Full house

278 nights:  9,465 miles travelled :  Countries visited: 15

Our house is a very, very, very fine house… Graham Nash

Our first couple of days in Italy were damp and grey but on the bright side we were in a land that serves good old fashioned British fayre….pizza, pasta, panini and pinot grigio. So we ate through the pain of leaving Greece and waited for the carb high!

P1060466
First in the queue!

We bought some chill pills to help Kipper cope with the 16 hour crossing from Patras to Bari.  I gave them to him while we still parking in the bowels of the ferry and unfortunately they took effect within minutes. It was a bit of a performance climbing up through six decks with a very drunk pup! We almost felt guilty laughing at his confused reaction seeing his own reflection on the mirrored staircase.

P1060469
We luxuriated in the comparative space of a ferry cabin 
P1060468
A sad lack of trees on the doggy exercise deck. Kipper crossed his legs for 15 hours!

We immediately knew we were driving in a different country. Many more and newer cars crowd the (terrible) roads. There is more street furniture and buildings are better maintained. For the first time in months we couldn’t see mountains. Instead we were in rolling countryside with green fields bordered by dry stone walls which felt strangely similar to the Peak District in the UK.

It is usually a safe bet to visit an area designated a UNESCO World Heritage site and as we approached Alberobello we saw clues as to what made this town unusual. Trulli are limestone dwellings found throughout Puglia and Alberobello was once a town completely made up of these strange cone-roofed buildings.

P1060483

P1060481
Trulli scrumptious (sorry!!)
P1060487
Rare unrestored examples show how they were constructed
P1060490
Symbols painted in whitewash have religious and spiritual meanings
P1060476
Chiesa di Sant’Antonio is a 20th century church which copies the style

P1060500

According to legend, Lords in the area originally insisted that peasants inhabit these buildings. Because they were built without  mortar, so easy to demolish and classified as temporary, they escaped liability for tax to the Kingdom of Naples.

P1060496
The trulli are now mixed in with conventional buildings but it still looks like a hobbit town!

Our second World Heritage Site of the week was once a source of great shame. Dr Carlo Levi’s book ‘Christ stopped at Eboli’ drew attention to the extreme poverty in this part of Southern Italy and especially in the malaria ridden cave houses built within a gorge in the Sassi di Matera (the stones of Matera). The Italian government relocated the inhabitants in the 1950’s and in more recent years the town has become a major draw for visitors and will be European Capital of Culture in 2019.

P1060559
Matera
P1060532
Exploring the dense labyrinth of lanes is fascinating
P1060548
These two churches here have panoramic views of the gorge
P1060529
The stark exterior of San Pietro Barisano belies a highly decorated interior 
P1060550
People have moved back into the Sassi, as have hotels and restaurants for the visitors

The first human settlements date from 7000 years BC, created in caverns on the other side of the ravine known as la Gravina.

 

P1060531
Kipper took a fancy to this alternative to climbing back out of the Old Town. We walked! 

We warmed to the trail once again as we traversed the foot of the boot of Italy. A wonderful coast road and moving into the mountains in the Pollini National Park  certainly helped.

P1060563
Lunch break on the E90

Italy has a huge variety of Aree di Sosta, motorhome stopovers in towns or on agricultural premises. We found a delightful spot in Morano Calabro, a small town clinging to a hillside looking out towards Mt Pollino.

P1060601
The surprise view as we approached Morano Calabro
P1060564
The view from the free motorhome stopover was another delightful surprise

Morano Calabro is a lattice work of steps, paths and alleyways through houses stacked on top of each other. We traced a path up to the fortress and church at the top and an entirely different one back down! It is very much a living community and we could hear children playing behind closed doors and small groups of older gentlemen chatting together round every bend.

 

P1060579
Half way up!
P1060594
Looking back up to the fortress at night was magical

We only ever plot where we’re going a couple of days in advance and it’s often led by where there is an available camper stop. Without planning it, the theme of the week became unusual Italian houses which proves that our plan of having no plan really does work!

M&G x

Treat of the week: Nobody does coffee like the Italians. We didn’t realise my first cappuccino  was on St. Valentine’s day until after my first slurp!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Peloponneasy!

265 nights : 8,946 miles travelled :  Countries visited: 15

‘In all things of nature there is something of the marvellous’   Aristotle

Why are you visiting us now? Why not come to Greece in the summer?

We were chatting to an older gentleman over a coffee. We didn’t know how to begin to describe the grey skies or any of the incongruously named storms at home (Desmond? ….Imogen??) . It was easier to point to the clear blue light, the aquamarine sea, snow on the distant mountains and the fact that we were enjoying it all largely on our own. Why wouldn’t we visit in winter?

We left our sheltered corner on the Argolis peninsula to discover what else the Peloponnese had to offer. It was a while since we had flexed our exploring muscles but the promise of more opportunities to view the past and present through the same lens revived our interest.

P1050891

Day one saw us leave the warm coast to drive up into snow capped mountains. We passed through Sparti, the modern presence of the ancient city of warriors and camped near Mystras. The archaeological sites we had visited to date were made up of many layers of history. Mystras, in the foothills of the Taÿgetos Mountains, is different in that it represents one era of the Byzantine Empire between 1271 and 1460.

