A few weeks ago, my Dad and I set out on our slightly delayed ‘summer’ holiday. Though we had a slight mishap that cut our trip short, we had a few wonderful days of driving (or trying to drive) our 1965 Panhard 24BT around the Peleponnese. The trip was organised by a great team at Scuderia Triskelion, the first year re-inaugurating a 1930s-era tradition of rallying in the Peleponnese. The trip was a combination of sightseeing and regularity rallying, a kind of road test (not a race!) based on speed precision and navigation rather than simply speed. The trip began from Dimitsana, a mountain village in the centre of the Peleponnese, and totalled almost 1200km over seven days. We caught the first 2.5 days, which included Dimitsana, Olympia, the Temple of Epikourios Apollo, Dimitsana again, Mystras, Sparti, and Monemvasia. (The trip went on to Nafplio, Mycenae, Methana, Epidavros, etc..!), and had enough time to get to know a group of wonderful participants from Greece as well as Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, USA, France and the UK.
The 1965 Panhard 24BT that we drove is not ours, but had been recently restored by the team, and although it was a gorgeous car it had some… idiosyncrasies that made the trip a major adventure. I named it Pierre and was in love before we even met, but a completely nonfunctional ventilation system, dubious windshield wipers (including one that decided just to fly off at one point) and some undiagnosed engine problems meant that we got a lot of time to take in the scenery from various points on the side of the road while my dad and the team mechanic tried to coax Pierre back to life. He made it as far as we did, to Monemvasia, with all 848CCs and his little 2 cylinder engine.
The first day we left from Argos, on the eastern side of the Peleponnese, where we had picked up the car the night before. Our destination was Dimitsana, located almost 1000 metres up in the mountains of Arcadia, a village that had its heyday of the Greek Revolutionary period and is now a mostly winter getaway for Athenians and other tourists. Though our group was certainly not alone there, the small number of permanent inhabitants gives the village a kind of bygone atmosphere, and it felt very cosy and wintery for the two days we spent there.
The approach to the village itself was dramatic, and as we slowly (very slowly, as we hit our first mechanical problem while going up into the mountains) approached, the weather began to change, with some very atmospheric clouds and a autumnal chill to the air. I loved it – and was ready to curl up with a hot tea upon arrival.
We settled into our hotel, the lovely Xenonas Kazakou, which lived up to all my hopes for cosiness, and had just enough time to find that hot tea before it started to rain. Not ideal, but very dramatic. During a lull in the weather, I had a moment to step out and snap just a few photos of the village before the rain started again and we retreated to a fireplace for more tea, as the rest of the Tour du Peleponnese arrivals trickled in from Athens and from the port of Patras.
The next morning the rain had stopped but the clouds hung around the mountains, making for a cinematic start and also a very wet car.
We set off for the ‘ceremonial start’ of the Tour – Ancient Olympia – and it was the car’s first major test. Could he keep up with the rest of the pack? Turns out he performed admirably, though upon arrival in Olympia both dad and I had a distinct aura of ‘eau de exhaust’ – basically no ventilation inside the cabin, but wonderful scenery nonetheless!
Despite questionable sounds and smells from our car, we were the second to arrive in Olympia where we had just enough time for a coffee before the rest of the group arrived and we began our tour with the wonderful guide who travelled with the group. Photos from our quick trip through Ancient Olympia are in this post, where I mused about the difference in the site between spring and autumn.
From Olympia was set off south to the temple of Epikourios Apollo, on a roundabout route back to Dimitsana. During that stage the first rally-style regularity test was set up, but Pierre the Panhard (the car) wasn’t very happy during the mountain driving and we spent a while enjoying the view while also tinkering with the engine, as well as avoiding goats on the road. We missed the group tour of the amazing Temple of Epikourios Apollo, which, although it is really in the middle of nowhere on a dramatic and desolate mountain top, was the first site in Greece to be designated a World Heritage Site. Since it is so remote, it has been preserved remarkably well, and it’s now taking shelter from the mountain elements under a giant white tent. It would have looked almost circus-like in a different context, but was very otherworldly on a windswept mountain side.
After regrouping briefly at the Temple, where we arrived just in time to see the rest of the group getting ready to leave, we set off again, crossing our fingers we’d make it the 70km back to Dimitsana. Those adventures..to be continued!