Epidavros, Mycenae and Tiryns

August 25th, 2014

Nafplio is the stepping stone to three of the most interesting tourist destinations. If you like to commune with the homes of the Gods and ramble through archaic ruins, these are the ones for you!

Epidavros

After an hour of pleasant pottering through attractive mountain villages draped with flowers, and surrounded with lush greenery and gardens, the bus turns into a tree-lined side road and pulls into the entrance of Epidavros. The ruins of this sanctuary of Asclepius, the god of medicine, are hidden in tranquil seclusion. Guarded by gnarled pine trees and sprinkled with cypress pines and olives, back-dropped with rugged wild mountains, the foothills of Mt. Arahnes, the crisp air is redolent with aromatic pine and herbs. Here, the ancient (third century BC) Greeks came to be cured of their illnesses. It’s immediately obvious why Epidavros became the most popular place for a health cure. Just a mere respite in the peaceful surroundings, lulled by the chirruping of cicadas and crickets, the luscious soaring song of the nightingale and the soughing of pines, must have been a perfect restorative. Strangely enough, one of the famous curative treatments given here relied on the “lickings of snakes”, a practice which would have sent me running full pelt in the opposite direction. However, attention was given to special diets and herbal treatments, which sounded slightly more in my line.

P1180500The main attraction of Epidavros is, of course, the theater, which is one of the best preserved and restored in the whole of Greece. It still accommodates fourteen thousand patrons for festivities in July/August each year (bring your own cushion). After an uphill climb, one rounds a corner and there it is, just as it was in ancient times, set in a natural amphitheater, almost pristine. The whole semi-circle of tiered limestone seats fills the side of the hill, topped with a crown of dense pines and olives, like a frizzy hairdo. It’s a place of great drama. You can feel the vibes. You can see the ghosts of actors past, not literally, but in your mind’s eye.

It’s also a place of compulsive performance. The acoustics are said to be perfect, with every sound audible at the farthermost seat, and, of course, it is human nature to put it to the test. Last time I was there, with a group of six other Aussies, we performed “Waltzing Matilda” to the applause of other tourists! Tour guides, with various degrees of stage aplomb, proceed to demonstrate the acoustics by calling for hush and then dropping a coin onto the center stone. It’s audible right at the top seats.

Originally, somewhere amongst the ruins stood hostelries for pilgrims and patients, festival and civic buildings, temples, gymnasiums, bathhouses and shrines, but there’s very little except foundations and piles of stones to mark the once vibrant town. However, a considerable amount of excavation and restoration proceeds. The original stadium, a venue for athletic competition, remains, like a dried watercourse lightly dusted with green grass, its perimeter marked by six rows of tiered stone seats, still in situ.

Epidavros seems to stretch away to the far hills, the protruding stones and rocks awaiting another millennium of excavation. Over it all, the soughing pines whisper an accompaniment to the song of the nightingale – a truly blissful performance, worthy of center stage anywhere.

Mycenae

I’m particularly interested in King Agamemnon. From an early age I’ve been fascinated by the Siege of Troy. Here, at Mycenae (Mikines as the Greeks know it) you actually stand on the site where the good King, with his son Menelaus, and ally Ulysses, planned revenge for the snatching of beautiful Helen. Mikines has existed for so long that myth, legend, and history are intertwined, but by 1300-1250 BC and the time of King Agamemnon, it had reached its most powerful period, documented for eternity by Homer in his epic, The Iliad.

P1180447Walking up through the entrance of the huge Lion Gate is definitely an awesome experience, not to be missed. That it’s still there at all is fantastic, due no doubt to the inability of subsequent peoples to cart away the building materials. Towering on either side, the huge blocks of gray stone, stacked with superb precision, form the monumental impregnable walls of this Mycenaean citadel. The immense gate is supported by massive pillars and surmounted with the enormous carved stones of two lionesses. This grim fortress was the ultimate in defense. Brooding on top of a flat hill between two towering bald mountains, it commands a magnificent view of the surrounding countryside: a formidable presence indeed.

