It was September and the sailing season was ticking on. It was time to leave the Ionian and begin to sail the Peloponnese. The Peloponnese is chock full of places to visit and the first stop on our historical odyssey was to be the ancient site of Olympia, birthplace of the Olympic Games. We’d had to leave Zakinthos in a hurry and unfortunately we didn’t get to see much of it. With southerly winds due we left the anchorage at Keri and motor sailed over to the mainland. There we anchored off the beach at Katokolon.
Ashore we found a ghost town with just a hand full of bars and luckily one car hire shop open. The town only opens up when the cruise ships visit. As two had just left, everyone had closed up for the day. Tomorrow would be the same as no ships were due, but this was a good thing for us. It meant the ancient site of Olympia wouldn’t be crowded. Along with Jacob and Vickie we hired a car and the next morning we were away early for the 30 minute drive.
Entry to the site was €12 per person which also included 3 museums. We kicked off with the Archaeological museum which contained ancient and precious relics and objects found at Olympia. Bronzes, statues and huge stone frescoes gave an idea of how opulent it must have been way back in the last centuries BC.
A short walk took us along to the site itself which was much bigger than we expected. We were able to wander amongst the columns that lined the ruins of what was once the gymnasium where athletes trained in the weeks leading up to the games. We saw workshops, baths and housing blocks, along with many temples. The largest temple was to the God Zeus. Here a column had been restored for the 2004 Greece games, giving us some idea of how massive the temple once was.
Becoming Olympian Athletes
The remains of the original running track still exist, where we took our marks for the 192.28m race. They measured the length as 600 steps of a man’s foot. The man who measured out this track must have had a 32cm long foot!
Olympia Was a Place of Harsh Rules
Olympia was in use for over 1000 years, with the first official games held in 776 BC and running right through from Greek to Roman rule until 394 AD. To soak up some of the spirit from where these ancient athletes once competed was very special.
However, I felt rather glad that we live in more enlightened times than the ancient Greeks. Back then, women were not allowed to watch the games from within the sanctuary. Instead, they were relegated to watching with the slaves from a nearby hill. If anyone was caught that had managed to sneak in under disguise, their punishment was to be thrown from a nearby rock.
Punishment for cheating amongst the athletes was harsh too. Any miscreant was forced to pay for the erection of a statue of Zeus. The cheater’s name and their bad deed was then carved onto the statue’s base for all of eternity to view. The statues then lined the walkway to the stadium to remind the athletes what happens to those who stray.
The nearby town of Olympia itself isn’t up to much, mostly full of tourist tat shops. With no cruise ship victims in town we were shmoozed as we passed the shops. Food was over priced and poor quality.
Without anything to keep us in Katakolon we headed off the next day to Kiparissa and found a space alongside the harbour wall. We walked up through the modern town and the winding streets of the picturesque old town to the ruins of the castle high up on a hillside for a panoramic view of the bay. Back down at the boat we had a dilemma – bad weather was coming with strong southwesterly winds. The next morning all the other boats began to leave and soon there was only Emerald and one other boat left. By staying we risked being blown hard against the wall. If we left there was no guarantee of a space in Pylos harbour. This would mean a few uncomfortable days sitting out the blow at anchor. In the end we decided to leave.
Calm seas and gentle winds meant an easy motor south. We got in touch with Vickie and Jacob who came out to meet us in their dinghy and took Colin in for a scout around the marina to find a space. The building of Pylos marina began in 1995, however, it was never completed. It is now a free for all. Locals have laid lines on some berths but you don’t know how good they are or if the owner will return. An alongside spot on the outer wall would have been ideal but it was all full. So instead we tied onto the 4m long hammerhead section at the end of a concrete jetty. Lots of fenders and the fender board kept us from making contact with the concrete and a cats cradle of lines tied to anything we could find kept us from moving around too much.
The bad weather duly arrived with heavy rain, booming thunder and flashing skies, but it only lasted a day. Conquistador and Bon Aventure were there too, and social fun with them helped pass the time. The harbour may be a little tatty but the town is very pleasant for a few days visiting. It has a pretty town square surrounded by shops and cafes to meander around. There’s also a fort to visit (€6 per person) where you can admire the views of the bay whilst wandering the walls. I really enjoyed the two small museums inside the fort with their displays of wrecks and underwater discoveries from the surrounding seas. We learnt that an ancient town lies under where we would anchor at Methoni – maybe we’d pull up an ancient bag of gold on our anchor when we went there!
Five Go Off to See Some Ancient Ruins
With such a secure spot in Pylos it was a great opportunity to hire a car and head off inland for some sight seeing. With Jacob, Vickie and Jay we set off early for an ambitious plan to visit two archaeological sites and take in some stunning scenery along the way. And if all went to plan we could even squeeze in a trip to Lidl!
