Delicious local flavours in Southern Italy

We have always enjoyed delicious local favours in Southern Italy though continue to be amazed at just how easy it is to find wonderful local produce and restaurants serving delicious local flavours.  Our last visit through Puglia, Basilicata and Campania was no exception and the variety and quality of the flavours amazed us again.

Having taken the ferry from Dubrovnik to Bari we journeyed south west across Italy through Puglia and Basilicata then turned north, along the coast, and through Campania. The scenery varies from barren to dramatic, lush to picturesque but what does not seem to falter is the fact that you can stop in any town along the way and you will find good food from amazing local produce with wonderful flavours.

We’ve travelled from Bari west before so we took a windy route through the hills in Puglia to see something new.  Mile after mile we passed through valleys where every inch of the land was green with farmed crops and at the corner of many of these vast fields, abandoned, beautiful old farm buildings made redundant now by mechanised farming and large cooperatives.

First stop, desperate for coffee after our 6am start off the ferry, in what seemed like the middle of nowhere without a town or village in sight, we came across a tired looking roadside café with just a few builders’ and road workers’ trucks parked outside.  As we opened the door we were hit by the most amazing smell – fresh baked bread and cooked tomatoes. Risorante Il Rifugio really was a wonderful refuge, behind the old bar wooden shelves were stacked with huge fresh rustic loaves, locally made Tartalli (savoury biscuits made with olive and white wine instead of butter), local jams and chutney as well as wines.

Rustic bread south italy

We resisted the massive, fresh-made, crusty panini filled with cured hams and mozzarella that the builders were enjoying but welcomed ourselves to Italy with classic espresso’s after buying provisions for later.

Next stop, lunch in Basilicata, the landscape around Potenza was a mix of farming and industry and predominantly modern building with not many places to eat. Finally at the edge of a modern but scruffy looking town a pizzeria hidden behind a shop selling mozzarella.  We ventured in to find two uniformed policemen and a few people in smart business dress enjoying large plates of pasta.  In our shorts and flip flops we too enjoyed wonderful pasta with fresh porcini mushroom and mozzarella sauce.

On to Campania where the road was lined with Buffalo farms many selling Mozzeralla direct. We chose one at random principally because it had Buffalo in the field next to the car park.

Buffalo Mazzarella Italy

Behind an unassuming door in the farm’s immaculate courtyard we found the Caseificio (Creamery) where a queue of people with shopping baskets were busy placing their orders, the lady in a white apron disappeared into the creamery behind and emerged to pass over the counter various sized bags of water filled with various sizes of delicious looking white Mozzarella balls.  When our turn came, we ordered Bocconcini, small mozzarellas about the size of eggs, and carried our prize away like a goldfish from the funfair.

Stylish Mazzarella farm Campania Italy

Through another door a stylish, air-conditioned cafe hid where a couple of tourists in shorts and flip flops like us mingled with Italians in business dress evidently on lunch break.  Though there were artisan breads and cakes filling the shelves, we were all after the same thing; ice-cream and yoghurt made from Buffalo milk. A worthy alternative to classic Italian ice-cream, not as rich but bursting with a fresh milk taste.

Now on to somewhere we know already, the Caseificio and Buffalo farm next to the ruins in Paestum where we know we can camp with our camper van for the night in their olive grove and taste some of their amazing local produce.

Caseifiecio Paestum Mozzarella Italy

In the garden next to the shop we feasted on a 500 gram Mozzeralla, Bocconcini with prosciutto crudo and very simple but extremely tasty tomato salad (sliced, fresh plum tomatoes, sprinkled with rubbed oregano and drizzled in olive oil – all from the farm).  Oh yes and a deep, ruby red Jungano wine from the farms vineyard, full of silky blackberry and vanilla flavours.

The next morning we watched the Mozzerlla and Bocconcini being made…

Production of mozzarella bonconcini

…before a run on Paestum beach in the hot morning sun, which was a memorable but rather painful experience due to our feast of wonderful wine and Mozzarella cheese.

We were late setting off to continue our journey and our bellies called lunch shortly after Naples.  Leaving the motorway at Capua; our hearts sank as we entered what felt like no-mans land, a military town with scruffy industrial buildings on the outskirts.  We trundled down street after street trying to see a glimpse of lunch, eventually we spotted a little sign over a door ‘Trattoria Antica’, it seemed our only option.

