Lefkas, Nydri, Ithaca, Cephalonia, Zakynthos, Katakolo (Olympia), Kalamata, BWA Yacht Service, Olive Route Tours, and so long Kim, Steve and Missy….
After only a short 6 weeks in Greece, we have all fallen in love. It isn’t hard to see why, given that just mentioning the country evokes feelings of old-world charm, azure seas and the famous Mediterranean food which has fueled countless food crazes over the years.
We have been cruising down the Ionian seaside of Greece (Western side) and island hopping the whole way with only a rough draft in mind of the places we would see. As we wrap up 5 weeks of cruising, eating, traveling, and immersing ourselves on the Ionian side of this beautiful country, I knew that I needed to get writing lest 1 single detail of this adventure be lost. As I type, we have just departed Kalamata (yep, the same Kalamata as the famous olives) and we are heading to Milos where we will begin our Aegean portion of this Greek Odyssey. But I digress, let’s start at the beginning. When I last wrote, we were in an anchorage just South of Corfu.
First, a word about BWA Yachting and the services they have provided for us thus far:
The anchorage on the north end of Paxos called Lakka is a lovely place to spend some time. There was hardly any swell and a very protected crescent shaped anchorage which gave us restful nights and stress-free days spent exploring the towns. BWA Yachting continues to provide our yacht agent services. You may remember that we discovered how amazing it is to travel stress-free when someone else is assuming legal responsibility for your status and paperwork requirements. When we checked into Greece in Corfu, we first made the acquaintance of Johnny with BWA who cleared us in, had our port documents stamped, delivered the garage full of Amazon products which we had sent to them to hold for our arrival (very hard to get products in Montenegro and we wanted to prepare for Jack and Alec’s birthday). When we discovered in Paxos that Jack had left behind one of his most prized possessions (his scooter and primary form of transportation), it was Johnny who facilitated its transport to Nidri on Lefkada and George in Nidri who arranged the reunion with Jack and his scooter and made restaurant recommendations for Alec’s birthday. He also forwarded items which were promised in April to our next port. The Paxos agent handled our paperwork, delivered books I had ordered for Jack, and even graciously provided us a car for our use for the day. In Cephalonia, the BWA agent Sofia drove from the other side of the island to deliver a package which I had sent to Athens for our arrival there. In absolutely no hurry to have the package, the agent thought we may need it, so it was transported to us via a fairly long drive from Argostoli to Sami. And finally in Kalamata, Andriani collected our transit log to have stamped in and out, made our marina reservations, recommended an exceptional olive oil tour (more on that later) and got us an air conditioning mechanic through other sources which we could not have found on our own. We continue to marvel at the level of service offered by BWA and we remain incredibly grateful for their knowledge and experience. To say that it is well worth the cost is, for us, an understatement. We are en route to Milos and we have already been “handed off” to the BWA agent there who will continue to look after us. BWA has taken so much of the stress and unpleasantness out of the regulatory aspects of cruising and made it so easy, anyone can do it!
We celebrated Alecs birthday on the Island of Lefkada and after several days hanging on the hook here and meandering around the shops and restaurants, we cruised further South to Nydri where we viewed one of the natural wonders of Greece, the waterfalls pictured below.
Lovers of Greek Mythology and Literature will appreciate the stop we made in Ithaca. Believed by some scholars to be the home to King Odysseus in the famous Homers’ The Iliad and Odyssey, walking in the footsteps of such iconic history has been thrilling. We went for a bit of an explore to the remains of what is believed to be his palace from 2800 years ago. It is astounding to me that structures remain, in whatever form they persist – especially given the unstable nature of the region with catastrophic earthquakes happening with some regularity in the past nearly 3000 years. Still, we had a wander around the olive groves and crawled all over stones placed 3 millennia ago. We also went to the cave of the Nymphs.
Cephalonia has been on my bucket list since I read Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis De Bernieres. The book is so achingly beautifully written, I have been anxious and excited to see the place which was so eloquently brought to life by Mr. De Bernieres. We had the added joy of being reunited with acquaintances from a past life who we would now freely consider to be friends. Paulette and John are experienced and capable cruisers, sailors and yachtsmen in their own right and had considered crossing the Atlantic in their Kadey Krogen. Opting instead to purchase a home in Argostoli, Cephalonia, the birthplace of Paulette’s father and home to many other relatives, we had the great joy of spending a couple of days together. Seeing any place through the eyes of a “local” is an opportunity not to be missed, but from a speaker of the language and relative of the island, it was even more exquisite.
