Friday, December 23, 2011

The geologic structure that produces the famous caves of Lakonia also produces springs, where water naturally stored underground emerges at the surface. Locals take empty jugs to the springs and fill them with pure drinking water. Aficionados are able to distinguish the subtle differences in the flavor of water from individual springs. On the mountainside above Neapolis, springs are located in the villages of Faraklo and Kalania and at the church in Paradisi.

In the photo of Faraklo above, the spring emerges from a pipe underneath the stairs in the municipal building. Photo of Faraklo taken by lakonas67.

The spring at the church at Paradisi emerges from a pipe under the stone arch in the photo.

The Petrified Forest is located east of Neapolis, between Aghio Nikolao and Cape Maleas. Next to the sea, one can see trunks of palm trees that turned to stone as their soft tissue was replaced by minerals.

According to Wikipedia, "Petrified wood (from the Greek root petro meaning 'rock' or 'stone'; literally 'wood turned into stone') is the name given to a special type of fossilized remains of terrestril vegetation. It is the result of a tree having turned completely into stone by the process of permineralization. All the organic materials have been replaced with minerals (mostly a silicate, such as quartz), while retaining the original structure of the wood. Unlike other types of fossils which are typically impressions or compressions, petrified wood is a three-dimensional representation of the original organic material. The petrifaction process occurs underground, when wood becomes buried under sediment and is initially preserved due to a lack of oxygen which inhibits aerobic decomposition. Mineral-laden water flowing through the sediment deposits minerals in the plant's cells; as the plant's lignin and cellulose decay, a stone mould forms in its place. In general, wood takes less than 100 years to petrify. The organic matter needs to become petrified before it decomposes completely. A forest where the wood has petrified becomes known as a Petrified Forest."

Take a table at an ouzeria overlooking the sea just before sunset and order ouzo and grilled octopus. This famous duo is the perfect Neapolis evening cocktail treat.

Sailing and swimming lessons are available for children during summer months.

Sailing lessons are offered by the Sailing Club of Neapolis for children from seven to twelve years old three times per week in Optimist boats. Families join the Sailing Club and pay monthly for lessons. Children with sailing experience may be able to participate in races.

Swimming lessons are also offered in shallow water near the town dock.

Kastania Cave is open to visitors: a cement walkway descends into a magical space of stalactites and stalagmites. Guides explain the history and geology of the cave. In the early 1900s,  Kostas Stivaktas (Bougas) reputedly watched bees entering a fissure in the ground in the area where he pastured his sheep. The bees appeared to be refreshed as they reemerged from the ground. He surmised that there might be water underground. He opened up the fissure and found himself in a magnificent cave.

By 1958, the cave became more widely known and since then has been protected and developed by the Community of Kastania.

For information on open hours and tours, call 30 27340-29043 or 30 27340-23623 or email

Photos taken by Fanis Ellinas.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

The church of Aghia Irini with its pilgrims' cells is located at the end of a challenging five-kilometer trail. The hike can be done as a day trip, or by making arrangements in advance, visitors may spend the night in the cells. If you do it as a day hike, take a lunch and eat at the picnic table near the pilgrims' cells.

The views along the trail are magnificent. Freight-laden ships pass by in a parade between Cape Maleas and the western Mediterranean. Kythera rises, like Aphrodite, from the sea across the strait.

A new rock-climbing area has been recently developed east of Neapolis, near the Petrified Forest, along the road to the trailhead for Aghia Irini. Fixed protection and anchors have been put in and a number of routes have been established. Some routes located on the sunny side of the cliff are suitable for climbing in the winter; other routes are located in the shade and are suitable for climbing during hot summer months.

Local accommodations cater to climbers.

From Neapolis one can hike up the mountain on marked trails to the villages of Mesochori, Faraklo, the church and spring at Paradisi, and beyond. Alternatively, one can hike west along the coast towards Pavlopetri and  Pounda Beach, past the Natura 2000-designated lagoon where many species of birds nest, or east along the coast all the way to Cape Maleas.

Be sure to take plenty of water and snacks, as there are few places to buy food along the way.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Nestled between the mountains and the sea, Velanidia is an hour's drive from Neapolis, over the ridge that defines the peninsula of Cape Maleas. The drive offers spectacular views of the mountains, sea and nearby islands. Along the way, one can visit the tiny Byzantine church of Aghios Georgios.

The eastern side of side of the peninsula is studded with small, deserted coves, perfect for swimming.

Charming chapels overlook the sea.

