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One can get to Kalavryta by car from Patras or by funicular from Diakofto. The Patras-kalavryta road passes by vineyards, olive groves and small, well-wooded hills. At a certain point, the landscape begins to change, becoming more mountainous as the ascent to the magical mountains begins. Aromatic scents and cool air win the visitor over immediately. Plane trees and walnuts stand out to the right and left of the road. Halandritsa is the first village that you come across: stone houses, courtyards, narrow lanes, a ruined Frankish castle, countless churches, bell towers with Western touch. The heart of Achaia begins to pound. Next come the villages of Katarrahtis, Kalanistra, Kalanos, Mihas, perched on a hillside thick with walnut trees, catches your eye. You pass Kato and Ano Vlassia, traditional hamlets built in 1660, and stop for a while at Flamboura. A dirt road leads to the monastery which was built by Velissarius, Justinian’s General, in 532. It contains a Byzantine icon of the Virgin, endowed with a curious feature: from wherever you stand you have the impression that the Virgin’s eyes are following you. Back on the main road, any one of the many side roads you choose will take you to some forest, gorge or Byzantine monastery. kalavryta lies ahead. These places and their myriad tiny villages are difficult to describe. To get to know them, you need to get out of your car, walk through the streets, visit their castles and churches, mingle with the people, take a drink with them and clink your glasses in the toast. Only then will you hear the heart of Achaia beat.

AGIA LAVRA

The monastery of Agia Lavra (5 km away from kalavryta), is built at a point which commands a view of the whole Vouraikos river valley. Constructed in 961 at an altitude of 961 metres, it once also had 961 monks. It was here, from the present building dating from 1689, that the call for “freedom or death” first rang out in 1821, commanding Greeks to defend their heritage and throw off the Turkish oppressors. The revolution banner was raised in the garden under the historic plane tree. The monastery church has a fine carved icon screen, frescoes damaged by fire and the icon of Agia Lavra. Apart from the revolutionary banner, the relics include a very old Gospel, a gift of Catherine the Great; gold crosses; reliquaries and a valuable collection of early Christian and ancient objects. On a hill opposite, a monument to the heroes of the Revolution of 1821 looks down over the monastery.

MEGA SPILEO

One can reach this monastery by road from the village of Trapeza or by footpath from Zahlorou. It feels like the hand of God is leading you to the monastery. As soon as you arrive, you stand speechless with the grandeur of nature. The view is a perfect gift-offering from the monastery. You are 1000 metres above sea level. Behind you an enormous building resembling a fortress rises to eight storeys within a gaping cavern in a towering clift; this is the legendary monastery. Built in 362, it has since remained firmly wedged in Greek history. The 17th century monastery church has wonderful frescoes, mosaic floors and a bronze door with relief decoration. The icon of the Virgin Mary holding the Christ Child in her right arm is a relief made of wax and mastich, attributed to St. Luke. The monastery museum contains holy relics and treasures, an icon screen of great age, carved wooden crosses, venerable manuscripts, Gospels, and the like. The silhouettes of the monks with their long hair, full beards and erect figures testify that another way of life – the ascetic way, so different from our own – reigns here.

THE CAVE OF LAKES – KASTRIA

A half-hour drive from kalavryta, near the village of Kastria, will bring you to the cave of the lakes. A narrow passage takes you into a small cave that broadens into an enormous cavern two kilometers long with 15 miniature lakes formed by natural dams. The stalagmites and stalactites with their extraordinary shapes, the iridescent colors, the immense boulders, the small waterfalls and the tiny lakes with their natural dams stimulate and delight the imagination. And now let’s take a trip to the cool green villages where one can see antiquities (Klitoria, Likouria) or vestiges of Frankish and Byzantine rule. Each village has a precious gift to offer, something truly beautiful. You will find so many springs on the way. Here and there waysides shrines. Near by the village Pagrati, there is the famous “vine branch” of Pausanias, with very big branches, dating back to thousands of years. After that you will spy villages climbing up a ravine (Aroania, 930 m.), others smothered in fir trees (Kertezi, 1050 m). The houses are all made of stone, with roofs of tile. If you look hard, you will even find traditional houses with towers. All the villages have their main square, fountain with gushing water, little café or taverna. Kertezi is renowned for its bean soup and fine wine. And each place has a story to tell, whether about its Byzantine church and miraculous icon, its local castle or distant myth. Whoever you meet you will greet you like a dear old friend. And it won’t take long before you really are friends. It will be hard to drag yourself away. The country folk are a warm presence in Achaia. Their tables are laden with bread, olives, cheese, wine and kindness.

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Agia Lavra

 

Mega Spileo

 

 

The Cave of Lakes Kastria