A Peloponnese A to Z

For my fellow motorhomers out there, I’m offering this personal guide to the bits of The Peloponnese I saw, with some more practical information about places to stay. If you’re not thinking of visiting this area, please feel free to skip this section!

Disclaimers:

1. Greek spellings in English vary, so I apologise in advance for any confusion.

2. All comments are necessarily subjective and while I have tried to be honest and accurate, don’t take my word for it alone!

3. Satnav coordinates where given are mainly from my satnav log file – I haven’t verified them but I suggest you do what I always do, enter the coordinates and then look at the destination on your satnav to see if they make sense.

4. My trip was undertaken from Oct 2014 to January 2015 – things change…

Acrocorynth – this is the fortress castle on the very top of the hill overlooking ‘Ancient Corynth’ (see below). I know, it’s confusing. Unless you want a 30 minute walk up the hill, I suggest you drive – all Ok for motorhomes, right to the top where there is a parking area and a tavern, open at least during most of the year. Like many of the substantial fortifications in The Peloponnese, what you see mainly dates from the Middle Ages, although it had older origins. The Temple of Aphrodite is where, apparently, 1000 ‘religious’ courtesans offered sexual gratification.

Aigio or ‘Egio’. This is a thriving town on the NE coast 30 odd Km from Patra. It’s a good place to stock up and experience a non-touristy Greek town. It’s on 3 levels with the lowest, by the docks and a little further out of town by a lovely lagoon, offering places to stop for free. A short climb by bike up into town gives access to all necessary facilities.

Ancient Corynth is mostly older than Acrocorynth, dating from the 1st to 3rd Centuries AD. Check entry fee and opening times. You can see most of it for free from the perimeter fence. Some touristy, but useful, restaurants around the main street. I stayed in the camperstop which is well signposted as you approach the village. €10 a night. It’s not quite a campsite, but has sufficient facilities and madam brought me a sweet treat of cake and jam as a gift.

Archea Epidavros – do not confuse with Nea Epidavros. This town is on the coast, laid back in winter at least. I parked at the harbour, close enough to pick up wifi (intermittently) from the nearby cafes. N37.6366711 1568193. I spent a mostly lazy time here, apart from a bike ride along the coast to Metamorfosi (one of several places in Greece with the same name) – a bit of a climb up to the main coast road but fantastic scenery.

Argos – yes, the famous store is so named apparently because the person who started Argos was staying nearby when he had the idea. It’s a drab place having been more or less completely rebuilt in the 19thC. There are some ruins and a castle though.

Areopoli – was re-named – it means the ‘town of god of war’  – after the Greek battle for independence began there in 1821. See the impressive statue in the main square and in the old town, the 17 Martiou square. Free motorhome stop (at least out of season) is available in a car park reached down the right of the main square, down a street that narrows worryingly and then the cobbles descend by a series of long, small steps(!). N36.6671504   E22.3811163. If, though, you turn off from the main road North of the town down an unlikely looking street, you can reach the car park with a lot less stress, which I only discovered when I left, of course. Areopolis has lots of restaurants/bars and all the basics, plus a good market on Saturdays. The town looks unappealing from the main road, but the old town is a pleasant surprise. However, there is no easy access to the coast from the town that I could see.

Campsites – this is a highly subjective list based on my experiences from Oct. 2014 to Jan. 2015. Most of the sites close for the winter, but there are enough open sites, listed below, to enable you to ‘free camp’ all around the coast and hit a relatively nearby campsite for the dreaded domestics.

