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The Mainalo mountain range in central Peloponnese is the perfect destination for any hiking lover looking for an easy escape from the city. Lying only about two and a half hours from Athens, Mainalo can be easily visited over the weekend or even as a day trip from the Greek capital.
It offers a wide network of well-marked hiking trails connecting picturesque villages with centuries-old monasteries, deep gorges, lush forests, and windswept mountain tops.
On our recent weekend trip to Mainalo we decided to climb to one of the highest summits of the mountain range, Tzelati, hike through the magical, moss-covered Arkoudorema gorge and spend the night in one of Mainalos famous mountain villages, Vytina.
This way, we got to experience the varied landscapes of this beautiful mountain region as well as some of its rich history, traditions, and tasty cuisine in just two days!
How to get to Mainalo from Athens
Even though some of the mountain villages of Menalo are reachable by the KTEL buses via Tripoli, for this trip you’ll need a car. The drive from Athens to the refuge of Menalo at Ostrakina plateau took us just a little more than two hours (170 km) and was pretty straightforward.
We followed the Kalamata highway from Athens until the exit at Nestani. We left the highway in the direction of Ancient Olympia and followed the regional road Kallianou- Levidiou until we encountered a sign pointing to the left towards the Mainalo Skin Center. From here, a narrow asphalt road full of holes and turns took us all the way up to the ski center (Google Maps directions HERE).
Our return drive from Piana to Athens was about 15-20 minutes longer but equally easy. From Piana, we followed the regional road Tripoli-Vitina all the way to Tripoli where we joined the highway (Google Maps directions HERE).
Where to stay in Mainalo
There are many villages scattered across the mountains of Mainalo, one prettier than the other, offering a good choice of accommodation. We choose Vytina for our overnight stay for its perfect location about halfway between the Ostrakina Plateau and Arkoudorema.
Vytina is a lively village with plenty of lodging options, taverns, cafes, and souvenir shops selling local produce. We stayed in a cozy pension called Panorama on the outskirt of the village with beautiful views and an even better breakfast… Loukoumades with honey among others!!
If you are looking for another easy yet beautiful hike near Vytina check out THIS!
Maps, signposting, and difficulty
The area of Mainalo is covered in the Anavasi Map of Mainalo. We found the map useful when planning our weekend trip and referred to it a couple of times during our ascent to Tzelati.
That being said, the hiking trails of Menalo are generally well-marked which was true especially for the hike through Arkoudorema. We encountered many signs with estimated hiking times along the way and a few maps and had no difficulty finding our way.
The trail to Tzelati was marked quite well, too, but it didn’t seem to be visited very often meaning that in places the path was almost nonexistent. This made the hike more challenging than it looked like on paper with its 12 kilometers in length and only about 700 meters of elevation gain. Wikiloc recording of the hike to Tzelati
The hike through the Arkoudorema was challenging mostly due to its length of around 16 km. It involved a little bit of easy scrambling in the first gorge called Likorema, too, but nothing that an average hiker couldn’t handle. Wikiloc recording of the hike through Arkoudorema
Tzelati Summit (1.868 meters)
When we first started planning our weekend in Mainalo we were set on climbing the highest summit of the mountain range, Ostrakina (1.981 meters). But after further research, we decided on the nearby Tzelati instead because of its varied terrain and beautiful fir forest covering its slopes.
We started our hike to the summit of Tzelati at Ostrakina plateau near the tiny Mainalo Ski Center. We parked our car at a large car park below the Mainalo refuge and followed a narrow track towards the lifts of the ski center.
When we reached the bottom of the lifts we come across a wide dirt road running uphill. We followed the road for about 600 meters until we found a trail branching off to the right near an abandoned-looking wooden shed. The trail was hard to see, we completely missed it at first, so pay attention here.
We followed the path marked by red signs uphill through beautiful fir forest for another approximately 700 meters until we reached the ridge of Mesovouni. Up until here, the trail was clear and easy to follow but things were about to change.
After we passed the Likorema gorge and crossed the riverbed of Elissonas river the terrain flattened and walking become easy again. We followed the riverbed for about one kilometer enjoying the lovely fir forest all teeming with mushrooms and colorful wildflowers.
We turned right at the ridge (or northwest) and followed a mix of red signs and small cairns hidden in the grass. There was no path per se but walking across the grassy slopes was relatively easy and very pleasant.
