It’s a sunny Sunday and the early morning drive to Nestos riverside is filled with Abba songs, caffeine and excitement. A three-hour hike through Nestos Gorge is definitely something to be excited about!
River Nestos separates Macedonia from Thrace and flows into the Thracian Sea, in its famous Delta, which is a National Park. According to Greek mythology, Nestos (or Nessos), a name associated with the verb Nasso, was born at the beginning of time -before humans even existed- along with 12,456 rivers and 3,000 Nymphs. His father was Oceanus and his mother was Tethys.
Nestos is divided into two parts- the Nestos Gorge at Toxotes, Xanthi and the Nestos Delta at Chrysoupoli, Kavala. The views of both are quite frankly breathtaking.
We arrived at the meeting point, Nestos Adventure Park minutes before our guided trek group departed. The route is not a difficult one to follow but seeing as this was our first time, we figured it would be best to book tickets and go with a guided group- “jaywalking” is my middle name after all.
The sandy beach at the start of the tour, Galani Beach of Nestos, smelled like fresh river water and pine trees, a beautiful scent that set the mood for the rest of the day. We stopped to stare at the children playing on the shores and the adults about to embark on a kayak adventure. ‘This must be fun,” I exclaimed and my husband agreed that this would be next on our list of baby-free weekend activities.
The path across the river basin of Nestos on which we were currently loping certainly seemed rather narrower than I had been anticipating. But the golden alluvial land and the blue lagoon unfolding views ahead compensated for the lack of it.
We were only 10 minutes into our walk when we stopped to admire the views of the continual train tunnels- there are around thirty tunnels along the total stretch of the railway built by French engineers during the Ottoman Empire to create a route that connects Thessaloniki to Constantinople for the famous Orient Express train to pass through. The railway line does not operate anymore but these are a reminder of a once-famous train journey connecting not only the West and the East but also Thessaloniki to Alexandroupoli with multiple picturesque villages in between.
Further down, the path was getting steeper but the views of the river meanders, the rocky gorge and the stunning mountain backdrop made it impossible not to feel humble and realise that this was perhaps one of the best hiking experiences I’ve ever had in my life! Bridges and 19th-century stone-built tunnels formed a setting that few can forget.
A few benevolent stray dogs accompanied us, wagging tails each time lunch-packed sandwiches made their appearance. After an hour we reached the Viewpoint Nestos Gorge and it was then that our guide shouted that we are halfway through the tour. The views from up here are spectacular – from one side you have the best valley and mountain views and from the other side you can see the stretch of the river. Unintentionally, we found ourselves gazing at the deep end of the mountain and experiencing a feeling of inner peace and solitude.
Even though there are many trek routes to follow, we chose the hiking route Toxotes – Kromniko, which took four hours to complete and get back to the starting point. The path was walkable and ideal for people of all fitness levels and ages. Among the many things we loved was crossing the riparian forest, watching free horses running in the mountain, having lunch outside the abandoned Kromniko train stop and admiring the three main meanders of the river, which, according to Greek mythology, were created while Nestos was looking for his way between the wild slopes of the mountains.
Once we made it back to the car park, we had a much-needed coffee break to gather some energy and loosen the muscle knots in our legs at Canteen Galani by the beach. The rest of the group went on to have a late lunch at the nearby taverna ‘Ta Tempi tou Nestou’ but we left as we had an hour’s drive to make it home.
This is the kind of weekend activities I want to see myself doing more of in 2022!
Tip: Dromeas Thrakis organises guided tours take place every two weeks. You can find more information or book your tickets here.
Whether it’s skiing at the Velouchi Ski Centre, climbing to the Black Cave, or rafting in the Tavropos River – Karpenisi’s rich natural wonders keep adventurers busy and red-cheeked for days.
Located in Evrytania, this traditional and verdant mountain destination offers all the winter charms – pretty architecture, good food and great places where you can curl up by the fire.
Here are the Best Things to See and Do in Karpenisi!
