Greece was on my travel bucket list since high school. (Have you seen the masterpiece that is The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2? We all dream of having a Kostas in our lives.) I was given the opportunity to tag along with my best friend, Gina, for 10 days, and experience Greece like a local–to an extent. Her sister and her equally lovely family welcomed me in their home in Magoula, Sparta, which is about a three hour drive from the Athens International Airport.
When Gina had told me that we would be staying in a village, I had expected barren land, much like the Marcel Pagnol novels I had read in high school (see Jean de Florette and Manon des sources). Although not opposed to the idea of living like a villager, I was rather pleasantly surprised by how animated the town of Sparti was day and night. Just a six minute drive from Magoula, the plateia (Greek for town square) in Sparti boasts rows of shops, restaurants and kafeneios (Greek for cafés). Children are playing in the plateia, young and old men are congregating at kafeneios (but mostly just talking shit), and the younger crowd is enjoying drinks on the patio. There is a true sense of community.
The lifestyle in Greece highly differs from that of Canada’s. Canadians live for the weekend whereas Greeks simply live regardless of the day of the week. Opening hours in towns are split into shifts. Local Spartan businesses open from 9am to 2pm, and reopen at 5pm to 9pm on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. The other three days, Monday, Wednesday and Saturday, they open at 9am and close up shop at 2pm. Closing early allows people to escape from the heat by going home and taking an afternoon nap. Napping was a new sport I suddenly excelled at; I’m curious to know where all that need for sleep came from.
I wanted to share with you my itinerary in hopes of possibly persuading you to visit Sparti and other wonderful places in Greece other than your typical destinations (Athens, Santorini and Mykonos). If you are convinced by the end of this post to visit Sparti, please stop by Magnet Computers and tell Tom that Tatiana sent you.
Day 1 (July 10): Magoula, Mystras and Sparta
Due to the time difference and flight duration, you will technically waste a day traveling if you’re flying out of North America. Gina and I arrived on Monday morning at around 8am. Her sister, Helen, picked us up from the airport to begin our car journey to Sparti. Nearly three hours later, we arrived in picturesque Magoula. The view was unbelievable. I had to constantly pinch myself because the mountain ranges seemed too perfect to be real. It was as if I were looking at a Microsoft XP desktop wallpaper. You know exactly which one I’m referring to.
After napping for two hours, we went for portokalopita (Greek for orange pie) and tea in the mountain region of Mystras at Veil Bistrot. Greek orange pie consists of phyllo pastry, a yogurt based custard and oranges grown and harvested locally. So delicious I almost licked my plate clean.
Our bellies happy, we headed to the Tripi natural springs. This pure and fresh water is melting snow from the mountain.
Day 2 (July 11): Mystras, Sparta and Gythio
In the morning, Helen took us to the Archaeological Site of Mystras. The hot blaring sun reminded you that you were, in fact, in Greece, and that this is how summers should be. Pack your hats and sunscreen for application and reapplication!
After lunch, we headed to the Sparta ancient ruins to see their own Acropolis surrounded by an olive tree garden. We also went to see the statue of Leonidas, previous King of Sparta who fought against the Persians alongside only 300 Spartans. Sparta was made famous following the release of the film, 300.
We relaxed in the afternoon at a nearby beach in Gythio. Tanning and sunburns ensued.
Greeks eat dinner late. We went into the plateia for a gyros dinner around 10pm, which was surreal because I’m usually in bed by that time–I’m a 25-year-old grandma. The gyros contained actual chunky meat pieces unlike the questionable shit we’re fed here in Canada. Nothing was the same after my first real Greek meal.
O Parnonas Grill House
Day 3 (July 12): Gythio beach and Tripi
My career path would soon change to professional beach bum. We collectively agreed after a long night that we would spend day 3 relaxing. And that we did at Gythio beach (yet again).
After a long day at the beach, we went to a tavern for dinner in Tripi, indulging in souvlaki and fries.
Day 4 (July 13): Diros Caves and Marmari Paradise Resort
If you find yourself in the state of Laconia, the Diros Caves should be on your list. The only downside is that there are no English speaking guides. Luckily, Helen was there to act as interpreter during the tour. Even if you don’t understand Greek, it’s still worth the visit. You will take a boat tour that lasts about half an hour. The interior temperature is a steady 19 C–a great way to cool off from the heat. Following the tour, we had ice cream and took in the magnificent view of the sea.
We wanted to go to the beach again that day as one should. Instead of heading to Gythio again, Helen remembered that Marmari Paradise Resort was in the area, just further south. In fact, the resort is located in the southern tip of Greece. If you will be venturing off on your own in a rental car, I would highly suggest traveling with a GPS. Signs are practically non-existent in Greece. We thought we were lost because there were no signs indicating whether or not we were driving in the right direction. We were rewarded for our patience with delicious food and stunning beach.
Day 5 (July 14): Sparta
We dedicated day 5 to Sparti. We went into town to do some souvenir shopping. We stopped for refreshments and white chocolate loukoumades (Greek donuts) at Lesxi Symmetron. One pistachio milkshake and too many loukoumades later, we found ourselves inside the Museum of the Olive and Greek Olive Oil learning about the significance of olive oil in Greek culture. Did you know that the olive made its first appearance in the Mediterranean in 60,000 BC? It was used for cooking, soap, fuel, and perfume.
Our last stop of the day was at the Sainopouleio Amphitheatre. The town usually gathers here to attend performances and concerts.
Day 6 (July 15): Monemvasia
Monemvasia is a castle town located on an island in Laconia accessible by bridge. At first glance, the town isn’t visible from the mainland; the locals made sure this was the case in order to avoid the enemy. Travel back in time as you walk through the castle on uneven cobble stone pathways. Every hidden corner is picture perfect. Our first day here we did some souvenir shopping, had a late lunch at Emvasis, and for dinner, seafood was on our mind. Fresh catch of the day was barbounia (red mullet), battered and deep fried. So fresh you could taste the sea.
Spiti Sto Kastro (House in the Castle)
Day 7 July 16): Elafonisos
Elafonisos is an island south west of Monemvasia about an hour and a half away. The ferry ride is only €1, and €10 for your car. The beach was immaculate–the sea was a clear bright turquoise. So clear you could see your toes. We spent the day lounging around, tanning, and going in and out of the water.
Day 8 (July 17): Back to Sparta
Emvasis breakfast, Back to Sparti, drinks and food in platia at Avvaeio
Day 9 (July 18): Athens, Acropolis, and Flea market shopping
We arrived in Athens in the evening absolutely famished. Helen had heard great reviews about the Acropolis Museum restaurant, which we decided was the best option for a late lunch. We were only a five minute walk from the museum. At 7pm, we were already at the Acropolis–the weather was mild and convenient for pictures. I was captivated by the architecture and history. Our minds nourished, we went shopping for souvenirs in the flea market neighborhood of Monastiraki. gelato
Mitseon 3, Athina 117 42, Greece
Day 10 (July 19): Athens, Monastiraki, Ermou, and Acropolis Museum
We fueled ourselves with a hearty breakfast at the Acropolis Museum to prepare ourselves for a day shopping Monastiraki and Ermou. At around 4pm, we collectively agreed that it was time to eat lunch. We had some Greek souvlaki pitas and fries at Meatropoleos 3. I had never been more exhausted in my life having been on our feet all day. We went to the Acropolis Museum in the evening. The museum is a decent size meaning that you don’t need an entire day for your visit. For my last night in Athens, we went to A for Athens for drinks. The view from the rooftop terrace was incredible–by far the best view in all of Athens.