The wind god was blasting Monemvasia this morning when we said goodbye; the sea frosted with whitecaps. It was time to head west, to check out the ruins at Mystras and then on to Kardamyli on the rugged west coast of the Mani peninsula.
Our first stop, Mystras, was about the halfway mark on today's drive. The fortress atop Mystras was built around 1249 and in subsequent years the hillside below developed into a walled city. Today Mystras consists of a lot of church ruins, a few in decent shape, plus the crumbling walls of the hilltop castle.
The best preserved/restored churches are near the lower entrance and are well worth visiting but at some point, say after three or four, I found it repetitive. I suppose an anthropologist or archeologist or historian would find it all fascinating but I can only take so many ruins in one day. So we hiked the cobblestone path up to the top of the hill to see what is left of the castle - not much, it turns out - and to view the surrounding countryside, the green hills and the brown above-treeline mountain peaks in the distance. Greece sure is good looking.
Not the best photographic conditions though, the mid-day sun is harsh, the shadows contrasty, but you can't carry golden-hour lighting conditions in your backpack. I took some bracketed shots but have to be home at my PC to process those.
From Mystras we drove south to get around the impressive Taygetos mountains, then north along the rugged coast to Kardamyli where we are spending a couple nights in a large comfortable apartment. The west coast of the Mani peninsula is beautiful indeed: a deep blue sea crashing against a dry mountainous landscape dotted with nice looking towns.
We stopped for lunch at a cafe somewhere between Kelefa and Platsa, I was desperate for a coffee, where we met a warm, friendly local woman who served us. She reinforced my thinking that the Greeks are the friendliest people.
We're in Kardamyli, a small town which doesn't have much in the way of tourist attractions: no sandy beach, not much in the way of ruins, a tiny museum. The two roads in are a pain, hairpin curve after hairpin curve. Few hotels. Yet the same people - mostly Brits but also a smattering of other northern Europeans - return year after year for weeks at a time, filling the many apartments in the summer months. Why? Because Kardamyli is in a beautiful and remote spot, hemmed in by a range of tall mountains to the east and the deep blue Mediterranean to the west.
The regulars are like the Austrian woman we met while hiking. She comes for the hiking, the warm sea, and the friendly laid-back atmosphere (though I'd say Greece in general seems pretty laid back).
We spent the morning hiking to the tiny village of Petrovouni, then to an old church, the Aghia Sophia, and finally back down to Kardamyli for lunch at a seaside cafe. Tough life, eh? It was a pretty easy hike, part cobblestone scramble, part traffic-less country road, and part old stone pathway. Lots of flowers blooming - bougainvillea do really well here - and olive trees. The stone path we hiked on dates back to ancient times when the only way to get to Kardamyli was by walking or boat. I think the road into town is a pretty recent development.
The photos show the countryside which is mostly green forest, largely olive trees. In the second photo is Mount Taygetus at 2400m. (Mystras, which we visited yesterday, is just on the other side of the mountain.) Supposedly it appears in the Odyssey though I've yet to encounter it. Other photos show a couple of churches, a typical new-construction house (the simple but elegant architecture is a relief to my eyes from the over-wrought design seen in north America), and the final photo is of schoolkids practicing for the Oct 28 (No Day) parade. They were in the middle of the highway, blocking traffic a bit, but no one seemed to care. It's all pretty mellow here.
Would love to stay longer in Kardamyli, there are lots of tempting hiking trails all along the coast, but we allowed just long enough to get a taste. Tomorrow is a travel day: we are off to the big city which I expect to be a shock after the series of wonderful small Greek towns we've seen. I didn't expect this: Greece is giving Italy competition for top spot on my list of favorite countries.