Definitely off the beaten track in Greece

Having enjoyed two wonderful, relatively sedate days; jogging on the beach each morning, strolling to various beach bars, exploring the lazy lanes up to the nearby Kastro castle and taking a dip every now and then to cool down, it was time for something a little more adventurous.

great camping near arkoudhi

We walked to the very end of our long sandy beach, which at first glance looked like the end of the walk, we found that there was a way, albeit clambering, through the big boulders to the next couple of bays. The explorer in us then kicked in, what if it was possible to walk all the way to Kilini (the ferry port town about 10km north) along this rugged coastline?

So next day we donned our walking shoes, filled our bladder packs with water and set off along the sandy beach at quite a different pace to everyone else spread-eagled under their umbrellas. Passing our speedo clad camper neighbours on their morning stroll, ‘Kalimera’ (good morning)! we chimed as we romped past, ‘Kalimera?!,’ they replied with a questioning lilt of their heads. It was only half an hour ago they had put their thumbs up as we returned, hot and panting, from our morning run during their breakfast. I guess they were wondering what we were up to now.

Peaceful beach walk Peloponnese

We clambered confidently over the first boulders and quickly disappeared around the corner to the next, pebbly, deserted beach.   It was like stepping ‘through the wardrobe’, a totally different atmosphere, just us and the beach stretching ahead to the next clamber point. Looking back, we noticed the path through the rocks was marked with a trail of red dots painted on the rocks. Some kind soul, who enjoyed this path frequently obviously wanted others to share…

Following these marks we made great progress from one secluded beach to another, clearly only accessible from the road via intermittent dirt tracks and local knowledge but probably way easier than clambering over the rocks.  The red marks disappeared and a long sandy beach stretched out in front of us, at the end all we could see was a tall, rugged rock face.  We trudged on, optimistic we would find a way past, our legs were regretting our morning jog on the beach as they worked to make progress in the deep pebbles.

coast walk ArkhoudiFinally we reached the end of and the tall rock face that blocked our way.  We were so pleased to find that probably that, probably, same intrepid, kind soul had rigged up a knotted rope dangling down from the top.  We pulled to test it, all good and scrambled up and over to the yet another long empty beach.

Kastro beach coast walk diversion

After two hours, now hoping that we must be nearing Kilini, we came to a curving rocky bay leading to what we thought was the final headland on the other side the bay.  As we set off, crunching through the pebbles, we announced our presence to two big Doberman type dogs patrolling the other side of the beach who replied with loud barks. “Rabies?” we both thought simultaneously…

Decision time, our three options; keep walking forwards and chance the dogs who stood their ground, barking and growling at us across the bay; pack our clothes and shoes into our water proof bags and swim round until we had passed them and could get out again (there was 300m or so to swim that we could see and we didn’t know how far round the corner before we would be able to climb ashore again) or retrace our steps across the pebbles of the last two beaches and find a track up to the road. We challenged ourselves to be adventurous but this time “what’s the worst that can happen” scared us enough…

Though our legs didn’t like it, we therefore took option three.  Trudging back down the beach of pebbles, clambering back over the tall rock and easing back down the rope on the other side back the length of the long sandy beach a mile or so, we found a dirt track and a little further on a narrow tarmac track.  Of course we should take the tarmac track, with no map and in the heat of the day however frustrated that our adventure had been curtailed by the dogs and still determined to get to  Kilini, we decided to set off up the dirt track which seemed to head more in the direction we wanted to go.

secluded tracks Arkhoudi Peloponnese

After a few hundred metres, the track split. What now? With nothing but wise old olive trees to guide us, we went right. Just a short way around the corner we spotted a man with few teeth piling water melons onto his moped. “Kalimera”, we said then making lots of scarecrow-like gestures, tried to ask which way to Kilini. After realising we spoke no Greek, he too resorted to a scarecrow poses and with a toothless smile, pointed to Kilini with one arm and Kastro with the other, of course completely the opposite to what our guidance system had assumed. We turned back yet again.

The track seemed to be never ending, our stomachs were calling lunchtime and our shoulders reddened beneath a glaze of sweat.  We stopped and switched to t-shirts.

Another climb brought us to the main road at the top of a hill where we could see Kilini in the distance.  We could also see the extent of the headland that we had considered swimming around and realised that swimming was absolutely not the right thing to do. The dogs had probably saved us as it was much further around the coast to Kilini than we had a assumed.

