Deep into the mountains of northern Peloponnesus, is the small town of Kalavryta. Located in the state known as Achaea, it is about an hour and a half from the major city Patra and a little over two hours from Athens, placing it far from the noise of the city. The drive up to Kalavryta is very beautiful and consists on endless mountains and valleys, with sight of the sea in the distance. There is even a vintage railroad track that stretches from the sea side in Diakopto, all the way up the mountain to Kalavryta. It is a small narrow train, built in 1885 and still continuing to carry passengers today.
It is not extensively known to tourists and people from other countries, but the legacy of Kalavryta rings strong for Greeks. The small but mighty town has many instances in its history where it refused to be ruined or extinguished by its enemies and oppressors. One of the earliest and noblest stories centers around the fight for Greek Independence.
Agia Lavra is a beautiful monastery about a ten-minute drive outside of Kalavryta. The monastery was built in 961 A.D. and is situated high on the hills of Chelmos Mountain, surrounded by forest. This holy place would be destroyed and rebuilt many times over generations, mainly due to war and violent trespassing armies.
On the same hill is a memorial commemorating the Greeks who fought during the War of Independence. This monastery is related to this noble fight and seen as the birthplace of the Greek Revolution. The term “Eleftheria H Thanatos” or freedom or death, was first spoken at the Monastery of Agia Lavra on March 25, 1821. This date is one of the most significant in the modern Greek calendar and is declared Greek Independence Day, celebrated by Greeks worldwide. The brave action was taken by the Bishop Germanos of Patra, as he raised the flag of the revolution from high on that hill in front of the monastery.
This small mountain town is a part of the larger story of the evil that overcame Europe and the world in the twentieth century. During World War Two, Nazi forces used violence and oppression to invade and control many parts of Greece. The horrors that happened here remain one of the most known stories of Kalavryta.
On December 13th 1943 Nazi German forces invaded the small town of Kalavryta. The German’s mission was to trap the Greek Resistance fighters hiding in the mountains around Kalavryta. In October when this mission was set in motion, Greek forces kidnapped 78 German soldiers and later executed them. This was such a blow to the Germans pride that they ordered a severe execution to be taken out in Kalavryta. Through their hatred the Germans burnt villages and killed residents on their way up the mountain towards the town. They finally arrived in early December and a few days later rounded up all of the men and older boys to be executed. The rest of the town including women and children were locked inside Kalavryta’s school building, never to see their loved ones again. The town was set on fire and those in the school somehow broke out of the school building before tragedy struck. While this was happening, all the men and boys were taken to a hill overlooking the town. It was here for all the town to witness, that they were senselessly executed by gunfire. A total of 438 people died in the town of Kalavryta that day and 693 people totally after the destruction of what was called “Operation Kalavryta”.
Today, a memorial stands in the place of this tragic massacre and disregard for life. A large white cross was placed on this hill overlooking the town. Below it is a small church and tall memorials with the names and ages of those lost, written on it. As you enter Kalavryta, this powerful monument is hard to miss. To go up close, follow the windy road Odou Kalavriton-Filias up the hill. Visitors are welcome and there is a small parking area adjacent to the monument.
The people of Kalavryta are warm and welcoming. The main gathering place and town square is situated in front of the church Assumption of Theotokos, at the center of town. A paved walkway runs in front of the church leading up the hill. The walkway starts at the small Kalavryta train station and continues to the other side of town, lined with shops selling local goods like chamomile, oregano, and honey. You cannot miss this cute walk way as the stones its paved with are placed to mimic railroad tracks.
The town is especially popular in the winter time as there is the busy Hionodromiko Kentro Kalavryton ski center about a twenty-five-minute drive up the mountain on the main road Odou Kalavriton-Filias. Accommodation in Kalavryta is available year-round, and provide the perfect opportunity for a mountain getaway. The mountains around Kalavryta have lots of incredible features, like natural caves. The Kastira Cave is located on the same main road just after the ski center and about twenty minutes from town. The cave was further explored during the 20th century, although its shallowest points have been known to the local residents for generations. The total length of the caves reaches two kilometers and within it, it has thirteen freshwater lakes of varying sizes. The “Cave of Lakes” as it is called is a unique geological experience, hidden within these calm mountains.
Kalavryta can be reached by car or by bus services leaving from Athens or Patra. It has small town vibes with traditional taverna restaurants and small shops, but also holds a heavy and profound history within it. Although it is popular during the winter and ski seasons, Kalavryta is full of life in the summer months as well. Most visitors are family who have origins in the surrounding villages. It is quiet and peaceful and not frequented by many travelers. A trip to Kalavryta will help you feel rejuvenated and connected to nature, at any time during the year.