Can a journey by train be a destination in and of itself? In the case of the historic line connecting seafront Diakopto in the northern Peloponnese with the mountain village of Kalavryta the answer is a definite yes, as the journey into the mountains makes for an enchanting short break.
The odontos or rack railway line (a rail system involving toothed rails and gears that allow trains to climb steep inclines) in the region of Achaia is one of the Balkans’ most unique due to its construction – it is the narrowest railway line in Europe with a width of only 75cm – and due to the exceptional beauty of the route. The track winds along the Vouraikos gorge and river, passing through dense forests of plane and fir trees, numerous narrow tunnels carved through the rock and crossing a total of 49 bridges.
Along the way openings to cave systems can be seen as well as impressive stalagmites. Some of these appear to recreate scenes like naturally formed dioramas, such as at the site known as the Dikastiria (or Courthouse) – so named due to the formations that resemble a judge presiding over a court.
According to myth the gorge was formed when Hercules split a massive rock that was blocking his path to the sea and to his love, Voura, after whom the gorge and river are named. Together with Helmos mountain, the gorge forms part of a protected national park with a large number of endemic species of plants. 27 of these are endemic to the Peloponnese, 90 are endemic to Greece and 5 are unique to the mountain of Helmos itself.
The ecosystem is also rich in wildlife, with otters, bats, frogs, terrapins, golden eagles and kestrels among the animals to be found on the slopes of Helmos. In the alpine meadows various species of colorful butterflies flutter among the wildflowers.
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