On tables by the bar a few people enjoyed plates of pasta as they watched The Simpsons on a small tv on the wall, a strange combination but the food looked good so we took a seat in the other room next to a few men who looked to be discussing business over their pasta. We listened discreetly but as we often find in southern Europe, their noise and gesticulation could have been arguing, agreeing but one thing we did understand was their enthusiasm about the food.

Trattoria Antica Capua Italy

They downed their espresso and left us to our simple yet delicious food; freshly made pasta with wonderful ingredients expertly combined to make the sauces.  My seafood pasta was piled high with mussels and clams with a tomato sauce that tasted like it had been infusing and simmering for days to get such an intense flavour and Adam’s simple sounding Spaghetti Pomodoro was perfectly seasoned and packed full of flavour.

Our schedule meant that we had little time left in Italy and after a long day on the road we chose the location for our last overnight camp, on the recommendation of friends who live in Rome, Sabaudia on the west coast just south of Rome.  A little touristy, as our friends had warned, particularly near to the pristine sandy beach dotted with cool beach bars, beds and umbrellas but overall an intriguing and  beautiful place.

Over leisurely morning coffee watching the sun rise over the lagoon, we recalled the amazing food we had had the day before and suggested it was almost inevitable that during the course of the day to come, we would have a similar experience in some unexpected place somewhere.

Sunrise over Sabaudia lagoon

We walked back across the lagoon into the town itself, very sleepy on a Saturday close to the end of the summer season.  In a street off the main square we came across an amazing delicatessen, packed to the rafters with an array of local produce and with tables outside suggesting we may find lunch there.  It looked like the shop had been the same since the 1950’s, there wasn’t a menu, the lady simply told us all she had available that day which was pretty much anything you could possibly desire.  A normal occurrence, it seemed, for several locals who nonchalantly took tables inside and sat chatting to each other or their dogs and reading newspapers until their delicious lunches arrived.

Sitting outside in the sunshine, we were treated to a huge plate of mixed cured meats, marinated, grilled vegetables and fresh crusty bread, simple and simply not reproducible in the UK.

delicatessen local produce sabaudia Italy

After these days exploring Italy, punctuated by delicious, conversation-stopping, local produce our eyes, taste buds and bellies were completely satisfied and full (for now).  We slept, one last night in Italy, dreaming of ruby red wines, the complex flavours of cured meats and melt in the mouth Mozzarellas.

We have travelled a lot in Italy and always we marvel at the unassuming ability to convert local produce into fantastic yet simple food with incredibly rich and distinct flavours. It all seems so natural and effortless, not food for special occasions, just food for every day.


Life at a difference pace in Lumbarda, Croatia

Though it doesn’t come naturally and didn’t feel right we felt we should try life at a different pace, a slower pace for just a while and Lumbarda in Croatia was the place to try it. We both notice how we tend to live and travel at a fast pace and we recognise we can skim over and past places rather than taking the time to get under the skin of a place, to get to know it better.

We are hungry for adventure and new discoveries yet at the same time wanted a place that would force a more relaxed pace of life and to have adventure and discovery on a smaller and different scale to normal.

Living in flip flops but attached to our laptops our requirement was; a place where we could connect easily to balance work with wonderful views, sea to swim, places to walk or jog, enjoy great food and wine and generally enjoy getting to know the place and perhaps ourselves a little better.  A tall order but we were confident that Lumbarda, on Korcula island in Croatia, could fit the bill.

Lumbered Harbour Croatia

Sonja at Camp Vela Postrana greeted us with tired looking eyes but a big smile, the summer had been busy and very hot and she admitted she was happy but exhausted. She was pleased we had returned In September, her favourite month when everything was all a little quieter, the sea was warmer and she said with enthusiasm brightening her eyes ‘you’ll see the sea and the sky are different colours, it’s beautiful!’

At the camp site we had wifi and views to the mountains on the Peljasac peninsula, it is staggering distance to places to eat and drink and a short meander to the sea in pretty much every direction.

