Category: Monuments & historic sites (page 1 of 19)

Where to dine, drink and shop local in Kyparissia’s Old Town

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Palia Agora in Kyparissia

Street view of Palia Agora, where a selection of scrumptious mezes topped off our enjoyable visit to Kyparissia 

 

Fab food & drink: Take us to a town or village with sensational views and scenery, and we will probably like it. If there are archaeological sites, or historic buildings or places close by, we will certainly like it even more. Picturesque streets and interesting architecture?  Beautiful beaches, majestic mountains or scenic seasides in the vicinity? A relaxed setting and laid-back atmosphere? Those are guaranteed to tick off even more boxes on our “like” list.

But a destination won’t completely win our hearts if we don’t go home with fond memories of restaurants and cafes. (We’re not foodies or wine snobs by any stretch of the imagination, but we do like to eat, we love good coffee, and we enjoy sipping some nice wine as well.) Since Kyparissia has many of the characteristics that make us happy on holiday — plus really good food and drink in particular — we couldn’t help but love our short visit there in May 2017.

What impressed us on the food & drink front were three places we discovered in the charming Ano Poli (Old Town) district of  Kyparissia:  a shop selling a wide range of local food items and other Made in Messenia products, a comfortable cafe-bar; and a delightful estiatorio – mezedopoleio. Conveniently and coincidentally enough, all three establishments were located  just a stone’s throw apart on Eleni Chameri Street, the main road of Ano Poli.

Here’s a closer look at each:

♦ Palia Agora

 

Palia Agora restaurant Kyparissia

Palia Agora’s beautifully decorated bar and dining room 

 

A late lunch at Palia Agora was the highlight of our afternoon in Kyparissia. We took one of the tree-shaded tables in front of the restaurant and ordered wine and a selection of cold and hot mezes (small plates perfect for sharing),  then sat back and relaxed while our meal was prepared. The local wine was delicious, and the food was amazing. In fact, it was one of the best meals of our spring 2017 vacation. Some of the standout dishes included the grilled pleurotus mushrooms, local sausage, pork slices accompanied by potatoes and pieces of oranges, the fava with olives and onions, and cheese balls rolled in chopped pistachios. Equally impressive was the friendly and efficient service. We would go back to Kyparissia just to have another meal here, the food was that good.

Not surprisingly, Palia Agora is ranked as the #1 restaurant in Kyparissia by TripAdvisor, and it recently received the 2018 Gold Award for Quality and Taste from the leading Greek gastronomy website estiatoria.gr

You can read over 200 customer reviews, and see more than 100 photos of the restaurant and its tasty dishes, in the Palia Agora listing on TripAdvisor.   There are dozens of additional photos on the Palia Agora Facebook page.

 

Palia Agora restaurant Kyparissia

The grilled pleurotus mushrooms (left) were divine.  Also tasty were the cheese balls rolled in chopped pistachios, and served with a salad and  pita. 

 

Palia Agora restaurant Kyparissia

From the restaurant’s Facebook page, a photo showing the Palia Agora sign, entrance and part of its streetside dining area

 

Palia Agora restaurant in Kyparissia

If you visit Palia Agora for a meal but sit outdoors as we did, make sure to take a peek inside the restaurant to check out the lovely decor and the interesting interior design details, like the light fixture above. 

 

♦ Algo-rithmos Cafe Bar

 

Algorithmos cafe bar

Street view of Algo-rithmos Cafe Bar, which occupies the ground floor of this beautiful building on Eleni Chameri Street

 

Algo-rithmos Cafe Bar in Kyparissia

In addition to its streetside tables and indoor seating area, Algo-rithmos has an open-air balcony out back, where customers can enjoy views of Kyparissia and the sea

 

We stopped at Algo-rithmos for two coffee breaks during our walkabouts through the Old Town and to the Castle of Kyparissia. We sat at one of the tables out front, next to the street, both times, but we could have chosen to sit inside or on the town- and seaview veranda at the rear of the building had we preferred.

