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Highe in the Peloponnese PDF Printable Version E-mail

 

HIGHE IN THE GREEK PELOPONNESE

Peter Highe with Linda
November-December 2010

17 November 2010

Greetings from Finikounda on the south coast of the Peloponnese in Greece. We travelled overland from the UK through France and Italy and then from Ancona to Patras via ferry. We were due to “Camp on Board” but due to rough weather were given a free and very comfortable outside cabin for the 21-hour crossing. We spent a couple of weeks at Ionion Beach Camping in Glifa and then came south via Olympia (visiting the ancient and very interesting site) and free camping at Katakolo harbour and at Kakovatos.

The weather has been a kind of English Summer: a week or so of hot weather followed by a day of thunderstorms, repeated several times. The temperature is around the mid-twenties during the day and mid-teens at night, very comfortable and no need to use the van heating.

The campsites are very quiet and laid back; we are finding them to be generally cheaper than Spanish sites in winter. Here at Camping Thines (meaning 'Dunes' in Greek) we have been quoted €14 a night including 6A electricity, hot showers, free washing machine and (good) Wi-Fi. The eventual cost may well be less, depending on how long we stay. It's not too easy to pin down a price and we have really stopped trying!

Shopping is generally good with local shops and Lidl and Carrefour in major towns. Wine is very cheap, with very pleasant Greek Rose, Red or White for €1.50 for 1.5 litres in Lidl. They do a very tasty range of frozen Tyro Pitas (Cheese Pies) too.

Driving in Greece has been an interesting experience. We used to think that Portugal was bad but here double yellow lines are for parking on, double white lines are for overtaking on, and the hard shoulder is for driving on (well, people have to overtake, don't they?!) but once you get used to it is rather fun – though we could have done without the pick-up parked across a tight junction that resulted in a scratch down half the length of the skirt on the van. I don't think the owner of the pick-up will even notice.

The intention now, after a week or so, is to go to Kalamata (famous for its olives) for a night or two on the way to Tripoli, where MagBaz Travels think there is an LPG supplier. I hope so, as otherwise we will have to brave the roads of Athens to replenish the Gaslow cylinders. Not something we want to undertake lightly!

26 November 2010

We are now overnighting on the promenade north of Githio (N 36º46.3' E 22º33.8') on the eastern side of the Mani peninsula. It is still warm (20ºC) but windy and showery today.

A couple of days ago we drove around the Likodhimo Mountains from Finikounda, via Koroni to Kalamata. We had been told that on the waterfront, a couple of km west of Kalamata harbour, we could get LPG but it was not to be. We drove along the dirt track up the side of the depot and enquired, but were told that they could only refill bottles, not Gaslow cylinders. We didn't push the point but suppose if we'd shown them the yellow cylinders they may have had a suitable adaptor – in any case we weren't too impressed by the two operatives having a break, fags on the go, in the middle of a propane tank farm!

We did some grocery shopping at Lidl and Carrefour in Kalamata and then headed to the beach south of Analapsi (N37.00556 E21.97250) for the night. This was very quiet, a car park shared by one German van.

Yesterday we set off for Tripoli in search of Autogas, taking the route due north towards the new motorway extension west from Tripoli. Our map suggested that we would pick the motorway up at Loutro, north of Meropi, but it is nowhere near finished. We stayed on the old N road over the mountains until, just north of Paradhisia, we did join the motorway which is now open all the way to Tripoli and cost €4.50. We left the motorway at the Teghea/Sparta junction and followed the instructions given by Andy Newton which were spot on. The GPS co-ordinates are N37.496108 E22.38783 but our TomTom tried to take us via dirt track, so be careful. The LPG station is actually on a dirt track beside the motorway. We needed our (French) dish adaptor and they were happy to fill loose bottles, as well as cars and our Gaslow installation. Autogas was €0.78 a litre.

From Tripoli we drove to Sparta, covering 165 km for the day and it was an interesting drive. We stayed at Camping Mistras Paleologica between Sparta and Mistras. We were not impressed with the campsite and it was expensive. However as it was raining and we only planned to stay for one night we couldn't summon the enthusiasm to haggle over the price.

We intend to try a campsite here in Githio for the next couple of nights before driving south into the Mani for a few more nights wild camping.

29 November 2010

In the end we didn't find a campsite, though we did look at the two that were open. They were both similar, with small pitches which really were not designed to cope with a 3 metre high motor home. They appeared to be unkempt, weed filled and with dubious electrics. Yes, they would be shady in the summer but at the end of November were just cramped and dismal.

