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Over the last couple of years, the region of Loutraki Perachora has become one of my favorite day trip destinations from Athens. For its tiny size, it has a lot to offer and it takes just around one hour by car to reach its capital, Loutraki.
Loutraki Perachora Peninsula
Loutraki Perachora peninsula is an obvious summer destination thanks to its many beautiful beaches completed with traditional fish taverns lining the coast. However, even outside of the swimming season it won’t disappoint. The slopes of Mount Geraneia, towering above Loutraki, are dotted by monasteries and there are few pleasant hiking trails heading up to the summit.
For the history lovers, there is the archeologic site of Heraion and its temples devoted to the goddess Hera. And as if that wasn’t enough, the western tip of the Perachora Peninsula, the Cape Malagkavi, is embellished by a picturesque lighthouse with stunning views across the Gulf of Corinth.
The town of Loutraki can be reached by regular KTEL buses from Athens and there are few regional buses servicing the villages of Perachore and Pisia. However, they are infrequent and running at weird times making them unusable for a day trip. Therefore, by far the best way to explore the region is by car.
The first stop when coming from Athens is Loutraki. To be completely honest, I’ve never spent much time here. Usually, if we make a stop at all it’s just to stash on food and drinks. Loutraki is a large seaside town with nice long beach and plentitude of shops, cafés, and restaurants.
However, it is most famous for its Casino and Spa. Casinos, in general, are not my thing but the Loutraki Spa looks pretty awesome. The thermal springs of Loutraki were well known since the antiquity and today are a popular destination for both medical and wellness treatments. I didn’t have a chance to visit the spa yet but its definitely on The List.
Osios Patapios Monastery
Leaving Loutraki the road climbs up along the coastal cliffs to Perachora with beautiful vistas across the Corinth Gulf. About halfway between the two towns, at the Monastery of Agios Ioannis, another road branches to the right leading to the Monastery of Osios Patapios. The small picturesque monastery with an amazing view of the Corinth Strait is well worth the detour. It was built around a small cave where, in 1904 during excavations, the relics of Agios Patapios were found.
This 4th-century priest from Thebes, Egypt well known for his preaching and miracle-making among the Christians of his time. And even 15 centuries after his death his relics are said to have healing powers making the monastery popular destination for the faithful seeking relief from a variety of illnesses.
Returning back to the main road and driving towards Perachora you’ll have a decision to make. For a day of mountain adventure, head to the right to Pisia. To explore the coast of the peninsula, follow the sign for Lake Vouliagmeni descending down to the left.
The Pisia village is not particularly interesting on its own. But it has few cozy taverns, beautiful surroundings and most importantly, it is one of the starting points for the hikes on Mount Geraneia. The main trail starts at the southern end of the village behind the Platanos Tavern. It climbs through the forested slopes above the village and across blooming meadows until reaching the hillock.
There is no obvious summit to conquer so reaching the top of the mountain is a bit anticlimactic. On the other hand, it means you can spend quite a lot of time exploring some of the trails crisscrossing the flowering meadows and enjoying the breath-taking views from the top.
The 8 km drive from Perachora down to the Lake Vouliagmeni is one of the reasons I love visiting this small region so much. The road descends through pine-covered hills of unbelievably fresh, bright green color and when the Lake Vouliagmeni finally comes to sight the postcard-perfect scenery is completed.
At 2 km of length and 1 km in width, the lake is not large. And it is not a real lake, either. The lagoon is connected to the Corinth Gulf by a narrow straight and its waters are actually even saltier than the sea. Thanks to the tidal movement, the water in the straight acts as a river, changing its flow every 6 or so hours.
The name of the lake can cause a bit of confusion. There is another, more famous, Lake Vouliagmeni on the other side of Athens so make sure you are heading to the correct one. To make things even more complicated, the lake is sometimes called Heraion after the close by archeologic site or by its ancient names Eschatiotis or Gorgopis.
According to the myth (and there always is a myth when traveling around Greece) Gorgi, the daughter of Megareos, drowned in the lake when she learned about the death of her children.
The sandy coast of the lake is lined with fish taverns and there are a couple of beach bars with sunbeds and umbrellas on its western end. However, our favorite swimming spot is at the picturesque Agios Nikolaos Church.
There is no beach there, just a concrete pier with a couple of wooden fisherman boats anchored in front. But its much quieter during the busy summer weekends and our dog loves diving from the pier trying to “save” anyone who dares to jump to the water.
Heraion of Perachora
From Lake Vouliagmeni, the road continues for another 2 kilometers until reaching a small car park. From here, one path continues straight to the Cape Malagkavi and the lighthouse while the other drops down to the archeologic site of Heraion of Perachora and to the beach.
There are many stunning beaches around Greece and many archeologic sites of grand historical importance. However, there are not so many places where the two are so perfectly combined! And even if history or archaeology is not your thing there is just something special about passing through the ancient remains during an otherwise ordinary trip to the beach.
