I first read about the Lousios Gorge in John Humphreys’ book, Blue Skies and Black Olives, where he describes its beauty and how he got lost on his first visit there.
I first visited the gorge with Leashia in 2013 and we returned in 2017 with Monique when we stayed overnight in the mountain village of Stemnitsa as it is a bit of a long drive from the Southern Peloponnese. I revisited the area in 2022 and stayed in Stemnitsa again.
The monasteries Philosophou and Prodomou are on opposite sides of the gorge and are both unique. The villages of Stemnitsa and Dimitsana are also worth visiting. Driving along the gorge is an amazing experience and words don’t really do it justice, photos help, but seeing it first hand for yourself is a must. You can approach the gorge from all directions and all routes are wonderful.
Karitena is a pretty village to the south of the gorge. The 13th century castle above the village dominates the area.
The main road that bypasses the village crosses the river Alfeios on a modern bridge that hides a Byzantine Bridge underneath so it’s a good idea to stop and take a peek. [Do not attempt to stand on the wooden beams on this bridge, it is falling apart].
If you are heading towards Lousios Gorge from Pyrgos you will probably pass through the dramatic Neda Gorge before reaching the pretty mountain village of Andritsena. You absolutely have to stop at Temple of Apollo on the way which is only 20 minutes west. The village hugs the mountainside and has a few well placed tavernas with wonderful views and there are a few pleasant accomodation options.
A few miles north of Andritsena is Sepetos Monastery. The original monastery was destroyed by fire in 1915 and has been completely rebuilt. It is spread over five levels and appears to hang onto the cliff overlooking the gorge. It is open to visitors in the morning.
At the southern tip of the Lousios Gorge are the ruins of Gortys next to an old stone bridge that crosses the river Lousios. No one is sure when the city of Gortys was founded but it was flourishing by the 4th century BC and by the 12th century it had been abandoned. The remains of a temple, baths and fortifications are still visible as well as the 11th century Church of Agios Andreas to the right of the ruins.
It’s a beautiful spot, you could take a dip here if you want but even in the summer the water is bloody freezing! So I only managed a paddle.
Not far from Dimitsana are the two Philosophou Monasteries. The ‘new’ one is 17th Century and has a delightful little church as well as spectacular views across the gorge. You may be greeted by an enthusiastic and friendly priest who will most likely sit you down, offer you water and tell you stories about the monastery in broken English. He had a strong accent and a speech impediment that made him sound like he was speaking through a kazoo which made him very difficult to understand. He was there to greet us in 2013 and again when we revisited in 2017.
The abandoned Old Monastery which was founded in the 1st Century, is separate from the new one and is a 20 minute walk down a crumbling and, at some times, precipitous path. The Monastery itself is almost completely hidden from prying [enemy] eyes and you do not know you are there until you are upon it. Amazingly it is built on a narrow ledge and blends perfectly into the gorge. The views are superb and if you have binoculars or a good pair of eyes you may be able to spy the Prodromou Monastery on the other side of the gorge. There is a path through the gorge joining the two monasteries, I presume this is where Mr Humphreys got lost. We have not tried this out yet.
A slow meandering road takes you to the Prodomou Monastery situated on the opposite side of the Gorge to Philosophou. Like Philosophou its setting is spectacular, a row of mostly wooden buildings seemingly stuck to the edge of the gorge and resting on a series of fragile looking poles!
Look at the photos – bonkers!
The priests are friendly and offered us a strong Greek coffee which gave us a nice buzz. There is a small church built into the rock which is fascinating as well as unusual.
The mountain village of Dimitsana is a great place to stop for refreshments or lunch while gazing down at the gorge below. It is pleasant wandering around the narrow streets. There is accommodation here but the amazing setting does mean the prices are rather inflated.
Stemnitsa is a delightful mountain village hugging the eastern side of Lousios Gorge.
We stayed here in 2017 at Gartagani Guest House on the edge of the town where were made to feel very welcome. We had problems finding it [even with Google maps – der!]. We must have looked pretty pathetic but a nice young man riding a motorbike showed us to the door. Breakfast was served in a wonderful vaulted cellar by candlelight due to a thunderstorm causing a brief powercut, we loved it.
In 2022 we stayed at the centrally located Tsarbou Guesthouse which was just wonderful. The rooms were beautifully decorated and comfortable and our breakfast was just perfect. Our host Christina [ably aided by her daughter Nikoletta] was very friendly and gave us superb advice when planning our route onward.
There are some lovely craft shops in the village and a pleasant square edged with Tavernas and an impressive 19th century bell tower. There is a large medieval church just opposite.
There are several marked trails and walks from Stemnitsa. You can pick up a well designed [and interestingly translated] map/ leaflet with helpful information from your accomodation or the trekking shop near the square. The short walk from the back of the square takes you past a couple of ancient churches including the Church of the Panayia Baphero which dates from the 12th century. The path ends at the ‘Heroon’ [tomb] Monument to Fallen Heroes which offers incredible views over the gorge and village.