Anthony and Jennifer Garrett have travelled widely but never before to Greece. Being more interested in culture, history and nature than sunbathing (although sea-bathing was also an attraction) they decided to visit the Peloponnese on a tailor-made fly-drive holiday in early April. Here’s how they got on….
‘Et in Arcadia ego’, the title of the first chapter of ‘Brideshead Revisited’, had stuck in my memory since I first read it over 50 years ago, but I didn’t really know where it was or imagine that I would be there one day.
However someone said that to stay young one should visit an entirely new place every year. So, in our early 70s, and having visited most continents and virtually all the countries in Europe, we decided to try Greece for the first time.
We aren’t sun worshippers and Greek food didn’t seem quite as enticing as in France or Italy, which we know best, so we hadn’t been sufficiently attracted before; but the prospect of spring flowers, ancient history and sea bathing tempted us.
We were lucky to come upon ‘Sunvil’, who seem to be the only company providing what we wanted, an 11 night fly-drive to several places of interest, and they recommended a journey around the Peloponnese peninsula, after a brief stay in Athens. I read widely and was surprised to learn about the very troubled and violent history of the country since its golden days in the 5th Century BC.
In early December we committed to our BA flights for March 29th via Heathrow; almost immediately Greece erupted and BA staff threatened to strike. For three months we watched the news on both fronts with trepidation and eventually Sunvil switched our flights out via Manchester, using two different airlines.
I hadn’t expected to like Athens, but as we emerged from the “Acropolis” metro station on a balmy evening, in the shadow of the magnificent new museum, and found our hotel close by, the magic of Greece began to take over. Before bed, a bowl of baklava and ice cream at a friendly little café, with a view of the floodlit Parthenon, confirmed the good impression.
Early next morning we were collected for a ‘City Tour’ which culminated in walking up to the Parthenon, a very memorable moment, despite the crowds. After a ‘Greek siesta’ we walked round the picturesque Plaka district, before visiting the spectacular new Acropolis museum which has some superb exhibits and an excellent video showing the chequered history of the Parthenon.
The following day a hire car was delivered and I drove nervously out of Athens, and over the Corinth Canal; in a couple of hours we reached our delightful hotel just outside the small hill town of Dimitsana, in the rugged ‘Arcadia’ Region, in the centre of the Peloponnese Peninsula.
This area is particularly popular with walkers because of the 1,000 foot deep Lousios Gorge. We drove 6 winding miles down into it from the main road, and then walked for 20 minutes to one of the small monasteries which hug the precipitous cliffs. Later we visited a fascinating new museum of water mills which very cleverly explained cloth ‘fulling’, leather curing and gunpowder manufacture, the latter being vital in the early 19th Century War of Independence.
The road West to Olympia gradually became more verdant as we neared the coast and the famous site of the original games was a delight, spread out amongst lovely trees and flowers. I paced out the ancient 190 metre dash, before driving down to our first seaside hotel at Gialova, near Pylos, beside Navarino Bay, the scene of two famous naval battles, and now the site of a nature reserve.
Then we journeyed on still further south to Kardamyli, gateway to the barren Mani area, and another seaside hotel which was not only very attractive and comfortable, but had it’s own private cove with very pleasant swimming.
After a couple of days relaxing, it was time to head north again, via ancient Mystras, to Nafplio, reputed to be the most elegant town in mainland Greece, and a perfect base for visiting the extremely historic site of Mycenae and the beautifully preserved, 2,400 years old, open-air theatre at Epidaurus which seats 13,000, almost as many as the enlarged Centre Court at Wimbledon.
On our final day we returned via Acrocorinth, with its fantastic views. When eventually back to Athens airport we had driven 750 miles which had not been much more nerve-wracking than in other European countries, apart from the final ring road back to the airport, though signs were often erratic and confusing and our Sat’ Nav’ experienced problems.
As we waited for our flight home we agreed that it had been one of the very best of our many holidays. The timing was ideal, with the weather perfect for us, 20 degrees Centigrade without a spot of rain, and relatively few other visitors. The majority of Greeks were very friendly, but apart from in hotels and restaurants, not many spoke English and my few words of Greek seemed to be appreciated.
My wife loved the scenery, flowers, sheep and goats, and was delighted to find a tortoise in the wild in Arcadia; I was entranced by the history with good museums and signs in both Greek and English, and managed five rather chilly bathes.
We both much enjoyed the food, though arriving in the week before Easter was a problem, because many Greek people do not eat meat at that time, and so restaurants do not cook traditional meat dishes such as Moussaka. We were able to enjoy grilled lamb, pork and fish with healthy Greek salads and not so healthy chips; after Easter Sunday there was no problem and we had some delicious meals. Ouzo and Retsina were interesting accompaniments.
To sum up, “We too had been in Arcadia”.
(The cost of flights, car hire, 3 star or above hotels and all our meals and ‘entertainments’, came to approximately £2,700 for the two of us.)
Anthony Garrett, Scotland (Sunvil Client).