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In Greece Spring 2015 PDF Printable Version E-mail

 

In Greece in the Spring of 2015

A Motorhome Journey by Barry and Margaret Williamson

Travel Log Written by Margaret Williamson 

Following our autumn motorhome journey across northern Europe to the far distant southeast of Bulgaria, and the onward winter journey to the far southwestern corner of the Greek mainland, we begin our springtime travels north to the Balkans and a route towards France and Ireland.

The whole journey is summarised and linked together at:

A European Journey 2014-2015 

You can click on the following links:

Continued at: North through the Balkans Spring 2015 

Continued from: In Greece in the Winter of 2014/2015

How we got to Greece: UK to Greece Autumn 2014 

Current Articles about Greece:

The Tourist Snoopers of Greece 

The Deterioration of Camping Finikes 

Campgrounds Open All Year in Greece

Overnight Parking for Motorhomes in Greece 

A photographic record of these journeys can be found at:

www.magbazpictures.com 

FEBRUARY 2015

Camping Ionion Beach, Glifa to Kato Amigdales, Peloponnese – 61miles (at 1,485 ft or 450 m high)

Free parking in side street in front of the village church.  N 37.51887  E 21.84664  

After leaving Finikounda at the end of 2014, sadly disappointed with Camping Finikes, we headed north to enjoy another very pleasant stay at our favourite Greek campsite, Ionion Beach.

See www.ionion-beach.gr. ACSI Card rate €16 inc 16 amp elec and very hot showers in heated bathrooms. (Winter €15, or long-term deal with metered electricity possible.) Free WiFi (300 MB daily limit). N 37.83640   E 21.13340

Once the unusually cold spell of stormy weather and north winds had abated, we left Ionion Beach on 'Smokey Thursday'. This is the day when Greeks cook souvlaki (kebabs) and cutlets over outdoor barbecues to celebrate the start of a week of carnivorous indulgence before Carnival (meaning 'farewell to meat'), which marks the beginning of the Orthodox Lent. As we dropped into Vartholomio (6 miles) we could already see a pall of smoke and savour the roasting pork! Walking round, we saw that every butcher and cafι had a grill on the pavement, offering free kebabs and wine to customers, while families cooked in their yards and gardens.

Round at the Salz und Pfeffer or Alati kai Piperi or Salt & Pepper Restaurant (the best we know in the Peloponnese), we found Michael Stergiopoulos and his Moroccan chef preparing the roast lamb for a festive evening of dining, music and dance. With no other customers for lunch, they still served us tender beef in tomato sauce and pork in white wine sauce from the oven, cooked long and slow, with roast potatoes. Mike's father, Dimitri, talked of the war years in this part of Greece. His earliest memory was his baptism day on his third birthday, when Stuka bombers flew over on their way to bombard Patras. Dimitri's father was among those taken prisoner by the Germans and, thankfully, one of the few to be released. We left with hugs all round and have subsequently reviewed this excellent restaurant on Trip Advisor:

Salz und Pfeffer: The restaurant, signed down a side turn off the main shopping street, is open all day, every day, all year round – quiet in winter, busy in summer. You can also order a meal to take away. The skilful and dedicated Moroccan chef has cooked there for many years and all the team speak English, as well as German. The food is excellent, using local produce and the best meat and fish to create dishes that are way above the average Greek taverna meal, yet not above the average price. A bowl of plump olives (their own produce), fresh bread and a bottle of chilled water always appear before any dishes are ordered. When we went for lunch with two friends (one vegetarian, one eating no red meat), a feast quickly followed: Greek salad with feta cheese, horta (wild greens), saganaki (breaded cheese fried in olive oil), stuffed peppers, chicken in a white wine sauce, tender oven-cooked beef in a tomato sauce (for us two carnivores), roast potatoes, a carafe of wine, with fresh apples and mandarin oranges to finish. All this on a quiet weekday afternoon! Coffee is also available and there is good free WiFi for customers. The enterprising Michael has undertaken a new venture this winter selling home-produced olives, olive oil and preserves. The top quality extra virgin oil is available in 3 sizes in smart glass bottles under his own label.

Driving south, fully replete, we turned inland into the hills after Pirgos, passing Krestena. Continued south-east on country roads via Grillos, Barakitima and Kalithea, with some road works and rough stretches of potholes on the way. Finding nowhere to park in Kalithea, we tried the next village, Kato Amigdales (10 miles before Andritsena).

Here we turned into a good level wide street in front of the large church, with a view of snow-dusted hilltops around us. It was well lit, quiet (apart from the loudspeaker van that came round selling potatoes) and ideal for what proved to be a very cold night. The village has a petrol station, a cafι and one tiny shop.

Kato Amigdales to Kalo Nero Beach, Peloponnese – 43 miles

Free parking alongside the sea front.  N 37.29790  E 21.69530  

On waking at 8 am the temperature inside the motorhome was 3°C. In fact, it was warmer in the fridge (3.5°) or in the garage (7°). On with the blown-air gas heating!

After a 10-mile drive to the mountain village of Andritsena (at 2,400 ft or 730 m ), where snow lay on the rooftops, we turned south to climb another 8 miles of empty road along a mountain ridge to the World Heritage 'Temple in the Tent' at Vassae. The snow on the roadside verges sparkled in bright sunshine as we reached almost 4,000 ft or 1200 m at the Temple of Epicurean Apollo, shrouded in its protective marquee. This magnificent edifice, built around 420 BC and designed by Iktinos, the architect of the Parthenon in Athens, stands on the lofty site of an earlier temple. The story is that the people of Ancient Figalia, a settlement lower down the mountain, dedicated it to Apollo Epicurus (the Helper) after their village escaped the plague, but why did they choose this impossibly wild and isolated spot?

Click:  http://www.magbazpictures.com/the-temple-of-apollo.html

The site is open for a small entry fee (and we have visited more than once before, climbing up by bicycle from the coast at Tholo via New Figalia). We didn't go inside today, as the snowy track down to the ticket office was frozen over and lethal, so we took photos of the scene, drank coffee in the motorhome (no cafι up here!) and drove on downhill to Perivolia.

Here we turned left along a narrower road to the site of Ancient Figalia, down at 1,650 ft or 500 m, and parked for lunch, wonderfully peaceful under a clear blue sky. Following the vague signs, it was a short uphill walk to the overgrown remains of a small temple to Athena, overlooking the modern village whose church and cemetery stand on the site of another two temples, dating from the 3rd C BC. The walls of the ancient settlement can be seen stretching away up the hillside, reminding us of Ston in Croatia.

Click: http://www.magbazpictures.com/nea-figalia.html

Leaving through Figalia village, there is a short stretch of gravel track before a tarmac road hair-pins down to 860 ft (260 m) to cross the old bridge over the Nidas River, tumbling impressively below. The road then climbs steeply (beware fallen rocks) to a height of over 2,000 ft or 610 m: a route we remember riding into a head wind when cycling from Andritsena to Kiparissia. It's quicker by motorhome and the Carado is handling it well. The only other life on this road today is flocks of sheep and goats on the move.

Continued south-west via Avlonas to Sidirokastro, then 2 miles west along E55 to the coast at Kalo Nero (= Good Water). We crossed the main coastal road, went over the defunct railway lines in Kalo Nero, then turned left along the sea front to park in a quiet spot near a single Greek motorhome. Here we had a tranquil (and much warmer) night.

Kalo Nero Beach to Pylos Harbour, Peloponnese – 49 miles

Free parking at the harbour.  N 36.91633  E 21.69524

South down the coast road, stopping 5 miles along to shop at Lidl, and on through Kiparissia (town of cypresses, its campsite sadly long closed) and Filiatra, both busy on this Saturday morning. Then we drove the hilly inland route via Gargaliani, rather than the usual (and easier) coast road through Marathopoli. In Chora (at 30 miles and up at 1,070 ft/325 m) we passed the Museum with its treasures from nearby Nestor's Palace, and called at the Hotel Melivoia of fond memory. The owner remembered us from previous cycle tours and presented Margaret with an orange!

Finally we dropped down past Korifasio, crossed the coast road and took the narrow lane through Petrochori village and on to the parking area at the end of the road, by the Voidokilia Lagoon. Here we made lunch, then walked alongside the lagoon to a well-hidden bird hide, our binoculars focused on 30 or more flamingos, along with a few egrets, herons and ducks. Below the ruins of Old Pylos Castle, we turned back along the shore past a handful of Greeks enjoying the beach on a lovely calm sunny afternoon.

