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Kyparissi, Lakonia, Peloponessos

Published on Thursday, April 29th, 2010.


Written by: Matt Barrett and is filed under Travel

Kyparissi is the kind of holiday place that if you know about it, you
only tell your closest friends because you are afraid of spoiling it.
But really it would be a hard place to spoil just because of the
difficulties in getting here. You could tell the whole world about your
holiday in the land of the Hunzas but only about one person in 25
million is going to visit there because not everyone wants to cross
icy mountain peaks riding on a yak to visit some place you told
them was nice. Kyparissi is sort of like that. Even though it has been
written up in many Greek magazines, and featured in the book The
Most Beautiful Villages of Greece, and is the favorite destination of
George H Bush, Prince Charles and may have been the last place
Princess Diana visited before her ill-fated trip to Paris, getting to
Kyparissi is a formidable task to anyone who does not have access
to a high-powered yacht with a helicopter.

In the old days there was a weekly ferry that started in Pireaus and
followed the east coast of the Peloponessos, and stopped in
Kyparissi on its way to Monemvasia, Kythira and Crete, before
returning the way it had come. We took this ferry from Githion to
Kyparissi in 1963 and a later boat in the eighties and early nineties.
Later the Flying Dolphins took this route and stopped here daily in
the summer until the new dock collapsed within a few months of
being built and the old dock was too unsheltered and there were too
few passengers to make the trip lucrative. They cut service back to
just weekends and eventually stopped it altogether. The ferry and
flying dolphin skippers never liked stopping in Kyparissi anyway. The
old boats used to anchor in the bay and small caique would ferry the
people to the dock. The later ferries began docking at Agios
Nicholaos and at the main dock when the sea was not too rough.
But there were days when we would wait for the flying dolphin only
to see it pass us by because it was too much of a hassle to try

todock and
whoever wanted to
get off in Kyparissi
could take a taxi
from Geraka or
Monemvasia. For
those who wanted
to go to Athens…
too bad. For those
who arrived at
Agios Nicholaos by
Flying Dolphin for
the first time it was
a confusing
experience. For
awhile Yiannis
Zefiris would ferry
people to the town dock in his little boat but once he stopped the
only way in was to catch a ride with someone or walk for about an
hour. When my father came back to the village in the eighties with
his new bride he assumed that if they began walking that someone
would pick them up. Wrong. He had to walk all the way into the
village with his suitcases.
“The villagers are not friendly” he said to me.
“They are very friendly”, I explained to him since I spent many of
my summers here. “If you had asked someone for aride and they
refused then I would say you would be justified in believing the
village was unfriendly. But just because they did not notice a seven
foot man and his five foot tall bride walking into town does not
mean they are not friendly, just unobservant.
He never forgave the village for his long walk and never returned.

In the sixties
they had built
a road to
connect
Kyparissi with
Leonideon
which you can
still take from
the north
sideof the
village. It hugs the coast for a few miles and then turns inland to the
nearly abandoned village of Kapsala, home to the Mavromichalis
clan from the Mani, who fought to liberate Greece from the Turks
and then according to local legend were framed by the British for
the murder of Greece’s first Head of State. The road continues past
several beautiful beaches and ends abruptly at the border of
Arkadia. The Arkadians decided they did not want to lose tourist
business to Laconia so they just didn’t build their portion of the
road. It has been fifty years and the people of Kyparissi still blame
the Arkadians for the lack of tourism which they see as a curse, but
anyone else would see as a blessing. There is a road though. One of
the most frightening in Greece, it hugs the mountainside for several
miles, just wide enough for two cars to pass in most places. There is
even a spot that so terrified even a seasoned professional Athens
taxi driver that he had to be led down the mountainside by keeping
his eyes on my rear bumper and not looking at either side. This road
and the lack of a boat have kept Kyparissi as unspoiled as a Greek
coastal village can be.

Kyparissi was an ancient sanctuary of Asclepius and used to be


known as Kyfanta.
At some point in
its history
thepeople of this
lush valley of
olive trees, pine
and carob left the
coast and moved
to a highpoint
where the village
was hidden from
the sea and the
pirates who
raided the coast.
This did not help
them when some
very determined
pirates climbed the mountain and slaughtered most of the villagers
and threw their bodies in a well. Many of the survivors went to
Sfakia, Crete which was one of the few unconquerable places left in
Greece. The people who inhabit the region now are the descendants
of those who stayed and the Mavromichalis clan. Kyparissi is
actually three villages. Vrissi is the first village you come to, the
highest of the three on the slopes of the mountain range that
surrounds the valley. It is rich in water with a spring running through
the town. Everyone has beautiful gardens, orchards and olive trees.
There is a small cafeneon in a tiny platia and a larger psistaria-
taverna overlooking the big square where they hold the
panagiris(saint festivals). From Vrissi there are paths that lead up
into the mountains, around the hills and to the spring which gushes
from a crevice in the rock walls that rise several thousand feet.
There are few shops, no hotels and if you arrive between 2 and 6pm
you might not see a single person on the narrow streets.

