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Monemvasia: my kind of town
Author and Classicist Paul Waters loves the peace and isolation found in the Greek town of Monemvasia.
I hesitate to write about my favourite places, because I don’t want people to go there and spoil them. But even in this age of easy mass travel, Monemvasia is still refreshingly difficult to reach, and only the determined will trouble to make the journey. When I first visited more than 20 years ago, almost no one lived there, and the buildings had fallen into ruin. Actually, there are two towns on the island – the lower town, at sea level, which has been slowly (and tastefully) restored; and the upper town or citadel, still in ruins, where you can wander alone among the old streets and fallen houses, with the cicadas singing around you. Spring is the best time for southern Greece, when the grass is green and the wild flowers are in bloom. Otherwise, go in autumn.
How do visitors get there?
Monemvasia is almost an island; its only link to the mainland of southern Greece is a narrow causeway. To reach it, it’s best to go by road from Athens, either by car or coach, which takes about five hours. Sometimes ferries call; sometimes not. If you’re thinking of going and don’t have your own transport, the hotels or a good travel agent will give you the latest advice about what’s running. For train-lovers, there’s a quirky little railway that follows a circular route around the Peloponnese from Athens; but you’ll still need to combine that with a bus/coach/car journey. There are also luxury cruises that call in.
What do you miss most when you are away?
The silence and the sky. And the ghosts of the past.
What's the first thing you do when you return?
I look out for what has changed, and hope nothing has.
Where's the best place to stay?
I prefer rooms or apartments to hotels, but Monemvasia has both. Try the Monopati apartments (0030 27320 61772; www.byzantine-escapade.com; prices vary but are from £40 a night for two people ). If you prefer a hotel, the Malvasia (27320 63007; www.malvasia-hotel.gr) is a good one, or the Kellia (27320 61520; no website), which was once a monastery. On the mainland opposite is the small town and tiny port of Gefira, and there you can find less expensive accommodation, a supermarket and other amenities. There’s a small travel agent there, too, called Malvasia Travel (27320 61752).
Where would you meet friends for a drink?
Any of the little street cafés on the island or in the port.
Where are your favourite places to eat?
Twenty years ago an old, black-clad grandmother cooked me a dish of beans on a Primus stove in Matula’s taverna (www.matoula.gr). I think it was the only place to eat in those days. Now there are others – the Kanoni taverna, Mariantha’s taverna and places across the causeway on the mainland. Greek cuisine isn’t really “haute”, but it’s fresh, lively and local. Try the fish, and perhaps the local Malvasia wine – Shakespeare’s Malmsey.
Where would you send a first-time visitor?
To the upper town. It’s quite magical.
What would you tell them to avoid?
There’s nothing you should avoid. The place is small – you’ll have time to do everything that takes your fancy.
Public transport or taxi?
There’s no need for either, but in any case, cars are not allowed on the island. Just walk along the cobbled streets among the stone houses, slow down and enjoy the peace and quiet of it all.
Handbag or moneybelt?
There’s no need for a moneybelt – Monemvasia is quite safe.
What should I take home?
Nothing. Travel light. It’s not the sort of place in which to buy souvenirs. Monemvasia is for reading, walking, painting and eating a slow lunch with friends.
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