The sanctuary of Heraion was dedicated to Hera, the goddess of women, marriage, childbirth, and family. The beginning of the cult of Hera in the area dates back to 900 BC but most of the structures come from around 600 BC. Except for the main Temple of Hera Akraia, multiple other buildings were covered during excavations including, stoa, cisterns, fountains, dining rooms and possible second Temple of Hera Limanaia. And even though there is no entrance fee or any kind of restrictions, the archeologic site is surprisingly well organized with a lot of signs and informational tables.
The cove at Heraion is not just a pretty beach with crystal clear emerald water, either. Thanks to its great depth just a few meters from the shore it is a popular scuba diving and cliff diving destination, too. Since seeing the Jaws some 30 years ago I don’t have the best relationship with the open sea and usually just stick with snorkeling along the shore. However, for the braver ones the reef drops some 60 meters down very steeply making it a great spot for deep diving.
Before leaving Heraion, don’t forget to complete the short hike to the lighthouse at Cape Malagkavi, the westernmost tip of the Perachora Peninsula. The stone-build lighthouse from 1897, is one of the oldest lighthouses in Greece still in operation. Its picture perfect, too, especially at sunsets with amazing views across the sea towards Peloponnese to the South and the cost of Central Greece to the North.
Beaches of the northern coast: Sterna, Milokopi & Cave of Seals
Returning back towards Loutraki, about halfway between Lake Vouliagmeni and Perachora, you’ll see two smaller asphalt roads branching to the left. The first one will take you to the beautiful twin beaches of Sterna, while the second one provides an opportunity to explore the remote northern coast of the peninsula and to return to Athens slightly different way. Bear in mind though that part of this route passes over a dirt road and can be difficult especially in a bad weather.
The northern coast of Loutraki – Perachora peninsula stretching between Cape Matapan and Schinos is a wild, unspoiled place. The steep, pine-clad slopes of Mount Gerania, undisturbed by nothing but few olive orchards and clusters of summer houses here and there, meet the turquois waters of Corinthian Gulf at a coast full of beautiful beaches and dramatic rock formations.
The beaches here have three things in common – crystal clear sea, dramatic landscape and horrible, horrible access roads. The last detail is possibly the most important. To get to any of the beaches of the area you’ll need a 4×4, mad driving skills or a willingness to walk for quite a bit. There are no beach bars or taverns on any of the beaches below either so come prepared with snacks and plenty of water.
Another complication is the lack of signs along the main road. In most cases, the only thing indicating the presence of a beach is cluster of cars parked in the forest at the top of one of the dirt roads. Following Google Maps will be your best bet or ask a local for directions if you can find one.
Overall, these beaches are not for those looking for comfort and easy access, you’ll need to be at least a bit adventurous and willing to suffer slightly in order to enjoy this wild coast.
Sterna is a beautiful twin beach near a small eponymous village with a mix of sand, pebbles, and rocky seabed. The surrounding landscape of strangely shaped cliffs is one of the most dramatic along the coast. The asphalt road ends at the village where it into a wobbly dirt track descending down to the coast.
If you are up for an adventure, follow a narrow trail starting at the small car park near the main beach. It is marked by yellow paint. It’ll take you along the coast full of swimming coves, tiny caves and dramatic cliffs perfect for snorkeling as well.
Milokopi is possibly the best known and most popular beach in the area despite having really difficult access. It is well-loved by free campers as well and can get quite busy during summer. It is still worth a visit though thanks to its exotic look and crystal clear sea.
Cave of Seals
The Cave of Seals (Spilia tis Fokias) is possibly the prettiest cove near Athens thanks to the combination of turquoise sea, small pebbly beach hidden in an impressive cave, and a bright white natural arch guiding the entrance. The fresh bright pine forest reaching all the way down to the beach only adds to the beauty of the place.
As stunning as the cove is, it is not the best place to spend a day on the beach. The descent to the sea over a steep, slippery trail is quite demanding and there is not much space on the rocky shore to lie down in the sun. However, taking a dip in its sheltered waters early in the morning and hearing only a happy banter of a flock of swallows hunting around the cave is an unforgettable experience.
Back to Athens
To return back to Athens head back to the main asphalt road and turn left towards Schinos. A couple of kilometers later, after the village of Strava, the asphalt road turns into a dirt road and stays that way all the way to Schinos. Schinos is a small port with a pretty beach, few taverns and a beach bar.
We haven’t stop for long and continued along the scenic coast to Alepochori. From here, the road turns inland towards Megara and Athens making Alepochori the last chance to enjoy the sun slowly setting over the sea.
If you want to experience the wild beauty of the Northern coast of the peninsula but don’t plan on visiting any of the beaches there is an easier and faster way. From Perachora drive towards Pisia and later Schinos. This way, you’ll avoid all dirt roads but still enjoy the beautiful scenery of Mount Geraneia.