The road goes downhill in relatively extreme fashion and passes the
Schiller designed elementary school, crosses a bridge over a dry
river bed and goes past the graveyard and the beautiful old church
before reaching the town of Parilea (photo), which means beach.
There are several small hotels here, the best among them being
Kyfanta Apartments which are large studios with kitchens and a
view of the sea, owned by Yannis and Esther. Yiannis is from
Kyparissi while Esther comes from Spain and is the multi-linguist of
the family, speaking several including Spanish, English and Greek.
Parilea also has a couple restaurants, both quite good. One is known
as Rovatsos and is in a modern looking apartment style building
overlooking the sea and features fresh fish, local meat, cheese and
vegetables and as do all the restaurants, excellent local wine. They
also have the world’s largest and tastiest olives. Almost next door is
Trocadero, owned by Panagiotis Volis, a resident of Montreal who
returned to his ancestral village to serve some of the best food you
will find in Laconia including what may be the best omelets in
Greece. For those who have not been impressed with the breakfast
buffets served at most hotels in Athens and the popular islands,
finding a restaurant where a guy will make an omelet with anything
you ask him to put in, is not only refreshing, but may save you
money because you will probably be able to skip lunch. A third
restaurant is known as Katina’s and is currently closed because of a
lawsuit with a neighbor who wanted to use her seating area as a
driveway to his garage. Maybe this will be resolved by the time you
come and if so she is an excellent cook as well.
T
here are several cafe-bars including To Kafe tis Maritsela, a
beautifully designed stone basement place owned by Maria Fasili,
which is right next to Tis Electra’s gift shop which is full of unique
items not found in your everyday gift shops in Greece. Nearby is the
pandapoleon which means a store that sells everything, owned by
Girogos Zeferis who makes a delicious organic wine and is also one
of the few fishermen that sells his daily catch to the restaurants. On
the far side of Parilea is an actual supermarket, not on the scale of
one you might find at home but by Kyparissi standards certainly
super enough. There is a small beach to the right of the dock and a
larger one to the left of town that stretches perhaps a quarter of a
mile and separates Parilea from the third of the three villages, called
Metropolis (photo). There are two restaurants here, both good, one
with a view called Lulas and one without a view called Tiris, the
more popular of the two, open year round and also has its own
bakery and zacharoplasteon (pastry shop). Fresh fish, home grown
vegetables and local meats, cheese and wine have made Tiris a
favorite not just with the locals and the Athenians who visit but also
for the yacht and sailboat people who stop here overnight in the
summer months
Beyond Metropolis the road winds through olive groves before
emerging at the beach and small harbor of AgiosNicholaos. When
the sea is rough
this is the best
place to swim and
when the sea is
not rough it is the
best place to get
away from the
few people who
are on the
beaches in town.
Tiris owns another
restaurant-cafe on
the hill
overlooking the
port that has
excellent food and
even a live
rembetika-laika band in the summer. There are only a couple shops
for buying crafts and anything resembling tourist paraphenalia so if
you are the type of traveler that thinks that shopping is an
important part of any holiday then you may be disappointed.
However serious art collectors are in luck because Kyparissi is home
to the British artist James Foot, one of the finest watercolor painters
in Greece and if you ask for him you should be able to buy some
original pieces which should gain in value if not bring a little bit of
Kyparissi home to decorate your living room. For those who have
family members addicted to shopping you can drive to Monemvasia
in about two hours and not only will the number of tourist shops be
satisfying but it is quite an amazing place to see, a medieval
fortified village on a giant rock in the sea. Other possible day trips
include the island of Elafonissos, near the city of Neapolis, Githeon
which is the port of Sparta, the Diros Caves in the Mani, the
Byzantine city of Mystras, any of which should take about two hours.
Closer and just as interesting is the town of Geraki which also has a
Byzantine city.

But most people who come to Kyparissi find that using it as a base
for daytrips to the rest of the Peloponessos requires a little more
driving than they like to do on holiday and instead explore the area
on foot, swim, eat long lunches while drinking local wine and then
taking a nice siesta in the afternoon. If you are a reader you don’t
have to worry about running out of material because Yiannis and
Esther have collected a pretty impressive English language library of
paperbacks. There are numerous trails that lead to small churches,
hidden springs, remote beaches, caves, forests and of course the
abandoned village of Kapsala, now used by a few of the remaining
Mavromichalis clan for summer homes or to be close to their farms
and sheep. The best time for me is dinner when you can’t help but
strike up a conversation with any foreigner who may be sitting
nearby in the restaurant, some who come by sailboat, some who
like you, came because they read this, and some because they have
been coming here for years and have a family house here. (I am one
of those people.)

G
oing to Kyparissi for a holiday you need to plan on staying here at
least five days and you will need a rental car and you will need to
know how to drive it. Few if any travel agencies book hotels in
Kyparissi and most have never even heard of it. If you try to book
through a travel agency you may find yourself in the town of
Kyparissia on the west coast of Greece which is a whole different
thing. Your best bet is to book directly with Yiannis and Esther at
Kyfanta Apartments and if they are full they can find you a room
elsewhere. For car rentals I suggest Swift Rent-a-Car in Athens and
they will drive you out of the city to the National Road and at least
you don’t have to worry about that part of the journey. The trip
down is pretty easy as far as Tripolis where it is a brand new
highway which is only crowded on holidays. From Tripolis you get on
a smaller road to Sparta and from there you can turn left towards
Geraki and follow your map, or go south towards Githion and then
follow the signs to Skala and then to Molai and from the main road
find the turnoff to the road that goes to Kyparissi. You will need a
map, especially from this point on. The roads are good in terms of
the pavement. There is little traffic and should take about an hour
from Molai until you reach the sea in very dramatic fashion and then
take the narrow road along the edge of the mountain. There is a
small Byzantine church right at the opening to the sea where
youcan stop and take a break, gather your courage, say a prayer
and then continue for the last harrowing twenty minutes. Once you
get to Kyparissi you will see that it was all worth it and really the
only scary part was thinking about it. You can also take a taxi which
will cost you a couple hundred euros but you get to sit back and
enjoy the trip. (See greecetravel.com/taxi) The only other option
besides driving is to take a water-taxi from Spetses which will take
about an hour and cost in the neighborhood of about 200 euros,
which can be split between people since it is per trip and not per
passenger.(Call Alex at (30) 6945901110) No matter how you end
up getting here, once you are here you will realize this is a special
place and want to stay as long as you can, if for no other reason to
avoid the long trip back.