Very intriguing is Grave Circle A. (Grave Circle B is down the road a bit). It was a royal cemetery, but not Agamemnon’s, and some superb finds were made here. One can gaze into the depths of time, into grave shafts of antiquity. I wondered what those royals would say, if someone were to tell them people were staring into their graves 3500 years later. (A young man next to me was sure they’d say two words – piss off!)

But I was more concerned to climb the main path to the remains of Agamemnon’s palace and the Great Court. I allowed myself to imagine Ulysses and the old King with Menelaus, hatching the plot to rescue Helen from the arms of her seducer, Paris. To achieve this, they would have to sack the court of King Priam of Troy. What clanging of swords, what shouting of curses, what scheming and conniving and swearing of oaths went on in these halls!

P1180467The magnitude of the site isn’t immediately recognizable until properly explored. Determined scrabbling discovers dark passages, arched arrow slits, the ruins of artisan’s cottages, the Postern Gate and the piece-de-resistance, the secret cistern that held Mikines’ water supply, thus rendering it impregnable to siege. Water still lay there, deep down, turgid. Enclosing it all was the grim forbidding barrier. No peaceful soughing pines here, and no trilling nightingales. Just dark deeds and suppressed intrigue, fierce sun and bitter cold, somber stone and dreary confining gray walls…

Tiryns

Tiryns is another ruined Mycenaean citadel, only a short distance from Nafplio. There’s not a lot of info about Tiryns. It was purported to have awesome stone walls, in parts some twenty meters thick, constructed of massive stone blocks so large only the giants known as Cyclops could have built it. Indeed, legend said Heracles (Hercules) was born at Tiryns. If so, such sheer power behind those massive grim fortifications must have been inspiration for him.

P1090452The site itself is right beside the main road, easy to find. The ruined ancient citadel stands on a rocky hill, overlooking the lush green plain of Argos. In its heyday (1,400 BC) it co-existed with powerful Mycenae – some say it was the port for King Agamemnon’s mighty fortress. If so, the two cities must have been a force to be reckoned with in Ancient Peloponnisos.
Today, all that remains are the encircling walls, huge blocks of gray stone thirty feet high in places, some interesting storage chambers, foundations of buildings, and a gloomy vaulted arched passageway. In lower parts of the citadel, excavation and restoration work is ongoing, but inaccessible. When I stand in the remains of Tiryns I am always overcome with the timelessness of it all.

However, as Tiryns is nicely elevated, panoramic views stretch over the surrounding plain, the fields, olive groves, orange orchards, and scattered farms. Maybe Heracles once joined the Mycenaean guards to stare out over a similar view from the massive ramparts of their fortified town…

Next week we visit Sparta and beautiful Mystras. You can read more about my experiences in my eBook “Make Mine a Moussaka” available from: http://www.amazon.ca/Make-Mine-Moussaka-Helen-Ellis-ebook/dp/B00FQJ0KX2 )

Nafplio – Venetian Charmer

August 18th, 2014

Back in Athens from the excursion to Diakofto, I taxi to Terminal 2 for the bus to Nafplio, first capital of Greece after Independence, with a port that goes back to the Bronze Age. It’s a three hour journey, but interesting all the way. I’m going to quote from my travel book “Make Mine a Moussaka” here. (You can purchase the eBook from: http://www.amazon.ca/Make-Mine-Moussaka-Helen-Ellis-ebook/dp/B00FQJ0KX2 )

P1090554aThe town of Nafplio is a place the Gods smile upon. An aura of decaying antiquity haunts the Old Town and a breath of crass modernity pervades the New, while the Gods hang around to see what the daft tourists are going to do next. Then they whizz back to Mount Olympus and have hilarious show-and-tell mornings, to keep themselves from dying of boredom.

Nafplio is a place where things happen, like the time I met Pammy, who lives just down the road from us, at the next table in the restaurant and I didn’t even know she was overseas. Like the time I saw the ghost up in the fortress (well I swear it was a ghost although Pammy said it was just a stray cat). Then the other time, when weird shadows leapt on the wall for no reason as Marios played soulful rembetika music on his bouzouki in the tiny restaurant under the stars.