Though we only ordered coffees and tea, the cafe has a full bar serving beer, cocktails and other alcoholic beverages. Snacks and light food dishes are available, too. The shop interior is cozy and comfortable, with an eclectic interior design (there’s a bicycle, musical instruments and several bookshelves mounted on the walls, and a stack of hardcover books suspended from the ceiling in the middle of the room.)

The service was friendly and prompt, and we liked the music that was playing.

You can read more about the cafe-bar in the customer reviews posted on the Algo-rithmos listing on TripAdvisor.

 

Allgorithmos Cafe Bar in Kyparissia

This image, which Algo-rithmos provided for its listing on TripAdvisor, shows part of the cafe-bar interior

 

♦ Messinia Gi

Travelling shopaholics won’t find many stores to browse in Ano Poli, but they will find it worthwhile visiting  Messinia Gi, especially if they like to support regional artisans by “shopping local” for food, fashion accessories and other items to give as gifts or to take home for personal use or souvenirs.

Messinia Gi boasts an extensive selection of food, beverage, fashion and souvenir products made either locally or in the  Messenia region.  Food items on offer include sweets, healthy snacks, honey, packages of handmade pasta, olive oil, olives, herbs and spices, nuts and many more. General merchandise includes jewellery and other women’s fashion accessories, personal care products, and ceramics. (You can view dozens of photos of the shop’s seasonal and regular merchandise in the albums and posts on the Messinia Gi Facebook page, and see additional pictures on the Messinia Gi listing on TripAdvisor.

We picked up postcards and several local food items to bring home for friends and ourselves, including jars of delicious figs stuffed with nuts, while our friends walked out with several bags containing what looked to us like enough food to prepare a week’s worth of meals once they returned to Athens.

The pleasant young lady who was minding the store was very helpful in explaining the contents and sources of the various food items we were considering, and in making suggestions for products to try.  

If you’d like to take home some tastes of Messenia, be sure to visit the shop while you’re in or near Kyparissia.

 

Messinia Gi shop in Kyparissia

If you visit the Old Town, you’ll find a vast variety of local products at Messinia Gi. The made-in-Messenia items make great gifts or personal souvenirs.  This photo of the storefront is from the Messinia Gi page on Facebook.

 

Messinia Gi shop in Kyparissia

Local product displays are shown in this photo that Messinia Gi management provided for the shop’s listing on TripAdvisor. Below is another photo of the store interior, also from its TripAdvisor listing.

 

Messinia Gi  shop in Kyparissia

 

An afternoon at the Old Town and castle in Kyparissia

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Kyparrisia Castle

Houses on the hillside below the ruins of the Castle of Kyparissia, which was built during the 13th Century

 

Impressive introduction: On the fourth day of our May 2017 road trip through the western Peloponnese we discovered another charming town to which we will have to pay a longer return visit sometime: Kyparissia.

We had scheduled Kyparissia for just a sightseeing stop during our drive from Marathopoli to Katakolo, yet within minutes of stepping out of the car we were already wishing we could stay longer than just the afternoon. 

That strong first impression came from the quick realization that Kyparissia has all the key features and characteristics we find particularly appealing in a small Greek town: beautiful scenery and views; a castle and lots of old buildings that convey a strong sense of history; plenty of intriguing lanes and streets to wander and explore; picturesque buildings and interesting architecture;  inviting places to have coffee, dine, and do a bit of browsing or shopping; and a comfortable “I feel at home here” ambiance.

However, with fewer than five free hours before we would have to hit the road again, we knew we were only going to scrape the surface of all that Kyparissia and its surrounding area have to offer. Still, we enjoyed everything we did manage to see and do in our limited time, and we were glad we had included the town as one of the stops on our journey. We would consider Kyparissia to be a “must see” destination for anyone undertaking a driving tour like the one we did through the western Peloponnese, and we think it definitely deserves more than a quick look around.

