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Trip Report Trip Report June 2014 Peloponnese Castles

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Western Peloponnese Castle tour

We visited the eastern Peloponnese in the past and made it to the Mani so this time we were determined to head west.
We flew Air Canada Rouge direct from Toronto to Athens. We were surprised at the number of Americans on the flight. Half of premium economy cabin were Americans. I had read on the forum of a family from California flying direct to Toronto on Air Canada and then on to Athens. I guess that 10% discount on the Canadian dollar is helping the Canadian economy
. Arriving direct to Athens was a pleasant change from connecting in Europe which arrives at dinner time. Instead we landed at 9:30 am which gave us most of the day. I am always warning North American visitors against driving right after a transatlantic flight but this was too good an opportunity to pass up, so armed with numerous cups of coffee and bolstered with adrenalin we met the representative from Athens Car Rental and within a half hour we were on our way in an automatic Hyundai Accent. I loved that automatic as this is a hilly country.

It has been several years since we drove from the airport on the National Road but there was markedly less traffic which we attributed to high gas prices and the economic situation which may be keeping the local population off the roads.

Ancient Nemia
We headed for Corinth intending to look for the amazing sinking bridge over the Corinth Canal but missed the turn off. We decided we would blame that problem on “Beatrice” our GPS unit rather than think it might be fatigue. So we just kept driving until we reached the turn off for Ancient Nemia. We wandered around the stadium and then headed over to the museum and the temple site. There have been lots of changes since we were last there several years ago. Zeus temple which had 3 restored columns now has an impressive 8 columns. The University of California Berkley and others have done a remarkable job of using toppled columns for the reconstruction project.

Nemia is one of those sites that most people simply pass by. It is not on the tour bus routes yet in antiquity it had its own games, part of the Pan Hellenic games which included Olympia. The stadium and temple are impressive and while the museum is small it is very well done. I think Nemia needs to hire a marketing department because it is worthy of a stop.

We completed our drive into Nafplio, found a parking spot and our hotel. We were staying at Agamemnon Hotel which I can highly recommend. It is right on the waterfront Promenade with ocean views over to Bourtuzi the Venetian era harbor fortress. What a setting!
While we still had energy we trudged over to new town to find a grocery store to purchase vegetables, cheese and wine. We hauled our provisions back to the hotel and had a lovely improvised snack on our waterfront deck then crashed for a few hours. It was a memorable first day
The next day we hopped into the car and decided to drive up to Palimidi fortress. On our previous trip we walked up all 999 steps to the fortress only to discover it was closing in 15 minutes. So we returned to explore this daunting fortress which looms over Nafplio. We spent a good two hours there. I brought a flashlight and was able to go down some tunnels leading into firing positions that were simply too dark to navigate without a light.

Here is a quick side comment. In the past many important sites closed at 3 pm and were closed on Mondays. On this trip, hours were 8 till 8 and 7 days a week. Obviously the Greek Government has decided to capitalize on it historical assets by keeping them open with convenient hours.

Nafplio is a delightful city with its Old town and marble paved Central Square and the fortresses make it a destination on its own.In fact in my opinion Nafplio is one of the two most beautiful cities in Greece. Its proximity to other ancient sites is just a bonus. Nearby you can visit Mycenae, Tiryns (the home of Hercules) and Epidaurus with its magnificent Theater. We decided to return to Epidaurus as we were only there previously on a bus tour and there wasn't enough time to do much more than look at the theater. This time we spent an hour at the theater, visited the museum, the ancient site as well as the stadium
On the way back Beatrice paid another little trick on us and took us on a round about visit to the countryside where we discovered a very solid bridge from Mycenaean times. Sometimes accidental discoveries are even better that planned activities
On the way back we visited Argos. There is an extensive archaeological site here, an amphitheater and a Venetian Castle. Argos is a very confusing city with narrow streets, traffic that believes stop signs are only for the feeble minded (like me). We somehow managed to find all of the sites. Unfortunately after a long switch back drive to Larissa castle we discovered it was being restored and was closed. At least we didn't hike up to it only to make that discovery. There is something oddly comforting about finding a castle perched up on top of a mountain that you can simply drive up to.