Watercolour artist James


Foot will hold a week-long
summer workshop in Kyparissi
from Sunday 30th May –
Saturday 5th June 2010. The
workshop, 3 star hotel with
breakfast, art materials,
transport from Athens airport
and back are all included in the
fee of 710euros for those with a
single room or 610euros for
those sharing a room. The workshop will be conducted in English
and is open to experienced painters and beginners alike. Both the
hotelier, Esther, and James also speak Greek.

The essence of the workshop will be about looking at & recording


light on the landscape, the architecture of the village and the sea –
drawing with pencil and painting in watercolour – and the intention
is to explore the expressive quality of a limited palette and single
brush.

James will begin each daily session with a demostration from 10.30am and talk about
the approach to that day’s goals, after which he will circulate, paying individual
attention to each student as they work. Students are free from 2.30pm onwards to have
lunch, continue with their work, swim, walk or siesta. The students&artist will meet
up again at 7.30pm each day at the hotel bar to look at work and discuss the
achievements and developments of that day.
To take advantage of the transport from Athens airport to the village meet at dooor A
of arrivals before 6pm on Saturday 29th May. The minibus will return to the airport
by 1pm on Sunday 6th June.
Materials provided will be one Pro Arte brush per student, Saunders Waterford paper,
Rembrandt watercolours and pencil – obviously students are welcome to bring their
own materials if they prefer.
Charges are:- Tuition (including transport&materials 50euros per day x7days =
350euro
How to book: contact James at jamesefoot@yahoo.co.uk
Hotel – single room&breakfast per person 45euros x 8nights = 360euro
- shared room&breakfast per person 32.50euros x 8nights = 260euro
How to book: contact Esther at Hotel Kyfanta
Matt's Greece Travel Guide
Itinerary Suggestions

10/29/2008 Athens, Greece

Last weekend seemed like a good time to take a trip. Amarandi had
a school field trip to Sparta from Sat-Mon, and Tuesday was Ochi
Day, a Greek holiday celebrating their refusal to let the Italians
occupy the country at the beginning of World War Two, so it was a 4
day weekend if you skipped work or school on Monday. Our plan
was to go to the Peloponessos and then pick up Amarandi on
Monday from somewhere along the way and stretch out her trip, but
she did not want to suffer the humiliation of having her parents
meet her along the way and take her off so we had to plan on being
back in Athens on Monday night when she got back. So Saturday
morning we still did not have any concrete plans besides taking
Amarandi to ACS and putting her on the bus. I looked at weather
reports (www.meteo.gr is pretty good and even if you don't read
Greek you get the idea from the pictures) and it seemed that with
the exception of the island of Skyros, which was on our short-list,
where it was raining, it looked pretty good anywhere in Greece for
the end of October. But to be honest if we just stayed home and
passed the day and then went out at night in Athens I would have
been perfectly happy. Traveling seemed like a hassle and in my
mind we were not going to go anywhere. We would drop Amarandi
off and then go to a cafe or Starbucks and talk about where we
wanted to go and spend so long doing it that in the end Andrea
would just agree with me and we would go home. But things did not
go as planned and because we came to the entrance to the Attiki
Odos (National Road of Attika) before we came to a cafe I got on the
road and we still had no idea where we were going. Originally we
thought about Epirus but we really did not have enough time. Then I
wanted to go to Volos and drink tsipuro and eat their wonderful
seafood mezedes and explore the wooded Pelion Peninsula. Andrea
wanted to go to Pylos where there is some kind of chameleon
preservation park but that did not seem very exciting to me. We
thought about Zakynthos but that's the island where development is
endangering the carretta-caretta sea-tortoise so its on my list of
places to avoid. Lefkada was another option as was Patras and
Kefalonia. But we were approaching the intersection with the
National Road and we had to at least decide whether we were going
north or south. At the last moment we went south, not because we
had made a decision but because a big truck cut me off from the
exit so I really did not have a choice. We now had an hour to decide
whether to turn west towards Patras and see either Lefkada,
Kefalonia or the western Peloponessos or go south towards my
grandmother's village of Kyparissi and maybe down to Monemvasia
and Neapolis.
I was torn really. I have this sense of responsibility that tells me I
should find new places to write about for the website but there is a
sentimental part of me that just wants to go to my favorite places
and see my friends. The sentimental side usually wins out which is
why after working on the website for 15 years there is a lot of
Greece that I still have not been to. Maybe we should go to Kithira.
But the travel agents on my site are dreading the day I go there
because it is so far off the beaten track that they are almost
helpless to assist with hotels and ferry bookings and usually when I
write about an island it brings about a surge of interest which takes
them by surprise and sends them scrambling looking for contacts
and hotels if it is somewhere obscure. No. I will have mercy on the
agencies and save Kithira for sometime after the world economy
collapses. Lets go to Kyparissi, I said to Andrea. But first lets call
Electra, my Canadian friend who splits time between there and
Athens. When I told her I was on my way to Kyparissi she practically
screamed with delight. "I am on my way there too!" she said.