  1. Akrata – An excellent site with good, modern, clean facilities and wifi over most of the site, but it’s on the ‘wrong’ side of the river in relation to the town which is about 3Km away – fine if you have a bike, but just a bit of a trek otherwise. Open all year round – if the gate’s closed when you arrive, contact the owners, Emmanuel and Toula (English speaking) and they will open up. They are incredibly helpful.
  2. Astros – (Campsite ‘Argos’) N37.433304   E22.7567058. It was open, but I can hardly recommend it. Facilities limited and the campsite resident dogs keep you awake at night. It’s situated, unusually, in a wetland area, so watch out for mozzies. The town is a few Km away- too far to walk. It’s not cheap either. €15 plus €2 for electricity. And the showers had no hot water.
    However, just south of Astros, there is a lovely lagoon/nature reserve, teeming with wildlife. (Why is wildlife so scarce in The Peloponnese? – Is it the same everywhere in Greece? It’s very sad, anyway).
  3. Kalamata – ‘Fare’, to the North of town on the beach road. Very basic, but open all year. Not listed in the usual sources.
  4. Finikounda ­– One of the better campsites. Located by a nice beach and in the winter, Rod, a friendly and helpful English guy, will show you your pitch and give you your own personal key to a toilet and shower room. Only €9 a night, including electricity and wifi. The town is a short cycle ride away and has a choice of bars and tavernas.
  5. Gythion Bay – I stayed here several times for one night stops to do domestics etc. as I was in the local area for some time (mainly Gythio town – see below). It was quiet, but had OK facilities. €12 a night, €4 to use rather deluxe washing machines. When I returned, some of the same people were still there. I can’t imagine anything more boring than spending longer than necessary in a campsite, which, in this case, is not near a town and is pretty dead in winter. The nearby Meltimi campsite looked depressing.
  6. Koroni – not a good experience here. It was almost deserted and I couldn’t find the lady when I wanted to leave. Had to leave a few coins instead of full payment as I only had a €50 note and I couldn’t find out about all the facilities so hardly used them. I hope this was just a ‘one off’.
  7. Triton II – Depranos. 532213 E22.8923959. A simple site right on the coast (there were other campsites open in the winter nearby). The sea is perfect here for swimming. I liked the little town for its unpretentiousness. Nearby is a lovely, raw, archaeological site at Ansini. Worth it for the great views.

Corynth – see above ‘Acro- and Ancient- Corynth. (Don’t bother with the modern town, although the Corynth Canal is interesting).

Diakofto – this little town on the cast is where you can catch the rack and pinion railway that takes you up a lovely scenic mountain gorge to Kalavryta (see below). It has a small, touristy centre but still very low key. Free parking along the front out of season. One of the listed stops was just a bit too far away from the town, so I parked discretely quite close to the harbour. Nice swimming off the pebbly beach.

Epidavros – one of the ‘must see’ sites of The Peloponnese. The theatre is the best preserved in the world, allegedly. A lot of re-construction has taken place, but the famous acoustics are no disappointment. My guide book said you just have to wait until someone starts singing an aria, or claps their hands, or whispers (when, rarely, it’s not full of people). Me, I got a young girl playing ring tones on her mobile phone. Don’t skimp on the remaining archaeology, dedicated to Asklepius, the god of medicine.

See also ‘Archea’ Epidavros above.

Geroleminos – a Mani town. Very quiet in winter. Parking by the sea. N36.4824166 E22.4002482. There are a couple of restaurants and a shop open. It’s a nice spot and a good base for walking to some Maneat villages and a bike ride to Porto Kaghio/Quaglio – see below.

Ghefyra – Is the town opposite Monemvasia, see below. There is an excellent free camping stop at the harbour to the South of the town, only a few minutes’ walk to the local shops etc. and within easy striking distance of Monemvasia itself. N36.6831088 E23.0378939. The real joy for me, though, was the unexpected sight of loggerhead turtles in this harbour. The local fisherman have christened this regular visitor, ‘Maria’, but if you sit and watch, you will notice there are several of them, bobbing their heads up for air at regular intervals and occasionally swimming right close to the harbour wall for a tremendous view in the clear blue water.

Gyro Pita – the fast food discovery of this trip. Maybe not peculiar to The Peloponnese, but you realise why there are no MacDonald’s (thankfully) here. It may not be healthy, and it’s almost impossible to eat without getting messy, but they are good and available everywhere. Forget the ‘reconstituted meat’ of donar kebabs (which are mainly Turkish) of home, these are tasty grilled pieces of real pork (occasionally chicken). For €2, or less each, two will set you up for the night. It’s an experience just watching them being made.What fillings do you want? I just ask for everything which, in addition to the pork, usually means tzadziki, onion, tomato and the ubiquitous chips. Try squeezing a fresh lemon over it – yum yum.