Think of an old Venetian town, the houses jostling each other for elbow room on either side of winding narrow streets paved with gray flagstones. Imagine shuttered windows, each with a Juliet balcony attached in various stages of disrepair, like bags under the eyes. Mamas lean over them to gossip at high decibel with neighbors across the way. Over the top of the brash gold and jewelry shops, traditional bakeries and awesome caves of wondrous tourist kitsch, they discuss their worthless men and useless daughters-in-law. Picture in your mind faded paint peeling off doors and shutters, and cement render lying in chunks, revealing ancient stone masonry. Nafplio. Ah, the ambience…

0211 Acronfplio Castle, battlements, NafplioThe town leans on the oldest of its three castles, the Acronafplia – a gray stone ruin steeped in history. The strategic heights of the Nafplio promontory hold the key to dominance of both sides of the Argolic Gulf and the plain of Argos in the Peloponnese, thus rendering it of huge importance to conquering Romans, Byzantines, Venetians, Franks, Turks and even Germans in World War Two. Not a lot of the Acronafplia remains except for the battlements and stone walls. Each invader added interesting bits to the original walls, parts of which are said to date back to the Bronze Age – turrets, symbols, fortifications, more walls. Now tourists are the invaders, and they pause only to gaze over the giant prickly-pear cacti at the magnificent view over the old town and the sea beyond.

0217 The Bourtzi Castle, NafplioOut on the water of the harbor floats the smallest castle, the Bourtzi, on a tiny island in the middle of the bay. After a bit of hunting around the paralia I found the small boat that served as a ferry. As we chug out across the glassy water, I sit in solitary splendor. I’m deterred from trailing my hand in the water, as Lady Muck would have done, for huge brown jellyfish, the size of dinner plates, pulsate in groups below.
Needless to say I am the only visitor to the Bourtzi: that perfect little fifteenth century Venetian fortress, all complete and untouched, looking rather like a fully rigged ship guarding the entrance to the harbor. I do my own little tour, from the underground rooms to the battlements, along terraces, up and down stone staircases inside and out, peering through gun emplacements and window slits. On the round tower old cannons point across the gulf in mock menace.

The third castle, the vast citadel of the Palamedi Fortress, perches on top of a steep hunk of rock two hundred and sixteen meters high to the left of the town. There are supposed to be nine hundred and ninety-nine steps to the summit of Palamedi, and they zigzag very steeply up the precipitous sides of the huge rock. In deference to the delicate condition of my knees, I reluctantly decide climbing them to the top might not be a good idea, but I think I can manage a few stages to position myself for a photo shoot of the old town.

As I stand with my camera to my eye, a party of gung-ho young people race past me, running. Up, mind you. Not quite content with the photographic view I climb another flight, and then another, and then yet another, until I become bold and decide to give it a try. Why not? I keep going up and up, resting to look at the scenery at every zig, then climbing up the next zag, then resting, climbing some more and resting again, and so on. I’m passed by every tourist in Nafplio, or so it seems, but I keep doggedly on at my own snail-pace. Siga-siga (slowly-slowly) takes on a new meaning. I lose count of the steps about half way up. Dried grasses and pretty wild flowers cling to the rocks, and tiny pink cyclamen sprout from crevasses, like little people peering out to watch the parade. The sweet trilling of nuthatches hiding in the bushes becomes nature’s musical accompaniment. The spectacular vista opens out – the coastal cliffs hung with aloes and cactus, the Acronafplio castle, the spread of the town’s orange roofs to the water’s edge, the tiny island of the Bourtzi, and the far hazy shore. Stunning. Awesome. Greece.

0209 Palamedi Fortress, interior, NafplioThe final section is almost a vertical climb, and I’m ragged and pretty much done in by the time I reach the ticket office at the entrance to the fortress. Yes, I find I have to pay for the privilege of killing myself on the climb. But I have the most amazing sense of achievement. Not bad, not bad, I keep telling myself as I flop onto the battlements to take full advantage of the panorama. Exploring the fortress itself is almost an anticlimax after such a climb. Built between 1711 and 1714 by the Venetians, who lost it immediately to conquering Turks in 1715, this amazing and quite large citadel is in a remarkable state of preservation. The mysterious inner courtyards; archways leading into gloomy depths; stone steps climbing up to battlements; concealed secret passages and massive cannon emplacements all add to the feeling of time-warp.

