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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.