Corinthia, the Argolid, Laconia, Messenia, Achaia, Ilia, like the petals of a strange flower encircle its heart, Arcadia – land of gods, nymphs, heroes, and the homeland of the god Pan. A place which seems to come from the world’s childhood, loaded with myths like no other. A landscape as charming as it is hard to interpret, thankfully not much altered by tourism, challenging you to read it. The smell of gunpowder and the sound of musket fire from the Greek revolution mingle with the aromas of Moschofilero in an eternal celebration of the glorious days of 1821.
Barely an hour and a half from Athens through the Artemisio tunnel, I travel to Mantineia, “the most ancient and the greatest city,” according to the historian Polybius; “Eratini,” meaning beguiling, according to Homer.
“We raise theatres, then knock them down”*
Mantineia, 13 kilometers north of Tripolis, was founded in all likelihood in the 5th century BC, and became one of the two most prominent cities in Arcadia, along with Tegea. According to the great “travel writer” of antiquity, Pausanias, it very soon became a reference point for significant historical events, not only for Arcadia but for the whole of the ancient Greek world.
The remnants of the ancient city include sections of a large defensive wall, an agora, and the remains of the temple of Hera, which had so impressed Pausanias. The ancient theatre is being maintained by the “Diazoma” group, while part of the agora, which in ancient times was the epicentre of the city’s political, religious and social life, was uncovered by the excavations of the French Archaeological School in the 19th century. We sit in the lowest tier of seats, the only original ones remaining out of the 32 rows. Despite the ravages of time, this small theatre bears the weight of its history well.
Leaving the archaeological site behind us, we come upon one of the area’s most interesting landmarks, the church of Aghia Fotini, designed in the 1970s by the architect Kostas Papatheodorou, who, like Gaudí, lived in the church while it was being built. The result combines ancient Greek art, Byzantine tradition and contemporary architecture, which is hard to categorize.
Our next stop, 18 kilometers to the north, is ancient Orchomenos with its spectacular theatre facing the plains and the surrounding hills. The thrones stand untouched, waiting for the Arcadian kings to arrive, and the performance to begin.
*George Seferis, “Theatrini, M.A.”
All is Moschofilero
We are in Mantineia, on the Tripoli plateau, in the midst of charming scenery made up of vineyards, low houses, cherry and almond trees, well-tended gardens and vegetable patches. We are also in one of the best-known wine-producing regions in Greece, which since 1971 have borne the designation PDO Mantineia, in the kingdom of the rose-colored Moschofilero grape. This is the variety which is inseparably connected to the region, as the cool temperatures, even in summer, the snow and rain create a very specific climate which contributes to the special character of the wines produced here.
Wines made from the Moschofilero variety are now well-known and recognised by wine-lovers in Greece and beyond. Fruity and aromatic, fine and complex, they are found in both white and rosé variations with high cool acidity, and notes of rose, lemon and basil. We would be remiss not to mention the variety’s notable achievements in the field of sparkling wines, both rosé and white, dry and semi-sweet wines, which led sparkling wine production in Greece.
To follow the thread to the very beginning, we visit Milia in Tripoli where it all started. The old ochre-colored traditional building – which unfortunately is not open to visitors – was where the Cambas winery was founded in 1927. The unit kicked off its production in the same year, which is also when Moschofilero came to prominence with the famous “Moschofilero Cambas.”
The Boutaris winery continues the tradition by continually investing in the variety and launching new products. It’s no accident that Moschofilero Boutari, one of the most instantly recognisable Greek wines, was selected for the celebration of the winemaker’s 140-year anniversary with the special Cuvée Speciale 2019 label, made from selected old vine grapes from its private estate in Mantineia. While the winery is not open to visitors, we sought out the exceptional Oropedio Mantineia, the “grey” Faia Gi limited edition, and the Moschofilero from the Naturally collection.
Among those who forged a path for Mantineia wines, we should also mention the Nasiakos winery, which is now owned by Semeli, with a Mantineia wine which remains exceptional.
1. KTIMA SPIROPOULOS
A stone’s throw from the ancient theatre of Mantineia, Ktima Spiropoulos, with its characteristic Arcadian tower dominating the plain, is one of the first wineries to bring Moschofilero to our tables. It was also one of the first to bring the bubbles, offering the superb Odi Panos, a sparkling wine which does both the producer and the whole region proud.
Nondas and Maria, the first generation, as well as Konstantina, who is inheriting the baton, are a joy to meet. Friendly, smiling, and creative, a living picture of Greek wine-making: they are active, people-centric, dedicated to protecting the environment and to delivering quality and consistency. The Spiropoulos estate offers a variety of wine tourism packages, from a tour and two tastings, which are provided free, to more complex experiences at a charge, culminating with meals in partnership with local restaurants, upon arrangement.
Ktima Spiropoulos: Kilometer 15, Tripoli-Artemisio highway, Tel. (+30) 27960.61400, ktimaspiropoulos.com, Tuesday – Saturday 09:00-15:00.
2. KTIMA TSELEPOU
When I speak of the Tselepos family I can’t help thinking of Amalia’s warm smile and Giannis’s generous welcome, combined with the youthful, radical enthusiasm of their children, Aris and Adriani. These are two exceptional young people, who grasp the steering wheel of the business with boundless enthusiasm. Creative, full of fresh ideas and ready to innovate with respect to tradition, they are getting behind wine tourism in a big way.