Wandering around, it’s easy to imagine defenders and their camp followers going about their business, horses rattling in through the gates, sentries on watch, troops marshaling, bugles sounding, flags flapping… As the day wanes, it becomes time to leave the fortress to its shades. Descending the stairs is a doddle – albeit a slow doddle, for with fading light and treacherous steps, it’s not a good time to go quickly. But ah, what a magnificent prospect. How great to be a sentry, up on these battlements with a view like that over the Argolic Gulf – the great plain of the Argolis Peninsular stretching to infinity.

That evening, as dusk fades to warm velvety darkness, fairy lights festooning the narrow thoroughfares twinkle like Christmas as the populace comes out to volta (promenade). In the centre of the Old Town is the large square – Plateia Syntagmatos, and here it all happens – food and entertainment. But the flagstone back streets are transformed into Wonderland as the fascinating, sophisticated shops, all created from the restored Venetian buildings, open and tempt.
A ghostly voice wafts from somewhere when I take a mounted nineteenth century photograph of Nafplio to the counter.
‘What are you going to do with that?’
‘Frame it, that’s what,’ I say to the ghost, ‘and hang it. On a wall. Somewhere in the house. Go away.’

P1090255aAlong the edges of the pathways cling the taverna tables, cheerfully clad in colorful cloths. Eating my moussaka mopped up with crusty bread as the waiters sashay through it all, and Marios with the bouzouki weaves his magic, is pretty damn good. There are those shadows again. Candlelight sets them dancing on the old walls while the bougainvillea taps a staccato cadence overhead…

More pix of the castles and Nafplio in the gallery. Check them out!

PELOPONNESE – Diakofto and Kalavryta

August 11th, 2014

My favourite way from the Ionian Islands to Athens is to catch the ferry from Sami on Kefalonia to the Peloponnese port of Patras. P1040492bOne gem experience on this ferry was when the locals took out their guitars and bouzoukis and played, sang and danced to lovely Greek music (see photo). Doesn’t happen often, but when it does it’s gold!

From Patras I catch the bus to Diakofto and stay a couple of nights there, then take the bus to Kiato to catch the Proastiakos train to the city. But the reason I break the journey at Diakofto is to take the rack-and-pinion train from Diakofto to Kalavryta! Don’t miss it!

Diakofto
Once upon a time (in the way of Greece) the Intercity train used to travel from Patras direct to Athens. Therefore the railway station of Diakofto was the centre-piece of the town where everything happened. Shops and tavernas on both sides of the track faced inwards to the station, and attracted all travellers. Now, the bus dumps people at its stop and that’s that, and the town has a rather neglected look. There’s not a lot to do in Diakofto, but a walk across the town to the sea is interesting. There’s a sandy beach and a pretty marina of boats.

P1060628aHowever, the station still has one train – the little rack-and-pinion train taking passengers up and down the nearby spectacular Vouraikos Gorge. Catch the early morning train at 8.45 and try to score a seat at the back of the back carriage, or right in the front with your own window, especially if you are a photographer. Use your elbows if the train is crowded! The views are breath-taking as the train travels over narrow bridges and through tunnels, climbing 720 metres over and through the Gorge. Wild streams cascade down the valley and rock cliffs tower over the railway. (And don’t worry about the guard doing his Sudoku while the train negotiates the steep and winding track.)

There’s a very picturesque town on the way called Zahlorou, where you can get out, explore, and then walk back to Diakofto along the railway track if you wish.

Kalavryta
The train brings you to the attractive old station of Kalavryta. This town has a rather sad historical event connected to WW11, for in 1943, 1436 inhabitants were killed by the Nazis for resistance. There is a moving museum here, and also if you look at the old clock on the cathedral, you will see the hands are permanently fixed at 2.34 when the massacre began. There’s also a huge white cross on the hillside overlooking the town.

P1060698However, these days Kalavryta is a beautiful tourist place and well known for its winter ski slopes. You will notice the clean mountain air. A wander around the town and its interesting shops is a must. On sale are amazing herbs, spices, wild tea, lavender etc, great pasta, plus home-made preserves, and even wooden artifacts all interestingly displayed. There’s a lovely central plateia (square) where you can eat under the trees and watch the world go by.

