If you are looking for an alternative way to spend a few or several days in nature, we highly recommend this beautiful mountain destination!
Αbove Akrata, in a quite short distance from Athens (about 200 km), at an altitude of about 1,000 m, is Zarouchla. We had the opportunity to visit it in early November and we really enjoyed it.
Text & Photos: Argyro Athanassopoulou
The route: On the road to Zarouchla
A tour at the village Zarouchla and local delicacies
Temples of Zarouchla worth visiting
The Stone Tower of Zarouchla
Alternative hiking trails: Zarouchla - Solo
Solo village: Acquaintance with the birthplace of the brave chieftain
Nikolaos Soliotis & the Church of Saint George
Lake Tsivlou: A paradise crafted by nature
A short trip to Zarouchla's past
The route: In the road to Zarouchla
You reach Akrata from Athens (about 150 km) via the Athens-Patras national road. There is a sign showing the way to Zarouchla (about 35 km). This is a route with several turns that requires attention. During the ascent of the winding road from Akrata to Zarouchla you will have a nice view of the Corinthian bay and Central Greece and if it has snowed also the white peaks of Parnassus mountain. As you approach the destination, the blue of the sea will be replaced by the green of the firs and plantains that often form arches above the road. The image of the small waterfalls on the left of the road is becoming more frequent as you approach Zarouchla, and the same and the same applies to the Kratsi Rivers, which run under the road.
If you make a stop and get out of the car, you will see the green slopes of Helmos mountain, succeeding one another and as a musical background the river waters crossing the mountain ravine, flowing from the top of Helmos down to Akrata.
We tried it and were fascinated by the peace we felt, let alone by the plane trees, which then gave nature a different color with their orange autumn leaves.
Kratsi's small watergalls magnetize the look
A few meters after the sign, telling you that you have arrived at Zarouchla, the hotel "DRYADES" welcomes you at the slope on your left. From up there you can see the tiled roofs of the stone buildings of the settlement, which is built on the slopes of Helmos and at the depth of a ravine, framed by yellow-green plane trees and walnut trees, most of which had lost their leaves, while others were hanging yellow, waiting for the breeze to blow them away. This panoramic view from the balcony of the hotel over Zarouchla, encouraged us to get to know it closer. Responding to the call, we went down for a ... tour. The main road of the village is surrounded by few beautiful guesthouses and picturesque taverns serving local delicacies such as, rooster in wine red sauce, lamp in oregano etc. it’s all what you need after your excursions to nature.
At the tavern “Yannis”, we ate the delicious roasts that Yannis bakes himself. At the entrance of the village there is a small shop where you can buy local products such as handmade pasta, spoon sweets and honey and aromatic plants. A similar shop awaits you at the other end of the settlement, providing also other small merchandise. If you want to enjoy your coffee or your drink, there are some choices. On your way to the Tower, on your right hand, you will find a café-bar next to the stream. If you continue walking, in 300 meters, you turn left and you see another café-bar, with a wonderful view of Zarouchla from its balcony.
At Zarouchla, there are some temples that are worth visiting. One of them is Agios Dimitrios at the entrance of the village, built from stone in post-Byzantine times. At the foot of Prophitis Ilias mountain, on the right side of the settlement, is the church of Agia Triada, in the courtyard of which the plane trees accompany the bell tower, which testifies the old age of the church. The interior walls are covered by frescoes that are kept in good condition. The area around the temple is named after it.
The Zarouhla`s Tower
In Agia Triada, 800 meters from the center of the settlement, there is the stone tower of Zarouchla. It is best known as the Tower of Asimakis Fotilla. He was a great chieftain of the Greek revolution and according testimonies, he lived there for a while.
Since 1979 the Tower belongs to the civil engineer Kostas Aggelis, who, respecting the tradition and the cultural value of the medieval tower house, has transformed it into a magnificent guesthouse. In the interior of the Tower the traditional decoration dominates, which creates the right atmosphere to feel that you live in another era. Close to the Zarouchla Tower there is another fortress, the Tower of Papadimitropoulos, which unfortunately is half-destroyed.
Having as a starting point the village Zarouchla, you can enjoy many hiking or cycling routes and of course, nice trails for four-wheelers. Apart of waking up early in the morning and eating a rich breakfast, shoes suitable for hiking are essential and it is good to have water with you and something to eat during your excursion. Walking up on the slope of Prophet Elias, there are 3 caravan forest roads that lead through the forest to the nearby village of Solo. Starting from the road that passes in front of Zarouchla Tower, you will after 1 km and a long uphill come across a small chapel, Agia Paraskevi. Take some moments to breathe the fresh air and enjoy the panoramic view of Zarouchla. Green fir trees cover the hills around you, while near the settlement the trees that dominate are plane trees, chestnuts and walnut trees.
