10
May
14

Europe Trip – Greece – The Peloponnese peninsula

PELOPONNESE PICASA PHOTO ALBUM (104 pictures)

The Peloponnese, only connected to the Greek mainland by the Corinth Isthmus (and the Toll bridge we came on) has snowcapped mountains, lush gorges and sun-speckled beaches, as well as plenty of historical sites with classic temples, Byzantine cities and Venetian fortresses.

After a stop at Kalogria beach, with a nice setting sun and view on the most southern Ionian islands, we went to Ancient Olympia, where the original Olympics were held. They were the Ancient World’s biggest sporting event, and were so important that warring states halted their squabbles. The compact site itself makes for an absorbing visit, although little remains of the magnificent buildings. The blossoming trees and almost deserted site however made up for some of it.

We then followed the coast south to the Messinia region, where we spent some time exploring the beaches and fortresses of Giavola, Pylos and Methoni. Each of them was worth the time spent and we felt we were more and more immersed in the Greek culture.

The road from Kalamata to Sparta is one of the most stunning in Greece, as it crosses the beautiful Taÿgetos Mountains via the Langada Pass, at 1524 meters. The gorges on either side of the pass are spectacular and the views going up and coming down are wonderful. The winding road full of steep hairpin bends takes you through all the different kinds of vegetation, and the low tunnels and carved out roads were breathtaking and hair-raising.

After this spectacular scenery, we drove through the once mighty Sparta, now a modern town, to the captivating ruins of of Mystras. However, it turned out that with May 1st being a national holiday, the site was closed. Disappointed, we drove south to the Mani region, known for its abandoned tower-villages and mountain scenery. However, we hung around on a beautiful little beach with rusting shipwreck enjoying the warm weather and water.

Monemvasia, the perfect fortress, is located in the southern tip of the peninsula and driving through the barren dry hills to get there, gives a sense of isolation and remoteness like we felt in Scandinavia. The iceberg-like slab of rock is moored of the coast, with sheer cliffs (topped by ruins) rising hundreds of meters from the sea. To reach the Kastro or medieval town you need to walk across a small causeway and through the only L-shaped entrance gate to the lovely maze of little cobblestoned streets, walled gardens, courtyards and squares. While the kids entertained themselves on the main square with cannons, churches, flowers and beetles, Shadae explored the village as well as the ruins on top of the mountain. To top it off, we had the perfect warm weather, a great free parking with view on the rock and a pebbly clear beach with playground. How nice!

Ancient Mycenae was once the most powerful kingdom in Greece, and its ruins reflect only a fraction of this forlorn power. Although the Lions Gate and the some of the grave circles are impressive, the rest of the site is just a bunch of foundations without anything recognizable. Luckily there is a beautiful museum containing great artifacts, where the kids wreaked havoc and made the cleaning ladies laugh. The site itself was overgrown with different kinds of wildflowers and all kinds of beetles and bugs were crawling around, making it a great adventure for the kids.

Nafplion, one of Greece’s prettiest towns, occupies a knock-out location on a small port beneath the Palamidi fortress, a spectacular citadel towering 216 meter above the town. The views on the city and surrounding land were astonishing, and a spectacular array of wildflowers was blossoming everywhere. The town below had a relaxed atmosphere with narrow flower-filled streets, small but beautiful Byzantine churches, quaint squares filled with bars and even the surprising Mediterranean Boat Show where we could see the toys of the rich of this planet.

We then drove out of the peninsula passing over the narrow Corinth Canal, cut through solid rock and connecting the gulfs of Corinth and Megara. It is 6 kilometer long, 23 meter wide and at the sides rise over 90 meters above the water.

Up to busy Athens and northeastern Greece.

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