For our final stopover we had booked a hotel in Nafplio, although technically speaking it was just up the road and round the corner in the resort of Tolo. It was a medium-sized hotel away from the beach (up the hill a bit) but with some excellent views. Another quite good one.
I think we had 4 nights there, which gave us plenty of time for exploring the local area, much of which seemed to be buried in old architecture.
Nafplio Town was an interesting little place dominated mainly by the enormous castle up on the hill, and its little brother stuck out on an island in the bay. It took us a whole day to explore, although to be honest, it was very hot so we were running at reduced speed.
Not far from Nafplio is the ruined city of Mycenae. There’s not a huge amount to see, or at least, not much to photograph, as the site is relatively overgrown and flat compared to many other Greek archaeological sites.
Also close by is Epidaurus, another ancient archaeological site, and much more from the classical period than Mycenae. There’s a stadium and a forum area, but most of the gasps of wonderment are reserved for its really rather large and fabulous theatre.
On our day of departure, we had a few hours spare before we needed to get to the airport to go home, so we decided to spend it in Corinth. There’s a fairly impressive ancient city there, as well as the famously deep and narrow cutting that was made for the Corinth Canal – a short stretch of water running through a fine example of my absolute favourite word in the world – an isthmus.
Kalamata is a medium-sized town sitting in a bay on the south side of the Peloponnese. It is rather off the tourist track by coastal Greek standards, and so basks somewhat in the joys of being rather more Greek instead of international. It was probably the least tourist-focused place on the trip.
One result of the lack of tourists is that there’s a lack of touristy stuff nearby. I think we booked in for two nights, which essentially meant we had one full day to explore the area.
We chose to drive over the “finger” of the peninsular to Methoni, a small town on the west facing (i.e. the Adriatic) coast, although having checked the map it seems it’s the Ionian Sea this far south. Life is just a big geography lesson!
Anyway, back at the plot, Methoni’s main tourist attraction is a rather fine castle, that’s a combination of influences, but most strikingly Venetian. It has an excellent fortified bit stuck out on a little islet, which can only be reached by boat or by walking a narrow stone causeway.
I remember it was a fiercely hot day when we were there, and after a bit of castling we were very ready for a sit down at a beachside cafe, which had a collection of banana plants growing in planting beds. Some of the plants were fruiting. I’d never seen bananas actually growing on a plant before. Technically speaking, by the way, bananas are berries, and the plants are enormous herbs.
When we left Kalamata the following morning we had a longish drive up to Nafplio on the cards, driving right across the heart of the Peloponnese past Sparta.
The route also took us past Mystras, an old fortified town which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We thought it had to be worth a visit, so we went for a quick look. It’s a fairly spread out site with, shall we say, a rather vertiginous aspect. We managed to get quite high up before tiredness and time pressure got the better of us, soit was a worthwhile stop over to break up an otherwise long and quite slow drive.
The fourth stop on our Greek tour was to be the home of the Ancient Olympic Games, but first of all we had to get to the place from Delphi. This involved a lot of driving downhill until we eventually reached the very narrowest point of the Gulf of Corinth.
Nowadays the Gulf can be crossed on the rather spectacular Rio-Antirrio Bridge, but back in 2003 it involved a rather nifty little ferry crossing. I seem to remember at the time that the piers for the bridge were under construction, and indeed the Wikipedia post says that the supporting pylons were completed in 2003 ready for the bridge decks to be installed and the bridge to open a fortnight before the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens.
Back at the plot, the ferry made a quick journey over the Gulf and we continued on our way to our hotel in Olympia. It was a Best Western, I think, and it was one of the nicer hotels we stayed in on the trip, if not the nicest.
On the evening we arrived it was also our wedding anniversary, so we did a bit of touristy stuff (mainly finding our where to go the following day) and then retired to the hotel for a rather substantial meal and some hardcore relaxing.
The following morning greeted us with a bright, sunny smile, as did pretty much all of the others on this trip, and we set about the serious business hunting down the archaeology.
The site of Ancient Olympia is a bit of a journey through Mediterranean history, being composed of elements from the Archaic, Classical, Hellenistic and Roman periods all mixed in together and then generally ruined by centuries of standing around in the sunshine. We toured pretty much the whole site in an extended morning, including having a butcher’s at the Stadium.
