Facebook is fantastic about reminding you where you were on this day in the past. And it seems, September seems to be the month that Ross and I take our last break before the busy Christmas period sets in. Sometimes this can be in the form of a short break, but most of the time it is a week somewhere warm. A destination where we can catch those last sunny rays before the winter sets in in the UK.
Throwing back to September 2015 and we saw ourselves in mainland Greece. When I suggested Greece for our destination this time round Ross immediately agreed, on one proviso – that we visit Sparta!
So the planning and investigations immediately kicked in. Flying into Athens we hired a car and travelled to the area of Isthmia, an ancient city located on the Isthmus of Corinth – an hours drive from the city of Athens and almost half the way to Sparta.
Staying in this area at the Kalamaki beach hotel gave us an excellent base, offering picturesque ocean views and the relaxing atmosphere we needed whilst being close to the local attractions within the Corinth area.
A visit to Ancient Corinth is a must when in the area, especially for those interested in Greek history, as it is here you will find the remains of the Temple of Apollo – some of the oldest remains left standing today.
Other important sights to see include the Corinth Canal. Cutting through the narrow Isthmus of Corinth separating the Peloponnese from the Greek mainland, it is only 4 miles in length and 70ft wide – making it impossible for most modern ships to pass through. Visiting this wonder was one of my highlights of our trip. The pictures I took do not give the canal the justice it deserves. It is simply a “must see” if you are visiting the area.
Moving further west, we planned a whole day in Sparta. The area we had come to see after all. And the area Ross was most excited about.
Just over an hour and a half from our hotel, after a drive offering beautiful views through the Peloponnese, we arrived in Sparta. Acting like proper tourists, with the map spread out on the dashboard, and looking rather lost we finally stumbled upon the points of interest we were after.
There before us the statue of King Leonidas, rather belligerently located in front of the football stadium. Those who are interested in their Greek history will know that Leonidas was a warrior king of the Greek city state of Sparta. Others will know him as Gerard Butler, from the film 300.
Just a short walk from the statue you will find the acropolis and ancient theatre. In a rather quiet location, there were no fees and when we visited no other tourists. We had the site completely to ourselves. Giving us plenty of time to soak up the atmosphere and the history. Ross was in his element. This. Was. Sparta.
The rest of Sparta does not have that much to see, a small archaeological museum provided a little more history in the area and some lovely coffee shops were perfect for a refreshment stop.
However, if you are in the area then most likely you would have hired a car. And if that is the case I would definitely recommend the short drive (5km) to Mystras. A drive that is not for those with a faint heart as it requires a rather steep, mountainous route to reach the top where you will find Mystras castle and monastery.
Once parked, swap the flip flops for your trainers as the journey is not complete. To fully appreciate Mystras you have to hike right to the top, along very stony, slippery paths to the castle on the hill. The views are most definitely worth the hike – they are simply breathtaking.
For Ross the highlight would have been the main area of Sparta, due to his fascination with Greek history and obsession with the film 300. For me, this was my highlight. The exhausting trek to the top, in the blazing sunshine, to get the most amazing views. This was more my thing.
The best views are always at the top, and these do not disappoint. We took our time here; climbing to the top, enjoying the views from above and then a slow descent taking pictures on our way down.
Once back to ground level we stopped at the small village outside the castle for much needed drinks after the hike in the heat.
Then it was time to jump back in the car. The hotel pool and several glasses of wine were beckoning.
Sparta (or more broadly the Peloponnese) had not disappointed, we were satisfied with our fill of Greek history and culture.
But my Greek journey is not complete. We flew into Athens, but saw nothing the city had to offer, so at some point that is on the cards. And with so many Greek Islands to visit, the adventures will never end.