RV Roadtrip – Wild Camping in Greece, the Dimitrios Shipwreck and Monemavasia
After our days in Kalamata our next stop was Gytheio and another free PJ’s camping spot.
Gytheio is the site of ancient Cranae, the island where according to legend Paris of Troy and Helen from Sparta spent their first night together before departing for Troy, thus igniting the Trojan War. Gytheio was also the sea port for ancient Sparta which is about 25 miles north.
On our way to Gytheio, we did a side trip to Mystras. Mystras was a fortified town originally built around 1250 that remained in use and occupied until the early 1800s. Situated on Mt. Taygetos, near ancient Sparta, it served as the capital of the Byzantine Despotate of the Morea in the 14th and 15th centuries. During that time, it experienced a period of prosperity and cultural flowering. The site remained inhabited throughout the Ottoman period, when it was mistaken by Western travelers for ancient Sparta. (from Wikipedia) For the record, current Sparta isn’t anything to write home about, seems a bit dingy and in need of some serious rehabilitation. One would think this should be an incredible tourist opportunity but clearly it is not.
Mystras was a fascinating visit. A lot of the buildings are still standing and in excellent shape. The frescoes are in decent shape and those that remain still have mostly vivid colors and seem to have weathered the years. But, there aren’t a lot of the frescoes remaining. On our visit the main palace building was undergoing some renovation so we didn’t get to visit that.
And then we were off to Gytheio. Our actual destination was on the little island of Cranae just barely connected to the main land, a bit of tricky driving that left little room for error. Remember our old motto, “Gently but with great enthusiasm!”. It might not look it from the photos but driving seemed a little sketchy.
The little island has a small chapel, a fort and at the very tip a lighthouse. There were plenty of places to park up and it was pretty cool to think about the historical significance of the little island.
Soon our friends in the orange Land Rover arrived and got all settled in. We decided on a meal out on the town as it’s generally understood that these free spots are intended to stimulate the local economies with some tourist dollars and we were happy to do our part. After walking up and down the waterfront we settled on a lovely spot with a very nice proprietress. She invited us to bring the dogs in with us and we all settled at at table near the fireplace. We had a lovely meal and drinks with our new travel friends.
The four of us had decided to continue our loose version of travelling together and we were all headed to Camping Mani Beach, another great spot on the coast in the Greek Peloponnese. A funny thing happens doing this type of travel, you think you might stay for a few days and all of a sudden it turns into 11 nights!
We were parked up right next to the beach, had decent weather and really nice walks on the sand. It was hard to move on. Plus, we ended up having dinner and drinks with Oli and Karolina a bunch of times including a nice BBQ for his birthday. We were enjoying having friends again!
While camping at Mani Beach we also met another German couple and their small daughter that were enjoying a long road trip in Greece. As it turned out Daniel was an English teacher in the Black Forest region of Germany and had lived in the US for a bit. Little did we know but we were destined to cross paths many more times on our tour of Greece.
As all good things must come to an end, we knew we needed to move on and so we pointed the rig towards Monemvasia. Originally Monemvasia wasn’t on our radar but a fellow camper brought it to our attention as a must visit spot and there is excellent free beach camping very near.
Prior to parking up at Pallas Bay (the PJ’s site near Monemvasia) we took a little side trip to see a ship. Not just any ship, however. This is the Dimitrios shipwreck, famous due to its picturesque location on an easily accessible sandy beach. There are rumors of the 220 foot cargo ship being used as a cigarette smuggling vessel among other things and that she was eventually set on fire to hide evidence. Whatever the actual truth is, she was abandoned after docking in Gytheio and eventually swept out to sea adrift until wrecking on the beach where she has been ever since, slowly decomposing and being claimed by the sea. I have to say, it is a pretty awesome and somewhat eerie sight to behold.
After lunch and our visit to the shipwreck we were off to Pallas Bay. Oli and Karo were also headed there and we all planned on visiting Monemvasia the next day. When we parked up there was one other camping car there from Poland. When Oli and Karolina got there she was excited to have some fellow countrymen to speak Polish with!
The island of Monemvasia was separated from the mainland by an earthquake in 375 AD. The majority of the island’s area is a plateau about 100 metres above sea level, and the town of the same name is built on the slope to the south-east of the rock, overlooking Palaia Monemvasia bay.
The town and fortress were founded in 583 by inhabitants of the mainland seeking refuge from the Slavic and the Avaric invasion of Greece. Many of the streets are narrow and fit only for pedestrian and donkey traffic. (Wikipedia) In fact, only residents and police can drive on the streets and porters make a living getting tourist luggage up the steep streets.
There are several large parking lots on either side of the bridge that connects Monemvasia to the main land and we parked and headed up hill with no idea what to expect. I’m not sure if we were dawdling or if Oli and Karo were but we headed off a different times with the idea that we would run into each other eventually. At any rate, Monemvasia well exceeded our expectations! What an amazing site to visit, well worth it. Eventually we did run into our friends and we all had lunch on a quaint patio. And I was finally able to get my moussaka! Quite delicious!
After another night at Pallas Bay we continued on our tour of the Peloponnese, our next destination was Camping Argolic Strand. We ended up spending 5 nights camped here by the water. There was a little village within walking distance and we could easily resupply.
At long last we finally busted out the SUP boards! While the water wasn’t freezing (Oli and Karo went for a chilly swim), Shani wore her shorty wet suit and didn’t regret that decision at all! We had a nice paddle up and down the coast, the water was clear, the weather was nice and life was good.
Sadly it was time for the orange Land Rover to start the journey back to Germany and we parted ways with our new friends and travelling companions. Stay tuned as we visit Ancient Corinth, Athens, Delphi and Meteora before we make our way into Bulgaria.