It’s early and very damp as we head south around the first of the southern Peloponnese “fingers”, to Kalamata 42 miles away. All along the coast, high mountains (covered in snow in the winter) reach almost to the sea, leaving a thin coastal plain.
And now a very brief history lesson …. Around 2,000 BC the Peloponnese was invaded by the first Greek speaking people, a warrior race from whom the hero legends of Perseus and Pericles were derived. Later came the Mycenaeans and later still around 850 BC the warrior race of the Spartans.
Kalamata is the largest town in the Peloponnese, it was once the principle port in the area, although it now seems to be a dumping ground for abandoned boats (some of them quite large) with the very occasional small liner coming to visit. Much of the old warehouses surrounding the port is empty and dilapidated. The earthquake of 1968 destroyed much of the town, some of which has not yet been rebuilt.
Local day boats and private yachts moor up in the marina to the west of town which holds about 250 yachts. It is well run with good shelter (costing about 43 euro’s a night including electric and water).
On our first evening we went to a park in the centre of town, mentioned in the pilot book. In the middle of the park, there is an old railway station and the place is littered with “restored” steam engines and carriages. They have been restored the Greek way, which means, most of the bits you can see have been painted (sort of), but everything inside these magnificent trains is rusting, rotting and falling apart, still they look impressive on the outside. The park was also hosting a four-day Olive festival, with stalls, cooking demonstrations and some music in the evening, so we sat down for supper in what was the railway station, to watch the activities.
On the second day, we hired a car for two days to go exploring. The first day we drove down the coastal road to the Caves of Diros on the Mani peninsula. Mani is the middle “finger” of the southern Peloponnese and described as one of the wildest places in the Mediterranean, it was once a hide away for pirates and parts of the rugged peninsula are still inaccessible. On route you find the landscape sprinkled with ancient stone towers and Byzantine churches. The villages are all similar in design with their red tile roofs and stone walls all blending in with the landscape.
The Caves of Diros are supposed to be magnificent, with stalactites hanging from the ceiling and careful illuminations bringing out their colours and textures. The viewings are now strictly controlled with a guide pushing and punting a flat-bottomed boat through the caves. We were surprised how busy it was (we should have known as it is one of the main sight-seeing sites in the Peloponnese) and were extremely disappointed to learn that there was a three hour wait for the tour boats.
The caves were quickly abandoned and we carried on down the Mani peninsula stopping at a stunning little fishing village called Gerolimenas, with one sail boat at anchor and only a few local Greek holiday makers, who had managed to find this little gem. We enjoyed a delightful rest and cool down over a fish lunch.
After lunch we continued almost to the southern tip of the peninsular, to a bay called Marmari. This is where Anthony and Cleopatra must have landed after their defeat at the battle of Actium and en-route back home to Egypt – which for anyone who knows Mark, will already realise the significance with regard to the book he is writing.
For the return trip we headed into the mountains, planning to come back via the town of Sparta which is on a central plain hemmed in by mountains. However, the clouds descended, and the temperature dropped to a low 21 degrees, such a contrast to the earlier 35 degrees. Sparta was so disappointing, it is a modern town, Greek style, no pretty building and no historical sites, we expected more. With rain accompanying us most of the way home, we took the motorway, arriving back at 7pm.
Saturday 4th August – Happy Birthday Adam. With a busy day planned, we were out and about doing the food shopping and dog walking early, keen to get on our way. Tasks done, we headed off, but this time taking the mountain route towards Mystras. The 2-hour drive across the mountain range was breath-taking, with lush greenery and sharp ravine drops, which were at times a little scary.
We stopped half way at a remote and delightful road-side restaurant for coffee.
We had lunch in the village of Mystras, which is all that remains of a medieval town, crowned by a castle on a pyramid shape hill on Mount Taygetos, which rises almost 8,000 ft. It is the highest peak in a range that dominates the southern Peloponnese.
Our next stop was the Monastery of Elona, a couple of hours drive across more stunning mountain ranges. The Monastery is set in a deep cleft in a sheer cliff, constructed on the reddish rock of Parnon. The monastery was eerily quiet, with only one other family visiting and one priest in attendance, who was not very chatty and only interested in selling us some of their wine, jam or Knick knacks. None the less, the views from the monastery are stunning and well worth a visit.
Sunday was a quiet day but very hot, there was no breeze and 32 degrees below deck. Above was at least 35 degrees, you could not walk on the teak decks without scolding your feet. Later in the evening as it cooled down we took Hudson for a walk for the final night of the Olive festival in the train park.
On the Monday 6th – Mark went off for a dive at a site about 15km along the coast, Hudson and I were invited along as there was room in the car. We were able to have a paddle and relax in a local café under the shade, enjoying a fresh juice. On the dive was a Swedish family of 3, but unfortunately, they were not very experienced, so the dive instructor had to keep stopping to give instructions. The fish life as expected was non-existent, but Mark said the colours in the extremely small cavern were stunning. Not a great success but at least a dive logged in Mark’s log book. We are now keen to get back to an anchorage, to cool off with a swim and hopefully some afternoon breeze.… Read more