Our last port of call with Star Clipper was Monemvasia, also known as the “Greek Gibraltar”. In a bright morning my husband and I were standing on the bow when the “Big Rock “ started to appear on the horizon. With its strategic geographical position, no wonder why the island was ruled by Byzantine, Frankish, Venetian, & Turkish conquerors over the centuries.
There is a single paved road connecting the mainland with the Fortress Town used by all cars and tour busses. That’s how the name “Monemvasia” came out, meaning “single” (mon-), passage. After a brief stop at the map point, conveniently located right after the bridge where the road splits, we decided instead to start climbing the Rock from the North Side. At the beginning, we didn’t realize that, unlike the South side road, there was only a somewhat rough path, just boulders marked with red paint, and steep cliffs below us, ending into the azure waters of the Aegean Sea.
Travel Tip: Do not attempt this hike unless you are physically fit. It's just over a 1 km (2/3 mile) route, with uneven ground.
After nearly an hour of occasionally intense climbing and battling with the strong winds, we finally reached the Castle Town extensively carved on the slopes of the rock. We started ascending by walking on the cobblestone narrow streets, which didn’t seem to have an end, and passing Byzantine churches, boutique hotels housed in restored Venetian Mansions, wine bars, and local craft stores. From the top of the castle, the views of the gleaming waters of the Aegean Sea were breathtaking! Perched on the very top of the Rock was the Fortress, which unfortunately was closed due to renovation.
Travel Tip: After done exploring reward yourself with Mediterranean meal or cocktail at Chrisovoulo Restaurant & Wine Bar outdoor terrace offering stunning vistas of the sea.
We’ve heard that Monemvasia is one of the most romantic places in Greece which take you back in time and I completely agree!
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Often, when my memories take me back to our Star Clippers Cruise, I think about Amorgos and I see intense sparkling blue. This magical island in the Aegean Sea is part of the Northern Cyclades Group and was less known on the travel map until the late 80's, when it became famous with the shooting of "The Big Blue" featuring Jean Reno (a movie about freestyle diving).
Compared with more popular Greek Isles, such as Santorini and Mykonos, Amorgos has a very peaceful and spiritual vibe. The mountainous relief of the island is hilly and steep with narrow and windy roads -- a perfect choice for travelers interested in hiking and connect with nature. The cliffs that are formed fall into the sea, offering spectacular vistas
Travel Tip: Many of the secluded beaches are accessible only via boat.
Travel Tip: The best way to explore the island is to rent a scooter or a car. If you are not experienced with driving a scooter and navigating through windy roads, we highly recommend to rent a car. After research my husband and I choose Asset Car Rental, a local establishment, located right in the Katapola Port. The daily charge was 45 Euro for a car and 15 Euro for a scooter.
We began driving to the east side of the island, where you can find the island's main point of interest: the Monastery of Panagia Hozoviotissa (The Virgin Mary), a whitewashed edifice carved into the sheer cliffs dating back to 11th Century.
On our way to the Monastery, we stopped in Chora, the main town located in the middle of the island, just 3 miles away from the Katapola Port. We started wandering around through the narrow streets, passing traditional houses, local craft stores, and accidentally discovered a little culinary gem. Jazzmin Café is a locally-run, bohemian-style, café serving tasty brunch during the day and at night offering night entertainment with live music.
Travel Tip: The second floor terrace is the place to seat with panoramic views of the island and the Aegean Sea. My yogurt smoothie was so delicious!
Refreshed, we continued our journey to the Monastery of the Virgin Mary, which was an adventure on its own. To reach the entrance & its holy doors, prepare to climb approximately 300 steps (approx. 10-15 min)
Travel Tip: you must wear long pants/skirts and cover your shoulders to be admitted inside. The edifice has 3 levels connected with a narrow marble staircase, so once admitted inside, be prepared for more climbing.
After this somewhat tiresome climb, we were pleasantly surprised when we reached the chapel level. The monastery monks welcomed us with glass of cold water and home-made local cherry liquor.
Travel Tip: For best picture opportunities, the views from the top-most balcony were simply breathtaking.
The secluded beach right below the monastery and the gleaming waters of the endless Aegean Sea are hard to describe, leaving long lasting memories. The divinity of this place is evident from the moment you set foot on this holy ground.
Instead the beach located right below the monastery, and following the advise of our contact at Asset Car Rental, we continued on to Mouros Beach, located on the southeast side of the island. The beach is famous for it’s crystal-clear water, underwater caves and attracts local tourists (some of which are clothing-optional). There is a small tavern/cafe right next to the parking lot where you can order drinks, refreshments, and if you're early, even some tasty sandwiches to enjoy with the views from their terrace, or once you're down on the beach itself. There is a somewhat narrow path with steps descending to the beach, which is one of the most beautiful and scenic anywhere in the Aegean.
In the late afternoon it was time to return the car and embark on board the Star Clipper. We ended the day with hearts full of treasured memories.
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