The journey to Stymphalia can start from either Nemea or Kiato. Stymphalia can be likened to an umbilical cord firmly connecting mythological fantasy with historic reality. In the spring and the autumn the natural magnetism of the lake is as equally attractive for animals and humans alike, its waters irrigating the land to provide us with food.
In the winter months Stymphalia becomes a mysterious enigma. The curtains of mist provoke visitors, placing him in a dilemma. To stay and try to pass through that veil of mystery coming into contact with the past, or to climb to the peaks of the surrounding mountains with his feet firmly planted in the reality of the present.
The charm of the lake is its double personality: on the one hand the beguiling charm of the unknown past based on myths and fantasy, collections of memories offered to each romantic visitor; on the other hand, a living organism, a rare hydro-ecosystem offering wild life and natural beauty enriching the quality of life of everyone in the area.
While surrounded by villages it maintains an air of distinctive solitude, setting it apart from the rest of the region, rich in history, fantasy and reality.
Its appearance may have changed over the centuries but it remains a place attracting and charming visitors, enriching human fantasy.
If there are no signs today of its long history, the impressions remain, it is sufficient to recognize them to be brought into contact with the past. In this mysterious place time is lost and all that remains is the sound of life giving water from its ancient springs, running from archaic columns, which become streams where migrating birds rest without the fear of attack by the Stymphalian Birds.
It is the only highland, lakeside town in the Peloponnese with an ancient city and acropolis, surrounded by mountains, to the south mount Oligyrtos and to the west the birth place of Hermes, mount Cyllene.
The municipality of Stymphalia lies between the slopes of the mounts Cyllene, Apellavros and Oligyrtos. Its villages of Kastania (with its settlements of Karteri, Mikros Machalas and Kastania), Lafka, Drosopighi, Stymphalia (with its settlements of Stymphalia, Kionia and Matsiza), Cyllene, Kalliani, Psari, Asprokampos, Kefalari and Kaisari radiate magnificence, distinction and beauty, awakening memories and feelings of euphoria in the wayfarer.
Each village has its own unique charm and all unite, richly contributed to by history and nature in an indigenous environment that retains its authentic identity.
The history of Stymphalia, that bares the same name as the mythical hero Stymphalus, the first inhabitant of the region, loses itself in the depths of time, making it a sacred place in the pages of Greek history. Myths and legends surround Stymphalia, in the thick rushes that still grow on the shores of the lake, the mythical hero Heracles carried out his sixth labor, with his bow and poisoned arrows he killed the Stymphalian Birds that ravaged the area. The fearsome birds with their brazen feathers and claws, nested in the marsh and caused catastrophe when they rose up in flight.
The tomb of King Aepytus, brother of Stymphalus, keeps alive the greatest legend of the area: a lover of hunting the king died of a snake bight and was buried with great honours and lavish wealth somewhere on mount Gerontios, even today archaeologists are still searching for it.
In all the villages there are monuments to Greek history, monasteries and churches contribute to the cultural wealth of the region, which invites us to be charmed by its physical beauty.
The first village of the municipality, Kaisari adorns the surrounding countryside. The church of Metamorphosis of the Savior dominates the village, while on a nearby hill stands a circular tower of the middle ages called Goulas, which was built with stones possibly from a temple of the Hellinistic period, From the tower the, one has a panoramic view of the plain. Facing the village is the monastery of The Holy Virgin that is worth a visit.
The second stop on the journey is Kefalari, an isolated village, of amphitheatrical construction at the eastern foot of mount Zireia. The small village square is shaded by an enormous plane tree that has been growing there for three centuries and has its own history that is written on a sign nailed to its trunk. From the ancient plane tree a footpath leads into the plush spruce forest. In the village the stone built school stands out. Kefalari owes its name to a spring that offers its limpid waters to the small church of Aghios Georgios close by, at the spring, pilgrims and wayfarers can stop and quench their thirsts with its crystalline waters and enjoy the wonderful view that opens up before them.
Crossing the plain towards Nemea, we come to the small, simple and lovely village, where the hill of Gavrias stands imposingly. The hill has two fortresses that look towards Nemea, Skoteini, Kandila and the valley of Stymphalia, offering an excellent view of the surrounding countryside.