This is an album from several years ago with updated photos from this trip including Ancient Nemia, Epidaurus, the Mycenaean bridge, Argos and the amazing sinking bridge in Corinth
Nafplio and Peloponnese

Castle Quest
Since we had enjoyed Palimidi we decided to try and find as many castles as possible so we headed way south to Pylos, Methoni and Koroni. That new superhighway toll road from Tripoli certainly is a convenient way to get south in a hurry although it was disquieting when it simply terminated in the middle of a field, as it is incomplete. Fortunately there was an exit with a sign to Pylos so away we went. The down side to this is we missed Ancient Messene. By the time we realized that it was too late to turn around. This whole area is just full of Olive trees and is the home of the Kalamata olive.
We arrived in Pylos and found a parking space and explored the town. We found the big square, the glass bottom boat tours and then started to look for a hotel. We found a couple of very nice water view hotels but they were priced way out of our budget. Even our normal ploy of walking away when we heard the price didn't work in Pylos. They just let us go without offering a better price even though the hotels were not full. I guess this is what it is like in a resort area. We did find a very nice hotel with balcony overlooking the bay right in our price range at 40 euros a night but discovered they had not yet turned on their air conditioning. I can understand the need to conserve power and for a Greek 26 degrees Celsius might be considered chilly but for Canadians like us - who have just heated our homes to 20 degrees for the past 6 months and outside temperatures were 14 degrees when we left home - we were suffering from the heat. So we left Pylos and drove to Methoni. 11 miles from the activity of Pylos, Methoni was a shock. There was no one around. Like Methoni castle the place seemed to be abandoned. We eventually found Methoni Beach Hotel for 60 euros a night (including excellent breakfast) and got a room overlooking the castle. We would highly recommend this lovely hotel.
We spent half a day exploring Methoni castle inside and out. Once again my flashlight came into play.

On the second day we returned to Pylos. Pylos is on Navarino Bay, the site of the famous naval battle in 1827 between the Turkish fleet and a combined force of British, French and Russians. A day long battle ended with 6000 dead and most of the Turkish ships on the bottom of the bay. We had hoped to take the glass bottom boat tour to see some of the remains of the ships. Alas, the boat wasn’t running that day. We visited Neokastro the Turkish built fortress which is in the town. This fortress is in remarkably good condition and includes an excellent video presentation of the naval battle.

With the afternoon free because of the boat tour not running we decided to try to find Old Navorino castle built by the Venetians in the 13th century. This castle was on the other side of the bay down a dirt beach road. We parked with a bunch of other cars in a dusty parking lot and walked up a path past the sign to the castle. Beside the sign was another sign warning us that the castle was closed due to dangerous conditions. Now fully informed that the Greek Government took no responsibility for injury to stupid tourists we set off on our quest. Unlike several other castles this one was not a drive up. The path trekked around the headland through scrub brush until it started to climb through rocky terrain. Rounding a corner the castle came into view perched at the top of the mountain. It was large and seemed to be in pretty good condition so we decided to keep going. That was a long hike in the heat of the day but we eventually made it. The closer we got to the castle the more broken down it became. Huge chunks of the walls were missing. It certainly looked like it had been in a battle. For me this was the best castle we saw simply because of its state of decay and how hard it was to reach.

On our last day we headed to Koroni. It too has a castle. We were surprised by Koroni. It is a delightful town full of tourist infrastructure on the waterfront and lovely buildings with iron railing balconies spreading up the side of a hill. The fortress had huge bastions for cannon emplacements and was quite a different design from any we had seen before. We learned at Methoni the Venetians built large walled fortresses then built a town within the walls to protect the people. Many of the castles still had some ruins of the city. At Koroni however we were delighted to discover there is a convent, a graveyard, old churches and several families still living up there. This castle really provided a glimpse of what life may have been like 500 year ago. If we ever return to the Peloponnese we will definitely plan an overnight stay in Koroni .

On our last day we headed North through rich agricultural lands to find Olympia and then on to Chlemoutsi Castle. I had read it was the most important castle in the Peloponnese and was being reconstructed. It is an impressive setting high up on a mountain peak overlooking the small village of Kastro. My second impression though was it seems to be too far from the ocean to have been an effective castle. Information in the castle proved this to be true. After its early history no one wanted it and it gradually fell into decay. It is an impressive castle with an amazing view over the Ionian Sea, big walls and a circular keep. The reconstruction work is continuing with piles of cut stones and a crane on one of the walls.
That ended our Peloponnese tour.

Peloponesse Castles

Next Olympia, Delphi and Meteora