Travelogue: Monastery, Koroni Castle

Koroni Castle

It’s been a while, but I’m continuing the series recounting a roadtrip in the Greek Peleponnese, around Easter. This was my first time exploring this part of the country, and after the trip I’m totally convinced it’s one of the best places to visit in Greece. To catch up, the roadtrip started at Ancient Olympia, with the archaeological site in all its spring glory and the fantastic Olympia Archaeological Museum. The next stop was Voidokilia, Messinia, an incredible lagoon, great for nature (and bird watching!). Nearby, the city of Pylos (formerly known as Navarino!) beckoned with castles and fantastic views. The western Greek coast was occupied, at various stages, by both the Venetians and the Ottoman Turks – so the next stop on the road trip was the Castle of Methoni, followed by Koroni Castle.

The castle of Koroni covered a massive area, and was too gorgeous for me to restrain my picture-taking impulses.. After exploring the ruined church and neighbouring cemetery, and then taking in the view from the walls, we entered the monastery of the Panagia of Koroni. Koroni CastleKoroni CastleKoroni CastleInside the low walls of this monastery we found only a handful of nuns, and almost as many churches. This church pictured above, dedicated to St Sophia, is so far below the current ground level you can imagine how old it must be. There has been a monastery of the site since the twelfth century. Koroni Castle

Koroni Castle

Koroni Castle

Koroni Castle

Koroni Castle

Koroni Castle

Koroni CastleVisiting this place in the spring was magical – the nuns keep an incredible garden – but it was also right after Easter so the church was decorated with red and white, proclaiming that Christ has Risen.Koroni CastleKoroni CastleKoroni CastleKoroni CastleKoroni CastleA vantage point on the interior wall of the monastery gave a better sense of the scale of the castle, as well as how strategic that location must have been. Koroni CastleKoroni CastleKoroni CastleKoroni CastleKoroni CastleKoroni CastleKoroni CastleKoroni CastleWe explored the gardens, and little churches, and soaked in the view, leaving just as the sun was setting. Next stop – the Byzantine ruins of Mystras! Koroni Castle

Koroni Castle Koroni Castle

Travelogue: More of Koroni Castle, Messinia

Koroni CastleMaking our way to the edge of the cemetery, that we explored in my previous post about Koroni Castle, we found a path that led to the castle walls, where we finally realised the massive scale of this place. Koroni CastleKoroni CastleKoroni CastleKoroni CastleNot to mention magical views..! Koroni CastleKoroni CastleKoroni CastleKoroni CastleIt was almost deserted, so we could take our time soaking it all in. There isn’t much left of the massive fortification that dominated this area, or the life that used to dwell within, but there is still a little monastery with a few nuns left.. coming in the next post! Koroni Castle

Travelogue: Koroni Castle, Messinia

Koroni CastleThe Venetian castles of Methoni and Koroni are only about 30km apart, on the southwestern tip of the Peleponnese, so after a spectacular visit to Methoni, we knew we had to make a stop at Koroni as well.Koroni CastleKoroni CastleWe arrived here towards the end of the afternoon (after starting our day in Kyparissia, with stops in Voidokilia, Pylos and Methoni) so the castle was fairly empty and the light was perfect. Late afternoon is my favourite time of day in Greece – seriously, that light is unreal. Look at it!  Koroni CastleKoroni CastleThe approach to the castle was interesting – it’s at the end of a peninsula past the town of Koroni, which is traversed by a single road – in theory two-ways, but barely wide enough for one direction of traffic. At the end of the town, we found a castle-like gate, but no indication that this was indeed car-friendly or the actual way in. We drove through anyway, hoping for the best..Koroni CastleKoroni CastleKoroni CastleKoroni CastleWe weren’t disappointed. Once through the gate, we happened upon a central area of the castle that was almost deserted – just a few guys hanging out in the churchyard. There was also this strange half-ruined church, which I loved taking pictures of but was left feeling very curious about its story. Even online searching after the fact didn’t reveal anything, so the mystery remains.Koroni CastleKoroni CastleKoroni CastleKoroni CastleKoroni CastleWe wandered a little through the cemetery and churchyard, enjoyed the peace and quiet. This battered bench and resting place next to the church could have been almost anywhere in Greece. It was easy to  forget we were inside a 13th century castle, but once we headed toward the perimeter… cliff views! Stay tuned..Koroni Castle

Travelogue: Methoni, Messinia

Methoni CastleThe second day of my family’s Easter roadtrip around the Peloponnese continued on from a stop at Voidokilia, with a stop for cheese pies at the castle of Pylos, south to the fortress of Methoni, located at the southwest tip of the Peloponnese.Methoni CastleMethoni CastlePictures do not do this place justice at all – it looks like it should have been the site for a scene of Game of Thrones. Its strategic location meant that this area was both heavily contested and fortified – the site of struggles between pirates and Venetians in the 12th century, and then a stopping point on the European crusader route to the Holy Land.Methoni CastleThe area inside the walls itself is also huge – the entire cape is enclosed, and would have housed basically an entire town within its walls, like many medieval castles. Now there’s not much left, except the ruins of a church, it is perhaps even more dramatic. Methoni CastleMethoni CastleMethoni CastleNothing beats that view of the sea though. What have those walls witnessed? I love wonder such things in a place like this.. So atmospheric for wandering and historical daydreaming! Methoni CastleMethoni CastleMethoni Castle

 

Travelogue: Pylos, Messinia

After a bird-watching and toe-dipping break at the lagoon of Voidokilia, our Easter roadtrip continued along the Western coast of the Peloponnese to the town of Pylos, previously known as Navarino. Though I knew that Navarino was the site of an important naval battle during the Greek War of Independence, but I don’t think I had ever connected that dots to realise that Navarino and Pylos are the same place. I now know better! We didn’t spend much time in the town itself, but did pass through the central square, where we stopped for cheese pies. With provisions for lunch, we drove on and up to the castle that dominates the whole area, and provides a wonderful vantage point over the bay where the battle took place – between the Ottoman navy and an alliance of British, French and Russian vessels, who had by then intervened on the side of Greece in their struggle for independence from the Ottoman Empire.

