Family friendly Corinthia all year round
This article is written by my good friend Eleni Fotiou, travel journalist & MAMAKITA* family travel consultant!
A family trip to the land of Corinthia, Peloponnese offers not only loads of fun for the whole family but is also incredibly rewarding. A pleasure for your palate after tasting local Greek products, discovering archaeological treasures and history, outdoor activities in beautiful nature and swimming in calm crystal-clear sea are only some of the benefits this unique destination provides.
“Where the climate favours wine-growing, civilisation is born,” I had read somewhere and so began our journey into the land of Corinthia. It may be merely an hour or so away from Athens, but it hides secret gems which, in turn, comprise the entire course of humankind and civilisation.
Corinthia, whose gentle hillside slopes are veiled with vineyards, whose rocks climb up all the way to the high snow-covered mountain tops, with the blue of the Corinthian Gulf which makes mainland Greece resemble an island, lends itself perfectly to family-friendly cycling and hiking excursions across the plains and plateaus, tasting of local delicacies and superfoods in the valleys, but also to more daring activities on its intense terrain.
Following the path of Pausanias: from Isthmus to Acrocorinth
Pausanias, an Ancient Greek geographer and travel writer, once wrote (in Corinthian dialect): “Whoever it was that tried to make an island out of Peloponnese, abandoned their digging through the isthmus before completing their work.” Ever since the 7th century BC, with the construction of Diolkos* (*an overland portage road along which ships could be towed from one side of the isthmus to the other) by Periander, one of the wisemen of antiquity, there had been attempts to join the two seas. The Corinth Canal is thus a trademark of Corinth and one of the most significant landmarks of the whole country, by which the young and the old alike are equally impressed. It was the first stop of our exploration trip to Corinthia!
The story of Corinth is imprinted in the museum “Grammi tou Hronou” (“Timeline”), which we then visited, where one is shown, in a modern and interactive way, the Hexamilion Wall and the attempts to cut through the isthmus parallel to the development of various scientific fields from engineering and geology to physics, mathematics and philosophy. The children enjoyed playing and discovering tremendously!
If you have more time than we did, alternatively, take a half or full day family and kids’ friendly tour to the history of the Corinth Canal, including a visit to “Grammi”, a guided tour to the archaeological sites of Isthmia, Ancient Diolkos and the ancient harbours of Kenchreai and Lechaio. You can also cross the canal by boat, so as to enjoy the spectacular man-made gorge from the inside, and the submersion of the bridges of Isthmia and Poseidonia, all the while marvelling at the natural steep limestone walls on each side of the canal.
Ancient Corinth and Acrocorinth with kids
The site of the Ancient Corinth and the Acrocorinth castle, come springtime, is dressed in red poppies. Outside the archaeological site of the Ancient Corinth you will find a children’s playground on a pedestrian zone and a cafe where you can get some refreshments.
In Acrocorinth, on the other hand, you can ascend the hill by car and enjoy the view and if your kids are older you can opt for hiking to the Penteskoufi Castle overlooking the Acropolis and the entire Corinthian Gulf.
In Ancient Sicyon and “Drupes”
The kids had dozed off in the backseat of the car as it moved inwards to the Corinthian land. Just as we had reached Ancient Sicyon, today’s Vasiliko, they were awoken to the intense chamomile scent in front of the ancient theatre. Even though not much of it has been revealed as yet, the grandeur of the theatre appears to rise from the soil peeking through wildflowers and is the best spot to enjoy the view of the ancient city.
