Monemvasia – Chasing the Lakonian dream

Visiting Lakonia has always been a dream. Perhaps it was the captivating scenery, the dashing old tower villages, the legendary history or merely the fact that this was where the greatest love story ever took place.

 

 

We set off on a Friday morning with the only intention of getting as far as possible from the hustle and bustle of the city and frankly, finding a good enough reason not to come back-at least not very soon!

We had our coffee and our playlist and we were good to go, occasionally pitching ideas as to where we should stop first. We eventually decided to take a detour round Mystras and then, drive north to Monemvasia.

The boundaries of Lakonia have changed little since King Menelaus ruled the powerful mountain-skirted realm in Mycenaean times. The view from the Byzantine Empire’s last stronghold, at the base of Mountain Taygetos overlooking the city of Sparta, sets you in a state of awe of what existed there.

Climbing the hill was a challenge but we were happy to take it. There are dozens of monasteries and churches scattered around the Byzantine town to explore and the ruins of houses and mansions in between give you a good glimpse of what life used to be like back in he 1500’s.

 

In fact, Mystras was inhabited up until the 1820’s when it was finally abandoned when the Turks re-took much of the Peloponnese after Ibriham Pasha’s invasion from Egypt. On our way down the hill, we paid a visit to the Pantanassa convent, inhabited by nuns who are the only people living in the city of Mystras today and will be happy to welcome you -hopefully- with some loukoumakia (traditional Greek sweet treat).

 

Having spent more than 4 hours wandering around the legendary city, we decided to head directly to Monemvasia, as we had at least an hour of driving. Although exhausted and quite strained, we rushed to settle in our hotel so we could discover what was on the other side of the bridge and behind the giant rock.

It was quite late in the night when we first visited the Castle town but we were completely impatient to find the picturesque, small cafes and restaurants everyone was telling us about.

The streets were pretty quiet, some of the shops were closed but you could still spot young couples making out in the corners and holding hands as they walked and yes, that’s as idyllic as it sounds.

The sense of isolation was so intense that to me, felt almost awkward. We spent a minute or two gazing at the Myrtoan sea and then headed to Marianthi’s traditional tavern. You’ll surely recognize it from the cats that are patiently welcoming guests at the door (*If you visit, make sure you try the Smyrneika soutzoukakia).

When we came back in the morning, of course everything was different; now the streets were crowded with people coming up and down, the cafes’ balconies were filled and we joined them to enjoy the view. A stop at Enetiko will reward you with its amazing coffee, service, and environment

Even if you know nothing about Monemvasia’s history, you can see it written on the walls around you. Cut off from the coast of the Peloponnese by an earthquake in 375 AD, Monemvasia is Europe’s only castle and natural fortress that has never ceased being inhabited.

We only had a day left and we could already feel that punch in the stomach and still felt that we hadn’t seen enough. We decided to leave the castle for a while to explore the wider area of Monemvasia, but promised we would return for a last nighttime walk.

No matter how cliche or cheesy it may sound, the castle town’s uniqueness and fairytale atmosphere remain as true as ever. We discussed several ways as to how we were supposed to adjust to ordinary life once again but just so to make our adjustment bearable, we’re coming back in April.

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