Among other useful information, you will learn about the “Roman wreck with the big columns and sarcophagi” outside Sapietza island, which is the country's first underwater park. You will see perfectly preserved hazelnuts from a wrecked merchant ship and many other interesting things.
At the end of your visit, you can watch a very informative video about underwater archeology. You will see images from divers - archaeologists and other staff in action, as well as scenes from underwater findings in several shipwrecks. The exhibition is free of charge, since you do not need an extra ticket to visit it.
The medieval aqueduct at the southern entrance of Pylos.
The Turks when they built the Niokastro fortress, built also an 1km-long stone aqueduct to bring water from the source of Koumpe at Handrinos Village to the castle.
One can easily see this impressive, and very well preserved medieval aqueduct on the road from Methoni to Pylos. It stands at the entrance of Pylos.
It is known to locals as "kamares".
PART 3: GIALOVA, the beaches and PALACE of NESTOR
The north part of Navarino Bay.
The town of Gialova and its famous beach, seen from inside Navarino Bay.
The northern part of Navarino Bay is famous for its lagoon (called Divari lake or Gialova Lagoon) and its long, sandy beaches.
The only town in the area is Gialova, a nightlife paradise. In Gialova you can visit the Folklore Museum of Gialova, which is private establishment. The owner, Kostas Balafoutis has dedicated many decades of his life to the preservation and promotion of the cultural regional character of Gialova and the wider area of Pylos. Throughout the years, Mr. Balafoutis collected a great number of cultural objects and he later established a museum in order to display them and make the history and culture of his motherland known to the wider public.
Gialova, besides the museum, the restaurants and noisy bars, has a very nice organized beach, where you can relax on comfortable chairs under beach umbrellas drinking your cold beer or having a snack.
Signs at the entrance of the road leading to Golden beach (Chrysi Akti). The ones on the left you see driving from Pylos to Kyparissia and the one on th right from Kyparissia to Pylos. Both pictures were taken from Google Street View.
If this kind of beach is not of your taste then head a bit north to "Golden Beach" (Chrysi Akti). At about 1 km from Gialova, on the national road Pylos-Kyparissia (road No.9), turn left (*). Continue at that road and after you pass the entrance of Erodios Camping, you are already on the narrow strip of land separating the lagoon from the bay. This more than 3km strip of land is a huge sandy beach (called “Chrysi Akti/Divari Beach”). The road, that runs all the way along the beach, is not paved but it is easy to drive on it. You can park your car anywhere you want by the road or on small paths leading to the beach (in some places you can park under shady trees).
(*) Note: At the turn there is a chaos of road signs. Even though there are more signs than necessary, you better drive slowly and be alert because the moment you see the signs you have already passed by. It happened to me the first time I went there.
Fig pass connects Navarino Bay to Ionion Sea. Sfaktiria island is seen on the left, Korifasio Hill and the Golden Beach on the right.
The end of Golden beach. From here start thde trail uphill to Palaiokastro and the trail to Voidokilia beach.
At the western end of this beach, just opposite of Sfaktiria island (the northern opening to the Navarino Bay, known as “Perasma Sykia”, which means “Fig pass”), at the foothills of Korifasio Hill, there is a trail going left leading to the Old Navarino Castle ("Palaiokastro") and one going right to “Nestor’s Cave” and Voidokilia beach.
You can swim across the Fig pass and reach a small beach on Sfaktiria island.
There is plenty of space to park your car here. Both trails are very easy to walk without any extra gear: the one going to Voidokilia is the easiest and takes less than 20 min to walk it, while you need more than 40min to climb up to the castle.
From the point you park your car, if you want you can swim a small distance across the Fig pass to a small and more secluded beach on Sfaktiria island.
The trails of the Korifasio Hill. The red trails lead to Palaiokastro, the yellow connects Voidokilia to Golden beach and the Azur trails lead to Nestor's Cave.
The trail by the lagoon, which connects Golden Beach to Voidokilia Beach.
Palaiokastro seen from the south.
The Palaiokastro (Palionavarino, or Old Navarino castle) was built by the Franks in early 13th century on Korifasio Hill, on the ruins of the ancient Acropolis of the classical Greek city Pylos-Koryfasion. The high location where the old castle was constructed, offers a unique view of Pylos, but also of the entire beach of Gialova and Navarino Bay. The altitude and position of Palaiocastro gave it great strategic importance.
