Skoutari & the Rock

We always make one or two pilgrimages to Skoutari, one of the best beaches within shouting distance of the farm in Koumani (though at a half-hour drive, it’s a pretty long shout). It’s a very local beach — a handful of tavernas, the rare tourist or two — and it’s beautiful.

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The beach has a lovely simplicity, as do the few buildings that stand along its edge.

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There are nice touches like this boat near the shoreline (though we’re not sure whether it was placed there for aesthetic purposes or not):

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They have recently restored a Byzantine church on the beach. In their archeological work, they discovered that the church sits on top of a set of Roman baths (unfortunately, you can’t see them, but I find that fact remarkable).

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This faint fresco faces the beach …

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… and while this is a fairly small church by Greek standards, it’s an impressive edifice nonetheless.

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The only drawback to Skoutari is that when it gets hot and the tide is high, there aren’t many options for places to lie down in the shade (I should also note that you have to like swimming or treading water when you’re in the sea, because the bottom of the water is pretty rocky). So we abandoned ship at 11:00, took another couple of hours to read under brollies at Mavrovouni beach, and then ended our day at a cafe finally catching great wifi in the port town of Gytheio.

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The next day we left the farm and headed for Monemvasia, an ancient town located off of a small strip of land at the far southeastern end of the Peloponnese. Monemvasia used to be an island — a nearly unassailable one, except by siege — until they built a bridge there in 1971. So now tourists can flock there in droves, and they do, but a visit is well worth it despite the throngs.

No cars can drive beyond the bridge; the only way into the town is through a winding gate. Once you walk in, you find yourself in the lower town. This is where you find all of the shops, hotels, and tavernas, and it is also where people actually live. It has windy alleyways and lots of picturesque spots.

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There are, of course, multiple churches.

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If you climb up, up, up a set of slippery switchbacks to the top of the rock, you reach the upper town. That’s where all of the ruins are, relics of the days when people actually lived and tried to farm in this amazing defensive position. When Jocelyn and I visited four years ago, we climbed all of the stairs only to find that the entire upper town was closed for renovation. But this time, it was open!

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We headed straight up to the Hagia Sophia, a 12th century Byzantine church that sits almost at the cliff’s edge.

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I love the interior:

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We then headed up to the very top of Monemvasia, to the citadel, from which the ancient Greeks would have tried (with varying success) to repel the Slavs, Turks, and Venetians. If you squint, you can see the citadel at the very top of the photo below — far above the round-topped mausoleum and large square cistern.

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We had a picnic lunch in the rare shade of this archway…

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… with the small town of Gefyra far down below.

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The top of Monemvasia is endlessly dry. Only a few plants grow there.

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The views from the top are dramatic, whether you’re looking down at the sea …

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… or gazing out over the lower town:

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There are beautiful sights pretty much everywhere you look.

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After a while at the top, we found ourselves overheated and dehydrated (but yes, Mom, we were wearing sunblock!).

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When we got back to the bottom, we were happy to stop by the side of the road and dangle our feet in the water.

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