Come into the Kitchen and a Venetian Castle Snorkel, Methoni (Μεθώνη)

Dave the motorhome is starting to wonder if he’s died and gone to heaven, he’s in a car park a few meters from the calm, rippled sea at Methoni, Western Peloponnese, Greece (N36.81769 E21.70777). We’re parked in front of an ancient, faded and paint-flaked ‘No Camping’ sign. Once again, no-one seems to mind that we’ve slotted ourselves into a to-die-for spot a minute’s walk from the tavernas. Greece is fabulous for us, a really wonderful place to be.

Dave in Methoni.
Dave in Methoni, castle to the far left, dashboard dog to the far right.

Last night we headed off to Gregory’s Tavern in Pylos. We normally eat in Dave, but have found that, unsurprisingly, chef’s creations can be absolutely delicious. Eating out gives us a chance to give a little something back to places, especially those which allow us to free-camp. It also gives us a tiny glimpse of the place we’re in and what it might be like to live there. As we walked up to the door someone already inside jumped up to help, setting the scene for the evening. A jeans clad smiling lass welcomed Ju in and asked if we wanted to see the kitchen? We were led through a couple of tabled, but empty, rooms and into the kitchen, an elderly lady looked a little startled to see us, but quickly fell into the swing of it. Lifting the lids on an array of dartboard-sized shallow pans she talked through each dish. Large white beans, roasted lamb, butter-cooked fish, eggplant salad and a courgette-potato dish. There was more, that was just what we ordered! Apart from two dishes, they were all vegetarian or fish, perhaps since Orthodox Greeks don’t eat meat in the run up to Easter. Each dish rested in its own sauce and when they arrived, a few plates at a time, we found we’d ordered enough for four. It was exquisite, the eggplant salad (which was actually hot, and we guess roasted in the oven) was an unexpected winner.

As we sat slowly working on the feast, more locals appeared, seeming to know everyone else, plenty of ‘yia sas‘ hellos bellowed out around us. The chap in front, who’d helped with the door, jumped on his moped and fetched bread from all of a few meters away. He then wandered off, leaving what appeared to be his cigarettes, lighter and wallet on the table unattended for an hour. Earlier we’d seen some chaps supping a large beer before picking up angle grinders to remove rust from a sea front tent frame, this feels an easy-going place and it’s seeping into me.

Total cost for our meal: including bread, a litre of water half a litre of red wine and tip (tips are apparently not expected in Greece, but we’d loved the place): €37. Finding ‘that was excellent’ in the phrasebook and stuttering it out to the waiter his grin seemed ready to swallow the Earth as he answered in a raft of un-understood Greek, more practice needed.

This morning the sea rested, an almost flat calm as we sat on the dock, pointing at the fish as they rocket-propelled themselves past, just wasting time. It would be easy to stay put in Pylos, but we like to keep shifting, the road’s a drug, always promising something new, something to intrigue or delight you.

Pylos on a mid-April morning. A fire engine roared off up the hill behind us, a Unimog, a beast of a vehicle sometimes converted into adventure campers.
Pylos on a mid-April morning. A fire engine roared off up the hill behind us, a Unimog, a beast of a vehicle sometimes converted into adventure campers.

After filling up with water from a hose at the marina, we decided to empty the loo cassette again in the public toilets at Pylos. Big mistake. I should have picked a different toilet, but my brain managed to not pick up on the twin and interrelated facts that (1) I was stood in a lake of yellow liquid and (2) the stained loo was devoid of water. As soon as I started to empty, the contents simply flowed back out the base of the loo. Horrified and embarrassed (despite the fact the loo was Trainspotting-filthy already), I quickly moved to a functioning loo and then we legged it.

All of about half an hour later we reached Methoni, drove through the town to the sea front and plonked Dave here. A Dutch couple are parked alongside us, telling Ju it’s a safe spot to sleep so we’re comfortably in for the night. Methoni’s famous for having the magnificent, crumbling remains of a huge castle, punching its way out into the sea which surrounds it on three sides, the landward side protected by a dry moat. Venice grabbed the place in the 12th Century, as it was a handy (and rather handsome) waypoint in the trip from Europe to the Holy Land. The crafty Venetians made a huge fortune from trade with the East but were more than happy to shift pilgrims and invading crusaders alike in the other direction, for a fee of course. After 300 years the Muslim Ottoman Turks captured it, popping in some rather nice Turkish baths which still remain, before the Venetians grabbed it back in the 17th Century.