The return journey by the train is another spectacular ‘whizz’ as it hurtles down the steep track back to Diakofto. I love to walk up from Diakofto along this train track, and take my time viewing the beginning of the Gorge, the market gardens and farms, the rushing river and the wildflowers. I don’t go far, but it’s so peaceful and scenic, well worth a ramble. As long as you stay on the path beside the train track and don’t do anything silly, you’re fine.P1060876

Next week we’ll go from Athens to my favourite town of Nafplio. Most tourists end up here at some time or other, and I’ve never heard anyone say anything bad about it… Let me show you around!
There’s pics of Diakofto and Kalavryta on my gallery – have a look.

Kefalonia and Ithaki

August 4th, 2014

There’s an intrepid little ferry one can catch from the town of Vassiliki on Lefkada. It will take you for a pleasant trip across the Ionian Sea to both islands – Kefalonia and Ithaki (or Ithaca) so you can choose which one to visit first. Both are lovely in their own way.
Kefalonia
P1050841aThe ferry takes you to the magical town of Fiskardo on Kefalonia. Fiskardo was the only town not to be ruined by the 1953 earthquake, so many of the old Venetian style buildings are still to be seen, albeit restored and refurbished. I love this place, and for R&R it takes some beating. Because it’s so popular with the yachties (one trip I counted 90 yachts in the harbour marina) it’s an expensive place to stay, but worth an indulgence. There’s not a great deal to do here but veg out along the waterfront in the most attractive tavernas, but hiring a car to take in the rest of the island’s beauty spots is a good idea. There is a local bus, which will take you to the main town of Argostoli, but the bus service on the island leaves a lot to be desired, in my opinion.

With a car one can visit the famous breathtaking Myrtos Beach, and the village of Assos on its picturesque isthmus, with its nearby Venetian castle. P1040588aThe town of Sami, on a lovely bay on the eastern side of Kefalonia is another worthwhile place to stay, and, as it’s the port for ferries to Ithaki, and Patras on the mainland, this is where I usually prop. Of course Captain Corelli’s Mandolin was filmed here and there’s still a cafe of that name. From Sami it’s walking distance to one of the famous caves – Melissani. Do the boat tour of the cave and experience the blue water and the ambience! Drogarti is another cave worth a visit if you like stalactites.

A bus from Sami takes you to the neighbouring fishing village of Agia Evfymia, another laid-back attractive place, and to Argostoli, through very pretty country. Everything happens in Argostoli – it’s main square in the evening is very lively – but it’s not a picturesque town, due to rebuilding after the 1953 earthquake. On the waterfront of the serene Gulf of Argostoli you can see the fishermen cleaning and selling the day’s catch. Along the coast from here are some quite good beaches, easily accessible.

IthakiP1040605a
A trip to the legendary home of Ulysses, Ithaki, is a must! Some ferries from Sami will deposit you at a miniscule village on the west coast called Piso Aestos from where you have to get a taxi to the main town of Vathy, but others now go straight to Vathy. It’s a great little place, Vathy, and I’ve stayed here many times at the Hotel Mentor. A walk around the town doesn’t take long, (see if you can find the brass bust of Ulysses), but take yourself up the hill and look out over the glorious bay. Sit by the service station and ponder! At night, eat at Nikos’ where everything cooked in the kitchen is on display, and you are encouraged to “view the goods” before purchase! Service is exemplary, and watching the whole performance is pure theatre.

P1040741aA short bus trip along the coast road with amazing views takes you to the tiny village of Kioni on the north-east coast. Views to die for – walk along the road to the right up the hill. Waterfront tavernas serve great food. There are some great walks around here, and the tiny beach is good enough for a swim in crystal water. The R&R is fantastic. Zzzzz

From Kioni it’s a fair hike to Frikes, another tiny village sitting on yet another pretty bay, guarded by old windmills. Penelope’s Taverna is here, but I don’t think you’ll find Ulysses eating out! Experiencing Frikes at rush-hour is fun (see photo). Another good walk is to head up the road to Stavros, a typical Greek village with pretty gardens and great views. There are a couple of very good places to stay at Frikes especially the Hotel Nostos (with swimming pool).
P1040772a
It’s time to leave the Ionians, for next week we’re heading to the Peloponnese. Most tourists head straight for the Greek Islands, but I love the Peloponnese – so much to see and do! When we come off the ferry at Patras, will we go left or right?