 

Kyparissia main street

When we arrived at El. Venizelou Street in Kyparissia in late morning, clouds above the nearby mountains suggested we might get rained on. But most of the clouds cleared away, leaving us with bright sunshine all afternoon.

 

Kyparissia former National Bank building

We’re drawn to old buildings, whether derelict or restored, and we found the facade of the former National Bank building — now a historic landmark —  right across the road from where we parked the car upon arriving in Kyparissia

 

a building in Kyparissia

We found this once-elegant edifice near the National Bank, and spotted many more charming old buildings throughout the town

 

Upon arrival in Kyparissia, we parked briefly on El. Venizelou Street in the lower town so we could have a look around and check out a few of the shops. The road was lined with a mix of commercial and residential buildings from different architectural design eras, including elegant old buildings, some of which — like the former National Bank — were in derelict condition, and others that were either in excellent shape or appeared to have been painstakingly restored. They gave us a sneak peak of the wide variety of building design styles and construction periods we would soon encounter in Kyparissia’s Ano Poli, the historic hilltop Old Town, where we had planned to spend most of our time.

Our next stop was Eleni Chameri Street, the main road in the Old Town, where we found on-street parking close to the Memorial of the Fallen. The war monument is situated in a small square with amazing views that include the Castle of Kyparissia off to the right, and the entire town below, extending all the way down the hill to the sea.

 

Kyparissia Old Town

A view along the Eleni Chameri Street, the main road of the Ano Poli / Old Town district of Kyparissia

 

Kyparissia panoramic view

From the square where the Memorial of the Fallen monument is located, visitors can see the Castle of Kyparissia (upper right) and the town below

 

From the memorial we walked to the Castle of Kyparissia, located at the opposite end of Eleni Chameri Street. We strode through the open gate (there is no ticket booth at the entrance) and climbed steps and trails up the hillside to see what remains of the ancient fortress. Apart from the external fortification walls, only a few stone buildings still stand on the site — but none are open to the public.  It doesn’t take long to wander around and explore the grounds, but the castle is worth a stop, especially for its wonderful views of Kyparissia and the surrounding area.

 

Kyparissia Castle view

Kyparissia Castle has excellent views of the upper town  …

 

Kyparissia Castle view

…  the lower town and the sea to the southwest …

 

Kyparissia Castle view

… and the lowlands, mountains and Messenian coast stretching to the north as far as the eye can see

 

After our castle hike we returned to Eleni Chameri Street and made a beeline for Algo-rithmos Cafe Bar, where we sat in the shade at one of the tables out front to have coffees and rest our legs.  Refreshed from our coffee break, we all set out on our separate ways to explore the Old Town and vicinity. There was little traffic and only a few people out and about, so the neighbourhood was exceptionally quiet and peaceful. It was nice not having to jump out of the way of passing cars and trucks, or jostle past other pedestrians, while observing the scenery and taking photographs.  The place is probably bustling during July and August, so we were glad we got to enjoy the town’s scenic streets and lanes without hordes of tourists teeming about.

 

Kyparissia Old Town

The Old Town’s streets and lanes are lined with a fascinating mix of meticulously maintained houses …

 

a church in Kyparissia

… a few beautiful churches …

 

a building in Kyparissia

… and numerous derelict or dilapidated buildings bursting with charm, character and — in many cases — tremendous renovation potential

 

We regrouped back at Algo-rithmos for another coffee break a couple of hours later, then did some souvenir shopping across the street at Messinia Gi, a store which carries an extensive selection of food, beverage, fashion and souvenir products made locally in Messenia. After more walking around, we all agreed it was time to call it quits on sightseeing, and find a nice spot for lunch. We chose Palia Agora, which is located just a few doors down the street from Messinia Gi, where we sat outdoors and enjoyed a variety of delicious mezes. I will tell you more about Messinia Gi and Palia Agora in a separate post.

