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Secret Greece:

The road to

Andritsaina

You have been to some of the wonderful Greek islands, sojourned the classical ruins of Athens perhaps, reclined on the endless sandy beaches of the mainland. But have you been to Andritsaina and its neighbour, Karitena?

 

By David Hetherington

Andritsaina.

Image © Robert Newey

We took the road from the village of Strefi near Ancient Olympia where we are based and drove along the evergreen coast road through Kato Samiko and Saharo to Tholo. Here we turned left up into the mountains that peak at nearly 8,000 feet in the Taygetus range in the heart of the Peloponnese.

Our guide Nikos Karatouliotis explained that the myriad olive trees on the lower slopes were small in stature due to the fact that tens of thousands of acres of olive groves had been destroyed by the fires that ravaged the area in 2008. We looked at one tree where the trunk had been felled and new branches had grown out at the base to produce a vigorous new bush.

 

Fires

Over ninety residents had perished when the fires enveloped the numerous picture-postcard villages in the folds of the hills. As we passed through some of them they now seemed peaceful and idyllic.

 

We stopped to take in the vista of the mountains we had been through with deep blue sea visible in the distance. Everywhere the fragrance of herbs and flowers fills the air.

Next, a stop in the attractive village of Nea Figalia for a capucino at a modern cafenion where the waitress greeted us by enquiring where we were from. Everywhere people are relaxed and friendly and interested in visitors.

 

Many attractive houses and cottages in Nea Figalia are constructed in the white limestone that is quarried in the area.

 

We continued up and onward by serial hairpin bends. The late September weather was perfect for travelling and our photographer insisted on frequently stopping the car to take another photo of a breathtaking mountain vista, a village nestling in the woods, or simply an ancient stone-terraced mountain field.

Shepherd

When Andritsaina finally came into view we were above the old town that had been a regional capital for centuries. Under the red tiled roofs are several old mansion houses, some of them in need of renovation

Nikos Karatouliotis and

David Hetherington.

Image © Robert Newey

According to tradition, the place owes its name to the wife of a Cretan shepherd named Andrikos, who -chasing his runaway sheep- came to a spring on mount Lykaion.

 

He liked the place so much he decided to settle there and built an inn that after his death was kept by his wife Andrikaina (meaning "the wife of Andrikos"). From her name and from the local pronunciation of "kai" as "tsai", the inn was named "the hostel of Andritsaina".

 

We had lunch at a restaurant named after the first fountain in the Peloponese, (I Trani Vrysi) built in 1724 in the main square. The beef steak that I chose was flavoursome, but somewhat on the tough side. The Greek salad and Tsatsiki though and the village wine, all excellent. Over a relaxing lunch we inhaled the feeling of being somewhere unique and off the beaten track - only a couple of German back-packers impinged on a scene that would otherwise have been entirely local in colour and content.

 

Kolokotronis

Afterwards we went to the Nikolopouleios Library but found it to be closed. We were told that it was a must place to visit as it contains a collection of rare manuscripts from the 16th and 17th centuries as well as other important documents and artifacts relating to the 1821 War of Independence.

 

Nearby is an imposing statue to the Greek freedom fighter Theodoros Kolokotronis.One of our party won- dered aloud if there might be a 21st Century Koloktron- is to rescue Greece from their current imprisonment by the European Un- ion. e mountains seemed to whisper an opaque response in the tradition of the Oracle of Del- phi. I felt we were traversing a land of eternal tragedy and triumph.

 

A distance of about 30 kilometres took us through more magnificent scenery to another impressive mountain-side village, Karitaina, just over the boundary in Arcadia. The village is dominated by a tumble-down Castle and dates back to the Middle Ages before it bacame the seat of a barony under the Frankish Principality of Achaea. Alongside the remains of its Frankish castle, several other medieval and Ottoman monuments can be seen there.

The roads to and from this area of Greece are steep and demanding on driver and passenger, but every turn of the wheel is rewarded with unparalleled magnificence.

 

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