See my photos of Kefalonia and Ithaki on my gallery!

Lefkada

July 28th, 2014

P1040844aToday we’re leaving beautiful Parga, catching a bus, and heading down the coast to Preveza. There we stop at the bus station and wait for another bus to take us across the isthmus to the island of Lefkada (sometimes known as Lefkas).

You can be excused for thinking Lefkada is not really an island, for it was once joined to the mainland. But Corinthians, way back in the 8th century BC, dug a canal through the isthmus and a causeway now sees you across. It’s a pretty drive over the flatlands, with sea views on either side, culminating at the Venetian Fortress of Agia Mavra (well worth a visit), obviously built to defend the island from pesky invaders.

From there it’s a short drive to Lefkada Town, the main town of the island. Due to earthquake damage and modern rebuilding, this town, to me, lacks ambience, so I prefer to move on. But Lefkada Town has a relaxed feel, a good place for R&R. It’s a great place for “yachties,” for the lagoon and its marina are peaceful and attractive.

Moving south, after a most attractive drive, the bus comes to the town of Nydri. The waterfront quay is probably the most interesting part of this town, and the only reason I can see for anyone stopping here is to catch a ferry to see the islands of Meganisi, Skorpios, or Madouri. Or to discover the hill towns such as the pretty village of Karya, which is noted for its special embroidery. Nydri itself is a souless place full of unlovely tourist shops – even the beach is not as pleasant as some.

P1060327aBut further south is Vassiliki, a lovely tranquil place, situated on a bay known for its watersports, and backed by high wooded hills. Because of prevailing winds, it has become known as the must-visit place for windsurfing in Europe. Here you can have the complete package – enjoy the peace of the little village, or live it up at the waterfront hotels across the bay – or both! Windsurfers fascinate me and I can sit on the pebble beach and watch them for hours, especially the windsurfing classes. I’ve stayed many times at Vassiliki – walks along the coast are very pleasant (look for the yellow butterflies).

Around the coast from Vassiliki are several very interesting villages and beaches – the one most visited by tourist boats is Porto Katsiki. Its sandy beach, sheltered by towering cliffs, is very picturesque.

From Vassiliki one can catch a ferry south to the islands of Kefalonia and Ithaki – where we’ll go next week! Come with me!
More pictures on my photo gallery…

Trips from Parga

July 21st, 2014

Welcome to all the bloggers that joined me recently. I hope you’ll enjoy my trip around Greece.

Last week I started in lovely Parga – north-west Greece in the region of Epiros. I’m still there, but this time I’m taking you on some of the lovely trips you can do from Parga. My friends at the ITS (International Travel Services, near the bus stop) do a wonderful job arranging tours, hire cars, even drivers to take you around the attractions. Ask for Helen or Debbie for info, and Richard for driving – they are very helpful.

P1170408a1. Paxi and AntiPaxi
From the Parga quay you can board an excursion boat to take you across the Ionian Sea to the tiny island of Paxi. It’s well worth a visit. The boat noses in through a winding waterway to dock at the main town of Gaios, which is breathtaking in its pink and cream Venetian-style buildings, and pretty waterfront. You can potter around the town, view its attractive shops, and its equally attractive tavernas, walk around the waterfront to the little beach and swim, or take longer walks. See if you can find the WW2 airplane engine tucked away along the waterfront! The boat usually takes you to the neighbouring island of AntiPaxi and the stunning beaches Vrika and Voutoumi, where swimming in the crystal blue water is quite an experience. Also the blue caves are amazing.