With no other motorhomes parked at the lagoon (and a sign threatening a fine for 'camping'), we decided to drive on to Pylos for the night. Filling up with diesel in Gialova on the way, payment in cash was required: a symptom of the current financial crisis.

We settled on the spacious well-lit Pylos harbour (the far side with palm trees), along with 2 German motorhomes and one Italian. (We've heard of motorhomers being moved on from the commercial side of the harbour, where buses park.) No problem where we stood, except on this Saturday night - Valentine's Day - when the nearby disco went on into the early hours!

Click: http://www.magbazpictures.com/pylos--methoni.html

We celebrated with indulgent chocolate cakes from the bakery in the square, then watched a DVD – Martin Scorsese's 'Mean Streets' (1973) with a young Robert de Nero.

Pylos Harbour to Petalidi, Peloponnese – 20 miles

Free parking at the harbour.  N 36.95758  E 21.93368

From Pylos we drove north-east to Rizomilos (16 miles), where we turned south to the small port and market town of Petalidi. There is plenty of well-lit space along the waterfront, with easy access except on Friday mornings (market day)! There were 4 motorhomes in residence (2 Dutch, 1 German, 1 Scottish).

As the weather turned stormy, we sheltered here for a couple of days, reading, planning and watching the rain pour from a leaden sky. Thunder and lightning raged as the waterfront turned into a stream, fed by rivulets pouring downhill through the town. On Friday the sodden market stallholders were forced to pack up by 10.30 am, leaving bags of potatoes and oranges on the flooded pavements. A single fisherman sat miserably behind a marble slab with his small catch and goat-kids huddled under a plastic sheet in the back of a pick-up. A sorry scene all round, the Taigetos mountains shrouded in cloud across the Gulf of Messinia.

Around the main square there is an excellent cake shop (try the chocolate-mousse-mouse), a friendly bakery (try the savoury pies) and a popular kafenion advertising 'All Coffees €1.50 with Free Water', where we took shelter after paddling round the market in a heavy downpour.

Petalidi to Camping Paleologio, Mystras, Sparta, Peloponnese – 54 miles (230 m or 760 ft high)

Open all year. €23.50 inc 16 amp elec and showers. Free WiFi. Free oranges! N 37.07187   E 22.40531

After another abrupt change in the weather, we crossed the Lagadas Pass to Sparta in warm sunshine, with no wind or rain!

We drove north via  Rizomilos to Messini, then east past Lidl and the airport into the thick of the congested city of Kalamata. Following the SatNav and an occasional sign for 'Sparti' we inched our way past the bus station and market onto road 82 for Sparta. This climbs from sea level to 1,420 ft or 430 m, with a good layby at the top for coffee in the sunshine (at 23 miles). Then the road zigzags down to 890 ft or 270 m to cross the Nedontas River before climbing again with more Z-bends to the village of Artemissia at 2,310 ft or 700 m (at 31 miles). Here mountain herbs and honey are on sale and there is a shop and cafι by a little playground, well remembered from cycling this route in the opposite direction.

Onwards and upwards on the empty road, with a little snow still lying on the verges above 4,100 ft or 1240 m. At the top of the Lagada Pass at 38 miles (4,320 ft or 1309 m) stands the Taigetos Hotel, which looked closed, and a small tourist cafι/gift shop. The cafe was open with a cheery log fire, so we lunched on cheese & ham toasts, watched by a moose head nailed above the fireplace (reminding us of Basil Fawlty) and a live grey parrot in a cage (Monty Python)! We doubt whether moose ever roamed these mountains, but there were photos of successful wild boar hunters on the walls.

On the serpentine descent to Sparta it began to rain lightly, with deeper snow lying on the verges. The road had slipped in a couple of places, making it difficult for traffic coming uphill. There is a rock overhang (3.8 m height clearance) followed by a very short tunnel (4 m high) at about 2,500 ft or 765 m, then more zigzags down. It's a magnificent but challenging road, though we have cycled, motorbiked and driven larger motorhomes (up to 8 m long) over it without incident.

In Tripi, down at 1,650 ft or 500 m, the springs were gushing at the roadside. On through Magoula to Paleologio (between Sparta and Mystra), where Pete stood behind the bar at the campsite, welcoming as ever. “Go where you like. I'll put the boiler on, the water should be hot in an hour. Help yourself to oranges …” As in December, we were the only campers on this peaceful site below the Taigetos peaks, shrouded in cloud.

We settled in among the oranges, had hot showers and made a chocolate brownie cake and burgers for supper. The WiFi works well and the oranges are as sweet and juicy as ever, though the campsite facilities and the price only tempted us to stay for 2 nights!

After a breakfast of fresh juice and porage next morning, Pete let Margaret use his own washing machine, the laundry room being out of action while a new boiler is fitted. The dhobi dried on the line, while we picked more oranges, washed the motorhome down and checked our emails. In the evening we began watching the 2-part BBC dramatisation of Sebastian Foulkes' WWI novel 'Birdsong' (one of the DVDs bought from Zoe, the Methoni dentist, in aid of stray cats). We both loved the book and couldn't imagine how it could be filmed but the acting and depiction of the parallel love and war stories was brilliantly done.

MARCH 2015

Sparta to Kokkinia Beach, Kato Glikovrissi, Peloponnese – 53 miles

Free parking alongside the sea front.  N 36.79870   E 22.78324

Leaving Paleologio laden with bags of oranges, we drove south-east from Sparta on a quiet road, pausing in Goritsa (17 miles, up at 1,100 ft or 333 m) for lunch. After another 8 miles, just before Geraki, we turned south for Skala, driving through Lakonia's ancient olive groves, the roadside thick with blood-red anemones. 

In Skala we turned east, soon stopping to shop at Carrefour (roast chicken) and then Lidl (in-store bakery) before continuing through Vlachiotis. Leaving the main road, it was south through Ag Ioannis to Kato Glikovrissi. Then we continued  down the road (signed Elia and Neapoli), past the long-dead site of Camping Lykourgos,  to the coast at Kokkinia (named after the red cliffs there). Turning right along the sea front, we found plenty of space to park, empty in winter, before the road is blocked off where a new harbour is under construction. There is a beach shower and tap (not guaranteed potable), a rubbish skip and street lights. Here we parked for a good quiet night, eating a roast chicken dinner and watching Part 2 of 'Birdsong', with Hungary standing in well for the battlefields of the Somme.

Walking along the road in the other direction, we explored the existing little harbour past a cafι/snack bar (closed) that had some parking space, though not so attractive: sloping and on the through road.

Kokkinia Beach, Kato Glikovrissi to Boza Beach, Peloponnese – 11 miles

Free parking by a taverna at the beach.  N 36.70414   E 22.82050

Lovely warm sunshine and a leisurely breakfast (fresh orange juice and Lidl croissants), then down the hilly coast road to Elia (an appropriate name meaning Olive). This is also prime orange-growing land and we squeezed past a couple of trucks being loaded with fruit. The road turned inland at Glifada to Assopos, where we went round the village church following the sign for Papadianika but soon turned off, opposite a supermarket, down the narrow lane signed Boza.

Boza Beach (2.5 miles from Assopos) had been recommended by Gita, cyclist, motorhomer and an old German friend and it proved an excellent and quiet place to stay. We parked at the end of the road outside the taverna (closed until Easter, with a reputedly very motorhome-friendly owner). There are 2 taps, rubbish skips and a street light. A lone German van was parked on rough land behind the taverna but the ground looked soft from recent rain.

After lunch we took a short walk along the tiny beach and back round the olive groves. The sun had brought bees out of their winter 'hivernation', buzzing among the clover and round the water taps.

Curried  leftover chicken for dinner, with Italian coffee ice cream (thanks to Lidl). We watched the 1973 film 'Don't Look Now' with Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie, though the real star was Venice playing itself and creating a wonderfully mystic atmosphere.

Boza Beach to Pouda, Nr Vigklafia, Peloponnese – 29 miles

Free parking by a taverna near the ferry pier.  N 36.52177  E 22.98339

Another peaceful breakfast with Spartan orange juice, while watching a cormorant drying its wings in the morning sun on the nearby rocks. Then we returned 2.5 miles to Assopos and took the road south via Papadianika.

On reaching the imaginatively-named seaside village of Paralia (= Beach!), 8 miles later, we parked for a walk along said Blue Flag beach. The tiny harbour held a couple of fishing boats, with another out in the bay pursued by a flock of sea gulls. After lunch here, we drove another 1.5 miles south to Archangelos for another seaside walk through a closed and shuttered settlement of holiday apartments, only inhabited by a pathetic stray dog.

