Monastery of Saint John the Baptist in Arcadia

The Monastery of Saint John the Baptist (Agios Ioannis Prodromos) is also named the ‘Great Cave’ (Mega Spilaio) of Arcadia because it was built into a huge vertical rock on the east bank of Lousios Gorge by monks who lived in nearby hermitages. Thousands of pilgrims arrive here each year to explore this holy site, which offers peace, harmony and serenity.  

Location and getting there

Insights Greece - Monastery of Saint John the Baptist in Arcadia

Located near the villages of Stemnitsa and Dimitsana, the landscape is impressive and reminiscent of other holy sites in Greece, such as Meteora and Mega Spilaio. 

To arrive at the monastery, on the road from Dimitsana to Stemnitsa, turn right two kilometers before Stemnitsa and follow the signs for the monastery and Ancient Gortys. Following the signs for 6 kilometers from the turning point, you will reach the point where you must leave your car and begin a walk along a lovely 600 metre footpath.

The Church 

The church of Saint John the Baptist is a single-domed basilica, decorated with remarkable frescoes. Murals are also found outside the church, which are admired by all those who visit. 

The Monastery

This monastery is said to have been built in the mid 16th century, although the monks suggest its construction is much older, dating to the 12th century. Historically, the building was used as a refuge and hospital for local fighters during the Turkish occupation, due to its hidden position. From the balconies of the Monastery visitors can enjoy the splendid views of the luscious landscapes surrounding them.

What you will find here

There are workshops for painting and sewing sacred garments at the monastery and there is also an impressive collection of about 1000 historical books. The number of visitors who come here each year is huge, because apart from the spiritual journey, the monastery is built in a landscape of immense beauty, on towering cliffs, inside lush vegetation and with the Lousios River right by. Here you will be greeted by monks who show you around and offer coffee and local sweets to all their guests. 

Nature Walks

For those who love nature walks, two very beautiful paths begin at the Monastery of Saint John the Baptist. The first path heads left and takes you about 600 metres through a magnificent landscape rich in vegetation, then leads you down 200 metres to the Lousios Gorge. Here you will cross a new footbridge, and see the ruins of the monastery’s watermill, which were mentioned as early as 1630. 

The second route starts at the Monastery of Saint John, following the path to the right toward the Monastery of the Philosopher (old and new sections). About 650 metres down the path, approximately half way to the monastery, you will see a bridge linking the two banks of the Lousios. The monastery of Philosophos, located on the western side of the Lousios river gorge, is dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. The monastery consists of two sections- the Old Monastery and the New Monastery of the Philosopher. 

Insights Greece - Monastery of Saint John the Baptist in Arcadia

Who is Saint John the Baptist?

The  Prophet and Forerunner John the Baptist is also referred to as John the Forerunner because he was the forerunner of Christ. He was an ascetic and great prophet, who baptised Christ and became one of the most revered saints in the Orthodox Church. He was later beheaded by Herod in the first century to satisfy the request of Herod’s stepdaughter, Salome, and wife Herodias. As he baptised Christ, he is the Patron Saint of godparents. January 7 is the Feast Day of Saint John the Baptist and it is also a celebration and name day of those named Ioannis or Ioanna. 

A: Arkadias, Tripoli 221 00, Greece

*Main image courtesy of Blog of Dimi © (Copyright) 

9 Top Rafting Experiences in Greece

As the weather grows chilly, only winter swimmers dare to plunge into the water, but that doesn’t mean we should give up on the fun of aquatic sports. With fantastic rivers around the mainland of Greece, rafting is an adrenaline-pumping activity that often requires little to no experience.

There are numerous professional adventure sports companies that arrange rafting expeditions for individuals or groups and all you need to do is slip into a wet suit and follow a few basic instructions before hopping into a dinghy. Some added bonuses to the fun – being immersed in stunning, rich natural landscapes that include amazing flora and fauna, waterfalls, springs, rock formations and bridges, exploring the surrounding region and making new friends. Here’s a guide to Greece’s best rafting destinations.

