“Evenings, when the thyme has sizzled in the rock’s embrace, there is a drop of water that’s eaten its way through the ages into the marrow of silence, and there is a bell hanging from the ancient plane-tree, which calls out the years.” -Romiosini, Yannis Ritsos
The words of the most famous son of Monemvasia echo in my ears during these really difficult days for Greece. It’s true what they say; you find solace in poetry when not much else makes sense. You also find some respite in the beauty of your surroundings, and Monemvasia is a great place to go when you want your mind to be filled with nothing but beauty.
The so-called Gibraltar of the East, Monemvasia is a small islet in the south eastern Peloponnese, linked to the mainland by a short causeway. A medieval fortress, its name in Greek means ‘single entrance’, and there is indeed only one entrance to the town via an ancient archway flanked by impressive wooden gates. The town is small, but it retains much of its medieval architecture thanks to building regulations which aim to retain and restore ancient walls and structures in a way that feels authentic.
Monemvasia’s narrow cobbled streets, and its single arched entrance, mean that it’s off limits to cars and motorcycles, which is something of a relief for visitors trying to ‘get away from it all’. The town’s size means getting around on foot is relatively easy, although it should be noted that this and the building regulations may cause concern for those who have difficulty walking, as none of the accommodation options here have elevators and some of the streets have small but steep stairways.
The town’s main square, which has sublime views across the open sea, is flanked on one side by a main street where all of Monemvasia’s eateries, bars and shops can be found, and there is much quality to choose from despite it being a tourist hotspot. Taverna Matoula is a firm favourite with the Everymatic crew so we implore you: don’t leave without trying their saitia, the local cheese and herb pies. The high standard is equally true of the choice of accommodation here; the family-run hotels are in medieval buildings and decorated tastefully to a high standard.
We stayed at one such hotel, which was a true labour of architectural love and home to possibly the most romantic master suite I have seen in any hotel in Greece. While we were there the square in front of the hotel, with its unobstructed views out to sea, was being rebuilt according to the designs by the owner, Elena, who also happens to be an architect. I can only imagine how magical the live music evenings will be here during the summer months. We visited at the end of April and it seemed like nature was trying to make every corner, every viewpoint more unforgettable than the next. The colours in the stone buildings, the spring flowers and the deep blue of the sea and sky would turn anyone into an amateur landscape photographer.
There are also a number of cute beaches nearby and the modern Monemvasia settlement, on the other side of the causeway, has a number of good tavernas and any shops you might need. What we have to mention is that the island paradise of Elafonissos is only 22 miles away across the south eastern peninsula of the Peloponnese and has beaches like nowhere else in the Mediterranean. More about that another time though, as that’s a whole other Greek gem to fall in love with.
Before we leave, I make my pilgrimage to Ritsos’ grave. I remember coming here as a child and being so moved by this place. It’s the combination of the imposing rock behind me and the sea ahead but above all, the inscription in his own writing: “I believe in poetry, in love and death and that’s why I believe in immortality. I write a lyric, I write the whole world; I exist, the world exists. From my fingertip, a river flows. The sky is blue seven times over. This clarity is again the only primal truth, my final request.”
This article was first published in Australian newspaper Neos Kosmos’s travel supplement 4th July 2015. Reproduced by kind permission, all rights reserved.