If you speak with anyone who’s been to Monemvasia they will immediately say that it’s one of the most incredible places they’ve ever been. Like a miniature Gibraltar, it’s a rock with ancient roots. Read on to discover why we fell in love with Monemvasia.
A few weeks ago, my friend, Carol, emailed me about a tiny island off the Peloponnese called Monemvasia. She said that her family enjoyed a few holidays in the area and it was ‘not to be missed.’
While my husband, Simon, and our esteemed guest from Italy, Admiral Stefano, were discussing a route from Santorini Island back to towards the Ionian Sea, I piped up and asked, ‘Can we stop at Monemvasia.’ Errrrr, in actuality, I said, ‘There’s a place on the east side of the Peloponnese that starts with an ‘M’ and I’ve been told it’s worth checking it out.’
The guys looked on the map, I put my finger in the region of where I thought we needed to go and pulled up anchor from Milos Island to set sail for Monemvasia.
None of us had any idea of what to expect in Monemvasia upon arrival.
For the first half of the journey, we sailed a steady 6 knots. A storm was growing to the north of us and we all watched a tornado start to form in the clouds. A long line of cloud spun and started to descend towards the sea. We kept an eye on it while nervously increasing our speed.
At first, the sight of a tornado was exciting but then I wondered, ‘what if’?
What if the tornado touches down and becomes a water spout? What if it starts to come towards us? Admiral Stefano asked Simon to start tying things down – just in case. After 20 minutes, the funnel cloud disappeared and we all let out a sigh of relief.
Once we passed the storm front the wind died and the engine was turned on.
Eventually, we could see the coast of the Peloponnese and a tiny island jetted out before our eyes. And then I heard Simon yell out from behind the binoculars, ‘It looks like a walled city.’ We all took turns looking and becoming more excited about our destination.
Just as I went to get my camera, I saw a huge splash out of the corner of my eye.
I excitedly, said to Admiral Stefano, ‘Did you see that – look over there…’ And then suddenly a tuna at least 4’ long jumped out of the water 2 more times. The way that the sun was shining it hit the silver-gray tuna with such a special light. Set the jumping tuna against the deep blue Aegean sea background and it made for a spectacular sight. It was a shame I didn’t have my camera yet!
By the time we stopped looking out for the tuna to jump again, we were upon the island of Monemvasia. I went to the bow of the boat with my daughter and we took several pictures of the island and surrounding area.
Our first attempt to moor up was in a tiny harbor to the left of Monemvasia.
The pilot book outlined the depths and if we could get inside the outer wall, our keel and rudder would clear the ocean floor. Unfortunately, the wall was full. There were several smaller sailboats moored stern-to along an inner jetty but the pilot book and our Ipad navigational app noted depths of under 1 meter. Our keel is 2.6 meters.
Not wanting to run aground we aborted our initial berthing plans.
After consulting our pilot book, we looked at anchoring in the area but then noticed a couple of sailboats tied up on a jetty along the other side of the island. We headed around the island and went side-to. In the pilot book, it mentioned that a ferry and hydrofoil use the jetty but no one seemed to stop us from taking a spot.
What we’ve discovered is that you often have to start mooring up and someone will either yell at you to go away or help you out. In this particular circumstance, a policeman eventually showed up, told us we were welcome to stay but asked all three boats to move from side-to to stern-to, thus taking up less space.
A couple of hours after initially trying to moor up, we were finally tied down!
That’s one thing about sailing – things that you’d think would take minutes, often take hours!
Once the engine was turned off, I finally took the time to appreciate my surroundings. To our stern was a beautiful rock mountain – like a mini Rock of Gibraltar – with the infinite sea as a backdrop. To our left and right my eyes enjoyed grass-bottomed rock-topped mountains.
Off our bow was a small town at the water’s edge.
The kind policeman told us the best restaurant to go to – I’m sure it was his brother’s or uncle’s restaurant! He said if we stay on the island, we’d pay more than if we walked across the bridge to the mainland.
In medieval times, the island was connected to land by a drawbridge, but today it’s a nicely paved road. We walked over to the mainland, turned left towards the marina, and picked the restaurant in the middle of two others.
We were all exhausted by the time we finished but the Admiral promised my daughter, Sienna, an ice cream.
Walking through Monemvasia I noticed a couple of fruit markets, a grocery store, some boutique shops, a creperie, some coffee shops, and several tavernas. It was a cute little town. There was also one of those old fashion butchers… At 8 pm, when we walked by the butcher, he was carving up some sort of carcass – the whole thing was laid out on the counter and passers-by could see the cuts he was making with a meat hook and knife.
