A fairy tale scene in the Peloponnese: Vaulted alleys, Byzantine churches and Venetian mansions. Monemvasia means “one entrance” and in fact the only access to this castle is via a causeway. This uniquely preserved mediaeval town is carved into the majestic grey rock like a sculpture. The “Gibraltar of the East” or a “stone ship” about to set sail, as the famous Greek poet Yannis Ristos described his birthplace, is calling you for immediate boarding for a journey through time. Wander around the vaulted alleyways, churches and aristocratic mansions.
Take a swim in its crystal-clear waters and sample its delicious cuisine and legendary wine. Follow in the footsteps of knights, pirates, crusaders and emperors, who all lusted after this mythical place in the Peloponnese. Here time stands still, and you’ll become one with history.
What to do in Monemvasia
Open sesame: the mediaeval castle
As soon as you walk through the gate, you’ll begin to explore the secrets of this mediaeval castle. First have a coffee in the Agora, on the main cobblestone street in the Lower Town. This was the Byzantines’ Central Avenue, the Venetians’ Market and the Ottomans’ Bazaar, the commercial artery and cultural hub for so many civilisations. Today you’ll see cafes, tavernas, shops and artisans’ workshops. Duck in and out of arched alleyways of Monemvasia until you reach the sea wall, where you’ll pass quaint homes and crumbling churches. Look up and see the grand mansions of the Upper Town, where the nobility lived.
At twilight, the stones turn lavender (hence its nickname, the Violet City) and the streets fill with mysterious shapes, sounds and shadows. By now you’re no longer a visitor but a resident, as were the Byzantines, Ottomans, Venetians before you. In the evening you’ll have your choice of elegant restaurants, traditional tavernas, charming cafes and chic wine bars.
A culinary journey in Monemvasia
Try the local homemade pasta called goges (like gnocci, but flour-based) or saitia (fried cheesepies with fresh herbs). Oenophiles should sample the regional sweet wine called Malvasia, the authentic flavor of Monemvasia, dubbed the “nectar of the nobles”.
A fairy tale stay
Monemvasia is an ideal romantic hideaway and honeymoon destination. Boutique bed & breakfasts and luxury hotels with suites boasting Turkish baths, mosaic floors and flowering courtyards will transport you to another time, without sacrificing modern comforts. In the dimly lit rooms, with their vaulted ceilings and handmade wooden furniture, you’ll live your own fairy tale.
Up, up and away: The Upper Town
The Upper Town was home to the Venetian aristocracy and, although it’s a steep climb to reach the beautiful mansions (in the 17th century travellers once counted 500), you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of the whole area. The half-Byzantine, half-Venetian church of Agia Sofia clings to the side of the cliff, and is one of the most significant attractions in Monemvasia. Once inside, you’ll be awe-struck by its magnificent octagonal dome.
Hidden gems of Monemvasia
Travel to Byzantium
History comes to life in this castle: Twenty-four temples and churches with Byzantine elements remain from the 40 that once existed. The oldest is Elkomenos Christos, located in the main square of the Lower Town. Other churches worth seeing are Panagia Chrysafitissa, Agios Nikolaos and Panagia tin Kritikia (Myrtidiotissa).
The big blue of Monemvasia
Portelo, in the middle of the sea wall, is the only entrance to Monemvasia by water. From here you can dive into the crystal-clear water and it will feel like you’re jumping off the railing of a ship. Swimming under the mighty fortress, in one of the most beautiful destinations in Greece, is a holiday experience you will never forget.
Unravel the secrets of the daily lives of residents from the last few centuries in the villages around Monemvasia. There are two fabulous folklore museums in Reihia and Velies, showcasing the manners and customs of the locals.