The fabulous meal brought our brief Kyparissia visit to an end on a high note. We reluctantly piled back in the car for the drive to Katakolo, where we would spend the night before heading to the port at Kyllini to catch a ferry to Kefalonia. We’ll go back to see more of Kyparissia another time. We’ve got to — it’s exactly the kind of place where we enjoying spending vacation time.

Please click on the link below to turn to page 2, where I have posted more photos of the Old Town and castle, as well as a video of the castle and its views. 

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Crumbling walls, perilous terrain & postcard views: Our climb to the old Castle of Navarino

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Navarino castle

Walls on the southern side of Palaiokastro, the Old Castle of Navarino, which was built in 1278 near the town of Pylos in the Peloponnese

 

Old Castle of Navarino

Though parts of the castle walls have collapsed, you can walk atop some of the remaining sections, such as this one high above the Ionian Sea

 

Old Castle of Navarino

Walking inside the walls can be difficult — even perilous in places —  if you stray off the main trail or try to take a shortcut from the west wall to the east, as we did. The castle’s south yard is overgrown with shrubs and prickly bushes, and the ground is covered with loose rocks and stones that wobble and roll underfoot.

 

Old Castle of Navarino

The big payoff for those people who make it all the way up to the northeastern corner of the castle: The incredible views of the Ionian Sea, Navarino Bay and the beautiful Messenian coast …

 

Voidokilia beach

… and, most impressive of all, the stunning Voidokilia beach

 

Scenic trek: Built 740 years ago, the Palaiokastro / Old Castle of Navarino is certainly showing its age.

Its hilltop exposure to the elements, plus hundreds of years of neglect, have taken a severe toll. The outer walls are crumbling — some sections have collapsed, while others appear ready to tumble anytime  — and only ruins remain of the buildings that once stood inside. Those structures have been reduced to rubble; the former walls and foundations are now boulders, stones and rocks scattered across the ground. The two castle yards are almost entirely overgrown with shrubs, prickly plants, tall grasses and trees that obscure most of the fortress’s interior. It’s possible to walk on some of the outer walls, and dirt paths wind through parts of the grounds, but it can be dangerous to step off the main trails —  the  rocks underfoot tend to shift and wobble as you walk over them, so there’s a constant risk of slipping and falling or twisting an ankle.  

Because of the ancient castle’s derelict condition, plus the ever-present possibility of loose stonework falling from its weathered walls, the Palaiokastro is supposed to be out of bounds to visitors. There’s no fencing to keep anyone out, and no security guards to stop people from entering — just a solitary sign warning that “The Castle of Navarino is closed due to serious danger.” But that doesn’t deter thousands of tourists from visiting the site every year. 

For most, it’s the breathtaking “must see” views that attract them — especially the castle’s unrivalled vantage points for photographing the incomparable and immensely Instagrammable Voidokilia beach.

That’s the main reason why I climbed up to Palaiokastro during our trip through the Peloponnese in May 2017  — I wanted to experience, in-person, the outstanding Voidokilia beach views that had fascinated me in many travel photographs and videos I had seen over the years.

 

 

To be honest, I didn’t know the castle was closed, and I also didn’t see the “danger” sign at the bottom of the access path. (My hiking companions did, but they never mentioned it.)  I had read about Palaiokastro on a few travel websites, and knew that it consists mainly of defensive walls enclosing crumbled ruins, but none of the articles had said anything about the castle being closed or possibly dangerous to visit. Some sites even described it as a not-to-be-missed historical attraction. I figured it would take some effort to reach, since it’s situated atop a craggy hill a few hundred meters high. But once up top, I expected that it would be relatively easy to walk around, like the marvellous Methoni Castle which we had visited just the day before (see my post: A walkabout in Messenia’s 800-year-old Methoni Castle for an account of that.)  So when we found the castle access path at the northwest end of Divari beach, I was eager to head up for a look around.

To continue reading and to see more photos of Palaiokastro, please click on the link under the video below to turn to page 2.

