So, our pootle around the Peloponnese continues. We left Plaka in glorious sunshine heading up through the Dafnon Gorge towards the mountain village of Kosmos deep in the Parnon mountains. Oh, what a drive. The first twenty kilometres of it featured in my last blog post as I’d already cycled up through the gorge to the Panagia Elona monastery from Plaka.
Continuing on from the monastery the road zig zags its way up and up another ten or so kilometres before levelling out reaching a plateau where we were confronted with SNOW. Eek. We’re not good with snow. Oh, we don’t mind being out in it on foot but we HATE driving in it. I mean, there wasn’t much but it was still SNOW!
By the time we got to Kosmos, which is 1150 metres above sea level, we felt very fortunate that the recent scorching weather we’d been having had at least melted most of it. Now, we would have liked to stop in Kosmos as it looked to be a delightful mountain village but what with the narrow, winding roads and SNOW to negotiate we pressed on through the village and out the other side keen to get down to a more reasonable altitude! We were relieved to get back down to sea level and the more familiar territory of Lidl just outside Skala.
Our destination for the day was Monemvasiá, nicknamed the ‘Gibraltar of Greece’ (but without the Marks and Spencer or the Morrisons). Separated from the mainland by an earthquake in AD375, Monemvasiá remained an island until a causeway was built in the 6th Century BC. The name derives from two Greek words, mone and emvassi, meaning ‘single entrance’. Parked up on the harbour at Gefyra on the mainland it does indeed have a Gibraltar look about it, albeit on a much smaller scale and with the odd fishing boat tootling past instead of a Ryan Air Boeing 737.
Looking out from the harbour it looks, well, like a big lump of rock with nothing much to see but a few ruins on the top. Ah but, a whole fortified town built on two levels does a good job of hiding itself from the mainland. Across the causeway and a kilometre or so further on, enclosed within 16th Century walls, the lower town has all but been completely restored.
Settled in the 6th Century by inhabitants of ancient Laconia seeking refuge from Slavic invaders, Monemvasiá changed hands back and forth between the Venetians and the Turks over several centuries before being finally liberated during the Greek War of Independence early in the 19th Century. Its strategic position on the main maritime routes of the Mediterranean made it an important commercial maritime centre. Alas, the completion of the Corinth Canal in 1893 put the kibosh on Monemvasiá’s favourable position as maritime traffic dramatically reduced and the town went into decline. Increasing numbers of tourists arriving during the 1970’s brought about a resurrection, though, and slowly slowly the town began a new chapter in its life.
Practically the whole town has now been restored with many of the houses having been converted into hotels, guest houses, restaurants and little shops. As soon as we were through the Western gate we were reminded of a petite Le Mont St. Michel. Cafe’s, restaurants and boutique shops line the main cobbled street.
We had the luxury of wandering around the lower town for a couple of hours with only the odd builder working on a property for company. It was absolutely fascinating to meander up, down and around the lower town having a nosey into some of the properties and several of the forty or so churches. We loved it.
Climbing up to the upper town, which is largely still in ruins, gives a fantastic birds eye view of the rooftops of the lower town spreading out down to the sea.
We combed the upper town on our second foray onto the island, which again, we had practically to ourselves. Agia Sophia, the 13th Century church perched on the summit of the rock, is the only part of the upper town that has been fully restored.
The rest is pretty much left to your imagination and we were free to wander around all the ruins.
All in all, then, Monemvasiá gets a big thumbs up from us and we’d certainly recommend a visit, preferably out of season, as I imagine it would be too hot and heaving with people in the summer.
After a couple of nights spent on the harbour at Gefyra we drove the eighteen or so kilometres north to the charming little fishing port of Gerakas. Ahh, what a cute little place it is too. Its set on an inlet sheltered from the open sea, flanked by mountains with one way in and one way out.
We were able to park up just short of the port in a large layby complete with benches overlooking the shallow waters of the bay where we spent a bit of time watching a few egrets and some little grebe type birds go about their business. We walked up to the ruins of an acropolis above the town which gave us great views back across the bay.
Not content with just the one walk we ventured out to the next village, also called Gerakas, via road and footpath.
Such a sleepy little place with a ramshackle hotch potch of dwellings, some lived in, some not.
After a peaceful night it was time to head to Gytheio, the gateway to the Mani Peninsular, and the third ‘finger’ of our clockwise tour of the Peloponnese.