It was a tough decision, but after over two months in Greece most of which has been spent on the Peloponnese peninsular we finally had to tear ourselves away and start heading north. After a few weeks we have had time to reflect on our time there and although it’s difficult to sum it up in just one word “idyllic” is the closest I could get. Yet to be spoilt by the commercialism of tourism this gem of an area remains the road less travelled. It seems to have the best of almost everything Greek, ancient sites that include Mycanae, the best preserved of all Greek theatres at Epidavros and the lush sanctuary of Olympia host to the original Olympic Games. The medieval remains are scarcely less rich, with the fabulous castles of Nafplio, Methoni and ancient Corinth. The scaresley populated Mani region has strange tower houses; and then there’s the extraordinarily well-preserved Byzantine enclaves of Mystra and Monevasia
Beyond this incredible wealth of cultural monuments, the Peloponnese is also a superb place to relax and wander. Its beaches, especially along the west coast, are among the finest and least developed in the country, and the landscape inland is superb – dominated by forested mountains cut by some of the most captivating valleys and gorges to be imagined.
If this region is in your thoughts or on your hit list, make it a reality – you won’t be disappointed.
So as we made our way north onto the Greek mainland we did so with heavy hearts As the dark clouds formed above us it seemed their mood matched ours as they blackened further, finally bursting bringing on a heavy downpour. Our original planned stop over point near Lamia was changed as we decided to put some miles behind us whilst the weather wasn’t playing nicely – 489 kilometres and 8 hours later somewhat jaded we finally pulled into a car park in the tourist town of Olympiaki (GPS 40.236528 22.587155). Although in front of a huge sandy beach, the parking was in a busy car park, but after a long drive we really just needed somewhere to stretch our legs, grab a well earned beer and lay our heads for the night. After a couple of months of unspoilt coastline, the throngs of tourists crowding the long beach and lines of shops selling anything from T shirts saying “I Love Greece” to inflatable dolphins were just not appealing to us. What may once have been an acceptable week long holiday destination now seemed extremely cheesy and “kiss me quick”. We truly have been spoilt! Needless to say we were off on the hunt for another spot the following morning.
A short drive along the coast road took us to a grassy parking area just behind the beach which appealed far more to our need for tranquillity (GPS 40.29457 22.611632). Another couple of Slovakian motorhomers had already made it home for the night and so with the sun now high in the sky, we were able to fill our day walking along the endless beach and dipping in the water to cool off. It had now reached a comfortable temperature to enter and I could now do so without letting out an involuntary scream!
As we continued north we continuously made comparisons with the perfect Peloponnese and weren’t really feeling as much love for our surroundings. However we were quickly reminded that although the place is obviously important when travelling often it’s the actions of others that make a location memorable or special. We parked Boris up by a small bay, next to a working harbour (GPS 40.453214 22.596041) and went about our day strolling to the nearby village, being shown where to pick apricots on the return and swimming in the clear calm waters. However when evening came the harbour became a hive of activity as huge fishing trawlers returned from the nearby fish farms laden with huge bags of freshly picked mussels. As the teams of fishermen began unloading the vessels, huge lorries manoeuvred alongside them ready to be loaded with the days catch a jaw dropping 32 pallets per load each weighing 1.2 tonne. As we listened to the comings and goings and came to terms with the fact that we may be in for a noisy night, we heard a tap on the side of the motorhome, it was the driver from the arctic who had come to offer us a freshly made frappe. Not wanting to offend by refusing we accepted his kind offer, as we stood talking to him about his forthcoming journey (the mussels were making their way to Belgium) the boat owner presented us with one of the huge bags of mussels. Having recently been shopping our fridge was already crammed full so we took sufficient for a meal and shared them with some French motorhomers parked nearby, who in turn gave us some razor clams that he’d picked that morning off the beach! This encapsulates the kindness and generosity shown to us on this journey the kindness shown to complete strangers really does “warm the cockles of your heart”!!!!
We continued our journey northward to the Halkidiki fingers, a place we’d visited just 3 years ago for a weeks lazing on the beach. Our first stop over was at camping Ouzani Beach (40.216622 23.319852) just before Kasandra the first finger. The campsites facilities are some of the best we’ve come across in Greece although it’s location is a little isolated, so after a few days of catching up with fellow travellers Dave & Wendy who we met last month in Greece, we continued our journey onwards to the less touristy middle finger of Halkidiki, Sithonia. I suppose we were kind of expecting a similar experience to the Peloponnese, but of course it was now June and what we got was beaches filled with tourists from the nearby Balkan states . We skipped around the peninsular at record speed, not really feeling it or falling in love, by now we were also getting a little beached out! I’m sure out of season our experience would have been different, but we quickly came to the conclusion that after travelling in our motorhome, package holidays to destinations packed with other tourists would probably no longer be our thing.
Needing to leave the beach behind we made our way to Lake Kerkini (GPS 41.207384 23.096298) a refuge for nature and bird watchers. A sanctuary for birds and humans alike, the calm, unruffled lake offers itself for birdwatching and boating, while its shores are perfect for cycling and walks. Walking to the nearby harbour I met with Vasili who captains a small tour boat which offers trips around the lake along with the Vasili’s expert knowledge of the environment and wildlife, (40€ for 5 people). As I continued my afternoon stroll I was joined by a surprise visitor, our friends Karen & Myles (www.motoroaming.com) who we’d convoyed with when we first got to Greece had caught up with us so that we can all make our way to Bulgaria together. As we caught the boat at 6am the following morning we were hoping the early start would be worth it. This birdwatchers paradise soon rewarded us with pelicans, grey and night herons, cormorants and egrets all amazing us with their beautiful plumage. Within the diverse natural environment of Kerkini there has been more than 620 species of plants recorded and more than 300 sorts of birds. Despite being plagued by mosquitoes this place is so worthwhile.
As our time in Greece comes to its end a new exciting adventure awaits in Bulgaria, it has a lot to live up to but we’re are excited about entering new uncharted territory.
More tales from a new land coming soon.
Andi & Paul x