Capital of the large northern province of Ahaïa, Pátra is a major port and transport hub though offers little else to visitors. To the south are high mountains while along the narrow, densely populated coastal strip are a few decent beaches, the best at Kalogriá. From the drab town of Dhiakoftó on the Gulf of Kórinthos, you can opt for an outing on one of Greece’s first railway lines, which follows the dramatic Vouraikós Gorge, up to Kalávryta.
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PÁTRA (Patras) is the largest city in the Peloponnese and, after Pireás and Igoumenítsa, a major port of Greece; from here you can catch ferries to Italy as well as to certain Ionian islands. The city is also a hub of the Greek-mainland transport network.
Unless you arrive late in the day from Italy, you won’t need, or want, to spend more than a few hours here. There are no beaches and no truly essential sights. Traffic noise goes on well into the night and starts earlier than you’d want to get up. Add to that the gangs of unemployed men, who hang around the port, and it’s preferable to move on quickly. That said, if you find yourself here for some time, there are a few reasonable attractions: the Kástro, the new archeological museum, and the massive church of Áyios Andhréas. Swimming near Pátra isn’t advisable – the sea is polluted for some kilometres to the southwest. Locals head to the beaches around Río (7km northeast; bus #6) or to Kalogriá.
The Kástro, a mainly Frankish-Byzantine and partly restored citadel fifteen minutes’ walk up from the water, is not particularly exciting, but it is up away from the city bustle, surrounded by a small park and with woodland beyond. Nearby, at Boukaoúri 29, is the hammam (Turkish baths,26102 74267; €5), still good for a steam after six hundred years.
The archeological museum
Located about 3km from the centre, at the north end of the city, the new, crisply contemporary archeological museum is now second only in size to the new Acropolis Museum in Athens. Themed exhibits include a vast quantity of everyday objects from Ahaïa dating from the Mycenaean to the Roman eras, most of which have been in storage for the past thirty years. Though it houses one of Greece’s biggest Roman mosaic collections, there’s no single item of great import, and the whole approach can be a little too didactic for most.
Church of Áyios Andhréas
This huge neo-Byzantine confection lies at the southwest end of the waterfront on the spot where St Andrew is said to have been martyred in 69 AD, and where an ancient temple to Demeter once stood. The saint’s relics are housed within, including his skull.
The Kalávryta express
The Kalávryta express
The 22km rack-and-pinion railway from Dhiakoftó to Kalávryta is a crazy feat of Italian engineering, rising at gradients of up to one in seven as it cuts inland through the Vouraïkós gorge. The journey can be hot, crowded and uncomfortable, but the route is a toy-train fantasy of tunnels, bridges and precipitous overhangs and well worth experiencing.
The railway was built between 1889 and 1896 to bring minerals from the mountains to the sea. Its 1896 steam locomotives were replaced some years ago – one (O Moutzouris) remains by the line at Dhiakoftó stationwith other relics, and another at Kalávryta – but the track itself retains all the charm of its period. The tunnels, for example, have delicately carved window openings, and the narrow bridges zigzagging across the Vouraïkós seem engineered for sheer virtuosity.
It takes around 45 minutes to get from Dhiakoftó to Zakhloroú (listed on timetables as Méga Spiléo), and about another twenty minutes from there to Kalávryta. In peak season the ride is very popular (there are just three to six trains a day, depending on the season), so plan to buy tickets in advance of your preferred departure (return €19; one way €9.50). Despite the short distance covered, trains on this line can be subject to the same lengthy delays (or cancellations) as their grown-up counterparts on the main lines.