For several days we woke to blue skies and had a run up through the vineyards or along the coastline to the next bay. One of us would pick up breakfast at the bakers on the home straight; we found that you have to get to the tiny shop before 10am or she sells out. Once we figured out the required routine we enjoyed some wonderful fresh bread and local pastries like Burek Sir (a little like the Greek cheese pie Tyrikopita) and, after a few visits, even a welcoming smile from the shy lady.

In the summer we had seen tiny pips of grapes emerging in the vineyards and now large bunches of red and white grapes weighed down every branch. One morning we were overtaken by a tractor and several scooters laden with empty crates as families busily began to harvest the white grapes. Having waited and watched patiently all summer it seemed the whole town was out lending a hand and joining in the jovial chatter as crate after crate emerged from the leafy rows covering the hillside.

Walking through Vineyards Croatia

As we walked back down lane on our way home we were surprised when one of the men called to us and beckoned us over. The smile creasing his rugged and weathered face showed he was pleased with their harvest as he passed us each a bunch of grapes straight from the vine. We enjoyed our little piece of the harvest as we strolled down the lane; tiny, juicy and delicious you could taste the flavor of very local and unique Grk white wine that these grapes will create.

The following day on our jog we saw the harvest was complete and the vineyards were quiet again. We skipped breakfast planning to enjoy a lunch of local cheese, Prsut (Croatian Proscuittio) and Grk wine at the Posip winery as we had last visit however the terrace, normally set up for hungry and intrigued tourists to taste their wonderful local produce, was completely taken over by crates of grapes and shiny grape crushing equipment. The man who had passed us the grapes the day before didn’t mind breaking off his work to pour us a glass of everything they make including some wonderful fig liquor.

Lumbarda sunset croatia

Croatians can come across as quite austere and, at first at least, don’t seem friendly because they don’t seem to smile very often or be very chatty. Perhaps this impression can be explained more by shyness and the difficulty of trying to make conversation in several European languages depending on who decides to take a seat at your table. Germans, Italians and English seem to be the most numerous visitors and you very rarely hear anyone trying to speak even a little Croatian. More often than not once you break the ice with a few, probably very badly pronounced, words of Croatian and a smile of your own they warm up and normally happy to teach you a few more words so that you can surprise the next person you meet.

Croatian cypress avenue church KorculaSo after chatting for a while with the men at Posip winery, using English, a little terrible Croatian and basic German, we bought several bottles of Grk white wine (which may or may not make it all the way back to the UK before we enjoy them) and we left with a warm glow inside and out.

We found it surprisingly easy to settle in to a routine and leisurely pace of life in Lumbarda…most days we wandered along the coastal promenade for a swim drying off in the afternoon sun.

We explored to the very tip of the island and spent an afternoon lazing in the quiet bay by the light house where an unmarked memorial cross made an unusual foreground to the coastal view…

Lighthouse lumbarda

We walked and, much to our own amazement, on another day jogged the 8 mile round trip into Korcula old town and back.

Korcula old town Croatia

We were warmly welcomed back to restaurants we had visited before and discovered new places where the food, the views and the welcome were equally amenable.

We enjoyed live music in the bar by the harbour that attracted more locals than tourists and spent quiet evenings, just the two of us, by our camper van, never boring of the inky black night sky. We listened to the murmur of the village across the field knowing that most of the chat and laughter was that of locals not the very few tourists who were lucky enough to choose September in Lumbarda.

Our little Mediterranean oasis had not disappointed and before we knew it a week had disappeared!

Finding our rhythm in Coastal Croatia

Wanting too find an easy rhythm to our travel we planned to return to Coastal Croatia and some of the places we found and enjoyed on previous trips.  Off the coast of the Croatian Peljasac peninsula, the beautiful Korcula island was our destination.  As the ferry docked, near Korcula old town, and all felt very comfortable and familiar we had the desire to improvise a little and so rather than head directly to the small harbour town of Lumbarda we drove instead to the far end of the island and to the Vela Luka.

As usual the guide book had little positive to say about the small town of Vela Luka, not many ancient sites or churches in the 19th century fishing village, it could be just our kind of place. We are not constant seekers of ancient sites but rather search for inspiration and interest in every day life and enjoy the diversity of local cuisine.  Vela Luka and its people looked like it had kept a frenetic pace during the hot summer season but now felt relaxed and sleepy as the ebb of tourists slowed.

