Monemvasia has been on my bucket list for a few years but until now I haven’t made a concerted effort to get there. It is fair to say that the best way to get around the Peloponnese is by car – and this is from an ardent public transport user when in Greece. The whole driving on the other side of the road is not a good match to my terrible sense of direction and in my mind, bodes disaster.
Anyway, where there is a will there is a way and there is a direct bus from Athens to Monemvasia.
We are travelling the day before Good Friday and already the mass exodus of Greeks heading back to their home towns and villages has begun. I booked the tickets online as soon as they became available on the KTEL Laconias website. They only become available about a month before the travel date so I made sure that I checked every day when the tickets for my date of travel went live.
From the Epidavros Hotel the bus stop for the number 51 bus to Kiffisou Bus Station is just around the corner. Remember to purchase your bus ticket before getting on the bus as I believe the fine for none purchase or non validation of tickets on the bus can be quite steep. (We can count the number of people who validated their ticket on this packed bus on one hand!)
About 20 minutes later we arrive at Kiffisou Bus Station where we swap our printed receipt for the bus tickets. We are directed to stands number 23-24 where the KTEL Laconias bus services depart.
We prepare ourselves mentally for the five and a half hour trip to Monemvasia. We were pretty sure that there would be a break half way through the journey and guessed this would be at Tripoli bus station. Oh oh! No not the case. The bus stops short of Tripolis at a service station where the bus driver said something in Greek that we didn’t understand. This was the break in the journey but by the time we realised we were on our way again. Not to worry – we have strong bladders!
Thankfully the landscape that we drive through is hypnotically beautiful. On both sides we are surrounded by mountains of all sizes and shapes. Some are snow capped and some velvety green. Along the roadside there are orange and olive groves as far as the eye can see and the orange blossom is sucked in through the air conditioning filling our nostrils with the sweet scent.
As we passed through Sparta, we are taken by the magnificent snow capped mountain range that towers over the town. What a shame we don’t get chance to stop off and take a look – oh well – maybe on our way to Gythio where we need to change buses on another leg of the journey.
As we approach Monemvasia, we see the rock in the distance – even through the haze that has covered Athens and this part of Greece for the last few days. The bus drops us off directly next to the beginning of the causeway that takes us up to the castle walls. After the 320 kilometre journey and five and a half hours sitting on a bus it is good to get out and stretch our legs. We start heaving our suitcases over the causeway and up the slope to the castle entrance. This takes us a good half an hour – I had truly underestimated the effort it was going to take. A lady passing us in the opposite direction tells us that there is a bus. Oh well – too late now as we are nearly there. We later discover that there is a shuttle bus from the causeway to the castle entrance that leaves every thirty minutes at the cost of 1.10€ per person.
Looking at the Google Maps timeline of our bus journey, you can see the key checkpoints we passed through to get to Monemvasia namely Corinth, Tripoli, Sparti and Moloi.
We step through the castle gate and follow the cobble stoned street to a small office where we have to telephone our arrival. This office serves a couple of the hotels and they will give you directions. We are staying at the Malvasia Hotel, formerly known as the Bastion Malvasia and it is the last hotel along this main street. We pass several porters who transport luggage and goods to the hotels and restaurants as no vehicles can pass through the castle gate.
After checking in at reception we are shown to our room, one of several buildings set into the rocks with the Kastro towering above us. We are shown the dining space for breakfast which is a few steps down into a building on the other side of the cobbled street. The Malvasia Hotel also has it’s own bar and cafe which is very popular with visitors.
After unpacking we do a little hand washing but unfortunately there isn’t anywhere to dry our clothes. We have to construct a makeshift washing line to get it dry and thankfully our building is in full sun! Talk about airing your dirty laundry!
The first thing to notice is the abundance of spring flowers everywhere – and I mean everywhere. Purple campanula type flowers sprouting out of the walls, poppies and varieties of daisies carpet the floor. The aroma of mint, aniseed and chamomile fill the air. Most striking are the tall plants that look like a bulbous type of fennel which grow like mini trees on the hillsides. Note to self – learn more about the flora and fauna of Greece!
Looking out over the town I can see that there is almost a muted palette of stone – shades of yellow ochre, burnt umber, grey and in places a tinge of pink that matches the terracotta pan tile roofs – all blending into the landscape perfectly. No garish colours here!
The town is staggered into various levels. There is a pathway that takes you alongside the rocks that spill into the sea.
On the next level up cobbled alleyways snake in and around houses that have an unusual architecture with chimney stacks built on the outside of the building topped in characterful chimney pots. You get the sense of being between the defensive castle walls at each end of the town.
There are two main squares that sit in front of the two larger churches – EIkomenos Christos and Panagia Chrysafitissa. It is at Elkomenos Christos that the main Easter festivities will take place and where the Epitaphios is housed.
Several bars and tavernas are set in and around this area and I do wonder how they will accommodate all of the visitors to the rock.
Above this there is the middle village nestled into the foothill of the towering cliff above and from where a couple of paths lead up to the Kastro. Up at the Kastro is the old town where the wealthy citizens once lived but now an abandoned village and ‘must visit’ site on the rock.
Once unpacked we walked along the cobbled path to the main square to look for somewhere for dinner. We see steps down to Matoula Restaurant which offers great views across the bay. Matoula is one of the oldest restaurants in Monemvasia having been in business since 1950.
After all that bus travel without a snack we are more than ready for a delicious meal washed down with some retsina! Yiamas!
Tomorrow is Good Friday so we call it a night.