A Stunning Surprise On The Mani


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April 29th 2019
Published: June 8th 2019
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The Gibraltar Of The EastThe Gibraltar Of The EastThe Gibraltar Of The East

The town of Monemvasia is rather spectacularly located on this island known as "The Rock", for obvious reasons.
It was a long day of driving as we went from Nafplio to the Mani Peninsula via Olympia, so at least the stunning scenery we saw on the Mani coast made the long drive seem worthwhile. Spending six hours in a car with your sister who you haven't seen for a while also presents an amazing opportunity to make up for lost time.
It was great to hang out with Fern for an extended period of time, having only caught up with her infrequently and fleetingly ever since I left New Zealand twelve years ago. We still laugh at the same jokes and the same things, but I also found it interesting to discover how we have also both changed and grown over the last twelve years.

We finally got to our final destination for the day in the late afternoon, high in the hills above the town of Stoupa, surrounded my olive groves.
The place Fern had booked us for the night was amazing - we had managed to nab an entire cottage for just 80€ and the place came with a pool and a super-fancy restaurant with a view, where we enjoyed breakfast the next morning.
I hadn't
Lording Over MonemvasiaLording Over MonemvasiaLording Over Monemvasia

Looking over the lower town of Monemvasia.
even heard of Stoupa itself while researching this trip, so we were both surprised to discover a pretty town behind a pleasant little beach, when we went down there to have dinner. The charming surrounds make it the perfect place to enjoy a relaxing meal and we chose well with a restaurant at the northern end of the beach. As well as providing comfortable al fresco dining with a sweeping view of the beach, the food was decent too and the service outstanding.
Staying in nice pIaces, eating well and taking in historic sights and beautiful scenery, I was really enjoying this little trip of ours. I felt really pampered too, which was a far cry from my backpacking days, when I was battling bedbugs and putting up with grotty hostels and noisy dorm mates.

The next day, we went back up the coast to Kardamyli, where we originally wanted to stay the night. It is a popular spot however and we couldn't find any accommodation there, which is why we ended up in Stoupa - although that ended up working out perfectly.
Like Stoupa, cute Kardamyli is a relaxed seaside town where you can enjoy the pace of
The Church Of Agia SophiaThe Church Of Agia SophiaThe Church Of Agia Sophia

Hanging dramatically and precariously on a cliff in the upper town of Monemvasia.
Greek rural life. In the hills is the old fortified town which is home to the Church Of St Spyridon and its Venetian-style tower; during the Middle Ages, the inhabitants of Kardamyli were forced to retreat into hills to escape the scores pirates that scoured the area at the time. They were also forced into building the fortified towers that are dotted all over the hillside and are a trademark of Mani Peninsula.

An hour's drive south along the peninsula gets you to Areopoli, a warren of a town that has yet more fortified towers. In all honesty however, the towers weren't super-special - especially when compared to the ones I saw in Guangdong.
From Areopoli, we then made our way to the pretty yet “earthy” (according to Lonely Planet) fishing town of Gythio, which had a riviera-like yet unpretentious feel to it. There is a small islet connected to the mainland by a causeway that is reputedly ancient Cranae, where Paris of Troy and Helen of Sparta got jiggy with it to spark the Trojan War. There is nothing but a lighthouse, a castle-cum-museum and people camping there these days. We stopped here for lunch where the fried
Paint A PicturePaint A PicturePaint A Picture

Just about a classic picture of Greece in Monemvasia.
fish and calamari we had was average. It was nevertheless a nice stop.

Before I left Berlin, my boss had recommended to me a travel documentary by an American fella called Rick Steves, which was about the Peleponnese. At first sight, it looked like a Travel Channel documentary for old people but I then found myself hooked. Yes, Rick Steves isn't 'cool' by any means and his shows are quite clearly aimed at an older audience, but I found him to be a seasoned TV host, his delivery concise, eloquent and unpretentious, and found his documentary to be very informative. One place that wasn't mentioned in my Lonely Planet but discovered through Rick Steves, was the town of Monemvasia.
Known as "The Gibraltar Of The East", Monemvasia is a walled town tucked away on the side of an island which is linked to the mainland by a causeway. As you arrive in the part of town on the mainland, where we were staying, seeing this giant rock swing into view is quite the sight.
The view from the balcony of our B&B was even better however, a panoramic view of this massive boulder rising majestically out of the sea.
The Streets Of KardamyliThe Streets Of KardamyliThe Streets Of Kardamyli

The main road running through the quaint town of Kardamyli.
The perfect sight with which to enjoy breakfast the next morning.
We still had a bit of daylight left that evening however, so we decided to trek over to the island for dinner.

Quite simply, the town and it's location is simply stunning. Within the walls in the lower town - the part of the town that is situated at the bottom of the island's one hundred metre high cliffs - almost all of the medieval brick buildings have been restored and the entire town has been gentrified completely. I'd say that there probably isn't a single permanent resident in the walled town but that every building in there is either a B&B or a holiday home. The restorations and the quiet cobblestone lanes are what give the lower town such a pleasant vibe however and it does have a ‘lived-in’ feel despite all the tourists. The dramatic setting and its position on the shore leads my sister to describe Monemvasia as the “King’s Landing" of Greece. As far as King's Landing goes, Monemvasia is definitely an excellent alternative to the real thing, although Dubrovnik will always be my first love when it comes to walled cities and is still admittedly
Fortified TowerFortified TowerFortified Tower

Towers such as this one in Areopoli, are dotted all over the Mani Peninsula.
better - especially if you’re into Game Of Thrones like my sister is.

