We're now travelling through Messinia, and it seems as though those extraordinary beaches will go on for ever. Elaia, Ayiannakis, Kalo Nero point the way to recreation possibilities on the southern shores of the big gulf of Kyparissia.
A bit beyond Kalo Nero, the road divides. If you turn left, you'll have the chance to explore the interior of the district of Messinia and in another 35km take the fork that leads east to Megolopolis and Tripolis or south to Kalamata. If you decide to take the latter route, be sure to turn at Mavrommati and take a look at the fascinating ruins of ancient Messinia with their formidable 4th century fortification walls.
But we'll stick to the shore. Our next stop is Kyparissia, and we'll go straight to the harbour to see the remains of the harbour works left from antiquity. Then we'll wander up to the High City (Ano Polis) and its picturesque old houses. The town is watched over by a Franko - Byzantine castle built on top of the ancient acropolis.
Next we come to Filiatra, Gargaliani, Hore Trifylias, where the road turns inland, though you could continue down the coast. We'll cut through this fertile region of olive groves and grape vines in order to visit one of the country's foremost Mycenean sites. The mere mention of Nestor's Palace takes us back to the Odyssey and Homer's unforgettable description of the reception given Telemachus when he comes for news of his long lost father. Complemented by the finds in the Museum, the ruins vividly evoke the lavish hospitality offered by the wise King of Pylos, whose advice was always so valuable during the Trojan War.
The Pylos of today, also known as Navarino, has had its share of exciting history. Here, in the southern part of its magnificent closed bay, is where in 1827 the allied fleets of England, France and Russia surprised the Turkish - Egyptian armada and defeated it soundly in the name of indepedent Greece. Long before that, in 420 BC the islet of Sphakteria that virtually blocks the bay was the scene of a siege, one of the few occasions when the Athenians defeated the Spartans. With its French - built arcades and Venetian castles, Pylos is an arrtactive stopover; moreover, the swimming is excellent at Yialova, between ancient and modern Pylos.
We're not far from the tip of this prong of the Peloponnese, where one of Venice's most superb relics lies. The 13th century castle of Methoni (Modon) protected o fine harbour at a strategic location, an important way station on the route to the Holy Land. Built on promontory surrounded by sea on three sides, the castle faces the islet of Sapienza. To enter the castle you cross an arched bridge over what was once the moat and pass through a monumental gate into an enclose where several thousand people lived. When you're finished your tour, take a swim on the lovely beach below.
Methoni's twin castle at Koroni (Coron) stands on the other tip of this cape. Together they were known in medieval times as "the eyes of the Empire". Between Methoni and Koroni, we pass the pretty site of finikound with the islet of Schiza opposite and then, rounding the point, we see the whole bay of Messinia spread out before us. Nearby are a series of golden beaches, dominated by the castle jutting into the sea. This castle is almost as imposing as Methoni's but more hospitable, with houses and a convent within its walls. The town, too, is very attractive and to a great degree unspoiled.
Leaving Koroni we follow the shore north, where stunning beaches continue to lure us, alternating with picturesque villages until we come to Petalidi in the northwest corner of the bay, an up and coming resort with some ancient ruins nearby. This picture remains constant as far as Analipsi, where we turn inland and meet the Pylos - Messini road that takes us to Kalamata.
Kalamata, capital of Messinia prefecture and a major port, still bears the scars of the 1986 earthquake. Nevertheless, though in the throes of reconstruction, it has lost nothing of its vitality and touristic possibilities, as a stroll along its waterfront or a drive along the coast road to Almyra will prove. And there are so many good beaches and resorts in the vicinity, at Verga and Avia, for example. Fortunately, Kalamata's Frankish castle still stands where the Villehardouin princes built it, on top of the ancient acropolis, and the old town below it is still picturesque.
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