Country #12 (on my first visit to the country)
When I tell people I am getting married in Greece the response is always “what island?”. When I tell them I am getting married on the mainland they always tend to look a bit confused and respond with “what area?”. However when my reply is “Monemvasia” I know I have lost them.
The little unknown town of Monemvasia is perched on tiny rock-shaped island in the southeastern region of The Peloponnese, often referred to as the “Gibraltar of the East” for its shape. Once connected to the mainland by a tin strip of land but now only connected by a man-made bridge, Monemvasia’s name means “single entrance”. The fortified medieval (6th century) Byzantine town is tucked away into a small enclave of the island and offers its visitors a living museum of Byzantine, Ottoman and Venetian history and architecture. Today many of its buildings have been converted into hotels and cafes but you still get the sense you have gone back in time as soon as you step foot inside this city’s walls.
Monemvasia is getting more popular with tourists, as the locals will tell you, however is still a far cry from tourist ridden Cyclades islands such as Santorini and Mykonos. The fact Monemvasia is a four-hour drive south of Athens keeps some tourists away however on the weekends many Greeks come to this quiet romantic town for some serious R&R. The fortified town, which is also referred to as the “Castle of Monemvasia” is foot traffic only and has only one entrance carved into the city walls. The cobblestone streets are like a maze and every corner you turn unearths more beauty and serenity. The abundance of flowers adds colour and life to empty side streets and is truly enchanting. The main throughway has a few shops, creperies, bars and restaurants. During the day locals hang around outside their shops, sit and sit their coffees and chat which really sets the tone for how relaxed life is here.
The reason I made the trek to Monemvasia was for the famous Kinsterna Hotel & Spa. The Kinsterna is a 13th century Byzantine manor house that was restored and opened as a hotel in 2010 and is where I will be saying “I do”. Once opened, the Kinsterna was featured by all the major travel sources and has since brought more and more tourism to the area. Located 15 minutes south of Monemvasia island and up atop a hill, this luxurious retreat surrounds you in its’ very own olive groves and vineyards and is a little slice of paradise. Originally just one main house but now sprawling over 7 buildings, the Kinsterna has become almost a mini resort without compromising the home-like feel of this place.
What to do
Hike up to the Upper Town
Monemvasia is split into 2 areas, the Upper Town and Lower Town. The Lower Town is the main tourist area that you see in all the photos and the Upper Town is a hike up the fortress walls to the original settling of the town. Today the Upper town is not inhabited however the Church of Aghia Sofia sits at the top and is worth the hike. You can also get great shots of the Lower Town on your way up.
Got to the beach
Most beaches in the immediate area are not white sand beaches but pebbly beaches that may not be appealing to many tourists so you do have to drive a bit to find white sandy beaches, but its worth it. All the locals will tell you the best beach is Simos Beach, located on the island of Elafonisos which requires about an hour drive through the mountains plus a ferry ride which you can take your car on. The beach is remote with white sand with 2 cafes serving drinks and snacks. In the port of Elefonisos there is a selection of eclectic restaurants and shops for those with a bit more of an appetite! My favourite beach was in Plytra, which is located on the mainland just about a 45-minute drive southwest of Monemvasia. The drive to Plytra is much easier as you go through a valley and it also has a huge beach bar and restaurant right on the beach with a lot of atmosphere.
Where to Stay
The Kinsterna Hotel & Spa $$
Hands down the best place in the region offering a real 5 star experience. It is s destination in its own.
Moni Envasis Luxury Suites $$$
Located inside the fortified city of Monemvasia, this hotel offers the only luxury accommodation in the town itself. This hotel is quite close to the entrance of the town so you do not have to drag your luggage all the way through the town’s cobblestone streets and steps.
Kellia Guesthouse $
A family run guesthouse located all the way at the far end of the walled town. Although it is a bit far to carry your luggage this Guesthouse is clean, nicely decorated, comes with a wonderful breakfast made by the wife Maria (who also owns a shop on the main street) and is tucked away in its own corner of town away from any foot traffic so your stay is quit peaceful.
Where to Eat & Drink
There are two places that really stand out in Monemvasia for their superior terraces overlooking the sea.
Matoula – A great restaurant offering a huge selection of traditional Greek and local dishes. It is only open for dinner and make sure you get there before the sun sets to enjoy the view.
Enetiko Café & Bar – This is by far the best terrace in the town. It is more of a café than restaurant so it’s better suited for a morning coffee or sundowners. It is also opened until 3am so a great option for after dinner cocktails.