Kyparissi, Peloponessos, GreeceKyparissi is one of the most remote


and most beautiful villages in Greece. If you come across the coffee-
table photo book called The Most Beautiful Villages in Greece by
Mark Ottoaway and Hugh Palmer you will find it in there. For years,
centuries actually, it was cut off from the rest of Greece, connected
only by a dirt path which climbed through a wall of mountains and
took days to get through by donkey. The only way to get there was
by boat, first the caique from Leonideon or Spetses, then a weekly
ferry and for a dozen years or so until they discontinued it, the flying
dolphin. Now there is a road that follows the old donkey path and if
you have a good map and don't stop too often or get lost you can
get from Sparta to Kyparissi in about two hours, but the last twenty
minutes is the most terrifying mountain road you will find in Greece.
It hugs the cliffs, several thousand feet above the sea and is so
frightening that one time when we had too many people for one car
and had to hire a taxi to come with us the driver refused to go any
further because it was too dangerous. I had to tell him just to look at
the back of my car and follow me down the mountainside and not
look left or right. But when he got to the bottom he was astounded
at the beauty of the place and said he was going to come back with
his family for a holiday (he never did though).

Byzantine ruins, Geraki, Laconia, GreeceThere are several roads to


Kyparissi and everyone who goes there has their favorite way. We
like the road through Geraki for a couple reasons. First of all the
village of Geraki is a very interesting agricultural town with a
beautiful platia and some cafeneons and a couple restaurants with a
view of the valley and miles of olive groves. There is also a ruined
Byzantine city, sort of a smaller version of Mystras, on the mountain
overlooking the town, with dozens of old buildings and several
churches still intact or restored with some beautiful frescos painted
on the interior walls. There is also an archaeological site that is
being excavated by the Dutch School and a couple of our friends
work there, though we have never managed to be there at the same
time as they are. The whole town is as traditional and unpretentious
a place you will find in all of Greece, not the kind of place that
makes a post-card like photograph but a taste of the real Greece for
those seeking that. It even has a hotel or two.

Geraki is also within view of my grandfather's ancestral village


which was called Zarafona but is now called Kalithea. They say that
the people from Zarafona came from Malta by way of Corfu and the
name means the sound that echoes through the ravines and gorges.
They name Kalithea is sort of inappropriate as if they decided to
change the name and could not think of one so they chose one that
would make people want to go there. Kalithea means 'good view'
but it is not on the top of a mountain where there is a view, but up
against it on the edge of a large plain of olives trees that stretches
to the sea. Zarafona, which is what our family and probably most
people who live there call it, is a very simple, quiet agricultural
village with one or two quiet cafeneons where they can throw
together a meal if you show up and are not too selective about what
you want to eat. Its whatever they have on hand which is usually
fried potatoes, macaroni, cheese, bread, salad and maybe some
lamb or goat cooked to order. There is also a very old Byzantine
church, maybe 6th century in the beautiful town square. Tourists
rarely if ever come here even though on the outskirts of town are
the ruins of a Frankish castle. But it is a beautiful village if you want
to see what a small, unspoiled agricultural village looks like.

Road to Kyparissi, Laconia, GreeceFrom Geraki the road continues


past a number of small towns including Alepohori and Ag Dimitrios
and if you have followed the map correctly you will end up on the
outskirts of Lambokambos on the way to the picturesque village of
Harakas hugging the side of Mount Madara. Until now you probably
have not caught a glimpse of the sea except for the Lakonikos Gulf
many miles distant in the south. But as soon as you pass Harakas
you come through the mountains and suddenly the Mirtoo Sea is
right there and the countryside has dropped away and you are now
on a narrow road on the east side of the mountain in a setting that
is as impressive as anything you will see in Santorini or even the
Grand Canyon. The road has been cut through parts of the
mountain, in some places with the rock hanging over it and runs
along the side with the sea below on your right, the mountain face
on your left. There is little margin for error though the road is good
and people generally drive slowly on it because to do otherwise
might mean if not instant death, then enough time to have your
entire life flash before you in as much time as it takes to reach the
bottom several thousand feet down where if you are lucky you will
hit the rocks and die in a fiery explosion and if not you will hit the
sea and what is left of you will drown.

Blackjack Jerome house near Kyparissi, laconia, GreeceRight at the


entrance to the pass through the mountain to the sea there is a
road to a small church on the right with an area you can park and
see the view. There is a steep ravine that leads down to a small
beach. There is actually an calderini, a walking path, that goes down
though from the looks of it a lot of it has been destroyed by rock
slides. At the very bottom is a house which was built by a California
union buster named Blackjack Jerome, known for hiring thugs and
arming them to break up strikes the nineteen-twenties, for his
girlfriend, accessible only from the sea. He was killed before he
finished the house and it is now inhabited by goats. Above the
church is a dirt path that leads to another church and some
abandoned buildings and watchtowers and an even more impressive
view, though if you don't feel like climbing you will be just as
satisfied with the view below. The ten kilometers to Kyparissi takes
about 20 minutes so those who are terrified of heights don't have
long to keep their eyes shut before coming to the first view of the
village where the road zig-zags its way down the mountain until you
find yourself at a narrow crevice cut in the mountains with a small
church on the rocks, the source of water for the village.

Vrissi, Kiparissi, Laconia, GreeceThe first town you come to is Vrissi,


meaning 'spring' as in water, not the season, a collection of white
houses, mostly in the traditional style and many with beautiful lush
gardens. Vrissi is on the slope of the mountain so when you wander
around the village you are either walking uphill or downhill. There is
a town square which serves more as a parking lot, except for
panagiris (religious festivals like the 15th of August) when the
village gathers here for music, wine and food. There is a taverna
which overlooks it, open year round. Further down is a smaller
platia, more for sitting, right next to a traditional cafeneon where
the old men gather in the mornings and afternoons. Vrissi controls
the water since it is closest to the source. Its kind of a sore point
between the villages especially since they have to bring water by
boat for the summer to handle the needs of the holiday population
in the community by the sea. It seems kind of silly. Anyone who has
ever put on a mask and snorkel in these waters know that there is
so much cold mountain water pouring into the sea that there are
places where the temperature drops around twenty degrees and the
fresh water mixing with the seawater makes everything blurry. But
people here are convinced the only water is what they can get
coming from Vrissi so instead of drilling for more they buy it.

