t see anyone outside of the tavern, and there were only 5 - 6 people there.


There’s a gradual at first but then a relatively steep climb up from Zygovisti. A few kilometers out the terrain shifts abruptly, and changes from rocky, low bush to pine trees and soft trail. Then, it’s a ramble through mostly forested terrain all the way to Elati. It’s much cooler than hiking in the sun. it’s mostly gradual with a few short, steep sections, if a bit overgrown.


We did manage to get off trail shortly in the woods amidst a series of old roads and trails. I really do believe it that if you think you’re off track on the Menalon, you probably are. It’s unusual not to be able to see a trail marker either in front of you or behind you. If you can’t, you are probably off. If you walk for five minutes and don’t see a marker then you’re definitely off and will need to backtrack to the trail.


The most notable landmark along this section was Lygkos Cave -an old hideout for a notorious robber from years past. You’ll still find a wooden ladder up to the cave, now decrepit and broken.


It makes you wonder, is it worth it to rob folks for a living if you have to live in a solitary cave in the woods? Get a job, right?


But then, maybe I’m getting it wrong? Maybe he decided to rob people because he wanted to live in a cave, and living in a cave doesn’t pay well. I’m assuming he was a criminal. Maybe he was just a desperate recluse, deeply connected to the hills and bitter about the human society that tried to keep him from his true nature? In any case…


Key things to know: If the tavern isn’t open, you’ll find a public fountains in Zygovisti, as well as a spring fed fountain at a church a kilometer or so above after town. There are no other reliable public water sources until Elati. If you take purifiers, there are a few creeks along the way. Otherwise, pack enough water and food to get yourself the 15 km to Elati. Zygovisti - Elati is the longest stretch on trail between towns/services. There is a tavern in Elati but it also keeps unreliable hours depending on the season. There are a few guesthouses there, but if you plan to stop there and haven’t booked ahead, you’ll probably need to taxi in to Vytina.


Note: Elati is actually on (well-signposted) side track. If you don’t want to stop there, you could save yourself a couple kilometers by skipping the spur that takes you there. It’s not a bad place if you do decide to go. It’s just small.


Lovely streams along the Menalon

Elati to Vytina to Nymfasia (14.1 km)


This was a very nice day of walking for us, with pleasant, varied terrain.


Elati to Vytina is an idyllic 8.5 km walk that follows a stream most of the way, with a few nice swimming holes if it’s hot. There is a fountain a few kilometers into the walk, and intermittent stone ruins along the path.


Vytina is a bigger town than Elati - about 1000 people, and it’s also a tourist destination so has a lot of tabernas and shops and guesthouses. It’s a bit of a ski town in the winter, and in other seasons it’s a perfect place to stop for lunch, or a night’s sleep if you prefer. Like the other towns along the Menalon, it’s been recognized as an official “Traditional Settlement” by the Greek government - a village that retains its traditional character and lifestyle. There are around 400 of these enchanting little places around Greece. Vytina is a Menalon Trail highlight - relaxed but alive and vibrant. To me, after Dimitsana, it makes for the best town on trail to spend an evening.


During the section between Vytina and Nymfasia, I really started to notice the variety in terrain along the Menalon. This is another short section down a bit into a rocky canyon, then back up steeply to Nymfasia. Where the previous stretch followed a stream under shade, this is primarily sun exposed, rugged trail. It’s a really beautiful stretch but less forgiving in the sun.

Nymfasia is a pretty town on a hillside, with a tavern on the square that is well-reviewed. Unfortunately there was no one around when we arrived. Every review you read of the Menalon mentions some experience of arriving to a town and feeling like you’re the only one there. Nymfasia was that for us. Nothing was open, and no one was around but a couple of stray dogs. We called a taxi. It’s a quick ride back into Vytina.