We wandered the harbour and back streets, bought provisions in a small shop and then, reluctantly, headed to the hills to the only camp site nearby.

Camping Mindel promised to be a tranquil site, hidden amongst olive trees on a crest above several bays.

Camping Mindel Vela Luka secluded camping

Within a short wander we found a sheltered bay where waves lapped gently over with rough grey rocks leading down to the clear blue water, a great fishing spot for another day perhaps. We swam in the beautiful crystal waters but were disappointed and concerned to see another bare and almost lifeless sea bed. A great concern and a frustration for Adam who, ever hopeful, had spent several hours sorting and packing his fishing gear this Mediterranean trip.

The evening sea breeze dipped the temperature quickly in the shady cove so we flip flopped home as quickly as we could. We joined a few of our fellow campers on the roof terrace and were treated to a stunning sunset across the Mediterranean to Hvar island accompanied by the rhythmical ticking of Cicadas and the twitter of Housemartins swooping on the breeze that rustled in the olive trees below.

It seemed though that we weren’t all in the same groove; some couples came before the evening sky even started its performance, stayed for the first tinges of red and then left (dinner in the oven?), some snook in half way through, chinking plastic glasses of beer as the orange glow began but still left before the finale.

We stayed until the very last ray of light had disappeared and the Cicadas all fell silent.

Croatian sunset from Korcula island over Hvar

We were woken early and rudely with a dawn chorus of toddler cries and percussion of spoons on plastic plates, really not our favourite tune so we departed quickly to go explore the other bays on the peninsula.

Rather than walk the conventional footpaths to each of the bays we chose to search for a route from bay to bay along the rocks and there was, along limestone and stark white rock formations separated by flinty, pebble beaches in secluded bays.

Beautiful Croatian coastal walk

It was a peaceful interlude as we picked our way along the coast, the vista out to sea was ever changing as were the colours and textures beneath our feet.

It was difficult to see if many others had come this way or not, we seemed not to leave a trace though some of the smoother tops to the white, chalky rocks could be from the tread of human feet over time rather than the wash of the sea.

We crossed small beaches of limestone screes below tree covered cliffs where our path was marked, at least for a moment, by musical notes as our feet shifted the rock fragments to clink against each other making, almost metallic sounds, like the bars of a broken Xylophone.  Though we followed closely in each others foot steps and in the same rhythm the music we each created was completely different. Adam’s foot steps created their tune, my melody was a new one played on a slightly different ‘keyboard’.

As I clambered I wondered how many different compositions there may have been, each fleeting, never to be captured or recorded only to be enjoyed by those there to listen. We had certainly begun to find our rhythm again here in this peaceful corner of Korcula island.

craggy shore line stone scree Croatia

Living like a local and relaxing near Rome

We couldn’t miss the chance of living like a local and relaxing near Rome.

Our sketchy plan since setting off from Oxford included seeing our two lucky friends who live in Rome, or at least in an ideal location near Lago Bracciano just to the north west of Rome.   This visit was more about catching up with our friends rather than seeing Rome.  Adam and I have visited Rome on other occasions and Gary and Donna have worn out the circuit with various visiting friends and family.  It didn’t take us long (less than half a glass of wonderful, local Lazio red wine) to agree that we should simply do the things we all love doing; eating, drinking and walking.

We had a fabulous walk in the nature reserve at Monterano and around the beautiful countryside there, not seeing another living soul other than rather splendid looking Maremmana cattle grazing on the dry grass on the hillside.

Maremmana Cattle near Antica MonteranoAdam did tell me they were too far away for a great photo but I wasn’t keen on getting much closer.

The walk took us to the fascinating ruins of Antica Monterano.  No time for photos unfortunately we were all rather hot by the time we got there (we’d chosen midday to set off again and the temperature was already showing 32 degrees Celsius when we left the house).

We all love the sun and the heat but used what shade there was and refuelled…

Refuelling in the shade at Anitca Monterano

As we neared the end Gary took us to one of his favourite spots on the walk a welcome fresh water pool where we all took a dip and enjoyed a little wild swimming to cool off.

Cooling off after walk near RomeBy the time we had walked back, past the sulphur springs and up to the car we were completely dry and ready for a cold beer.

