Aenos forest trails (Figure 1) represent a journey through time, to the past and also to the future; exploring the richness in experiences offered in each part of the trails, makes visitors happier, fulfilled with joy. In the old days, before the use of the car, trails connected destinations and were considered more useful if they were of a short distance. Nowadays trails are used mainly by hikers - travelers, so that trails quality value depends on their richness in cultural - historical and environmental elements (Zografos, Kanellopoulou, & Tsaravopoulos 2016).
Nature and landscape in the area of Aenos National Park is ideal for hiking tourism, mainly due to its peculiar and admirable biological and geological diversity. Both trails along the mountain ridge at an altitude higher than 1500 m and the ones crossing the fir forest at lower altitudes (800 - 1500 m) are of great interest for hikers, due to landscape alternation. The dense fir forest, broadleaf evergreen shrubs, vegetation richness, limestone boulders, landslides, caves and the magnificent view to the sea and the islands, compose a unique landscape and ideal hiking destination. Besides, the area is not only a National Park, a Wildlife Refuge and an area included in Natura 2000 Network, but also the area of Kefalonia-Ithaca aspiring Geopark, for which N.E.C.C.A. is making a promising effort to fully succeed and make it part of European and Global Networks of UNESCO Geoparks, that will significantly help in the development of thematic forms of tourism.
Forest roads and paths crossing mount Aenos form a well maintained network, giving the opportunity to nature admirers, even when they have no special knowledge about mountaineering to get to know Aenos biodiversity consisting of flora, fauna, avifauna, mushrooms and natural beauty. N.E.C.C.A. designed and placed in suitable locations information signs with the map of the National Park and useful instructions about operating regulations, information about the hiking trails and thematic signs about the Kefalonian Fir forest (Abies cephalonica) and the Kefalonian Violet (Viola cephalonica) emerging from rocks or snow (Figure 2). Besides, Aenos website (www.foreasainou.gr) hosts an extensive collection of biodiversity of Aenos National Park, as well as a virtual tour of the trails, for those visitors that would like to get a first "taste" of the experiences offered. In Aenos National Park there are five hiking trails, of low and moderate degrees of difficulty with a total length of about 26 km, thoroughly explained as follows (Management Body of Aenos National Park 2015):
FOREST TRAIL: Aenos Environmental Center – Chionistra
This trail crosses the core of Aenos National Park. It is a circular route that starts and ends at Aenos Environmental Center at an altitude of 1384 m. Full length of the trail is 6184 m and it takes approximately 2 ½ h to complete it. Trail degree of difficulty is low, by hiking on gentle slopes. The route crosses an important part of Mount Aenos fir forest including forest gaps of stony soil. While hiking take a moment to admire several butterfly forest species, reptiles (mainly endemic lizard species Podarcis ionicus & Algyroides nigropunctatus subsp. Kephallithacius – Fig. 3); in spring nature lovers will appreciate fir trees and herbaceous species flowering (Foitos & Damboldt 1985) such as orchids (Orchis sp. and Ophrys sp.), anemones (Anemone sp.) etc. At Aenos Environmental Center hikers may visit the guided exhibition on Aenos National Park by the N.E.C.C.A. personnel, and enjoy magnificent view to Argostoli and Lixouri from the balcony of the building (Management Body of Aenos National Park 2015).
FOREST TRAIL: Aenos Environmental Center – Aria
This trail starts and ends at Aenos Environmental Center vertically crossing the core of the National Park and has a total length of 2065 m. It takes 1 ½ h to reach Aria with elevation 850 m and return back to the trailhead. The trail is of moderate degree of difficulty, ascending/descending slopes at 30% of inclination. The route crosses part of the Kefalonian fir forest where visitors will admire a lot of flora species, insects such as wild bees, wasps, butterflies (Fig. 4) as well as any type of soil microfauna like harvestmen (order Opiliones) and scorpions (Euscorpius sp.); while hiking take a moment to admire the view to Lourda gulf, Leivatho area 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 from Pyrgi 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". The traveler will have the opportunity to come in contact with the rich diversity of forest flora, avifauna and mushrooms mainly in autumn and spring. Along the way, hikers can admire the view to Pyrgi and the adjacent mountains Kokkini Rachi and Avgo. At the mountain top hikers enjoy the panoramic view of the Ionian Sea with the surrounding islands of Ithaca, Lefkada, Atokos, Zakynthos and Echinades and the distant high mountains of Etoloakarnania.
FOREST TRAIL: Epano Έza – Melissi
This trail starts from the Central entrance of Aenos National Park and 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), the coal tit (Periparus ater) and the kinglet (Regulus sp.). 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 of human presence. During spring or summer hikers may also observe wild mushrooms (Fig. 6).
Settlements, people, traditional festivals taking place in the wider area of Aenos during summer, give the possibility to the hiker/visitor to get in touch with the culture of the Ionian Islands. In addition to the unique nature, in the wider area of mount Aenos it is located the Sacred Monastery of Agios Gerasimos, patron saint of the island, and the Robola winery, where the visitor can taste the traditional wine of Kefalonia. Worth seeing are also many villages, which retain their traditional "color", such as Pyrgi, Epanochori, Michata, Vlachata, etc. For example, going down the forest road of Fteri towards the settlement Arginia, hikers if lucky can admire the semi-wild Aenos horses and quench thirst by drinking water from the only source of the mountain located at the Holly Monastery of Zoodochou Pigi (Life-giving spring).
Kefalonia is famous for the high quality services provided, from accommodation and catering to nature activities. The island fully corresponds to the requirements that nature admirers are looking for. A variety of accommodation and dining offers, allows welcoming 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 a complete "package" of leisure.
In Kefalonia apart from these five forest trails in mount Aenos, there is a well-designed network of paths covering areas all around the island. This network may be promoted to attract quality tourism that will visit the island all year long.
- Zografos P, Kanellopoulou G & Tsaravopoulos F (2016) Zagori trails, Proposal for the promotion and display. Ioannina, Zagori House Museum / Paths of Greece
- Foitos D & Damboldt J (1985) Botanical Chronicles, Patras: Botany Laboratory of the University of Patras, Vol 5
- Foitos D, Kamari G, Katsouni N & Mitsainas G (2015) Mount Aenos in Kefalonia: History, Physiogeography, Biodiversity. In Kefalonia: KATAGRAMMA - Graphic Arts, Management Body of Aenos National Park Editions