Back on the main road, we drove on through Elika, a larger village with garage, school and cafι. It was a good quiet road, twisting its way up and down with the lie of the land, giving frequent sea views. In Ag Apostoli, a few miles before Neapoli, we turned off south-west on the road through Viglafia, ending at Pouda. A vehicle ferry crosses regularly from here to the island of Elafonissos: a 20-minute voyage.

Seeing no suitable space by the ferry pier, we turned down a short lane to a taverna (closed) called 'H Πoynta' or 'The Pouda'. There is a level grassy area opposite the restaurant and another next to it, before the lane ends in sand dunes. There is a No Camping sign for this protected area but we understand that the taverna owner has permission for guests in motorhomes to stay on his car park, so we did. We would certainly have eaten there, had it been open! There was a tap outside the taverna, as well as rubbish bins and a light.

Some internet sites give co-ordinates further along the track, in the dunes, but the car park felt better to us. We had a quiet night, watching Graham Greene's 'Brighton Rock' – not the recent version with Helen Mirren but the black & white 1947 film with a very young Richard Attenborough. Brighton looked remarkably like the Blackpool where Margaret grew up!

Click: http://www.magbazpictures.com/boza-paralia--archangelos.html

Pouda, Nr Vigklafia to Agios Fokas, Peloponnese – 52 miles

Free parking by the shore.  N 36.59539  E 23.06101

On a short walk to Pouda jetty, returning through the sand dunes, we passed an information board picturing Grey Heron, Flamingo and Glossy Ibis but only spotted a Crested Lark. The small vehicle ferry 'Kato Nisi' was just loading to cross to the offshore island of Elafonissos. Cars were turning round on the crowded deck ready to exit, meaning that we would have to reverse off with the motorhome. As the weather had clouded over, with wind and rain in the air, we decided against going over to the island on foot or bicycle, so left it unvisited.

We drove back via Ag Georgios to Ag Apostoli and the main road south to the larger port of Neapoli. Turning along the sea front, past the ferry terminal for Kithira, we were disappointed to find all the parking lay-bys fenced off for road works. This made it difficult to get through, with nowhere at all to stop.

From Neapoli we continued south-east on a minor road, twisting and turning through the hills via Lachi, thankfully bypassing the tight hillside village of Ag Nikolaos at 13 miles, clustered round its church 500 ft (150 m) above the sea. Then it was downhill through olive groves to the village of Valtaki and on to the end of the road at the foot of the Lakonian peninsula, now sealed all the way to the remote fishing harbour at Profitis Ilias, below cave-riddled cliffs. We parked at the roadside for lunch, 17 miles since breakfast, and as far south as a vehicle can go down this third finger of the Peloponnese (N 36.43680  E 23.11432).

Walking round the tiny harbour we were followed by two beautiful hopeful cats that would have made lovely pets. There was no-one around apart from a couple at the house opposite the small church, who looked surprised to see visitors! A track leads from the harbour to the SE corner of the peninsula at Cape Maleas but it is a long and vertiginous hike. We recalled setting off to walk it many years ago, only to turn back when we saw the drop below the crumbling footpath.

On the way back to Neapoli we parked at the roadside by Ag Nikolaos, where a sign promised Free WiFi throughout the village (the first we'd seen in Greece - and in such a remote place!) We even got a weak signal on the laptop: enough to download incoming emails, though not strong enough to answer them.

We retraced the morning's route north past Ag Apostoli, turning off right 1.5 miles before Elika. The narrow mountain road climbed north-west via Ag Mamas to Lira, up above 1,500 ft or 460 m, then descended to meet the east coast of the peninsula at Nomia (3 miles south of Monemvasia), right by the locked gates of the long-defunct Camping Paradise. It was on that campsite that we first met our late friend Paul Walsh, a professor at the Australian University of Newcastle, travelling with wife Genny and young son John. Sad memories of our last meeting with them at their home Down Under, as Paul's health began to fail.

At Nomia we turned south for 6 miles, to the end of the sinuous coast road at the little settlement of Ag Fokas. Parking on rough ground opposite the short causeway to a tiny church, we wondered why this particular isolated spot was listed in the 'Camperstop Europe' book, with nothing here but a tap. As darkness fell the silent magic of the place became apparent, with the most amazing view of the white church poised on its islet against a magnificent seascape. We could have been in the Scottish Highlands, the west coast of Ireland or by a New Zealand shore.

After a quick supper of tomato soup and bacon butties, we began to watch Peter Jackson's 'Hobbit' trilogy, but our eyes kept straying to the view through the windscreen which surpassed the fantastical CG Images! With a full moon and a single light shining from the churchyard, it was quiet as the grave.

Agios Fokas to Annema Hotel, Palia Monemvasia, Peloponnese – 15 miles

Open all year. www.annemahotel.com.  Modern hotel/restaurant by the shore at Old Monemvasia, across the bay from the rock fortress of Monemvasia.  Double en-suite room with TV and fridge, low season, €45 including full breakfast. Free WiFi. N 36.73406  E 23.03811

Before leaving Ag Fokas we looked round the magnificently sited cemetery, noting that almost all the graves belonged to just two families, most of whom had lived into or beyond their eighties.

Then a windswept drive north past Nomia to Gefira (= Bridge), the harbour town that developed after WW2, built by the causeway leading to the rock fortress and lower town of Monemvasia. Parked on the quayside, we walked briskly round the shops. There are a couple of bakeries, fruit & veg stores and an old-fashioned grocer's, but most premises are cafes and restaurants (with very few open). As waves were beginning to splash over the harbour walls, we moved to the parking area across the causeway (which replaced a 14-arch bridge in the early 19th C) for lunch. We had looked round Tourist Monemvasia when last here (May 2014) and the upper town and fortress still remain closed for 'renovation'.

We drove about 3 miles north from Gefira, then turned right (signed Gerakas) to follow the shore of Old Monemvasia Bay for another 2 miles to Hotel Annema, built right by the water looking straight across to the rock fortress. When we stayed here for one night last May we promised ourselves (and owner, Nikos) another visit and here we were, with a warm welcome from Nikos's parents. Margaret had reviewed it on Trip Advisor:

"Chanced on this lovely modern family-run hotel in a quiet seaside spot, just a few miles from busy overpriced Monemvasia. What a lucky find! The room had all we need (en-suite, fridge, heater/air-con, TV), as well as a balcony with seats and a view over the bay to the rock and fortress of Monemvasia. A substantial breakfast was included (orange juice, coffee, scrambled eggs on toast, Nutella pancakes, more toast with butter, jam and honey), lovingly prepared even though we were the only guests! 

Dinner in the restaurant was another nice surprise, with plenty of choice, beautifully cooked and served, and a dessert 'on the house'. The off-season price was excellent value and we hope to return for longer next time!

Room Tip: Rooms with balcony overlooking the sea have a wonderful view of Monemvasia fortress."

Now we had a very comfortable couple of days at the quiet hotel, enjoying evening meals and cooked breakfasts by the cosy log fire, using the reliable free WiFi to write (and listen to Radio 4), watching Greek television (as well as our own films played through the TV set), taking long hot showers and (literally) recharging our batteries. A fill of water and a hook-up to run the motorhome fridge were 'No Problem' to this extremely helpful family.

Nikos has fluent English and talked us passionately through Greece's current political and financial situation, as well as explaining the history of the area. What is nice is that Britain's role in Greece in WW2 was remembered with gratitude, when talk turned to German atrocities and their current failure to address the matter of reparations. (Hence our Union Flag on the motorhome!) The village of Palia Monemvasia was the original harbour and settlement of Old Monemvasia until it was supplanted by Gefira after the Second World War. The ruined hilltop tower overlooking the village was one of a line of watch towers built to send warning to the rock fortress, and subsequently serving as signal stations for the Germans who had a wartime airfield in Molai, 10 miles to the NW. Nikos even told us that the deep bay we overlook was used as a secret submarine base by the Allies!

On a short walk to the church of Ag Barbara and Ag Nikolaos, down by the fishing boats, we lit candles, thought of recently deceased family and friends, and counted our blessings.

Click: http://www.magbazpictures.com/around-monemvasia.html

Palia Monemvasia to 'O Kavos' Taverna, Valtaki, Nr Githio, Peloponnese – 94 miles (the long way round!)

Free parking outside Taverna, 4 miles from Githio on Skala road.  N 36.76258  E 22.59551

We left the Hotel Annema after a substantial breakfast, with many thanks to the helpful Stavropoulos family. We'll be back!

Driving NE the coast road climbed 400 ft over a headland, then dropped to the turn-off for the harbour of Limenas Geraka on an inlet. Shortly before the quayside, we stopped on a parking area (7 miles from the hotel) that would be good for a night, at N 36.78831 E 23.08211.

