According to local myth, Paris abducted queen Helena of Sparta via this bridge over the Rasinas river. The current bridge is old, but not that old. It dates back to the 1st century AD, during the time the Romans ruled Sparta and surrounding area. As such it is one of the oldest stone arch bridge in Europe. If you are not afraid of heights, you can cross the bridge over the river.
The bridge is located at the entrance of the Anakolou gorge and is signposted in the village. From the village square you follow the road in southern direction towards the Taygetos mountain. Stone steps on the left side of the road – marked by a sign – lead towards the bridge.
The excavation at Agios Vasilios
Towards the center of the valley archeologists are uncovering a new Mycenaean palace, with the only Linear B archive ever found in Lakonia. It possibly is the palace of King Menelaos and Queen Helena of Sparta – also known als Helena of Troy. Excavations started in 2010, but are currently at a standstill due to the lack of funding. Even with most of the remains covered up, it still is an impressive place to visit.
Take the road from Xirokambi towards Sparta. 150 meters before the main road, you see a dirt road on your right marked by a little white chapel. Park your car and walk the dirt road up the hill to the church of Aghios Vasilios (Saint Basil). Look for marble columns and slabs used to built the church. You can wander around and see if you can see some ancient walls.
The Anakolo Gorge starts above the open-air theater. Take the first two bends and you find yourself in awe: highrising cliffs – including a stone arch – dominate the view. The winding road leads through the Anakolou gorge, all the way to Koumousta (6 km). To the left mount Stefani rises up steeply to a height of 1026 m. With more than 6o springs, there is water in abundance in the gorge. Even in the height of Summer, when the river is completely dry, you can hear water dripping.
Below the arch look out for the remains of an ancient irrigation channel cut into the rock face, locally called the Devil’s stream (ΔΙΑΒΟΛΟΑΥΛΑΚΙ). At the first crossing over the Rasinas river it is worth looking for another old stone bridge. It is almost hidden by the new concrete crossing, but you can still walk it and see it properly from the other side. A bit further down a dirt road to the right leads to an old olive grove and an easy crossing over the river. To continue to Komousta go back and follow the main – paved – road.
When you walk back to Xirokambi you are rewarded with great views over the Lakedaemon Valley and the village of Xirokambi. The view is especially captivating during sunrise and sunset.
If you follow the Anakolo Gorge six kilometers into the mountains, you arrive at the medieval village of Koumousta. The people of Xirokambi lived here from the 15th century till halfway the 20th century. The inhabitants of Koumousta slowly moved down the mountain, once living in the valley was deemed safe after centuries of unrest, invading groups from the Balkans and Ottoman occupation. Now only a few people still live in Koumousta. For a long time the abanded houses fell into ruins, but the last decades many of the houses have been restored and are used as summer residences.
The fertile fields and orchards around Koumousta are still in use; hence the busy travel in the gorge. Church visits and celebrating Greek holidays with food, music and dance in front of the fountain of Koumousta are also popular.
Koumousta hiking routes
At the end of the paved road to Koumousta, you arrive at the village square. Here you can park your car and continue on foot. Explore the village via its cobbled paths or take one of the marked routes starting here.
A beautiful walk is the route through the forest to the Monastery of Golas (1,5 hours one way).
Walking and hiking
Both the valley of Sparta and the surrounding mountains are great for walking and hiking. You can choose between relaxing strolls in between the olive groves, relatively easy walks in the foothills to walking the E4 – the long distance path from Gibraltar to Crete passes above Xirokambi – to climbing to the top of the Tayegetos (240o m). Some options:
Walk to the 1000 year old olive tree (same route back or circular)
Monastery of Golas – Koumousta (same route or pick up by taxi)
Ask your local host for more information. Detailed maps of Xirokambi and the area are available in Guesthouse Taleton.
The olive tree of Kidonitsa
Olive trees are everywhere in the valley of Sparta. The region is famous for its high quality olive oil, due to the good soil and weather conditions. The oldest and biggest tree is found within walking distance of Xirokambi – in the hamlet of Kidonitsa – and is said to be over 1000 years old.
Signs in Xirokambi indicate the route to the ancient tree.
Monastery of Zerbitsa
On the slopes of Mount Taygetos, just a few kilometres south of Xirokambi, you can find the impressive Zerbitsa monastery. The current building dates back to the 17th century, but it is built on a monastery from the 11th century. Enjoy the the tranguil atmosphere, the beautiful frescoes and the magnificent views towards the mountains and the valley.
Visitors are welcome; please dress accordingly and be aware that taking pictures is not allowed. Check visiting hours with your local host or ask for information at the main church in Xirokambi (Agia Triada opposite the hotel).
Enrich your vacation by making your very own special mosaic in the heart of the Southern Peloponnese. Attend a one-day mosaic workshop and in just 3 hours learn the basics of this ancient art form. Greece is not only beaches and sightseeing…..It’s experiences with locals that will turn into memories for years to come. The stone mosaic workshop by Dimitra Colomvakou is suitable for adults and children over 12.
Sightseeing in the Valley of Sparta
The famous Byzantine castle of Mystras is built on a steep hill. It was here that the inhabitants of Sparta
took residence, when life in the Lakedeamon valley became unsafe after the intrusion of the Franks.
Mystras is a fascinating place, where you can wander around for hours amidst its churches, monasteries
Mystras is located northwest of Sparta, and 20 km from Xirokambi. The archeological sight is open year round. Check the website for the latest information on entrance fees and opening hours.
Sparta & Ancient Sparta
Xirokambi is part of the municipality of Sparta (local name is Sparti). The city has a lively center with a big square, market on Wednesdays and Saturdays, a small but interesting archeological museum and the outstanding Olive Oil Museum.
The ancient city is largely hidden by the modern town, built in the 19th century by the German King Otto. The archeological site of Sparta is located within walking distance of the center, on the north side of town. The site has free access. Stroll between the old city walls, foundations of ancient buildings and walk down into the theatre. The site is special, thanks to the beautiful olive trees that are standing amidst the ruins and the magnificent view towards the Tayegetos mountains.
Sightseeing in the area
Xirokambi is a great starting point to explore the valley of Sparta, including ancient sites and museums, drive up into the mountains or down the sea at Gythio or further down to the Mani. Check out our travel page on Lakonia for more ideas.
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