Category: Our Greece holidays in past years (page 1 of 31)

Samarina: The beautiful Byzantine church in Messenia

Church of the Virgin Zoodochos Pigi Samarina

The Byzantine Church of Zoodochos Pigi Samarina cuts a striking figure set amidst a valley of rolling hills lush with olive trees

 

Lady of the valley:  There were lovely landscapes everywhere we looked while we drove through Messenia in late May. One of the most memorable and marvellous sights along the way was the Byzantine Church of Zoodochos Pigi Samarina, located between the villages of Ellinoekklisia and Kalogerorrachi. 

We first glimpsed the church from afar — from the top of an access road which winds down a wooded hillside to the clearing in which the 800-year-old shrine sits. From this vantage point, Samarina looks simply sublime: a beautiful Byzantine-style building surrounded by rolling hills and lush green groves of olive trees that extend for miles in all directions.  Although the distance offered a breathtaking panoramic perspective of the impressive monument and its pretty surroundings, we of course had to drive down to take a closer look.

Not surprisingly, the church was locked up as tight as a drum, and nobody else was around, so there was no chance of taking a peek inside. 

 

 

According to an information plaque on the grounds near the church, Samarina is considered to be one of the most beautiful Byzantine monuments in the Peloponnese. It was built in the 12th Century on what some sources claim was the site of an ancient temple that had been dedicated to the goddess Rhea. Originally, Samarina was a church operated by the nunnery of Osia Mary of Egypt. It later was renamed church of Zoodochos Pigi (Virgin Mary), but hundreds of years have passed since any nuns last occupied the building.

Amazingly, “Nothing is known about the monument’s history, while the silence of textual evidence in regard with such a monument is remarkable,” the plaque says.

 

Samarina church

A Messenian mystery: Historians say the church dates from the 12th Century, but they don’t know anything about its history.

 

The plaque describes Samarina as “a two-column, domed cross-in-square building whose careful cloisonné masonry next to the variety of decorative brickwork compose a highly artistic complex.”

Between late 2011 and the end of 2013, a rehabilitation and restoration project was carried out to recover the tiled roof, restore the decorative brickwork, and install new wooden doors. Inside, “the wall paintings were entirely restored and the marble templon screen was cleaned to retrieve its white colour and to preserve the traces of inlaid wax and mastic gum.” 

Nearby are ruins of other buildings, believed to have been monastic cells, along with a vaulted Byzantine cistern.

It would have been interesting to see the interior, with its freshly restored frescoes, but we had to make do with  viewing photos in a brochure I had picked up at Messana Hotel at Ancient Messini the day before.  Nevertheless, we enjoyed examining the building exterior, and exploring its serene surroundings. (I have tried to find the brochure and its images online, so I could post a link here, but so far haven’t had any success.)

If you’re passing through the area on your way to or from Ancient Messini, be sure to stop and take a look at Samarina. She’s a beauty.

Below are several more pictures of Samarina. You can view additional photos in my Samarina  church album on Flickr.

 

Samarina church

 

Samarina church

 

Samarina church

 

Samarina church

 

Samarina church

 

Samarina church

 

A Sifnos island icon: The Church of the 7 Martyrs

Chapel of the 7 Martyrs

Like hundreds of other picturesque chapels in the Cyclades, the Church of the 7 Martyrs on Sifnos has a traditional Cycladic design with whitewashed walls and a shiny blue dome

 

Chapel of the 7 Martyrs

but its startling location — perched atop a rocky peninsula pounded by powerful winds and waves — makes it one of the most memorable and impressive shrines in the region

 

Windswept wonder: We have seen hundreds if not thousands of blue-domed churches in Greece, but the Chapel of the 7 Martyrs on Sifnos easily ranks as one of the most memorable.

We got to see it during a four-day visit to Sifnos in late September 2007, and were practically blown away by the experience — and not just because the chapel is such an impressive sight. 

It was warm and sunny when we arrived at Sifnos on a Friday afternoon, but conditions changed abruptly. Within less than two hours, near gale-force winds began blowing, followed overnight by thick, dark stormclouds and periods of light rain. The gusts were so strong that rough seas forced the cancellation of ferry service for the next three days. But we didn’t let the unrelenting wind stop us from sightseeing. Occasional breaks in the cloudcover motivated us to get out and explore,  and we spent one day hiking to the villages of Artemonas, Apollonia, Kato Petali and Kastro.  

