Hiking through the Vouraikos Gorge: Odontotos Rack Railway

Hiking through the Vouraikos Gorge: Odontotos Rack Railway

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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 a functioning rack railway of the Odontotos train. It connects Diakopto at the coast of the Corinthian Gulf with Kalavryta high on the slopes of Mount 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, it’s 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 and train from Athens in about 3 hours. The best plan, if coming by public transport, to take the Odontos train to Kalavryta, stay overnight and walk down the next day. If coming by car, this could easily be done as a one day trip from Athens.

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.

Update: I’ve done the hike the other way around as well walking from Diakopto to Zachlorou. This option is slightly more challenging due to the 600 meters elevation gain. However, it is a gentle climb and nothing that the average person couldn’t handle.

Kalavrita

We come by car so we drove up to Kalavryta where we planned to spend the night. Kalavryta is a pretty mountain town that turns into a busy ski resort in the winter.

On an early October weekend, it was very quiet 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 quite impressive, however, the section open to visitors is only around 500m long and the guided tour wasn’t very informative either. At 9 euros per person, I would think twice before recommending this to anyone.

If you wish to learn about Kalavrita’s dark past, visit to the Museum of the Kalavritan Holocaust is a must. It serves as a reminder to the Massacre of Kalavrita, one of the worst Nazi massacres in Greece. Memorial to the massacre lies just outside of the town on the nearby Kapi Hill.

Back in Kalavryta, we enjoyed an evening stroll through the town and some grilled meat and local cheese for dinner, choice traditional for most mountain regions of Greece. And if you have a sweet tooth, don’t forget to try Lukumades in the picturesque Cafe Stathmos at Kalavrita’s Train Station.

Vouraikos Gorge
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Hiking through the Vouraikos Gorge

The 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 the 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 the more exposed sections of our journey on top of tall cliffs and rickety bridges. It’s hard to imagine that this narrow passage, hardly fitting the train, could possibly fit a hiker as well.

But as I said before it’s 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 off the train at Zachlorou village and after a quick morning coffee in one of the villages cozy chalets we set off towards Diakofto. The first section of our hike was quite straight forward, following the railway tracks downhill through a wide valley filled with meadows, orchards and occasional sheep herds.

After a while, the valley becomes narrower and deeper and the scenery more and more dramatic until we reached the narrowest point of the gorge at Portes (Gates).

The combination of a dark tunnel secured by large wooden gates and rusty old bridges crossing the ravine makes Portes one of the most impressive (yet slightly scary) sights along the hike.

As tempting as it is, don’t spend too much time wandering around the tunnel and bridge and taking photos, this is not the best place to meet the trains!

After leaving Portes walking becomes uneventful for a while. But soon enough we reached the heart of the gorge where the railway cuts through a sheer rock face creating countless tunnels and archways and tall bridges cross above the roaring Vouraikos river multiple times. This is the most splendid section of the hike, especially during a colorful autumn day.

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, it’s easy to imagine the rocks crumbling under the hands of a mythical hero breaking through the mountain in an attempt to reach his lover.

The bridges were my biggest obstacle during our hike through the Vouraikos Gorge. They are not made for hikers and crossing them is a hair-raising experience. The signs forbidding entrance on the bridges are slightly confusing as well as there is usually no other way across the river.

After crossing the last bridge near Dikastiria Caves, the canyon opens up again and its bottom flattens. From here it’s still another 5km to the station in Diakopto through pleasant countryside of orchards and fields.

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.

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