Vassiliki Kolombotos and Giorgos EconopoulyIf you continue through


Vrissi and go down the mountain you will pass the old school and
some olive groves, a beautiful old church and cemetery and
eventually find yourself in the town of Paralia which means 'beach'.
This is where my grandmother, Vasiliki Kolmbotos, lived until her
parents drowned on a caique that flipped over on the way to
Spetses and they sent her off to live with relatives in Alexandria,
Egypt and eventually to the USA to marry my grandfather Giorgos
Oikonomopoulos (George Econopouly) from Zarafona. The story of
my life has been my battle with my father and his cousin John over
the restoration of the family house since their inclination was to just
forget about it and let it fall apart, while mine has been to fix it so
the family can use it. This is a common story in Greece and in every
village you will see beautiful old homes that have collapsed because
squabbling relatives can't get it together to negotiate and save it.
Everyone believes the house belongs to them and rather than have
to share it or work something out they just let it go. Unfortunately in
my situation our house is the only one in the village in this state and
since I am the only member of the family that visits Kyparissi is has
become somewhat of an embarrassment. Everyone asks me to fix it
and I just shrug my shoulders and tell them I am trying. When
Vasiliki, the old woman who lives next door sees me she begs me to
do something. People throw their garbage in the house, there are
rats, the town has moved the garbage cans to the property and it
smells in the summer. I tell her the same thing. I am trying. But how
can I have a partnership in a family where everyone is only looking
out for his own interest and does not trust anyone else? And if I just
get a lawyer and take it then they will all believe they were right not
to trust me.

kyparissi, Laconia, GreeceThe center of activity in Kyparissi is the


small dock where the ferry and the flying dolphin used to come. Its
not a good harbor, being open to the sea and when the waves were
too big the dolphin would just pass by and continue on to Geraka
which is more sheltered, at the end of a small fjord. I always
wondered how people felt who were on the dolphin, expecting to
stop in Kyparissi and watched as the boat went past it, and then
what they had to do to get to Kyparissi. Probably get a taxi from
Geraka or Monemvasia. They built another dock on the north side of
the bay at Agios Nikolas but it collapsed after a year due to faulty
construction, as did the dock in Gerakas and probably several other
docks made by the same contractor who is probably living in
Switzerland. The flying dolphins were sold to Minoan Ferries who
discontinued the route that used to go down the coast of the
Peloponessos and also included Leonidio, Torou, Geraka,
Monemvasia and even Kithira, because it did not make any money.
The once a week ferry from Pireaus stopped going to Kyparissi too
and we were cut off, though you would never know it by reading
some of the guidebooks where according to them we still have both
flying dolphin and ferry service. There are a couple ways of looking
at the situation. Its a drag because we used to get on the dolphin
and in 3 hours we would be in Kyparissi. Sometimes we would go to
Hydra for a couple days and then go. It was a nice trip too with
every port more beautiful than the last. I would stand in the outside
area by the entrance with the wind nearly blowing me off the boat
as we raced down the coast of the Peloponessos at a hair-raising 35
mph. But had the dolphins and ferries continued then it would not
have been long until Kyparissi was completely developed and
overrun by weekenders and day-trippers. As it is now the long
journey, five hours or more from Athens, keeps all but the most
adventurous away and generally it is not worth the trip if you are
only going to stay for a weekend. People come for a week, two
weeks, a month, or the summer and some for the rest of their lives.
The last terrifying twenty minutes of the journey eliminates all but
the most courageous from coming here more than once, if at all and
that is fine with me. Plenty of people on sailboats find it and there
are moorings at Agios Nikolas and also on the south side of the bay
at Agios Giorgos but its a long walk from either place. The last time
my father came here with his wife he got off the dolphin at Agios
Nikolas. This was back in the days when my father still had his
illusions of Greece as the land where everyone was friendly and he
told his wife that if they just started walking someone would pick
them up because many people had driven out to meet arriving
family members. Nobody stopped to ask if they needed a ride and
from that moment my father labeled his mother's village as
unfriendly and never went back.