Enjoying the beautiful views across the gentle mountainscape of Mainalo we kept wondering which of the nearby summits may be Tzelati. But it wasn’t until we reached the highest point of the ridge and spotted Tzelati for the first time that we understood the true extent of this hike.
Tzelati is separated from Mesovouni by a deep saddle aptly named Megalo Diaselo (Big Saddle) adding about 200 meters of elevation gain to this otherwise relatively easy hike.
The trail down to the saddle was steep and hard to find and for the next half an hour we kept slipping and sliding on a mixture of scree, grass, needles, and cones. Luckily, a thick forest was covering the majority of the slopes which at least provided some much-needed shade on this hot, early autumn day.
The ascent to Tzelati on the opposite side of the saddle was a bit less steep and the path much better defined. Once we climbed above the treeline the terrain flattened and walking across the alpine meadows become significantly easier.
The summit of Tzelati may not be very dramatic but it offers stunning panoramic views across the many peaks and valleys of Mainalo covered by a thick blanket of forest for the most part as well as the mountains of Northern Peloponnese.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have the best visibility on the day of our ascent but still enjoyed a short break on the summit enjoying the lovely views and peaceful scenery all around. Except for a herd of sheep, we haven’t met anyone all day which only added to the feeling of remoteness and unspoiled nature.
We followed the same trail to return back to the plateau of Ostrakina as we didn’t have much time left. But it seems to be possible to make the hike circular (and longer) as described in THIS great post by Olympus Mountaineering.
We started our hike through Arkoudorema at the square of Piana near the impressive church of Agios Georgios. You’ll find a couple of hiking signs with directions at the square as well as a map of the area and a spring with fresh water.
From the square, we followed signs through the narrow streets of the village until we encountered a trail ascending across the bush-covered slopes above Piana. It took us all the way up to the Pans Cave about one and a half kilometers away.
Pans Cave was an unexpected highlight of our hike. The cave itself and the surrounding cliffs were quite impressive on their own but it was the striking views across the green valley underneath that really took our breath away!
Right after the cave, we started our long descent down to the valley. At first, the path was wide and comfortable but once we reached the first gorge called Likourema things got much more challenging.
Likourema is a narrow gorge, dry at the time of our visit, with a couple of steep sections equipped with a rope. Scrambling through the gorge wasn’t too difficult and the rope was mostly unnecessary but it was definitely a fun distraction!
After we passed through the Likourema gorge and crossed the riverbed of Elissonas river the terrain flattened and walking become easy again. We followed the riverbed for about one kilometer enjoying the lovely fir forest all around teeming with mushrooms and colorful wildflowers.
After about a kilometer and a half of easy walking the valley become narrower and narrower and the forest thicker. We finally arrived at Arkoudorema! The deeper we dove into the gorge the colder and more humid it got and soon enough all the surface around us was covered by lush, bright green moss and ferns.
At one point, we passed a dry waterfall and entered the narrowest section of the gorge. In early autumn, the riverbed was dry and we could easily pass through the bottom of the gorge. During winter and early spring, this may not be possible as there is no path per se at this section of the hike.
Walking through this mysterious place of tall, moss-covered cliffs and deep forest it was hard to imagine that there was a village here once. But the inaccessibility of the place made it the perfect hideout during the Turkish occupation and the village of Arkoudorema at the entrance of the gorge flourished for centuries until it was finally abandoned at the end of the 19th century.
Today, only the church of Panagia Arkoudorematos stands intact as a reminder of the old days. We reached the church after about four hours of walking from Piana and made a short stop here. There is a spring some 200 meters away from the church in the direction of Limpovisi and an asphalt road connecting Chrisovitsi with Limpovisi nearby.
We didn’t want to return back to Piana the same way so we followed another trail marked by blue signs toward Chrisovitsi. It starts near the church and runs uphill through the forest for the first kilometer or so before it starts its descent to the village.
The trail ended at Chrisovitsi and we left the village following the main regional asphalt road toward Tripoli. After less than one kilometer we encountered a dirt road branching off to the left with a sign pointing toward Piana.
I had low expectations for this section of the hike imagining we will be forced to walk along a busy asphalt road. Instead, we were treated to 3km of pleasant walking on a comfortable dirt track with beautiful views across the surrounding mountains bathing in the golden evening light.
Once we crossed the Elissonas river near Piana we joined a trail marked by red signs ascending up to the village. The final climb was steep and tiring for our already worn-out legs but it didn’t take long and we reached the square of Piana and collapsed at the sole tavern for a well-deserved meal!