One of my favorite things to do when visiting the coast of Messinia is renting a boat from the Pilos port and spending a day exploring the Navarino Bay. The Navarino Bay is a special place both historically and naturally. It’s sheltered from the Ionnian Sea by the long Sfaktiria island and looks like one huge peaceful lake. The island serves as a natural fortification against the western winds and possible intruders.
Today only the winds can bother holiday makers during their summer activities but in the past some great naval battles took place in the Navarino Bay. In 1827 the joined forces of Russia, England and France fought the Turkish armies in the bay and their victory was an important step towards the liberation of Greece from the Ottoman rule. To commemorate those killed in the battle three memorials were erected on Sfaktiria and the neighboring islands. Visiting the memorials together with swimming in the clear water of the bay makes for a wonderful day trip.
The boat rental is at the left side of the Pilos marina in a small wooden kiosk. The rent is 60 euros per day plus petrol so in the end we paid 69 euros in total. The boat has to be returned at 6 o’clock at the latest so it’s a good idea to start the trip early. The bay looks small from the seafront of Pilos but there is a lot to see. Moreover, the boat is not that fast either.
You don’t need for any kind of diploma and before setting of the staff of the rental shop will give you a short training in operating the boat. There is not much to learn really since the navigation of the boat is pretty straightforward. Anchoring is the tricky part but you will have to figure that out on your own as you go anyway. So, after the training we filled our fridge with beer and baguettes, wrestled our first-time sailor dog into the boat and took off.
After leaving the port we passed the Castle of Pilos on the left and continued to the rocky island at the entrance to the bay called Tsichli Mpampa. This is the site of the French memorial and there is a small lighthouse on the top as well. There is a pier in the middle of the rock and narrow stairway leading up to the top of the cliff. Due to the passages to the open sea the sea around the island can be pretty rough which makes anchoring the boat quite tricky. However, it’s worth the hassle because the views from the top of the cliffs are amazing. Just across of the Tsichli Mpampa island on the southern tip of Sfaktiria is a beautiful cove with small beach perfect for a swimming break.
Following the coast of the Sfaktiria Island we passed a small memorial of the Greeks killed during the holocaust and the picturesque Santa-Rosa monument. The white marble memorial was built in honor of the Count Santorre di Santarosa, an Italian Philhellene who fought and died bravely in Sfaktiria during the battle of independence in 1825.
Our last stop on Sfaktiria was the Russian memorial with a beautiful wooden church of St.Nicolas. The newly built russian-style church is one of my favorite sights during the trip around the bay. It reminds me of the traditional wooden architecture of my home country and makes me feel at home in the exotic landscape of endless sea and beaches.
I don’t get homesick very often and I’m not one of those people who hang on to the traditions and customs of their homeland at any cost. I love living in Greece and enjoy exploring the Greek culture, nature and customs. However, once in a while I stumble upon something so familiar and profoundly Czech and it makes my heart melt. It can be a bunch of mushrooms in the woods around Meteora, the ducklings swimming in the river in Vovousa, the tall majestic trees of Valia Kalda or this small wooden church that make me feel like a little child back at home again.
The last memorial of the day dedicated to the English soldiers sits on a small island called Chelonaki (Small turtle) in the middle of the bay. This little island had probably the clearest water of the whole bay! Therefore, it is an amazing place for swimming, snorkeling or just enjoying the solitude.
After leaving the English memorial we made a quick trip to Gialova to pick up our afternoon coffee and spent the rest of the day anchored in the shallows between the northern tip of Sfaktiria and the Gialova Beach.