From here we followed a signed footpath on a 2-mile circular walk - up to the Ancient Acropolis of Zarax on a windy hill overlooking the tiny port, then down a track past the cemetery and church into the village. The view of the open sea and the inlet below was worth the short climb on a stony track. Descending, we found the cemetery overgrown, with some of the marble graves smashed in, and even a few human bones thrown in a heap behind a wall! In contrast the little church of Ag Nikolaos (patron saint of sailors, rather than Christmas, and very popular round the coast) was beautifully maintained inside and out, its garden full of fragrant freesia.

Down at the car park another motorhome had arrived - Peter and Elaine in their Hymer, last seen at Camping Finikes over Christmas. We chatted, made coffee and gave them some Spartan oranges before continuing on the narrow road NW, climbing through the tiny villages of Gerakas and Ag Ioannis to Reicha. Little sign of life, apart from flocks of goats and (unusually) a rabbit, as rain began to fall and clouds descended. This is the memorable route we cycled after a night at the Annema Hotel in May 2014.

In Reicha, up at 1,720 ft or 520 m, we now turned right to drive north (rather than going left to climb over the mountains to Metamorfossi, the route we cycled last year – see Cycle Ride No 5 in the Travel Log on this Link). Our onward road climbed to above 2,000 ft (620 m), then zigzagged down to Lampokampos at 1,780 ft (540 m). Continuing NW, at 28 miles we reached 3,100 ft (940 m) at a road junction signed left for Sparta, right for Leonidio (our intended destination). Here we had a tea break, rain falling steadily.

We turned right as indicated (and confirmed by our map), then right again just before Kremasti on a good road, again signed for Leonidio. The SatNav objected that this was an 'unpaved road' but, as it was newly surfaced, we ignored the advice to make a U-turn and take a much longer route. We continued along smooth tarmac through high scrub and woodland until, at 35 miles and a height of 3,080 ft (934 m), we came to the end of the bitumen! A rough stony track confronted us, with no sign of explanation. We stopped and walked to look round the next bend in the pouring rain but there was no paved road as far as the eye could see. Perhaps we should have heeded the SatNav, but there had been no hint that the new road would suddenly end here, at the border from Lakonia into Arcadia. (We later discovered that there is an unfinished mountain section of just 1.2 km before the tarmac road continues!)

Seriously annoyed, we had no choice but to retrace our route for 7 miles back to the road junction past Kremasti. We then continued SW (signed Sparta) through the mountains to the village of Ag Dimitrios at 1,300 ft (395 m). From here there is an alternative minor road via Mari to Leonidio but we didn't risk another closed road, since it was late in the afternoon and still raining heavily. Instead we continued NW to Geraki, down at 990 ft (300 m), hoping to park there overnight.

Finding no space at all in the tight village, it was onward and upward for the 9-mile ascent to the mountain village of Kosmas, where we know there is space in the square (and eventually a road down to Leonidio).  But while we climbed the rain turned to sleet, the sleet became snow and - on reaching 2,970 ft or 900 m – it began to settle on the steep road! Only 2 miles short of Kosmas, we again turned back, as we had no wish to be stranded up there or to take the serpentine road down to Leonidio in a snow storm!

Back at Geraki we continued south, trusting it would be warmer by the coast, and turned SW at Skala towards Githio. About 4 miles before the port (and 1 mile before Valtaki Beach, which is listed in the 'Camperstop Europe' book) we spotted a brightly lit roadside taverna (O Kavos) with empty car park. It was now dark and still pouring with rain.

'Can we eat here and park overnight?' Margaret asked the owners, who sat with their dogs by a blazing log fire in the empty restaurant. 'Of course you can stay, whether you want to eat or not'. We dined on hot toast drizzled with olive oil, cheese-stuffed meatballs with piping hot chips, and freshly cooked donuts 'on the house'. A great end to a frustrating day!

Valtaki to Plaka, Nr Leonidio, Peloponnese – 60 miles

Free parking in square near harbour.  N 37.14771  E 22.89383

Before leaving the Valtaki area, we drove 1 mile towards Githio to check the spot listed in 'Camperstop Europe' at N 36.78883 E 22.58225. It's down a narrow track signed Valtaki Beach and Archaeological Site, by a (closed) taverna near a shipwreck. No-one there on the soft sand.

Then it was 10 miles back to Skala, to shop at Lidl and Carrefour and fill up with diesel (for cash, as the garage card-reader 'wasn't working' – a common event now). Continuing east to the next village, Vlachiotis, we then headed north via Gouves, climbing through hills of olive groves to meet yesterday's route and turn east.

We followed it to Ag Dimitrios, at 22 miles and 1,300 ft (395 m), then took the minor road north, which proved a good route over the border from Lakonia, fully sealed, the only delay being a flock of goats. Wild flowers cover the verges in red, white and blue, the almond trees are full of pink blossom and the rain has stopped. Arcadia indeed! We parked for lunch at 31 miles, by a waterfall in the village of Mari up above 2,000 ft (620 m), then zigzagged up past a monstrous wind farm to 2,770 ft (840 m ) before hairpinning down again.

At Vretakaika we came to the northern end of the unfinished road that had turned us back yesterday. Driving briefly south to see how far the tarmac lasted, we found the sealed road ended just 1.2 km short of the point we had reached. Again, there was no road sign indicating the roughly shod gap!

From Vretakaika our road continued north through Peleta, a tiny inhabited village at 2,145 ft (650 m), then dropped via a series of steep Z-bends to sea level at Poulithra – a first-gear descent like bringing a plane in to land. We do remember the thrill of riding this route on a cycle tour! At the sea front we turned left for the harbour at Plaka, 2 miles before Leonidio.

Both our books (Bord Atlas and Camperstop Europe) list a site at Plaka, well signposted as 'Camping Semeli', accessed from either end of a narrow lane. The gates were locked and the phone number given in the books was unobtainable! Fortunately the nearby square, between the beach and the Coastguard Station, has plenty of well-lit parking space. Admittedly it has a No Camping sign, perhaps enforced when Semeli is open, but no-one objected to our stay.

We settled here by the beach shower and lifeguard tower, a stone's throw from Foinikas Cafe with free WiFi, a public WC, a small fishing harbour and a Fish Restaurant (called, appropriately, Margaret's). A young couple we spoke with have spent the winter behind the square in Troubas Rooms, at a charge of €200 per month + electricity. Again we wonder at the price of Greek campsites (when you can find one open)!

Plaka to Kosmas, Peloponnese – 20 miles (height 3,730 ft or 1130 m)

Free parking in square behind church.   N 37.09171  E 22.7403

Lovely to wake to the morning sun, here on the east coast of the Peloponnese. An old man walking past to fish from the beach assured us in halting English that we were very welcome and he loved tourists. He might not have been so friendly if our number plate were D rather than GB, given the current economical/political situation.

We drove along to Leonidio (less than 3 miles) past crops of lettuce, broad beans and polytunnel tomatoes. There is parking space on both sides of a bridge over the dry river bed (at N 37.16631  E 22.85818) – a good place to stop before reaching the long narrow town that is best avoided in a large vehicle! Walking through the busy town centre, we found a bank ATM and a good bakery, then lunched on cheese & ham pies in the motorhome before driving up to Kosmas.

This is a favourite route that we've driven, motorbiked and cycled several times; always with astonishment that such a road was ever built. It climbs out of Leonidio past a watch tower at 265 ft (80 m), with a memorial to the Greek Heroes killed here in January 1949 (the civil war that followed WW2). Then it rises, gradually but relentlessly, up the dramatic gorge populated only by goats. The river, dry and overgrown in Leonidio, was flowing with blue snow-melt water above 100 m – its disappearance lower down the valley a mystery.

At 760 ft (230 m) we had the first glimpse of the incredible Eloni Monastery (a convent clamped like a limpet on the rock face above). There is a layby a little further on at 825 ft (250 m), ideally placed to take a photograph of the soaring cliffs and white convent buildings. On reaching a bridge at 960 ft (290 m), the road leaves the river and zigzags more steeply heavenwards until it reaches Eloni (up at 1,750 ft or 530 m). Here, 12 miles from Plaka, we parked to take in the giddy view below and walk into the convent, its gates open daily until 6 pm. This is the haunt of Golden Eagles - and the legend of a light shining on the mountainside that led the villagers of Eloni to find a holy icon at this very spot.