Metropolis, Kyparissi, GreeceBesides Vrissi and Paralia there is also


the village of Metropolis which is the newest part of Kyparissi and
has many of the more modern buildings. Not that Paralia does not
have its share of ostentatious summer mansions built by returning
Greek-Americans as a monument showing how successful they were
in America, or even some built by Athenians that rival them. But
both Vrissi and Paralia have enough of the traditional architecture to
give you the impression that they are still quaint Peloponnesian
villages. Metropolis is less image conscious and you will find a
mixture of apartment style houses and some simple traditional
houses as well. There are also a couple tavernas including the
wonderful Tiris, open year round. which also includes the area's only
bakery which bakes beautiful horiatiko psomi(village bread). But
despite the lack of an authority who could tell people "this is ugly
and you can't build it" the picture as a whole is a pleasant one and
unless you are one of those people who freak out about
polikatikions (apartment buildings) taking over every town and
village in Greece, you may not even notice them. I am used to it.
Andrea will never be. But she still loves Kyparissi. Its also the home
of one of her favorite artists, a talented Englishman named James
Foote whose watercolors seem to be in every restaurant and home
in Kyparissi.
View from Kyfanta Apartments, Kyparissi, Lakonia, GreeceUsually
we stay in the apartments of my aunt, Katina Poulakis. She is not
really my aunt except that probably somewhere down the line we
must have some relatives in common as does everyone in the
village but we call her Thea Katina which makes her happy and
makes us feel like we have family here. We do have family but
barely know them. We used to stay in the rooms above Katina's
restaurant-general store back in the days before air-conditioning or
before we even thought about air-conditioning. The rooms would get
as hot as the kitchen below us and smell like whatever she was
cooking. The toilets were Turkish-style which means you had to
squat, not sit. But we did not spend much time in the rooms anyway
and eventually she built some nice apartments on the property next
door and we stayed there because she was Thea Katina, though she
did charge us, since she is really not my thea. But the place to stay
in Yannis and Esther's hotel which is called Kyfanta Apartments (See
www.hotelsofgreece.com/peloponessos/kyfanta) for a number of
reasons. Number one is that they are beautiful apartments, simple
and traditional with small kitchens, air-conditioned in the summer
and heated in the winter, with a view of the sea from all but the
lower level rooms. There is a cafe-bar with a rooftop sitting area also
with a view of the sea. The beach is a thirty second walk down the
lane so you can have a quick swim and be back before your coffee
gets cold. Plus Esther speaks English and Spanish, being of Spanish
origin. Yannis is a zen-like character, friendly in his Lakonian way
and though I have never heard him speak a word of English I think
he understands more than he lets on. They also have begun to get
involved with activities with their guests like walking trips through
the mountains to see the abandoned villages, olive groves, churches
and caves in the area, as well as trips around the Peloponessos. Not
that anyone coming here will be in need of organized activities since
every direction you walk in leads you past or to something beautiful
and interesting. At dinner with Esther last weekend when she told
me all the activities she wanted to provide for her guests I told her
that the beauty of Kyparissi and the beaches are all the activity
anyone ion their right mind would want. Kyparissi is not a place for
the tourist who wants to use it as a base to explore Mystras, the
Diros Caves, Elefonisos, Gythion, or Monemvasia which are all within
striking distance, mainly because once you get here you won't want
to leave.

Parilea, Kyparissi, GreeceKyparissi beaches are among the best in


Greece. The main beach between Paralia and Metropolis is a long
stretch of mostly black and white pebbles or stones with a sea the
color that people dream of. This is usually the most crowded which
means any month except August there may be a dozen or so people
spread out along its quarter-mile length. In August there will be
more since it is the easiest beach to walk to and people come from
other villages too. At certain times of the month there are big waves
here, great for body-surfing until they get so big that you just want
to sit and watch them. On these days people go to the series of
beaches beyond Metropolis to the north which are more sheltered
and usually waveless which is why most sailboats moor nearby at
the collapsed dock. There is another small beach right in the town of
Paralia. The sea is open and clean and when it is calm excellent for
snorkeling. Some of my most fruitful diving adventures were here in
Kyparissi. ( See
www.mattbarrett.net/spearfishing/index_spearfishing_4.html).
George Bush senior has been known to come here and jog from
Agios Nikolas to Paralia, sometimes stopping for coffee with the
secret agents who run with him. He came on the yacht of Greek
zillionare Latsis, as did Prince Charles and Princess Diana, together
and apart. They say the morning of the day she died in Paris,
Princess Diana was on the beach in Kyparissi.

Tiris Taverna, Kyparissi, Laconia, GreeceFood-wise there are lots of


choices in the summer, not so many in the winter, but enough. Tiris
in Metropolis is open year round and serves grilled meats, roast
lamb, fish soup, grilled fresh fish, kalamarakia and a variety of
frozen and whatever fresh fish has been caught. Across the street is
a similar restaurant which we call Lula's. Both are good though Tiris
is more popular with both the locals and the people who come on
sailboats and yachts. In Paralia is Trocadero which is a combination
pizza-ouzeri-taverna which is owned by Greek-Canadians, has good
food and nice view. Nearby is Rovatsos which we used to call 'the
hotel' on the days when there were no hotels here, because it
looked like the only building that could be a hotel. Now there are
several. Rovatsos is a pure estiatorion with oven cooked dishes and
grilled meat and fish and along with Tiris is the most popular of the
lower restaurants and in a way the most professional. That's not to
say it is the best. I don't know which is the best but having lived in
villages with no good tavernas I am happy that Kyparissi does not
have any bad ones. Also in Paralia is Thea Katina's which is part
general store and part home-cooked meals restaurant. I think she
has souvlakia in the summer too. She runs the place with her
sisters-in-law and this was pretty much my hangout when I spent
my summers here. In fact our schedule was usually a night or two at
Katina's, then one of the other restaurants, then a night or two at
Katina's and a night at one of the others, until we had eaten at all
the others and then we would eat at Katina's every night unless
someone invited us out to dinner elsewhere. But back then her
husband Panayotis was alive, working the grill, making kontosouvli
or roast chicken and the tiny patio where we ate was like our living
room since we lived right there. In Vrissi there is another simple
taverna overlooking the square (parking lot) open year round and
good for a break from Paralia that serves really nice local pitas
(filled with horta in the winter and maybe vleeta or spinach in the
summer) and grilled paidakia, loukaniko (sausage) and other meaty
and fishy things.

