The Mountainous Peloponnese

The Peloponnese is such a special place. In our previous post you will have seen some of its  beautiful bays, but what makes it special is the abundance of mountains, visible from every point on the peninsula. Many peaks, being over 2,000m high, are snow covered until the end of spring, and we never tired of being surrounded by orange or olive groves, or walking on a beach, and having these as a back-drop.

peloponnese70Away from the busy north coast it is sparsely populated, with villages or small towns built around sheltered coves, or nestling under the hills.

peloponnese66peloponnese84The plains amongst the hills are a beautiful contrast to the rugged slopes; fertile plateaus filled with vines, olives and fruit trees. Before arriving in Greece, we hadn’t heard much about its wine, but we are converts now. While they do have high-end, top quality wine – winners at international wine fairs – in every supermarket you can find a good selection of wine at 3 to 5 euro a bottle (without even resorting to the plastic bottles on the bottom shelf!). An industry ripe for better marketing overseas!

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The Nemea wine region
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Everywhere we look, ripe oranges are falling off the trees.

The wild Mani peninsula in the south is famous for its stone towers, defensive family homes dating from the 17th century. In some parts of the peninsula every hillock or bump has a tall fortress-like tower, sometimes with 30 or more visible at any one time. Built to withstand attack from the neighbours, this area wouldn’t suit those who like to pop round for a cuppa and a chat. Some towers are intact today – and lived in – but many are crumbling.

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Spot the two towers …
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The remains of the traditional Mani village of Vathia

Elsewhere, monasteries are somehow cut into the sides of the cliffs, almost flush with the rock or overhanging a massive drop to the valley floor.  These are still in use, with communities of monks living there, in what we imagine must be spartan conditions.

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Moni Elonas

peloponnese08Speaking of which, we passed through the legendary Sparta, but found few signs of its former glory. Fearing no-one, they didn’t build impressive city walls, and its most impressive feature now is its view of the surrounding mountains.

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The view from Sparta

And the drive to get there from Kalamata, winding up and over the Langada pass. Our guidebook rates it one of the most beautiful drives in Greece and we were not disappointed. I don’t think I have ever driven so many hairpin bends in a single day!

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We ventured deep into the mountains for our last 2 nights in the Peloponnese, staying in a village at 1,300m. While there we visited some other mountain villages nearby, as well as a monastery at the bottom of a gorge.

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The Lousios Gorge, from where the 73km signposted Menalon trail leads through the gorge and into the hill side villages. One to come back to.
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A 5km hairpin bend descent brought us to Moni Agiou Ioanni Prodomou (St John The Baptist). There were plenty of monks onsite, and any flat land nearby was planted with vegetables.

Only Daniel could enter the monastery though as I wasn’t prepared to whip off my trousers …

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On our last night there we had an almighty thunderstorm with endless lightning, and in the morning we awoke to this pretty view …

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We had a long drive to the airport in Athens that day, and we were relieved when the lady at our bed & breakfast told us the school bus had arrived, shorthand for the roads had been cleared of snow.

But before we leave the mountains, we have to mention the flowers. The wild flowers are up in abundance, and every day seems to bring more colour. And as we head further into spring, we can look forward to more and more…

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