First stop was ancient Messini, the remains of the ancient Messenian capital. Along the way the roads got steeper as we passed through pretty countryside but also saw the terrible effects of the storms at the beginning of September where severe floods had washed away roads and where sadly several people lost their lives. The ruins (€12 per person) sit in a natural bowl at the bottom of a hill and at first entry to the sight it doesn’t look all that much, a few mosaics and some walls. We climbed up a slope and as we came out at the top a fantastic view opened out below us of the theatre with the town beyond.
A huge market place, temples, theatre and a stadium and gymnasium are amongst the main areas of the site with excavations still ongoing. A fantastic place to visit.
Back in the car we passed through more beautiful countryside and on to an almost deserted motorway to speed us to the next site of Mystras. We had to drive through Sparta to get there. There we encountered roads clogged with traffic and diversions wherever we turned. At one point we thought we’d be stuck there forever. Finally we broke free and began to wind our way up the foothills of the Taygetos Mountains.
Mystras is a former Byzantine fortress town, founded in 1249. In the 1950s it was converted into a historical site. As which point, the last few remaining residents moved out, the only residents now are a handful of nuns and some friendly cats and kittens.
Now, the ruins of churches, castles and palaces are preserved as a historical site. Cobbled paths wind between the ruins of houses and restored churches containing ancient painted frescoes and carvings. Every so often notices described what life would have been like here.
The site is divided into an upper and lower town. We started down low then jumped in the car to speed us to the upper town with time running out on us before the site closed for the day. The views are amazing from way up at the fortress at the top.
The Stunning Taygetos Mountains
After all that history it was time for some nature and a drive home through the Taygetos mountain range through the Langada Pass towards Kalamata. Backwards and forwards we zigzagged, higher and higher, the drop offs and the views becoming more and more stunning. We reached the top at 1500m and over the other side Kalamata bay opened up before us. And we did manage to fit in a Lidl visit too.
We managed to squeeze both sites into one day but could have easily spent a whole day at each place with other things to see in each area too.
Finally we dragged ourselves away from the cocoon of Pylos marina to head out to anchor at the head of Pylos (or Navarino) Bay. The bay is deep until quite close in and it wasn’t all that easy to find a suitable spot, but once we did the holding was good in sand. The bay is famous for the battle of Navarino, fought in 1827 between the allied forces from Britain, France and Russia against an Ottoman and Egyptian army. The Allied forces won, sinking 53 of the enemies ships, which helped bring about independence for Greece. We hoped for a more peaceful stay.
Ashore we ignored the ‘danger-unsafe’ signs and walked on up the path towards the ruined castle of Paleokastro sat atop a rocky hilltop. The walls are certainly in a crumbly condition and it probably wouldn’t be very wise to lean on them. However, the view of the sandy horseshoe bay of Voidokilia Beach and across the lagoons is worth the climb. A hole in a wall leads to a steep path downwards to Nestor’s Cave. Here, according to Greek mythology, Hermes hid the cattle he stole from Apollo. It’s a big cave but Hermes would have had a tough time getting the cows up the steep slope.
A paddle in the clear waters of the bay followed before a hasty walk back. We’d realised the wind had picked up from the south, this put Emerald on a lee shore. However, all was well with her when we returned.
Another day, another castle. Except it was Monday and on Mondays, tourist sites are closed. So, no castle tour for us that day. However, the weather was good to us and remained calm overnight allowing us to wait another day. Tuesday morning we were there just before 9am with just one other couple and a huge fortress to explore. Lots of ruins including dark, spooky tunnels, a Turkish bath and a pretty bridge out to the octagonal Bourtzi fortress made it a very worthwhile place to visit for the bargain price of €2.
When we lifted the anchor, sadly we found we hadn’t snagged a bag of gold.
Whilst in Methoni we’d spotted a poster advertising a music event in Koroni on Tuesday evening. With a visit to the fortress in the morning we still had plenty of time to head around to Koroni and catch the show. The artist was Jon Kenzie a fantastic singer-songwriter from Manchester, of all places! Playing mostly original songs he wowed us with his powerful, raw voice covering a range of styles including blues-rock, jazz and folk. We enjoyed it so much we even bought an album.
15th September: Keri, Zakynthos to Katakolon – 25nm
Anchored in sand off the beach in 4.5m at 37 39.098’N 21 19.376’E
It is also possible to anchor moor in the harbour.
17th September: Katakolon to Kiparissa – 29nm
Alongside on the northern wall in the harbour at 37 15.462’N 21 39.944’E in 3m
18th September: Kiparissa to Pylos – 27nm
Moored alongside in Pylos harbour at 36 55.102’N 21 41.966’E
25th September: Pylos to north Pylos Bay – 3nm
Anchored in sand in 12m at 36 57.046’N 21 39.956’E
26th September: Pylos Bay to Methoni – 10nm
Anchored in sand in 6m at 36 48.909’N 21 42.547’E
27th September: Methoni to Koroni – 18nm
Anchored in the harbour in 5m at 36 47.924’N 21 57.467’E