On most Greek headlands, what hits you first is the light, bouncing off burnished rocks or painting the horizon a fuzzy peach and today’s sunrise is no exception. We stroll up the steep lanes of the small fishing village of Kiveriou in search of a small kiosk. Craig is in need of some tobacco papers. As we slowly wander, the aroma of freshly baked orange and anise biscuits drifts from one of the small houses. An old lady carefully places her tray of biscuits on the veranda table to cool. Gosh they smell divine.
By lunch time, we were hugging the coast road all the way to the village of Astros. We parked on the far side of town and right on the beach with two swaying palm trees to keep us company. But somehow, the beach never quite looks the same on a windy and overcast day. In the afternoon, we pop Mac n Tosh in to the cycle bags and go for a ride. By early afternoon, the cool boardwalks to the pebbly beach are all but deserted with just a few hardened locals pacing the planks in their hoodies and big scarfs. A few trendy cafes remain open enticing the odd passing trade with a few chill out tunes and ambient lighting. The octopus bruschetta and aubergine chips smell divine and . give Craig an great idea for tonight’s meal….chicken pie and chips!
As we cycle back we spot a few sun loungers wedged among the pebbles, perfectly positioned for the sunset. On a rickety chair at the far end of the beach, someone had scrawled cosmote edo (mobile signal here). We check out the iPad to see if we can pinch a free wifi spot but the signal is too weak.
By the time we reach Vin the wind has picked up and we feel the first few specks of rain. The sea surf has picked up too and the waves are crashing on the beach. We briskly pack away the bikes and batten down the hatches just before the gale and lashing rain pounds poor Vin.
Our sleepy spot: On a really nice stretch of sandy beach at the far side of Astros with easy access to fresh water and portable beach loo.
Wild Camping GPS position Paralio Astros N037.406299, E022.756676
The next day, the convoy arrives just in time for the morning sunshine. Aaron & Miranda, a Dutch couple in a HUGE self built 4×4 and Louis & Marilyn an English couple in their Hymer. We met each other back in Nafplion and as we are all travelling the same way we thought we might share some time together. We have a fabulous day walking the dogs on the beach, sipping coffee, swimming in the sea, laughing and just having fun. The boys Craig, Louis and Aaron went in search of wood for the evening fire pit via the local taverna, whilst us girls stayed at home on the the beach and talked about real stuff.
By early evening the fire was in full glow and the wine was in full flow, need I say any more.
Wild Camping GPS position Paralio Astros N037.406299, E022.756676
After a morning natter and recovering from the shock that Trump is now President of America, we all took the dogs for a walk. Up and down the beach and jumping in an out the waves. The sea was still quite rough with plenty crashing waves, so Mac n Tosh struggled to get passed the foaming surf but they had a good go.
By lunchtime the weather changed and dark clouds moved in from the East. We all packed up and decided to head down the coast. We are all heading towards Monemvasia, so no doubt we will bump in to each other along the way.
We hugged the coast and wound our way south along the peninsula until we reached the town of Leonidiou. As soon as we saw the signs for the town we looked for an alternative road. Margit and Neil had warned us about this place, so we searched high and low. But around here…all roads lead to Leonidiou. Oh no! Looks like we will have to suck it and see. We snuggly slipped in to the town to be greeted by a bull dozer and a big hole in the road. Eek. We took a right and followed the flow. We stopped and started ever 2 seconds as cars inched their way passed us on the tiny one way system. It was stomach churning stuff and I prayed to god we didn’t get stuck whilst Craig slowly but surely edged his way through the alleys. At times we literally had millimetres to spare. But in the middle, we ground to a halt. We were way too big to fit through the gap. Not a cat in hells chance of getting through. Nothing for it, reverse. A gear not best used when you have a few dozen Greek cars up your rear.
Arms waved and rosemary beads rolled but slowly we managed to get unstuck. We tried another lane but nah, that too was too small and after several other lanes we had no bloody idea where we were. We were lost and stuck in the middle of a maze with a load of non to happy Greeks. Next minute, blue flashing light appeared and a Greek police car pulled up. He smiled and said just follow me. Sirens and lights galore we followed our police escort through the lanes and over a dried river bed to the other side of Leonidiou. Once out of the maze we thanks the police and we were on our way.
Our chances of staying in Leonidiou were shattered, so we moved on to the next coastal village of Poulithra and parked on the harbour. An absorbing little place to wander around and we did nothing more than enjoy the atmosphere. The narrow streets behind the sea front feature the everyday scenes of a small fishing village with locals stocking up on news and necessities, and stores catering to their every conceivable need, from steel drums to wooden saddles, seed to pick-up trucks.
