The trail through the Vouraikos Gorge in Northern Peloponnese was without exaggeration one of the best hikes I have done here in Greece. Not only it passes through some truly stunning landscape but the only way through the gorge leads on the rails of working rack railway of the Odontotos train. It connects Diakopto at the coast of the Corinthian Gulf with Kalavryta high on the slopes of Mt.Chelmos. Passing the tall metal bridges with wobbly rails is scary enough but there is also the added anguish of meeting the train in a tunnel or another narrow place. When I first read about this hike in a local newspaper I thought it was crazy as walking on railway tracks is usually discouraged in my country. In reality, its actually a lot of fun and with some precaution quite easy. I wouldn’t take small children on this hike though as there were accidents in the past.
The starting point in Diakopto can be reached by bus or train from Athens in about 3 hours. The best plan if coming by public transport is to spend the night in Diakopto and to take the earliest train up to Kalavryta. It leaves at 8:45 and the ride through the Vouraikos Gorge takes around one hour. According to the signs along the way hiking from Kalavryta back to Diakopto should take approximately 7 hours. If you want to cut the hike little bit shorter but still see the best of it return back to Zachlorou by the next train and hike 13 km back to Diakopto.
We come by car so we drove up to Kalavryta where we planned to spend the night. Kalavryta is a pretty mountain village that turns into a busy ski resort in the winter. On an early October weekend it was very quite and we had the whole town to ourselves. With some time to spare we decided to visit the Cave of lakes some 15km away. The cave itself is impressive however the open part is only around 500m long and the guided tour wasn’t very informative. At 9 euros per person I would think twice before recommending this to anyone. Back in Kalavryta we enjoyed an evening stroll through the town and a some grilled meet for diner, which is traditional for most mountain regions of Greece.
Next day we woke up to a beautiful misty morning and after an early breakfast we return to Diakopto to catch the first train up. It runs surprisingly on time and we almost missed it but after the initial chaos we settled on the train and started enjoying view. If hiking is not your thing taking the train ride through the Vouraikos Gorge is a great way to admire the breath-taking landscape up close from the safety of the little train. Otherwise, the amazement is disrupted by moments of horror when passing some exceptionally narrow and high place. Imagining that the bridge that hardly fits the train may have to fit you as well in a while can be nerve racking. But as I said before its pretty easy to anticipate when the train comes and get out of its way. It doesn’t run very fast anyway and the driver is used to the occasional hikers wandering up and down the tracks.
We got of the train in Zachlorou and after a coffee in the village we started descending towards Diakopto. The first part is easy and pleasant especially on a beautiful autumn day like ours. However, soon enough we reached Portes (the doors) which is one of the most dramatic spots along the Vouraikos Gorge. It’s also the narrowest. The main attraction is the second bridge some twenty meters away used now only by hikers. Squeezed between two towering cliffs high above the river it is extremely photogenic. At the upper part of the adjacent tunnel is a huge iron gate which was used to keep walkers off the tracks at the times when only the train transportation was allowed.
After leaving Portes the walking becomes uneventful for a while. But soon enough we reached the heart of the Vouraikos Gorge where multiple tall bridges cross the roaring river and the railway cuts through the rock face crating countless tunnels and archways. This is by far the most exiting and stunning part of the hike. Plan it well though because this is not the place to meet the train. According to the myth Vouraikos Gorge was created by Heracles who opened it up to reach his beloved Voura who lived by the sea. Normally, I incline to believe in more scientific explanations like water erosion. Nevertheless, in a dramatic place like this its easy to imagine the rocks crumbling under the hands of a mythical hero braking through the mountain in attempt to reach his lover.
The bridges were the bigest obstacle for me on this hike. They are not made for hikers and crossing is officially not allowed. The signs forbidding entrance on the bridges are slightly confusing as there is usually no other way across the river. If there were I would definitely choose it to avoid crossing the abyss on a narrow metal sidewalk on the side of the bridge with suspiciously looking rail. On the other hand, my brother-in-law who has no issue with hights was hoping happily accros the sleepers oblivious to the deep chasms underneath.
After crossing the last bridge at Dikastiria cave the cannyon opens up and the bottom flattens. From here its still another 5km to the station in Diakopto. From the Niamata train station you can either continue on the tracks or follow a dirt road underneath. Either way the burbling Vouraikos river will keep you company until the first houses of Diakopto.