Welcome to the very heart of the Peloponnese, where Greece's fourth largest prefecture will impress you with its nature and heritage. Nature abounds here, as Arkadia – or Arcadia – is considered a haven for eco-tourists and hikers. The area has even left its mark on European art and literature, such as Nicolas Poussin's paintings dubbed Et in Arcadia Ego. Arcadia's capital Tripoli works well as a hub for discovering the eco treasures and attractions of this region.
While Tripoli features many neoclassical houses and an Archaeological museum, the beauty of Arcadia lies in its raw countryside and little villages such as Karitena with its stone houses, narrow streets and Frankish Fort. Don't miss the Frankish bridge over the river Loussios with its gorge, or the ancient site of Gortys.
The historical and heritage-filled village of Dimitsana is certainly worth a visit – not only for its fascinating stone-built architecture but also for its cuisine and traditions – and so are the villages of Stemnitsa (known for jewellery making) and Lagadia (known for its skilled stone artisans and beautiful nature). These and many other villages were in danger of crumbling away as the people of Arkadia left the hardships of recent decades to seek a better live in Athens or abroad, but there are efforts to preserve the way of life, traditions and declining population to hopefully offset this decline. Ecotourism will certainly help keep this prefecture sustainable and economically viable.
One of the pretty mountain villages is Vlacherna at 1100 meters with its historic monastery by the same name, as well as the site of the Beneniko fortress which is today occupied by the Monastery of Eleousa complete with six churches, underground chambers and storehouses.
Not far off is the stunning summer resort town of Vytina, its climate tempered by the dense forests of Mount Mainalo. Its history as centre for learning hidden from the eyes of the Ottomans and its local crafts today make it an interesting spot to visit. Explorers in the area might also come across the ruins of an old town called Kernitsa with its many churches, or the notable Byzantine monastery of Our Lady Theotokos.
Overall, churches and monasteries from Byzantine times abound, adding a special historical spirit to the area. Fans of mystery bible stories may be interested to know that the grail mentioned in the book Holy Blood Holy Grail supposedly ended up in Arcadia after leaving the Holy Land.
On a greener front, the nature in Arcadia is very varied, with deciduous tree forests such as plane trees, Chalepios pine (common in Greece) and the evergreen black pine. A cedar forest unique to Europe can be found near steep rocks some five kilometres outside the lovely village of Agios Petros. Cedar woods are found to the south of the Malevi monastery. The trees are concentrated in Parnonas, mainly around the villages of Kosmas, Parstos, Paleochori, Platanaki and Agios Vasileios. Also noteworthy are the wildflowers of Mount Parnonas and the orchids on its slopes.
Lake Taka some 8 kilometres south of Tripoli is considered a prime ecosystem rich in fauna and flora, with 13 important species of reptiles, mammals and amphibians, in addition to migratory birds. The lake may dry up temporarily in summer. Rivers include the Ladonas, Alfeios (biggest in the Peloponnese), Erymanthos and Lousios.
All this nature of course means that any eco activity such as rafting, hiking, mountain climbing comes alive and reinvigorates the spirit.
While the mountains of Arkadia offer great hiking and mountain-climbing opportunities in temperate months, in the winter they are snow covered and represent a whole other range of activities. The Ostrakina ski center in Ostrakina in Mainalon (or Menalon), Gortynia, at 1600 meters has earned awards for its natural beauty. There are 8 slopes and 4 ski lifts to choose from, as well as chalet and guesthouse.
Lastly, for the archaeologist in us all, not far from Tripoli lie the must-see archaeological sites of Manitineia and Tegaea (or Tegea). Discover remains of an agora and Hellenistic theatre, baths and more, either from Roman or Hellenistic times and visit the Archaeological Museum of Tegaea to see the artefacts that came out of this site, be they from the Arachaic, Geometrical or Hellenistic period. The ancient cities of Megalopolis and Lycosoura with a myriad of relics must also be visited by any enthusiast of ancient Greek history.
In the vicinity there is Petrovouni – known for traditional furniture making – you can visit the remains of Ancient Methydrion and a temple to Poseidon Hypios. Part of the area was ravaged by forest fires in 2007, but is on the road to recovery now, thanks to the rich vegetation and spring waters. Ancient Lousoi is also reported to be in the area.
Arcadia, it seems, has it all for the ecotourist. Show it respect, and it will give you its bounty in delight...