Gythio or Gythion – a great little place to stop, it’s the capital of the Mani region and about the only town in the Mani of any size (actually not that big). I parked for several nights in the public car park to the North of the town, just opposite the excellent, and eccentric, taverna, Barba Sideris in December without a problem. I was even in range of their free wifi. ‘Thakes’, the patron of the taverna is a very friendly Greek ‘character’ and may invite you to his table after you’ve eaten, for Tsipouro, wine, more food etc. and some good banter. Live music every Saturday, which, when I went, started at 21:00 and didn’t stop, with hardly a break, until 02:30! The town has everything you need and the back streets are worth a quick exploration. There are some rather sad remains of an ancient theatre by the army barracks. The soldiers seem to take a dim view of anyone approaching within 50m of their camp. For the romantically inclined, the little island reached by a jetty was apparently the first place Helen and Paris spent a night on their way to Troy.

Kakovatos – quite an isolated spot near the coast N37.45721 E21.63869. The nearby lake, fed by natural springs, which is beyond the town of Zacharo, is great for a gentle, flat cycle ride. It’s a pretty quick and easy drive to Olympia from here, too.

Kalamata –  My advice is don’t overlook this big bustling town. It’s not an easy place in that the beach/coast is 2 -3 Km from the main town and it’s a boring walk or cycle ride up and down the awful one way systems. However, I parked for free due south of the main town on a scrappy bit of waste land between the trendy harbour area and the river. Even had free, intermittent wifi from the public Kalamata service. The sea front is pleasant and a long stretch of cycleways etc. The sea is surprisingly good here; locals go swimming. There is also a string of tavernas etc. right on the beach. The real surprise for me, though, was the number of shops in the main town. I can’t believe how so many outlets can be viable in a town of approx. 50000 (?). Explore the back streets for coffee and herb shops – great! There is also an excellent museum of archaeology which also chronicles the disastrous earthquake that struck the town in 1986. Most of what you see has been re-built or repaired within 30 years, so it’s not ‘quaint’ by any stretch of the imagination. The castle, above the town didn’t seem worth exploring and may in fact be closed because of its dangerous condition after the earthquake. There is a huge market on Saturdays up to the West of the town by the bus station. There is even an unexpectedly open campsite (‘Fare’ – see above) on the beach road north of the main town. It’s seen better days but OK for domestics.

Kalavryta – The name means ‘good spring’ in Greek. It’s a mountain town reached by a fantastic rack and pinion railway trip from the coastal resort of Diakofto (see above). And if you’re foolish like me, you can cycle there from the coast up a long long hill and do a round trip of about 90km. The town is famous for two recent events in history, the declaration of war for independence against the Turks in 1821 (although Kalamata had already been recaptured by the Greeks so this was possibly a bit of posturing, and the scene of a massacre of Greek men and boys by Germans in 1943 in retaliation for the death of 78 German soldiers at the hands of the resistance. A museum, based in the old school building where they were rounded up, has the clock permanently set at the time of the massacre. Look out too for the signs to the nearby Ski Resort, which may not be what you’d expect in Greece.

Kardamyli – I parked up just below the main road through the village, by the square with statues in it. It is a special place, although nothing much to look at if you drive through. A very attractive and run down harbour, very quiet in winter – I struggled to find somewhere to eat – but old Kardamyli, on the north side of the main road, is a great place to explore and gives access to the Viros Gorge. You can also get rare sights of the highest Mountain in The Peloponnese, Profitas Ilias.

Kotronas – down in the Mani area. This place was entirely closed as far as I could make out in November. A nice enough spot to park up, but no facilities. N36.6194636 E22.4936711

Kyparissia – parking down on the rather sad looking harbour. I didn’t get on with the place, but apparently the old town at the top of the steep hill has some interest.

Messeni – A less visited site that deserves greater recognition. It’s not old by Greek standards, built about 400BC, just before the Roman domination but soon re-designed by them. The site is massive and views from one of the approaching roads are wonderful. Alternatively, approaching through the ‘Arcadian Gate’, is an experience. This is an entire city and archaeologists are still working on it. You can stand on a fantastic, intricate Roman mosaic, if you wish. I couldn’t bring myself to do so. The stadium is impressive, even forgiving the obvious reconstruction.

