Mystras is tucked away in the mountainside just outside of Sparta (Sparti in Greek). This is our second visit here as we thoroughly enjoyed the coolness of the mountains in a quaint little town.
Our first trip here we just meandered in; I read about this place and saw some photos and I just knew we had to see it in person. The sweet village square is really tiny; you can see the entire place from just standing still right in the middle of it. Three restaurants, two hotels, a couple of grocery stores and a souvenir shop. But then, when you get back into the car and drive to the right and follow the road, up you go! Just a little ways up sits a taverna which has really good food and a great view of all of Sparti. We met the owners last time we were there in 2014 and once they figured out who we were again, a warm welcome was received. The owner sat with us throughout the entire meal and we had a wonderful evening talking about our two cultures, as she lived in the US for many years. The most notable part of this taverna is that it is built into the castle and has been there since 1890. Continuing past the taverna, are winding mountain roads leading to small villages; once in particular we stayed at last time and it was an incredible find. Not a hotel as we know it, but a series of luxurious cottages overseeing the entire valley with excellent service. Alas, it was not open at this time.
Built in the 1200’s this castle is just the beginning of a series of buildings that go into the Taygetus mountain range and proved to be quite steep. We only climbed about half way up because honestly, I just couldn’t do it anymore! But what we did was absolutely amazing. Monasteries, churches, fortress walls all intertwined in a rocky, rugged landscape with stone walkways and stairs – good grief! Those stairs are endless! At the very top is the palace, naturally. That is something that we did not get to see close up as it was truly too far to climb. This is an incredible place worth seeing even if you are like me and can only climb so far!
Leaving Mystras, we drove down the Peloponnese ever further, heading southeast towards the Aegean ocean. Not too bad of a ride as the mountains were not too high and the roads were good, except for going through the town where for some unknown reason, the roads get narrower! Finally we got to the shoreline and followed it down to the city of Monemvasia. Once there, you take the causeway and drive to the Kastro. Here the entire island is an immense rock formation, the Kastro is built on the southside and you can only drive as far as the gate. When we got there, the only parking that was available was back down near the causeway and it is a long way back up on foot!
Our hotel was amazing; you climb a series of stone steps into a foyer which is the reception area with the dining area located off to the left and just beyond that an outdoor terrace. Because you can’t drive into the kastro, the staff comes down to the gate to pick up your luggage and deliver it to your room. We climb another series of steps inside the hotel into a truly beautiful room. First a foyer with a loft to our left and a modern bathroom. A beautiful, large bedroom awaited us with a sitting area, a fireplace and windows leading out to a view of the sea on one side and the red tiled buildings on the other side. A private patio was accessible from our bedroom and from our foyer, so Zaf was able to sleep in while I snuck out for my early morning coffee which was delivered with a discreet knock on the door.
Walking back down to the cobblestone road, we encountered shops on both sides showcasing jewelry, clothing, souvenirs and restaurants. It is the only road where these things are located as the rest of the town is small alleys and paths leading to the homes of the residents there and some lookout points. Everything is built into the Kastro on various levels intertwining with steps, arches and ancient stone structures. The Kastro is quite large and quite high – you can walk through it and up to nearly the top where the churches are located – we did not climb there as it is not an easy trek for those of us who are not hearty hikers. Our meals were on rooftops of the few restaurants open at this time – all giving us an expansive view of the sea; small boats floated by as we watched the sunset each evening.
This magical place has been on our bucket list for a long time and we are forever grateful that we planned to spend a few days here enjoying the walk back to antiquity and the surrounding blue water. We left with high spirits that we saw this glorious place although we had to head back to Mystras because Zaf left some of his clothes back at that hotel! We zipped in and those lovely people had them all in a bag for us – and we zipped right out again towards our next destination.
Retirement is what you make of it and we are doing what we can to make our exploring a series of wonderful memories! Retire well, Helene
Photograph of Mystras Castle From the Personal Collection of Helene and Zaf
Photograph of the steps to our hotel From the Personal Collection of Helene and Zaf
Photograph of a view from a rooftop restaurant From the Personal Collection of Helene and Zaf
For more information about Greece, please visit: www.greektravel.com