Off the beaten track in the Northern Peloponnese, part 1

In our series Off the Beaten Path in the Northern Peloponnese, we take an exciting journey along the old roads from Athens to the magical plateau of Mantineia, before heading up to the fabled mountains of the Morea. Join us on this different exploration.

The old national road, Παλαιά Εθνική Οδός, from Athens to the northern Peloponnese winds through a varied and impressive landscape that is bypassed when traveling on the new fast Olympia highway. The old road, though more difficult to drive on and much slower, offers a true immersion in what makes up genuine Greece.

Off the beaten track in the northern Peloponnese: the steep cliffs of the Kakia Skala

The difficult passage between Attica and the Northern Peloponnese

40 km west of Athens, we drive through Kakia Skala, also known as the Rocks of Skiron. It is a dramatic and mythical region where the landscape is as beautiful as it is dangerous. Since ancient times, Kakia Skala has been considered a difficult passage between Attica and the Peloponnese, always feared for its dangers. Even in modern times, the route has been notorious for its many traffic accidents.

Off the beaten track in the northern Peloponnese: the steep cliffs of the Kakia Skala
The steep cliffs at Kakia Skala – the Evil Stairway

According to Greek mythology, this is the place where the bandit Skiron lured his victims. They were forced to wash his feet before he kicked them off the cliff, down to a waiting turtle-like monster.

Off the beaten track in the northern Peloponnese: the steep cliffs of the Kakia Skala

The narrow road that winds along by the edges of the cliffs offers an exhilarating ride, with each turn revealing a new and breathtaking view of the Aegean Sea. It is a place that reminds the visitor of Greece’s rich and often dramatic history.

After passing Kakia Skala and before reaching the Northern Peloponnese, small detours from the central road beckon with several unknown, paradise-like beaches. Here you can find a peaceful retreat that not many people know about. Small tavernas along the coast offer the delights of the sea, served with a simplicity that only the initiated can enjoy. These hidden gems, far from the usual tourist routes, provide an authentic and peaceful experience, where time seems to stand still.

A paradise-like beach along the old road

At the mouth of the Corinth Canal

As we approach the Corinth Canal in Northern Peloponnese, we make a small detour to the northern mouth of the canal and the remains at Diolkos. In ancient times, a paved road began here, allowing boats to travel overland from the Gulf of Corinth to the Aegean Sea. This allowed ships to avoid the dangerous and long circumnavigation of the Peloponnese.

The Canal of Corinth seen from the bridge at Isthmia
The Canal of Corinth seen from the bridge at Isthmia

At the northern mouth of the Diolkos, as well as at the southern mouth, where the small village of Isthmia is located, there are today small self-sinking bridges that elegantly dip below the surface of the water when boats pass. From their railings, you can see the large regular bridges that span the Corinth Canal, an impressive view that recalls both ancient engineering and modern technology.

Corinth Canal seen from Iolkos
Looking north-west at the mouth of the Corinth Canal from the railing of the bridge at Isthmia.

On the wine roads of Nemea

We pass Corinth and continue our journey to Nemea. This region is known for its rich vineyards. Nemea is home to the Agiorgitiko grape, which produces one of Greece’s most respected wines.

On the wine roads of Nemea
A journey of discovery on the wine roads of Nemea

The area also has deep historical roots. It was once the site of the Nemean Games, one of the most important athletic competitions of antiquity. Even the legend of Heracles and the Nemean Lion gives a mythical aura to the whole region.

Nemea, a mythical region with deep historical roots where the Agiorgitiko grape is grown

Along the popularly known wine routes of Nemea, there is a plethora of local wineries that also offer wine-tasting opportunities. The rolling landscape, with its vast fields of green vines, lush mountain plateaus, and picturesque villages, invites the traveler to explore it in depth, on foot or by car.

The Mycenaean pyramids

Our journey now takes us to the village of Elliniko, just southwest of the city of Argos. It is home to the best preserved of the famous Mycenaean pyramids – fascinating structures whose origins and purpose are still hotly debated by scholars.

Opinions are divided as to when the pyramid at Elliniko was built. Most estimates place its construction around the 4th century BC, while more recent dating methods have suggested that it may be as old as the middle of the 3rd millennium BC.

Off the beaten track in the Northern Peloponnese: Mycenaean pyramid at Hellenikon

Pausanias, the ancient Greek explorer and geographer, described a similar structure in the area around 200 AD, which he believed to be a tomb for soldiers killed in battle. Other theories suggest that the pyramid may have served as a fortress or signal station.

These ancient structures show the technical skills that were once mastered here. The area is also home to many other important archaeological sites, making the Argolis region a place of great archaeological and cultural importance.

Water worship at Lerna

We follow in the footsteps of mythology to the marshes of Lerna, the place where Hercules fought his epic battle against the Lernean Hydra. This area, on the western coast of the Gulf of Argolis, was once closely associated with the ancient cult of the liquid element, giving Lerna a special place in Greek mythology and history. The god Poseidon has been worshipped here since ancient times. It was also the site of the mythical Lake Alkyonia, said to be bottomless and one of the entrances to the underworld – the realm of Hades.

The mouth of the river Pontino at Lerna
Lerna – a tranquil place of great historical and mythological significance

Throughout history, Lerna has been described in many ways: as a river, a spring, a lake, and even as a plain. Excavations in recent years have revealed human presence since the Neolithic period. These different descriptions reflect the rich and complex history that characterizes this place.

Peloponnese abandoned railway network

Throughout our journey we come across many abandoned stations, overgrown tracks, rusting locomotives, and gaping empty carriages. These are the remnants of what, not so long ago, was a narrow-gauge but vital railway network that spanned the Peloponnese. It ran through magnificent mountainous areas and snaked between picturesque villages offering breathtaking views.

Peloponnese: abandoned train stations

After the Second World War, the railway slowly began to deteriorate. Despite constant repairs and attempts at reconstruction, the economic crises of recent years led to the suspension of all freight and passenger traffic on the Peloponnese narrow-gauge rail network in 2011.

Today the tracks lie abandoned, overgrown, and rusted, like silent witnesses to a bygone era of Greek industry and transport.

Mantineia mountain plateau

Next, we enter the region of Arcadia and travel through the rolling landscape of the Mantineia plateau. We admire the enchanting light of the sun reflecting on the smooth hills and lush meadows. Mantineia is known not only for its natural beauty but also for its historical and cultural importance.

Mantineia mountain plateau
Magical Mantineia

Mantineia is believed to be the birthplace of the god Poseidon. The god of the sea has been the protector of the area since ancient times. This region in the heart of the Peloponnese not only has strong mythological references but has also played an important role in Greek history.

There are numerous archaeological sites here that bear witness to human activity from prehistoric times. As we travel through Mantineia and gaze upon the expansive landscapes, we are carried away by the deep currents of history. The ancient ruins, harmonizing with the breathtaking scenery, offer us a captivating journey across the unfolding millennia.

Off the beaten track in the Northern Peloponnese, part 2

In the next part of our series, we visit a very special sanctuary: Agia Foteini, with its fascinating blend of Byzantine, ancient Greek, and modernist elements. The small chapel stands out as a strange monument in the middle of the Mantineia plateau.

Agia Foteini Mantineias, exterior

We then head up the high mountain ranges of the Morea and explore the springs of the Ladon River, which Pausanias described as the most beautiful place in the world…

Don’t miss the second part of our series: Off the beaten track in the northern Peloponnese

Sources: Wikipedia
Pireus Bank Group Cultural Foundation

Scroll to Top