Alonistena to Dimitsana: The Long Way Round

Mainalon

It had been a long day and the sun had already set when we reached the little village of Zigovhisti. I’d pulled a tendon or something in my knee the previous day and it was still painful, even with a knee bandage. The map showed the little accommodation symbol and I was looking forward to getting there. But as we walked though the village, there wasn’t anybody around, not even to ask. The houses were locked and deserted, there was no guesthouse and the only cafe was firmly shut. We didn’t have much food with us, it was cold and we didn’t want to camp. The only option was to carry on to Dimitsana.

Unthinkingly, we carried straight on down the tarred road, with endless zigzags to the main road far below. The moon came out, lighting the way, and at last  in the distance we could see the lights of Dimitsana hanging down the mountainside. It wasn’t till we reached the main road that we realised how stupid we’d been. The map also showed a dirt road along the ridge from Zigovhisti to Dimitsana. We’d have had to retrace our steps a little from the village but it would have been much shorter and more pleasant. That’s what happens when you’re tired, your brain shuts down and all you can do is carry on putting one foot after the other. Five minutes’ pause for thought  would have made a big difference.

Mainalon: autumn coloursIt had been a great day’s walk, though, through high mountain pastures with scattered trees, turning gold and red, contrasting with the conifer forests lower down. In the early morning, there had been patches of frost. The skies were a luminous blue, rain-washed after the storms of the past week.

In the MainalonWe passed sheep pens, and water troughs hewn out of tree trunks, but only saw one person all day. He was a guide, and a member of the Association of Mountaineers and Ecologists of Arcadia (SAOO),  responsible for developing and waymarking the network of paths. Now, he was waiting to take a group of walkers up one of the nearby peaks, famous as one of the many hide-outs of Kolokotronis, the Greek Independence leader. There was only one way up through the precipices, he told us, but safe enough if you knew it.

Dimitsana is a lovely old town, draped over the ridge, with a good choice of hotels, tavernas, bank and shops. It’s a popular tourist destination,  and even though it was out of season, a tourist bus passed us as we walked in. The hotel prices were high, though. The first one we asked cost over a hundred euros. We finally found a slightly cheaper one, once again beautifully furnished in traditional style.

Apart from the decor, these new boutique hotels have another advantage – excellent breakfasts. The Kazakou in Dimitsana provided omelette, cake and freshly made juice of orange, carrot and pomegranate – and good coffee, too. But  it wasn’t quite as good as the Alonistena breakfast, which included the most delicious thick yoghurt with homemade elderberry preserve. I resolved to try it myself next elderberry season in the UK. What a change from some of the more basic places further north, with their undrinkable Nescafe!

In the Mainalon

WaymarkThe route: Mixture of paths and forest tracks. Very occasionally, there were fallen trees across the path, but the waymarking is so good that this isn’t a problem. The final section to Zighovisti hadn’t yet been waymarked, but the route along forest tracks was easy to find. Few springs and animal troughs. Kilometres: 26. Ascent: 894 m. Descent: 1076m. Maps: Anavasi 8.5. Menalo. Also see the Menalon Trail website and app.

Facilities: Hotels, tavernas, shops, pharmacy, bank, health centre, museum, bus service in Dimitsana. Covered in both the Rough Guide and Lonely Planet.

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