2. Corfu
I could devote a whole post to the Ionian island of Corfu, but suffice it to say that a day boat trip from Parga is a must. The trip up the Ionian Sea to the island is pleasurable to start with, then, depending where you land, the walk through Corfu Town is fascinating. I have never thought of Corfu as a true Greek island – it is too influenced by its British (they still play cricket here), Italian and French past (and present), and its blatant tourism over-development, but I do love Old Corfu Town and its wonderful Venetian atmosphere. A wander through these delightful old streets to the Spianada and the Fortress can take up most of the day. I always stop and have a baklava and icecream at the Liston, a Parisian style arcade well-known to Grecophiles.
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3. Other Ionian Islands
A very long day tour takes you by bus across the isthmus to the island of Lefkada and the town of Nydri, where you embark on a boat tour. This takes in the small islands of Skorpios and Meganisi on the way to Porto Katsiki on Lefkada. The beach here is unusual and a great place for a swim in those amazing blue waters. (More about Lefkada later.) From there the boat heads for Kefalonia and the port of Fiskardo, where at the least you will see about fifty yachts in situ and some great waterfront tavernas. Fiskardo is one of my very favourite places, although now perhaps a little too touristy. From there the boat heads to Ithaki and the tiny village of Kioni. Ah Kioni! More about you later too. Picture-perfect. The trip back to Parga is long but interesting, and altogether a most satisfactory day.

4. Meteora
Because of the new motorway (the Egnatia) across northern Greece, it is now possible to make a day tour from Parga to Meteora, where the monasteries sit on top of the massive rock pinnacles in a kind of fantasy setting. If you haven’t a long holiday time, this day tour is worth it, for Meteora is one of the most visited and photographed places in Greece, and rightly so. Climbing the steps up to the monastery Moni Megalou Meteorou is an experience in itself, then a wander around inside is quite fascinating. See my photos in the photo gallery!

P1170478a5. Albania
Yes. You can take a day tour into Albania! I did this one on my last trip to Parga. Travelling up through Igoumenitsa then across the border to the Albanian countryside, one passes pretty villages and cultivated fields set against a backdrop of mountains. The city of Saranda on the coast, about 4 kms opposite Corfu, is an attractive place to have lunch and sit and watch the locals go about their business. Walking along the beach is pleasant, for the waterfront is lovely – the day I was there not a ripple was to be seen in the water – with some very agreeable cafes along the perimeter. The tour then takes you to the Roman ruin of Butrinti – a place not many people know about. It’s a truly amazing place and well worth seeing, for some of the attractions are still being excavated – the mosaics of the basilica were being revealed as we passed!

So… Visit Epiros and Parga, not just to experience the Greek Riviera, but much, much more.
Visit my photo gallery for more pix.

Parga

July 14th, 2014

I’m starting my tour of Greece at the lovely town of Parga, situated on the north-west coast of the Greek mainland in the region called Epiros.

Never heard of Epiros? Not surprising – it remains one of Greece’s best kept secrets. Situated as it is in the north-west, bordering on Albania and Macedonia, and stretching down the west coast to the southern area around Preveza, it has been largely ignored by the travel industry, fixated as they are with “island-hopping” in the Aegean and Ionian Seas, and luxury island cruises.

Epiros is a mountainous region that doesn’t necessarily equate with the usual Greek pix of whitewashed churches, antiquities, and perfect blue seas. But trust me – Parga is a hidden jewel from which you can base a totally different Greek experience.

I happened on Parga by accident. I missed a night bus from Preveza to Igoumenitsa, hoping to get to Corfu from there. There was only one bus left for the night and it was to Parga, so I caught it. I was so tired when I finally arrived that I went straight to the lovely Hotel San Nektarios and to bed. But next morning I thought I would just have a little look around before moving on…

I never did move on. I stayed there. I’ve been going there ever since.

Situated on the aquamarine Ionian Sea, Parga is almost invisible from the coast road. It’s not until you walk down the cobbled alleyways to the seafront that the full beauty of the place is revealed. Think Venetian-style houses – with shuttered windows over Juliet balconies and red rib-tiled roofs – stacked against a hillside topped with lush vegetation, and crowned with a ruined Venetian castle. Add to this three different, but perfect, beaches; a paralia (waterfront) lined with sophisticated but traditional Greek tavernas; and a veritable market of dinky shops, and you have tourist paradise.

However, if it isn’t your intention to lie around on the beach all day, or sit drinking coffee in a picture-perfect environment, Parga is the jumping-off point for the many attractions Epiros has to offer. These include:
1. The environs of Parga. Climb up to the Venetian castle brooding over the town and experience the views.
Catch the “tourist train” through leafy villages to the ruined castle of Ali Pasha, and see the spectacular coastal sights. Another “train” will take you to an ancient water mill.