Instead we drove down the east side of the Mani, and an interesting drive it was. The main bit of the road was fine, if a little twisty and winding, but when you come to a village, the road goes back to the width and surfacing of the century before last - there is room for one vehicle between the buildings and that vehicle is a donkey cart. This part of the Mani is like Scotland, north-west of Ullapool and parts of Harris and Lewis, although there are no barriers or marked passing places on the mainly single track roads here, unlike Scotland. The other difference is that it is warm and sunny.

The diesel prices have gone up from around €1.28 at best, to about €1.50 in the small outlets down this road.

We made it to our destination despite some drawing in of breath from the co-pilot's seat on the last bit of the journey to Marmari. Marmari is the most southerly 'resort' in mainland Greece, though there are reportedly Tavernas nearer to Cape Tenaro probably only open in the summer (co-pilot refused to travel down this road in the van so cannot verify this!).

At Marmari there are 2 beaches (both looked quite good for swimming but were covered in flotsam), a 24-room hotel and some (very nicely) renovated holiday rooms which may well be part of the hotel complex. There are still a couple of the original residents here and we met them buying bread from the baker's van (11.30 each weekday) which stops at the bus turning point just above the hotel. The signposted stopping place for motorhomes is on a right hand bend before you reach the hotel: a loosely surfaced space which looks as though it has been a quarry. It also serves as the turning point for the dustbin truck and parking area for those dropping off rubbish in the village's bins, enclosed in a rather elegant stone enclosure. (N36º25.6' E22º28.8') The sun set fairly early over the village but earlier in the year it would set, spectacularly, over the gulf of Mesiniakos.

The hotel (Marmari Paradise) was open, just about, and we managed to buy a couple of beers but we were the only customers and it was Saturday lunchtime, so we wouldn't want to guarantee service. It was 23ºC during the day with squally winds, dropping to a minimum of 19ºC overnight.

Today we travelled the grand distance of 14 km to Gherolimenas, passing the very picturesque village of Vathia, a kind of ancient Manhattan with seemingly every building a tower, some of which are restored but many are still ruins. The place has a gruesome past though and the towers were defensive.

Restoration of ancient buildings is clearly the thing hereabouts and, though the purists complain about towers being converted into desirable holiday homes complete with carefully mortared 'ruined' castellations, the local planning laws insist on all buildings being finished in the local limestone and the law is seemingly being enforced. The newly restored buildings certainly look a lot better than the concrete ones of the 1970s.

In Gherolimenas we parked next to the beach by the Hotel Akroyiali (N36º28.95' E22º24.0'). It was Sunday and all of the seven bar/restaurants were open for lunch. We did have coffee in one and drinks in two and none was busy. There are also three hotels here, including the very posh Kyrimai, but that too seemed to be empty. There is a small supermarket and it was open but we didn't venture inside.

Surprisingly, the village gained its fortune not from fishing but by exporting Quails to France in the 19th century, but the restaurants had neither fresh fish nor fresh fowl on offer! We made do with a sandwich in the van, a little disappointed as we had been looking forward to lunch out.

2 December 2010

We drove north through Areopoli, where we bought groceries and a very hot traditional loaf straight from the oven and treated ourselves to fresh cheese pies before settling down for the night on the north shore of Limeniou bay at Porto Vitilo, in a field of crocus signed as free motor home parking (N3641.757' E2222.686'). There were no facilities but a taverna a few hundred metres away and a pleasant flat walk along the bay to the headland.

From Porto Vitilo we crossed the Mani back to Githio, where we filled up the water tank by the sports ground just north of the centre where the Friday market is held. We then went through Skala after stopping for coffee by the ship aground (thanks PeeJay). We then crossed the top of the Laconian peninsula to Monemvasia on the Myrtoön Sea – three seas in half a day.

Here we parked for the night on the fishing harbour, south of the causeway to the 'rock'  (N3641.009' E2302.290') but we think that at this time of year we could have stayed on the parking area right by the causeway, where there is another, tiny harbour. North of the causeway is a place with plenty of space but a large, forbidding sign pointing out the dire consequences of 'free camping' and there is another similar sign at the parking area at the other side of the causeway.  In any case we were quite happy by the harbour and the locals seemed happy with us there. There were a couple of water taps, one with a hose, and we even managed to wash the van, which was filthy. With our WiFi booster we were able to access what we thought to be free town access. 

We also talked to a German motorhome owner who had plugged into the power supply for the coastguard cutter  – nobody seemed to mind but it did to us appear that he had forced the supply cupboard.  The harbour area is floodlit at night and has a steady stream of fishing boats coming and going at dusk and dawn, but overnight and during the day it is deserted.

The next day we walked over the causeway to the walled town at the end of the 'rock' and had a wander round inside the walls. It is a bit touristy but very interesting and everything is taken into the town by donkey, as there is no room for cars.

