With a ruined castle, medieval walls, and Venetian mansions turned into chic places to stay, Monemvasia, perched on the coast of the Peloponnese, must be one of the most romantic places in Greece
Monemvasia is a time machine. Walk through the arched entrance, with its massive, iron-studded wooden doors, that leads into an almost forgotten fortress city, and you’re walking in the footsteps of Byzantine despots, Frankish freebooters and Venetian merchant-princes. If you have a shred of fantasy in you, your right hand drifts towards the hilt of an imaginary rapier.
To indulge that fantasy, you need to come here (by car, bus or hydrofoil from
Perched on a Gibraltar-like crag a few hundred metres from the mainland, this is a natural stronghold. In its Venetian heyday, more than 30,000 people lived here in a town that occupied the entire top of the rock. Today, it’s no more than a honeycomb of ruined walls, overlooked by one surviving Orthodox church. The area now called Kastro, built around the foot of the rock, was its warehouse district, and while much of it is still in ruins, many of the old Venetian buildings have been converted into smart holiday apartments and boutique hotels.
The doyenne of these is the lovely Hotel Malvasia, which is stonkingly good value - from around €65 for rooms in a clutch of old Venetian buildings, all with polished wood floors, high ceilings, antique wooden furniture and striped wool and cotton rugs. The Malvasia is the first and still the most romantic of all the places to stay in the Kastro (fabulous Greek breakfasts, too) but it gets a run for its money from the Ardamis, where a double costs from around €130 (get the fabulous tower room in this 800-year-old building for the full effect – it will melt the stoniest heart), and from the rustic Kellia Inn (formerly a monastic dormitory, now for those with more worldly things on their minds), where doubles start at an affordable €65. Well away from the Kastro’s (occasionally noisy) café society, it’s perfect if you want peace and quiet above all.
In the Kastro, eat (for €15-€30) at friendly Matoula’s, on the main street, or Kanoni, almost immediately opposite (overlooking the church square) with its terrace tables overlooking the sea. We’ve seen King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of
For swimming, follow the signs to the Portillo, a tiny sally-port through the walls that leads to a patch of flat rock and a bathing-ladder giving access to clear water (but watch out for spiky black sea-urchins).
There’s even a small patch of pebbly beach for a dip, though for a proper beach you need to head about 2.5 km north to
The same family owns the