A much more sedate day next at Lago Bracciano, a beautiful and rather surreal place. We went straight to a pebbly beach (fairly quiet and equidistant between a bar and a restaurant so easy to see why it is Gary and Donna’s favourite spot there).  The beach was scattered with sunbathers and in calm, clear waters, lazy swimmers floated strangely amongst fully wet-suited divers and between everyone, several swans and their signets glided serenely by.

Surreal beach at Lago Bracciano ItalyAs I say, beautiful and surreal…

serene swans at Lago Bracciano ItalyAfter a lazy lunch, the lake took on a different feel as a storm developed on the far shore, the beach emptied and nature moved in. After enjoying the stirring, dramatic weather for a while, we headed to the hills at Bracciano for very good Artigianale beers…

stormy skies over Lago BraccianoA wonderful few days, providing an insight into a local life, playing and working in the sunshine. As we headed off north again, we were all envious of each other, the extensive diversity of what we (Adam and Helen) had seen on our journey contrasted with Gary and Donna’s deep understanding of and familiarity with the beauty of a single location.  Adam and I had enjoyed living like locals and relaxing into the pace of life in Rome.  We concluded that a balance between the two would probably suit us well.

Finally time for our Grexit

It was finally time for our ‘Grexit’, with the country still very much in the throws of its economic difficulties and contemplating their own Grexit.  We knew we had to set off early if we were to make it to Patra in time for the ferry to Italy and so I slightly regretted our lovely long, ouzo fuelled evening the night before; listening to traditional local music (songs of lost and missing love from the 1930s, we were told), just us, the restaurant owner/singer and his mandolin playing friend.

We edged our way through the sprawl of Patra following the sporadic signs to the port. At first the rabbit warren of tall buildings packed with people, cars and mopeds felt quite frenetic and suffocating after our quiet weeks in rural Greece but once we had settled in to the rhythm, we saw what a great place it could be to live, with its vibrant streets lined with contemporary cafes and restaurants and both hills or coast for weekend escapes.  It made us even sadder that finally time for our Grexit had come.

After a few wrong turns finding first the old ferry port, then a ticket office that did not have any tickets for a camper for any of the ferries that day, we finally found the newly built port out of town. A huge concrete plateau of car park and one way system extending into the sea.  We were directed to one of the half built concrete buildings where each of the ferry companies displayed their vibrant colours.

All three companies have ferried sailing every day at 5 or 6pm to Bari and Brindisi so it is difficult to see how they differentiate themselves. Our choice was made easy when we were offered ‘camping on board’ with Superfast.

A really great idea, they allow campers and caravans to hook up to electric points, positioning you at the open end of the deck, with a view out to sea. They even provide showers, toilets and a key so that you can access the rest of the boat for the bar and restaurant and then re-enter the car deck when you like to sleep in your camper van. We filled the time to sunset with a shower and did some overdue washing of clothes.

VW camper van on ferry

The ferry was eerily empty and our VW camper van looked a little odd on between the standard campers on the deck. So finally our Grexit turned out to be a much better experience than we thought.  We joked that this must be what being on a cruise is like, with our own cabin and sea facing balcony.  It’s probably the closest we will ever get to going on a proper cruise!

Camping on board ferry from Greece

Upstairs just us, another couple and several truck drivers enjoying the amazing stews and salads from the restaurant, as they all anxiously watched the riots in Athens unfold on the TV, following the Greek parliaments decision to accept the bailout terms. During the night, the ferry slowly filled with more trucks and tourist campers after stops at Igoumenitsa and Corfu ports.

We woke with the sun after a unsettled night disrupted by the on boarding activities at the different ports.  Feeling human again after an espresso doppio sitting out on the deck, we watched Dolphins swimming near the boat before we entered the harbour at Bari. Sadly, after several wonderful weeks finally time for our ‘Grexit’ and goodbye Greece but good morning Italy and onwards.

Ancient sites of Mystra, Sparti and Corinthos

Spurred on by our hassle and tourist free exploration of Monemvasia we wanted to take advantage of the opportunity and see the other ancient sites of Mystra , Sparta and Corinthos.  Admittedly it was just me, Helen, who was enthused being the one who most enjoys looking at piles of stones!