Part of Palaiokastro seen from Golden Beach.
The castle is in ruins today but the fortification walls and its towers are saved in a relatively good condition and it is still impressive. Paliokastro lost its importance when the Turks built the new fortress (Niokastro) at the southern entrance of the Navarino bay, in 1573. Nowadays, access to the ruins of the castle is not recommended, as at its entrance which is located at the end of the path starting from Chrisi Akti, there is high risk of parts falling from the fortification of the castle. There is an alternative way of accessing the castle, from the pathway that begins near the entrance of the Nestor’s Cave and leads to a hole in the castle’s walls. You can access the castle from that hole.
The Nestor's cave, just below Palaiokastro.
Below the castle, on the cliffs just above Voidokilia beach, there is a cave referred to as “Nestor’s Cave” by ancient Greek traveler Pausanias. According to Greek mythology, it was there that Hermes hid the 50 cattle he had stolen from his brother, Apollo. The latter found out and as a penance Hermes offered him a lyre made of tortoise shell. This is how Apollo got his famous lyre. It is easy to climb up to the cave, following an easy ascending trail from Voidokilia sand dunes. The cave is full of stalactites.
Me into deep waters.
When we visited the area, the beach was almost empty and it felt like being in paradise. Kilometers of beautiful beach all to ourrself. The sea is very shallow and you have to walk quite a lot into the water to find deep waters. This makes the area the perfect place for kids of any age who love to play into waters without having to swim. The beach is back to back with the lagoon of Yalova the southernmost station of migratory birds between Europe and Africa.
The overflow barrier between Navarino Bay and Gialova Lagoon.
The area being integrated into the environmental program Natura 2000 is the largest wetland in southern Greece and offers shelter to wild migrating birds, which we did not have the opportunity to observe as it was late in season and most of them had already left for the colder northern far way lands. Here lives the endangered African chameleon while numerous birds such as herons, kestrels, Aegean seagulls, flamingos, ospreys, royal eagles and other migratory and endemic birds take shelter at this hospitable and safe environment.
Voidokilia beach. The red trail leads to Nestor's Cave and the yellow one to Mycenean tomb and the nudist Beach Glossa.
Voidokilia Beach seen from the Mycenean tomb.
If you do not want to walk to Voidokilia, you can drive there on your car. You just have to drive around the lagoon and arrive at the northern side of it. Voidokilia is one of the most popular beaches in Greece and always crowded. So, even though its beauty is mesmerizing, it is not my place to be. At the northern end of the beach (by the mouth of a stream) there is a path that takes you to Tholos tomb (vaulted) of the successor of Nestor, Thrassimidis, at the top of the hill. There is not much left of the tomb to see, but the view from up there is wonderful. If you do not like the crowds or you like to swim with no clothes on, take the path down the other side to the small nudist beach “Glossa”.
The Thrassimidis Mycenean tomb (top) and the path leading to it (bottom).
Less than 2km north of Voidokilia is located the small village Petrochori. The beaches of Petrochori are excellent. One the closest to the village, and on the dunes, there is the restaurant “Ammothines” (means sand-dunes), with excellent cuisine and a lounge bar with shady, comfortable armchairs on the dunes and on the beach itself. We did not manage to find a shady table at the restaurant, so we sat at the lounge bar. We had a club-sandwich, which came with generous quantities of grilled chicken fillet in it and tasty potato chips as a side dish.
From this point and all the way to the north Peloponnese (for hundreds of kilometers), start a series of long beautiful sandy beaches like no other place has. This is the beachgoer’s paradise. Besides, some kilometers away from here, stands the most luxurious seaside resort in Greece. Costa Navarino Westin Resort is a huge place, which caters for the rich and famous.
Palace of Nestor and Chora.
From Petrochori to Palace of Nestor is a short 5km drive.
From Petrochori drive back towards the national road Pylos-Kyparissia (No.9), cross it at the junction and follow the signs towards Chora. From this junction to Chora you will drive for about 9 km in an area covered with olive groves. The landscape is stanning and you feel like floating on a silver-green sea of olive trees.