Probably the most appropriate word to describe the castle is impressive. Though not the first castle in the town, or on the specific site, the structure that we visited was built  by the Ottoman Turks in the 1500s, and then later improved upon by the French during the War. The view from the castle is commanding, as you can see, and it dominates the entrance to the bay. Inside the castle, there was also a great short film about the Battle itself, housed in one of the rooms that were used as prison cells in the 18th and 19th centuries. Fairly foreboding. We also learned that the name ‘Navarino’ likely derives from a Venetian corruption of ‘Ton Avarinon’ – Castle of the Avars, pointing to the diverse history of the Peloponnese, especially the Western and Southern coast, which saw not only Byzantine and Ottoman periods but also Venetian and Frankish.

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Pylos

Pylos, Greece

PylosLook at that sea!

Pylos

PylosAfter our short visit here, where we enjoyed the tiropitas and took in the history and the views, we continued southwards, to find some more evidence of Venetian and Frankish rule. To be continued…!

Pylos

Travelogue: Voidokilia, Messinia

Voidokilia, Peleponnese

It’s been a while since I wrote a ‘Travelogue’ post about my family’s Easter travels. Just to catch up – we started off from Athens to Olympia, where we explored the archaeological site and the wonderful museum, before spending the night at Kyparissia on the western coast of the Peloponnese. On our way down the coast the next day, we stopped briefly at this strange sand dune-y, lagoon-like beach.

Voidokilia, Peleponnese

In early spring, it was almost completely deserted – so we had the place to ourselves to explore for a little while. Behind the beach is an actual lagoon, known for being an important wildlife habitat, and the relative quiet at that time of the year was perfect for a little bit of birdwatching. It was also perfect for the first toe-dip of the season! Chilly water, but a lovely and refreshing stop on our Peloponnesian roadtrip.

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Voidokilia, Peleponnese

Voidokilia, Peleponnese

After a little bit of exploration and a chance to stretch our legs, we dried off our feet and got back in the car. Next stop, nearby Pylos – site of the Battle of Navarino which turned the tide of the War of Greek Independence. Stay tuned! 

Tour du Péloponnèse, Part III

Image credit to Scuderia Triskelion

The second day of the Tour du Péloponnèse continued where I left off in this post – driving from the mountains of Dimitsana down to the coast on the Eastern side of the Peleponnese to Monemvasia. After passing through the village of Kastorion – where we paused for fuel for the car and a cheese pie for the driver – we descended towards the city of Sparta and the nearby ruins of the Byzantine city of Mystras. Mystras

Mystras

Now designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Mystras was once the capital of the principality that ruled the Peleponnese, with its heyday in the 14th and 15th centuries. Though the weather threatened during our stop there, we had a short but very sweet tour from our accompanying guide, and got to see several of the wonderful churches that dotted the Byzantine city.  Mystras

Mystras

Mystras

The dark clouds loomed, however, and as we were finishing the tour the clouds broke and most of us were soaked. We ran back down to the parking lot, where our cars were waiting forlornly in the downpour, and took an extra unplanned break at the cafe nearby, desperately imbibing hot drinks in an attempt to get warm. That was only marginally successful, but the team also shared with us the results of the rally-style regularity stage from earlier in the day. The father-daughter team driving the 1965 Panhard 24BT had come in first! (That was us, by the way..) So, despite being soaked to the skin and somewhat dreading the 70+ km drive to Monemvasia, Dad and I (and Pierre, the car!) set off in good spirits. At Mystras

Mystras

Leaving Mystras, we were among the few teams not to miss a tricky navigation point that involved driving into what looked –  for all intents and purposes – like a pedestrian square in the middle of a village. The road book said to turn, though, so turn we did, and managed to cut ahead of a lot of the pack. We only realised we had made up some distance later when we had pulled into a service station and six or seven cars that had started ahead of us, passed us again. Perhaps about 10km into the drive, the rain began again, and so commenced a somewhat terrifying battle between us and the windshield wipers and the condensation inside the car and between the two panes of glass in the windshield. At one point, the driver’s side windshield wiper simply fell off, and I spent a good hour methodically wiping the inside of the glass so dad could see – also while keeping my window open to minimise the condensation. Not terribly fun, but we survived.

On the road

On the road

Eventually we arrived at Monemvasia, where most of the rest of the group were waiting in front of the giant rock, and once we made it to our hotel inside the castle we were most ready for a glass of wine.

Approaching Monemvasia

Cars in Monemvasia

Cars in Monemvasia

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We settled in to our beautiful hotel, Malvasia, and enjoyed the view of the storm which was, by then, far enough away for us to enjoy it.

Dusk in Monemvasia

Food

Lightening in Monemvasia

Dusk in Monemvasia

And with that, the second day wound down. The third day of the Tour we woke up ready to tackle mountain roads up the coast to Nafplio, inspired by the dawn over the sea. Unfortunately, it was not to be for us, as dad and the slippery rocks had an unfortunate encounter that sent us back to Athens for knee surgery rather than to Nafplio with the Panhard. All in all though – we had a wonderful few days, and wish we could have gone on to the finish. Who knows, we may have won!

Monemvasia

Image credit to Scuderia Triskelion