Well I woke up this morning still in a bit of a quandary about what to do about hiring a car. Although I was still petrified at the thought of driving a car where everything is the other way around, more than anything I wanted to get out and about to see this beautiful island. So I start the day by putting on my big girl pants to help me face the day. Literally I put on my best Marks & Spencer underwear to give me the sense of security that I was going to need – a bit like when I used to wear my favourite blue spotted pumps for driving lessons. They made me feel safe and grounded.
We headed down to Active Rent a Car next to the mini market and was invited to sit down by Fillipos and his sister. I explained to them my dilemma – that I had never driven in Greece before and thought it would be difficult getting to grips with things the other way around (the gear stick and the roads!).
Fillipos was very philosophical about it. He said that I could hire a car and take it easy on the roads or there was the option of hiring a taxi. The taxi driver would take me to two or three places around the island which would at least give me a flavour of Kythira. As we sat on the seats outside his office I couldn’t help but keep glancing over to the ominous looking shipwreck as if some kind of omen!
He said that he had a suggestion – he would take me for a little test drive to see how I got on and I could decide from there – no pressure!
I really didn’t like the idea of the taxi. We hired a taxi to take us to Meteora from Sivota once and you always feel under time pressure and I didn’t want this. He directed me to a little white Honda and I seated myself in the driving seat, Fillipos in the passenger seat and Peter behind me. I drove around the village and I was surprised how easy it was. Don’t get me wrong, it felt weird changing gear with my right hand and I reached for the seat belt from the wrong direction but it wasn’t as difficult as I’d made it out to be in my head. I think I’d built this up to be something far bigger than it was.
Decision made – we would hire the car for 2 days!
Fillipos gave us a map and told us that the roads at this time of year are very empty – I would pass another car maybe every 5 minutes. The maps showed which roads were asphalt and which were dirt tracks. He circled the main points of interest for us on the map. Fillipos did tell me that as we head towards Chora and the Kastro, the last 5 kilometres of road becomes very narrow and to watch for low walls. I took the option of full insurance coverage with no excess just in case!
Off we tootled. Second and third gears became my best friends with a short acquaintance with fourth. Fifth I never got to meet!
We headed up the main road out of Diakofti, up the mountain (if you can call it a mountain) and onto the flat plateau towards the airport. Once past the airport we reach a T junction where we turn left towards Kastro and Chora. Fillipos was right, the roads were pretty empty which gave me chance to acclimatise to the car without feeling under pressure. We needed to put fuel in the car so as we approached Chora we stopped to add fuel at a petrol station on the main road. I did pull in on the wrong side of the petrol pump but this wasn’t a problem for the attendant.
The roads did begin to narrow and there was more traffic on the road near Chora. If I felt a car getting impatient with the pace of my driving I just pulled over when I could to let them pass. So far so good.
We found a car park just off the main road a short walk to the Kastro and Chora.
From the Kastro the views over Kapsali are fabulous. As much as I would like to go and visit Kapsali I decided against it. As the main hub for tourists, it looked quite busy so I was happy to admire it from above.
We had a walk around the Kastro which was really interesting and with views over the Chora and the bay – only a handful of people are there so I’m able to take photographs without people litter. LOL
The Chora itself has a lot of charm and a friendly village feel about it despite looking quite ’boutiquified’ as I like to call it. Before I know it I find myself in a door and door knocker frenzy!
Back at our trusty wagon we head off to Myrtidon Monastery, stopping off at a church that caught my eye along the way in a little village called Kalokerines. After Kalokerines you will pass through a tunnel that has been carved out of the cliff. Going through it towards Myrtidon Monastery it looks like an elephant. Going back in the other direction it ‘really’ looks like an elephant! It shows on Google Maps as ‘Passing Through the Rock.’
The monastery is deserted apart from one lady who is having a loud conversation on her mobile phone. I assume she is the warden of the monastery – what a lovely job that must be – the almost uninterrupted silence and tranquil surroundings – I’d do a stint there anyway!