4 km before you reach Chora, on Epano Englianos Hill stands one of the highlights of your visit in Messenia: the (so called) “Palace of Nestor”. You will be promptly warned by signs for the archeological site (thanks God!) to turn left at the car park.
Typical landscape around Palace of Nestor.
The entrance to the Palace of Nestor.
The Palace of Nestor was an important center in Mycenaean times and described in Homer's Odyssey and Iliad as Nestor's kingdom of "sandy Pylos". The palace featured in the story of the Trojan War, as Homer tells us that Telemachus, the son of Odysseus, “went to Pylos and to Nestor, the shepherd of the people, who received him in his lofty house and gave him kindly welcome, as a father might his own son who after a long time had newly come from afar”.
Nestor was a mythical hero of ancient Greece and King of Pylos. He took part with the Lapiths in the war against the Centaurs, in the Argonauts Campaign, in the hunting of Kalydonios Kapros and in the Trojan War. Homer presents him as a wise and prudent old man, whose advice is heard with respect from all the Achaeans.
The Palace of Nestor.
The site is the best-preserved Mycenaean Greek palace discovered. The palace is the primary structure within a larger settlement, once probably surrounded by a fortified wall. The palace was a two-storey building with large courtyards, many store rooms, private apartments, workshops, baths, light wells, reception rooms and a sophisticated sewage system. The halls were decorated with remarkable wall paintings, while pictorial representations also decorated the palatial floors. The settlement had been long occupied with most artifacts discovered dating from 1300 BC. The palace complex was destroyed by fire in the early 12th century.
The throne room of Palace of Nestor.
In 1912 and 1926 two tholos tombs north of the Bay of Navarino were excavated. One contained three decorated jars and the other a collection of Early Mycenaean and Middle Helladic pots. A joint Hellenic-American expedition was formed with the Greek Archaeological Service and the University of Cincinnati and trial excavations of Epano Englianos were started in 1939. From the first day stone walls, fresco fragments, Mycenaean pottery and inscribed tablets were found. During the first year of excavations, around 1,000 Linear B tablets were found which after translation showed that they were part of the royal archive. A systematic excavation was impossible throughout World War II and excavations resumed in 1952. From 1952 to 1966 the Palace was uncovered with areas around the acropolis being further explored. The Linear B clay tablets confirm that the palace served as the administrative, political and financial center of Mycenaean Messenia.
The new roof of the Palace.
There is a dispute among archeologists if this is really the Palace of Nestor referred by Homer, but this is of little importance to the visitor, who can walk through time and discover the life and traditions of our ancestors almost 3,500 years ago.
In June 2016 the site re-opened to the public after the roof was replaced by a modern structure with raised walkways for visitors and an elevator for people with mobility difficulties.
Note: As there is only one employee working on site, the person you buy your ticket from, is the same one that comes to operate the lift if you need it. So, be a bit patient.
Storage jars in the Palace.
Just before the entrance to the archeological site, on your right, there is a video room where projections narrate the story of the palace and the excavations. After the entrance you get your ticket and you are free to wander around on elevated paths that give you a good view (of what has been left) of the palace bellow, as well as the mesmerizing landscape surrounding the archeological site. There are informative plates all over the place, that give you an insight of the life in the palace.
Flowers grown on the tomb walls.
Me in front of the tomb.
About 90 meters from the gate of the archeological site, to the northeast, passing through the car parking and an olive grove, one reaches a Mycenean tomb (tholos tomb or vaulted tomb), whose tholos (vault) was restored in 1957 by the Hellenic Archaeological Service, as it had collapsed and the grave was filled with dirt. Though built with small stones, it is a large grave, with a diameter of 9.35 m.
The tomb had been seized in antiquity, but the looters were unusually careless, and therefore great-valued findings remained in the grave. Among the objects found, there were many golden artifacts, including a royal seal with a winged grip, two rings, glazed jewelry and a shield-shaped pendant. Also 250 beads of amethyst and various other stones, as well as fragments of bronze guns, were discovered. Findings in the tomb revealed that the burial customs were exactly similar to those of the Mycenae, Thebes and other centers of the Proto-Mycenaean period (16th century BC).