As we approached, a gentle priest emerged to greet us and unlock the chapel built into the rock. Speaking only Greek, he made us feel very welcome as he offered a candle for us to light. The tiny church was aglow with gold and silver icons and lamps, the atmosphere magically peaceful. (No entry fee of course, just a box for donations.) There are no nuns in residence in winter time (they have a newer convent down in Leonidio), though several move up to Eloni in the summer, in Holy Transhumance.

Click: http://www.magbazpictures.com/elona-monastery.html

As we drove another 8 miles up to Kosmas it began to rain lightly, with a mist of low cloud drifting across the road when we reached 2,740 ft (830 m). The maximum height was 3,785 ft (1147 m) shortly before entering the tiny mountain village. Hard to believe we were turned back by snow on the ascent from Geraki to Kosmas just two days ago! We parked by the water fountains behind the substantial central church, its clock chiming the hour and half hour (8 minutes late for each!) until midnight. A good well lit place, cool in summer, though cold in winter.

A short stroll revealed only two places open: a pottery shop and the little restaurant & rooms called O Maleatis Apollon – where we have twice stayed the night when cycling through. The newly restored 'Museum of Local Folk Lore & Library' was closed, as always. The little council office announced on the locked door that the Doctor would be in attendance for one hour on a Tuesday morning – back in February. Life must be hard for the few folk living up here year-round.

Later we went to sit by the log-burner in the Apollon and sampled the limited menu. There was bean soup (though only one portion to share, as a German couple staying in the rooms had already ordered it), meatballs bread-crumbed and fried (like Scotch eggs without the eggs) and chips - all good and hot.

Back in the motorhome we rugged up warm and watched the second film of the 'Hobbit' series. It wasn't hard to picture imaginary creatures living in the woods up here!

Click: http://www.magbazpictures.com/mounain-village-of-kosmas.html

Kosmas to Plaka, Peloponnese – 20 miles

Free parking in square near harbour.  N 37.14771  E 22.89383

Next morning dawned dry, bright and sunny after a chilly night. We drove back down the serpentine road, past the Eloni Monastery, descending to park once more in Leonidio and buy bread. We also visited the hairdresser/barber shop, run by a very competent young woman who transformed us both!

Returning to Plaka, we settled down in the quiet square again. Where have all the motorhomes gone? We've hardly seen any since Christmas.

After lunch the sunshine lured us out on the bicycles, to ride down the coast to Poulithra harbour (4 km), then uphill through Poulithra village. We soon turned off left along a narrow lane (signed Ag Georgios) that led us strenuously up and down across the hillside, with views of Poulithra Bay below. The road ended at a cluster of new houses where we turned back and retraced our route (total distance 18 km).

Back at Plaka, we rewarded ourselves with glasses of fresh Spartan orange juice before making a chicken & veg curry.  

At Plaka

Next day rain poured once more and thunder rumbled over the dark sea. The weather is certainly changeable, though not cold by the coast! We had a useful hour or two in the nearby Cafι Foinikas, using the free WiFi while charging up both laptops over excellent coffee. A chance to update the travelog and check emails, the £ to € exchange rate (best for years) and the weather forecast (getting better). We also checked on Camping Semeli again, seeing the gate open, but a workman said it will open in 'maybe 3 weeks'.

The following day, dry again, we cycled round to Leonidio and sat in the sunshine for coffees opposite the bakery before heading out up the Kosmas road. Our aim was to reach the bridge up at 960 ft (290 m) – a great climb with a tail wind and no traffic whatsoever A favourite route, described when we drove it two days ago in the motorhome, but so much more intensely observed from the saddle! Total distance 33 km with 1,000 ft of climbing:

Climb out of Leonidio past a watch tower at 265 ft (80 m), with a memorial to the Greek Heroes killed here in January 1949 (the civil war that followed WW2). Then the road rises, gradually but relentlessly, up the dramatic gorge populated only by goats. The river, dry and overgrown in Leonidio, was flowing with blue snow-melt water above 100 m – its disappearance lower down the valley a mystery.

At 760 ft (230 m) we had the first glimpse of the incredible Eloni Monastery (a convent clamped like a limpet on the rock face above). There is a layby a little further on at 825 ft (250 m), ideally placed to take a photograph of the soaring cliffs and white convent buildings. On reaching a bridge at 960 ft (290 m), the road leaves the river and zigzags more steeply heavenwards until it reaches Eloni (up at 1,750 ft or 530 m). At the bridge (16 km from Plaka) we ate the pies we'd carried, then turned back for a swift descent into a cold head wind, donning warm clothing, hats and gloves after riding up in shorts! From Leonidio we returned round the lanes to Plaka.

In the evening we followed 'The Hobbit' by starting on the Lord of the Rings trilogy, a DVD set bought some time ago. So 'The Fellowship of the Ring' and a box of After 8 mints was tonight's treat!

Plaka, Nr Leonidio to Camping Triton II, Drepano, Nr Nafplio, Peloponnese – 63 miles

Open all year. www.tritonii.gr. Winter price €20 per night, or €17 for 7 days plus, or €300 per month (or longer-term rates negotiable), inc 12 amp elec, good hot showers and use of kitchen with fridges, freezer and gas rings. Free WiFi. N 37.53173   E 22.89056

We didn't want to leave Plaka after 5 nights in the quiet little square by the sea but the refillable gas bottles were running low. So, on a fine Sunday morning it was north to Nafplio, where there are 3 service stations with LPG (see the article: LPG in Greece on this website).

We avoided the impossibly narrow centre of Leonidio by turning right across the dry riverbed and joining the main road to the east of the town. The coastal road twisted and turned, at around 400 ft (120 m) above the coves, marinas and fish farm glimpsed below. This looks a more prosperous area of Greece, with second homes built facing the sea. A couple of camping signs pointed down unlikely steep narrow lanes to beach sites – undoubtedly closed.

Our road turned inland through Ag Andreas and busy Astros, meeting the minor coast road again at 33 miles, a couple of miles north of Paralio Astros. Here below the junction we turned off into a large parking area by the beach for coffee. Listed in Camperstop Europe (N 37.44475  E22.74800), there was a lone German campervan by the palm trees.

Further north up the coast, via Xiropigadou and Kiveri, we kept right at Miloi, past ancient Lerna (home of the 9-headed Hydra, killed by Heracles as the second of his 12 Labours) and round the curve of Nafplio Bay to Nea Kios. The first place with 'Autogas' was an Avin petrol station at 49 miles on the left (N 37.58919  E 22.75850). The helpful attendant, an Iraqi refugee, quickly topped up the refillable bottles that Autogas Leisure had fitted last August. It was much easier than refuelling the fitted gas tanks on our previous American RVs.

Then, a little way along the road towards Nafplio, the highway was blocked with an unmarked diversion round narrow lanes. At every junction there was a heavy police presence, pointing us further away from Nafplio each time we asked 'Epidavros?' What was going on – a political rally, a VIP visit, a football or basket match? Eventually, after passing below the walls of Ancient Tiryns, we met the Epidavros road at a roundabout to the east of Nafplio. The cause of all the road closures became evident: the Nafplio Marathon!

From the roundabout we turned south-east to the village of Drepano, from where a mile-long narrow lane leads to the beach and no less than four campsites (three of them seasonal). 'Triton II' is the last one, on the seafront next to 'New Triton'. Confused, we checked both. 'New Triton' had a helpful woman in Reception but doesn't actually open until April, while 'Triton II' is open all year, with some long-stay winter campers, but its Reception cabin was empty and locked! The secret is to go and ring the bell at the nice new on-site house, where the friendly English-speaking manager, Christine  Kremastioti, is always available – but there is no sign to tell you that. After all, this is Greece!

We were delighted to find the campsite much improved since a visit many years ago. Here is another site we can actually recommend! We settled on one of many level hedged pitches (each with its own tap and electric hook-up, and no low trees) and made lunch. Then it was time to recharge our batteries, fill the water, dump the waste and catch up on-line with good free WiFi.

At Camping Triton II, Drepano

A busy couple of days followed, using the generous campsite facilities: a laundry with large fast washing machine (and drier, not needed thanks to sun and wind), clean showers with constant hot water, and a modern kitchen where Margaret pressure-cooked a batch of marmalade on the gas range, still using the plentiful sweet oranges picked at the campsite at Sparta!

We were soon recognised by a group of German campers who had decamped from Camping Finikes in Finikounda after Christmas – as did we. A total of 5 German couples and 2 Dutch couples told Margaret that they were disappointed with the state of Finikes this winter and won't be returning. One Dutch couple even said they preferred the space on the nearby Camping Anemomilos (supposedly closed), moving there after 2 or 3 days at Finikes. All this with no prompting - just chatting in the kitchen about campsites they knew in the Peloponnese for a winter stay. See our Report on the Deterioration at Camping Finikes.

