On the south coast of the Gulf of Corinth is situated one of the most beautiful and most important towns in the Peloponnese, Xylokastro, the seat of the municipality.
In 1919 the foreign guests of the government of the time declared the town as a place for summer vacations. Today it is a resort attracting thousands of visitors who come to enjoy its beaches that have been awarded with “Blue Flags” and also to enjoy the unique, protected beachside pine forest. The excellent tourist infrastructure and the staging of important events such as the World Beach Volley Championships make Xylokastro a great attraction for Greek and foreign holidaymakers.
The municipality of Xylokastro-Evrostini extends from the lace like coast of the Gulf of Corinth in the north, to the highest mountain of the prefecture, Mount Cyllene in the south. The mountains with the great variety of traditional churches and monasteries, the splendid forests, the charming seaside villages and the enchanting coast, all characterize the municipality. The area has a mixed economy. The northern area with the center of Xylokastro is an area of tourism and commerce and in the southern area the main occupation is agriculture. The areas of Trikala and Mount Cyllene are also tourist areas.
From studying old documents we learn that between Xylokastro and Trikala was Ancient Pellini in the area of the village bearing the same name. The castle, which stood imposingly in western Corinthia, was undoubtedly that of Xylokastro. All that remains today is the memory and the name of the present day town. The castle was built in the time of the Frankish occupation, around 1260, to the east of the river Sitha, possibly in the area of Tsouka at Zemeno. It had visual contact with Acrocorinthos and the castle of Pellini, it commanded a view of the entire area including the Gulf of Corinth and protected the large village of Zemeno and the surrounding settlements. In 1402 it was destroyed by an earthquake. Later it was found in the Enetian catalogue of fortresses under the name of Scilo-castro and Solo-castro, still to the east of Sitha, until 1640. Following maps (1791) mention Xylokastro, west of the river Sitha.
Close to Xylokastro, between the villages of Kamari and Loutro, the torrent of Phonissa flows, with its renowned gorge that attracts the attention of climbers and hikers, being one of the most difficult to traverse in Greece. The descent of the gorge begins from the village Korphiotissa passing by cataracts and caves.
The municipality offers visitor special moments with seaside and mountain tours of unique beauty.
Following the old National Road between Xylokastro and Sykia, there is a natural pine forest that extends along the coast. Pine, myrtle, osier, cedar, Phoenician oak, wild bamboo, thyme, besom and another twenty varieties of plants have all developed in this semi-saltwater environment. A total of 83 varieties characterize Pefkias as a botanical garden and Aesthetic Forest.
The marvelous house of Angelos Sikelianos is preserved close to the pinewood of Sykia and will remain the soul of Xylokastro.
Churches and historical monasteries
Apart from the enchanting forest of Pefkia, a unique adornment of Xylokastro, visitors can see valuable churches and monasteries.
In 1621 the family of Notaraios built the church dedicated to Agios Gerasimos Notaras which was restored in 1954. Above the gateway is a mosaic icon of Agios Gerasimos and the inside of the church is decorated with mural mosaics of Byzantine technique. The low, marble temple is very beautiful with icons painted by Kontoglou. The imposing metropolis of Agios Vlasios, of Xylokastro is especially impressing, built at the beginning of the 20th century on the site of an earlier church; it has wonderful Byzantine wall paintings by Spiros Vasileios, Aginora Asteriadis and Fotis Kontoglou. The beautiful church of “Panagia of Phaneromeni” is very distinguished and was built in the style of an early Christian basilica. The architectural style is taken from the classical ancient Greek temples.
At the end of the 17th century an important monastery was founded at Kamari, the monastery Panagia of Korphiotissa. It is built on the hill called Korphiotissa and is dedicated to the Holy Virgin. It looks out over the Gulf of Corinth and offers its visitors a splendid view.
At Gellini is the monastery of Agios Constantinos, which is built in a huge rock and has many very old wall paintings, examples of its prosperity during the middle ages. The monastery has an exceptional view of Helydorea, Cyllene and the Gulf of Corinth.
Starting from Xylokastro, using the coastal road, one can cross the whole of western Corinthia as far as Derveni, journeying through seaside villages built along its endless beach. The journey towards the east takes one through the villages of Sykia and Melissi with their gorgeous beaches. Throughout the journey one can find rooms to let, taverns and grills by the waves of the aquamarine sea.
The most interesting journey from Xylokastro takes us on a journey of 22km. south to Trikala.
Trikala is the principal village of Cyllene, and is built on the ruins of Ancient Mysaio. It is consists of the settlements of Kato, Mesi and Ano Trikala. During recent years tourism has increased thanks to its marvellous natural environment. It was the home of the family of Notaraion that played an important role in the revolution of 1821 and later in the civil war.
The church of Agios Dimitrios, built in 1697, is worth a visit. Its expressionistic wall paintings of the 18th century are very impressing.
In Ano Trikala is the 19th century church of Agios Nicolaos with wall paintings by N. Santorinaios and valuable icons.
In Mesaia Trikala is the abandoned monastery of the Holy Virgin (Panagia), which was built in 1700. Continuing on the road from Ano Trikala we come to the historic monastery of Agios Vlasios traditionally believed to have been built around 1400, when an icon of the saint was found in a nearby cave. The courtyard of the monastery is decorated with trees and flowers, while the view of the valley of the river Sitha and the villages of Trikala, Manna, Stylia and Panariti enchants visitors.
Mount Cyllene (Zireia)
The ascending asphalt leaves the villages behind and leads into the heart of the second highest mountain of the Peloponnese, to the plateau of Cyllene and the ravine of Phlampouritsa. The area is characterized by open, uncultivated land, thorny bushes, hanging rocks, caves and plane trees. There is a wealth of vegetation with over 100 kinds of plants. To the left and towards the plateau is the large refuge for mountaineers and a little further on to the south a smaller one. The area is ideal for hiking lovers, as there is a large network of footpaths leading either to the valley of Phlambouritsa, a unique ecosystem that is a member of the organization NATURA 2000, or towards lake Dasio with superb pastures of wild flowers or towards Psili Korfi (High Peak) of the mountain at an altitude of 2,374mts, where one can see from Taygetos to Olympos. From the refuge there is another footpath, which leads to the cave of Hermes, to the west of Phlambouritsa, which is distinguished by its depth and its chambers containing colourful stalactites. Here according to mythology the Nymph Maia gave birth to Hermes. The descent into the cave requires great care and special equipment is useful. The slopes, which rise above the small refuge and up to the peak of the mountain, are suitable for skiing during the winter and the snow usually remains until the end of April. The ascent from the village Manna towards the rock faces at the summit of Mikri Zireia (2,127 mts.) is very interesting. The mountain’s many forest roads offer the opportunity to visitors wishing to explore. The journey across the plateau towards the village Goura is unforgettable, through rich spruce forests and pastures with wild horses.
The villages of Xylokastro offer sights for all eyes to enjoy with the variety of landscape, historic monuments and the warm hospitality of the residents throughout the region.