P1050920
The fortress at the top gives wide views of the countryside around modern Sparti
SAM_9523
There are many Byzantine churches in the city
SAM_9564
Stunning frescoes are preserved
SAM_9522
It is easy to imagine the narrow city streets
SAM_9518
The Pantanassa Monastery is still occupied by nuns

Monemvasia sits on a rock off the south western coast of the Peloponnese. Much of it dates from the same time as Mystras and puts flesh on the bones of those ruins.

P1060072
The rock was separated from the mainland by an earthquake in  375. A causeway connects Monemvasia with Gefyra
P1060023
The fortress town is accessed through a small L-shaped tunnel
P1060028
The narrow streets are now occupied by shops, tavernas and hotels
P1060042
The main square offers views up to the fortress at the top
P1060040
The stone houses perch on the side of the rock
P1060038
Views to the mainland are spectacular

Gythio was once the port of ancient Sparta  but now it is fishing boats and ferries that use the harbour beside a lovely friendly town. As with other parts of Greece, people are friendly and want to chat. When asked where we were from, the answer East of England prompted a  10 minute conversation about Norwich City’s performance in the Premier League and we were informed about the close match against Liverpool the day before!

P1060004

P1060173
The islet of Marathonisi is said to be ancient Cranae, where Paris prince of Troy consummated the love affair with Helen, wife of Menelaus, that caused the Trojan War.

Gythio is also gateway to the Mani region which has a very separate identity and more rugged beauty than the rest of the Greek mainland. Maniots were renowned for their independence and violent internal feuds which  explains the strange tower settlements built as refuges during clan wars. Thankfully they seem as cheerful as everyone else now!

P1060131

P1060152
Many tower houses are being restored as holiday homes
P1060112
The fishing heritage of Gerolimenas is gradually giving way to tourism
P1060109
There are steps to assist visitors in climbing to the top of the cliff face!
P1060128
The rugged beauty of the Mani coastline, close to our furthest point travelled south.

Driving around the Peloponnese allowed us to appreciate the natural beauty of Greece both in the mountains and at sea level. This is scenery that you want to drink in and makes you glad to be alive. Life seems simple and is probably harder than it is attractive. The olive harvest was over and small fires of clippings from pruned trees sent smoke signals across the landscape. Wild gorse scented the air and the roaring sound of bees near to the rows of hives dotted everywhere was genuinely alarming.

P1060102
We were always following a tractor or pick-up trucks taking sacks of olives to the mills
P1060100
The Tagetos Mountains preside over life in the south Peloponnese

 

P1060199
Crossing them on the Langada Pass was exhilarating

 

P1060352
Sunset over the island monastery at Marathopoli

It was immediately clear that we wouldn’t be able to squeeze Brian into the narrow streets of Koroni so were baffled and bemused when we saw large buses stop in the town square. There was more manageable sized transport available though!

Koroni has a castle which along with the Venetian castle at Methoni are known as the ‘eyes of Venice in Greece’. Methoni is also a beautiful little town and the castle is our favourite in Europe so far. This was a stopping point for pilgrims travelling to the Holy Lands .The view from the jetty gives a clue to it’s amazing position.

P1060307
The entrance bridge has 14 stone arches and a moat protected what the sea did not

P1060264

P1060279
The waves make the most dramatic soundscape
P1060277
The fortified sea gate
P1060273
A fortified islet, the Bourtzi was often used as a prison

Pylos was once called Navarino which is also the (Italian) name of the bay it looks out over. This was the scene of an important sea battle fought during the Greek war of independence in 1827. Wrecks are still visible through the crystal clear water.

P1060338
The town nestles around the deep harbour
P1060335
The town square commemorates three admirals (French, British and Russian)  involved in the victory over the Turkish allies
P1060331
The square also has beautiful plane trees under which to enjoy a lazy coffee!
P1060347
Nearby is Gialova which has the most beautiful beach backed by a freshwater lagoon. Kipper spent a blissful afternoon here running up and down just for the fun of it!

The natural marvels of the Peloponnese are punctuated by ancient sites and more quirky landmarks like the replicas of the Eiffel tower and Disney’s palace built by a Doctor who returned to Filiatra after a successful career in the United States.

Olympia is one of the most atmospheric ancient sites we visited. A sacred truce to cease fighting was sworn in order to participate in sporting and cultural events which explains the significance of the temples alongside the sports facilities.

P1060391
The temple of Zeus to whom the games were dedicated
P1060387
Participants entered the stadium through the crypt, a vaulted passageway
P1060379
The courtyard of the Palaestra was where athletes trained for wrestling, boxing and jumping.
P1060429
The fantastic archaeological museum displays statues and objects from the sanctuary’s life

Greece  is laid back, a bit messy in places but extremely friendly. Time keeping is not highly valued but good simple food and wine is. Maybe that is why we have felt at home and found it so easy to enjoy this winter. The only difficulty is leaving. We have just about managed to avoid behaving like sulky teenagers and actually got ourselves onto a ferry to Italy. The trail continues…

M&G xx

Treat of the week: Motorhoming in Greece is so easy with many opportunities for free camping. We spent many nights next to the sea including several harbours on the Peloponnese. It was a privilege to watch the comings and goings of fishermen and coastguards and to enjoy very special views from our pillow.

P1060085
Catch of the week!