Thursday, August 16, 2018


The road takes us up the eastern slopes of sharp hills, cypress dark green arrows pointing skyward. We pass through the lovely village of Mystras then past signs directing us the byzantine ruins, the palace and the castle. What we can see from the road is tantalizing — ancient terracotta structures looming over the valley below. On the peak of the mountain hangs the vestiges of a castle. It’s just too hot to face a long hill walk in the sun so we drive past, on to a guesthouse that straddles the road. Four tables with chairs on a small patch of lawn on our right, the guesthouses spread out behind the restaurant on the mountain side to the left. Heavy wooden doors open to a staircase that climbs the mountainside and charming Dimitra leads us to our rooms — a bright, airy suite in whites and blues with balconies overlooking the incredibly picturesque valley below. “Bayturr then you esspected?”, she asks. Barely waiting for us to respond with a unanimous and enthusiastic yes, she answers  with eyebrows aloft “I know!”

We spend the evening playing cards on the little lawn watching the clouds cast shadows on the valley floor. We drink some yummy greek wine, quite a bit as it turns out because we are all enjoying it immensely. We stroll up a steep little road behind the guesthouse to find a restaurant perched even higher on the hill, a huge balcony with another amazing view and a terrific supper.

The next day we head off to try to find what the staff have described as “the waterfall”. It is hard to believe there is any water running in this intense drought but a busboy gives us some directions and we head off. Through the next village, Trepi, looking for a turnoff that never appears. Lucky for us because the wrong turn leads to one of the most scenic drives of my life. The narrow road, with room enough for two on the straight bits (of which there are few), requires one to really stick to the edge in the hairpin turns (of which there are many). It cuts across the face of the mountain through tunnels that look chiselled out of solid rock, at one point the mountain positively hangs over the road — like a tunnel missing a side. A quick look at the map would lead one to believe there isn’t one village between Trepi and Kalamata (a two hour drive away). We are grateul to find a place to turn around — a widening in the road with a lookout designed for rock climbers on their way up.

Back to Trepi to find the turnoff which is a steep slope that drops down into the valley just about the width of our little car. A leap of faith and down we go. The road appears to lead nowhere but we follow it through an olive grove — the massive trunks look like the merging of a dozen smaller trees that have woven themsleves together over hundreds of years. The light is yellow nad hazy with a deafening drone of crickets buzzing in the heat. Again we do an about face, feeling lucky we haven’t left it too late and can still find the room to turn around before the track peters out entirely. We’re suddenly grateful for the puny car. Finally we find the place by listening out for running water. The waterfall, whether a bad translation or a matter of scale is what we would call a brook, with a small swimming hole. The brave among us jump in the frigid waters. I sit and watch. It seems like a bit of a miracle that there is water this fresh and cold coming out of the ground in this intense heat. A large black pipe that skirts along the edge of the stream leads me to believe the locals have found a way to put this eater to use somewhere downhill.

We go into the village of Mystras for lunch, following a man driving around on his scooter, his left arm holding what looks like a willow tree, the branches brushing both sides of the road at once. We chow down on tzaziki and salad and fries and watch the world go by.

We head back to the ruins for a look. Through a small gate and up and up and up. The main “road” is at most two metres wide and paved in local rough rock worn smooth by more than 700 years of use. A series of buildings — homes, churches, palaces and castles built around 1250. Some of the walls still bear amazingly intact frescos. It’s hard to believe this remote village was once the home of Byzantine emperors and capital of art and learning. Perhaps the brook we saw earlier in the day is part of why. The presence of abundant fresh water is not something to be overlooked in part of the world that is this dry. Wil and I are blown away imagining the horses pulling carts up these steep streets. How bone-jarring the ride must have been, how labour-intensive life must have been for the servants on this mountainside. The proportions of even the grandest buildings are very human in scale. The domes and arches in the churches no more than a large man’s armspan and yet it feels lofty and grand in this rustic, remote setting.

We walk to dinner is at a local taverna. We are served by the owner, her husband manning the grill inside. We feast and spend our last night in our airy retreat. Morning brings the fun of opening the front door to a breakfast basket full of hearty bread, butter, local honey, fresh-squeezed orange juice, custard pastry and hard-boiled eggs.

1 comment:

Jenny Wren said...

Wonderful words Sassy. What an adventure for all of you. Sending love xx