Lefkada is an island that is usually promoted through its unique beaches. But, beyond those, the island holds secrets that call for you to discover them. From the seashores to the mountaintops, nature has gifted it with wonderful locations, astonishing canyons, caves that hide secret passages and travel you through legends and history, with springs, rivers and waterfalls that you could not imagine that exist, with ruins of old settlements, mills and churches that struggle to reveal their presence through the vegetation that has tightly embraced them.
Canyons – Springs – Waterfalls
The small but beautiful rivers of the island offer beautiful paths in a natural environment that is hard to believe that exists on such a small island. They spring from the mountains and create natural water monuments on their way. The precious element of water brings life to the wild vegetation on its way down to the sea. In the past it was the driving force of nowadays ruined watermills that you will come across on the incredible paths within the island’s canyons. Furthermore, it forms amazing waterfalls and supplies countless springs that have always been the centres of the locals’ social life.
There are many interesting routes!
Starting from the north of the island, we come across one of the most famous canyons, the one of Melissa. It is located between the villages of Apolpena and Kavalos and it is accessible via the road from Lefkada to Karya. Near the monument at the site of Mpoza you have to turn right and hen come across the road sign that points to the entrance of the canyon. There is a well maintained path with small wooden and stone bridges. On the pathway, except the rich flora (plane trees, willows, ferns, kermes oaks etc) you can see the remains of small settlements and watermills that used to work along the torrent. Furthermore, the area is a shelter for many species of animals and birds. The route starts from the old stone bridge before the great arc near the spring of Spilia (Cave). On the way, you will come across two different pathways of equal beauty, one towards Apetasti and one towards Kako Lagkadi.
Going southwards from the eastern side of the island, at the height of the settlement Episkopos and east of Sfakiotes and the plain of Karya, you will come across the waterfalls of Akoni and their wild magnificence. In a virgin landscape of exotic beauty, along with the torrent’s waters that supply the spring of Akoni, you will see a variety of rare wild flowers of the island, dense vegetation, watermill ruins and you will reach the waterfalls that fall from high above, creating a small natural pond. You can reach the site by car either from Lazarata, via a challenging road network, or from Nikiana. However, there are no road signs to help you along the route and even the locals need help from somebody who knows the area very well to tour within the region.
The most famous and advertised canyon is the one of river Dimosaris. It is located west of Nydri (the tourist resort of Lefkada’s eastern coast) and its springs are found near the village of Platystoma. Dimosaris is fed by several torrents and is accessible for the public at an area that is specially shaped for trekking and is located west of the settlement of Rahi, where the river forms a great waterfall. The path is paved beneath plane trees all along the water flow and small wooden bridges lead you to the great waterfall, where you can enjoy a cool swim in the small natural ponds that are full of water even during the summer months.
A little further to the south, at the village of Haradiatika, there is the homonymous canyon that begins from the mountain village of Alatros. The torrent Haradiatikos (or of Agios Nikolaos) runs through the canyon and ends up at the location of Steno, before the bay of Vlyho. The route is amazing, among plane trees, laurels, kermes oaks etc. On the way you will come across ruins of old watermills. There were 13 watermills in the area, three of which were working until 1965, and two washing facilities for fabrics and carpets (nerotrives).
At the semi-mountainous village of Syvros you will see many springs as the torrents of the region create beautiful sites on their way, with dense vegetation, small waterfalls and dreamy paths. North of the village, on the road that leads up to the mountainous village of Agios Ilias you will find the spring of Arhontiko (300 metres away from the road). In Syvros, northeast of the village, there is the small canyon and the springs of Kerasia, with plane trees and ivies, which supply with water the renovated watermill that functions there as a café. A little to the south, the park of Daphne, a beautifully shaped walk with a paved pathway, and further down the picturesque route with the spring and the waterfall of Anteliko complete your cool stroll. The broader region once had 24 watermills, while today only their remains can be seen.
Between the villages of Vournikas and Marantohori there is a small natural pond, the lake of Marantohori, which is a small but important water biotope that hosts many species of birds and amphibians. It is surely worth visiting. You can access it from Marantohori via the country road that goes past the old monastery of Agios Georgios and through the road that connects Vournikas to the village of Kontarena, a little below the also old monastery of Agios Ioannis at the location of Rodaki.
A little bit to the west, on the foothills of the mountain Stavrota, the canyon of Roupakias, with the homonymous torrent. The torrent of Roupakias is 15 kilometres long and it may be the longest one on the island. Its springs are found at an elevation of more than 600 metres between the villages Komilio Hortata and flows into the gulf of Vasiliki. Along its way there were two dams, an old stone bridge and watermills. Two different waterfalls are formed in the course of the torrent and it is also supplied with water by smaller torrents of the region. Its dense vegetation consists of plane trees, laurels, cypresses etc. There are many springs in the broader area of Agios Petros and Roupakias.
The island is covered with vegetation wherever you look. There are, though, some large forests that are really characteristic.
The Venetian olive grove at the plain of Lefkada with more than 4000 olive trees.
The great pine forest at Pefkoulia, from Tsoukalades to Agios Nikitas, the pine forest of southern Lefkada in the broader region of Agios Petros, also known as the forest of Pontzos, and, finally the unique on the Seven Islands oak forest of the mountain Skari.
