Hiking the Menalon Trail from Vytina to Nymphasia
Our trip to Greece feels like an awful long time ago, but I’m determined to continue sharing more about it, picking up from where I left off. I last wrote about driving around the Mani Peninsula. We had done some research on the Menalon Trail, a 75-kilometre trail in the region of Arcadia, that consists of eight different sections going through nine small villages in the mountains. I don’t remember where I initially came across information about the trail, but when I read it, I was immediately captivated by the sound of this close-to-nature hiking trail in a country away from home. There wasn’t too much information online about it, or it was difficult to find (I mostly went off a lot of Tripadvisor reviews and old YouTube videos), so I was also under the impression that it was not going to be too popular.
We weren’t going to do the entire 75 kilometre hike, since we didn’t have a lot of time and obviously wanted to see other parts of Greece. So we settled on doing one or two sections of the hike and picked them out beforehand. We initially thought about doing Elati to Vytina, and the section after that, Vytina to Nymphasia, but we actually only ended up doing the latter due to poor weather, and since the trail was a bit more tiring than we initially thought. We went at the right time, as May to September is the recommended time to do the trail, but I guess we didn’t have any prior experience of this area of Greece, so this was all new to us! 😊
After we left Kardamyli and drove away from the Mani Peninsula, we found ourselves in Dimitsana, which was on the way to where we were staying in Vytina, and also one of the villages on the trail. There is an open air and water museum there, and we surprisingly spent a lot of time there, learning about the history of the area but also watching some of the museum staff conduct demonstrations of the machinery. The Menalon Trail could be accessed from behind the museum, so the museum is sort of on the trail.
We drove into the very small town of Dimitsana, and since it was a little too late for lunch, we ended up having more of a dessert and ate waffles at a cafe. The locals seemed very relaxed, and the woman who owned the cafe even left her belongings there and was hanging out at a local shop before she came to serve us.
Driving around this area of Greece was very tricky as the roads were very narrow – sometimes two-way roads really only having space for one car, and main country roads being quite narrow too. As we approached our accommodation in Vytina, the roads and parking proved tricky because there wasn’t much room for error. If you made a wrong turn, it would be difficult to turn around. Both Apple Maps and Google Maps failed at certain points while we were driving around these less populous regions, giving us directions down roads that could have damaged the tyres or car, or that didn’t even seem to be a road through. Apple Maps does quite terribly in Greece because of the lack of English translations and poor ability to read Greek letters (it was literally saying “Greek letter A greek letter C Greek letter N…”), but Google Maps is better with that, and also better with finding locations to eat or see things because of better translation, and user contributions. It wasn’t stressful, it was just something we had to allow time for and not rush.
We spent the evening exploring the very small town of Vytina, chilling out in our accommodation, and then eating at a restaurant in town. There isn’t too much to check out in town, to be honest – a few shops and eateries, and guesthouses, and there is a small forest called Vytina Grove with some play equipment. We visited it after our hike the next day and it was eerily quiet.
The next morning we tried to get off to an early start. Our house-made breakfast prepared by the owner and her mum was more than enough for both of us. They had homemade lukumades, which I couldn’t get enough of, even though they were not necessarily the most amazing thing in the world.
Our experience hiking the Menalon Trail was very good. The section we did was one of the shortest sections, being 5.6 kilometres at an estimated two hours. (The longest section is close to 15 kilometres.) The path was clearly marked with square green signs with the Menalon Trail “M” logo. The trail can also be part of other “non-official” routes, so it’s important to pay attention to the signage. Plain coloured squares without the “M” logo usually indicate other routes. The trail is actually maintained by volunteers in the community, and they put in a lot of work for the initiative, which stems from the desire to share the beauty of this area with visitors.
The first part of the trail had us walking through some scrub. It was a bit more scrub and bush than we were used to, and there were lots of spiderwebs to remove, but we managed. There was an open flat rock area where we saw a small gorge, and then had to continue through more scrub which eventually became more sparse. This part was quite uphill, with some more slippery rock surfaces. We heard voices behind us but throughout the rest of our hike, the hikers behind us must have stayed far behind because we didn’t spot them either.
The main attraction on this part of the trail was Tzavarenas’s bridge, which we crossed just after spotting a land turtle walking across the path. It was hot and dry during our visit so you could walk on the riverbed after the bridge, but there was a swampy area full of mosquitoes that we avoided. The shade from the trees and this area was welcoming after having the sun sort of on us for a while.
