RV Roadtrip – The Greek Peloponnese and Ancient Olympia
Our first stop after Ioannina was Camping Ionion Beach. While they have similar sounding names Ionion beach is actually about 300 kilometers (~186 miles) south of Ioannina. The drive was pretty uneventful and the highlight was the fantastic Rion-Antirion toll bridge as we neared Patras.
As I’ve mentioned before, the driving style was tolerable in Greece but the double and triple parking is a nightmare, especially in our rig. One very odd thing to note about driving in Greece; it seems that the shoulder is treated as an additional lane and slower traffic (or those of us driving the speed limit) are to pull over as far to the right as possible and let the speed demons zip past.
At any rate, most of the trip was down the A5 toll road and we arrived at Camping Ionion Beach and found that we weren’t the only campers! There were a couple of other camping cars, one custom built truck conversion and a bad-ass orange Land Rover Defender 110 with a roof tent. This belonged to a German guy called Oliver and he and his girlfriend Karolina and their dog Pestka were in the midst of a multi month trip, but more on that later.
The camping at Ionion Beach is extremely nice though initially there was some confusion about which pitches were available with our ASCI discount card. It seems it was more a matter of ‘lost in translation’ and we could park where we wanted. The views and the beach were amazing and the washroom facilitates were among the nicest we have found, indeed, several reviews call them the best in all of Greece!
The biggest problem with the camping is a lack of supplies in the adjacent village, which is a solid half hour walk from the camping. There are a couple of very small markets open in the off season and that’s about it so be sure to fully stock up before you arrive! (In peak season both the onsite restaurant and supermarket are open.)
This was really only an issue for us one time as we weren’t well stocked on wine and invited Oliver and Karolina over for drinks one evening. I did my best power walking and crossed my fingers that at least one shop would be open (I couldn’t figure out the regular opening hours). Dionysus was smiling on me that day and I returned to the camping car with multiple liters of white and rose for our guests. (Oddly, there was no red in the shops that day. Also, the local stuff is almost always in plastic liter bottles, we only had glass if we shopped at Lidl.)
As it turned out our new friends in the orange Defender were travelling to some of the same spots in Greece during roughly the same time we were. And thus was born a new friendship and some travelling companions!
After a couple of days at the beach we were ready to move on and see some more of Greece. As we were now back in the Schengen we needed to make our days count and we were also planning our moving north eventually and wanted to make sure we had allocated enough time for those adventures. Oli and Karolina weren’t ready to move on just yet and so we bid them adieu and vowed to meet up again somewhere down the road.
Our next stop was a short trip down the road to Katakola Marina, maybe only an hour south. This would be our first time ‘wild camping’ in Greece. It’s a relatively small marina and village but is deep enough for cruise ships and is the dropping off point for those ships/tourist that want to visit Ancient Olympia. Our timing was good and there were no ships in port, though this meant most of the local shops were closed as well! After we parked, a local hotel/restaurant owner knocked on the door, introduced him self and reassured us that parking in the marina parking lot overnight was perfectly acceptable, free and safe. It was nice to hear from a local and not just the PeeJays app! There was one other camping van there but he kept his distance and didn’t seem sociable. We wandered the small, cute village and then retired for the evening.
The proximity to Ancient Olympia is what had drawn us to the marina in the first place and we were anxious to get moving before the hoards descended from the cruise ships that were scheduled for that day. Part of our research about visiting Ancient Olympia with a camping car was the blog of Fiona and Jay, two Brits that had parked up just shy of Olympia, found a puppy and were in the process of getting her vaccinated and legal for a trip back to the U.K. (you can read their story here)
We left the marina early (for us) and found the bus parking for the camping car. We tried to get Sebastian into the site but that wasn’t going to work, so we charged him with protecting the vehicle and took our leave. The nice ticket lady did offer to tie him up near the entrance for us but if you know Sebastian you know that would never work out well!
While Ancient Olympia is a lot of rubble there are still quite a few columns and other parts of structures intact, plus it is Ancient Olympia! Even now the Olympic torch is lit here before it makes the journey to the next Olympic venue. You can brace yourself at the starting blocks for a race and imagine all of the training sites at this first Olympic venue. And the museum is very good, try not to skip it. Here they have preserved and re-built the statues and other objects originally found at the site. It makes the visit all that more worth while. (We did beat the tour buses, by the way, finishing up just after 1pm, right about when they were arriving.)
Here’s a bunch of photos from Ancient Olympia –
After Ancient Olympia we were going to try our hand at some more ‘wild camping’ though first we decided on a late lunch at the same parking lot Fiona and Jay met Marley, their newly adopted puppy. While we can’t be sure, I’m pretty sure Marley’s mom was loitering around looking for scraps. We had some vet sample food and other bits we fed her and wished her the best of luck. (There are soooo many stray dogs in Greece, it kind of breaks your heart).
And so off to the wild camping we went. This was near a very small village and right on the ocean, you couldn’t imagine a more idyllic place! (Neochori Beach for those wondering.) There was a small bungalow with picnic table, a fairly decrepit outhouse but it still had running water (sort of) and a small sign posted “Free Camping”. And we weren’t the only Hymer there! There was one other camping car parked up, always a bit reassuring in these situations.
As we were getting settled in we noticed the other Hymer had a dog, or rather an excited and energetic puppy and it seemed to be a golden/ mix. Oh and we also noted that they had GB plates, an ongoing joke we have, always hoping to find some fellow English speakers but rarely finding them.
As we were taking Sebastian on his ‘getting to know the neighborhood’ tour that is part of the routine, Shani said to me, “I think I know that dog!” By now I’m sure you’ve guessed that the puppy was Marley that we had been reading about and Fiona and Jay were in the other Hymer parked up for some ‘wild camping’ in the middle of nowhere in the Greek Peloponnese. Life is funny!
Stay tuned as we visit Methoni, meet up with Oliver and Karolina at Pylos Marina for more free camping, have some olives in Kalamata and continue our site seeing in Greece.