So we had all these convoluted plans to get buses to bigger towns then rent a car to do a little section of smaller towns in the surrounding area with shit bus links, slowly making our way across the Peloponnese until we ended up in Ancient Olympia. After that we’d head north via Patra. Then we couldn’t find anywhere to rent a car in Tripoli, then winter bus routes would mean we’d waste whole days travelling at inconvenient times. Fuck it. We went back to the place we’d rented the car in Tolo and booked one out for eight days. Much easier.
Greece is kind of expensive too. We’re doing things as budgety as possible without making ourselves utterly fucking miserable but we’re at the stage now where we just wanted to see the things we came to see then flee to a cheaper country, especially as all our money is in British Pounds and that’s rapidly becoming worthless thanks to the unelected clusterfuck currently running the country. Might as well start trying to pay for things in seashells. Or buttons. Or random shiny things we find on the floor.
So now we were all mobile and shit that put the mountains back on the menu. They popped onto our radar when I found out about a 75 kilometre trail running from Stemnitsa to Langadia called the Melanon Trail. It looked fucking stunning. But then we walked over 1000 miles and Tarrant’s feet packed in so yeah nah, fuck multi-day hiking for a while. There’s a section of it that’s commonly done as a day hike though so we figured we might as well do that.
Our lovely beach weather was replaced with an absolute downpour as we wound our way up and up towards Stemnitsa. Honestly, it was torrential and showed no signs of letting up, but somehow the landscape still managed to be incredible. Clouds crept through mountain passes as peaks reached up high above us. The roads hairpinned back on themselves, on the map they looked like spaghetti. I’m pretty glad we rented a car the other day so I was confident driving on the right or I might have just pulled over and cried a bit.
As we approached Stemnitsa it absolutely blew me out of the water. Oh my fucking gosh. I thought I was a bit in love with the white and blue cubed architecture of the Cyclades but this was next level eyehole fodder. Stone buildings with red tile roofs clung to the mountain, the rain just adding to the atmosphere. We couldn’t find our hotel for shit at first but we were early
so we ended up pulling into a car park and heading through the village on foot in search of caffeine.
Now, I don’t know if this is just due to the weather and the time of year but it’s one of those places where you’re not quite sure if the cafés are actually open, and when you shuffle in and great them with your best, “Yassas!” they all just kind of stare at you. Yeahhhh… guess we didn’t need a coffee that badly then.
We managed to find our hotel, fetched the car and were checked in by a lovely chap called Hermeos. Guys, this is probably the nicest place we’ve stayed in a long time. It’s not expensive either, but the view from the balcony is just epic. You can see all the way to the mountains over yonder. It’s such a beautiful place and I’m so fucking glad we did decide to come here in the end. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve really enjoyed the coast and the ocean and all of the things we’ve seen so far, but this is just spectacular.
We’d intended to do the Dimitsana to Stemnitsa day hike the following day but the weather forecast wasn’t great and we’d be getting a later start than we’d have liked. Breakfast was served at 9am. I mean, we could skip the included breakfast and just sort ourselves out but nahhhh, it’s rude to turn down free food isn’t it? Wouldn’t want to anger the stomach gods. By the time we’d called a taxi to take us to Dimitsana we might not get walking until 11am and that’s just too late for us really.
Fuck it. We decided to drive to a couple of monasteries that we would have seen if we’d done the hike, also check out the Water Power Museum, then play the day by ear. Moni Timiou Prodromou isn’t a huge distance from Stemnitsa but you have to drive down a road which gets more and more winding, and narrower, with extra terrifying drop-offs to the side as you descend into the valley. Oh fuck fuck fuck. I carefully planned what to do if we met oncoming traffic. It largely involved staying very still and making them go around me. I wouldn’t mind so much but everyone likes to drive at speed in the middle of the fucking road in Greece which makes these blind corners extra bum-clenchy.
We left the car with several others by a church and walked the last 750 metres to the monastery. It’s challenging terrain but not hideous. You’re mostly descending until the building comes into view on your right and you hairpin back on yourself to head up to visit it. I say building, and it is, but they’ve built the fucker into the cliff so it looks like it’s clinging to the rock face and has absolutely no right to be there on account of, y’know, physics and shit. It’s incredible.