Personally, I like to buy my meat all wrapped up and ready to cook…
We stopped at a café, ordered 3 coffees (Stefano – espresso, Simon – Americano and me – Cappuccino) and Sienna enjoyed a chocolate ice cream. As she ate it, she kept saying, ‘I’m not tired,’ and then proceeded to do the nodding dog. Her eyes would close and her head would fall to one side or the other.
That night, Admiral Stefano carried Sienna back to the boat while she slept on his shoulder.
In the morning, we all woke and did our chores. Fixing things, grocery shopping, cleaning, and in my case, I answered emails and posted a blog in addition to adding pictures to Twitter, Facebook, Linked In, and Pinterest.
After lunch, we put on our hiking shoes and headed for the walled city.
I wasn’t expecting anything so when I walked through the walled gates I was simply struck with awe.
Monemvasia was like many other islands in the Mediterranean – everyone owned her at one time or another. In the 1400s the island was even sold to the Pope. It seems that the largest influence on the town that can still be seen was when the island was under Venetian rule.
The Venetians had the island in the 1500s and the Turks took it in the 1600s…and then it went back to the Venetians and then back to the Turks…Eventually, the town was liberated from Ottoman rule in 1821 during the Greek War of Independence.
The island was the main port for the shipment of wine.
Anyway, it was one of those days where all you could hear me say is, ‘Wow – look at that view,’ or ‘Holy smokes, can you believe how beautiful that is?’
The town is devoid of cars so you can easily and calmly walk around the cobblestone pathways exploring various ruins, new buildings (in a traditional style), churches (of course!), and enjoying the surrounding blue sea.
Aside from a few satellite dishes here and there, Monemvasia seemed like a movie set.
There was nothing out of place – the buildings are all made of the same stone and materials – old and new. Patches of colorful flowers were weaved through the winding corridors – beautiful pinks, oranges, greens, and yellows against the stone walls oozed life into hard rocks.
Smells of souvlaki, grilled fish, and Greek salad wafted through the air. And when the breeze blew you’d get that strong Mediterranean smell of dust, trees, and organic herbs drift past.
And the sounds? There were no sounds in Monemvasia…
We were fortunate to hit the island on a quiet day. I’ve been told that ferries and cruise ships stop by but we were the only boat on the quayside. There were more workers on the island than there were visitors. What a brilliant present – no crowds!
The four of us walked around, admiring the beauty and feel of the island all feeling grateful that we stopped on this gem of an island.
At the top of the rock is the ‘upper town,’ but unfortunately, it’s closed. There is a castle and a church that can be seen from the ground…and walls that line the clifftop.
Despite being closed, we walked to the top for as far as we could get.
The views were spectacular and the walk did us all good. The ‘upper town’ is probably closed due to funding. It’s such a shame – I was awestricken by the ‘lower town,’ so the one on the top of the rock must be amazing too?!
That being said, the closure didn’t deflate our mood.
After our explorations and obligatory ice cream, we made our way back to the boat.
Stefano offered to look after Sienna so that Simon and I could experience one of the romantic restaurants on the island by night. It would be our 4th time out for a private meal in 6 months – as you can imagine, I was overjoyed at the idea.
Discovering Monemvasia – A night out with just my hubby!
Simon and I strolled back into the walled city, enjoyed a meal overlooking the sea and a full moon. We sat there saying, ‘Can you believe that we’re sitting here right now? Can you believe how much our lives have changed?’
Just last year, we first thought of selling everything and sailing away.
We were in the very initial stages of letting the idea fill our imaginations. Never in a million years did I come close to speculating everything that’s happened in the past year. The great friends we’ve made, the amazing ruins we’ve visited, the incredible foods we’ve tried, and the endless views of sea and coastline.
Even as I write this, I’m having one of those ‘pinch me as I must be dreaming’ moments.
The boat is really starting to pitch and roll…so I must get up on deck to get some fresh air.
We just pulled up anchor from Methoni (article coming soon!) and we’re now headed for Zakinthos in the Ionian Sea.
Check Out Some Areas Other Than Monemvasia – Greece & The Mediterranean
If you’d like a breakdown of all the places we’ve visited while sailing the Mediterranean please read our destination overview: Sailing The Mediterranean. Otherwise, check out more posts about our time spent in Greece.
- The Greek Ionian Islands
- Corinth Canal
- Poros Greece
- Kos Marina
- Exploring Crete
- Methoni, Greece