Triton II does appear to be a good winter choice, with a daily price of €10 for a month's stay and even less longer term. It's also easy to leave a motorhome/caravan here and get a bus to Athens, perhaps to fly home for Christmas as two couples (one Swedish, one German) had done. There are shops an easy walk or cycle ride away in Drepano village, or a little further along the beach in the resort of Tolo. The nearest Lidl store is only 7 miles, on the road into Nafplio. The one negative we experienced was the plethora of cats hanging round the site. Margaret will happily feed one or two but nine became a nuisance! There were also a couple of stray dogs, soon deterred with our trusty Dog Dazer after trying to steal one of Barry's sandals.

We did cycle the lane into Drepano (a couple of small supermarkets, bakery, pharmacy, post office) and lunched on club sandwiches and fresh hot chips in a cosy bar. The tavernas were closed up or only open in the evening.

For entertainment we watched part 2 of the Lord of the Rings trilogy 'The Two Towers' - and listened to the budget on Radio 4, hopefully George Osborne's last. A marmalade and ginger cake (M's own microwave recipe) was a good accompaniment.

Drepano to Irion Beach, Peloponnese – 22 miles (via Lidl, Nafplio)

Free parking past harbour. N 37.47750   E 23.0009

Leaving Drepano we detoured back towards Nafplio to shop at Lidl (7 miles, on the left with a view of the castle above). It's a good one with an in-store bakery for croissants, donuts, rolls and cheese pies, as well as the usual basics.

Back through Drepano, then south-east along the coast past a couple of closed campsites before Camping Iria Beach, which is open all year (see ACSI Card book). We paused for a look, remembering a pleasant stay very many years ago but are sad to say that, like so many Greek campsites, it has deteriorated, with no investment, worn out facilities and little space among the statics. There is even a charge (€1.50 per day) for the reportedly unreliable WiFi.

Not tempted to linger, we drove on past a small taverna (closed) at the fishing harbour, to a quiet parking area at the end of the road, complete with beach shower and rubbish bins. After lunch we took a bracing walk along the sand to a headland in a strong cold wind. Two types of shells covered the shore: pretty spiral ones, and bivalves like small scallops. Flocks of seagulls followed the fishing boats home, while jackdaws gathered over the ploughed fields behind us. We stayed for a quiet night, eating pizza and local strawberries.

Irion Beach to Salandi Beach, Nr Didyma, Peloponnese – 33 miles

Free parking by beach. N 37.44748   E 23.12474

On waking at 7 am it was 10°C inside; when we left 3 hours later the temperature had reached 22°C, warmed only by the sun!

We drove 2 miles north through the village of Irion, between fields of artichokes and lettuces, to join the road east through a fertile land of oranges and olives to Karnezeika. Then the road hair-pinned steeply up, with giddy views of the sea below, reaching over 1,300 ft (395 m) at Kanapitsa. (This route is part of a circular cycle ride we had undertaken more than once from Camping Iria Beach, through bleak mountains, their sides scarred by stone and marble quarries.) The road then dropped to 790 ft (240 m), to meet the main road from Corinth at 14 miles.

Before turning south for the Argolid Peninsula, we drove a short way north (following our old cycle route) to see if a fondly remembered cafι serving hot pork from a spit-roast pig was still there. Sadly not! But the 2 mile stretch, to the road junction for Corinth/Athens or Epidavros Theatre, was lined with shops selling local cheeses or traditional bread from wood-fired ovens. Most had large car parks, along what must be a busy tourist and coach route in the season.

Turning back, we headed south towards Kranidi. The road zigzagged up to 1,900 ft (575 m) on the western flanks of Mount Didimo before descending. A fine new road turned off for Didima down at 500 ft (150 m), bypassing the village – unless you need to squeeze through it in search of a post office! We found a 'postal agency' in the little supermarket there.

Soon after Didima we turned west to the coast at Salandi (or Saladi or Salanti– transliteration at work). Our destination was only 4 miles along this minor road but across the grain of the land, climbing up to 840 ft (255 m) before dropping to sea level. After passing the gaunt wreck of an abandoned 10-storey hotel (of which more later), we turned left along a short track past a tiny white church to a very large gravel parking area between the trees and the shore. This site (listed in Camperstop Europe) proved an excellent place for a peaceful stay, with no-one but a passing flock of goats.

After lunch we walked round to explore the concrete remains of the derelict 'Saladi Beach Holiday Village'. Between the white pebble beach and the hotel (its windows all smashed and the interior stripped out) there were dozens of vandalised buildings. These were once bars, cafes, holiday studios, a crumbling mini-golf course and other sports grounds. The huge outdoor pool with diving board held a little fetid water and a pile of broken plastic chairs. Crude graffiti of naked headless figures decorated the pool walls. The whole area spooked us – what had happened? It looked like an East European holiday site for party workers and union members, abandoned half a century ago. Perhaps it was condemned after subsidence or earthquake? Cheap concrete certainly doesn't weather well, unlike the stones of ancient sites!

Click: http://www.magbazpictures.com/sarandi-beach.html

A bitterly cold wind blew us back to the motorhome, to pressure-cook a beef & veg stew and watch the final part of Lord of the Rings: 'The Return of the King'. It was a very peaceful night, no lights, no noise – just the ghosts of former holidaymakers.

Salandi Beach to Kilada, Peloponnese – 14 miles  

Free parking on waterfront.  N 37.41364   E 23.12659

Fresh snow this morning on the peaks across the water, but at Salandi Beach it's dry and sunny and the wind has dropped. On a short walk along the white pebble shore, towards the new 'Costa Bianca' development of holiday homes, we saw many black sea urchins on the rocks below the clear water. Reputedly edible, they have a vicious sting.

We drove 4 miles back over the 840 ft (255 m) pass to join the road below Didima, then continued south towards Kranidi. There was a Silk petrol station with 'Car Gas' at 10 miles, then a Lidl store a mile later, just past the last turn for Kilada. After a quick stop for the Lidl bakery (who can resist?) we drove a level easy 3 miles north-west to Kilada and parked in a parking area on the palm-fringed waterfront.

Walking round we found Kilada a very pleasant fishing port on a large sheltered bay due south of Salandi. It has a working boatyard and busy yacht marina, with some interesting craft moored including one from Weymouth. The small supermarket sold big black Kalamata Olives (the best) vacuum-packed in olive oil: a great find. We'd been searching for some as a gift for weeks!

Later we dined at the nearby To Mouragio Restaurant: tasty fried courgette strips with cheese, followed by chicken fillet in a bacon, mushroom & cream sauce. Sadly the promised free WiFi wasn't working but the meal was excellent. Today is the Spring Equinox and the days are getting longer, so that it was light enough for another stroll after dinner, watching the fishermen checking and mending their nets.

Kilada to Salandi Beach, Nr Didyma, Peloponnese – 10 miles

Free parking by beach. N 37.44748   E 23.12474

A fine morning with no wind at all encouraged us to drive back to Salandi Beach - a very quiet safe place, ideal for leaving the motorhome while we cycled. The return journey was 4 miles shorter, since we didn't revisit Lidl near Kranidi. The wide gravel parking area at Salandi Beach is now shared with a French campervan but there is plenty of space for all.

We cycled west along the coast, past the 'Costa Bianca' development and through tiny Ag Ioannis. After 3 km the lane turned inland, climbing sharply. Soon it began to rain, so we turned round at 5 km to freewheel back to the motorhome for lunch.

In the late afternoon, once the rain stopped, we walked in the other direction beyond the ruins of the Saladi Beach Holiday Village, up a track past a little chapel, until we saw the masts of Kilada marina across the bay. We hope to explore this further by bicycle tomorrow.

Salandi Beach to Camping Triton II, Drepano, Nr Nafplio, Peloponnese – 106 miles (round the Argolid Peninsula)

Open all year. www.tritonii.gr. Winter price €20 per night, or €17 for 7 days plus, or €300 per month (or longer-term rates negotiable), inc 12 amp elec, good hot showers and use of kitchen with fridges, freezer and gas rings. Free WiFi. N 37.53173   E 22.89056

As the next day was dull, grey and overcast, the decision was to move on round the Argolid Peninsula and find another place for the night. We drove south for 11 miles to Lidl (to stock up once more on bread and water: a good diet), then continued for another 6 miles, bypassing Kranidi, to the coast at Portoxeli.