 

This video by AllMessinia takes you on a short flight above Palaiokastro, while subtitles provide historical information about the monument

 

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A walkabout in Messenia’s 800-year-old Methoni Castle

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Methoni Castle

The southern fortification walls of Methoni Castle, viewed from the Venetian-era Bourtzi fortress (below)

 

Bourtzi fortress of Methoni Castle

The Venetians built the octagonal-shaped Bourtzi fortress on a rocky islet connected to the castle by a stone-paved causeway

 

Methoni meanderings: Day 2 of our western Peloponnese road trip turned out to be rather “monumental” for us, figuratively speaking, as our travels took us to churches, archaeological sites and castles — some more than 800 years old — plus a place where two major Greek maritime conflicts occurred.

Our drive to and through hundreds of years of history took us first to the Byzantine Church of Samarina, which dates from the 12th Century, followed by a walk around the ruins of the Castle of Androusa, which was built in the 13th Century.

Next stop was the town of Pylos on Navarino Bay, where two of the most significant naval combats in Greek history took place:  the Battle of Pylos which was fought in July of 425 B.C. during the Peloponnesian War, and the October 20 1827 Battle of Navarino, the most pivotal and decisive event of the Greek War of Independence from Turkey.  Besides observing the bay from a variety of vantage points in and around Pylos, we managed to see some of the exterior fortification walls of the impressive Neocastro (Castle of Pylos), which was built in 1573. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to go inside to tour the castle interior and see its remarkable hexagonal citadel.

Our final sightseeing stop was the town of Methoni, where we paid an afternoon visit to the majestic Methoni Castle.

Constructed in 1209 by the Venetians, Methoni Castle occupies a sprawling site encompassing nearly 38 hectares.  The castle is so big we couldn’t explore every sector during the two hours we walked around, but we did cover a lot of ground, and managed to see the highlight attractions, including the Bourtzi sea fortress, the Ottoman baths, and the Church of the Metamorphosis Sotiros. (We might have spent more time meandering through the ruins had it not been so sunny and hot.)

 

Methoni Castle

The stone bridge and entrance to Methoni Castle

 

Methoni Castle

This pyramid-roofed building was apparently used to store munitions. The inner castle wall beside it is crumbling in places, but visitors can still walk on the top to get views of the entire castle site.

 

Methoni Castle

A curiosity inside the castle is a tall, red granite column topped with a Byzantine-style capital. Often called “Morosoni’s Stele,” the column is believed to have been topped with either a sculpture of the winged lion of Venice, or a bust of the Venetian Doge Francesco Morosini.

 

Methoni Castle Turkish baths

The round, domed roofs of the former Turkish baths (hamam) 

 

Methoni Castle

A tall, arched passageway inside the fortification walls

 

Methoni Castle church

One of the patterned floors inside the Church of the Metamorphosis Sotiros

 

My favourite castle features were the elegant stone entrance bridge (built by the French in 1829 to replace a wooden drawbridge), the Bourtzi fortress, the interior of Metamorphosis church, and the breathtaking 360-degree views from atop one of the main inner walls. I also was fascinated by the variety of shapes and angles that architects had chosen when designing the castle’s imposing fortification walls and the buildings they protected. These included rounded and pointed archways, square and rectangular houses and public buildings, an arsenal with a pyramid-shaped roof, the octagonal Bourtzi fortress, sloped and vertical defensive walls, and the round, spaceship-like domed roofs of the hamam (Turkish baths) built by Ottoman occupiers.

Admission cost only €2 per person, by the way — a bargain, considering the size of the castle.

Below is a brand-new aerial video of Methoni Castle that was published, coincidentally enough, right while I was putting this post together. On page 2 you can view some of the photos we shot while meandering through the ruins. If you’d like to read more about the history of Methoni Castle, click here to read a detailed description from the Kastrologos Castles of Greece website.

 

The grandeur and vast size of Methoni Castle are captured in this aerial video published February 28 2018 by George Magoulis

 

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