Back across the causeway, today we drove down the Laconian peninsula expecting to take the ferry to Elafonisos but there was a fleet of cement mixers and trucks of various sorts waiting to cross and we guessed we would be waiting for hours, so we had a quick look at Neapoli and headed back north, eventually ending up back at Monemvasia as we hadn't found anywhere better to spend the night.

8 December 2010

We left Monemvasia but didn't go too far, just 23 km up the coast to Limeni Gherakas. We parked on a car park by the 'sea loch' before the village with a beautiful view across 2 km of calm inlet (N36º47.280' E23º04.928'). Within half an hour of arriving, a friendly local told us that a better place was available round the headland and through the village. We had coffee and a sit in the sun and then walked into the village along the quay, an inch or so above the water, passing the odd seasonal taverna or two (closed) and ending up by the main harbour, where there were German, Danish and Greek motorhomes well ensconced on ramps with chocks, gennys etc. We asked if there was water available and they said no (but they clearly had some arrangement). There was room for us but we decided to stay where we were, because it was more sheltered from the gusty southerly winds. The whole inlet is very sheltered. We were forecast 30 knot southerlies although it was 25ºC and sunny for much of the day.

Many thanks from us to the MHF forum member who sent us details of this lovely location. We liked it so much we stayed the next day too (partly because for part of the day it was still very windy) and sat in awe of the scenery, challenging each other to think of a more perfect spot we had stayed - the Hebrides, the Rockies and Austria were compared but rejected. We don't have the quality of camera lenses or skill to record it but looking over this inlet towards isolated stands of cypress reflected in the water, with Heron standing motionless and Egrets swooping down, is something to behold.

However there aren't any facilities, nor shops so we went back to Monemvasia (yes – again!) for another night and to refill the water. The weather turned a bit cool (by Peloponnese standards) and we even had the gas heating on for a while. In the morning the auto changeover on the Gaslow had switched to the second cylinder (after almost a fortnight without mains power), so we did a bit of map study and decided to drive via Skala and Sparta to the Autogas outlet at Tripoli. We stopped at Lidl and Carrefour in Skala to stock up.

We then drove to and beyond Nafplio. Most of this road is very good and unusually wide but as you come down from the mountains towards the Argholikos Gulf the views were astounding - not that the driver had much time to look at them because there is a long series of hairpin bends.

We chose to stay at Iria Beach Camping beyond Nafplio (N37°49.717 E22°99.059) because the weather forecast was predicting more high winds followed by temperatures down to minus 4ºC over the next few days and we also needed to do some laundry and a bit of cleaning. The site has hot water, 16 amp hook-ups (and good Wifi for €17 a week). There are a handful of Northern Europeans staying here for the winter (most of whom have bizarrely stuck notices on individual doors in the toilets claiming ownership). We were quoted €15 a night including power which, whilst not cheap, seemed reasonable. There is also a book exchange in reception but, although there were many books in German and Dutch and some in French and Greek, we only found three in English which of course we had already read. We spent the afternoon sorting out the boot and making sure that gloves and hats were readily accessible in case they were soon needed.

17 December 2010

It didn't drop below freezing, staying at +2 at the lowest, but with a brisk northerly wind blowing it certainly felt like it was below freezing and we did need the gloves and hats. We walked (rather briskly) in a southerly direction along the seashore for a mile or so and discovered a small minimarket, which surprisingly was open, although it looked well shut from outside. Whilst there wasn't much stock at this time of year there was fresh milk, yoghurt, cheese and some fruit and vegetables that were in a bit of a sorry state. The guy had to unlock the fridge outside for us to get some milk and in conversation informed us that the shop was open 12 hours daily, 7 days per week. He had his net book out and presumably a good connection to keep him from total boredom during these winter days. We felt we should return to shop, even if we didn't need much. In the fields along the road we greeted people harvesting broccoli and we identified other maritime crops like globe artichokes – the soil does look very rich.

After a week at Iria Beach we went back to Nafplio via the AB supermarket at Argos (on the Nafplio road) and stayed for a night on the harbour (N37.568007  E22.800718). A wander around the old town was extended into a leisurely lunch on Sintagma Square, where we also bought English papers, followed by Italian ice-cream round the corner at Antica Gelateria di Roma – an experience not to be missed. (We made our own ice-cream before we set off on our travels and, though no-one has yet matched that, this came pretty close).

On to Salandi beach (N3726.989' E2307.411). This was not without its twists, turns and road discrepancies. Between Nafplio and Lighourio there is a road on the map, and on our TomTom, which is not yet open and Dhidhima has now been bypassed – you need to look out for a right turn off the Spetses road to take you into the village and on to Salandi. What a curious place this is: there is a big 1960s hotel which looks like it has been derelict since the '70s, a 'holiday village' development which looks like it has never opened, a few scattered half-built villas and a big pebbly beach with a little chapel at each end of it. We parked right next to one of the chapels for the night, ten feet from an azure sea.