The next stop on the journey is Psari, with the churches of Aghios Nicolaos, The Holy Virgin and Aghios Georgios, built in the 19th century. To the south the ruins of the monastery of Aghioi Theodoroi are to be found, which was amongst the oldest and richest of the area. Three kilometers to the north of Psari lies the isolated church, Aghia Paraskevi. Psari is a place that offers it’s visitors rare moments of peace and harmony while its churches enchant one with their simple beauty and the devoutness that radiates from them.
Descending from Psari and taking an enchanting journey which crosses the countryside through an area with towering trees, well kept fields and a view of Stymphalia in the background one arrives at Kalliani, the municipal seat. Kalliani is a village typical of highland Corinthia with its fine house of Oikonomopoulos standing in the center of the village that today houses the magistrate’s court. Twenty minutes away from the village on foot, lies the monastery of Aghia Paraskevi, hidden in a ravine, the beauty of the place untouched by the signs of time, in harmony with its sacred surroundings.
Leaving Kalliani and taking the road to mount Cyllene one comes to the village that takes its name from the mountain, with its water mills, excellent examples of the traditional life of the area. Having quenched one’s thirst with its icy waters one can continue the impressing journey through rich spruce forest that ends up at mount Cyllene, the birthplace of Hermes and Pleiades and the lair of Pan and the Nymphs.
To the north of the lake is the village of Stymphalia, built in a marvelous, natural environment, and surrounded by springs with limpid waters. The lakeside area of Stymphalia is the starting point of two natural footpaths, to the left and to the right of the lake. Each year in mid- September, a large market festival takes place, attracting people from all over the Prefecture.
Kionia is a traditional settlement with stone built houses, of amphitheatrical construction at the foot of mount Cyllene. Close to the village are the ruins of the Ancient City, which archaeological trowels brought to light in 1930. During the period of the Frankish occupation, a church with basilica was built using materials from the temple of Artemis, the ruins of which are to be found close by. Despite the wear and tear of time large parts of it still remain intact.
Drosopighi or Basi is a place of historical monuments, the gentleman’s house, Notaras has been preserved and also a tower from the Turkish occupation. There are two churches of special interest, the monastery Holy Trinity and the church of Aghia Paraskevi. The drinking fountains in the village wait to quench the thirsts of visitors. Of unique interest is the footpath of Pausanias, which starts from Kionia, continues on to Drosopighi, crosses to the north of Karteri and ends up in Kastania, the walker following the footprints of Pausanias, through an area with a great variety of vegetation.
On arrival in Karteri the visitor will be impressed by the stone built church of Aghios Evstathios in the center of the village and the open hospitality of the residents. Approximately one and a half kilometers from the village there is a large ravine of particular beauty with natural footpaths to the right and left. A journey of rich natural beauty along the ravine, accompanied by the aromas and sounds of nature will lead us to Zireia.
Karteri is well worth a visit, apart from the natural beauty, the church of Agios Athanasios, with its imposing temple adorns the village. The folklore museum contains excellent examples of popular crafts, with old household utensils and rare agricultural tools. In the center of the village is a memorial to men that fell for their country by the sculptor Fanis Sakellarios of Lafka. From Lafka there is a walk through the spruce forest to the small church of Aghia Sotiria. The spring with its crystalline waters and the natural surroundings offer an ideal place to stop and relax. For walkers and hikers Lafka is the starting point for treks along the mountain ranges of Mavri Korfi – Oligyrtos – Mavrovouni, along a forest dirt road, which is suitable for all cars!
In winter or in summer, sometimes snow covered and other times deep green, the forested slopes of mounts Oligyrtos and Gerontios conjure up enchanting images in the eyes of visitors to Kastania. Nationally renowned, Kastania is a resort for all seasons. Whether it is at its famous guesthouse or in rented rooms, the open hospitality of the people will make a stay here unforgettable. The traditional Fountain of Kalos, welcomes visitors at the entrance to the village and the statue of the leader of the freedom fighters, Papa- Georgios Nikas, reminds us of the time of the Turkish occupation.
The spring Trikrina close to the guesthouse turns back the clocks, to the time when the Nymphs bathed the young Hermes in its crystalline waters and showed him the magical, panoramic and unforgettable view, the glory of Kastania.
Stockbreeding and agriculture are the economic mainstays of the municipality. The sultana vines in the lower regions and the fruity Agiorgitiko grapes, especially on the plateau of Asprokampos, comprise an extremely important area of vineyards.
