Back in the old days, when there were no cars, trails were used to connect destinations. More useful were considered short trails in a good condition. Nowadays, trails are mainly used by hikers and travelers; trails are considered useful not because of shortness, but of trails enrichment in cultural, historical and environmental sites. Today trails represent a journey through time, connecting past with future, and the richer this journey becomes, the happier and full of experiences will be the arrival to destination.
Kefalonia is characterized by a great variety of landscapes, beaches, coastal and forest areas with Kefalonian fir, broadleaf evergreen shrubs, mountainous, semi-mountainous and lowland areas. The rational practices of extensive livestock breeding in the countryside and mild agriculture also contribute to the formation of an interesting mosaic of landscape leading to biodiversity richness. For this reason the island is classified as one of the most important areas of the Ionian Sea of significant wealth in rare, endangered species and habitat types.
The nature in the area of Aenos National Park, geodiversity and biodiversity richness makes the Park ideal for hiking tourism. Both on mountain peaks (altitude of 1500 m) and the trails within the fir forest (altitude of 450 - 1500 m) result very interesting for hikers due to the alternation of the landscape. The dense fir forest, biodiversity richness, limestone screes, landslides, caves, the view of the sea and the neighboring islands compose a unique landscape that is considered today an ideal hiking destination. Besides, except of being a National Park, a Wildlife Sanctuary and an area included in Natura 2000 Network, since 2017 the Management Body of Aenos National Park has implemented a promising effort to join European and World Network of UNESCO Geoparks thus significantly promoting the development of thematic forms of tourism.
A network of well conserved roads and paths that cross mount Aenos, gives the opportunity to hikers and visitors with so far no developed interest in mountaineering, to experience unique Aenos biodiversity, flora and fauna, avifauna and natural beauty.
The Management Body of Aenos National Park placed information signs in various sites with the map of the National Park as well as useful instructions on what it is allowed or forbidden during permanence (Fig. 1), thematic signs concerning the National park entrances (Fig. 2, 3, 4, 5), Kefalonian Fir forest (Fig. 6), Viola cephalonica ecotope (Fig. 7) and the hiking trails (Fig. 8, 9, 10, 11, 12).
In Aenos National Park there are five hiking trails of low to moderate degree of difficulty, with a total length of 26 km, thoroughly explained as follows:
FOREST TRAIL: Aenos Environmental Center – Chionistra
This path crosses the center of the core of Mount Aenos National Park. It is a circular route, that starts and ends at Aenos Environmental Center located at 1384 m of altitude. Total length of the route is 6184 m and it takes 2 ½ h to complete it. The degree of difficulty is low because of the gentle and low elevation profile. The route crosses Kefalonian Fir forest and forest gaps of stony substrate, with amazing views towards Argostoli and Zakynthos.
FOREST TRAIL: Aenos Environmental Center – Ariá
This trail is a circular route that starts and ends at Aenos Environmental Center with a total length of 2065 m. The route is a vertical cross section through the core of National Park. It takes almost 1 ½ hour to reach elevation of Aria at 850 m and return back to the trailhead. The trail is of moderate difficulty with downward slopes up to 30 %. While crossing Kefalonian fir forest hikers have the opportunity to admire the magnificent view towards Lourdas Gulf, the surrounding areas and Zakynthos.
FOREST TRAIL: Digaleto – Megas Soros
This trail starts from the foothills of mount Aenos, close to Pyrgi village and ends at the peak of Mega Soros. The route crosses vertically the core of the National Park and has a total length of 6.595 m. It takes about 2 ½ hours to reach the top. It is of moderate degree of difficulty ascending at an incline. The trail crosses the fir forest including the forest road Melanitsa where are located the landscape recreation areas "Karvounolakko" and "Pigadia". Along the way, hikers have the opportunity to admire the view towards Pyrgi and the surrounding mountains Kokkini Rachi and Avgo. At the mountain top one can enjoy panoramic view of the Ionian Sea with the surrounding islands of Ithaca, Lefkada, Zakynthos, Atokos and Echinades and distant Etoloakarnania high mountains.
FOREST TRAIL: Epano Έza – Melissi
This trail starts from the Central entrance of Aenos National Park, proceeds towards direction Northeast leading to the forest road of Riza; from there after a few kilometers walk, the trail ends back to the entrance of the National Park. The trail has a total length of 2.596 m. It takes about 1 hour to reach the forest road of Riza. It is of low degree of difficulty descending on gentle slopes. The trail crosses the fir forest without including recreation areas. Hikers admire the beauty of the fir forest and have the opportunity to listen to ratite small birds chirping, such as the chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) and the coal tit (Periparus ater). The trail is shaded along its entire length.
FOREST TRAIL: Κissos – Petassi – Kroukoubia (Nifi) – Μegas Soros – Κissos
Undoubtedly, this is the most beautiful long distance path of Aenos National Park offering an unforgetable hiking experience. It is a circular trail crossing the main peaks of the Great Mountain, with a total length of 8.640 m. It takes about 4 ½ hours, with a low degree of difficulty crossing gentle slopes. The trail starts and ends at Kissos following the ridge and part of the forest road. Hikers have the opportunity to admire from the top all the surrounding Ionian Islands. Two short detours lead to Aenos caves Petasi and Nyfi. Hikers following Aenos trails will be able to climb to the highest peak Mega Soros (1627 m) or visit the two mountain caves Petasi and Nyfi and admire fauna rarely seen such as bats or insects which avoid places with human presence.
In many parts of the trails there are recreation areas offering magnificent views, and moments of reflection and relaxation. Hikers who have enough time at their disposal, ideally can climb to the top of mount Aenos, Mega Soros (1.627 m) following either the third or the fifth hiking trail. Besides, by following either the first or the second trail, they can visit the exhibition on Aenos National Park at the Environmental Center and be guided by the Management Body personnel, while enjoying the magnificent view to Argostoli and Lixouri from the balcony of the building. Apart from the special and unique nature, around the wider area of Aenos there are villages of typical Ionian style like Pyrgi, Epanochori, Michata, Vlachata, Arginia etc. Settlements, people, and also traditional festivals taking place in the surrounding area during the summer, give the opportunity to the visitors to perceive more about the Ionian Islands culture.
Kefalonia is famous for the high quality services provided, from accommodation and catering to nature activities. The island fully corresponds to the requirements that hikers are looking for. A variety of accommodation and dining offers allow the welcoming of a large number of guests. At the same time, there are entrepreneurs, citizens and organizations, engaged in hiking either professionally or as amateurs and contribute to the support of hiking tourism. Besides, all the aforementioned above may be combined to cultural, religious and gastronomic events. In this way, guests may enjoy of a complete "package" of leisure.
Kefalonia apart from the five forest trails offers a well-designed network of paths through which it attracts tourism of quality that may visit the place mainly in Spring, Summer and Autumn. What is missing in relation to these trails, is the harmonization of the waymarked network and the projection of trails under a common identity.
The article above was published in the magazine "The Kefalonian Progress" Period B, issue 31, July - September 2019
The photos come from the file photo archive of the Management Body of Aenos National Park and the Wildlife Photographer Christos Maroulis that we warmly thank.