Leaving behind us this beautiful painting, the ascent to the mountain continues.
First Route: At 300 m from the chapel, on your right, you will meet the 1st forest road that leads to the settlement of Solo after 6 km. The highest point of this route is around 900 - 1,000 m.
Second Route: If you do not turn at this road and continue to hike, at about 2 km you will find the 2nd forest road that ends outside Solo and leads to Kastraki and Golfo`s fountain. If you want to visit one of these two places, you have to turn left. If you turn right, you will go to the main road that comes from Akrata. Left goes to the nearby village of Messorongi, while on the right it passes by Solo. From this route you will reach the altitude of 1,300-1,350 m, before you head down to Solo, walking about 8 km in total. The two routes, as they cross the mountain, are parallel to each other.
Third Route: At 3,5 km from the chapel of Agia Paraskevi, you will meet the third and bigger road that ends at Solo, after passing through the famous Golfo`s fountain. Approximately 2 km before reaching the fountain, you will find a forest road of one kilometer on your right, connecting this route with the second, Zarouchla-Solo.
The fountain of Golfo
On this third route you will reach up to Parsopos ridge at about 1,500m altitude, before you continue to the rear side of Prophet Elias. Similar with the other two routes, while crossing the forest, the black firs with their tall and straight trunks, will catch your glimpse. The deeper you go in the forest, nature is getting more dense. Everywhere green. If you do your excursion in autumn, among the green of the firs you will see some touches of orange or yellow color from the deciduous trees that host the Zarouchla forest.
On the way you can hear only the birds' tweets and the rustling of the leaves. Having now passed on the other side of the mountain Prophet Eliah and descending, you will reach the stone fountain of Golfo. The distance from Zarouchla is 14 km. A stop for drinking the clear and fresh water and having some rest is a must. It is an opportunity to embrace the beautiful scenery and to listen to the sounds of nature, to see the towering fir trees with the big roots that had been revealed, as the dirt that covered them had been swept away by the rains. Those who make the trip on foot, especially in the autumn, will see some mushrooms, as the area around Solo is famous for this delicacy. They grow in the roots of chestnut trees and are a delicious dish. As there are also poisonous mushrooms, you better admire them rather than try to cut them (if you do not know!). After having relaxed and quenched your thirst, you continue another 3 km to reach Solo. Always accompanied by the smell of nature and the music of the river, your choice choosing this route will justify you.
At 500 m from the fountain, towards Solo, you will see another sign showing the road left to Kastraki. There, after passing the river - the waters of which are very cold even in the summer - is a monument from a battle that took place during the Revolution. During the summer months, you can camp at this place, right by the river. From there you can take the path till the place called Waters of Stygos, or follow the river to the peaks of Chelmos for a cup of tea. Continuing on the road to Solo, after 2,5 km the picturesque settlement welcomes you and a stop there is recommended.
-An also beautiful and short route from Zarouchla, leads you to Kryoneri. Crossing the main road and reaching the edge of the settlement, take the road to Feneos. At 3-4 km you will come across a sign that will point you right to Kryoneri. After 1.5 km you will reach the source of the waters that cross Zarouchla, Kryoneri. It is a small route that most of the visitors love to explore in the summer mainly by bicycle.
Acquaintance with the birthplace of the brave chieftain Nikolaos Soliotis
The souls of the village are the Zipropoulous, Mr. George and Mrs. Christina. They are the only inhabitants who guard and care for the village until the end of November, when they descend to Akrata, where they remain until the spring. Then they return back to their tavern.
From the beautiful balcony of their tavern - when the weather is good, you can see the neighboring villages and the mountain Parnassus in the depths of the horizon. Their tavern ("ITIA") is at the entrance of the village, as you come from the main road from Akrata, on the right, 5 km before you reach Zarouchla. The smiling of both of them welcomes you to their village We were given pure tsipouro to warm up and they offered us a place near the fireplace that burned loudly, because, although early November, these days it was very cold. Mrs. Christina cooks marvelously, and her husband is an amazing baker. We suggest you try the handmade pies and the baked bread from Mrs. Christina`s hands, which is baked in the wood oven. The candy sweets they make are also exquisite. There, you can notice the photos on the fireplace of the different types of mushrooms. One of them is from a mushroom of 15 kilos, which was published at the Guinness Book of Records.
The church of Saint George is the monument of the village and it is worth to see. Mrs. Christina, who keeps the keys, will be willing to guide you. It was built in 1806 by the chieftain and famous stone craftsman Nikolaos Christodoulou. Everybody knows him as Nikolaos Soliotis, the pride of the village, who first picked up weapons against the Turks.