Well as you can see I am writing this with an eye to the future and a
possible Kyparissi page. But what about my weekend in Kyparissi?

dancing in the Baraki in Kyparissi, Lakonia, GreeceI spent a lot of


time eating and drinking and talking and listening. Our first stop was
at the new Maritsela Cafe and nice little bar in the basement which
used to be the shop of Vassilis, an eccentric gentleman who for
some reason would weigh everything he sold. One day we went to
buy a dog chain with a small lock to close up the ruins of my
grandmother's house. He searched the shop until he found a chain,
weighed it, found it in a book and gave us the price. We were
astounded that there was actually a book with a chart that said how
much a dog chain costs by the kilo. After Vassilis died the basement
was rented by Maria Fasili and renovated into a very comfortable
little cafe-bar. My great grandfather actually built the house the bar
is in and it was at one time my family house. Afterwards we walked
up to Tiris in Metropolis where we met my friend Electra and her
cousin and some friends and we drank wine and ate paidakia and
then returned to Paralia and went to the little bar we call To Baraki,
right on the dock. The waves were crashing and breaking right up to
the patio so everyone was inside where it was nice and cozy. Electra
got everyone dancing and was the star of the show. I was torn
between watching her and going outside to watch the waves and
spent the night going back and forth. Electra is one of my best
friends. Actually I thought I was on my way to being her boyfriend
when I met her in Montreal many years ago when I would go to visit
her daily at her restaurant. But the last week I was there Andrea
came to visit and somehow I ended up with her instead. Now Electra
is one of my best friends as well as my coach when it comes to all
things Kyparissi. If I ever restore the house it will be because of her
advice and assistance.

Thomas, Kyparissi, GreeceThe next day we went to Electra's


beautiful house in Vrissi for coffee. Within minutes of sitting down a
parade of guests began to drop in. First Nikos the lawyer came with
his friend Thomas from another village. Thomas is one of those
interesting guys who is not only a sort of country philosopher but
also knows everything about the history of Lakonia, all the villages,
and how to grow, fix, build or make anything traditional, for
example a stone house like the one my grandmother was born in.
He brought with him a bottle of dark red wine in a big water bottle
and plopped it on the table and started filling glasses. It was the
best wine I ever tasted in my life with a bouquet almost like
chocolate. He told us he made it from a variety of local vines, some
of them ancient. Lakonia is probably the oldest wine-making region
in the world and in the village of Klitoria (real name-no kidding)
there is an ancient vine the size of a tree trunk, that is thousands of
years old he told us. Thomas had a bag of the largest chestnuts I
had ever seen and began peeling them and then scraping off the
internal fuzz with his knife, before handing one to everyone. What
am I supposed to do with a raw chestnut, I thought, thinking back to
Xidera, Lesvos where they offered me what they called pikra elies
which were a variety of olives which they ate raw and said went
very well with ouzo but I thought tasted terrible and would not go
well with anything. But to my surprise a raw chestnut tasted pretty
good, like a big nut. I actually ate a couple. People kept coming and
going and Electra, now recovered from last night, brought out a
plate of salami, parmesan cheese, olives and bread and we kept
drinking. Nikos called Tiris and asked if they had any fish and then
he and Thomas jumped in the car and came back with fish soup,
several skorpios and cod, potatoes, lachano-carotta salad (cabbage-
carrot) and potatoes and we had a feast in Electra's garden.
Eventually we were the last ones remaining and while I dozed on
Electra's couch, she and Andrea discussed art, decor and kitchens.
We drove back to the hotel and had enough time to take a shower
and then drive back up with Esther to the taverna in Vrissi where we
rejoined many of the same people we met at Electra's and a few
more, for dinner. By 11pm I was more exhausted than I had been
this entire 5 months in Greece. When I am in Athens everyone
speaks English. I feel like I forget more Greek than I learn. But when
I get to the countryside and everyone is speaking Greek I am forced
to listen and try to keep pace with the conversation with my flawed
Greek. Andrea helps me sometimes but her translations are often
like the subtitles in an American movie where the actor speaks for
half a minute and the translation just says "OK. You are right". So I
try to patch the words I understand together to make some sense of
what is being said and because it does not come naturally and many
words I have to think about what they mean, it becomes exhausting.
For some reason when I am in Xidera, Lesvos drinking ouzo and
nobody but me speaks English, my Greek is pretty good. Not
grammatically but I get my ideas across. But there I am usually
discussing sheep with farmers. At Electra's everyone was educated
and the discussions ranged from the origins of wines to poverty in
Mozambique or the processing of Mediterranean Blue Fin Tuna into
Japanese sushi. Most of the afternoon I was lost, attempting to swim
but drowning in a sea of Greek words.

Geraki-frescoes in the Byzantine churchThe next day I woke up


early, found some boards and a hammer and some nails and
boarded up my grandmother's house because the door had fallen in.
Last time I did this my father's cousin John freaked out and called
my father and told him I was trying to steal the house. But actually I
just don't want some little child to fall in since there is no floor. You
just walk through the door into a big debris-filled hole. We had
coffee with Thea Katina and said goodbye to Electra on the way
through Vrissi and then drove out of town and up the mountain,
stopping at the church right before heading inland. We stopped in
Geraki and went to the Byzantine town but the site was closed on
Mondays. Luckily the young archaeologist-caretaker was there and
was able to show us the frescoes on one of the churches before
closing up the gate that led to the site. We drove through the village
and found two more Byzantine churches also with frescoes inside.
We were sort of in a delicate situation and I had been mulling it over
for an hour or so while driving. I felt like we should stop in Zarafona
to see my relatives but because we had to be home to meet
Amarandi after her field trip we would not have time to do more
than say hello-goodbye and leave. But they would want us to stay
for lunch, there would be wine and conversation and then when all I
would really want to do is climb into a nice comfortable bed there
would be a long drive back to Athens. Andrea said it would be better
not to stop and I agreed. Hopefully we would not run into any of my
family in Geraki where we had to stop to buy bread (Andrea loves
the paxamadia they sell in the bakery there) or gas. Of course the
gas station owner asked me my katagogi (origin-where my family
was from) and I told him Zarafona and of course he asked my name
and I told him and of course he was best friends with all my relatives
and even related to me through marriage. So much for passing
through town undetected.

