From the stone-built villages high above Lousios Gorge, a trail picks its way down to the river bed, passing medieval monasteries that dangle from the sheer limestone walls. Some are still occupied; others offer a chance to clamber their exposed bones high above the waters below. The best route in is via the five-hour trail that links the pretty villages of Dimitsana and Stemnitsa, a likeable pair of boho escapes with a distinctly alpine vibe. In winter, they draw the ski crowd destined for the slopes of nearby Mt. Menalon; the rest of the year they are given over to hikers and tour buses en route to the gorge's monasteries, their open terraces filled with excitable day-trippers huffing the mountain air.
Dimitsana is an especially pretty maze of narrow cobbled lanes with a surprisingly long history. Settlers first arrived here during the Archaic Period (650–480 BC), and ruins of a Cyclopean wall (irregular stones without mortar) and classical buildings belonging to the ancient acropolis of Teuthis can be found nearby. In revolutionary times, the town was an important center for gunpowder production during the Greek War of Independence (1821–30), and the local library is worth dropping by for its memorabilia from this tumultuous period.
Stemnitsa (aka Ipsous) is equally impressive, perched 3,444 feet above sea level amid a forest of fir and chestnut trees. For centuries this stone village was one of Greece's best-known metalworking centers, and today its minuscule school is still staffed by local artisans. Above the lively square rises the bell tower of the church of Agios Georgios, and at the top of a nearby hill is the monument to those who fought in the 1821 War of Independence against the Turks. The town even claims to have been the capital of Greece for a few weeks in 1821, when it became a base for the plotting rebels.