The trail to the Cape Maleas lighthouse starts at the end of the road.

The Limira Mare is the largest hotel in Neapolis with 108 rooms, most overlooking the sea.

Beginning in summer 2012, the Limira Mare will offer massages, facials, manicures and pedicures at its Day Spa.

The hotel also offers cultural events during the summer months, including book signings and art exhibitions. Symposiums may take advantage of its state-of-the-art conference room.

With its beach lounges and umbrellas (and complete coffee and cafe service) at the beach across the street, the Limira Mare is Neapolis' resort hotel.

For more information, visit the Limira Mare website at:

The southernmost tip of the eastern finger of the Peloponnese, Cape Maleas has been reknowned since ancient times for its notoriously difficult weather. Homer recounts that Odysseus encountered a treacherous storm as he tried to round Cape Maleas -- and was blown off course for ten years.

This shipping lane connects the northeast Mediterranean to the west. When the Corinth Canal opened, ships could avoid Cape Maleas -- and those that can prefer to do so. However, the Corinth Canal can only accommodate ships less than 21 meters in length, so Cape Maleas still sees a constant stream of shipping traffic.

During World War II, the occupying German forces began building an observation tower high above the Cape. Today it can be visited by hikers.

Many ships perished off of Cape Maleas, and ancient wrecks have been located there.

The old lighthouse, once one of the largest in the Mediterranean, has been recently restored and visitors to Velanidia can hike to the lighthouse along a well-defined trail.


Sunday, December 18, 2011

Kythira is the southernmost island of the Ionian chain, located just off the eastern tip of the Peloponnese. Known as the island of Aphrodite, according to legend it is where the goddess was born. Its strategic location between the Ionian and Aegean seas made it a prized territory for Minoans, Spartans, Athenians, Macedonians, Venetians and later Russians. Each civilization left its mark.

Kythera is an hour's ferry ride from Neapolis, making it a perfect one-day trip. One can drive one's car onto the ferry, then enjoy the crossing from the upper decks: a perfect example of the importance of the journey itself.

Once on Kythira, it is easy to explore the island by car. Take a short hike to a lovely waterfall, visit Byzantine churches, monasteries and ruined fortresses, taste a selection of local varietals at a winery, relax on a deserted beach. Or time one's visit to coincide with a local festival. Then catch the evening ferry for the return trip to Neapolis.

A beautiful new center offering yoga classes, reflexology treatments and massage has been opened in Neapolis by certified yoga instructor, reflexologist and masseuse Emmanouela Mastori.

Classes are offered on Monday and Wednesday evenings from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m. (for beginners) and 7:30 to 9:00 p.m., and on Tuesday and Thursday mornings from 10:00 a.m. to 11:30 (for students with yoga experience).

One can join the studio for 60 euros per month and take whatever classes one chooses -- as many as six classes a week, although most students opt for two classes a week. Or one can pay on a per visit basis: 10 euros per class.

Instructor Emmanouela emphasizes proper breathing and breathing exercises, in addition to leading students through a well-planned program of asanas.

For more information about yoga classes or to schedule reflexology treatments or massages, call Emmanouela at (30) or email

Saturday, December 17, 2011

At the west end of Neapolis' beach, Mone Mone serves meze (small dishes) in the evenings and coffees, drinks and  light lunch during the day. Beach lounges and umbrellas complete the summer scene.

 With its natural beauty and cultural attractions, Neapolis is a logical choice for writing and sketching workshops. In 2006, a group of twelve travel writers met in Neapolis and wrote the essays that appear in the anthology Ventures in Southern Greece: The Vatika Odysseys. It is available from as a paperback book or as an e-book. 

The workshop was conducted by Writers' Workshops International. To learn more about past and future workshops, check

In the village of Mesochori, on the mountainside above Neapolis, a one-bedroom guesthouse and a separate studio apartment are available for rent by the day, week or month. For information contact Virginia Koronaiou at

Neapolis is surrounded by hundreds of thousands of olive trees. From October through December each year, olives are harvested for oil and for the table. 

 Once the olives are picked, they are taken to one of several local olive presses. Within a few hours, the grower's oil pours from a spout, is weighed, and poured into olive oil cans.

Locally produced olive oil -- including certified organically produced olive oil -- is available in Neapolis at shops and from local growers.

The Neraida Taverna is located in the village of Aghio Nikolao, about ten kilometers east of Neapolis. On Friday and Saturday nights, musicians play and diners dance. Specialities include eggplant with yogurt, falafel and meat dishes.