We continued to eat (and eat) the glorious food of the region, and we drove all over the island stopping at the charming seaside villages of Fiscardo and Assos. Just 2 km from the town of Sami, we discovered the Melissani (the Cave of the Nymphs). Located in a landlocked lake and being tended by men in oar boats, the cave is up to 39 meters deep in places and has stalactites dating back 20,000 years. And I thought a 3,000-year-old structure was amazing! Listed in the guidebook as one of the greatest natural wonders of Greece, we were shocked that it wasn’t mentioned on the UNESCO heritage list. Excavations in this cave have uncovered evidence of 3rd and 4th century BC worshippers of the god Pan. Leaving behind the Cave of the Nymphs, we traveled on to the Drogarati Cave. 3 km from Sami and 120 m above sea level, the cave descends to a depth of 95 meters. The literature provided states that it is considered the finest cave in Greece, but I would go much further than that. Completely full of Stalactites and Stalagmites, and home to bats who feed on the mosquitos due to the damp environment, it was the most extraordinary and enchanting caves we have ever seen. We could easily have spent another whole week on the lovely island of Cephalonia, but after a day spent at the beach; where snorkeling Steve and Jack discovered a lovely octopus who treated us all to a view, it was time to continue.
Jack has been looking forward to Zakynthos. An island on the Ionian, it is most recognized as the site of the second most photographed spot on Greece, the shipwreck. For numerous reasons, we opted to view the wreck from above and here is the stunning view of the beach below.
Much more amazing to us were the turtles. Home the one of the largest and most protected sanctuaries for returning nesting Loggerhead Turtles, we were able to spot several between Cephalonia and Zakynthos. We spent some time on the North End of the island tied to a pontoon which cost us nothing at all – literally, free. And then traveled to the South end of the island where we laid at anchor for a few days of swimming and – you guessed it… more eating with Kim and Steve. A sweet and enterprising man came by with a trolley which seemed to operate with the motor of a lawn mower. He sold us some honey which we bought even though we have more than enough on board.
Touching the mainland Greece for the first time, we anchored in Katakolo. Likely you would recognize it as the cruise ship port for passengers visiting the very famous Olympia. A Charming train will take you round trip to Olympia for 10 Euro, but we opted to take a cab for greater flexibility. This archeological site, which is currently, even now undergoing excavations, holds more than 750 significant buildings and ruins. This historical site is the birthplace of the original Olympic games, which were held every four years beginning in the 8th century BC through the 4th century AD. Even the fiercest of enemies who were currently at war laid down their weapons and agreed to a truce while the games were held and ambassadors from each city-state were sent to sign declarations of peace before the start of the games. The winner won not only a wreath made from olive branches but a lifetime supply of olive oil as well as fame and fortune.
According to Wikipedia, “The sacred precinct, named the Altis, was primarily dedicated to Zeus, although other gods were worshipped there”. There is also a lovely village which has restaurants and cafes as well as souvenir shops and a terrific Archimedes Museum where we spent an hour pouring over the wonderful experiments. This village has seen continuous occupation since ancient times.
Also on the site is a museum which houses many of the artifacts found from the archeological progress currently underway.( I was truly shocked that this too has not been added to the UNESCO World Heritage list. )I’m sure someone reading this will have a terrific explanation – if yes please let me know because if ever such a site should be protected, this is it. POST SCRIPT… SHOUT OUT TO ANNE FOR letting me know that Olympia has been on the list since 1989. I have no idea why I couldn’t find it but thanks so much for the update.
Leaving Katakolo, we had a 10-hour passage to a place high on Alec’s bucket list, Kalamata. Since the day that Alec saw it on the map, he has wanted to go here so it goes without saying, here is where we said goodbye to the Ionian side of Greece.
Some of you may remember a post I made last year after spending a week with our friends in Piacenza, Italy. I felt as though I was no longer looking through the window into Italian life but rather, I became a full-fledged member of the community. This connection was made more profound by the recency of our time in Venice, in which we felt absolutely no authentic connection to what is “Italy” but rather spent time in a town we felt existed only to support tourism. Reaching this connection isn’t as much a function of the amount of time spent in a place as one may think. It sometimes happens after months in a place, in our case in Kalamata, after only a few days. This is because of the special character of Kalamata and the incredibly generous spirit of the inhabitants. We weren’t treated as though we don’t belong. And when we took a tour of an Olive grove and Olive Mill, we were treated to an experience that moved us right into the kitchen of a 5th or 6th generation olive mill family. We were given a literal and proverbial seat at the table of Greek life in a way in which the previous month had only hinted.
