Parnonas, a mountain in the eastern Peloponnese, may lack the rugged edge of the Pindos range but is just as lush and inviting, with ravines and gorges, its own particular mix of flora and fauna but above all the picturesque villages on its eastern slopes and along the coast of Arcadia, from Astros in the north to Leonidio and Poulithra in the south.
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In fact, if you wish to combine both sea and mountains while on holiday, Kynouria is one of the most attractive options. The district, also known as Tsakonia, with its beautiful plateaus (“lampokampia” as the locals call them), summits and wonderful wild gorges, is best known for its tradition in masonry and its eggplants, which come under a Protected Designation of Origin.
The name Parnonas is ancient, sharing a linguistic root with Parnassos and Parnitha, that refers to a summit brightened by the light of the setting sun or the moon. The highest summit is Megali Tourla, at 1,834 meters.
Ascending the mountain from Astros, you will be greeted by beautiful villages and scrubland filled with chestnut trees. A picturesque route follows a paved road that connects Astros with Sparta by crossing the mountain in a southwesterly direction. Parnonas is an ideal location for touring, hiking, climbing and even hunting. About 25 kilometers from Aghios Petros there is a mountain refuge which provides accommodation. From there, the ascent to Megali Tourla is about six hours. Most of the summits in the range are reached via a variety of wonderful routes.
The beaches are equally inviting, particularly without the summer crowds. However, there are some stretches that are inaccessible and enclosed by villas, despite the law.
Astros, a few kilometers from the coast, was where a national assembly at the time of the 1821 revolution against the Turks decided on the colors of the Greek flag. Today it is an attractive provincial town with both new and old buildings -- some of them listed. The fine beach, however, has too many poorly styled apartment buildings. Two kilometers away is the rich wetland of Moustos, a small lagoon fed by a spring which provides refuge to migratory birds in winter.
Further south on the coast is Tyros, a quiet village good for a coffee stop or even accommodation.
Leonidio is the largest village of Tsakonia, with 3,500 residents who are mainly occupied in farming and tourism.
The entry point into town has an inscription reading “Kaour Ekokiate,” which means “Welcome” in Tsakonika, the ancient Doric language which was commonly spoken here until a few years ago. Efforts are being made to preserve Tsakonika, including classes and the compilation of a dictionary. Leonidio, located at the foot of a steep bluff 2 kilometers from the sea, is worth strolling around to observe the two- and three-story 19th-century houses which combine the local style with Italian influences. See the towers of Tsikaliotis, Polytimos, Katsikoyiannis and Hatziroudis.
Kosmas, 30 kilometers from Leonidio at an elevation of 1,100 meters amid chestnut and walnut forests, offers amazing views of the Argolic Gulf and peninsula as well as the islands of Spetses and Hydra. You can enjoy them along with a chestnut preserve -- the local speciality -- on the square.
How to get there
A car is indispensable for touring Kynouria. The roads are relatively good but winding and narrow in places, so caution is called for. Usual access is via the highway to Corinth and Tripoli; exit for Argos and stay on the road to Myli and Astros, which is 170 kilometers from Athens. Leonidio is 40 km farther south. An alternative way is to stay on the highway to Tripoli and approach the district from the west. Useful numbers: North Kynouria Municipality: 2755.23263; Leonidio health center: 27570.22950, police: 27570.22222.
What to see & do
Speleologists conduct cave exploration in the Peleta Sinkhole, the deepest in the Peloponnese, some 23 kilometers from Leonidio (Nikos Paspaliaris, tel 6972.683.619, www.foscaving.gr). The village also holds one of the most spectacular Easter celebrations in Greece, with the release of hundreds of makeshift hot-air balloons. Visit the 16th-century Convent of Panaghia Elona, perched on the side of a gorge 14 km from Leonidio, with impressive relics and frescoes. Vigla hill, near Plaka, has sections of an ancient wall.
Tsakoniki melitzana (aubergine) is one of the European Union’s 317 farm products awarded a Protected Designation of Origin status. About 20 centimeters long, with light mauve stripes, it is the only type of the vegetable with a sweet taste and is used in dozens of recipes, including preserves. Leonidio holds an annual Aubergine Festival on the last Saturday of August, where amateur and professional chefs take part in cooking competitions; buy honey from Parnonas, trahana and hylopites.
info: By Haris Argyropoulos kathimerini.gr