This section I started to really appreciate this trail. There’s a sweet spot for me with walking: a couple hours of hiking in beautiful terrain, followed by stops in town for coffee or lunch. For me this trail ticks those boxes - a bit like the West Highland Way or the Camino de Santiago. The logistics can be a bit more challenging than those routes because in the smaller towns along the Menalon, businesses can’t necessarily be relied on to be open. But while that can be frustrating if you are depending on them, it becomes a charming local quirk if you plan ahead. Do that, and choose to be charmed. You can rely on Stemnitsa, Dimitsana, Vytina and Lagkadia for food and a glass of wine - the other towns are bonuses.


Nymfasia to Magouliana to Valtesiniko (15.5 km)


I found the section between Nymfasia and Magouliana to be the most difficult of the trail, probably in part because my legs weren’t fresh anymore, and I didn’t prepare myself emotionally for a challenge. Consistent with other sections, this leg has it’s own character, which I’d describe as rugged. The trail was a bit overgrown in places with nettles and thorns, and seemed a bit ill-kept compared to the other sections. It was still very well marked. It was a steady climb with some short, steep sections interspersed. Like the first section of trail, it has highlights that make the effort worth it. You pass the Monastery of Kertnitsas, an old structure build on an outcropping of rocks, said to be founded in the 12th century. And, the steep climbs along the trail are rewarded with nice, sweeping views.


Another highlight along the way is the Old Hermitage of Sfyrida, an ancient little brick bungalow built into a cave at the bottom of a hill. I didn’t know it was coming so I was excited to find it. When we arrived, I noticed signage, but it was all in Greek, and after a few weeks in the country, I’d resigned myself to not understanding anything that’s going on. Luckily a couple of British walkers arrived shortly after us and read the sign on the door. I’d assumed that it said something about how this was a holy place, and that we need to keep our grubby selves out. The Brit, who was somehow fluent in Greek, told us that it just said to close the door behind you after you have a look. The inside was exactly the type of place that you’d expect an Orthodox Christian Hermit would live: seats carved into stone, walls decorated with icons, loose bottles of chrism for blessing, a back closet for prayer. It was baking outside, but cool in the hermitage - the cave providing nature’s climate control.


Just below, there is a cold spring and a lovely little grotto. The Celts often built shrines in these types of places. It’s true in Greece as well, it seems, where you’ll often find chapels or small shrines near springs, thanking God and the saints for the water from the rock, I’d guess.


After a steep uphill grind on rocky trail, you come to Magouliani which is said to be the highest village in the Peloponnesian Peninsula. It was a nice enough little town perched precariously on the side of the mountain in a way that we were starting to get used to. There was a taberna in the center that looked great, but as happens, it was closed when we arrived. We continued through town with little fanfare.


The next section to Valtesiniko was short - about 7 km - and I have to say that it stood out for its unpleasantness on a trail where every other stage is some level of delightful. From the start the trail was overgrown with nettles, thorns and cheatgrass, a winning combination, and it seems that beekeepers had colonized most of the route because hives were places alongside the trail for the portions that weren’t made up of crumbly gravel and shist. The upside is that it is mostly flat and is one of the shortest sections. Every trail has some filler. This is the Menalon’s filler.


The middle portion of this section starts when you pass a small, relatively modern, thoroughly nondescript church. It continues past a decrepit condemned sanitarium, and concludes with another small, slightly more descript stone church.


I’m not saying that this section was haunted, but I will say that I peeked into the first church, and it was strewn strewn haphazardly with chairs that seemed to suggest some sort of bizarre disturbance. When I stepped inside, the metal door creaked, the air grew still, clouds started to gather and we heard thunder in the distance. Angel insisted that we get away quickly because the area was giving her a bad feeling. The sky continued to darken and for the first time, following the trail got slightly confusing. We realized we were off track, pushing through a dense tunnel of thorns, weeds and bush. We heard noises in the distance from the grounds of the sanitarium, so we backtracked to the trail as quickly as we could, stopping only briefly after we rushed past a buzzing swarm of bees, one of which stung Angel. Shortly after, someone had placed a beehive directly in the center of the trail, so we routed around it. When we made it to the second church, the sky lightened again and things seemed to return to normal. Like I said, I’m not saying that the area is haunted. I’m also not NOT saying that.