As soon as we stepped out of the archaeological museum, we were met by Panagiotis Giannakenas. Panagiotis is one of those outstanding young people who, after having explored for a while, returned to his homeland and started cultivating exquisite produce of superb quality and taste and, with his own family in mind, invested in education. A father of three, he owns an orchard where he grows “Drupes” – fleshy stone fruits, such as apricots, peaches and the like. He makes products for a demanding palate like chutney apricots and balsamic apricot cream as well as his award-winning pomegranate molasses. If you visit his farm, he will be delighted to give you a tour of his farm himself and show you his apricot trees and his pomegranate shrubs which include all varieties that grow in the Mediterranean. You will also be able to see his animals which, being perfectly familiar with human presence, do not appear to be out of place in the least bit and are in absolute harmony with his sculptures and metalwork art that he himself crafts in the surrounding area. In a little shed he safeguards a “special” collection: “These are the remaining fruits from the production that we like to experiment with, for ourselves and our friends.” “Tenox” – strawberry, cocoa, coconut sugar; “Bostani” – vegetables from our garden; “Paidon gevsis” – strawberry, banana, apricot, agave; “Mexica” – strawberry, banana, apricot, cocoa, agave – read my eldest daughter from the handmade labels. “We, too, are your friends,” she said, grabbing a jar “for the pancakes” as she explained!
In Nemea: the land of vineyards and Agiorgitiko
As we left the sea behind us, vineyards began to paint the rolling hills of Nemea. Wine tasting may not be family-friendly as such, but it does set a perfect ground, and in a traditional way at that, for some storytelling about the myths of Dionysus, which will not only provide both you and your kids with educational background but will also be truly entertaining for all.
You can also visit the archaeological site of Ancient Nemea, the Stadion (English – stadium) where Nemea, the so-called ancient running event and part of the Ancient Olympic Games, used to take place and the revival of which takes place every 4 years with the next event happening in 2020 and the Monastery of the Dormition Rock, the visit to which is not suitable for prams, whereas for little kids – be warned that you are in for giving them a piggyback ride.
Lake Stymphalia and the Environment Museum of Stymphalia / PIOP
The Environment Museum of Stymphalia, which operates under the responsibility of the Piraeus Bank Group Cultural Foundation (PIOP), has now become an integral part of the lake. This is purely because it shows the interdependence of Nature and mankind by raising the ecological awareness of the unique importance of Stymphalia and by preserving the knowledge of the traditional technology which developed around the lake through centuries. Stymphalia is a bird reserve and the breeding ground for many a migratory bird species. As a matter of fact, the smallest fish in the Balkans, called Tsironi, also lives in the area. This is also where pre-industrial civilisation of the region developed over time.
Also, thanks to LIFE-Stymphalia project, supported by Piraeus Bank Group (PIOP) and Municipality of Sikyonion, an old, 1.8km-long path connecting the Museum with the lake’s banks has been reestablished which marks its cultural heritage. Children can easily take a walk on the path as it is quite short and not too high. But be careful when crossing the road because the path intersects with the asphalt at some point. Also, bear in mind that some rocks on the path as well as on the banks are difficult to spot because, depending on the time of the year, it can be challenging to see where the path ends and water begins. In any case, reaching the acropolis of Ancient Stymphalia is definitely worthwhile as you will be able to enjoy the view of the archaeological site and the lake and, in springtime, of the “swarm” of poppies, as our youngest daughter put it. All this is no longer than a 15-minute walk from the Museum.
In Stymphalia you will find lots of family-friendly grill houses which include a garden and more often than not a children’s playground as well.
Hiking in unknown forests, among unknown rocks
Two forests are known for their beauty in the area. Mogostos oak tree forest has been characterized as aesthetic and is protected by the Natura 2000 network. The neighbouring Velina is mainly a pine tree forest. Both of these are favourites among mountain cyclists and hikers alike as the trails are carefully signposted and have a magnificent view of the Corinthian Gulf.
A village named Psari Korinthias offers a number of passable hiking trails. After its complete destruction by the Nazis, the village was rebuilt and with the help from the Society of the Environment and Cultural Heritage (ELLET) and the “Paths of Culture” project, it offers easy, cyclical hiking trails with the Koimisis Church as a starting point. The easiest and most child-friendly one is “Alikos Vineyard” which takes about 45 minutes to complete.