2. Parga is the gateway for the region known as the Zagoria, and the majesty of the incredible Pindos Mountains. Because of the new motorway opening up access to this region, exploration of the many grey-stone villages clinging to the precipitous mountainsides; tortuous tracks to the unusual grey stone “forests”; and the hand-built stone bridges spanning swiftly flowing icy green waters of mountain streams, are all available for day trippers. A visit to the glorious Zagorian villages – Monodendri, Aristi, Vikos, and Megalo Papingo ( to name a few) is a must.

3. The Vikos Gorge is stunning, with jaw-dropping vistas over vertical cliffs into abysses. You must see it!

4. The ancient ruins of Dodoni are worth a visit – the amphitheatre is almost on a par with the one at Delphi. From here you can travel on to the city of Ioannina which has a very pretty lake, a castle and caves.

5. The Swiss-lookalike town of Metsovo, (take in the Saturday market), and more of the mighty Pindos mountains.

6. The ruins of the Nekromanteio of Afyra, once feared as the gateway to Hades.

Eating in Parga is an experience. My favourite estiatorio (restaurant) along the waterfront is “Gemini” where the service is excellent, and the food delicious. But it’s lovely at night anywhere, sitting outside, looking at the necklace of lights reflected in the water and relaxing.

There are many trips and tours you can take from Parga. I’ll go into more detail next time. The photos on this blog are my own, and you can see more at
If you have any questions about beautiful Parga don’t hesitate to ask me – helen@greekpixandwords.com

Heading to Greece for holidays?

July 6th, 2014

How do you decided where to go? The Ionian Islands, the Peloponnese, or the Cyclades? Or other places? It’s a hard choice when you only have a few days or a couple of weeks. I’m lucky, I can spent the whole of the three months I’m allowed in the EU in Greece, visiting all my favourite places.

Ideally I start on the north-west coast opposite Corfu, at the gorgeous town of Parga, then head down the Ionians to Paxi, Lefkada (Vassiliki), Kefalonia (Fiskardo and Sami), and Ithaki (Vathy and Kioni).

From Patras I head back down the Peloponnese to Olympia, Pylos, past Kalamata to the Messinian Mani and Lakonian Mani. Or I go from Pylos via the magnificent Langada Pass to Sparti and Mystras. From Sparti I go to Monemvasia, then find my way to Corinth, then Nafplio.

Athens! I always spend some time there, perhaps taking a tour to Delphi. Then from there to Piraeus and by ferry to the Cyclades Islands of Naxos, Santorini, Folegandros, Milos and Sifnos. Tours to many of the other islands are available.

So, are you ready for the grand tour?
Because I can’t go this year I’m going to take it on this blog. Follow me each week (hopefully on a Monday), beginning in Parga next time. Never heard of Parga? Well you are in for a treat! Watch this space!

Summer!

June 27th, 2014

Wish I was there! How lovely to be swimming in the perfect blue waters of Greece.
Due to family matters I have to wait for my next trip to Greece and endue an Aussie winter. However, I have my gallery of photos to keep me sane.

Revised Edition!

June 27th, 2014

GREECE – 100 Travel Tips
My hugely successful eBook is now out in a revised edition on Amazon, as well as Smashwords. it is rated 4 and a half and 5 stars on both.
Here are the links:
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B00GXYZIAE
Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/126404
It only costs $US2.99, and is full of fun info on how to make the most of a great holiday in Greece. Take a look.

My travels in 2013 were amazing, and full of new adventures, revisiting favourite places, and catching up with friends. Not a lot has changed despite all the problems Greece has had, but there are improvements to general tourism.

From my last blog – here’s what the description in my book says:
“Planning a holiday to Greece? “100 travel tips” is a must-read before you set out. It discusses when to go, what to expect, luggage, transportation, the traditions, food, accommodation. It considers the people themselves, island-hopping, the ancient sites, outdoor activities, and shopping. Even if all you want to do is veg-out in peace under the Mediterranean sun, you still need to check this book.”