We’d only booked in the hotel for a single night, assuming there wouldn’t be much else to hold the attention in the area, and so it proved. By mid-afternoon we were ready to jump into the car and head off for the next stopover, Kalamata (where they make the olives).
The next stop on our driving tour of Greece was Delphi. As with Meteora, we decided to come here partly because we wanted to recreate a photo from a coffee table book we own. In this case, the photo was of the Delphic Tholos at sunset.
In this image, the key was to get the sensation of dusky orange light surrounding the monument.
Back at the plot, the hotel we chose in Delphi was a little boutique job, which proved to be one of the nicest of the lot. It was down a small street that was inaccessible by car, so we had to park in a public park up the road and walk down. However, it was very well decorated and had nice big rooms. It’s just as well it was nice though, because having three nights there was probably one too many, we thought.
Basically, Delphi is a place you go for history and archaeology.
The main site sits high on a hill overlooking a huge valley which drops all the way down to the Gulf of Corinth and has some spectacular views. The site itself is fairly small and is an easy one day visit even for the most deeply interested.
There are some indoor bits with archaeological displays, and there’s an amphitheatre with brilliant views, and there’s a stadium up the top of the hill.
So that occupied us for one full day. On the second full day in Delphi we were at a loss for something to do.
We went down to the Delphic Tholos for more photos but then decided there wasn’t much to do in Delphi itself, so we elected to drive up to one of a handful of ski resorts in Greece, at Mount Parnassos. It passed the time.
Delphi is a nice small town and the site of the Oracle is genuinely interesting, but unless you are a serious archaeology nut I wouldn’t go for more than two nights and one full day.
For our second stop in Greece we chose the magnificent collection of monasteries at Meteora.
To get there, we picked up our rental car in downtown Athens and began the slightly risky driving experience of trying to get out into the Greek countryside. It definitely took some effort to get around and out of Omonoia Square and we lost sight of any direction signs for other bits of Greece, so eventually, we just decided to drive in a straight line along the same road until we crossed a motorway. This gave us the opportunity to figure out where we were. Oh, the joys of travel in the days when Google maps on the phone just wasn’t the done thing.
Once we found a motorway we picked our way around Lamia and on to Trikala and eventually to Kalabaka. From Lamia onwards it was off the motorway, and hence a bit slow.
On the day we drove up we arrived in mid-afternoon, so we had time for a quick recce visit up into the “monastery zone” to get the lay of the land.
The hotel we stayed at in Kalabaka was possibly the worst of the trip. It wasn’t bad as such, but it felt a bit half-finished, especially in the bathroom. Still, we were only there for a couple of nights, so how bad could it be? We’d pre-booked all our hotels individually on the internet before setting off, and we ended up with a bit of a mixed bag.
On the following day, we did the full monastery trip, including driving up as close as we could manage to the four or five that are close to roads and making a few extra stop-offs at good viewpoints for taking panoramic photos. I remember we were actually trying to reproduce a shot we’d seen of the Rousanou Monastery that we’d seen in a coffee table photo book we owned, and which was the main inspiration for us going there in the first place. We sort-of got it.
The shot in question is the one on this page, and the key is to understand that the monastery is on a completely different pillar of rock from the enormous thing behind. It is actually a good 500m in front of the taller rock pillar, with a deep valley and a road between the two. So yes, that is a vertical cliff that the monastery sits on. There is access to that one up a near-vertical set of ladders and steps you can just see in the photo. Other photos in the grid below were taken in and around the base.
But you get the picture, as it were. Optical illusion.
The first stop off on our grand tour of Greece was the capital city, Athens.
We stayed in a moderate class hotel somewhere in the city centre, having arrived on a BA flight from Heathrow.
We stayed around four days.
One day was spent wandering around the city centre, including watching the changing of the guard at the Greek Parliament Building. Whilst it may be amusing to try to pass comment about soldiers wearing skirts, white tights and shoes with pom-poms on them, I wouldn’t dare, if only because they all looked like quite big blokes.
We also had one full day up the Parthenon, like you do. It was a bit busy up there, but we took our time and had a good look around and took loads of photos.
We also went over to the Temple of Olympian Zeus one day, and the Temple of Hephaestus.
We also went up Mount Lycabettus one day, but I didn’t seem to take any photos up there.