There are two extremes in tourist travel – whether we like the term or not, we are tourists visiting another world. We try to be travelers who seek connection to a community. This can be easy or difficult largely based on the town. If the town exists to support tourism, it is far more difficult to connect to a culture since the culture of a tourist town is to accommodate visitors. If the town exists to support the community, it is far easier for us to connect to what is authentic and real in a place. There won’t be t-shirt shops or souvenir stores. The restaurants will be serving what the locals eat and how they eat. It may be harder to navigate and fewer of the locals will speak English but often the connection, despite these challenges, will be more authentic. This was the case in the lovely Kalamata, in the region of Messenia.
This is one of those times that I regret I’m not a better writer. I wish that I was able to transport you to this experience in the same way that this lovely, storytelling and multi-layered women transported us. It is the type of experience that has left me wanting more. More information. More flavor. And more time to digest the “meal” which was the day we spent at the ANDROUSA MESSINIAS OLIVE MILL. I have been left with a craving to connect with this culture where one wouldn’t dream of cutting down a tree which has fed and nurtured and even healed the ancestors and current occupants of the land in the Messenia area of the Peloponnese. A culture where the words of Hippocrates “Let food be thy medicine and medicine by thy food” are more than a quote, but rather an ethos by which the community lives and works and breaths. A place where the tradition of extracting the oil from the olives isn’t just a job but rather an avocation for all regardless of the vocation of the individual.
This is a land where 10 million (yep that’s right! million!) trees inhabit the space between and around yours and the neighbors’ homes. A place where, regardless of what you do the rest of the year, in October, everyone works to harvest their roughly 300 olive trees owned by each family in the area. A place where children are baptized in the oil of these trees and where a tree is planted for every child born so that they may grow together. This is a place of stewardship and reverence.
When I was trying to put my finger on the differences between our American culture and this organic and earthy existence, it occurred to me that in this place, the rough age of a “teenager” olive tree is older than our entire country. Trees last 2000 years or more! In this lovely region, traditions have been passed down for more centuries and generations than exist in the US. This reverence for earth and trees and fruit isn’t something new age but rather it is in the fabric and the DNA of the heritage. Property “owners” are mere custodians of the lessons and precious resources entrusted by the previous tenants.
Dimitra, thank you from the bottom of our hearts for sharing your beautiful love of your home and culture with us. The olive oil that we brought with us will surely nurture our bodies and the stories and knowledge that you shared will surely nurture our souls.
If you are reading this and have any plans to go to the Kalamata region or if you may want to take an agritourism trip – I can’t recommend this place highly enough.
DIMITRA MATHIOPOULOU Co-Founder/ Olive Taster
Whatsapp +30 6937101215
In the 6 weeks we have been cruising and without putting a fine point on it, we have only spent roughly 14 days at a dock and approximately 30 days at anchor. Based on our current needs and without air conditioning, we have been delighted to see that we can live for 12 days without charging the batteries using only stored energy and solar power coming in. This is a HUGE IMPROVEMENT over our situation last year. When we began using air conditioning at night beginning June 1, our consumption went up enough that we could make it 2 nights on stored energy if we stretched it but likely we will run the generator to re-charge every day for 1 hour. Again, an amazing improvement as that one of hour of running will allow us to make water and cool the boat before bedtime and completely re-charge the batteries. So, all in all, this has been a worthwhile (if expensive) upgrade. The solar power coming in has been up to 2400 watts! Incredible!
Living at anchor in Greece has been amazing! The holding here is like setting in cement (a good thing) and we have never felt anything like it. We drop the anchor and the first time, it’s in! So having this solar power and self-sufficiency is incredibly timely. We hope to maintain this throughout the summer.
to our buddy boat MIMPI. We have been close friends in proximity and heart space since last year in Croatia and we spent the winter together in Montenegro in addition to cruising together in Greece for the past 6 weeks. Due to conflicting time schedules and with multiple family and friends coming to visit us, we had to say so long for the time being. We will miss you Kim, Steve and Missy and look forward to the reunion hopefully soon. Be safe!!
Well, that wraps up the Ionian travel experience. We have arrived in Milos and we expect the first of our visitors to arrive next week. Can’t wait to see you Sarah and Ryan!!!