The Peloponnese – Monemvasia and Elafonissos

In part two of our trip around the Peloponnese we went to Polilimnio and the Mani.

It was time to leave the Mani even though we’d only had time to see a tiny part of it. We headed south to Areopoli and through the mountain pass towards Gytheio with a quick swimming stop at Mavrovouni beach along the way. Arriving in Gytheio just before lunch, we planned to eat at one of its famous harbourside fish tavernas.  But it was still a little early so we set off to explore Marathonisi, a one-time island, but now connected by a mole to the mainland.  There was an intriguing-sounding Museum of the Mani that occupied an 18th-century tower house that we’d hoped to visit, but alas, it was closed.  In ancient times this little island was known as ‘Kranae’, and according to Homer it was here that Paris and Helen of Troy spent their first night after running away from Sparta. We chose a taverna for lunch and sat at a waterside table where we could see the little fish feeding on the mossy rocks. After a meal of kalamari, mussels and a rocket salad it was time to get in the car and continue towards Monemvasia.

Octopus in Gytheio
Octopus in Gytheio

Even though I’d been there before the sight of the great rock of Monemvasia rising out of the ocean was still impressive. Approaching from the north you can make out the ruins of the upper citadel, but the lower town remains hidden.  It isn’t until you drive across the causeway and then walk through a narrow stone passage that you suddenly emerge into the steep cobbled laneways of Monemvasia. If it wasn’t for the cafes full of fashionable Athenians you’d think you were back in the Byzantine world.

Monemvasia - you can see the walled town on the right
Monemvasia – you can see the walled town on the right

There isn’t actually much to do in Monemvasia other than just to be there. Strolling through the narrow streets in the cool of the evening, and sitting on a rooftop cafe watching the old tiled rooftops absorb the colour of the setting sun was about the . extent of our activity there. We found a lovely little apartment leading into a walled courtyard.  Just beyond the courtyard door were the city walls and the Aegean sea.

Monemvasia's a cobbled streets
Monemvasia’s  cobbled streets

The following day we drove southwest across the Vatika peninsula and caught the car ferry to the island of Elafonnisos. It’s only 10 minutes on the ferry and you pass by the ancient underwater city of Pavlopetri. After a swim in the blue-green waters of Simos beach we ate in a quintessential Greek fishing port with wicker-chaired tavernas and cafes lined up along the water.  In the middle of the bay a mole lead to a pretty church on an islet.

On our last morning in Monemvasia we left the boys relaxing in bed and stole out through the narrow streets before the morning sun had risen too far. We climbed to the top of the ramp leading to the upper citadel (currently closed for restoration), just in time to see the sun rise and illuminate the town, just as it had done for over 1000 years.