 

A breathtaking sight below Kastro village

We got our first glimpse of the Chapel of the 7 Martyrs while following a clifftop footpath that winds along the the east side of Kastro, about 90 meters above the sea. It was breathtaking to look down and suddenly see the whitewashed, blue-domed church far below, perched atop a rugged, rocky peninsula that juts into the Aegean. We saw a group of tourists making their way down a twisting, stone-paved path that leads to the church, and decided to make the trek as well.  But the blasting winds actually stopped us in our tracks a few times, and more than once nearly blew us off balance. When one particularly strong gust nearly knocked down a woman walking behind me, she and her companions turned back, saying they felt it was too dangerous to venture any further. But we plodded on, climbing down dozens of steps and then up a short hillside to reach the church.  

The wind was even worse here, but we couldn’t go inside the church to escape it because the door was locked (apparently the chapel is open only several times a year for special occasions and feast days.) It was almost impossible to hold our cameras steady to take photos, even on the south side of the building where the wind was partially blocked. In fact, the blustery conditions were so unpleasant we stayed only a couple of minutes to view the coastal scenery before making a hasty climb back to the sheltered lanes in Kastro.

Despite the inclement conditions, it was well worth braving the elements to briefly see the chapel. If anything, the wind and the surrounding whitecapped sea gave the Chapel of the 7 Martyrs even more of an exhilarating “wow” factor.

Below are several more of our own photos of the church. You can see full-size versions of them, along with 20 additional images, in my Chapel of the 7 Martyrs album on Flickr.  At the bottom of the post are two wonderful pictures of the chapel that were shot by photographers from France and Greece.

 

Chapel of the 7 Martyrs

Much of the chapel’s tremendous visual appeal stems from its location on such inhospitable coastal terrain

 

Chapel of the 7 Martyrs

Dozens of stone steps lead down the cliffside to the church

 

 Chapel of the 7 Martyrs

Here’s a view of the steps from a point far down the cliff 

 

Chapel of the 7 Martyrs

After descending dozens of steps, visitors face a short uphill climb to the chapel. A terrace that wraps around the church offers amazing views of the sea, the Sifnos coast and Kastro village, but we weren’t able to enjoy the scenery because of the high winds.

 

Chapel of the 7 Martyrs

Looking northwest along the rugged coast of Sifnos 

 

7 Martyrs Chapel on Sifnos photo by Giannis Kontos

A view of the Chapel of the 7 Martyrs in weather conditions even more severe than we experienced. This image, which has been widely circulated in social media, was captured by Sifnos photographer Giannis Kontos.

 

7 Martyrs Chapel on Sifnos photo by Charley Lataste

Another image that has been shared extensively on social media is this sunset view of the chapel, shot by photographer Charly Lataste.

 

Marathi: a get-away-from-it-all Greek Island

Marathi island

This was my first view — from a ferry — of the serene bay on Marathi where the tiny island’s restaurants and rental rooms are located

 

Stavragos Taverna Marathi

while this is a view of the bay from the taverna terrace at Stavragos, one of only three places where people can eat and  stay while visiting Marathi (photo from a  Stavragos group page on Facebook).

 

Island escape: Sometimes when I’m feeling overwhelmed and stressed by city life — the crowded streets and sidewalks, incessant urban noise, construction all around and illuminated advertising signs everywhere I look — I daydream about getting away from it all on a remote Greek island few people know about. Somewhere like Marathi.

A tiny isle situated about 12 nautical miles east of Patmos in the Dodecanese island group, Marathi is off the beaten tourist path and free from crowds, traffic, noise and light pollution. According to Kalispera Greece, the English-language version of a Swedish website about Greece, it’s an ideal spot for someone seeking a Robinson Crusoe-style escape from the demands of contemporary urban life.

That’s because there simply isn’t much there —  just “three tavernas, three pensions, two jetties, one cemetery, one tiny church, a few goats and a pretty nice sandy beach. There are no shops, no cars, no scooters, no villages and no roads,” Kalispera Greece says.

There aren’t many people, either. A recently-published travel article on the website for the UK newspaper The Telegraph called Marathi one of Greece’s 11 least populated islands, with only 12 residents in summertime and just 3 during the winter.

No crowds? No traffic? No bright digital ads? No noise besides birdsong, crowing roosters and jingling goat bells? It sounds idyllic to me, and in online holiday reviews many Marathi visitors have used the word “paradise” to describe the island.

