Where to go…
Starting from a shameful position of complete ignorance, how to decide where to go? I had three main resources to draw on: Ourtour’s blog and map, with useful information about the country, co-ordinates for many free stopovers and some campsites; Peejay’s Greek stopovers, a regularly updated database of free stopovers; and the ACSI campsite book for discount camping. Not forgetting the venerable Rough Guide for a cultural fix. Starting from Patras the Peloponnese is ahead of us and we have one fixed point: a village in the Pelion peninsula – some distance from the Peloponnese as it happened – where a friend, a former colleague, was renovating a ruined olive press.
Map adapted from Wikipedia – thank you!
Like all of mainland Greece it’s not a place I know anything about but if Rob had thought it a good place to renovate a ruin for family holidays, then it must be pretty wonderful. There is a recommended campsite just outside the village so that provided a destination – and the possibility of saying Hello after many years.
Timing our travels to meet the other fixed point, the date of the return sailing, meant we needed to get a feel for distances and timings. I had tried to get an open return ticket but the on-line booking service said to pick a date for booking purposes then get the ticket marked as open when checking in. When checking in I was told just to ring before the return date chosen and if there was a space we could change. Together with the general chaos and lack of information surrounding the whole ferry thing, this arrangement did not inspire confidence. Also we were warned that the season was getting underway and space may be scarce at short notice. We chose 20th June. I did not want to be there much later anyway as the temperatures would be getting well up by then.
Picking an approximate route that looped us across the fingers of the Peloponnese in time to get to Milina for a few days and leave plenty of time to get back, we headed south east.
The ancient port of Koroni sits below a Venetian fort towards the tip of the south-west peninsula of the Peloponnese. From Kalo Nero we crossed the mountains from the east coast of Messenia to the west, bypassing Kalamata (where the olives come from) and Ancient Messene (through sheer ignorance). The roads proved a lot less fearsome than they appeared on the map and had great views. Beyond Messini (the new one) fruit and vegetable stalls dotted the roadside – a sack of oranges made its way into the back of the van (4 Euros) together with fragrant tomatoes and courgettes. In the book Camping Koroni claims to be fifty metres from the sea without mentioning they are all vertical. There were steps and a path down the (small:-) cliff to a Taverna right by the sea. The beach was sandy and it was quite a walk to get in above your knees – nice though, with the old town just across the water. It was a pleasant enough site with plenty of shade but I did not take to the high hedges around the pitches – seemed to make it a bit airless after the openness and direct access to the sea of Kalo Nero. The swimming pool was a bonus.
It was Hot. At about five o’clock we braved the heat and tackled the steep streets of the charming old town. They took their toll!
Refreshing ourselves with a rather sophisticated (and expensive ) ice cream on the harbour front we also yielded to the honeyed blandishments of the mini-baklava in one of the boutique bakeries. A small, well wrapped, selection went into the back-pack for future delectation. The town seems to be well endowed with hardware shops for no obvious reason, none of which had the sort of mat for the outside of the van we had realised was needed – especially on a sandy beach. Some of them retain an old-fashioned look.
Moving ever eastwards the next stop was half way down the peninsula opposite, across the Gulf of Messinia, the Mani. From OurTour I had learnt that an author I admire, Patrick Leigh Fermor, had written a book many years ago about the area, Mani; Travels in the Southern Peloponnese.
I downloaded it and started to read – awe-inspiring. With his wife he crossed the Taygetus mountain range, the spine of the rugged and remote Mani, on foot and discovered the inaccessibility of the region and the hospitality of the people. He stopped and conversed with people in isolated villages along the way and wrote “There are times in Greece when you feel you could live with as little forethought about food as Elijah; meals appear as though laid at one’s elbow by ravens”. This echoes Neil’s childhood memories at the home of a greek school friend many years ago: lamb chops and potatoes fried in olive oil would invariably materialise in front of them not long after each expansive welcome from his mother. Since then I have discovered that Leigh Fermor lived to 96 years of age, only dying in June 2011 at his home in Kardamyli, a small town we were about to drive through obliviously:-(
Our destination after our two days in Koroni was Camping Kalogoria in Stoupa. This small town has taken the brunt of the tourist development that by-passed the beachless Kardamyli. It is tourism of a pretty low key variety but first sight of the rows of beach umbrellas disheartens. This campsite is 100 metres from the sea – only some of them downhill!
The pitches are not marked out so it is airy and spacious – judicious use of the compass and we maximise the shade from the tall pines.
There are few other campers but it is a bank holiday apparently which accounts for the crowds on the beach. There is a small scrubby headland to one side which we clamber over to see if there is a quieter spot. There is but it is a rocky scramble down to the welcoming eau-de-nil water washing over the rocks below. It is beautiful, and only the fish share our swim.
That evening we walk into the main part of town and find a second larger beach and a selection of tavernas that make choosing difficult.
We manage though and find a much wider range of dishes on the menu. Neil has been waiting to find chicken in the oven with potatoes – soft, garlicky and oily – and I go for kleftiko – stolen meat – cooked in paper with vegetables – meltingly soft. And still only about €28 with tzatziki starter and wine.
We decide to stay a few days and I settle down for a blog with site-wide wifi and full extension lead functionality. This is one thing to remember to pack – a four gang extension lead to take full advantage of being on a generous hook up. Especially at €19.50 a night – this site is no longer ACSI but gave us a bit of an off-season discount anyway.
Next day the beach is quieter so we slide into the water at one side. There is a something odd about the water here – the top several inches are cold – too cold – but underneath it is fine. If you swim over to the other side of the bay the water is just normal – can only guess there is a river that flows icily from the mountain top on this side and overlies the warmer salt water beneath. The swimming is good – Neil has always been able to swim underwater with his eyes open and see what is what on the sea floor. I can’t do this – it isn’t painful but sort of irritating. I have my snorkel but find it tight on the forehead. My small gym-pool goggles are lurking in the bottom of the beach bag so I give them a go – it’s a miracle – I can see. Now I too can swim without worrying about colliding with a rock or something unspeakable in a crevice grabbing my leg!
After three nights we tear ourselves away from this comfortable spot and drive over the Taygetus to the other side of the peninsula. Again the roads are not as difficult as feared – not difficult at all in terms of narrowness or bad surfaces – just the effort of steering around hairpins without being distracted at an inconvenient point by the phenomenal views! Our destination is the beach a few kilometres north of Gyfion with the wreck of the Dimitrios. It’s another free parking for motorhomes and, by evening, several are lurking behind the tamarisks.
We have a great night view – the sea is just beyond the dune –
and a great morning view from my berth.
There is no village or anything nearby apart from a taverna at the side of the bay which we don’t use, and a beach shower which we do. What a civilised thing it is to put a shower on the beach. And what a treat to use it in the sunshine after a swim!
Neil goes to photograph the ill-fated Dimitrios and chats with a professional photographer who tells him it is one of the most photographed wrecks in the world and suggests where to shoot from.
I wander out later and find a newly married couple in their wedding clothes posing for their wedding photographs. It makes for some great shots but I can’t help thinking it is tempting fate to use a shipwreck as a backdrop for a new marriage!