Monemvasia – The name means ‘one entry’ in Greek, and so it is. This amazing town has withstood the progress of time by the fact that the only way in and out of the settlement is by a single, narrow gate, too narrow for cars. Every single item of goods has to be brought in by wheelbarrow (a crude type of wheeled hod) or donkey. The result is that as soon as you step inside the gate, you are transported back into a Byzantine village. The amazing fortifications high above beckon you forever upwards. The bijou hotels have all been renovated sympathetically. Visit in the night time as well as the day. Park up at Ghefyra – see above.

Mykine – or Mycenae. Another ‘must see’ site. This is old, very old, over 3500 years, and no Roman interference. The entrance gate is massively impressive; the size of the ‘Cyclopean’ stones can’t fail to have an impact. The story of its excavation by Heinrich Schliemann, who had previously ‘struck gold’ at Troy, and also ‘struck gold’ here, is almost as fascinating. The museum is also very informative. Ticket includes entry to the excellent ‘Treasure of Atreus’ (misidentified by Pausanias – it’s actually the biggest and best Tholos tomb known), located just down the road. Also referred to, possibly imaginatively, as the ‘Tomb of Agamemnon’.

Mystra – a whole byzantine village, near Sparta. The few remaining inhabitants were evicted in the 1950s and it’s still undergoing restoration. A tremendous location – views from the castle at the top are worthwhile. It closes at 3.00pm in winter and I could have done with a bit more time there.

Nafplio – Probably the most ‘sophisticated’ town of The Peloponnese. It’s a popular haunt for weekenders from Athens. Loads of free parking space at the commercial harbour beyond the town car parking area. Be prepared to share with lorries. The town was originally the seat of the first ‘Independent’ Greek government in 1828 and a plaque beside a church marks the bullet hole where the first Greek Prime Minister, Capodistrias, was assassinated! Otherwise, it’s a very seductive setting with the Palamidi castle dominating the town and lit up at night.

Nea Kios – along the coast, West of Nafplio. It has a lovely little ‘harbour’ full of traditional fishing boats and stalls selling the daily catch. I didn’t stay but I’m sure it would be easy to find somewhere out of season. The ‘Nea’, modern town may not be attractive but would provide for all essentials.

Nemia – An inland town, famous now for wine growing. It was the legendary scene of one of Heracles’ ‘labours’; he slayed the lion, skinned it and used its hide as a protective cloak. The town is pretty drab, but you may wish to take in some of the well signposted ‘wine trails’.

Olympia – has to be a must see site. The scale is impressive and the museum is excellent.

Patra – a necessary evil if you arrive/depart by ferry.

P has also got to be for Pelops – from whom The Peloponnese gets its name. Pelops was the son of Tantalus, a strange bloke who decided to challenge the gods one day by preparing a special dish for them. He cut his own son, Pelops, into pieces and made a stew (as you do). All but one of the gods, who was apparently ‘distracted’, realised the ‘trick’ and didn’t eat. They exacted a revenge on poor Tantalus, after bringing his son back to life, minus a shoulder, which was quickly repaired by Hephaestus, god of the forge, and banished poor Tantalus to a place where sweet drinking water receded as soon as he tried to reach it and bountiful fruits swayed away in the breeze as he tried to grasp them – how tantalising!

Pilos – plenty of parking by the harbour. N36.9155766 E21.6950967. Can be rather exposed when the wind’s up! There’s nothing particularly special about the town. A walk up to the castle, barely visible through the trees gives some good views and you can walk around a fair chunk of the walls. The Navarino Bay is rather special as it was the site of a naval battle in 1827, when about 100 Ottoman ships were defeated by just 30 Russian, French and British vessels. Apparently, the bay is still littered with the remains of the Turkish fleet. Pilos is also close to the beautiful Voidokilia beach.

Porto Kagio/Quaglio – the original name for this village came from the Venetians as it was famous for its role in the trapping and export of Quail, by the million, on migration to Northern Europe. It was completely dead at the end of November when I visited.

Sparta/Sparti – A bustling modern town. Worth a stop to see the wonderful Museum dedicated to Olive Oil. I parked overnight in the museum’s car park. Not an attractive spot, but very convenient!

