A UNIQUE CASTLE HIDEAWAY
Monemvasia is many things: island, ancient cliffside town, fortress, beach. Its relatively remote location — a four hour drive from Athens — deters crowds, providing a private and special experience. Monvemvasia is my first stop when I land in Greece; I rent a car from the airport, and power through the drive. There isn’t much I do here beyond swim, relax, and enjoy my surroundings… so its the perfect place for me to get over my jet lag. Its two hours away from my family’s ancestral village, which is always my second stop in Greece.
This little island has a full history. Founded in the 500s AD, Monemvasia became an important trading post for the Byzantine Empire. The medieval fortified town is still intact, with the ancient fortress looming overhead. Shops, hotels, homes, and restaurants have repurposed the ancient buildings; you can spend an entire afternoon walking the narrow cobblestone streets winding up the side of the cliff.
Walking around Monemvasia will be a challenge for anyone with mobility limitations. First, cars are unable to access the fortress, and you either have to parallel park your car on the road, or in a parking lot at the base of the mountain. Once in the fortress, you are walking on steep and slippery cobblestones.
- Currency: Euro
- Getting here: Drive from Athens
- Getting Around: Walk
- Where to Stay: Izambo Guest House
- Key Sights: Ancient Fortress, swim at the Portello
- If you have more time: Wine tasting
- Matoula’s Tavern
- Chrisovoulo Cafe Restaurant
Monemvasia is a 4 hour drive from Athens. While the entire drive has clear signs for “Monemvasia,” as you drive deeper through the mainland Peloponnesus, you will be taking some smaller, nondescript roads. You should leverage your phone’s directions / GPS to help you get here if you aren’t familiar with driving in Greece.
- To walk the steep cobblestone walkways, wear shoes with backs.
- Bring your phone or a flashlight when you go to dinner. Most of the fortress doesn’t have external lights, and depending on where you stay in the fortress, you will be feeling your way up the side of a mountain in pitch darkness.
WHERE TO STAY
My priorities for lodging shift to a more simple offering when I’m in Monemvasia. Since I’m only there for a couple days to get over jet lag and relax, having an amazing view is the most important amenity for me — I could care less about breakfast and the minibar.
- There are many hotels, ranging from hostels to luxury hotels on the mainland. I strongly recommend staying within the fortress/castle.
- If you are staying at a guest house, coordinate key drop off ahead of time. A few times I’ve narrowly missed receiving my key because the drive was longer than anticipated with stops, or I couldn’t find where to meet them. I encourage you to ask them to meet you at the entrance of the fortress.
- The farther your hotel is from the main thoroughfare, the farther you will have to carry your suitcases on cobblestone streets and up steep steps. Pack light!
Izambo Guest House
Location: Monemvasia Castle
This guest house is the uppermost building before the hike up to the ancient fortress. The views are truly amazing, and the staff friendly. There aren’t many amenities, but I’m there for the view. I always stay in the ‘Studio with Sea View’.
Since this is the uppermost point of the residential area, we carried our bags up and down multiple flights of steep stairs. If you cannot carry the luggage you brought on your own … you have been warned!
If you are looking for more hotel amenities (and don’t want to carry your bags up a mountain) Moni Emvasis Luxury Suites is a great alternate open for lodging.
Two nights is the perfect amount of time to stay. Key things to do:
Hike to the ancient fortress:
Swim at the Portello
- Down a winding path to the base of the fortress, you’ll find the “Portello” swimming area. Its typically my first time jumping into the Mediterranean on my trip, and therefore its one of my favorite places to hang out and swim.
- There’s nothing here but a ladder to get in and out of the water. Bring your own food, drinks, towels, and shade.
Town square / shopping
Matoula’s is my favorite restaurant, and we typically eat dinner both nights here. Every Greek dish is flavorful, the local wine is tasty, and the view is phenomenal. The perfect place to dine in the evening as the sun sets.
Chrisovoulo Cafe Restaurant
OPTIONAL EXTRA DAY SIGHTS
- Wine Tasting – Monemvasia is known for its Malvasia wines. There are many tasting opportunities within the fortress or on the mainland.