Last year I finally managed to talk my boyfriend into taking the road trip around the south of Peloponnese. This was my dream for ages but it needs time and at least some money and we never had both at the same time. In the end we drove around 1400 km and it took us 8 days including the ascent of Mt.Taygetos and some lazy beach time in Elafonisos. We slept outside on beaches partly to keep the cost down but mostly because we love falling a sleep under the stars and waking up to a spectacular sunrise every day.
The first day we left Athens around midday and decided to drive non-stop as far south as possible. We reached the small town called Leonidio on the west coast of Peloponnese when the sun just started to set down. Leonidio is the new up and coming climbing destination with a long sandy beach and high cliffs surrounding the town. The developement of the climbing routs by mostly German climbers is observed by the elderly from the kafenios with confusion and amusement. For them the only reason to scramble up the cliffs is to find a lost goat or to pick the mountain tea or oregano and they don’t really get climbing as an entertainment but at least there is something new going on.
We didn’t stay long as it was getting dark and we needed to find a place to stay so we headed to the Fokiano beach few kilometers after Leonidio. This was one of the unexpected gems of our trip,long pebble beach with crystal-clear water and two camper-friendly taverns. We stayed the night,enjoyed the coffee while watching a beautiful sunrise from our sleeping bags,took a swim in the sea and headed towards Monemvasia.
From here it’s just a few kilometers drive by the sea until you get the first glimpse of the Monemvasia. Perched on a rocky island about 500 meters off the shore it is a majestic sight even from the distance. The island is reachable by car but the road ends at the end of the bridge and from there it’s all walking.
Monemvasia has two parts, the ruins of medieval upper town on the top of the rock and the lower town on the south side of the island.You need at least a day to explore both. At the time we visited the ruins were closed for repairs so we spent the afternoon wandering through the narrow cobbled alleys covered in Voukamvilia, admiring the beautiful stone houses, the old churches shadowed by olive trees, dark passages and sunny squares with perfectly trimmed grass, the clear blue sea under the high walls and the fisherman boats in the distance. We finished the day with few beer in the one of the very cute and very expensive kafenios. In general, Monemvasia is an expensive place to stay, the prices for the night in one of the xenonas in th old town are crazy, but it is a magical place,beautifully renovated and protected and worth every penny.
When we left Monemvasia we drove straight to the small port called Pounta next to Neapoli on the southern tip of the Laconian peninsula to take the ferry to the Elafonisos island. The ride to the island takes just 10 minutes and the boat leaves every hour. We arrived to the port of Elafonisos late in the evening, ate few souvlaki and then drove over the island to the Simos beach. When we arrived to the beach it was dark and windy and we were tired so we grabbed a couple of sunbeds, bundled up in our sleeping bags and fell a sleep straight away. We were woken up by another amazing sunrise on one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve seen, long and wide, with fine white sand, clear water and little peninsula in the middle. In the beginning of September it was deserted except for a few kite surfers and German tourists taking a break from the classical round of the Peloponnese. We spent the next couple of days lounging on the beach doing nothing with the occasional trip to the Simos Campside for coffees and beers.
If it was up to Pro we would stay on the beach for the rest of our holidays but I’m a nomad at heart and I get restless when we stay at one place for too long. So the third day we packed our stuff,took the ferry back to the mainland and drove towards the second finger of Peloponnese, the Many peninsula. First we stopped at the shipwreck of Ag.Dimitrios few kilometers before Githio. I love shipwrecks as they always make me think of pirates, faraway voyages and other romantic adventures even though I am not sure how good it is for the marine life to let the huge pile of metal corrode in the salty water. Anyway, you can get very close to this one, it sits in the shallow water just few meters from the beach. It’s both exiting and scary to look inside through the holes in the side of the ship and see the giant rusty skeleton flooded by the turquoise water.
