Since Oxi Day is a national holiday, we took advantage of the three day weekend to road trip around our favorite area of Greece — the Peloponnese. In our summer visit, we spent time in the northeast section (Korfos, Epidavros, Portocheli). In 2014, we spent almost a week in the southwest corner (Pylos, Kalamata, Stoupa, Vivari, Nafplio). This time, we focused on the south-central and southeast parts — the two ‘middle fingers’ of the peninsula. Demetri, Papou and I picked the kids up at Μπασκετ (basketball) after school, car packed, snacks ready, music cued. To get to the Pelopponese, you must cross the Corinth canal — which is really cool no matter if you are watching from the bridge above, or the lowlands on either end, which we did this time. We waited for a cruise ship come through right next to us – you can see it on the right side of the photo of Peter in the Oxi Day post.
Our destination was Monemvasia, a castle town that everyone we know who has visited absolutely loves. One of my mom friends said it’s the most romantic place in Greece – and not to worry it’s even more romantic in the rain. We had blue skies all weekend and it is indeed spectacular. The town is carved out of the back of a huge rock that sits in the sea. In Medieval times, locals avoided attacks because the city wasn’t visible from the mainland; the only way to reach it then was by boat. Now, there’s a causeway paved from the mainland to the rock, which is how the city got its name: Monemvasia means ‘single entrance.’ It’s been occupied by nearly everyone — Arabs, Normans, Turks, Venetians — so it wasn’t successful in staying entirely hidden.
There is a walled city at the bottom and the remains of a medieval city at the top. Views are spectacular no matter where you are. We loved hiking up and around the old city and we stopped for coffee at a cafe that faces the sea while the boys played and hiked in a little protected area.
We then drove to the quiet, little island of Elafonisos, which is said to have some of the best beaches in Greece. Papou and Sandy spent a weekend there in May. We knew that most of the island would be closed for the season, but we took the 15 minute ferry ride anyway and watched the boys ninja warrior themselves across and over rocks at the shore. We got back on the last ferry of the day and got back in the car.
The next couple of hours we were diverted by car trouble. Earlier that day, a warning light came on telling us to add antifreeze. We stopped to do that, and somehow, the radiator cap didn’t get tightened. About five kilometers later, we heard a clunk, and that was the end of the cap. After Elafonisos, we stopped a gas station where one of the mechanics fashioned a cap for us. Then, close to the top of the mountain pass we were climbing, a red light came on telling us to stop the car. The new temporary cap was gone. Demetri and Papou turned the heat on, put some water in the radiator, and we coasted down the other side of the mountain in complete silence. We went back to the service station where they had put the original top off in there and 4 mechanics inspected the car. They had no caps we could purchase, so we figured we’d call the Greek equivalent of AAA the following day. We bought a lot of antifreeze and slowly drove back to Monemvasia, and had dinner in a grill house and played at a park. We got back to our hotel, the kids got ready for bed and Demetri went back out to the car and found BOTH caps on the skid plate. Road trip back on!
Saturday, we drove south and west and south again around the coast and into the Mani peninsula. Mani’s terrain is rugged with rocky mountains and lots of olive trees. We stopped for lunch at a fish tavern in the harbor town of Gerolimenas. We ate lots of local fish paired with nice, cold ouzo and sat next to the water watching the black rain clouds.
Maniots are thought to descend from the ancient Dorian civilization and their reputation is tough, fierce, independent. The most common housing in Mani was a fortified village made of house towers where they could defend themselves from invaders. There are a view of these villages that still exist; after lunch we drove to one called Vathia, which is one of the best preserved towns. Most of the homes have been abandoned, though there was one that had a courtyard with pretty well maintained plants and new doors with screens. We walked up, through and around the dirt paths imagining what it would be like to live here. We stopped in the large-ish town of Gytheo on the way back, walked in the harbor and played foosball and air hockey on the patio of a tavern.
Sunday, we took a coastal route back north, stopping to see a huge shipwreck called the Demetrios. Next was another harbor town for a coffee. Peter was ninja warrioring and fell in the water but it wasn’t deep. Then we made our way to a very cool village called Leonidio where we watched climbers scale these long, vertical rocks. We had Sunday lunch in a taverna facing the water — roasted chicken in lemon sauce, roasted goat in lemon sauce, imam (roasted eggplant with tomatoes and onions) and more ouzo. We headed back to Athens through mountain towns, and found a beach town that we’ll come back to in the Spring or Summer where the water is crystal clear.
There is so much to see in this pretty region of Greece and it’s full of cities that we all learned about in history class: Tripoli, Sparta, Olympia, Myceanae, Thermopylae. I can see Mrs. Miles’ handwriting covering the entire blackboard with the day’s lecture in 10th grade ancient and medieval history class. The coastal towns are all pristine and adorable and the swimming is some of the best in the world. We scoped a few places to return to this spring when it’s beach time again.
Our next Pelopponesian stop will be Kalavryta, home of some of the Fefes family.