Finally we reached Kalini after 5 hours just in time for siesta! All of the shops and restaurants appeared shut but around the corner a large sandy beach stretched alongside the harbour and, behind it, several restaurants touted for our business each with a couple of customers.  We have never been quite so pleased to see tourists.

We chose one away from the others that looked a little more local; no pictures of their food, no fancy painted sign and printed menus with too many choices, instead a chalk board with today’s special in Greek and a hand written menu.  Being the day of the Greek referendum on whether to accept the terms of the EU bailout the waiter was keen to ask why we came despite their problems and to tell us his views on the situation.  “The Greek people will say ‘no’ but a vote yes or no does not matter.  We simply need help and we need tourists.  Where are my tourists?” he said looking out across the beach with his hand held to his forehead.  Of his 30 tables 3 were occupied, “Now we should be full” he said “so now I fear we may not be fat in time for winter this year.”

Every restaurant in every place we visited in Greece so far has been the same, you can see the concern in the eyes and bodies of everyone as they welcome us warmly and always thank us for coming. Emotionally and very full, we thanked him, wished him luck for the season and set off to retrace our steps down the dirt track and along the beach, back to the campsite.

Kastro coast walk

A couple of beaches prior to home and just before the last, most difficult rocky scramble we were tempted by some steep steps and a bar/restaurant sign. Our drained legs managed the steep steps and perched on the cliff above was the small restaurant that had been our oasis the day before when we walked and found a dead end. They recognised us and waved as we emerged at the top of the steps.  ‘Thyio Mythos parakalor’ (two beers please) I panted.  ‘You come from camping?’ he asked as he delivered our fantastic beers in two iced glasses, ‘Yes from camping but then to Kilini and then here’ Adam explained. ‘Ooof, wow!’ he replied and left us probably thinking ‘Crazy English!’

Our legs and mood were very light as we followed the red dots, clambered back through the last boulders and ‘out of the wardrobe’, onto the sandy beach, landing next to a startled family building a sand castle.  Another great little adventure, an off the beaten track Greek coast walk and a day of exploring just as we like it.

Rock pools in sunshine on Kastro beach

Surreal and unusual Kastro region of Greece

After the full moon on Lefkada we explored further south, driving over the spectacular bridge at Patra (of which a civil engineer somewhere should be very proud) and into the Peloponnese.
bridge to Patra PeloponneseTurning off at Gastouni towards Kastro and Kilini, where several campsites are marked, we found a surreal area of Greece. Camping villages punctuating a coastline of vast sandy beaches, with gates and boundaries separating them from endless fields of water melons, evidently planted by men but seemingly left to nature.

In a quiet rural farming village, we lunched as soon as we could find somewhere open and with food. We were the only guests again and great food as usual, despite the apologies that ‘kitchen not big because no tourist’.

We settled at Camping Meltissa, the most informal and natural ‘camp site’ (rather than the many ‘camp villages’) run by a very friendly Greek family. A wonderful base for us to chill out in comfort with a fantastic, west facing, quiet spot next to the beach.

sunset over Kefalonia

We walked and jogged on the beach (inspired by the retirees and locals’ wobbling along the beach as the sun rose ), snorkeled, swam in the crystal clear water and played in the and afternoon waves.

Great jogging beach earl morning Kastro

Stir crazy after the first day, we walked out along the lanes and up to Kastro and its Byzantine castle (just in time for it to close for siesta). So again, we did our best to ease the Greek financial crisis with beer in one bar with an wonderful view…

Beers in Kastro

and lunch in a local taverna with a small menu but great chef and great local wine.

Great lunch in Kastro at local Taverna

The next day we planned a walk to Kilini, a small port and nearest large town that the guide book promised was ‘cheerless with no reason to stop’ which normally means it’s worth a mooch at least for an hour or so. Heading off north down a lane in what we expected was the right direction, at just before midday as we often stupidly do, we soon came to a dead end. We had been guessing since we hadn’t found a detailed map of the area and when we asked the camp site owners about footpaths, they looked at us very oddly and asked ‘what about Olympia, have you been there?’ Yes and not quite the ‘off-the-beaten track adventure’ we had in mind.

Luckily, at the end of the road, there was a sign for four rental bungalows with a Greek kitchen at the beginning of a long, lawn bordered, rough drive. We wandered down fearing a tourist trap but found a lovely bar, perched on the top of the coastal cliff, with tables under welcome shade and quiet music playing. It seemed we had woken the bar man when we asked if they were they open for food but he happily brought us a beer and told us that the kitchen would open shortly.