Ski at one of Greece’s largest resorts
The Velouchi plateau is one of the largest and most challenging ski resorts in Greece. Spread over 5,500 square metres, at an altitude of 1,850 to 2,000 metres, it features 11 slopes. Here you can ski, snowboard, or just sit back and sip on a glass of wine or warm tea as you enjoy the incredible views.
Stroll around town
Take a walk around the square to see the historic monuments, including statues of Antonis Katsantonis and Markos Botsaris (heroic figures of the 1821 Greek War of Independence). Also check out the church of Agia Triada, the beautiful plane tree in the centre of the square and the charming mountain-water spring. As you make your way down Zinopoulou (the main road) you will come across a range of tavernas, kafenion (traditional coffee shops), bars, boutiques, and a variety of stores where you can pick up some local delicacies shopping (make sure your list includes aromatic herbal teas from the local mountains, as well as wild herbs.)
Experience traditional village life
The beautiful villages surrounding Karpenisi give this place such a unique appeal and each village has its own warm feel. Make sure you check out Korsychades- through this historic settlement’s stone streets, with their well-preserved old homes. In the main square, you’ll find the church of Agios Athanasios, built in 1865, and the historic public school from 1901, which now houses the fascinating Museum of National Resistance. Megalo Xorio (a large village) and Mikro Xorio (a small village) are also must-see spots filled with captivating landscapes.
Karpenisi is a very important religious destination in Greece. On the road from Karpenisi to Prousso, there are seven markings of white marble on the dark rock that can be seen on the slope; they have a distinct shape of human footprints which are said to be the actual footsteps of Panagia (Virgin Mary), from when she brought her miraculous icon to the cave. Every year, thousands of pilgrims from around the world also make their way to the historic miracle-working Monastery of Proussos. Here you will find the icon of the Virgin Mary (Panagias tis Prousiotissas), regarded as a miracle worker. The icon is said to have been brought here from Proussa (Bursa) in Asia Minor.
Explore the stunning lakes and waterfalls nearby
For a day of adventure head out to Pantavrechi (meaning always rains), where you will discover some wonderful waterfalls. The gorge of Mavri Spilia stands out as one of the most impressive gorges of central Greece, if not of the entire country and is a must! Also, visit Dipotamo- this is where Krikellopotamis and Karpenisiotis rivers merge between two mountains and it looks like a canyon; a perfect spot for river rafting. This is a magical place with lakes, waterfalls, caves, and steep cliffs. Tip: make sure you are wearing comfortable and non-slippery shoes.
Indulge in local cuisine
Most famous for its locally made fir honey, traditional sausages, katiki or tsalafouti (soft cheeses made with goats and sheep’s milk) here you can taste fresh river trout, as well as traditional pies with handmade filo pastry with various fillings. Karpenisi is also famous for its cold cuts- don’t miss its famous prosciutto.
You will find a lot of recipes that include locally grown mushrooms; and meat lovers should try the chasapiko (veal-based dish where the meat is slowly cooked in a clay pot on hot sand), wild boar and shallot stew, lamb in a pot, boiled goat, and pork with greens. Other Greek comfort foods to taste here are the giouvetsi (lamb cooked with orzo in a red sauce) and stifado (rabbit stew). We recommend you head to Paradisos Taverna, Ellinon Gefsis, Taverna Mesostrati, Antigoni Pame Platia, Panorama and Kapetanios Tavern for homemade-style dishes. Also, add Mylos Café and Foufis to your list. Last but definitely not least, Rakomelo Karvelis for the tastiest galaktoboureko and ekmek (Greek sweets). And for those who really want to warm up – sip on some Mouro, the local tsipouro made of mulberry distillate.
Stay at a charming boutique hotel
For a traditional country-style hotel head to Magemeno Vouno where you will feel as though you have stepped back in time and you can smell the fresh mountain air. For a more modern boutique hotel Oniropetra is set amongst lush surroundings and is 5 km from the centre of Karpenisi, the stone-built Oniropetra Hotel has elegant studios with modern decor, a fireplace and balcony or patio overlooking Mount Velouchi.
