The Lousios Gorge is another wonderful place to visit in the Peloponnese that is hardly known. It’s high in the mountains, right in the centre of the Peloponnese, north of Megalipolos. The toll road from Kalamata to Athens passes the town and you won’t miss the 2 huge power stations belching out polution on it’s doorstep. The main route to the gorge goes from Tripoli, further east of Megalopolis. The Lousios Gorge and Dimitsana is a winter resort for the Greeks, mainly because there is usually some snow there then. In the summer everyone heads for the sea leaving the area very quiet. The landscape around the gorge is simply stunning. There are a number of monasteries perched along the sides of the gorge that are a privilege to visit, sites of old water mills, and also the ancient site of Gortys. If you go in the winter, have a vehicle and equipment that can cope with snow. Along the gorge in places the side of the road is very close to the edge of very steep and very very deep drops.
Exploring the Lousios Gorge
The gorge is not large but there isn’t a single track down through it so you’ll need a map. The best one we found was the ‘Walker’s Map of the River Lousios Valley with Cultural Information’ It has a decent sized map and comes with a very useful 16 page information booklet. We found a copy at the Open Air Water Power Museum below Dimitsana.
All the monasteries are living communities and wish that to be repected by visitors – see sign in the gallery above. The dress code isn’t enforced everywhere and the monks are friendly and welcoming, but we feel its important to acknowledge their wishes so we take extra clothing along with us as needed. On the main road just below Dimitsana there is a turning signposted to the Open Air water power Museum. Down the hill there is a fork to the left, again signposted to the museum. Continue on the road that forks left above the museum and continue for several kilometres to Emialon Monastery. It’s in a lovely peaceful valley and clearly has a strong work ethic judging by the size of their vegetable gardens and the sound of goat bells
From Dimitsana, follow the road down towards the water power museum but don’t fork left but continue down the valley, staying on the tarmac road. At one point the road turns sharply to the right. There is a dirt track that goes ahead from here that leads to Prodromos Monastery but is probably not driveable unless you have a 4WD.The road crosses the Loussios river on a lovely old and narrow stone bridge. It’s a nice place to stop for a few minutes. Then the road continues up the other side of the gorge and you’ll come to the ‘new’ Philosophou Monastery. As we arrived a monk came out and welcomed us warmly. The church has some beautiful woodcarvings and frescoes. During the rule of the Ottoman Empire the monastery served as a secret school to preserve the Greek Language and Orthodox faith. The ‘old’ or original monastery was founded in 963AD. There is a gate onto a path at the bottom of the courtyard and it’s a walk of 1 or 2km, down and up along the side of the gorge.
On the main road from Dimitsana there is a right turn a couple of km before Stemnitsa that takes you to the monastery. It zigzags down the side of the gorge with endless hairpin bends. Eventually you’ll come to a signed turn off to the monastery.There is a parking area with a church and a viewing platform overlooking the gorge. The monastery about 1km further on along the dirt track next to the church. The monastery is an amazing sight, clinging to the cliff face. Inside there are several rooms with wall paintings built into the rock face that are open to visit including a small chapel and upstairs a balcony with great views of the gorge.
From Prodromos you can continue down to the bottom of the gorge where there is a bridge across the Lousios river. You’ll see a sign on the other side of the bridge for Ancient Gortys seeming pointing to an empty field. It’s a small but very interesting site, well worth visiting if you come to the gorge.The site existed in 4th century BC and was an Asclepion – a place for healing (Asclepios is the ancient Greek god of healing). There is a temple and a small circular room with stone alcoves around the wall, clearly meant as places to sit. Set in the ground in front of each alcove is a ceramic bowl, probably to hold water. Given that the site is right next to the Lousois River, healing through water purification rituals must have been central to the Asclepion. Being there, it seemed to us that the site was, like Delphi, a place of healing well before the time of ancient Greece.
Dimitsana (right) is a lovely town built on the sides of 2 hills above the Lousios Gorge. As this is a winter resort area the hotels and tavernas are open all year, and the food was good in the 2 tavernas we went to. It’s proximity to the Gorge makes it an ideal base for exploring the area. However, it is still a few kilometres from the town to the bottom of the gorge.
Walking in the Lousios Gorge
Hiking through the gorge needs some planning. The walk through the gorge is about 15km long, too far to go up and back in a day if you want to explore the gorge, and there is little in the way of public transport. The village of Elliniko, south of the Gorge is a good start or end point. In spring there can be flash floods that make the gorge dangerous and it is closed to visitors on these days.