An oasis on the coast by Kastro Beach

Within a few minutes we had iced glasses full of Mythos Greek beer and relaxed to Greek calming music from the bar, cicadas in the trees and the waves lapping below. We looked out across the sea to the silhouetted hills of Kefalonia. Within half an hour, I was so relaxed I felt like crying and within an hour we had a wonderful aubergine salad, Greek salad and pork souvlaki (kebabs).

Having seen another couple emerge from the beach below we tore ourselves away from the tranquil and surreal oasis and went to investigate once we were fully refueled and rejuvenated from our stop in the oasis.

Rock pools in sunshine on Kastro beach

The beach below the restaurant stretched north, perhaps we can get to Kilini that way? Tomorrow? And south, only a short way before being cut off by rocks jutting into the sea, separating this beach from our Kastro beach, a mile or so away. Surely we can clamber round, what’s the worst that can happen? And so we did emerging onto the very end of ‘our’ beach where we had walked to yesterday and assumed we could go no further, as evidently the couple of startled beach walkers thought too as we jumped down from the last rock onto the sand.

We wandered the last mile through the lapping sea, flip flops in hand and content smiles on our faces.

Dinner by the camper van enjoying our sea view and the sunset, you can never tire of sunsets…

great camping near arkoudhi

…particularly when they give you the chance to take arty pictures of your cool camper van!

Greek sunset in camper van

We contemplated whether we should walk to Kilini (around 12km away according to our Greece map) by the road or try to get by clambering along the beaches and rocks. Wanting adventure and challenge as always, next morning we set off north along the beach (more in the next blog)…

Peaceful beach walk Peloponnese

Greek Crisis?

Our sketchy plan included Greece and we were not to be perturbed by the ongoing financial crisis, if anything the lack of monies in Greece and fear that tourists would be put off encouraged us.  Surely it was now more than ever they needed our Euros. We have to admit that, normally travelling in June to avoid busy periods, we thought this could unfortunately but fortunately for us be a wonderful opportunity to enjoy Greece in July in peace.

We filled our tank with fuel and ensured we had plenty of Euros, knowing that the banks were ‘closed’ and continued as planned into Greece, prepared for our own Grexit if needs be.

Initially we thought ‘what Greek Crisis?’; locals sat chatting in cafes swinging their rosary beads, families sunning themselves on the beaches and couples lunching in roadside restaurants.   There was evidence of the crisis though; in every town queues at the ATMs, many with policemen or security guards standing watch.

Police watch queues for ATM in old town Lefkada

We tried to top up our Euros at several ATMs to find them empty, finally succeeding after queuing at a big bank’s ATM for a while.  Nobody, including petrol stations, is taking cards, for fear that their banks will not be able to pass on the cash we assume, and in towns that evidently depend on tourists to fill their many restaurants and cafe’s, tables and chairs stood eerily empty but hopefully laid all the same.

quiet cafes only Greek locals

We enjoyed beers, gyros and delicious lunches in Old Town Lefkada, thankful of the narrow shady streets, again sitting alone other than for a few locals.

Delicious lunch in eerily quiet Lefkada old town

Into the Peloponnese we stopped briefly at Gialova in Navarino Bay, poignantly where the last battle of the Greek war of independence was fought. The last sea battle fought by ships with sails, the British, French and Russian forces joined against the Ottoman Turks in support of an independent Greece.   A beautiful large bay where 70 plus boats battled for an afternoon and would normally now be full of tourist sailing ships, eerily empty and quiet, just a dozen extremely stylish and well finished restaurants with tables by the sea all empty.

Navarinho bay empty tables

Campsite owners greeted us with open arms, evidently surprised and extremely pleased to see us. A choice of pitches with sea views in Camping Meltissa near Arkhoudi.  We were so pleased and sad at the same time to find such a wonderful place with kilometres of sandy beach and clear blue waters with amazingly few people even at the weekends.

On the eve and day of the referendum, if it wasn’t for our regular checks of the news, we wouldn’t have known that anything was amiss.  Sunday was actually the busiest day we have seen so far on the beaches and in the bars.

Quiet bar on hillside by beach Lefkada

In the following days we spoke to several business owners, campsites, bars and restaurants as we did our best to boost the economy (our bellies now feeling the strain!).  One restaurant owner captured the feeling, “I fear we won’t be fat enough for the winter”.  Most thought a vote yes to accept or no to reject the bailout offer would not really make a difference on the coast, away from the big cities, they just know that they need help somehow but it’s always hard to accept you need help when you are so proud of what you have.