You can drive from Athens to Karpenisi, it takes around 3 hours and 20 minutes, otherwise a bus will take just under five hours. We highly recommend hiring a car, as you will need one to reach most of the areas we have mentioned above.
Lake Plastira, also known as “Little Switzerland” has become one of Greece’s most popular destinations year-round, with locals welcoming international visitors in all seasons.
It’s the perfect place to go on adventures, taste authentic local cuisine and wines, relax in cozy guesthouses and explore old monasteries and historic villages that are surrounded by an idyllic landscape of incomparable natural beauty.
One of the largest artificial lakes in Greece, Lake Plastira is surrounded by the fir-tree peaks of the Agrafa mountains and is embraced by picturesque villages nearby.
The scenery is captivating and the area is considered to be a ‘paradise’ for all nature lovers as it offers adventures including rock climbing, fishing, kayaking, horseback riding, lake cycling, and all kinds of mountain-sports, such as trekking in the forest, as well as paragliding and flying sailplanes.
Foodies can taste local flavours and dishes which include a variety of grilled and stewed meats, trout cooked over charcoal, and other traditional dishes, that are paired perfectly with local Messenikolas wine. Charming local stone tavernas can be found at Kalyvia Pezoulas, Belokomitis, and Neohori, in the region of Tsardaki; they are known for their traditional recipes and wonderful hospitality and also make sure you sit down at one of the many kafeneia (cafes) and have a Greek coffee and homemade sweets with the locals.
Don’t miss …
-Staying at a charming stone guesthouse with breathtaking views of the lake.
-Visiting the Monastery of Panagia Pelekiti, one of the most striking attractions in the area. It has two churches, Analipseos and Panagias, both built in 1640.
-Tasting local wine at Messenikolas, one of three villages that cultivate the red-grape variety Black Messenikolas’ it’s also home to the Wine and Vineyard Museum, where you will learn about local production.
-The beautiful botanical garden of Neohori, located on the western side of the lake.
-Exploring villages near the lake including Fylakti, with its lovely town square; as well as Lambero, Kryoneri (with its lovely Agios Giorgios church) and Kastania.
Located at about 25 km west of Karditsa, at an altitude of 800m, it is set around 325 km away from Athens and 250 km from Thessaloniki and is known as one of the most easily accessible destinations in Greece.
Meteora, famous for its monasteries perched atop vertical peaks, is the most jaw-dropping destination. Its name literally means ‘suspended in air’ because in the 9th-century hermit monks were the first to climb these soaring stones to settle in the caves and hollows of the rocks.
Nowadays, pathways and stairways have replaced baskets and ropes and undoubtedly, it’s a destination in Greece that shouldn’t be missed. From 24 monasteries, today six of them remain active and are run by monks and nuns. Meteora is a Unesco World Heritage and archaeological site and the Greek State has officially declared it as a Holy Place.
What you need to know before you arrive
Entrance to the monasteries for Greeks and Cypriots is free. For the rest, in each monastery, there is an entrance fee of 3 euro per person. Kids up to 12 years old don’t pay.
If you have less than 24 hours to spend at Meteora, plan to visit 2 or 3 monasteries as for each of them you need an hour minimum.
There is at least one fountain with cold water inside every monastery if you need to refill your bottle. There are no restaurants, so also take some snacks with you.
At the entrance of the monasteries, clothing is provided only to women. Men are not allowed to enter if they are wearing shorts above the knee or sleeveless shirts. In any case, dress appropriately.
The Monastery of the Holy Trinity and Great Meteoro has over 300 steps. Rousanou, Varlaam, and Saint Nicolaos have an average number of 140. The Holy Monastery of Saint Stephen is connected with a walking bridge, so it’s more accessible than any other monastery.
Check the opening hours of Meteora monasteries here.
The most convenient way to visit Meteora is by car and the most scenic is by train. The duration from Athens by train is 5 hours (transfer at Paleofarsalos), by public transport (KTEL) is 4.5 hours (transfer at Trikala) and 3.5 hours by car. From Thessaloniki by train is 3 hours (transfer at Paleofarsalos), by KTEL is 3 hours (transfer at Trikala) and 2.5 hours by car.