The Tholos (dome) of the tomb.
The archeological museum in Chora.
Your visit to the palace is not complete without visiting the "archeological museum in Chora". The museum is a nice little building, that looks like coming out of the 60s (actually, it was established in 1969). It has 3 rooms full of findings from the Palace of Nestor as well as other nearby excavations. It accommodates several Linear B tablets, which survived today "thanks to" the fire than destroyed the Palace of Nestor (!).
The museum is located just outside the town on the opposite exit (north) of the one you are entering the town driving from the Palace of Nestor.
Amphoras at the Chora archeological museum.
One of the three rooms of the Archeological Museum of Chora.
Exhibits at the Chora archeological museum.
Mycenean tombs in a field outside Chora.
After leaving the museum, continue driving out of town and in about one kilometer you will see a sign that prompts you to turn left to the location of more Mycenean tombs. It’s worth the some-hundred-meters detour to see a series of dug into the ground tombs. The tombs are into an open field where sheep graze freely. This is one of the things that still amazes me about this country: wherever you walk, wherever you look there is something to remind you of the long history of this land.
Mycenean tombs in a field outside Chora.
PART 4: Ancient MESSENE and the monasteries
The ancient fortification of Messene
Ancient Messene (Μεσσήνη) is located 22 km north from modern day Messene. Modern Messene is an ugly town build next to the Kalamata Airport, to that extend that passing through it makes your eyes sore. The city is an example of the ultimate ugliness and anarchy modern Greece has to offer. Still, every cloud has a silver lining: the moment you leave the town behind, you feel really happy and relieved, because you enter into unspoiled messenian landscape with rolling hills and beautiful olive groves.
Note: I do not know how many times I have referred to “olive trees” or “olive groves” in this adventure of mine, but to tell you the truth I was so much impressed by the landscape that makes me feeling like raising it again and again.
Your day trip to Ancient Messene and the monasteries.
Me outside Andromonastero.
This day trip to ancient Messene would not be complete without visiting a couple of the important monasteries in the area.
My first stop was the monastery-museum of Andromonastero, which is located some 7km west of ancient Messene. The main reason I believe one should start this itinerary from Andromonastero is because it closes early (at 2 pm). If you decide to visit first ancient Messene, most probably you will not arrive early enough to find Andromonastero open. The monastic complex is closed during the weekends. When we visited there was an employee who was very well informed and very polite and eager to guide us around and to answer all our questions.
How to drive to Andromonastero.
How to arrive to Andromonastero: from Messene drive north on the provincial road Messene-Naou Epikouriou Apollonos for about 10km; pass via Aristodimio village and in 0.5km turn left on provincial road Lampainis-Mourgiatadas bypassing village Lampena; drive westwards for about 8km till you reach the bridge “Gefiri Mami”; do not cross the bridge towards Magganiako village, but instead turn right (northbound) just before it; continue for 3.5 km and you have arrived. As you approach to the monastery you see it on your left hand: a beautifully restored monastery, which today functions as a museum.
Note: even though the monastery is known to everyone as Andromonastero, the signs on the roads refer to it as «ΙεράΜονή Μεταμόρφωσης» (Monastery of the Transfiguration).
Andromonastero see from the road as you approach to it.
The Monastery of the Transfiguration, also known as Andromonastiro, is an impressive monastic complex with fortifications and one defensive tower, which was built during the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Andronikos II Palaiologos (end of 12th-beginning of 13th century). Since then, the monastery went through six additional construction phases.
The entrance to Andromonastero.
It is located in a lush ravine of great natural beauty. Abandoned for many years, the complex was spared random modern alterations and thus retained many of its original features, which are valuable for the study of the development of monastic architecture. The monastery was left to decline during the last four decades which badly affected its state of preservation. The refectory and adjacent tower presented severe problems and were about to collapse.
Built on a partially artificial west to east sloping terrace, the complex comprises buildings of various periods and functions with an irregular ground plan. Andromonastiro is characterized by highly fortified elements and consists of the catholic monastery, a three-story tower, a two-storey west wing and a two-storey building that houses the passageway of the main entrance to the monastery, an underground tank and other secondary buildings. Restoration works started in 2011 and were almost complete when I visited in May 2018.