Turn right at the roundabout on arriving at the port and there is ample free parking space opposite the moored yachts, listed in Camperstop Europe: N 37.32690  E 23.14377. We just stopped here for lunch but it would be OK overnight, if a little noisy. Walking round to find a bank machine, Portoxeli seemed a larger, more upmarket port than Kilada, with boatyard, marina, AB supermarket, car hire (for the yachties) and restaurants.

We continued south for another 3 miles to Kosta at the south-west tip of the Argolid, from where vehicle ferries cross to the nearby island of Spetses. There was no place to stop in Kosta and no information about ferries. All the car parks were fenced off except for one with a charge and a barrier. Naturally this was empty, with cars double-parked along the road!

Turning back, we drove round the foot of the peninsula to Ermioni and on to Galatas. Our map and SatNav showed this route as a main road but it was a narrow pot-holed country lane making its way up and down the hillsides, with no opportunity to stop. The tiny port of Ermioni sounds pretty – it wasn't. We found ourselves negotiating a nightmare warren of tight cobbled lanes, stone-walled houses and right angle bends, the only reasonable way through being a 'No Entry'! With hindsight, we should have turned left earlier to bypass the place but there were no direction or warning signs and our maps sent us into the labyrinth! Barry's skill got us through with one inch clearance of the projecting roof tiles. It would have been impossible to turn back or to make it in anything remotely wider, longer or higher.

Continuing east along the rough coast road, we passed Camping Hydra's Wave near Thermissia – closed until early April. The long empty island of Ydra loomed dark across the water, with just a cluster of houses above its port. This island – once home to Leonard Cohen and still the haunt of writers and artists - is traffic-free apart from electric service vehicles. Tourist boats are met by porters with horses or donkeys. We once went over for a day but there was little to do except go for a walk, buy a meal and wait for the next ferry back.

At last, after the village of Vlachaika, the road improved. We had crossed an administrative border from Argolidos to South Attikis and Attiki can evidently afford bitumen! On round the south-east corner of the Argolid Peninsula lay the port of Galatas, at 56 miles. The island of Poros looked close enough for a bridge but is reached by a short ferry trip. Camperstop Europe suggests a spot by Galatas harbour but the waterfront was full of parked cars and we couldn't even stop for a brew-up. It was now 5.45 pm and starting to rain. Some days do not go as well as others!

Heading north-west up a fine corniche road, poised about 100 m above the misty sea below, there was no chance of parking. At Archea Epidavros we abandoned the coast and turned inland, perhaps for a night parked at the magnificent Theatre of Ancient Epidavros. The rain turned to a steady downpour as the evening wore on, prompting us to bypass the theatre and continue west towards Nafplio.

We turned off for Drepano and returned to the creature comforts of Camping Triton II: electricity, hot showers, WiFi and well-drained hard-standing paramount amongst them.

Back at Camping Triton II, Drepano

A couple of rainy days followed (this really has been our wettest winter ever in Greece). We spent time on the usual domestic chores, on route planning and on the internet.

The free site WiFi was reliable enough to carry British TV live on the laptop (via www.filmon.com). Watching some excellent documentaries, travel and wildlife on BBC4 made a refreshing factual change from the fantasy world of Tolkien's Hobbits, Elves, Dwarves and Wizards which have dominated our screen recently!

25 March is a national holiday in Greece, commemorating the start of the War of Independence (from Ottoman rule) in 1821. The 25th was also a significant date for us (20 Years on the Road) and we thank the many friends who sent their congratulations. Sadly, cold heavy showers put a dampener on public events and we postponed a planned excursion to a taverna. Instead we celebrated at home with Margaret's 'Poor Man's Moussaka' (made with spuds instead of aubergines, which Barry isn't fond of) and Lemon Bakewell Tart (done with home-made lemon curd).

On a warmer drier morning, thunder rumbling in the hills, we cycled into Tolo (9 km return), past the remains of the Ancient city of Assini on a rocky promontory. A walk from Triton II along the beach to Assini can mean paddling across a stream when it's flowing (as now). Tolo is a package resort, the hotels and eateries mostly closed off-season, so we bought tasty pies at the bakery and returned to camp for lunch. Another short cycle ride followed (8 km return), east from the village of Drepano along a lane skirting the southern edge of the sea inlet. In the inevitable little church at the end of the road we lit candles before returning, just in time to escape yet more rain.

Drepano to Afrodite's Waters Camperstop, Ancient Corinth – 45 miles

Open all year. €10 per night with electricity, WC and hot shower, water and dump, kitchen area with wash-up and gas rings. (No WiFi)  N 37.91143   E 22.87917

The weather is at last warming up, with April in its sights. Leaving Drepano, we headed west towards Nafplio to shop at Lidl (7 miles), then north on the Argos road for another 4 miles to revisit the Mycenean palace fortress of 'Tiryns of the Great Walls', a favourite site with us.

Homer's 'wall-girt Tiryns' is unmistakeable, its massive Cyclopean walls rising high above the road on the right. We turned off into the large car park and had an interesting chat with the young woman in the ticket office (open daily 8 am-3 pm, entry €3, Seniors €2). She regretted that the new building, destined to be souvenir shop/cafι/etc, would not open due to Greece's financial situation. At least work to preserve the ancient remains continues, with a small team at work. We were just delighted to have the World Heritage site to ourselves: no tourist infrastructure means no coach parties, no lines of school children, no official guides droning on … So much quieter, and therefore more atmospheric, than Ancient Mycenae these days.

Set on a low hill, Tiryns was inhabited from Neolithic times. In the Late Bronze Age (14-13th century BC), the hill was fortified, enclosing within its massive stone walls the three-tier palace complex of the ruling family. An earthquake and fire in the late 13th C BC damaged the buildings of the upper citadel, gradually bringing the palace system of government to an end here. The acropolis was abandoned, though a settlement grew up on the lower levels. Tiryns was finally destroyed by the rising power of nearby Argos in the 5th C BC; the famous Roman traveller Pausanias found the site deserted in the 2nd C AD. It was never Romanised or overbuilt, remaining a colossal testament to the architectural prowess of the Mycenean period. See www.ancient-greece.org/archaeology/tiryns.html

Historical significance aside, it's a wonderful site to explore. We climbed to the Upper Citadel, through the remains of the great gate (identical in structure to the famous Lion Gate at Mycenae itself). You can imagine the ruler up here in the Megaron (throne room), frescoes on the floors and walls, receiving his subjects and performing ceremonies - or just take in the view of Nafplio Bay, seen between the hill-top castles of Nafplio and Argos.

Galleries built into the upper walls link a series of store rooms with pointed arches. Below, the Middle Citadel housed palace workshops, while the Lower Citadel was a self-contained settlement with houses, stores and workshops, 28 rooms with pointed entrances in the inner walls, access to two underground springs and another monumental gate. Only stones remain – but what stones! How was it built, how were they lifted? Keeping the stones that remain upright seems challenging enough today!

Click: http://www.magbazpictures.com/ancient-tiryns.html

After lunch down in the empty car park, we drove north past Nea Tirinthia between extensive orange groves to Mikines. Roadside stalls sold the local oranges at €3 for a 10 kg bag! Turning off into Mikines (the modern village near Ancient Mycenae) at 18 miles, we checked out Camping Atreus (officially open in 2 days' time on 1 April) but found no-one around. The tiny Camping Mycenae, further along, is open all year (and very friendly) but we decided to turn and leave. The village, consisting of souvenir shops, rooms and restaurants, was busy with coaches on their way to/from the tourist trap of Ancient Mycenae at the end of the road. After the peace of Tiryns we didn't want the crowds - and we have been to the site and museum more than once before. See www.ancient-greece.org/archaeology/mycenae.html

We continued towards Corinth along the old main road, rather than the new E65 toll motorway. Passing under the motorway, we found the Camperstop (400 m from the archaeological site and museum of Ancient Corinth, which lies to the west of modern Corinth). Luckily our destination, listed in Camperstop Europe and the Bordatlas, is well signed, along a narrow road through the village (unsuitable larger motorhomes: we were on the limit at 7 m long).

At first sight the Camperstop looks like a rough and ready car park beyond the owners' house but we were impressed by the warm welcome from Spiros and his family. The site would be crowded if all 30 spaces were taken but there was only one other motorhome in residence. With hook-ups, drinking water, dump, WC and shower, children's playground, picnic table, outdoor kitchen and piping hot water, it's a good base for a night or two to visit Corinth (ancient or modern).

This is also a great place to safely leave a motorhome while taking the hourly train to Athens, for a short visit or a flight home. Spiros will arrange transport to/from the local station (4 km away) and the rail journey, which goes on to Athens Airport, takes about an hour. Tickets are currently €18 return, or half-price if over 65. Sounds like a bargain!

