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One of my favorite things to do when visiting the coast of Messinia is renting a boat from the port of Pylos port and spending a day exploring Navarino Bay. Navarino Bay is a special place both historically and naturally. It’s sheltered from the Ionian 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 holidaymakers 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 on 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 any kind of diploma and before setting off, 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.
Tsichli Mpampa and the French Memorial
After leaving the port we passed the Castle of Pylos 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 the Tsichli Mpampa island on the southern tip of Sfaktiria is a beautiful cove with a small beach perfect for a swimming break.
Santa Rosa Monument
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 for independence in 1825.
The Russian Memorial at Sfaktira Island
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 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 English Memorial
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.
Oh, and I almost forgot, if you are very very lucky you may spot the rare Mediterranean Monk Seal enjoying a trip around the bay as well!