The plateau of Agios Donatos
The large plateau of the central part of Lefkada is particularly interesting. It is called the plateau of Agios Donatos because of the small church with the same name that is built on its east side. It is surrounded by the villages of Egklouvi, Exanthia and Hortata and covered by large arable lands, mostly with lentils but also cereals. It is a very beautiful area with scattered wells, old threshing floors and ruins of “volti”, an old settlement of stone huts that used to be the summer dwellings of the local farmers.
Before starting our tour of the island’s natural secrets we should definitely mention its caves. The island has a large network of caverns that are, however, not accessible yet, although some of them have already been explored and have revealed a treasure of archaeological findings (that are being kept in the Archaeological Museum of Lefkada). Nevertheless, many of the caves are especially interesting and closely connected with the life of the locals because they were often used as shelters in the past and there are many mysterious traditions and beautiful stories about them.
Just at the south-eastern outskirts of the town of Lefkada there are already two caves of special interest.
The one is Asvotrypa (Badger Hole) at Fryni that is said to have been a shrine dedicated to nymphs, sileni, satyrs, Hermes and Pan. The archaeological findings of the cavern include clay votive idols, embossed pictures and other ceramics from the last phase of the Neolithic Age (4500-3200 BC) that are exhibited in the Archaeological Museum of Lefkada. The cave, according to the findings, was a refuge for the first inhabitants of the island.
Just to the east, at Apolpena, there is the Alabaster Cave. It was discovered in 1971 and explored by the speleologist Anna Petrohilou. It has a big chamber (100 metres by 15-25 metres) and rare white and transparent stalagmites like alabaster, but also red ones in beautiful combinations that divide it into sub-chambers (Alabaster Chamber, Gallery Chamber, Chamber of Rocks, Lower Chamber, Red Chamber, Chamber of Giants). Furthermore, you can see roots of surface plants hanging from the roof of the cave, some of which are more than 5 metres long. The stalagmites were named according to their shape (Motherhood-Mother with Child, Yacht, Snail). Although there is already a study for its utilisation, the cave is not open to the public. (Newspaper Echo of Lefkada, Year 1, Issue Number 5, May 1971)
While we are still at Apolpena, we should also mention Hirotrypa (Pig Hole) that had been a refuge of the town residents during the time period between 1940 and 1941. It is considered to be the largest cave of the island but it is still unexplored. Samples of Neolithic civilisation have been found there. It is not open to the public.
There are smaller caverns in the area of Ai Giannis, while the homonymous small chapel was built inside the cave where Paul the Apostle made the first “pray gathering” in Lefkada, in 65 AD, during his brief stop on the island.
Between the villages of Apolpena and Kavalos, beneath the canyon of Melissa, there is the cave of Mpoliatso. Archaeological findings of the Neolithic Age have been discovered there. The findings are hosted in the collection of the Archaeological Museum of Lefkada. It is not open to the public.
A cave of particular archaeological interest is Hirospilia (Pig Cave) that is located outside Evgiros, a village of southern Lefkada. The cave is found south of the village, on the road towards the bay of Skydi that, according to W. Dörpfeld’s theory about Homeric Ithaca, was the harbour where Telemachus disembarked when he returned from his trip to Pylos. The cave, according to the same theory, was the place where the loyal swineherd Eumaeus had his pigsty and where Odysseus organised his plan to annihilate the suitors. W. Dörpfeld discovered the cave in 1902 along with many items that indicate that the cave was inhabited already since the Neolithic Age, but mainly during the Copper Age and the Mycenaean years, and even until the Classical Period. The findings consist of stone tools and agricultural artefacts, animal bones and horns, clay tools and pottery, and many more that are kept in the collections of the Archaeological Museum of Lefkada.
There are also many caves in the broader region from Hortata to Agios Petros and Ponti, all of them villages of south-eastern Lefkada. In a cave of Hortata W. Dörpfeld found. in 1905, the remains of offerings, clay pots and idols from the Classical and the Hellenistic Period that indicate that this had been a place of worship. In the region of Agios Petros there are many caves that connect to local legends, such as the cave of Kakonyhtis and the Hole of Vaggelas that are probably linked with each other. Furthermore, many smaller caverns are found in the same area, at the location of Skalopetra, where the persecuted locals sought refuge during the German Occupation and the Civil War. There are more caves at the location of Panohori and the location of Koskina. Finally, at the coastal settlement of Ponti, near Vasiliki, there is a cave on the level of the surface of the sea, with a small sand beach inside it.
Additionally, there are caves on the eastern mountain sides of Stavrota, at the villages of Syvros and Agios Ilias. The most famous one is the cave of Karouhas, southeast of Syvros, which is, according to tradition, connected with a cave that is found higher to the north, above the village of Agios Ilias, at the location of Agia Paraskevi.
In almost every village of Lefkada there is a cave linked with local legends and traditions.
Finally, at the coasts of Lefkada, especially the western, south-western and south-eastern ones, there are many small caves, accessible only by sea, such as the cave of Agios Ioannis, at a beach west of the village of Tsoukalades, around the Cape of Lefkatas, from the bay of Desimi to the bay of Rouda and elsewhere. The most famous sea caves are located in Meganisi. These are the caves of Papanikolis and Giovanis. The “Fokotrypa” (Seal Hole) in the small island of Kastos is also well known.