There is so much to love about Elafonissos. A beautiful island but with wonderful people. We have loved our stay at Kalomoira. It was lovely coming in to see new treats left in our room every day – home baked biscuits and feta and mint muffins. I highly recommend this place to stay – very well located, beautifully decorated, a pretty garden and wonderful hospitality.
Kalomoira had phoned for a taxi to meet us at Pounda from the 11.30 am ferry.
It is always hard leaving an island. I think it’s because the boat journey defines the beginning and the end, the arrival and the departure, unlike moving on from a place on the mainland. But Sparta calls. A diversion from our original plan but the snow capped Teygettus mountain range is calling. For now, farewell Elafonissos!
From Neapoli Bus station our bus to Sparta departs at 2.00pm and the journey takes about 2 hours. The bus stops in the middle of the town close to our hotel before continuing to the bus station which lies just on the edge of the town. We are staying at the Lakonia hotel on the main street of the town which is in a great central location. The rooms are good with a view from a small balcony over the main street.
The lady on reception gave us a map and circled all of the main points of interest along with the opening and closing times. This was really useful especially as we only have one night here. It is great to have such knowledgeable staff to help us. Tomorrow afternoon we will be catching the bus to Gythio so we need to plan exactly what we want to see within a limited time frame.
It is now late afternoon and we have missed most of the museums. The one museum that I really want to visit is the Museum of Greek Olive Oil so this is scheduled for first thing tomorrow morning. After this we will visit Mystras which is just 6 kilometres away. The receptionist at the hotel tells us that the best way to see Mystras is to get a taxi outside the hotel and ask them to drive us to the top and then it is a 2 hour walk down to the village of Mystras.
For now we are going to explore the town and the first stop is the famous statue of Leonideo located outside of the sports stadium. And what a fine figure of a man he is!
Just as we are about to leave the statue we hear loud car horns blaring down the street coming towards us – a wedding motorcade. They do a U-turn at the statue, saluting their hero as they pass – weddings Spartan style!
Ancient Sparta is now closed but there are a number of archaeological sites scattered around the town. The 10th Century Triconch Church and the Cross in Square Church are both close by. The Triconch Church was excavated between the years of 1978 and 1980 and restored between the years of 2012-2015 by the Ephorate of Antiquities in Lakonia. More interesting to me are the ancient baths which don’t even appear on the map. However, the information points do give a very good visual representation of how they were used and who used them.
The bath house consisted of four adjacent rooms – the Apodyterium, the Tepidarium, the Caldarium with private basins in the lateral niches and the water tank and the Frigidarium. Two cisterns located next to the baths served the water supplies of the facility.
The names of the four rooms are ‘almost’ self explantory – the bather would undress in the Apodyterium and then go into the Tepiderium to enjoy a steam bath, oiling and perfuming their body. They would then proceed to the hot water bath in the Calderium and then finally into the cold water bath in the Frigidarium.
We continue to walk around the outskirts of the town – me desperately trying to catch sight of the snow capped Teygettus mountain range – the thing that drew me here. We come to a green park area in which sits the impressive church Ekklisia Evaggelistria. We have timed it just well as the bells begin to toll and they are also very impressive.
Not ones to stay on the well worn track, we take some steps down past the church and a couple of small holdings where the sound of rushing water leads us to a river. A river fed by the melting snow of the Teygettus mountains and we are rewarded by some fantastic vista’s of the mountain range.
I had read a description of Sparta as “just an ordinary town”. I don’t find this to be the case at all. Yes it’s a modern city with everything you would expect from a large town. It is laid out in a grid pattern – quite unusual for Greece but Sparta is one of the few towns to benefit from a this type of planning system that provides tree lined streets and many green parks and squares.
The origins of modern Sparta date back to October 20, 1834, when King Otto issued a decree on the construction of the new city. Bavarian city planners, headed by Fr. Stauffert, designed a city of 100,000 inhabitants based on the neo-classical architectural model.
That aside, there is something about the place – something I can’t quite put my finger on. And it’s a good thing. I think the fact that this town sits in the foothills of the magnificent Teygettus mountain range has something to do with it. Of course the heritage of the great Spartan nation must also leave its imprint on the people – a pride and strength of character. Besides, you don’t have to wander very far to see some old houses with the dilapidated charm and faded grandeur that I love – especially architectural features such as doors, windows and balconies – and of course door knockers which is my latest obsession!
The weather begins to turn. Dark clouds begin to roll in over the mountains so we take this opportunity to seek refuge in one of the bars along the main street. Mpuraria Abbaeio (I can just about translate it from Greek and maybe Abbey Emporium?) has large awnings outside where we can still enjoy the surrounding without getting wet. It has an extensive range of Belgian beers (hence the name) and a great selection of bar food – great for when you’re not starving but just want a little something.
Later that evening from our balcony the thunder storm has rolled in and the lightening strike lights the sky. And on that note – Kalinichta!