Monemvasia: A journey through time in Southern Greece!
January 1, 1970
by Pittara Antonia
Sea, sandy beaches, hot sunny days, ouzo, Acropolis, greek islands!
I am sure that these are the things that pop into your mind when you hear the word ”Greece”!
Well I am here now to tell you that you are absolutely wrong. Not because all these do not exist, but because this unique country has to offer you much more different experiences! So are you ready to explore them?
Lakonia : A blessed land
Laconia is a region in southern Greece and a place very fertile that offers you the opportunity to explore its pure nature. Wherever you travel in Lakonia you will notice along the way three things : olive trees, fragant orangeries and remainings of the ancient territory of Spartans. The history of the region goes back 6000 years B.C. and that is also the reason you are able to visit and see monuments of different historical times. Its capital of course is famous Sparta , laying in between two of the biggest mountains of Greece, Parnonas and Taygetos. Even though Sparti doesn’t have a big touristic development, it is still a pole of attraction for thousands of people all year long that are interested to see the birthplace of Leonidas. Except from Sparti though there is also another smaller town that takes you back many centuries and makes you believe that you live in another era. Monemvasia, 1,5 hours far from Sparti is located in a tiny island which is connected with the mainland by a small piece of land with only 200 meters lenght. Monemvasia, known also as the Giblartar of East, is located inside the old castle.
Let the journey begin!
Arriving to Athens’ airport you can choose how you will continue your trip to the North. There are plenty of buses from Athens to Sparta and also to other big cities of Laconia every day that can help you reach your destination. But of course renting a car is also a good option as you will be able to stop on the way in many small villages and enjoy even more the amazing view of Lakonia’s landscape.
First Stop: This is Sparta
Our trip started from Athens in a small car driving to Monemvasia. Of course our first stop was Sparta. Having a Spartian mother i have spent many of my holidays in this unique city and i couldn’t do anything less than recommend you to spend a day or two there and explore the city. And of course this is what we did!
Wearing our comfortable shoes we decided to follow the signs for the ancient Sparta (they are all over the city center) and visit it. It took us less than 20 minutes from the center of the city to arrive to the archeological site. Even though ancient Sparta was once the biggest and most powerful greek city nowadays you can only see a few remainings of an old theater and of some churches but the view from the acropolis is worthy the walk. You have the opportunity to enjoy the whole city from above and see the big Laconian valley.
Following the way back to the city center we arrived to the main square . Simple but always busy, surrounded by many bars and coffee shops you can always find a place to relax all day long. Our choice was an old time classic cafe-bar ” Lesxi-Symmetron” , one of the oldest cafes in Sparta. Except from coffee and amazing cocktails there you can also try some of the best Laconian wines like the ones of the Chatzimichalis’ winery that you should definitely try if you step your foot in Laconia.
Second Stop: Mystras Castle
And once you visit Sparta of course you should definitely visit the Mystras castle which is named an Unesco World Heritage Site . Located only 6 kilometers away from Sparta, Mystras, was one of the most powerfull centers of the Byzantine territory.
Spending a whole morning there we were able to visit many churches from the 14th century with really unique architecture and the palace which was thought under some contractions at that time. And of course once we were there we couldn’t leave without reaching the top of the castle. And even though the hiking to the top was totally exhausting the view was nothing less than breathtaking.
The next morning it was time to hit the road again and drive even northern to our final destination, Monemvasia. After only one and a half hours we parked the car outside the gate of Monemvasia (cars cannot enter the gate of the town) but we weren’t ready for what we were about to face.
Once we walked through the gate what we faced was an unexpected pleasant surprise. Small and narrow streets, stone houses, a medieval castle, a mix of an old era in the modern age that makes you believe you live in a fairy tale. We didn’t even walk 200 meters when people started talking to us and greeting us. I have to confess that even thought i have travel a lot in Greece i never saw again people with so much love for their birthplace.
What to do in Monemvasia?
Even if you have decided to spend some days there or just to visit it on an one day trip you will be able to explore this small town and its secrets. Our two- days-stay was more than enough to fall in love with this place and make me not want to leave it.
First Day: Exploring Monemvasia
So once we entered the gate (known as Portello) we started wandering around on the main cobblestone street which is surrounded by many traditional coffee bars and greek taverns. Most of them have a roof garden or a balcony that provides you a mind-blowing view. Our choice was <<Chrisovoulo Cafe Restaurant>>. The balcony view leaves you speechless until the food arrives when you can’t focus on anything else than the delicious dishes!
After our meal we continued our walk between the arched alleyways, the traditional guesthouses and the Venetian Style houses next to Byzantine churches arriving at the main square and the sea wall. The fresh salty air, the peaceful atmosphere and the endless blue of the sea create a mythical scenery. And even though we didn’t want to leave this place when we looked up and saw the whole upper town of Monemvasia we couldn’t do anything else than continue our way this time to the upper part of the town.
And right before the sun went down we made it to have the best panoramic view of the whole town and its well maintained sea wall. For the end of the day we had to celebrate this amazing day with some drinks. A text on my phone coming from a friend advised me to visit the <<Eneticon bar>> and try the Skyfall cocktail! And so did I! Not only the cocktail but also the place was exactly the perfect closing of this day.
Second day: The Castle on the top of the rock
The next morning wasn’t hard at all to leave our beds as we knew that a big breakfast will be waiting us to enjoy it with the best view. <<Guesthouse Kellia>> was our choice for spending the night and the breakfast they prepared for us was the perfect beginning of the day!
Full of energy we decided to visit the castle of the Upper town. The hiking to the top was short but exhausting but we were rewarded by the amazing view and the visit of Agia Sophia, one of the most famous attractions of Monemvasia – a church with a very special architecture: half – Byzantine and half- Venetian.
On our way back we also decided to taste some of the local products. The local olives and the homemade sweets made us unable to stop eating but what will always stay in our memory is the sweet regional wine <<Malvasia>>, which has been awarded as the best wine in Balkans and its recipe goes back to the 13th century. Trust me there is a reason they called the “nectar of the nobles”.
Just before we leave we decided to have our lunch in a traditional greek tavern that locals say it’s one of the oldest and the most famous of Monemvasia. And even though I am used to the greek food, tavern <<Matoula>> made me realize how amazing and tasteful the original greek food with its simple ingredients can be.
Living behind Monemvasia hidden in its castle I promised myself that i would definitely come back soon to this seductive destination to live another journey through time and discover even more of its hidden treasures.