We hired a car for 5 days and in that time covered 1500 km of mainland Greece from Lavrion in the south up to the Vikos Gorge in the northwest. Our first stop on the Wednesday was the town of Kalabaka so that we could visit the monasteries of the Meteora. Meteora means suspended in mid air, a very apt description! These monasteries were built in medieval times on the top of rock pillars, looking over a fertile valley. You can now access them via steep steps but before the 1920s, access was via rope ladders or baskets. Quite stunning. We arrived in the late afternoon after the five and a half hour trip and were rewarded with a sunset and only a few visitors – the coach parties having long gone.
The next morning we visited the two main ones, Grand Meteora and Varlaam, the latter being our favourite. We also visited the nunnery at Roussanou but the nuns were decidedly grumpy and unwelcoming although they happily took our entrance fee money! By lunchtime, we were ready for our next adventure and stopover in the lakeside town of Iaonnina (pronounced Yanina). This is where the Muslim Albanian, Ali Pasha (Lion of Iaonnina) savagely ruled from until his death in 1822. It is now a thriving university town with an old castle and lively night life on the lake shores.
The next day (Friday) we moved onto the Zagori National Park where the Vikos Gorge is situated. It is claimed that it is one of the deepest gorges in the world but, in truth, whilst stunning it is only a kilometre or so deep. It appears to be one of Greece’s best kept secrets as there were very few people around. The villages and bridges are all made of the local stone and it has more of an Italian feel to it than Greece. The 30 minute walk in 30+ degree heat to the first viewpoint was more than worth it.
The second viewpoint was good but Liz and I differed as to which one was more impressive. Finally, after dodging kamikaze wild tortoises trying to cross the road, we made our way to our hotel for the night.
It was in a small mountain village called Micro Papingo and it was next door to Megalo Papingo (yes, it’s bigger neighbour). Delightful views across the National Park made our sundowner of G&T even more special. We had decided to eat in the hotel and the food was delicious. It was a family run establishment and the daughter was clearly of our “persuasion”. Hell of a small place to be gay in!
The following morning Liz was keen to try the natural rock pools nearby. We pretty much had them to ourselves for half an hour and even Liz went into the cold, mountain water!
We needed to head south now as we were keen to visit the Ancient Oracle at Delphi. We arrived around 5pm so had a couple of hours to take in the sights and the museum before checking into our hotel. Again, we timed it so that we had missed the main tourist crowds of the day. We had again struck lucky with our room with magnificent views across to the Saronic Gulf.
By now, it was Sunday morning and we, sadly, made our way back to Lavrion. However, we had a few more stops to make. First was the Corinth Canal. It is 4 miles long and a shortcut from the Ionian to the Saronic Gulf bypassing the long boat trip round by the Peloponnese. We were lucky to see a ship transiting the canal just after we arrived. It really is a major feat of engineering.
Continuing on, we then drove north east to the site of the Battle of Marathon. This is where a herald ran 42 km to Athens to give the news of the Athenian victory over the Persians in 490BC and so the marathon race was born. Apparently, ‘marathon’ means fennel.
Our final stop before returning back to Nimmie was the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion, just south of Lavrion. It was blowing a gale whilst we were there but it was still very impressive. The temple stands on the hilltop and can be seen for miles from the sea. We took advantage of having a car and ate out at a very nice taverna near Sounion as our road trip came to an end.
We were very pleased to see that the repairs on Nimmie are continuing at pace although they still haven’t been able to paint the bow due to the high winds we have had all week. The scheduled launch date is the end of this week so fingers crossed!