River: Aliakmonas

Region: Macedonia

Greece’s longest river (300km) starts in Nestorio, Kastoria. Herons, falcons, storks, eagles and ducks populate the verdant area, where you’ll also admire Meteora-like towering sandstone rocks. The 6km route (3.5 hours), which usually starts at Fellos village, is ideal for beginners and families. According to Greek mythology, Aliakmonas was a river god.

Insights Greece - 9 Top Rafting Experiences in Greece

River: Aoos

Region: Konitsa

This somewhat challenging, 15km (4-5 hours) route starts at Aoos bridge (somewhere in the middle of Palioseli and Vrisohori villages), passing the green gorge and concluding at the picturesque, 20m high Konitsa bridge. Unlike any other river in the country, Aoos flows outside the Greek borders. If you want to enjoy a smaller, easier trip (1.5 hours) along the river you can arrange to raft from the Monastery of Stomio region, or follow an hour’s route that starts from the bridge of Bourazana, passing the ruins of Mesogefyra bridge and ending near the monastery of Molyvdoskepasti.

River: Arachthos

Region: Tzoumerka

This river too can be experienced via two different routes (2 hours or 4 hours). One takes you through the narrow gorge of Arachtos past steep rock walls that are 700m high. The route includes a stop at Glyki waterfall with its lovely – and very swimmable – pond. You’ll also pass the beautiful Plaka bridge, which used to be one of the largest of its kind in the Balkans, mountain springs and lush vegetation, and if you’re lucky can do some bird-spotting.

River: Evinos M

Region: Nafpaktia

Another great choice for rafting beginners, this 10m route (2 hours) the relatively calm river, which sources from Vardoussia, starts at Poros bridge, passing the beautiful Hani Bania bridge – and the Olympic kayak slalom course – going in a circle and concluding at Hani Bania again.

Insights Greece - 9 Top Rafting Experiences in Greece

Rivers: Loussios – Alfios

Region: Arcadia

A slightly more demanding rafting ride, this 8km (2 hours) route is one of the most scenic in Greece. The route starts at Atsicholos takes you through tunnels of trees, white limestone cliffs and a lush, a long narrow gorge, past beautiful arched bridges and natural springs. Trekking Hellas concludes the journey at the spectacular bridge of “Koukos” from where you can hike to a nearby waterfall. According to Greek mythology, Lousios is the river where Zeus had his first bath, while Alfios river, the longest in the Peloponnese, was named after a god.

River: Nestos

Region: Drama

This generally safe, shallow river is one of Greece’s five largest (234km) and favoured by rafting and canoeing fans. You can choose between the longer route (around 4 hours in total) that starts at Arkoudorema-Nestos and concludes at Paranesti or take the easier route (1,5  hours) that starts at the Platanovrysis Dam and ends at Paranesti.

River: Tavropos

Region: Εvritania

A great option for beginners and not only, this naturally stunning 10km (2 hours) route starts either at Gavreniti bridge or a little further along at Palia Viniani, with a stop at the lovely Viniani waterfalls and ends at the Megdova bridge.

Insights Greece - 9 Top Rafting Experiences in Greece

River: Venetikos

Region: Grevena

You can choose between a medium difficulty route and a harder route, in a 2 or 4 hour trip. The trickiest part of this river is between the bridges of Trikomo and Spanos. You’ll raft through lush vegetation and past splendid 16th and 17th century stone bridges. Some excursions take you past a double arched bridge that was once part of the railway and the three arched bridge of Aziz Aga, the largest of its kind in  Macedonia.

River: Voidomatis

Region: Zagori, Epirus

A 5km (1.5 hours) route in the heart of the Vikos – Aoos National Park, Voidomatis is considered one of the easiest to raft along, making it ideal for younger people and beginners. Starting from the beautiful Aristi stone bridge and ending at Kleidonia Bridge, you’ll get to enjoy some of the clearest and cleanest river waters in Europe.

*Main image via Argo Travel