Even in winter, the unassuming little harbour, there is the unmistakable perfume of sizzling calamari and olive oil. It is early afternoon, we stroll along the warm coastal path to the pebbly beach and the dudes dive straight to the edge of the sea. They play chasing pebbled and sticks whilst I kick the sand between my toes. But not for long, a storm arrives within a flash and we dash for shelter and Vin takes a battering from the wind and lashing sea waves.
Wild Camping GPS position Poulithra N037.115585, E022.902678
The storm passed in the night and today all is calm. A few grey clouds hang over the harbour but by the time we’ve walked around the boats and chatted to the fishermen blue skies return. We watch them prise open their sea urchins and with their ocean hardy hands and salty fingers.
Poulithra is way below the main road, so we wind our way out of the narrow village on to dozens of dusty hairpin bends. Within the space of 10km we had climbed from sea level to 800m. What a view! We continued along the partly asphalted road that leads via more alarming hairpin bends, to a very picturesque rocky cove lapped by a turquoise sea. From the cove, the track climbs inland to the mountains and we loose sight of the coastal waters.
We drive in to the dense green hills and continue our ascent to over 1000 meters. At the peak, we travel along the ridge until a valley appears like a wide crater. Despite last nights storm the river beds are still dry and you can see the arid veins meander down to the valley floor. The terraced slopes with their little stone walls are covered in bare olive trees with the exception of a few. The farmers continue to reap the remains of this years crop and tidy up the terraces in readiness for winter.
We meander through the valley to the other side. We pass characterful farmhouses and decide to stop for lunch at the hamlet of Mari. A true step back in time with ancient fresh water springs and vibrant green moss pools. We stand on the bridge and watch a packhorse, fully loaded, followed by two men pick its way through the overgrown and dense field. Later two cows and half a dozen dogs slowly emerge from the undergrowth. One dog yaps and all eyes turn to the steep rock as a flock of goats come jangling down for a drink.
The road from Mari to the coast winds like a piece of sticky spaghetti, across the valley and then steeply downhill to the most perfect Greek rock with an ancient village you are ever likely to visit. There are magnificent medieval walls, towers, cobbled lanes, arched passages, stairs, and views over the ocean. It is pure Greek Heaven.
To say I fell in love with Monemvasia is an understatement.
For the next 10 days we did not let Monemvasia out of our sight. We spent the majority of our time parked on Gefyra harbour looking out to the rock with our Dutch and English friends by our side. In terms if motorhome servicing, we had everything we needed from free electric, fresh water and a nearby drain. The local police and harbour police patrolled the site daily and were very friendly and chatty. Our stay was welcomed. For wash day, we moved down the coast about 10km to an isolated beach. In the main our weather was sunny and warm but we did have a few wild stormy days and by the time we left, the easterly wind was cutting. The night time temperatures have reduced quite a bit in the last 2 weeks, so the ‘summer’ duvet has come out of hiding.
Wild Camping GPS position Monemvasia Beach N036.728789, E023.026678
Wild Camping GPS position Monemvasia Harbour N036.685972, E023.039535
So whats it all about? Well Monemvasia is Greeks answer to Gibraltar but better. You can access the rock from the fishing village of Gefyra via a small causeway. We stayed on Gefyra harbour because our little patch provided the most sensational sunrise views over the amazing Monemvasia rock. The village of Gefyra has that raw elemental appeal and an intense tranquillity, this time of year there are more locals that tourists, so the atmosphere is just authentic. Pretty compact village with just a few villas tucked in among the terraced hills and a handful of shops, restaurants and hotels. The clear blue waters are teaming with fish but for us, the daily turtle visit provided an intriguing sunset attraction.
In the morning, we can never quite resist stopping at the family run bakers for a fresh crusty loaf or a chocolate croissant. The sweets are to die for with nougat wafers, bergamot sugar paste and addictive almond cookies shaped like Roman noses. The sign over the bakers says established in 1933 and everything is still cooked in wooden ovens or in old fashioned copper pots. Through a small hatch you can just see the kitchen, where the spindly father crimps dozens of bourekia – ground almonds, cloves, cinnamon and honey wrapped in pastry then drenched in icing sugar. I could stand in the shop for hours and just watch him with his precise movements perfected over a lifetime.