Setting off from our serene, wild camping, place in Laconia early in the morning so that we were nearing the ancient site of Mystra before midday.  As you near the contemporary town of Sparti it seems history has not left very much trace at all but once out of the town and into the hills you can pick out the ancient town of Mystra emerging from the trees on the hillside a continuation of the sandy coloured rock on which it sits.

Sparta from Mystra

As each switch back in the road brings you closer the scale becomes more apparent and you could see how 60,000 people could have lived here in the Byzantine hey day. As we turned one corner suddenly tens of cars and even a coach blocked our path as they shuffled into the car park, maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all.  With relief we spotted the sign to the upper gate and an escape route through the waiting cars.  Just a few more turns up the road another small car park was quieter and gave on to a wonderful vista over the roof tops of ancient Mystra below, across the vast plain covered in olive trees up to and beyond Sparti.

Mystra above Sparti plain

Entering here meant a short climb (about 15 minutes on large cobbled, stepped track through the pine trees) to the fort at the very top where it was refreshing to see that the ruined fort is left unrestricted by fences or rails for visitors to explore as they wish.  We clambered up what remained of the stone steps onto the battlements to be rewarded with spectacular views.  Retracing our steps back to explore the rest of the upper town, the outline of houses either side of the steep cobbled pathways and a couple of tumbling down churches with amazingly preserved frescos.

church Byzantine frescos Mystra

church ruin in Mystra

We explored for a few hours, as far as the main Palazzo, closed for restoration work which we could not rationalise at all not the fact that it was closed during the works but that the intention seems to be to restore it completely to its supposed former glory with new roof, windows and doors.  We fear another Disney type ‘historical’ site will result preventing visitors from using literature and a little imagination to envisage what life could have been like and instead there will be one historian’s view permanently preserved.

Mystra is an amazing ancient site and certainly more than worthy of the 5€ entrance fee.

Mystra cobbled streets

Onwards to find out if there was anything of ancient Sparta to see, having read that their philosophy was that it is ‘men not walls that make a kingdom’ we were not surprised to find very little indeed.  The outline of a theatre and a handful of houses are being excavated at a tiny site north of town hidden behind the towns present day stadium with just one sign highlighting the site when we were within a few hundred metres.  We wandered the edges of the ruins, just us and the archaeological team below slowly digging and scraping.

remains of ancient Sparta

It was lunchtime but we were not hungry for the touristy looking restaurants at Mystra or for a potentially long search in sprawling, industrial feeling Sparti and so we carried on north towards Korinth and the next set of stones at the ancient site of Corinthos just an hour or so away.  Adam could hardly contain his excitement!

As you approach the city of Corinth with the Aegean sea to its north and the Ionian sea to the east medieval Corinthos is quite difficult to spot at first.  Its walls barely discernible from the rocky peak of the enormous tooth of rock that erupts sharply out of the plain. We followed the brown sign though following the track up and around the rock.  Around the other side the ancient site of Corinthos reveals itself or at least its tall stone walls and enormous, intact gateway.

Medieval Corinth Greece

We parked in the empty patch of gravel below the gate and then saw the sign  which told us that the site closed daily at 3pm, we’d missed it by half an hour.  I ran up the cobbled way to the grand gate to get a closer look and the interior looks amazing, even Adam was impressed by this ancient site so we’ll have to re-visit on another trip.

We stood and marvelled at the view in the baking heat, from this vantage point it is clear to see how the location of Corinth’s would have made it pivotal to trade between east and west, the link between Aegean and Ionian seas before the Corinth canal was built in the 1800s.

Korinth canal Greece

We were about to leave when a Spanish Ducati pulled up next to us and the rider took his helmet off, looked at our registration plate and said haltingly ‘Is Clozedd?’ Yes, at 3 we explained and only open again tomorrow.  He looked very dejected and extremely hot as he told us that he had ridden from Athens, via Mystra, to see Corinth today.  We chatted for a while to Roberto about his 16 day trip from Bilbao to Athens alone on his motorbike, about his and our previous two-wheeled adventures and exchanged contact details so that if Adam and I are ever in Santander or north of Spain we can meet again.