Beside vineyards and forests which you will come across on your driving and walking routes in the mountainous Corinthia as you go up towards Goura or Feneos or towards the plateau of Ziria, you will encounter imposing geological formations. One of the most impressive spots on the way through the gorges of the hill country Peloponnese is Tarsos. Here lies well-hidden Lady of the Rock, which you can easily climb up to even with children. On the way to the seaside, you will find a pretty little village of Evrostini (or Zacholi) with not only nice tavernas but also a historic church of St. George and the Mills’ Creek, a charming place with little waterfalls and ducks which children are particularly fond of. Don’t forget to buy some biscuits from “Evharisto”. On the same route you will also find the Panagia Katafigion Church.
In the popular mountainous Corinthia: from Feneos to Trikala and Ziria
It was wintertime when I first visited mountainous Corinthia and the Feneos plain. The plateau was covered in thick fog which slowly dissipated into the afternoon sun. We reached the village Mati at the very edge of the plain to see the catacombs, which, as the myth goes, were Hercules’s work to drain the lake or they might have been the entrance to the Hades through which Demeter descended in her search for Persephone. Close to Feneos lies Ancient Feneos which is open to visitors and so Demeter’s shrines partially justify the second version of the myth.
Feneos, as seen from up high, Kastania and Goura, but also Lake Doxa are all beautiful landscapes all year round. In winter – often covered with snow, in autumn – with the whole spectrum of earthy colours, in spring – with poppies in full blossom and in summer – cool basins which rid you of scorching afternoon heat. You can go hiking (with children and prams), cycling (but mind the cars) and horseback riding around Lake Doxa or kayaking in the lake. Take a walk to St. Fanourios, a little chapel of the old monastery and drive up to the new St. George Monastery where the monks make amazing rosebud preserves.
You can also participate in the educational tour “Explore the water cycle”, which is led by geo-environmentalists, geologists and pedagogues. The tour includes a visit to the Kapsia Cave, one of the most beautiful caves in Greece, Ladonas Springs and a picnic on Lake Doxa. This tour, during which kids and adults explore water, combines all these sites of truly rare beauty with the myths of the area.
Ziria and Trikala may make a Greek immediately think of Christmas holidays and snow, but the nature of Mount Kilini has a lot more to offer than just winter ski trips. In fact, wintertime will never provide you with the beauty of the forest on the highlands, Lake Dasiou, the view towards the cave where Hermes was born and the encounter with the wild horses that live in the area.
Trikala (Upper-Middle-Lower) boast a plethora of accommodation options which are usually overcrowded in winter. In spring and summer, on the other hand, there is plenty of availability. Tavernas that teem with people during the holidays, have more room for you to enjoy your meals with your children during the rest of the year. Just outside Upper Trikala, towards the “Ziria Sports Centre”, that is – the ski centre, lies St. Vlasios Monastery while there is a network of footpaths both through the villages and in the mountains, you will find that you need someone who knows the area well to direct you as signposting has yet to be established. Ziria is perfect for mountain cycling in spring and autumn as long as you bring your own bicycles because the ski centre only offers ATV and Buggies.
Downhill lies the “Fysi K On” farm which is open to visitors from October to May. The kids are bound to love this place. Horses, donkeys, chicks, geese, ducks, lambs, a playground, basketball courts, football pitch, archery and all this nest to a wonderful cafe/restaurant. There is also a Horse-Riding Centre if you feel like horseback riding.
On the way down to the beach
When a friend of mine, who was to travel in a big company of friends including lots of children, asked me – Where do you reckon we should go? – I answered – To the Corinthian Gulf, of course! – she looked at me in wonder. Just a stone’s throw away from Athens, regardless of the time of the year or the weather, the coastline of the Corinthian Gulf is a hidden gem. In between Kiato and Xylokastro, at the edge of a pine tree forest lies Sykia. This village really makes you see the Gulf and the whole of Corinthia in a different light. Perhaps the only sandy, mistral-free beach in the entire gulf, with its pine tree forest perfect for walks and cycling all year round, Sykia is not only ideal for relaxation but also a starting point for excursions to mountainous Corinthia, Nemea, Corinth and Isthmus, as well as Perahora and Loutraki.