 

Marathi island

A hilltop view of the Marathi bay and nearby Arki island. (Image from the website for The Pirate Rooms and Taverna on Marathi.)

 

Marathi bay

Side view of the Marathi bay in another photo from the public Facebook group page for Stavragos Taverna and Rooms

 

I haven’t stayed on Marathi yet, but I have been enthralled by the dream of enjoying some quality rest and relaxation there after getting a brief glimpse of the isle nearly five years ago.

We were riding the Nissos Kalymnos ferry from Patmos to Samos at the time. The ship had just stopped at the island of Arki, and I was on the open deck enjoying the scenery as we headed to the next port of call, Agathonisi.  As we passed a crescent-shaped bay with a sandy beach on Marathi, I spotted several people watching us from a vine-sheltered terrace at what I assumed was either a private vacation home or a holiday rental villa. I felt a tinge of envy, imagining how restful it must have been for those people if a ferry sailing past once a day was one of the few interruptions to the island’s prevailing peace and tranquillity.

Several weeks later, when I was organizing photos I had shot during the ferry ride, I couldn’t stop looking at my pictures of the Marathi beach and bay. I wanted to learn more about the island and, a few Google searches later, discovered that I had photographed Stavragos, one of only three properties on Marathi with a taverna and rooms for rent.

Click on the link below to view additional photos and read more about Marathi on page 2 of this post.

 Stavragos Taverna

When I saw this building from the ferry, I thought it was a private vacation home. It’s actually rental accommodations and an excellent restaurant — Stavragos Taverna and Rooms.  It has four rooms for rent, and serves seafood and home-cooked Greek cuisine at its seaview garden terrace.

 

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Two hot days on Crete

beach on Crete

Fodele beach on the north coast of Crete, about 25 km west of Heraklion. It was empty when we were here in 2004, but I’ve seen recent photos showing the beach lined with umbrellas and lounge chairs.

 

Frostbite flashback: We had perfect hypothermia weather in Toronto today. Although it was gloriously sunny, the outdoor temperature was a frosty minus 24 Celsius — minus 40 with wind chill.  My face nearly froze while I was walking outside this afternoon, and for some reason I started remembering our one and only brief visit to Crete back in early June of 2004. Perhaps I was subconsciously trying to warm myself up by thinking about being somewhere hot instead of standing on a city street corner, shivering in the firm grip of a frigid Arctic air mass.

Once back home, I sorted through photos we shot while on Crete. There weren’t many pictures to review, primarily since we had a whirlwind visit of just three nights and two full days. (It didn’t help that a malfunction with my camera’s memory card wiped out dozens of images we did manage to shoot.)

We were in Greece on our first-ever island hopping holiday, a 2-week package tour that took us to Mykonos, Rhodes, Crete, Santorini and Athens. It was a great introduction to Greece, but the Crete segment of our itinerary was way too short and rushed. On an island as vast as Crete, two days gives you time to merely glimpse a few sites and attractions. With a visit so short and hectic, there’s no opportunity to soak up the island’s atmosphere, or to experience the local life and culture. Nevertheless, we felt our fleeting look at the sights and scenery was better than not making it to Crete at all. Next time, we’ll follow the advice of regular Crete visitors who advise spending one, two or more weeks just to explore one specific part of the island.

Click on the link below to continue reading my mini trip report on page 2, where I have posted a few of the photos we shot during our quick stop on Crete.

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Captivating colours on the coast of Paros

Paros coast

A rugged section of coastline near Parasporos beach on Paros

 

True colours: One of the things we most remember from our first trip to Paros 10 years ago was an afternoon walk along the island’s rocky coast just west of Parasporos beach. We were mesmerized by the constantly-changing sea colours, which ranged from a deep cobalt blue to a vivid emerald green, with an astonishing array of turquoise shades in between. It was fascinating to observe the colours shift as we moved from one cove to the next. Below are some of the photos we shot during our hike. You can view those and more images in larger format in the Coastal Colours on Paros album on the MyGreeceTravelBlog Flickr page.

 

Paros coast

 

Paros coast

 

Paros coast

 

Paros coast

 

Paros coast

 

Paros coast

 

Paros coast

 

 Paros coast

 

Paros coast

 

Paros coast

 

Paros coast

 

Paros island coast

 

Paros coast

 

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