In strange contrast to the ancient site of Corinthos, close to Korinth on the Ionian coast a strange mix of oil refineries, expensive looking, large homes and hotels line the coast either side of the Corinth canal.  We found a quiet and tired looking campsite with a nice beach and swam in the surprisingly clean and calm waters before heading out for a wonderful yet melancholy evening in the nearby, sadly quiet, taverna where the owners talked to us about their concern that no help from EU would mean their business will not survive.

Family restaurant Korinth Greece

Again we did our best to support them but our heads regretted it in the morning.  We had been spell-bound by Greece not just the ancient sites of Mystra, Sparti and Corinthos but by the pride and strength of the modern nation and peoples. however, with the news warning of strikes and rallies as Tspiras continued his negotiations with the rest of Europe, we sadly planned our Grexit by ferry from Patra.

Free from tourists in Monemvasia and wild camping in Laconia

We’ve spent a wonderful few days free from tourists in Monemvasia and wild camping in Laconia.

On a recommendation from our neighbours whilst wild camping in The Mani, we travelled just a few hours to the peninsula of Laconia. Confident that tonight we would be able to find a place to sleep on a beach they had pointed out to us on the map, we went first to Monemvasia.

Monemvasia is one of THE sites to see in Greece, a 6th century, Byzantine fortified town hidden on the sea facing side of a small, tall island separated from the land by an earth quake in the 4th century and now rejoined by a causeway.

The fact that it is one of the main historic sites would normally mean that we would avoid it and look only from a distance, having experienced that it is not easy to actually ‘see’ such places when they are blanketed in brightly coloured tourists taking snaps at every vantage point. However with the lack of tourists we had seen so far and that it was remarkably free to enter, we thought it was worth a look.

We first did our bit to boost the Greek economy again by stopping for lunch at a Trata, a nice little taverna in the mainland part of town, Gefyla, (bridge in Greek).  Here we enjoyed, what we judged to be, the best Tyrokafteri so far, fresh red peppers mixed with the strong feta cheese, and a wonderful, huge plate of Fava (thick puree of yellow split peas) oh yes and a couple Mythos beers in iced glasses of course.

Trata taverna MonemvasiaDuring our delicious, long and lazy lunch from where we could see the causeway across to the island, we observed very few people. So full and energised, we walked the mile or so across the causeway and around the headland of the island to where the ancient town hid hanging on the cliff on the seaward side.

Mmonemvasia protected by the sea

The red roofed stone houses, clustered close together above the rocks, are a beautiful site however, on entering, it all gets a little confusing.  This ancient town has been restored to such an extent that it is difficult to imagine what the town would really have been like before the cobbled alleyways where lined with very stylish, modern bars, expensive restaurants and shops busting with souvenir merchandise.  If it was a normal, working, living town then it would be a very cool place to live and though we did see evidence of a few fishermen living within the walls, the town has been restored in the most part for tourists and is a very surreal place.  During our visit we were lucky in that Monemvasia was relatively free from tourists though of course financially this cannot continue for the business owners it allowed us to see more of the ‘real’ town.

Enjoying peace and sunshine in Monemvasia

We came, we saw, we debated a lot whether it was the right thing to do to rebuild the town in this way or to preserve the ruins as history had defined them. It was a debate we had many times around different sites and whilst we never actually resolved our confusion, the sites just held in time, as they are today, were the ones that made us feel more comfortable.

quiet and confusing Monemvasia

Still debating, we drifted off and changed our focus to the west, to the quieter and wilder part of the peninsula where our Mani wild camping neighbours had suggested was a large, sandy open beach in Laconia where we could camp for the night.  When we arrived in the early evening, only a dozen souls where scattered along the length of the beach. Promising.

Although the beach was a beautiful and quiet spot, a rough track at one end of the beach tempted us to explore further, on foot to start with. At the end of the track to our delight, we found an absolutely secluded, empty bay with crystal clear waters, facing the sunset.

Wild camping Laconia copy

We switched the van to 4X4 mode and set off, disappearing ‘through the wardrobe’ again for two extremely beautiful, peaceful and relaxing nights in our hidden wild camping oasis in Laconia.

Like our secret place on Lefkada we don’t want to say exactly where this idyllic place is but if you head to the west side of the Laconia peninsula and explore the bays away from the villages and towns, you are sure to find your own special, secret cove for a day swimming or possibly wild camping.quiet bay Laconia Greece copy