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Canons sit on and in the rocky break outside the castle.
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The Turks were ‘ere. A clay pipe buried in the wall of a bath house inside the castle walls.
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The inside of the castle’s largely overgrown. Only finally abandoned in the 19th Century, it’s probably choc-a-bloc with artefacts, but no-one’s got the cash to be digging.
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A stairway in small tower on Bourtzi island, thought to have been a prison as well as a place of murder. Hard to imagine on a sunlit balmy day.
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Our old Rough Guide says no photos are allowed inside the castle, and we spotted and old sign one the floor on our way out, but these days no-one cares. The area is riddled with underground passages protected only by a wooden pallet thrown over the entrance.

These days the place is a ruin, and a free one, hurrah! We spent a couple of hours walking about the enormous enclosure, large enough to host and protect the entire town. The walls were re-inforced at some point to make them strong enough to deflect the new threat of gunpowder and cannon, and you can spot places where two sets of walls co-exist. The winged lion of Saint Mark is, we’re told, found in 15 different places around the site. We found three.

Once we’d ambled back to Dave, and fortified ourselves, I grabbed my snorkel and wetsuit and spent an hour or two splashing about below the stone walls, looking up every now and again to persuade myself I was really here. In among a raft of fish, a few big enough for a decent meal, I spotted a couple of fireworms, nasty to touch I found out afterwards, but I’m too scared to touch anything but the odd sea cucumber anyway.

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Snorkel heaven. The 5mm wetsuit kept me beautifully warm for over an hour.

The sun’s still out, the view’s still incredible, and the sounds of country and western tunes are, weirdly, drifting into Dave’s open door. Once I’ve finished this I’m pulling my sandals on then taking Charlie over to the beach. After that, a cool beer. What. A. Life. A few things spotted around Methoni:

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On this old moped the keys stay in it. Maybe it’s out of petrol?
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A car door handle – necessity and invention.
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Near to these boats locals have parked their cars on the beach to eat lunch from a blue and white taverna, the smell of baked fish drifting out.

Jay

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5 Comments

  1. wow looks fab !,look forward to your blog every day
    then i can daydream we might manage one day, have you noticed any effects of the recession in Greece so far ?
    enjoy yourselves in the sunshine ( its a hooley here in the isle of skye )

    • Hi Heather! Really pleased you’re enjoying it, we love writing it and trying to capture some of what we see. As for the recession, I can’t say we’ve noticed its effects anywhere in Europe. People we meet sometimes tell us things have got worse, we see high VAT on stuff (23% here in Greece) and sometimes we can see projects which have stalled (some roads in Spain are half built for example). I guess from the TV news we used to watch, we’d have imagined huge problems of theft, begging and the like in places like Greece and Italy, but we’ve seen nothing like that, probably just us ‘over-imagining’ the likely issues and in reality the people in these countries are pretty tough (on the whole European countries have had a far tougher political time of things in the past few hundred years than the UK). Long answer that, sorry! What’s a hooley, sounds nasty? Cheers, Jay

  2. You lucky things, it sounds just idyllic. I must admit I have never given going to Greece much thought, but you are quickly changing my mind!

    • Hi Jen. It’s pretty sweet here. We’ve both been to various islands before and had no idea what to expect of the ‘mainland’. It’s proving to be wonderful. The weather and the light is helping I’m sure, as is the fact we’re out of season so it’s mainly locals knocking about. Dead keen to see what the rest of Greece is like, but I doubt we’ll make any islands ferries as they’re a bit too expensive and at the moment seem a bit pointless! Thanks for writing, take it easy, Jay

  3. Like Heather I also look forward every day to my OurTour fix :) Thanks for the regular updates and photos, I can’t wait until it’s my turn to hit the road.

    I think a hooley is a hooligan, it’s blowing up a storm in Skye right now according to the weather channel, 48 km/h winds.

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