Returning to Piraeus and Athens after the islands was a shock to the system, and we couldn’t wait to get away again. We had booked a car for our two week trip on the Peloponnese, the large peninsula to the west of Athens. This region, and the Mani peninsula in particular, had been my favourite spot in Greece when I visited 15 years ago, and I was looking forward to getting back.
While we were planning two weeks here, we would be travelling for only 1 week, as we would stay put for the week that Clara’s family were visiting. For that week, we had booked an apartment by the sea in the Mani peninsula, and for our other days we decided to travel slowly, seeing a bit of both the coast and the mountains. The highway whisked us away from Athens at a satisfying speed, and we were amazed at how good the highway system is. Granted you pay for it through a series of annoyingly frequent tolls (4 stops to reach Corinth, just one hour away), but the alternative of driving through the mountainous terrain makes it worthwhile.
We left the highway at Corinth and travelled along the winding coastal roads. It was glorious driving, seeing one beautiful blue bay after another.
A highlight was the citadel of Monemvasia, which initially just seemed to be a large island rock, connected by a bridge.
But on wandering to the far side, and passing through its stone gate, we found ourselves in a town, which has been sheltering its inhabitants from attacks over the past 1,500 years.
We also visited the laid-back, non-touristy town of Gythio, spending a night here on the outward and inward journeys. We first arrived the day before Lent and there was a festival in full swing. It’s the biggest event of the year all over Greece, and the streets were full of kids and adults in fancy dress, with the tavernas packed with revellers. It’s a beautiful town, with the snowy peaks rising up behind the harbour front buildings.
While based for the week in the Mani peninsula, we toured to visit the town of Methoni, with its impressive Venetian castle from the 15th century.
During our week long stay with Clara’s family we were in a small village, with the apartment owner living downstairs. Like all the other Greeks we have met so far she was incredibly hospitable, and arrived daily with some little gift for us. Olive oil from their olive trees, honey from their hive, a jug of wine from their vines, eggs from their chickens, home-made bread … the list was endless. Pouring olive oil over fresh bread … my God what a delight! And spoonfuls of their honey onto yogurt … exquisite! Although how long we could last on a diet like that and still fit in our jeans I don’t know!
One evening my sister and I drove to a nearby village to order souvlaki take-away for dinner, and on being told it would be a 20 minute wait for the food, we crossed the road to the beach. Seeing a taverna, my sister decided on a sit-down and a glass of wine. I explained to the waitress that I wouldn’t have anything as I was driving, and that we would anyway need to leave in about 15 minutes. When she arrived back with the wine she told us it was a gift, and refused any payment, saying just that she wished us a good journey wherever we were heading to. We had never seen this woman before, and I can only think she must have felt sorry for us, with my sister clearly being an alcoholic who needed her quick fix before we could continue our trip.
It was great to have my niece and nephew around for the week. They swam every day, their pale swimsuit clad bodies shocking the local Greeks out walking. But thanks to their assurances that the water was warm (it wasn’t!), I had my first swim of the trip, and now that I have started, I aim to continue. Daniel on the other hand, didn’t even bring his swimsuit …
In our next post we will share some pictures from the mountains of the Peloponnese; here is a taster in the meantime ….