History, Beauty & Tasty Food in Kalavryta!
On a sunny spring day, last week, my husband and I headed to the picturesque mountain town of Kalavryta on the northwestern side of the Peloponnese for a day excursion.
Surrounded by beautiful landscape, Kalavryta (only 191 km away from Athens) is widely known for its ski resort, its cog railway (Odotontos = tooth train) which takes you on a spectacular ride through the Vouraikos Canyon and for being the town that endured one of the cruelest World War II massacres in Greece . . . when Nazi troops burnt down the village and killed all its male inhabitants in December 1943.
Our plan was to drive all the way to Kalavryta and take in the sights, including the Monastery of Mega Spileo, carved against the slopes of the mountain and the Monastery of Agia Lavra where the Greek War of independence was declared in 1821. However, as we approached the area we decided to drive to the seaside town of Diakofto where we parked the car and stepped into the cog train for an hour’s scenic journey (22 km) to Kalavryta through the Vouraikos Canyon.
The Odontotos was built in 1895 and is the narrowest railway in the world (with a width of 75 cm) with tracks that follow the stream bed of the Vouriakos river, climbing the stunning narrow gorge up into the mountains through tunnels and forests of pine and oleander, over waterfalls and along cliffs with incredible rock formations A truly spectacular ride and a lovely way to see the area’s natural beauty . . . all year round!
During our train ride to Kalavryta we saw some adventurous hikers following one of the many mountain paths and the train attendant told me that many people get off the train at Zachlorou Village (the only stop on the way) and hike downwards the gorge. I don’t think I would be up for that but I am definitely planning on doing this train ride again and stopping at Zachlorou to enjoy lunch at the village’s Romantzo tavern well known for its tasty local cuisine!
We arrived in Kalavryta train station at 12.30 and since the last train of the day back to Diakofto left at 15.28 we had 3 hours to explore the down, have lunch and visit the Museum of the Holocaust of Kalavryta as well as the Holocaust Monument set on the hill of Kapi, 500 meters above the village commemorating this tragedy.
It didn’t take us very long to get to the Holocaust Monument where we also took in the magnificent view and made friends with lots of happy sheep grazing in the valley surrounding the monument . . . under the watchful eyes of 2 sheep herders and their dogs.
Next we visited the museum which is located in the center of town, inside the rebuilt old school of Kalavryta, where the German troops gathered all the inhabitants of the village before separating the men from the women and children . . . before leading them to their execution on the hill of Kapi.
The school was also burnt at the time but fortunately the women and children managed to escape and lived to tell their emotional story which is portrayed in the museum.
As you can imagine, by now our stomachs was growling and the only thing we could think about was food. We had been told that wherever you go in Kalavryta you will eat well so as we were in the city center we headed up the main stone paved street and entered the first tavern we saw called Stani that turned out to be an old fashioned rustic looking tavern serving home-style regional specialties served directly from huge pots and pans cooked with plenty of olive oil and pungent local herbs . . . that reminded me of my first encounter with Greek tavern food in Athens in 1975!
Here I thought to myself forget Greek cooking that is well aligned with modern dietary preferences emphasizing healthy vegetables, fish and salads and take a chance on some of the hearty daily specials which we had seen upon entering the tavern which included a traditional cheese pie, braised beef in tomato sauce served with handmade local chilopites (pasta) and really well seasoned goat meat served with fries.
As I had expected, the plates didn’t look all that inviting but as it turned out the braised beef with the chilopites was one of the tastiest I’ve had in Greece and the goat meat absolutely delectable! I can’t say the same for the cheese pie or the fries but we were so happy with the pasta and the meats that we left the place totally content and ready for our walk around town with many stops in shops selling souvenirs and lovely local products.
It goes without saying that I arrived back at the train station for our ride back to Diakofto with bags full of nuts, herbs and spoon sweets as well as lots of chilopites (pasta) that I absolutely adore! Actually they are so addictive that I’ve already cooked them twice this week in Athens . . . my favorite version with a healthy dose of left over Fakkes (Greek lentil soup) mixed with grated fresh tomatoes and fresh blanched baby spinach!
I'm sure that you'll have understood from this blog post that we loved our day in Kalavryta and I’m already looking forward to my next trip to this beautiful area . . . which I hope will be sooner than later!
For further information, reservations or group excursions on the Odontotos Rack Railway please tap on this link or contact the Kalavryta or Diakofto stations directly:
Kalavryta: Tel: +30 26920 - 23050
Diakofto: Tel: +30 26910 - 43206