A STEP BACK IN TIME
A Step Back in Time - Luxury Travel Magazine
A Step Back in Time
|By: Jim Bruce, Issue 46 – Autumn 11|
|A POPULAR HONEYMOON DESTINATION FOR THE GREEKS, DUE NO DOUBT TO ITS ROMANTIC APPEAL, THE ISLAND OF MONEMVASIA IS JUST NOW MAKING IT ONTO THE HOT LISTS OF FASHIONABLE TRAVELLERS FROM AROUND THE WORLD. JIM BRUCE VISITED ITS 5TH CENTURY FORTRESS TOWN WHERE THERE ARE NO REMINDERS OF THE MODERN WORLD IN SIGHT.|
|A popular honeymoon destination for the greeks, due no doubt to its romantic appeal, the island of monemvasia is just now making it onto the hot lists of fashionable travellers from around the world. Jim bruce visited its 5th century fortress town where there are no reminders of the modern world in sight.|
We leapt from the rocks into the turquoise waters of the Myrtoan Sea, swam out a hundred metres and looked back to Monemvasia, its 300 metre-high rock face towering over a huddle of historic houses and churches clinging to one side of the island.
It was a majestic view of Monemvasia, known as the Gibraltar of Greece, and we felt overpowered by this mighty rock island as we bobbed about in the sea below it.
Monemvasia is just off the coast of the Laconian peninsula, in the southern Peloponnese, and linked to the mainland by a low bridge. It’s a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Athens, making it an easy destination for Australians touring Greece.
The rock was sheared from the mainland by a massive earthquake in 375AD and from the 5th century it has supported an unassailable fortress town, the Kastro. Once home to 50,000 people, the Kastro, on the island’s southern side, can’t be seen from the mainland.
The town is surrounded by an impenetrable stone wall, with a single entrance (Monemvasia means ‘one entrance’ in Ancient Greek). The gateway has two massive wooden doors, which are scarred by bullet holes from the days when invaders, such as Turks and Venetians, tried in vain to capture the town.
When you enter the Kastro, you step back hundreds of years. There are no roads, no cars, just a maze of narrow cobbled streets, and no reminders of the modern world - no electricity cables, phone lines or TV aerials in sight.
The town is crammed with historic houses, several dating back to the 12th century, and many have been restored. There are just three boutique hotels and four guest houses.
Monemvasia is a trendy tourist destination and is also a romantic spot for honeymooners. Only around 10 people live on the island permanently.
There are only three tavernas – the Matoula is the most popular, with a garden terrace overlooking the sea and serving delicious traditional Greek meals – and three bars. And there is only one spot on the island for a swim, off a rocky platform accessed through a sea gate, called the Portello, in the stone wall.
If the Kastro has proved unassailable, then the rock’s uninhabited upper town, perched on a 300 metre-high plateau, is the ultimate fortress. It can only be reached by a steep zigzag path from the Kastro below and also has stone walls and a gateway.
The rocky plateau was once home to thousands but is now desolate, with dozens of ruined buildings. The last inhabitants left here in 1911. However, it is well worth the trek up there to visit the magnificent Byzantine church, Aghia Sophia. Perched high on the cliff edge, it’s a beautiful church with impressive frescoes from the 13th century.
The most luxury accommodation for a trip to Monemvasia, is the new five-star Kinsterna Hotel and Spa, which opened last April six kilometres south-west of the island. It’s a beautifully restored Byzantine-era mansion, surrounded by vineyards, olive and citrus groves, and has a large swimming pool and spa with sea views.
|When To Go|
|Monemvasia has a mild climate and the weather is often calmer there than in other coastal parts of Greece. Summer (December-February) in Monemvasia, as in much of the country, can be unbearably hot with temperatures nearing 40 degrees Celcius. Winters (June-August) are not extremely cold but can be stormy with high rainfall. The best time to visit the region is in spring (September-November) or autumn (March-May) for warm, dry days, cool nights and near constant sunshine.|
|Eighteen international airlines operate between Australia and Athens, with Thai Airways having the most one-stop flights. Thai Airways flies to Athens from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth via Bangkok up to four times a week. Return economy class fares start from A$2,113 and business class from A$5,251. |
Monemvasia is a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Athens.
|Where To Stay|
|The Kinsterna Hotel and Spa has double rooms from c180 a night (about A$245), including breakfast. |