Kosmas, Arkadia, GreeceOur nest stop was Kosmas just over Mount
Parnonas and across the border into Arcadia. Its a gorgeous
mountain village with cafeneons in a large tree shaded platia next
to the large church of Ag Anargiron with a fountain of lion heads
spitting water. There were chestnut trees everywhere, their leaves
changing bright yellow and in the square and in the small traditional
shops were big baskets of chestnuts for sale. We stopped in a small
traditional restaurant called O Elatos where two women and their
husbands crank out dishes of grilled paidakia, hirino brizoles(pork
chops), mouschari(steak), sikotaria (liver) and other meat dishes.
But the specialties of the village are what we ordered which
included yida, a goat soup that is eaten in the winter, gkougkes,
which is a local thick pasta with cheese, and pitaroudia, the local
horta or spinach pie which is fried, grilled or sauteed instead of
baked. They had an excellent local rose, more tan than pink and
almost like sherry which we wanted to get a bottle of to bring home
but they were in short supply. (They did have some at the Selinouta
traditional products shop in the square and whether it was as good I
will have to tell you when we finally get to drink it.) We ended up
spending as much time in Kosmas as we probably would have if we
had gone to see my relatives and once again when the waiter-owner
Thanassis asked me my katagogi and name it turned out he knew
all my cousins too because they used to hang out at his old taverna
in Geraki.
Ag Nikolas on the Leonidio-Kosmas roadThe road from Kosmas to
Leonidio is one of the most spectacular in Greece. You start in the
mountains and then go down through the Dafonas Gorge which in
the summer is a dry riverbed of white stones but in the winter and
spring must be fairly full of water if not a raging river of rapids.
Along the way is the monastery of Agios Nikolaos built into the side
of a rock cliff. There are a couple turnoffs to remote villages like
Paleohora, Platanaki, Ag Vasilios, Gagani, Socha and Vaskina, places
that see few if any tourists. Gradually you end up on a big fertile
plain where the town of Leonidio sits against the side of Mount
Karkovouni at the entrance to the gorge. Leonidio is a place that I
have always wanted to spend time in, since I was a child actually,
but have only seen while on the way somewhere. Its one of those
large towns that for one reason or another never got the
opportunity to be destroyed by hideous architecture like most of the
larger towns in Greece. There are several bridges which span the
riverbed and it must be an amazing site when there is water in it.

Leonidio, Arkadia, Peloponessos, GreeceWhen we reached Leonidio


it was starting to get dark. There was a large number of 18 wheeler
trucks and I could not figure out why. Its not as if there is so much
agriculture that they would have that many trucks. I found out later
they are shooting a movie there called Arkadia Lost, starring Nick
Nolte and produced by Phedon Papamichael who also did Sideways,
one of my favorite movies. Its about 2 American teens whose
parents die during a holiday in Greece and they wander around the
countryside where they run into Nick Nolte who plays this grizzled
veteran backpacker, someone like Lonely Planet's Paul Hellander if
you left him in the wilderness for twenty years. The movie also
features Renos Haralambides, my favorite Greek actor-director
whose film Kardia tis Ktinous (Heart of the Beast) is one of the
funniest bank robbery movies ever and Renos character is one of
the most lovable, in a neurotic-pathetic yet typically Greek way.
Actually if I had known they were filming I would have stopped in
and introduced myself since he is a friend of my friend Andy Horton
from Kea. But I didn't know this and we still had three hours of
driving on the dark before we got to Athens. The first twenty
minutes was OK because there was still some light and we were
driving past some coastal villages like Sambatiki and Livadi which
kept us entertained. But by the time we reached Paralia Tirou it was
dark and we did not know whether we were by the sea or in the
mountains. It was just us and whatever the headlights illuminated in
front of us and any car coming from the opposite direction, which
were few. After an hour I was dragging and we stopped in the town
of Xiropigado at a cafe-bar called Chill-Out. The owner, Sotiris, was a
guy a little younger than me with long hair in a ponytail, the kind of
guy who probably had a professional job in Athens and one day said
fuck this and moved back to his village. The cafe was wonderful,
part candy store, part internet cafe, part coffee-shop, part old-man
cafeneon and part cava (wine store) with lots of historical photos of
the village and beach of Xiropigado, which means 'dry well'. Sotiris
was a really friendly guy, the kind you seem to only meet when you
get out of Athens and Andrea commented on this when we got back
in the car. The whole weekend was meeting one nice person after
another. When you live in Athens it seems like everyone is
distracted and irritated about something and when you meet
someone who smiles and is friendly you are almost surprised. But
here in the Peloponessos, at least in October it is the opposite and
friendly people who seem genuinely interested in who you are and
where you come from is the norm rather than the exception. Sotiris
gave us a tip that by turning left at the Ford Dealership outside of
Argos would get us to the National Road faster and once we did that
it seemed like we were back in Athens pretty quickly. Amarandi was
already home, happily IMing her friends and doing whatever kids do
on Facebook. She barely noticed we were there. Nobody was hungry
so we did not even eat. We just watched the news, read a little and
went to bed exhausted. Once again realizing that the best thing
about living in Athens is how much fun you have when you leave
Athens.