From Salandi we made our way south along the Argolid peninsula, intending to stop for a night at Portocheli, but there appeared to be a travelling fair set up on the parking area, so we set off again east past Ermioni (couldn't stay there – market day) and along the east coast road. This road is awful, badly maintained, twisting, narrow and badly signed. It does improve a bit north of Galatas though. After 120 difficult km we spent the night on the harbour at Archea Epidavros (N 37.63694 E 23.16188). Coming through the town we had a police car bipping his siren at us (not really at us, the narrow one way system was blocked by a delivery driver in a white van). Finally, to end off a less than perfect day, it rained heavily.

We carried on north-west to look at the Corinth Canal at Isthmia (which gave us the word Isthmus, apparently) and were lucky enough to see a huge ship entering the canal over the top of the road bridge, which they lowered into the canal. Inventive lot the Victorians, even if they were French. We spent the night at the new Camper Stop at Ancient Corinth and had a look at the ruins through the fence (well it is €6 each to get in). The Camper Stop (N3754.696' E2252.742') is seemingly converted from a farm yard but has everything you could need for €10 a night and is about 400 metres from the archaeological site.

5 January 2011 - This is the last instalment of our travels in Greece

From Corinth we drove rapidly down the motorway, via Tripoli for another gas top-up, to Kalamata for a LIDL fix and on to Finikounda for a while over Christmas, staying again at Camping Thines. We had a good lunch at the Taverna Elena on the Sunday before Christmas - Saganaki, Sardines and Souvlaki - but we were told that they were closed over both the Christmas and New Year weekends.

At Camping Thines, three ladies went for a swim on Christmas morning: an annual event we understand. One was the campsite owner, another one her daughter and the third a permanent (UK) resident (sorry, our memory for names is awful). Somebody's son joined them briefly but neither of us was tempted. There were three vans on site, apart from the English resident -an Austrian couple who were staying until April, a German couple who left on Boxing Day (we were pleased because they were noisy) and us. Apparently Camping Finikes, the other open campsite further out of town, was much busier. We lazed about for nearly a fortnight, spending quite a time sitting in the sun with highs of 20 degrees in the daytime.

We then drove to Katakolo on the way to Patras for a return visit and we were rather surprised at how quiet the place was on New Year's Eve, though the two ships in harbour sounded their whistles at midnight and there were a dozen desultory fireworks. On New Year's Day though, the place was heaving by lunchtime.

So on to Patras, which deserves a particular mention. The approach to the port was OK (Sunday morning after New Year). We arrived at the passenger terminal early (we always arrive early, anywhere) and eventually managed to park in a place that was not obstructing other traffic. Within two minutes we had someone lying down under the back of the van, looking to see if there was space for him to hide. As the co-pilot was attempting to check in for our ferry in the passenger terminal, the pilot was monitoring the back of the van on the rear view camera. During the time we were parked at Patras there must have been twenty attempts to find a space under the van but after a while (and we are a little ashamed by this) there seemed to be no alternative but to start the engine as the next one got head, shoulders and torso underneath. They all came out very quickly, smiling – they knew the game, but none seemed to realise that we could see them on camera. One young man in a Santa Claus hat climbed up the ladder on the back. We have to admit that we started the engine, reversed quickly and tested the brakes. He got off.

We were eventually told to drive a km south to gate one, enter the port and drive back to the passenger terminal inside the port security fence and “board the boat when it arrives”, the first bit of which we did, dutifully. We drove towards the passenger terminal, safely on the inside of the port security fence, only to find more groups of young men trying to find a space under our van. The problem then was that there were no further directions or signage as to where to go next. We later discovered the parking/waiting area by asking a coach driver (they really are very helpful people!) and there was a police presence in the waiting area – what a difference – though we still had the van searched inside, underneath (at some length) and outside.

We do feel sorry for these desperate young men, but not when they are trying to use us as a vehicle to prosperity, and their behaviour was quite intimidating.

Our advice to anyone joining a ferry at Patras is:

·         Before you go, make sure that every door is locked, including the lockers.

·         Don't arrive before the latest recommended time.

·         If you can, get into the port area before you check in.

·         Until you leave your van on the boat, don't leave it unattended.

This brings our Greek adventure to an end for this trip, although we already plan to return next year and also visit Turkey and Crete. For now we are off to Southern Italy, another first for us. Although TomTom don't claim 100% coverage of Greece, the coverage was excellent and we also relied a great deal on the excellent Peloponnese atlas which we obtained from Stanfords in London (Anavasi Digital) which was £30. This has 1:50,000 detail and is based on satellite imaging so it is very accurate and you can easily use it to work out GPS co-ordinates.

Peter and LInda Highe