The local cafe & bar, was run by a friendly family. Ma & Pa sat on the side table watching over the kids (30’s) running the show. Orders were duly dished from time to time but the main ma & pa sat watching TV and nodding at the old chaps. Here the local group of wise men would gather every evening and put the worlds to rights. Sipping Ouzo or wine until dawn and enjoying a feast of dandelion and feta pies or a simple Greek salad before stumbling into home to bed. We enjoyed many an evening meal in the local taverna. Our nights, spent devouring plates of gyros or aromatic souvlaki, plates of grilled meat or just a Greek salad.
Our time at the beach provided views of blue sky and sea and in the distance, a brilliant white village cascading over a distant hilltop. Just before sunset, an old chap trundles over to nearby rocks and starts to fumble. I walk over to watch. Munching on raw garlic gloves he pulls out a large octopus. He chatters away in Greek and I nod in agreement. I am mesmerised as he starts to prepare his octopus. First he smacks it several times on a smooth, flat rock and then he takes it to a rough, jagged rock. Here he drags the octopus over rock until it starts to foam. He occasionally washes away the foam with sea water and then continues to drag over the rocks. When the octopus is tender he shoves it in a plastic bag, gives me the biggest warm smile, waves cheerio and tootles off home.
The sunset sky pulls our attention to the bottom of the headland, the blue and red dome of a lighthouse dangling above an emerald cove. As the light fades, it provides a great back drop for the super moon, what a place to share a rare astrological event.
Here with stunning views over the rock, I can’t help but slip into the slow rhythm of Greek life, lulled by the buzz of Peloponnese. Day after day, I walked over the causeway to the rock and wandered along every pathway and every alley, I loved it and so did Mac n Tosh. Everything feels deliciously remote, yet we are just a few hours drive from the capital Athens.
The Lower Town
The fortified town is built on two levels – lower and top section. In 15th century, the town housed around 50,000 inhabitants and enjoyed a semi autonomous state. It was never taken by force but it fall under siege. The lower town is a myriad of wonderful cobbled alleys with tiny houses stacked on top of each other with a few shops, cafes and churches for tourists to wander around. The majority of the lower section in inhabited with odd handmade hotel sign leading to a small cluster of renovated properties.
A pathway that winds up above the town and leads you through the gates (open 8-3) to the top section of the rock. From here you can wind you way through the ruins of the upper town and stunning views (1150ft above sea level ) of the surrounding ocean and landscape. It is stunning, amazing and in many ways surreal. There are lots of small trails to wander off the beaten track and being out of season, it was easy to find a secluded spot to sit and just soak up the views. Each day, I managed to find a spot even better than the last. It was so peaceful and beautiful, I often found myself drifting in to day dreams and waking to the odd tear, it was just stunning.
Monemvasia Upper Town
I have found that the best time to people watch is mid afternoon, when giggling children race through the tangle of alleys, grandmothers gossip on steps lined with geraniums and old men forage for capers, their purple flowers bursting out of cracks in the stone walls.
On Saturday evening, everyone hits Monemvasia, the rock turns in a lively hill top, for a night out. Popular with weekend retreats and chill out breaks, stylish couples don on their leather thigh high boots and designer jeans and clamber through the narrow lane that snakes through town. A few trendy bars have sprung up on rooftops and terraces, but simple chic Greek tavernas are at the heart of the action. In the middle, an old-time cafe where locals have been chewing the fat and knocking back rakomelo (warm grappa with honey, cinnamon and cloves).
Monemvisia will always have a special place in my heart but not just because of the location, the views and the architecture but because it allowed me time to think. The last week’s been emotionally challenging and each day, the rock has given time to sit and reflect. I have laughed, cried and wondered why as life twist and turns. I’ve had some family stuff to deal with but the real hard one, is mum. She has dementia and the last week’s not been a good time for her and it is heartbreaking. My sister is looking after her but I feel so helpless and feel I need to offer support to mum and my sister. I keep thinking do I go home or do I continue with our plans and slowly head home for March time? I really don’t know what to do. Distance is not a great place when all you want to do is hold someone in your arms, hug them tight and be there to protect them.
Tomorrow is a new day and a new destination, where will we head to, not sure. For now we will keep with the plans and monitor the situation day by day. May be we will bumble over to one of Pete & Judy’s Greek hot spots, these guys have been heading to Greece for the last 15 years and last week they sent up a link to their invaluable map & coordinates. Cheers guys! The easterly winds are damn cold and slowly picking up speed, so we are probably going to head to the west coast or inland until the winds die down.
Oh nearly forgot…check out our 1st guest post and watch this space as we have quite a few over the coming weeks!
See you soon folks!