So you need to dress modestly and that includes the blokes, so no shorts. But they don’t like women in trousers either, we’re meant to wear long skirts but don’t think I even know any women my age that own a bloody skirt. If they did they certainly wouldn’t be wandering around the Greek mountains in it. Fortunately they have a rack of skirts you can throw on over your trousers, and there are trousers for men that showed up in shorts.
It’s so cool inside too but you’re not allowed to take photos. It’s pretty clear it’s built into rock but they’ve painted it white, then there’s wall paintings, and you can walk out onto the balcony for awesome views. There’s a small room where there’s coffee you can help yourself to. We didn’t see any monks, I guess they were off doing monk stuff. Praying and shit, I don’t know.
We headed back to the car and we did try and head to another monastery but Google wanted to take us down an unsealed road. Yeah I’m not sure about that, mate. We had no idea of the road condition further down and if we went to absolute shit we didn’t know if there was a place to turn around. After yesterday’s pissing rains we didn’t know if it would be a mudslide or if it’d just be rough gravel. Best not risk it in our little rental car hey.
We tried to go around a much longer way but not too far past the Water Power Museum the road really did go to shit. There was an actual chasm in the middle of the gravel. No, fuck this, we’d seen the monastery we’d really wanted to see and this road could, quite frankly, fuck right off. We doubled back to the Water Power Museum.
So, I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting with this. Tarrant had seen it on Google Maps when she was looking at Dimitsana so we thought we might as well have a look as we’re here. It’s actually surprisingly fascinating! Obviously moving water has been used for years to power mills but all that industry around here has gone to ruin. They’ve restored three buildings and built replicas of the old machines that would have been used back in the day, that would have relied on the water running through the gorge.
There was the fulling-mill. Water was funneled through a pipe called a headrace, wider at the top than the bottom, the water falling from height crashed into a huge conical tub and swirled around. This was used as a massive washing machine for wool to make it fluffy so the fibres would bind together.
This was next to the cereal mill. Turned out the miller wasn’t paid in money. It’s not clear what he was paid in but it could have been flour? Or a percentage of whatever it was he’d just ground. Then he’d sell it to people who didn’t own land and therefore couldn’t grow shit to be ground.
They’d restored a tannery too, but then in another building they went through the entire tanning process. I know tanning is a thing, and I know what it does and why. But it never occurred to me it would be such a lengthy process. It takes thirty days to tan hide apparently, assuming you do it the old fashioned way which no one does any more. Probably because it takes thirty fucking days. It’s pretty grim too involving scraping fat, dehairing, and a load of other stuff to stop it from decomposing given that’s it’s literally a part of a dead thing.
The final room is a replica of a gunpowder mill from the early 1800s. Dimitsana was known for its high quality gunpowder during Greece’s battle for independence to the point the men of the town weren’t sent to war as they were more valuable at home making shit to blow the enemy up.
That’s another process you don’t really think about. Of course it’ll be done very differently today but back then each component had to be collected and processed, ground down and mixed, and all without losing your face in an explosion. Charcoal was made from burning small branches but not letting flames take hold, smothering it with water so it’s just a lot of smoke. Saltpetre was made from animal shit. The sulphur had to be bought in. I don’t want to go into all of the detail here, it’s already a really fucking long blog post and even I’m losing the will to live, but honestly it was absolutely fascinating. As I said, I’d no idea what to expect but I ended up learning so much. I would highly recommend a visit.
We finished up in Dimitsana for a late lunch where Tarrant tried to win the love of five kittens with her leftover kebab. Not a euphemism. We did consider whether we should try a different road to the monastery but all those wiggly little fucking roads cutting through the hills? Yeah I don’t trust them. We were satisfied with our day and after the obnoxious quantities of meat and chips I just applied to my digestive system I wouldn’t be too upset if a nice nap materialised in my near future.
Stemnitsa & Dimitsana, Peloponnese, Greece / Στεμνίτσα & Δημητσάνα, Πελοπόννησος, Ελλάδα
Stayed at: Archontiko Kolokotroni, Stemnitsa
Useful shit to know…
- We rented our car from Euro Car Rentals in Tolo. She gave us off-season price at €35 a day.
- Petrol in the mountains hovers around €1.96 a litre. We filled up in Nafplio for €1.79 a litre.
- We didn’t take a taxi between Dimitsana and Stemnitsa in the end but Hermeos thought it would be over €20.
- The Water Power Museum was €4 each to get in and was well worth it.