The church was built from stone and on every outer wall on the stones the names of the top builders who helped to build are engraved. At the entrance next to the door is the name of the foreman, Nikolaos Christodoulou. Also from both sides of the entrance, you will see engraved on the built-in stone slabs, the ancient names of the winds and the astrological signs. Beneath the porous cornice at the outer corners, there are the crenellations, while on the roof there is an internal crypt. The dome is decorated with dishes. The exterior of the temple preaches you for what will follow inside. On the left as you enter, there is the original icon of the Saint. What characterize the church are its wood-carved altarpiece and the paintings that adorn it. If you approach the images of Christ and the Virgin Mary beside the sanctuary, you will see the scars from Ibrahim`s sword.
Inside of Saint George church
The charm of the temple is also witnessed by his chandelier. The chieftain's stall is embellished with depictions of himself, while his wedding wreaths are kept in a small museum-library in the temple with other objects, such as silver candles, an old Bible, and icons. Souliotis left them in the church to be used for those who didn`t have the money to get married. The church is open only at the celebration of the name day of Saint George. At this day of year, the inhabitants who moved away from Solo, are gathering for the celebration. Not far from the temple, there are the mansions of Sotirios and Nikolaos Soliotis, which formerly were connected with each other. If you have an urge to reach Zarouchla crossing a forest road rather than the asphalt road that comes from Akrata, and if you have not filled up with oxygen, we recommend returning the first road we mentioned above from Zarouchla to Solo.
-The man who can accompany you on the excursions in the forest of Zarouchla is Mr. Nikos Papadimitropoulos (tel. 2696 02233, 6947839609), who knows the area better than anyone else.
Lake Tsivlou: A paradise crafted by nature
After the famous fountains and the noisy waters of Krathi, which dominate the excursions in Zarouchla`s area, there is another idyllic picture which again has to do with the water element: The Lake Tsivlou. 8 km before Zarouchla, as you ascend from Akrata, a "discreet" sign on the right shows you the way to the lake, which you should put in your excursion program when you arrive at your destination. She owes its creation to the inexplicable nature. In 1913 a landslide blocked the waters of the Krathi River, creating the lake. In fact, it destroyed the settlement of Silibena and part of the neighboring settlement Tsivlou. Even today you will see the branches of the towering plane trees of the sunken village emerging from the waters of the lake. The locals say that if you dive (about 80 m deep), you will see the roofs of the houses from the sunken village. We advise you to avoid it because the waters are dangerous.
So, after taking the road that the sign shows, crossing a dirt road about 2 km away, a glowing blue surface will slowly begin to emerge from above the fir forest, composing a magical scenery with the lush green slopes surrounding it. There, enchanted by this wonderful image of nature, we have discovered and propose wonderful paths around the lake for hiking. For those who are a little bit more risky, the bike is not a bad idea, and is also ideal for the lovers of four-wheel vehicles. The area is good for hunting and we encourage you to harvest the eatable wild weeds that you can find all around the shore. In about one hour of hiking, when you have finished the tour of the lake, you can have a wonderful picnic next to the lake, if you have the necessary equipment. If not, there are taverns around. As it is rich in fish, we suggest that you get fishing gear and try your luck under the pine trees, or you can do canoeing in the lake`s waters. In summer, it is perfect for camping around the lake. Therefore, this excursion, in this masterpiece of nature, is a must.
A short trip to Zarouhla's past
Through the historic buildings, we get to know aspects of Greek civilization that started many years ago. In the Stygos Waters, which are poured into the Aroania Mountains (Chelmos), according to mythology, the ancient gods were descending for taking oaths, while the goddess Thetis, bathed Achilles there and made him immortal. Herodotus and Pafsanias speak of an ancient city, Nonakri, which today is supposed to be somewhere near the village of Solo (about 5 km before Zarouchla). In the early 19th century, many families lived in the area and the role of the fighters who lived in the region was very important for the Greek Revolution. The monuments, we met almost everywhere, testify the battles that were fought in the region during the Revolution and also after.
Taking the way back, you will feel overwhelmed by the oxygen, in love with the beauties of nature, full of energy and well-being from the activities offered by the area, and once again you will see how incomprehensible Greek culture and tradition are. The mountain complex of Chelmos allures you for hiking, the waters of the rivers and the lakes urge you to be a part of them. A weekend in Zarouchla is never enough. You'll always want to come back and try other things you did not do. Dimitris Alexopoulos, the owner of the hotel "DRYADES" said, «Zarouchla is never the same, there is always something that waits for you to discover it ...»