As we got closer to Nymphasia, we found ourselves walking through a narrow trail amongst lots of trees, with the altitude increasing and decreasing every now and then. It wasn’t consistent. We passed what was labelled as an old fountain but didn’t much look like one, or it wasn’t well maintained. We did get some nice views of Nymphasia before we found ourselves on a dirt road that led to the town. There are quite a few parts of the Menalon Trail that involve walking close to a road, so may not offer much in terms of being close to nature or exploring nature. This seemed to be the case for the section between Elati and Vytina. We debated getting a taxi to some part on the trail and walking back, or to Elati to check out the town.
Nymphasia was a very quiet town with a tavern that didn’t even really look like it was open, but the owner was sitting outside with someone and having a chat, and we were able to buy some lemonade. We thought about what to do next. Nymphasia was a lot quieter than we expected – even though we knew Vytina was the village known to have better provisions and supplies – it still surprised us. Something I gathered from what we experienced is that it can be hard to tell what the feel of a place is, no matter how much research you have done on it. We read countless reviews about the Menalon Trail, about Vytina, and about some of the other villages on the trail, but I don’t think that prepared us for exactly how quiet the whole area of Arcadia was. Since it seemed likely that rain was coming, and we discerned that Elati would not have much to offer, we decided to walk the few kilometres back to Vytina on the road. It would be a lot more straightforward than taking the trail, only taking about half an hour, and not taking a taxi would save some money.
I did feel just a little bit disappointed that the trail was not completely what we expected, but still glad to experience it. I would infer that if you were doing the entire trail, you might enjoy it as a whole – the section from Vytina to Nymphasia was cited as a “restful” one. Considering how hilly it was and the amount of climbing we had to do, I can’t quite imagine how the rest of it might be! Would it be more tough for the other sections? Nick and I aren’t exactly inexperienced hikers, but maybe Europeans have better stamina than us? 😂
Back in Vytina, we stopped by the Grove I mentioned earlier, and we accidentally confused a local’s herding dogs when he was herding some goats! It was such a strange sight. The dogs headed towards us and were barking, and I was a little worried, but the person called the dogs and they left us alone. It started to rain at this point, but we ducked into a restaurant and had a nice hearty meal since we were hungry after the hike and the walk back to town.
I will keep the next bit brief and try not to sound like it was a disaster, but we had an incident with the car and collided with a giant fallen rock on the road later that night. 😰 Although everything worked out alright in the end and none of us were injured, it caused an oil spill and we deemed the car no longer safe to drive. I phoned our host from our accommodation immediately, sort of in a panic, while Nick phoned the car rental company. Our host and her mum ended up driving over to where we were, and we waited in her car for over an hour, out of the cold, until the tow truck came to pick up our damaged car. It had taken a long time because we were so far from the next major town and the car rental company was about to close for the day.
This all happened close to 9:00pm on the main road, albeit a narrow country road around the side of a mountain, as we were driving back to Vytina from Lagkadia. Lagkadia was one of the other villages on the trail and was only a twenty minute drive away, and we wanted to have a look and get dinner there. There had been warnings of heavy rain, but it wasn’t that heavy when we driving. Unfortunately, after having a short look around Lagkadia, there was a hailstorm, and it continued while we were eating dinner in the town. The dinner was very good, to be honest!
Before we walked to the restaurant for dinner we had waited for the rain to pass and spotted this stray dog. It followed us and was behaving really strangely. It spotted us before we drove away, and we weren’t sure if it was playing around or actually trying to bite Nick. 🥴
Once the rain and hail cleared, it had left debris on the road including the big rock we ended up hitting. Nick is a careful and competent driver, but this was an unfortunate accident right on a corner, where it was difficult to swerve around the hazard (potentially other cars coming around the corner) and the rock was just too big to simply drive over. In hindsight we could have stopped and put the car emergency lights on and physically moved the rock, but we didn’t think about that at the time because of the nature of the road. When our host drove us back to the guesthouse we spotted a lot of debris on the road – rocks were everywhere. She had also told us it was quite common for these sorts of accidents to happen in the area, which made us feel a bit better about what had happened.
Although we were rather shaken, this didn’t ruin our trip. We are eternally grateful to our host who helped us in this situation, even grabbing some documents we needed while Nick was on the phone to the car rental company. They turned out to be a pain to deal with on the phone, but the paperwork was smooth the next day. (We obviously had to pay for the damage for the car, but it was a lot less because we had some insurance.) We had been due to return our rental car to Athens the next day, and they did try to get us another car but there wouldn’t be much point since we were going to return it anyway. Our host helped us to find a taxi driver willing to drive us two hours to Athens. It cost a pretty 200€, but it was a lot easier, quicker, stress-free, and direct, compared to the other options of getting buses with transfers.
It wasn’t long before we were on our way to Rafina, less than an hour away from Athens, which was where we would stay for a night before beginning our trip to some of the Greek islands. Although it was a shame about what happened with the car, it didn’t completely disrupt us and we were back on our itinerary. 💕