Greece Again. This time, the Peloponnese

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January 28th 2020
Published: January 28th 2020
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Postcard view of GythionPostcard view of GythionPostcard view of Gythion

The squid is full of bees!
There is a shipwreck on the beach just before Gythion. We stopped off just to admire it in the distance and then came back another day for a walk on the beach and to see it up close. It's on a long, sandy beach and there were people camping. No facilities but looked like a very nice place to spend a few days. On both sides of Gythion there are long sand beaches where turtles lay their eggs in season. We visited Mystra, a former Byzantine capital, with many ruins of churches and palaces, some have been restored. It is built over 2 levels on a steep hill and we spent hours walking up and down the lower level. By the time we drove up to the upper level, we were tired out, anyway the castle was closed for renovation. There isn't much information in English but there were English-speaking guides at the bigger sites that were very helpful. Sparta is nearby but there is really nothing to see there. Mystra will keep you busy for many hours. Fascinating place. Recommended.

Gythion is a port town of working class people, that behind the first row of restored houses, is a bit neglected, a bit rough around the edges. It is a lived in town, not just for tourists. Makes a great base for visiting all the sites in the area and there are nice beaches on both sides of the town, plus it has its own little island with a church and lighthouse, and as mentioned, it has a shipwreck too. One of Gythion's best attractions is the sunrise. At 7.30 in the morning, you don't even have to get up so early. Great way to start the day.

Gythion has an important place in Greek mythology. It was the main port of Sparta and the little island of Cranae was the site of events that triggered the Trojan Wars. You can walk to the pine-covered island by causeway. Some people were swimming off the rocks into beautiful, clear water and delicate, purple cyclamens were scattered under the trees. It also has a lighthouse and a church. Mentioned by Homer in the 8th century BC, Cranae is the place where Paris of Troy and beautiful Helen of Sparta spent their first night together, before leaving for Troy and setting off the Trojan Wars. Legend has it that Paris forgot his helmut there. Cranae is from the Greek "kranos" meaning helmut.

Continuing our journey up the coast we stopped off in Aeropoli for an hour or two. A small, well preserved, traditional town of stone houses and towers, there is a main square and many cafes and restaurants in the picturesque, bougainvillea-filled streets. The baker had just taken a tray of cheese filled pastries out of the oven and the wonderful smell led us to his shop, just in time. Down on the coast is the small port village of Limeni with it's very blue, clear waters. There is no beach, people swim from ladders on the rocks. A bit further up the coast we arrived at another small village, Agios Nicolaos. The seafront is lined with restaurants and on a Sunday at lunchtime the restaurants were full of Greek people. If you like smaller, quieter places, then all of these small authentic villages would make a good base for exploring the Mani. For us though, Gythion was a good choice.

Stoupa is a tourist village, more developed than the other villages on the coast. Somehow, we got lost in the back streets, never found the beach, ended up turning around and driving out to the main road and continued on our way without stopping. I was in a hurry. I had already fallen in love with Kardamyli, just because of it's name. I hoped that I wouldn't like it too much because we only had one night there. I had a feeling though that I would like it a lot. And I did. It's just lovely. I was so sorry that we couldn't stay longer. We found a nice room, with balconies draped with bougainvillea, rented by a beautiful Greek woman, where we watched an amazing sunset. In the morning, her mother brought us some traditional Greek breakfast food -- a sort of nut jelly and quince cooked in wine. A short walk behind the main street is old Kardamyli, with its abandoned stone tower houses and 18th century church. Beautiful scenery -- one side of Kardamyli looks out to sea and behind it are the Taygetos Mountains with many paths into the mountains for hiking or for easy walks through the olive groves. That night I had a delicious mousaka for dinner, one of my tastiest meals of the trip

The next morning, before continuing inland to the mountains, I wanted to try and find Patrick Leigh Fermor's house. There was a tiny sign, just out of town, and we followed it down a street filled with private houses that ended at a small, pebble beach. There was no sign or indication so I decided that one of the houses at the end was his. It was locked and there was no way of approaching it, so we just sat on the beach for a while and enjoyed the peace and solitude of the place.

Unfortunately, our time on the coast was at an end, we wouldn't get as far as Methoni on this trip, we drove back to Athens through the mountains, stopping for 2 nights in an Acadian mountain village. On the way to Vytina we drove through Dimitsana which is where we originally wanted to stay. The village is built on the mountain side and the main road is very narrow, there is no parking. We arrived just as the school bus was making its way through the village. I cannot begin to describe the chaos that ensued in this small crowded place. It didn't seem possible that the bus could squeeze through. There were two policemen and their car supposedly there to direct the traffic, but in reality, just adding to the confusion. Did I mention that this was a two-way street? We came back to Dimitsana the next day and spent some time exploring the streets of this picturesque village. Happy that we weren't staying there though, we continued on to Vytina, about half an hour away. Vytina is at a higher elevation than Dimitsana, but it doesn't seem like it because it is at the foot of the mountains and is fairly flat (with plenty of parking). 12 kms further, there is a ski resort.

There seems to be a lot of houses that are locked up, possibly abandoned. We were there at the end of October, at the beginning of the week, and there were only a few tourists. I was told that at the weekends, many Greek people come and perhaps those locked up houses are theirs. There is a gourmet restaurant in the village but we didn't want to be the only people there, so we ended up going to the local taverna. On Monday night, it seemed that the whole village had also come out to eat. Generous portions, very reasonable prices and a nice atmospere, we went back the next night too. There are about 6 easy walks around the village, between 1-2 kilometers, each path with signposts of a different animal. We went out for trips in the day time and came back late afternoon and really enjoyed the walks up and down and around the village. I think we did all of them. We also enjoyed walking around Dimitsana, Stemnitsa and Lagkadia, all pretty mountain villages.

The breakfast we got was enormous and we couldn't eat even half of it. The next day, we got even more, this time with a plate of fried crispy things and honey. I thought I might just try one, but we couldn't stop and finished them all. We had to fortify ourselves for the trip back to Athens (only 2 hours and good roads).

In Athens, we did what we always do -- walk and walk and walk. Mostly around the markets in Monestiraki. There is so much stuff in the vintage stalls. I don't really want anything but I love looking at it all. I even enjoyed our visit to the fish and meat market. Very clean and tidy while we were there. Just one word of advice though -- don't wear sandals to the fish market. We also visited one of the worst areas in Athens -- not by intention, by mistake. I got the name mixed up and when I told the hotel manager that we wanted to go there, he looked very surprised. The taxi driver gave us a knowing look and let us off at the main square. Only then did we understand. There is one nice walking street with many trees and graffiti and a lot of young people sitting in the cafes. Afterwards, we took a taxi to the place we meant to go. Gazi is an old gas works that has been converted to an exhibition space. There is a lot of graffiti. Not so interesting. I wanted to visit the new national library and opera complex but we were out of time, and it will just have to wait until our next Greek holiday.

Additional photos below
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A medieval town, occupied by the Franks, Byzantines, Turks and Venetians.
Island of CranaeIsland of Cranae
Island of Cranae

Paris and Helen's love story started here.
Gythion sunriseGythion sunrise
Gythion sunrise

Sun coming up behind Cranae island

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