Where to stay- Most travelers who visit Meteora stay in Kalambaka city or Kastraki village.
Tips for getting around
If your hotel is at a central spot in Kalambaka and Kastraki you can move around by car or on foot.
To avoid traffic jams or difficulties to find parking spaces outside the Monasteries of Great Meteoro, Varlaam, and Agios Stefanos (from May till late October), try to be outside those Monasteries before 9 am. An alternative way is to leave your car in the hotel and join one of the tours offered by locals.
There are public buses between April and October starting from Kalambaka at 9 am in the morning and every 2 hours till 5 pm in the evening. It’s convenient to use it as a one-way trip rather than like a hop-on, hop-off bus from monastery to monastery. You can check the bus timetable to Meteora here.
Best time to visit- Spring and Autumn offer pleasant weather and the crowds are tolerable. Winter is out of the question if you want to hike on trails or climb up to monasteries because of the cold or snow.
Panellinion, located on Kalambaka’s central square. The restaurant’s most famous dish is the lamb chops with roast potatoes and rice. (A: Eythimiou Vlachava 20, Platanos Square, Kalambaka)
Valia Caldahere you will find traditional Greek food cooked with the freshest local ingredients. (A: Trikalon 91, Kalambaka)
Elia’s Garden features traditional delicacies and a cellar full of all kinds of Greek wines. (A: Trikalon 149, Kalambaka)
Archontariki offers traditional Greek cuisine with fresh ingredients. (A: Trikalon 13, Kalambaka)
What to eat- The must-eat dish is Mutton (kebab or chops).
Where to drink…
Cafe Diverso in Kalambaka’s central square.
Aroma Mentas, with charming decorations it is great for coffee or dessert.
Aerino, a nice place, decorated in stone, from where you can see the rocks of Meteora.
Scientists believe that these magnificent rocks were formatted about 60 million years ago. At that time, the area was covered by the sea. Several earth movements caused the seabed to withdraw. Extreme weather conditions, strong winds, and waves formed their shape.
During the Byzantine times, monks had the inspiration to construct monasteries on top of these rocks so that they would be closer to God. The foundation of Meteora monasteries began around the 11th century.
In the 14th century, Saint Athanasios established the Holy Monastery of the Transfiguration of Jesus and named this huge rock Meteoro, which means hanged from nowhere. This monastery is also known as the Holy Monastery of the Great Meteoron, the largest of all monasteries. Monks used scaffolds in order to get supplies and climb the rocks. Afterward, nets with hooks, baskets, and rope ladders, or even wooden ladders of 40 meters long followed.
Between the 15th and 17th centuries, many monks from other monasteries and people who wanted an ascetic life arrived at Meteora but the prosperity of Meteora started to fade away after the 17th century mainly due to the raids of thieves and conquerors. As a result, many monasteries were abandoned or destructed. Today, only 6 monasteries operate and the only nunnery (female monastery) is the Monastery of Agios Stefanos.
Must visit villages –
The small and picturesque village of Kastraki with houses made of stone, embellished with roofs of red clay tiles, has an authentic local character of the old times. The village of Kastraki has been classified by the Greek State as a traditional resort under preservation, three consecutive times.
Culture & Traditions of Meteora
There is a unique tradition that started back in Ottoman times and takes place every year after Easter in the small village of Kastraki. On the day of the celebration of Saint George, many people with colorful scarfs in their hands and belts gather early in the morning underneath a cave. When their belts are full with scarves they head to the bottom of the rock, grab the ropes and they start to pull themselves up. In the middle of the rock, there is a cave full of scarves from the previous year. When the climbers reach that point, they enter and suddenly you can hear them singing and dancing. After that they replace the old scarves with the new ones, they brought up there. In the end, they come down with the old scarfs while the people gathered around them, reach their hands to take a fainted small piece of a scarf. Finally, they all gather at the village’s square, singing, and dancing in circles.