Tolo – best avoided in my view. It’s a tourist resort that may have seen better times. I parked by the harbour, which has a nice enough prospect, but packs of dogs kept me awake at night. The dogs were not a threat – far from it, they were almost too wary around a human presence (I wonder why). Still, not the best of stops. N37.5154126 E22.8569107

Vathia – the ‘archetypal’ Mani town with fortified houses in narrow streets. Scene of many a picture postcard. I cycled from Geroleminos.

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Olympia – 19/01/15

I’m getting a bit behind the times, so will try and enter some more updates asap. Things have moved on!

As if The Peloponnese doesn’t have enough to offer already, there’s also the site of Olympia, home to The Olympics Games for nearly 1000 years. The site is massive and they’re still digging – beneath 8m of river silt. The stones are all jumbled up (aren’t they always), but here, in places, it resembles a reclamation yard for Roman masonry. The temple of Zeus has had just one of its massive columns rebuilt to give an impression of scale. The temple of poor old Hera, his sister whom he took for his wife, would be impressive in any setting other than being so close to the big Z. Think naked athletes, all male, smothered in olive oil, competing nobly against each other for little reward other than pride. However, when Nero was in town, the games got dirty; he introduced singing as an event so that he could win and also rigged the chariot races. Like many a good thing, the games were stopped by the church in AD393 when such ‘pagan’ festivals were declared illegal.

Massive column from Zeus’s temple

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One small part of the site…

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How the pediment on Zeus’s temple would have looked. Statues found on site.

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A Lizard at Olympia

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Before visiting Olympia, I spent the night parked near the coast at a place called Kakovatos. There were two other motorhomes there when I arrived, but just it got dark, about 10 or more vehicles parked up with itinerant market sellers/carpet sellers etc. Give them their due, they were very quiet, particularly as there were several children in their company. However, they left rather too much litter for my liking.

Paleokastro and Voidokilia

The island of Sfaktiria saw a much earlier extraordinary battle too. In 425BC, it was the setting for a Spartan army defeat at the hands of the Athenians; not only were they defeated, they actually laid down their arms and surrendered! The narrow strait between Sfaktiria and the mainland was used by supporters of the trapped and outnumbered Spartans to provide supplies, some of them apparently swimming underwater with parcels of food tied to them.

On the mainland side, lies the Paleokastro (old castle), dating from 13th Century. It’s a great place to explore, (no renovations here – it’s nicely ‘unreconstructed’), involving a hairy climb up from Voidokilia beach using iron ropes and metal rungs hammered into the rock. The scenery is breathtaking.

The beach at Voidokilia, a Peloponnese hidden gem.

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The lagoon behind the beach is huge and home to flamingos, Great and Little Egret, Shovellers, etc. – all a bit too far away, though

The Paleokastro.

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Pylos

After a night at Kalamata again, I’ve struck new territory and arrived at Pylos. It’s a bit of a fairy tale setting with Navarino Bay and the long island of Sfaktiria almost closing it off. There was a Battle of Navarino in 1827, when about 100 Ottomen ships were defeated by just 30 Russian, French and British vessels. Apparently, the bay is still littered with the remains of the Turkish fleet, and diving trips to see the wrecks can be arranged in the summer. The battle is still commemorated each year and the Russian and French navies send in a boat or two. Britain only sends a ‘representative’.

The only way into Navarino Bay for ships of any size.

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Greece’s history is complex and features lots of battles and domination by foreign forces, from the Persians, Romans, Thebans, Turks, Franks, and, in a more modern, ‘subtle’ way, during the civil war of 1935 – 1949, the British and Americans. Greece was the first ever country to experience US Napalm bombing after WWII. The western powers were concerned that the most effective Greek Resistance movement against the Germans and Italians had been led by communist forces (ELAS). Britain and America basically created a puppet monarchy, followed by the right wing ‘colonels’ in 1967.

And now, there is a forthcoming election because the parliamentary representatives voted against a new president. Those in favour were in the majority, but were 12 votes short of the 60% majority needed. More uncertainty and confusion continues.