From the shipwreck we drove south around the east coast of the Mani peninsula down to the Cape Tenaro. This part of the route is absolutely stunning with the sea views on the left and the bare mountains dotted with the tower towns on the right. Mani is famous for its bloody past of vendettas that were going on between the clans for decades.That’s why they build their villages as small fortresses to protect themselves from the attacks of the other clans.
Just before the main road turns back north towards Aeropoli and Kalamata there is a crossroad to the left,the road climbs uphill and then on the top the views open towards the Cape Tenaro. There is a row of three beautiful white beaches on the right, the little port of Porto Kagio on the left, more stone towers scattered on the hills in front and the road zigzags towards the southernmost point of the mainland Greece.
At the end of the road there is a tavern with nice food, even better view and a slightly confused waiter who in reality is the lighthouse keeper moonlighting in the tavern for few extra bucks and some company. From here a short path leads to the Temple of Poseidonas built by the Spartans and longer one to the lighthouse at the end of the peninsula. We arrived in the evening so we took our sleeping bags and walked to the lighthouse to spend the night. The lighthouse keeper was very friendly and even offered that we could sleep inside but he was very talkative and we were tired so we decided to brave the winds outside.
I was expecting a difficult night, it was cold and windy, the waves were crashing hard against the rocky shore and the thought of being at the mythological entrance to the underworld didn’t help either. But we fell a sleep quickly and were woken up by jet another perfect sunrise. I am not a morning person, normally I don’t get up before 9-10 if I don’t have to and I’m no fun until I had my first coffee. That’s why I enjoy the early mornings so much when we are camping, being woken up by the first light and drinking my coffee in the sleeping bag watching the colorful sunrise from an empty beach makes me happy and full of energy.
On the way back to the car we went for a swim in the calm and crystal clear waters of the Asomati bay and then we headed up north towards Kalamata. There are more of the tower towns along the way, some completely deserted and some beautifully restored. We took a detour to the small village of Moundanistika high in the mountains where most of the houses are abandoned but its fun to explore the overgrown yards and alleys and the views are fantastic. Next stop was Areopoli, the capital of Mani and another beautiful surprise, with its stone houses and cobbled streets. We stopped for coffee and more importantly to make a game-plan for our ascent of Mount Taygetos, at 2407 meters the highest mountain of the Peloponnese and one of the highest in Greece. There are trails to the top of the mountain starting from the Kardhamyli village near Kalamata but we decided to drive through the beautiful Langadha pass to the Sparta and further up to the EOS Refuge to start from there early in the morning.
It was the shortest and the easiest option, which is exactly what I needed with my hiking-phobic boyfriend. The drive to the refuge was the low point of our whole road trip. It was pitch dark and raining and even-though the sign in the last village under the mountain said 14km till the refuge it didn’t specify that for the last 8 km we will be driving on a really bad dirt road with never ending turns. When we finally arrived to the refuge it was closed so we slept twisted in our tiny Peugeot 206. However, the morning come and we saw the beauty around and everything was forgotten. The path to the top starts behind the refuge and climbs up through a pine forest, and meadows covered in oregano and mountain tea. Except for the elevation it’s not a difficult hike with great views towards the valley of Sparta and Mani and from the ridge also to the bay of Kalamata. In the middle of September the mountain was deserted, we only met one another hiker during the day, but we were accompanied by the herds of sheep grazing on the slopes and the wild birds circling above our heads.
There is a little church of Profitis Ilias on the top, which celebrates its names day on the 20 of July. At this day, many believers climb the mountain, celebrate, cook, eat and drink and sleep in the ruins on the top. When we arrived, there was nobody so we sat for a while, made coffee and enjoy the view until the clouds closed completely around us.
The way down through the white clouds was one of the most magical moments of the trip for me, the slopes of the mountain were covered with these beautiful purple flowers shining through the mist and the whole place was so quite except for the sound of the bells from the sheep herds in the distance. It was the perfect ending to an amazing holidays.
Where we went…