According to the legend, a couple of Turks went underneath the chapel of St. George to cut wood for the fire. Suddenly, a tree fell and seriously injured the man. His wife (even though she was Muslim) prayed to St. George. Her husband was immediately healed, so she offered the most precious thing she had, her hijab. Nowadays we offer scarfs in exchange for good health and we keep the old scarfs as talismans for good luck.
Do as locals do
The true locals of Meteora are the… monks and nuns. They are part of a community and they have three basic rules: Purity, lack of property, and obedience. They pray and fast according to the rules of the Orthodox Church the whole year. They wake up at 3:30 am in the morning in order to pray in their cells until 5:00 am. From 05:00 until 07:30 they have the services of Midnight, of Matins, and of Hours that take place at the church.
Hiking. Alone or with a group, through a 7.5km-long route where you will enjoy the jaw-dropping landscape.
Rock Climbing. Meteora is one of the most well-known rock-climbing sites in the world, with more than 1,000 paths, with all levels of difficulty.
Μountain bike. Riding a bicycle can lead you beyond the mainstream paths in order to discover the hidden treasures of Meteora.
Truffle Hunting. An alternative tour that starts with the search for black truffle in the forest and after a break with a picnic with truffle-spaghetti, concludes with a tour of the Museum of Natural History and Mushrooms.
Where to shop-
In all the monasteries there are interesting icon stores (usually half the price of regular shops).
“Ekfrasi”: traditional Greek tourist shop in Kalambaka where you can find real leather sandals, t-shirts, and ceramics inspired by Ancient Greek mythology and various souvenirs, among others.
Maro Theodorou ceramic shop: In the heart of Kastraki village, a Kalambaka-born ceramicist sells her own pottery as well as works by other local artists.
What to see-
Holy Monastery of Grand Meteoron (or the Holy Monastery of the Metamorfosis- Transfiguration of Christ) is the oldest and largest of all the monasteries of Meteora. It is a male Monastery built on the greatest rock of the complex, the Platys Lithos or Playtlithos before the mid-14th century. Enjoy the courtyard and observe the amazing frescoes. There is also a sacristy with the skulls of the monks who have lived there over the years.
Holy Monastery of Varlaam is named after the first monk who built the first church on the rock. Unfortunately, after his death, the site was abandoned for 200 years. In 1517 two monks from Ioannina, Theophanes and Nektarios Apsarades, re-founded the monastery. You can reach the monastery by a bridge. There you can find a small museum and several impressive 16th-century paintings.
Holy Monastery of Rousanou, built in 1545, is dedicated to St.Barbara. You can reach the Monastery by a bridge. Nowadays, after the restoration of 1980, Rousanou Monastery is run by nuns.
Holy Monastery of St. Nicholas Anapafsas, founded in the 14th century, is most famous for its frescoes by the famous Cretan artist Theophanes Strelitzas in 1527. The monastery was completely abandoned for 60 years from 1900 to the 1960s when the Greek government repaired it.
Holy Monastery of St. Stephen, constructed in the 15th century, is run by nuns and is the closest monastery in Meteora to the main town of Kalambaka. During the Second World War, it was severely destroyed by German troops and the by the Greek civil war.
Museum of Natural History and Mushrooms, whichhouses approximately 300 exhibits of animals and several dozens of the main species of mushrooms. It’s the first of its kind in Greece.
Museum of Digital Projection (in Kalambaka) & Museum of Geology (in Kastraki), a journey through Meteora’s history via 3D movies and other audiovisual material.
The Rock in the cave of Theopetra, a prehistoric treasure, since it’s the place where the oldest human imprints in Greece were found (130, 000 years old).
The Antichassia-Meteora Natural Reserve, home to various species of flora and fauna that covers almost 830 hectares.
Take a day trip to-
Trikala, an exceptional city with a river, bridges, and bikes! Get lost in the old town and discover the alleys of Sakaflias, the fort, the Kursum Mosque, and the clock, among others. Don’t leave before you enjoy a boat ride in Litheos.