Cycled to Methoni where there is a huge fortress. Most of these forts date from 14th – 16th Centuries. This one saw the Venetians getting slaughtered by the Turks in 1500. The keep here is on an islet, reached by a causeway. Here, the remaining Venetians were cornered and killed a gruesome history, but a lovely spot.

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View across to the uninhabited island of Sapienza, now a nature reserve.Methoni1633

Stonechat

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Round Two!

Back in Greece after a great time in the UK visiting family and friends.

I was met at Kiato station by the lovely owner of Camping Akrata, Emmanuel, who took me back ot the campsite where Henrietta has been parked up (2 Euros a night). It was his child’s 8th birthday party and he said his house was ‘chaos’. The campsite owners have been so kind that I took some small presents back for their 3 children. Emmanuel even invited me back to his house, but it sounded like they had more than enough on their plate. Back at the campsite, he opened everything up and put the hot water system on. I was the only one there for 2 nights. Not only were they very friendly, the facilities are the best I’ve come across in Greece so far. Toula, Emmanuel’s wife, saw me off when I left and said the children had got rather excited during the party and tore down a curtain!

More about Olives – their significance in Greek life and history goes beyond anything we can imagine.

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Italy imports more olive oil than it produces, so read the label carefully if buying Italian. A few years ago, 80% of Italy’s production was found to be adulterated with oils from other countries. Spain is now the world’s biggest producer and can claim to produce the best as its oils (mainly from Andalucía) gained 8 out of the top 10 places in ‘The World’s Best Virgin Olive Oil’ rankings. However, there are fears that production in Spain and Italy will be hit by bad weather (Spain) and a nasty bug that’s attacking the crop in Puglia. Olive Oil prices are rising.

Sparta has a very interesting museum dedicated to olive oil production which features old presses that were either hand driven or powered by oxen.

On my bike yesterday, I was stopped by a guy in a pickup, loaded with sacks of olives in the back. He was on his way to the press. He wanted to know all about my bike (the go faster model), as he had a Canondale, but didn’t like it. He even wrote down the model and everything. I’ve seen very few cyclists in Greece so it was nice to meet one.

Messene … not to be confused with Mycenae.

This is a huge archaeological site, not that old by Greek standards and not promoted very much either, but it’s incredible. You just wander around in amongst the mainly Roman ruins including being able to walk on a huge mosaic, although I just couldn’t do it. The site dates from around the 3rd Century BC and is a complete city – theatre, stadium. Market place, fountains, religious centre. Work on the site is still ongoing, so who knows what else will turn up.

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Some of the city walls – they stretched for 9Kms and include the Arcadian gate, which a road passes through!

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The site was built as a fortified city to keep The Spartans under control, after a long period of conflict – the Messenian wars started in 7th Century BC. It is said that the Messenian king,  Aristodemus, offered his virgin daughter as a sacrifice to gain the gods’ favour in his struggles. His daughter’s boyfriend (name not known?) gallantly and, no doubt selflessly, tried to save her by quickly divesting her of her ‘pure’ status, thus rendering her useless as a sacrifice. However, father was not amused and killed in her in anger.

Freshly dug archaeology

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Roman loos, flushed by diverted stream beneath, positioned so they could still see the entertainment in the stadium.

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Mosaic – this was perhaps 10m by 6m, open to the elements (see puddle).

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And in the centre is this inscription (can James translate?)

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The stadium with a weird mausoleum at the end

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Olive harvest

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It is the season for harvesting olives, and I’m in Kalamata; where better to be!

Everywhere, people using a variety of implements, from sticks to giant ‘egg beater’ contraptions, to shake the olives off the branches onto tarpaulins below. They also prune the trees enough to ‘let the birds fly through the branches’. They say that in its first year, olive oil should be used for salads, in its second, for cooking and in its third, for the car. In the past, olive oil was used for lathering athletes, who performed naked, of course, for sex and washing. (Perhaps in that order…)

The presses are busy with sacks and sacks of olives waiting to be turned into some of the best olive oil anywhere. I chanced upon a processing press in Kalamata – despite the sack saying Potatoes from Holland, it contained both ripe and unripe olives, which are surprisingly small. Eating Olives come from different trees apparently.

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