To really appreciate a place, you need to get to know it first-hand. To fall in love with it, you need the right people. This is how I met Daphne and the beauty of Corinthia suddenly unveiled itself.
Daphne and the most baby and child-friendly hotel in Greece
Daphne, a mother of two, first came to Sykia a decade or so ago to help her parents renovate their family hotel with a view to returning to Europe where she worked at the time. However, because she is one of those people who are utterly devoted to whatever they get their hands on and like to evolve along with everything else surrounding them, this “renovation” has never finished.
Today Daphne runs the Daphne’s Club, a hotel she herself turned into a real” home” for all. For foreigners and Greeks, for babies, toddlers, children and teens. Its singularity doesn’t lie in its privileged location only, but rather inside the hotel itself. The apartments are spacious and provide all kinds of comforts even for newborns and their nursing mothers. There is everything a new mother needs so she can enjoy a holiday: baby cots, feeding bottle sterilizers, breast pumps, a baby changing station, yoga mats, potties… you will even find a special tea for nursing mothers at breakfast buffet, which is made according to European standards but is also an authentic Greek product. More such products come from local producers like “Prigipisa Stafida” raising spread from Kaisarion, “Efhariston” biscuits from Evrostini, “Filema tis Lelas” jams, lemon preserves from the garden, cake made by Daphne herself with brown sugar and citrus fruits, and don’t even get me started on home-made, freshly-baked bread every morning!
The hotel provides all beach-related things (yes, the ones you always have to bring along and carry around if you have little kids), even beach towels, bicycles – both for children and adults all with baby seats – SUPs and kite boards, nordic walking sticks and the list goes on. You will also be provided with a complete travel guide for travelling with babies and small children which includes all services, activities and excursions that you can go on even with a pram. In the living room, there is a space for babies, a playroom with board games and toys, a library with children’s and adults’ books, musical instruments and DVDs with children’s films, and if you should need one, Daphne will arrange a nanny, a swimming lesson or a Greek language course for your child!
A walk to Pefkias
In the morning we all merged together in the garden. The playground and many toddlers, somehow didn’t disturb the quiet, fresh morning. No wonder Aggelos Sikelianos, an eccentric Greek poet, had chosen this exact place to be his summer home. We decided to take a walk through the pine tree forest and the kids started gathering pine cones with dedication. On our right, the peaceful blue sea stretched out, the air was filled with a mixture of sea and pine scent. The forest grew denser around the dirt footpath. Walkers, children on bikes, some with books to enjoy in the cool shade. “This is a perfect spot for ice-cream, mum!” exclaimed my three little ones all at once. A little cafe has just opened on a forest clearing! We continued towards Xylokastro and the playground on Iroon square. After some play, we followed the old railway tracks back to the hotel and enjoyed the sweet scent of lemon and orange tree blossom for a change.
In Sykia, Xylokastro, Melissi and Diminio you will find meat and fish restaurants and nice cafes by the sea which also serve a variety of dishes and cooked meals. In most of these, Daphne’s Club’s happy guests’ program has made sure you will have 10% off as a customer. Also, there are children’s playgrounds in Sykia, Xylokastro, Melissi and Kiato, an amusement park in Xylokastro and water fun park in Isthmus. But if you prefer activities in nature, organize a family-bonding or a strictly kids outdoor “Treasure Hunt” in the seaside pine-tree forest!
When the night fell, we heard a sweet melody coming from the roof garden. We climbed up and found a spontaneous concert taking place. There was Nemean wine and Corinthian beer on offer with the view of the sea, the Pefkias and the poet’s beautifully lit villa. There was a full moon that night. “Everything here is real…” my eldest daughter said and though I didn’t really know what exactly it was that she meant by that, I found myself completely agreeing with her.
*Mamakita.gr is a travel consulting platform designed to provide families travelling to Greece with kids with premium and personalized family travel consulting services based on first-hand experience and custom-tailored, family & kids friendly activities and experiences.