We were handed a local map and a list of the Camperstop facilities in 6 languages, as well as a multilingual list of all the fruit, veg, wine, olives and oil that are on sale from the family farm! Spiros's little daughter gave us a complimentary dish of grape 'spoon-sweet'each, and there will be a lamb-roast here on Orthodox Easter Sunday (12 April). Wish we could stay – very few Greek campsites treat us this well!

And the name 'Afrodite's Water' refers to the spring in a small cave, just 100 metres away along a footpath. Afrodite/Venus was supposed to bathe there but when we went to look, Margaret voted for the hot shower!

At Ancient Corinth

Next day we walked into the village at Ancient Corinth and ran the gamut of souvenir shops and eateries along the way to the archaeological site and museum. This is a popular tourist destination, with several coaches in the car park bringing guided parties and school groups to file round the extensive ruins of the Greco-Roman city. We avoided the crowds by arriving at lunchtime, when most were leaving. The site is open from 8 am to 3 pm, tickets €6, Seniors €3 (including the museum). See www.guideofgreece.com/ancient-corinth

The City State of Ancient Corinth grew up below the acropolis of Acrocorinth  - an amazing mountain-top site, inhabited continuously from Archaic times to the early 19th century. The medieval fortress that remains dominates the whole area and makes a spectacular viewpoint. We didn't go up to Acrocorinth this time (having made the ascent by both bicycle and motorbike in the past). It is possible to drive up the hill (about 4 km) and park – at least the coaches do.

We had a glorious couple of hours wandering among the substantial remains of the temples, fountains and roadways of the ancient city, with dozing cats and darting lizards for company. Dating from the 8th C BC, Corinth grew in commercial and cultural importance and was known especially for its pottery. By the 5th C BC it was a major power in ancient Greece, second only to Athens, but was eventually destroyed by the Romans in 146 BC. The city was resettled under Julius Caesar a century later, the start of a new period of prosperity, when it became a Roman provincial capital and remained inhabited until the Middle Ages.

In the Roman forum stands the Bema, the platform from which orators – including St Paul - addressed the crowd. St Paul had chosen Corinth as his missionary base in Greece, living there for over a year while working as a tent-maker (later writing the Letters to the Corinthians that are among his Epistles in the New Testament). In 52 AD Paul, accused of conducting illegal teaching, was brought before the Roman Proconsul Gallio on the Bema. Gallio refused to judge what he considered a mere religious dispute among the Jews and he acquitted Paul. If only Pontius Pilate had been as wise!

The museum contains a wealth of finds from the prehistoric, Greek, Roman and Byzantine periods, including mosaics and sculpture. In 1990 much of the valuable collection was stolen in a night time raid, then subsequently recovered in the USA, although a large amount of money destined for museum staff wages was lost!

We rounded off an excellent afternoon with a taverna meal, sitting out on the balcony directly overlooking the ancient site in the afternoon sunshine. Earlier, both site and restaurant had been busy with coach parties but now we had it all to ourselves, enjoying personal attention, freshly squeezed orange juice, Greek salad and moussaka. What more could we ask?

Click: http://www.magbazpictures.com/ancient-corinth.html

APRIL 2015

Ancient Corinth to Camping Akrata Beach, Akrata, Gulf of Corinth – 81 miles (including 40 mile detour to Lake Vouliagmenis)

Open all year (phone ahead low season, on +30-2696031988).  www.akrata-beach-camping.gr  €18.60 inc 10 amp elec and hot showers. Long term winter rate negotiable. Free WiFi.  N 38.17380   E 22.33830

It was only 2 miles from the Camperstop to the E65 motorway, though the access is difficult along narrow tortuous lanes. Thankfully, nothing was coming the other way. We drove a few miles east to the Isthmia exit, shopped at the AB supermarket (roast chicken!), then took the old main road across the deep cut of the Corinth Canal. Turn immediately left after the Canal to drive north to the busy spa resort of Loutraki, known for its casinos and bottled Loutraki Water, at 8 miles.

Through the centre of Loutraki, continue along the palm-lined waterfront, then climb inland (max 890 ft or 270 m) to the hill village of Perachora at 17 miles. Here, turn west along a minor road (partly unsealed, with road works) for 5 miles to the far end of Lake Vouliagmenis. Here we found a large parking area next to a couple of waterside tavernas at N 38.03185  E 22.87323 - a good overnight spot (with lights, bins and toilets) outside the high season. Indeed, there was a 'No Camping May to October' sign, when it would be busy with coaches. Today, just one bus turned up for a taverna lunch.

Out with the bicycles, despite a strong wind, for a ride round the small lake. There is actually a short channel from the lake into the Gulf of Corinth, so we cycled to the outlet and back in each direction: a total ride of 11 km. A campsite on the eastern end of the lake was closed.

After lunch we had another short cycle ride, west to the end of the road, where there is a car park at the tip of the peninsula (total 5 km). A rough footpath runs from here to the lighthouse but most visitors come to descend the new walkway and steps to the remains of the Heraion, an 8th C BC temple of Hera and ancient pilgrimage centre, down by the wild and rocky shore. See www.wondergreece.gr/v1/en/Regions/Korinthia_Prefecture/Culture/Archaelogical_sites/3288-Heraion_Perachora

Entry is free and information is in English and Greek. We first came here many years ago, inspired by reading Dilys Powell's 'An Affair of the Heart' - see www.cretanvista.co.uk/goodreadingx2.htm. Dilys, a British journalist and writer, lived in Perachora while her husband Humphrey Payne, Director of the British School of Archaeology in Athens, led the excavation of this remote site in 1932-34. Sadly, he died in 1936 at the young age of 34. We also recommend her book about Crete and Knossos 'The Villa Ariadne'. The new infrastructure at the Heraion is impressive, as we had to scramble down the cliff side on our previous visit! It was good to see 'British Archaeologist Humphrey Payne' mentioned three times on the information boards.

After returning to the motorhome, we drove back through Loutraki to Corinth, to join the E65  'Olympia Odos' westbound. It can hardly be called a motorway, as only one carriageway is complete, divided down the middle with cones. This, the extremely busy transit between Patras and Corinth, has been the most dangerous highwayin Greece for years, with road works, contraflow and regular accidents. The only alternative is the old slow coastal road, through many towns. It was a relief to escape the E65 at the Akrata exit, after paying one toll of €6.30 – leaving a 'motorway' with regular speed limits of 60 kph (less than 40 mph) and No Overtaking signs (regularly ignored).

Our exit was impeded by road works vehicles but we finally reached Akrata and turned west for the mile along the Old National Road. After crossing a river bridge, turn right (signed) for the campsite down by the pebbly shore of the Gulf of Corinth. Arriving at 5 pm after the slow dangerous journey, it was a delight to be welcomed by the resident site owner, Manolis, who speaks very good English (having an Australian wife). He showed us round the excellent facilities on his tidy and well organised site before leaving us to settle onto a waterfront pitch, our only neighbours a German campervan.

At Camping Akrata Beach, Akrata

We had a couple of very pleasant, if windy, days on this site, with plentiful hot water, clean modern facilities and a very helpful and caring owner. The WiFi worked well and we caught up on-line, as well as doing the usual laundry, cleaning and route planning. It was also good to get a tankful of good drinking water, with no aftertaste or limescale.

A short walk along the pebble beach ended where the river disgorged into the sea, forming a wide brown streak in the blue of the Gulf. Flocks of seagulls patrolled this confluence, which attracts fish. It was lovely to watch the resident Hoopoe, probing the ground with its long slender beak right below our motorhome window.

The little campsite bar/restaurant opened at the weekend (Easter in most of Europe, though the Greek Orthodox celebration comes a week later this year) and we ate there one evening: tasty saganaki, Greek salad, souvlaki and chips, all freshly made and hot.

This campsite, hitherto unknown to us, came as a great surprise, giving a third Greek campsite we can actually recommend now (yes, only three, alongside Ionion Beach and Triton II!) Margaret reviewed Akrata Beach on the ACSI website:

"A very well maintained campsite by the pebble shore of the Gulf of Corinth. Convenient for Athens-Corinth-Patras highway (Akrata exit) and for Patras ferries. The very helpful resident owner, Manolis, cares for the site and his guests. Small restaurant/bar and shop. Excellent modern toilets and showers, laundry with sinks and washing machine, plentiful hot water. Free WiFi throughout the site. Many statics, but good touring pitches with sea view. The tidiness and cleanliness of the site stand out compared with most Greek campgrounds."

Continued at: North through the Balkans Spring 2015