We were all set for Tokyo Marathon and a month traveling in Japan, when with two weeks to go it was canceled due to Covid19. Having done our marathon training and with our two month ‘sabbatical’ already scheduled we decided to look for other options in Europe so we could visit our families. We settled on the Nafplio Marathon and spending some time in Greece, with subsequent plans to head to Morocco and then to the UK. But as Covid19 grew in Europe, Nafplio Marathon was cancelled and we made the smart decision to return home after just two weeks, via a stopover in London.
We enjoyed Athens more than expected. First, it’s easy to walk around, especially in late February with lots of sun but cool temperatures. We wandered all around the Acropolis Hill (great views) and through different neighborhoods. Also great views from the Lycabettus Hill Viewing and Holy Church of Saint Isidore. We had nice runs in the National Gardens, the Panathenaic Stadium (site of the 1896 Olympic Games) and Acropolis Hill. Great veggie food at Avocado and Mama Tierra. Plus some good Greek craft beers.
We intended to drive to the Peloponnese via the north so that we could visit Delfi. As we set to leave Athens, we realized that at this time of year it closes at 3 pm and we wouldn’t have time to visit. Therefore, we quickly changed plan and decided to drive directly across the Peloponnese via Korinth. We wanted to stop at a winery in Nemea, but we realized they all all closed at 3 pm too and so we just grabbed a coffee and bakery snack and took the scenic drive through Levidi (would be a good place to stop enroute) and then to Archea Olympia (Ancient Olympia).
We didn’t love the town of Archea Olympia – touristy for the obvious reasons. Really quiet at this time of year with lots of places closed for the season, or perhaps just closed full stop. We made the effort to drive north for the day into the mountains towards Foloi, since Gill had read about the large oak woodland (the highest and most southerly in Europe). Apparently a nice place for hiking. While there was limited information online, especially clear directions, we did find the small environmental museum / information centre – closed, obviously. Only open the first Sunday of the month at this time of year. We took a stroll but there are no trail signs and as an area of farms and open woodland it was not clear where to go. So we drove south and turned off in search of waterfalls in the wooded gorge, but all we saw were many, many hairpin bends. Still, it was an impressive landscape and a good introduction to travelling outside the tourist area.
Leaving Olympia for Kalamata and Kardamyli we wanted to visit a well regarded winery – the Mercuri Estate. Well worth the visit – a very low key old place with some good wines with great prices. As we drove south we approached the mountainous landscape of the Taygetos. We passed through Kalamata and were happy to arrive in beautiful, sleepy Kardamyli. We rented an Airbnb in the town and enjoyed a base for three nights.
We drove up to the village of Kastania with its amazing Byzantine churches. And drove lots of hairpins through Melia and down to Platsa. Everywhere is so quiet at this time of year, but also so many empty historical buildings.
Hiking trips included a frustrating effort to climb up towards the summit of the highest peak of the Taygetos mountain range – Profitas Llias. Despite some research to find the best route for a day hike early in the season, we failed to find the trailhead in the morning. Lots of reports suggest the trailhead is from the village Toriza, but in fact it’s several km outside the village through Krioneri. We did eventually hike up to the Refuge from Manganiari Spring.
Better hiking success was to hike into the Gorge of Ridomo Outside Kardamyli from close to Prophet Elias Monastery. This was a great hike up the dry river bed of Rema Mili. It was tough going with lots of big rocks and climbs to navigate – several places have metal rings hammered onto the rock to help climbing.
Nafplio was our final destination where we were supposed to be running the marathon. It’s a beautiful historic town – the first capital of Greece. Dominated by the large Fortress of Palamidi on the rock outcrop above the old city, it’s a relatively prosperous place with good restaurants and boutique stores. We visited the Skouras winery (very good), Amphitheater of the Asklepieion at Epidaurus, and the Fortress. We also ran the marathon course along the bay (not great unless the road is closed for the marathon) and a great run south to Paralia Karathonas. We ate good food and wine in Nafplio too.
Best decision we made in the whole two weeks was to go home to Vancouver after Greece, despite being gouged again by BA. Given flight times, we needed a stopover in London and luckily our friends Andrew, Tabea and Lorelei, who live beside the Stratford Olympic Park, were happy to host us. We ate some good food and drank some of the great Skouras wine. Our planned two months turned into two weeks, but we’ve never been so glad to get home!
Check out our Google Photos album!