Our visit to the Peleponnese managed to coincide with Orthodox Easter which meant that Greece’s tourist hotspots were busier and pricier than usual and this was reflected by the busyness of the ‘clubs’ in Monemvasia on Easter Sunday and the traffic back into Athens the next day. It wasn't ideal to be honest but it was cool to see more local tourists than foreign ones as I felt we were getting a more Greek experience of the country than we might have otherwise. The bars and restaurants in the lower town were packed although we did manage to find a quiet table overlooking the sea - not bad for our final dinner in Greece.

The next morning, we returned to the town so that we could explore the plateau atop the cliffs, known as the "upper town".
Well, the views from up there were amazing. The contrast of the red earth and spring flowers against the magnificent deep blue of the sea made for some breathtaking scenery and spectacular photographs. The colour of the water in particular is wondrous and always seems to be this
GythioGythioGythio

"Earthy" fishing town where we stopped for lunch.
colour in Greece. The brilliant sunshine definitely helps.
The Church Of Agia Sophia is dramatically perched on the edge of a cliff and I manage to find the exact spot where Rick Steves delivers the final monologue of his documentary, which showcases a magnificent view of the church against the backdrop of the sea and the mainland. The church itself was pretty cool - literally - on the inside and Fern got to visit her first Orthodox church, which definitely have their own character.
There is little blows me away these days but Monemvasia certainly did, mostly because it was so unexpected - I can’t believe that I had no idea this place existed. I definitely have to give a big shout out to my boss and Rick Steves for this one.

And with that, it was time for the long drive back to Athens.
It is always with utmost pleasure that I spend time with my sister and this time around we were certainly able to have a good catch up. It was just great to completely be myself. There was a lot of reminiscing done of our childhoods and teenage years, especially through the 80s, 90s and
StoupaStoupaStoupa

Fern inspects the menu at the delightfully located restaurant we ate at in Stoupa.
noughties pop music soundtrack that bounced around our tinny rental car. I very much look forward to seeing her again soon, hopefully before the end of the year.

In a way however, I was also glad the trip was coming to an end as I could now go back to Berlin to enjoy my new apartment. I was also absolutely knackered from sickness and a lack of sleep carried over from Tunisia that I never got a chance to catch up. Almost two weeks of driving had taken its toll too.
Even though our journey has been pretty relaxing, moving almost every day is tiring.

So I will be taking a bit of a break from travelling now, as I look to stay put in Berlin and start to build up my life there. When will I be travelling next? Will I even manage to get away again this year? Stay tuned to find out!

Yamas!
Derek


Additional photos below
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Breakfast With A ViewBreakfast With A View
Breakfast With A View

With "The Rock" in full view from our B&B, this is about as good as view as I've seen while enjoying breakfast.
Elkomenos Christos ChurchElkomenos Christos Church
Elkomenos Christos Church

The church overlooks the bustling main square in Monemvasia's lower town.
The Old Town Of KardamyliThe Old Town Of Kardamyli
The Old Town Of Kardamyli

Pirates forced the inhabitants into the hills during the Middle Ages, where they built a fortified old town.
AreopoliAreopoli
Areopoli

The main square of the old town of Areopoli.
WaterfrontWaterfront
Waterfront

Gythio's waterfront had a slight Riviera feel to it.
Shipwrecked!Shipwrecked!
Shipwrecked!

The Dimitrios has been beached in a rather picturesque location outside Gythio since 1981.
CausewayCauseway
Causeway

The causeway linking Monemvasia to the mainland.
Entrance To MonemvasiaEntrance To Monemvasia
Entrance To Monemvasia

The main entrance through the town walls into Monemvasia.
The Streets Of MonemvasiaThe Streets Of Monemvasia
The Streets Of Monemvasia

The quiet, quaint streets of the lower town of Monemvasia.
Main Street In MonemvasiaMain Street In Monemvasia
Main Street In Monemvasia

The main pedestrian thoroughfare going through the lower town of Monemvasia, which was rammed with visitors when we were there.
MonemvasiaMonemvasia
Monemvasia

One of two main squares in the lower town. Spot the town wall that creeps up the cliff.
Dinner With A ViewDinner With A View
Dinner With A View

The spot where we enjoyed dinner in Monemvasia.
View To The SeaView To The Sea
View To The Sea

From the upper town of Monemvasia. The blue of the water is of a spectacular shade I have only ever seen in Greece.
Behind BarsBehind Bars
Behind Bars

I can't decide whether having a view like this from your jail cell is a wonderful consolation or a torturous reminder of what you're missing out on.
Inside The Agia SophiaInside The Agia Sophia
Inside The Agia Sophia

Not the famous one in Istanbul but the one in Monemvasia.


8th June 2019

Travels with your sister...
I've enjoyed every minute of your trip and your time with your sister. I hope that after some rest in Berlin, I am treated to more travels.

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