Stymphalia leaves the visitor with memories of a dreamlike landscape, which unfolds between the sounds of birdsong and images of the steep slopes of mount Zireia. The forests and aquatic areas are the home to 118 species of birds in this protected area, contributing to the conservation of the natural ecosystem and the fauna and flora of the entire region.
Closely tied to history and tradition, magical places full of mystery and rustic beauty that capture the senses, the beautiful villages of Stymphalia offer many kinds of alternative tourism.
Leaving Kastania behind we arrive at the saddle of the mountain where we see before us the plateau of Pheneus.
One of the most beautiful mountain regions of Corinthia, with the seat of the municipality in Goura, Pheneus has justly been characterized as the “Swiss Corinthia” for its uniquely beautiful situation. It consists of the former communities of Mosia, Mesinos, Matios, Ancient Pheneus, Kalyvia, Steno, Pheneus, Syvista, Panorama and Ano- Kato Tarsos. The astoundingly beautiful peaks of mounts Aroania and Cyllene reflect in the crystalline waters of the artificial lake Doxa and the small island in its center is the “Pontikonisi” of Corinthia.
The region of Pheneus stretches out over a large plateau, triangular in shape, surrounded by thickly forested mountains and neighboring with Achaia to the west and Arcadia to the south. The plateau of Pheneus has great aesthetic value due to its role in Greek mythology.
The rivers Olvios and Doxa brought the winter waters to the plateau and as they had no outlet to the sea the plateau became a lake, slowly the natural drain holes which still exist at the foot of mount Saita absorbed the waters of the lake. Some maintain that Heracles made the drains, while other mythical versions present them as the entrance to Hades.
According to historical evidence, the first settlement in Pheneus was created by the Pelasgians and later in 1,900 BC it was inhabited by Arcadians.
The Mycenaean center of Pheneus was created in 1,500 BC by the Ancient Greeks, who under the rule of Agathinor the King of the Arcadians, sent 60 warriors to the Trojan War.
On the northwestern edge of plain of Pheneus and close to the present day Kalivakia, is the acropolis of Pheneus. During the excavations of 1958-1961 the temple of Asclepius was discovered.
In an imposing position overlooking the lake of Doxa the monastery of Agios Georgios is situated. The monastery was founded in the 14th century and during the years of the revolution of 1821 it functioned as the headquarters of the “Friendly Society”, under the leadership of the Abbot of the monastery, Nathanael, who was helped by Abbots of the neighboring monasteries. Under the leadership of Kolokotronis congresses of leaders of freedom fighters from Arcadia and Corinthia were held there, while many wealthy residents from the region were of important help donating large sums of money to the monastery, making it an economic force in the area. The monastery was restored in 1754. It has three floors with an internal central court where the church of Agios Georgios stands, a basilica with dome containing excellent wall paintings. A point of interest is the wood carved and gilded temple, full of scenes from the Old Testament. The view from the monastery’s balcony is very imposing presenting the eyes of the tourist with “wild” virgin beauty.
Goura- Steno- Tarsos – Pheneos – Panorama
The road from the monastery leads to Syvista, Steno (by a dirt road) and Goura, the seat of the municipality of Pheneus.
The distinguished stone built church stands out in the very attractive square and the gentlemen’s houses of the 19th century, which belonged to the leader of the freedom fighters, Nicholaos Oikonomos, Sarlis and Mourtis.
Continuing the visit, we come to Steno, with a point of interest the fountain in the trunk of a huge plane tree that quenches the thirst of all visitors.
The road continues to the north, following the bed of the river the Olvios through a very beautiful spruce forest. A diversion to the west on the road for Tarsos will take us to the village of Pheneus, with traditional stone built houses and its important folklore museum.
In the villages of Ano and Kato Tarsos is the abandoned monastery of Panagia tou Vrachos, built in the opening of a huge rock with a fantastic view towards Zireia.
To the south of Goura we find the village of Mesino and close by, a little to the west the ruins of Ancient Pheneus.
At an altitude of 1,000 mtrs. and to the north is the interesting village, Panorama, with the 13th century, Byzantine church of Agios Dimitrios. The village’s two taverns offer traditional food and good wine.
The majority of the residents of the municipality are farmers and stockbreeders.
This mountainous land with its virgin beauty and open the hospitality of its residents leaves visitors with the feeling that the beauty of life lies within nature.