I’m really looking forward to our next destination – the waterfalls. Fillipos told us that because Kythira had had an unprecedented amount of rain recently the waterfalls were at their best. We pass by a bridge that has an information point saying that it is the Bridge of Myrtidia – English Project 1820. Blink and you’d miss it but I was curious to find out any information about it – Google failed! We also see evidence of the devastating fires that swept across Kythira in 2017.
A very good, straight but winding road (if you know what I mean!) takes us to the village of Milopotamos which means river of mills and refers to the 22 watermills that sat along the stream. As we enter the village of Milopotamos, we can see a small car park. From here we follow the signs to the waterfall, down a steep winding road. We see that it is possible to drive further down but appreciated that the exercise will do us good!
The Fonissa waterfall (which I read means murderess) is fed by the stream in the village which in turn is fed from the surrounding mountains. It’s other name is Neraida meaning water nymphs. It’s a really lovely walk under the shade of trees. The waterfall isn’t huge but it is powerful (thanks to the rain) and a nice place to spend a bit of time. If you have time (which we didn’t) you can continue on to the watermills scattered along the stream and spilling out towards the sea. They were built several hundred years ago to grind wheat. Only 1 of the 22 watermills are now in good working condition – the others are in ruins.
Milopotamos village itself is a nice place to spend some time. A pretty village square surrounded by plane trees has a bustling taverna called Platanos – not a spare table in sight. What a shame as this is a lovely place to stop for a bite to eat. A church with an impressive bell tower sits just off the square where the stream and a duck pond provide the musical sound of babbling water.
I could certainly have lingered here longer but our next destination calls. Just two minutes drive away is the abandoned village of Kato Chora. If you love the sight of old derelict buildings and the magical atmosphere they create you will love it here.
We park outside a church signposted Castle of Milopotamos, Churches Byzantine Settlement before walking behind it through weeds and wild flowers to explore the settlement further. The rain and sunshine has certainly given them a growth spurt.
There are several derelict churches and views down into the valley below. Check out the old olive press in one of the buildings.
Whilst in Kato Chora we see a sign for the Cave of Agia Sofia. It seemed to be a short distance away so we hopped back into our trustee chariot and thumbed in the location to Google maps. It was very hard to tell what the road was like, but this is where it all began to go horribly wrong!
We may have taken a wrong turn but we ended up on a road on the other side of Kato Chora. We seemed to be going upwards instead of a downwards direction (we knew the cave was near sea level and at one point ended up going down a fenced narrow track where there was only several inches each side of the car. As the track got narrower I decided to reverse and go back, but with the dense undergrowth encroaching onto the path it wasn’t an easy task. Yes swear words were said and yes, my husband disowned me!
We did end up on the road to the cave but I had not anticipated how horrific this road was – to me anyway! It was a narrow winding road down a cliff that at most points had a sheer drop on one side. This completely freaked me out. I stopped the car half way down, not wanting to go any further nor wanting to go back the way we came. I was having a fully on melt down! Against my husband’s better judgement, I decided to do a 3 point turn on this narrow winding road whilst shouting to him “Just photograph it, just photograph it!” Kind of like I hate this situation so much but want to preserve the memory of it for posterity! I was so frantic I nearly turned religious! As an atheist I began to pray to a God I didn’t believe in and just hoped that my visit to the monastery and churches earliest that day had rubbed off a little on me!
Further up the mountain I could see another car coming in the opposite direction. I was on the side of the sheer drop just before a hair pin bend so I stopped and waited until they had passed. The last thing I needed was to go head to head with another vehicle, vying for whatever minuscule road space there was.
A family of Greeks were in the other car. I didn’t actually hear them call me a Malaka but the flailing arms and loud voices gave the impression that they were less than impressed with me. At that point I didn’t give a *&%$£!
I drove very slowly back up the cliff face and at that point just wanted to get back to Diakofti. My nerves were shot.
This trauma wasn’t to do with the driving – it was to do with my vertigo which seems to get much worse the older I get. Even if I’d been a passenger in the car with a very experienced driver at the wheel it would still have given me the heebie jeebies!
Once back at Anemoni, our lovely host Matina had left us a bottle of Rakmelo which could not have been more welcome!
We walk to Manolis for our evening meal – and wine – lots of wine!