By Valtesiniko though, things were back to normal. It’s a big enough town that at least one restaurant seems to reliably be open, and we stopped in both a cafe for coffee and a taberna for lunch. We gorged ourselves and I got the impression that the trail rewarded us for making it through the cursed forest, because our lunch (a typical Greek experience of piles of meat, a salad of feta, cucumber and tomato, and fries) was remarkably cheap and delicious.


A cat watching us eat on our final night on the Menalon Trail

Valtesiniko to Lagkdadia (13.9 km)


This final stretch is a really nice way to finish, and it has a bit of everything that makes the Menalon pleasant. It starts with a beautiful climb out of Valtesiniko with views back over the town. We heard monks’ chants rising up through the mountains along the way, which made for a magical morning hike. The day was, to me, a pleasant combination of things - some of it mellow, some of it hard work. Not easy, not hard. Moderate. Just like everything on this trail.

After heavy rain and hail the day before, the trail passed through some soggy pine forest which gave the place an almost Pacific Northwest feeling.


After five days of relatively few wrong turns, we did manage to get off track - the easiest places on the Menalon to miss markers are when you’re walking along a road and the trail turns off away from it. It’s easy to zone out walking along a road, and we missed two markers in that scenario. It wasn’t a big deal and it reinforced that, truly, if you don’t see a marker for 3 minutes on the Menalon, you’re off track. The trail passed a frankly underwhelming castle ( the church has done more for its monks than government did for that place) before getting into some rugged rocky trail that continued the rest of the way to Lagkadia. It made for a bit of effort at the end of the trail, but it was worth it for the nice views over the hills, including an expansive teaser view of Lagkadia (When you see town for the first time, you still have an hour or so until you get there.)


Lagkadia was a perfect place to finish. It’s a beautiful little town pasted to the sides of steep hills like so many of the others, with huge views of the valleys below. Most importantly, there were multiple great little cafes to choose from, several of which had spectacular views over the canyon. There are multiple hotels to stay there, or it’s an easy taxi ride back to Dimitsana or Vytina if that’s your preference.


Post-trail Post-script


That's it! That's the experience. Have some wine and some orange cake and celebrate.


Greece is a place that can feel chaotic, but in the end everything works out. You'll get stressed, but you can relax because you’ll find people to help. The Menalon experience seemed like that at times. Bus timetables online were impossible, everything was in Greek, signs were a confusing mix of colors, there’s conflicting information about what towns have what resources, it’s hard to predict when attractions will be open and when they won’t.


It’s part of the charm though, and in the end it all works out.


On our way back to Athens, our host at the guesthouse where we stayed sorted out that if we caught a taxi to a nearby crossroads we could catch a bus into Tripoli at 8:20 AM. It is an hour ride so we thought that should give us just enough time to get to Tripoli for a 9:45 connection bus to Athens. As a bonus, there’s a cafe at the crossroads where you buy your tickets, and a cute little old lady will sell you an espresso double with medium sugar while you wait.


The taxi drivers in the Peloponnesian mountains were impeccably prompt, and the plan went off without a hitch to get to the cafe by 8:10. Then, we waited for the bus in the sun with a few other passengers, while a lazy stray dog stared at us, resting in the shade underneath a bench. 8:20 passed, then 8:30. I started to wonder if we’d been misled. Neither the other waiting passengers nor the dog seemed bothered so I tried not to worry. At 8:40 the bus finally arrived which made our connection much tighter. It was agonizing to watch the clock while the bus plodded along, stopping in small towns and crawling around corners on the curvy mountain road. The scenery was undeniably beautiful in the morning light though - dramatic green mountains rising abruptly from dead flat valleys, the sun coming in at an angle that made it all glow. We arrived in Tripoli at 9:40, 5 minutes before our connection. We had just enough time to use the restroom and have our transfers validated. We hopped on just as the bus was rolling out. The excitement of travel is often about these kinds of small victories more than the drama of climbing mountains or communing with the gods at ancient ruins.


The Menalon Trail will give you all of that though. It's a real hidden gem.

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