A walk in the serene village of Kastraki with the breathtaking view of the rocks.
Wine tasting. A five-minute drive from Kalambaka is the village of Diava, where the Loudas family has been producing wines since 2006. The Loudas Winehouse is the perfect place to taste some of Thessaly’s top wines.
–Do not park on Trikalon Street in Kalambaka because it is very likely that you will get a fine from the traffic police.
-Pay attention to the dress code for the monasteries. Kids up to 12 years old don’t have to comply with the dress code.
Ideal time to spend here? I wouldrecommend at least 2 days stay in Meteora.
Favourite part? Watching the sunset at Psaropetra sunset viewpoint in Meteora (Most tourists watch the sunset from the viewpoint next to Varlaam). You can find Psaropetra beside the Rousanou nunnery parking lot.
What to avoid?
Skirts above the knee, shorts, and sleeveless shirts (for both women and men).
The monks don’t allow anyone to photograph the interiors of the churches and especially the murals, or in any of the museums located inside the Meteora monasteries. You can take photos or videos in the yards or any viewpoints.
Do not attempt to fly a drone inside or outside a monastery. It is strictly forbidden by law (flights restriction zone of up 4.000ft.) without written permission by the authorities.
Also, don’t take pictures or videos of monks or nuns, unless they specify otherwise. They can become upset by it as they are not tourist attractions. Be very respectful of their way of life.
Finally, you can’t leave until- Enjoying an evening car ride and enjoying the night scenery of Meteora, with the unique imposing dark figures of the rocks.
With a rich history and lovely local traditions, classical architecture, breathtaking landscapes and a buzzing cafe scene, Ioannina is Epirus’ charming capital. Here we share our Top 12 reasons why you should add this unique destination to your 2021 travel list!
1. Many famous Greek novelists and award-winning poets originate from Ioannina, and several cultural events are organised in their honour here throughout the year, allowing visitors the opportunity to discover the rich local history. During these festivals you can taste the flavours, see the sights and enjoy the authentic sounds of Epirus.
2. With many multicultural influences throughout the centuries, a walk through the historic city centre highlights the Christian, Islamic and Jewish influences that all blend in to make Ioannina so unique. Visit the many mosques and minarets, and the rebuilt wall of the Kastro. Make sure you check out buildings such as the House Matei Hussein, the Dodoni Sanctuary and Theatre, as well as the Kehila Kedosha Yashan Synagogue.
3. Stroll along the pretty streets and visit the Old Quarter to admire the impressive architecture which includes folk residences, mansions, as well as the Old Bazaar and the Kale Citadel.
4. See the Museum of Ali Pasha and Revolutionary Era where Ali Pasha’s decapitated corpse was discovered.
5. To learn more about Greek history visit the Byzantine Museum, the Archaeological Museum of Ioannina and Epirus’ first ever school.
6. Make the most of the buzzing social scene as you sit down at one of the many cafes or taverns where you can taste the wonderful delicacies including local fish from the lake, and a wide range of herbs and spices, which are added to local dishes. Ioannina is most known for its frog’s legs, an alcohol free liqueur made from organic vinegar, fruit syrups, herbs and nectar; as well as a sweet wine named ‘sherbetia,’ and a variety of syrupy pastries including their own version of galaktoboureko and baklava.
7. Take a 10-minute boat ride to Nissi Island, founded in the 16th Century. Here you will find a couple of monasteries dating back to the 13th century (the boat departs regularly from the promenade).
8. Just 4km from Epirus’ capital you’ll find one of the most beautiful caves in the Balkans, called Perama. A walk through here will take around 45 minutes and you can admire stalactites and stalagmites that are over a million years old.
9. Stroll along Pamvotis, a picturesque and calm lake, with clear waters- it is surrounded by lush greenery and rocky mountains.
10. Visit the castle of Ioannina, which was built in the 6th century and is the oldest Byzantine fortress in Greece.
11. Admire the small craftsmen shops where local artisans are still using their skills. Here you will find a range of jewellery stores with traditional and modern pieces for both men and women.