A tour of their beautifully tended 65 hectares of vineyards, bounded by cypresses, firs and mastic trees, low hills, small chapels and watermills will thrill you – as will a visit to the new tasting room located in the old wine-making facility built 30 years ago. It is complemented by an underground cellar stocked with premium vintages and labels, in what was once the estate’s first wine vat.
At the Tselepos estate you can pick from three different tasting packages: the Introductory tasting including five wines from the estate’s classic labels (15 euros per person); the Premium tasting which offers samples of the current vintages premium labels (25 euros per person) and the Old Vintage tasting which introduces you to six labels from the estate’s best vintages (40 euros per person for a minimum of six people, or a minimum cost of 240 euros).
Rizes Arcadias: Tel. (+30) 27105.44440-50, tselepos.gr, Monday – Friday 08:00-16:00, Saturday 09:00-15:00.
3. TROUPIS WINERY
The Troupi winery is located in the center of the Mantineia plateau, in the area of Fteri, the heart of the vineyards of the eponymous wine region, at an altitude of around 700 meters. H
ere you can get a tour of the vineyards where the estate’s grapes come from, and get to know about the cultivation and wine-making process for Moschofilero. You will be welcomed and shown around the wine-making facilities and the atmospheric tasting room, and when the weather permits the outdoor spaces await you!
For 12 euros a head you can try all of the winery’s labels. I only mention the ones that stole my heart: Fteri (white and rosé), Tomi, Route gris, Hoof & Lur and Ekato.
Fteri Mantineias: Tel. (+30) 27104.11434, troupiswinery.gr, open for visitors all year round on appointment, Monday – Saturday 09:00-15:00.
Wineries not open to the public
Bosinakis Winery: Try their outstanding Mantineia and the superb Ieria rosé (Steno Mantineias, Tel. (+30) 27105.72767, [email protected]).
Moropoulos Estate: The estate produces two Moschofilero labels, Mantineia and Moropoulos Rosé (Neochori Mantineias, Tel. (+30) 27105.72356, moropoulos.gr).
The social heart of Mantineia beats at Levidi, an historic town with stone-built mansions and a big square, where everything happens. This is where you will find the traditional wood-fired bread oven which has become a must-visit, as well as the beautiful tavernas with delicious spit-roasted pig. The local products include fir honey from Vitina, and there is also good accommodation.
The most distinctive accommodation in the area is offered by Villa Vager. A creative and tasteful couple, Nikos and Marina Vager, have transformed a derelict mansion dating to 1843 into a stylish hotel with all the amenities sought by a traveller. The furniture, color scheme and interiors show attention to detail, with the experience of hospitality culminates in an unforgettable breakfast. And as you are here to follow wine routes, ask for a special tasting dinner, then surrender yourself to a relaxing massage in your own space before heading to bed.
Villa Vager: Levidi Arcadias, Tel. (+30) 27960.22073, hotelvager.gr, from 140 euros for a double room. Massage services must be booked in advance.
If you leave Arcadia without paying a visit to Villa Incognito in Tripoli you will have missed half the point of your trip. At his very special restaurant on the town’s main pedestrian road, Yakinthi Tyrovola and Sotiris Kouros, two young people with a love all products and recipes Arcadian, cook traditional dishes with their own impressive twist. Garden greens with smoked trout in avgolémono sauce, cockerell with trahaná, slow-cooked beef with creamed onion, pork with celery and a new age galaktoboureko impressed us, as did the amazing wine list which would be the envy of many an Athenian restaurant.
Driving towards Ancient Orchomenos, look for the Hani (Inn) at Kandyla. Surrounded by beautiful scenery, this taverna serves local flavors and recipes with home-cooked care. You should definitely try the stewed goat and cockerel with hylopítes.
While Vytina is not part of the Mantineia DPO region, your path will probably take you to the mountain village of Gortynia, which is the most developed destination on mount Mainalo. The atmospheric taverna of Klimataria is a gastronomic favorite in the wider region, and opens Friday to Sunday over the winter season.
Villa Incognito: Tassou Sechioti 43 and Deligianni 1, Tripoli, Tel. (+30) 27102.22111
Hani tis Kandilas: Kefalovryso Kandilas, Tel. (+30) 27960.22350, taverna-hani.gr
Klimataria: Labrinopoulou 6, Vytina, Tel. (+30)27950.22226
A MODEL MUSEUM
The Tegea Archaeological Museum in the small village of Alea was upgraded and reopened in 2014 under the curatorship of Dr Anna-Vassiliki Karapanagiotou, the Director of the Arcadia Archaeological Ephorate. The contemporary approach to the displays centers on people, people as creators of the exhibits and protagonists in social and historical developments, and people as visitors to the museum and spectators.
It is dedicated to Tegea, the most powerful Arcadian town in antiquity, and is a model of contemporary museum design, and a reason in itself to visit the area. The culmination of the visitor experience is the final room, which focuses on the sanctuary of Athena Alea, around which the ancient city of Tegea was built. The foundations of the 4th century BC temple, a work by the architect and sculptor Scopa, survive among the modern buildings, a few meters from the museum.
Tegea Archaeological Museum: Tel. (+30) 27105.56540, tegeamuseum.gr, entry 4 euros, open daily except Tuesday 09:00-16:00