The Weekly Getaway: traveling back in time in Monemvasia
There are so many places in Greece that speak to our heart but for those having visited Monemvasia, a small island off the east coast of the Peloponnese, they can surely vouch for a scenic roadtrip from Athens and a truly romantic getaway with the allure of the past Byzantine era.
Located 300km away from Athens, the town of Monemvasia is not the ideal destination for those wishing to get there fast. The drive from Greece's capital took me a long 3h30min, albeit quite a scenic route, with the occasional stop in the nearby villages along the way in Messinia to refuel with some famous lallagia, an addictive fried dough snack, also called the doughnuts of the Peloponnese.
Once we arrived in the area we crossed the 200m stretch that connects the mainland to the island of Monemvasia and off we went for exploring the picturesque little alleys up the castle. Serving as a fortress it withstood quite a few invasions as of 583 when it was first founded with the Byzantines, the Venetians and the Ottomans all leaving the mark.
Although there are a couple of decent hotels in the area and the occasional Airbnb, Kinsterna Hotel was first and foremost on our list. Here's an in-depth review of ours to get a better feel of what I mean, although chances are the place will surely top even your greatest expectations if you visit.
The hotel is housed in a luscious estate up the hills just off the main town, overlooking the golden vineyards (also part of the estate) and its main mansion dates back to the 17th century. The hotel takes its name from a pi-shaped cistern in the middle of the main mansion, which helped to hold water from the nearby natural spring.
The property, after falling in despair in the late 1970s, came back to life in 2006 when a team of architects and engineers in cooperation with the authority of Byzantine Antiquities, restored it using traditional methods and local materials. Apart from the magical landscape the hotels offers authentic experiences for the more adventurous ones such as bread cooking and wine tasting, but also seasonal ones such as soap making in the spring and olive picking in the fall
Out and about
Exploring the area was quite an experience with at least a couple of places to consider. If you're there during springtime or fall then Ierakas lake is the perfect spot for a scenic 30min drive along the coast and some tasty bites in the local tavernas. But if you're there during summertime, then Elafonisos is the place to go to. Elafonisos, an island itself, is about 1h30min drive from Monemvasia, including a short 20min ferry ride.
- Kastro - the main attraction of the area, a medieval fortress, dating back to 583 AD with numerous little alleys to walk around. The view is stunning from the top that houses the Greek Orthodox Church of Agia Sofia (recently restored)
- Ierakas Lake - 35min scenic drive to reach Ierakas port with its tiny tavernas right on the waterfront. Great meze and a very peaceful setting
- Elafonisos - located 1.5hrs away from Monemvasia this is one of the best beaches you could find in southern mainland Greece. Two long strips, lots of sandy dunes and turquoise waters
- Kinsterna Hotel - 17th-century mansion turned boutique hotel, with indoor & outdoor pools and a spa. Also offering a range of activities for the young and the younger! Located 7mins away from the main town
- Suites Moni Emvasis - located right inside the old castle, this small hotel offers a small number of compact yet luxurious rooms
- Voltes - nice authentic Greek cuisine with a twist
- To Remetzo - great Greek taverna by the Ierakas lake, offering tasty meze. You must try their pitta and their baked anchovies
- Malvasia Cafe - lay back, relax and enjoy a nice cup of coffee with a view to the Mirtoo pelagos
- Matoula - traditional taverna on a beautiful garden with magnificent sea view and delicious home cooked Greek dishes
- Chrisovoulo - modern restaurant based on Greek cuisine with amazing view overlooking Monemvasia and the sea. Good choice for romantic dinner as well