12. Near Ioannina you can also visit the Byzantine town of Arta or Pindus National Park with stunning views, it’s a must see.
Olympiais one of the most influential ancient Greek sanctuaries, located in western Peloponnese, in Elis. In antiquity it was famous beyond the borders of mainland Greece for hosting the Olympic Games every four years, starting in 776 BC.
The archaeological site is located within walking distance of the modern village called Ancient Olympia and it includes ruins from Bronze Age to the Byzantine eras. The site covers an expanded area of ruins scattered among low trees, as well as the ancient stadium where the Olympics took place. An impressive array of artifacts which were unearthed during excavations are on exhibition at the nearby Olympia Museum.
The site of Olympia, in a valley in the Peloponnese has been inhabited since prehistoric times. In the 10th century B.C., Olympia became a centre for the worship of Zeus. The Altis – the sanctuary to the gods – has one of the highest concentrations of masterpieces from the ancient Greek world. In addition to temples, there are the remains of all the sports structures erected for the Olympic Games, which were held in Olympia every four years beginning in 776 B.C.
This is the same track where athletes raced for glory millennia ago. The remains of dozens of buildings and temples sit among the shade of trees on the archaeological site. Some were specifically built for sporting events, and some for the worship of Zeus. A museum holds a collection of priceless artefacts that once decorated the sanctuary. See Olympia come alive with music and culture at its major events—the Ancient Olympia International Festival and the Olympia International Film Festival for children and young people.
What else you can see
Apart from the lovely Archaeological Museum as well as a Museum of the History of the Olympic Games, the site itself, a lush valley once filled with olive trees and called Altis that was created in the 8th Century BC, is awe-inspiring. Temples, such as those of Hera and of Zeus, the circular Philippeion dedicated to the Macedonian King Philip II, the training palestras, stadiums and the Bouleuterion are all a feast for the eyes and imagination. The town of Olympia, in the region of Katakolo, Ilia, is unremarkable but cute for a touristy stroll with some pretty views.
How to Get There
By bus, you can reach Olympia from Athens via Pyrgos, the capital of the region. By car, it is 290 kilometres from Athens (about 3.5 hours). If travelling by boat, the nearests ports are Katakolo (34km), where cruise ships arrive, Killini (66km) with connection lines to and from the Ionian islands, and Patras (117km) from where you can travel to Italy by ferry.
When to Visit
Any time of the year is suitable to visit Olympia. From late April to late October, the site and Olympia museum are open daily during the daylight hours so visitors have more time to enjoy the monuments and galleries. From November 1 to March 31, tickets for the site and museums (open from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m.) are half price. In the winter, there are typically no lines.
Wandering around the castle of Monemvasia, in the Prefecture of Laconia, which happens to be the birthplace of famous Greek poet Yiannis Ritsos, feels like a journey to the past, to places and times we have only read and heard about.
Spartan nobles, Romans, Turks, and Venetians are some of the former inhabitants and their presence has remained strong throughout the centuries. Churches, fountains, hammams, and wealthy merchants’ homes are still standing within the cobblestones of the castle as well as small wooden arched doors reminiscent of the land of Hobbits.
Today, the Castle of Monemvasia is one of the most beautiful in the world, with a fairytale atmosphere and romantic vibe.
What you need to know before you arrive
Cars are not allowed in the Castle; you have to park outside and find your hotel on foot. And there are no ATMs here either but you will find some in Gefira, the new part of Monemvasia.
The distance from Athens is about 285 km (about 3.5 hours). The shortest and easiest route from Athens to Monemvasia is the one following the A7 motorway that crosses Corinth and Tripoli. In Tripoli, you take the exit for Sparta (sign “Sparta without tolls”) and as soon as you reach Sparta you take the Sparta ring road and follow the signs to Monemvasia. When you enter the new city of Monemvasia, continue on the main road, cross the bridge that leads to the Castle and you will find yourself at the gate of the mythical Castle.
If you have the time (and enjoy driving), there is another option, much longer (about 5 hours from Athens) but it’s a journey of scenic beauty, and you will even cross a gorge. Immediately after Corinth, you need to follow the picturesque seaside route that passes through Argos, Astros, and Leonidio and continues through the traditional mountain villages of Kosmas and Geraki until you reach Vlachiotis, Molasses and finally Monemvasia.
Where to stay & Getting Around
I would strongly recommend staying in the Castle -even though it’s a little bit more pricey- here is where you will experience the magic. Cars are not allowed in the castle, so you have to explore it all on foot.
Best time to visit
All-year-round. Summer is considered the most touristy season but for me, the ideal season to visit is spring. If you want to enjoy the place in peace and quiet, go during winter.
Where to sleep
Kellia Guesthouse is a listed building, right on the recently renovated Chrysafitissa Square, and the house where the Greek poet Yiannis Ritsos was born.
Casa Rodanthi right at the entrance of the castle offers sea views and elegant décor.
Where to eat
Matoula, great value since 1950, is renowned for its freshly cooked fish.
Kanoni for fresh fish with nice views from its terraces.
Saitior Tsaiti, is a fried pie typical of the Laconia region with local goat’s cheese and fresh herbs.
Where to drink
Malvasia Café is an impressive spot away from the crowds- perfect for zen moments. And head to Enetiko Café & Cocktail Bar where you should order the Mediterranean breeze cocktail.
The Castle Town of Monemvasia was constructed in the Medieval Times. From the 10th century, it started to become an important trade and maritime center. Then in the mid-12th century, the city bravely resisted the Norman and Arab invasions. However, another effort of invasion by William Villehardouin, lead to the defeat of the town in 1249. Ten years after this, Michael Paleologus imprisoned Villehardouin, who recovered his freedom by taking the side of the Byzantine rule, helping them to regain the fortresses of Monemvasia, Mystras, and Mani. Unfortunately, its development attracted pirates. In 1419, the Venetian invasions caused the decline of the Byzantine Empire. The Venetians handed the city over to the Turks in 1540 and later returned in 1690 for a period of 25 years. After a second Ottoman occupation, Monemvasia was the first city to be liberated by the Greeks during the War of Independence in 1821.
Apart from total relaxation, a top (real) activity in Monemvasia during autumn and spring is hiking. There are many old footpaths in this region that lead to tiny chapels, small settlements, and hilltops with a breathtaking view of the sea.
Where to shop
Edodimopoleio Honey Shop was created by a group of olive oil producers, famous for their honey wine. They offer free tastings of all their products, so you can try and then shop. They also own the “Monemvasia Cosmetics” company, with aromas of prickly pear, myrtle and cyclamen, and other amazing local goods.
What to see…
the Church of Elkomenos Christos, dedicated to “Christ in Pain”. It was built in the 13th century by Byzantine Emperor Andronicus.
The Archaeological Museum of Monemvasia is housed in a Muslim mosque opposite the church of Christ Elkomenos. It was constructed in the 16th century by the Turks, as a mosque, then became a public building, a prison, a coffee shop and today it hosts the archaeological collection.
The church of Panagia Chryssafitissa, built on the edge of the rock in the 17th century.
Malva Gallery, where you will discover paintings by a well-known artist of the region, it’s located next to the main entrance gate of the renowned city of Μonemvasia.
The Church of Agia Sofia perched on the cliff dates to the 11th century with breathtaking views of the Aegean Sea, and when the skies are clear you can see as far as the island of Crete.
The home of Yiannis Ritsos. Outside you can see the statue of the famous poet, located near the entrance of the fortified castle.
Take a day trip to…
Monemvasia can serve as the perfect base to explore the beautiful region of Laconia by car. You can visit the small seaside village of Gerakas and the beautiful villages of Kyparissi and Plytra with crystal clear and shallow blue sea. Also, Elafonisos, is a destination on its own.
Can’t leave until…
you have a glass (or several) of PDO Monemvasia-Malvasia, a famous sweet wine produced in Monemvasia since the Middle Ages.