Hiking to a magical view at Monemvasia’s peak ⛰
The castle town of Monemvasia (Μονεμβασία) was a really short stop on our trip, as we only spent one night and theoretically only several hours there, but it was a magical experience since we spontaneously chose to hike up to the summit and the views were absolutely not what I expected. 🤩
Monemvasia is an island off the mainland, with just one entrance, and connected to the mainland by a man-made bridge. The place gets its name from two Greek words, “moni emvasi”, which means “single entrance”. Two fortified settlements on the island, the Upper Town and the Lower Town, cannot be seen from the mainland. A detailed account about the town’s history can be found on the Monemvasia tourism website.
There is extremely limited parking on the island, and the town itself does not have any roads for vehicles. The town is pretty popular with tourists, providing stunning views of the sea and small, picturesque cobblestone streets. There was a wedding happening in one of the churches while we visited, and it looked like a traditional Greek wedding with lots of guests. When we booked our accommodation we weren’t left with a lot of options, so perhaps it was because of the wedding and the guests. We stayed on the mainland in a guesthouse.
Since we arrived in the afternoon, we only had that afternoon and evening to explore and spend time in Monemvasia before continuing our journey. We checked into our accommodation (up three flights of stairs!) and decided to drive to the island and just cross our fingers that there would be a spot to park. It would take about twenty minutes to walk, but I just couldn’t bear that thought when it was so hot. We would be sweaty and tired by the time we got there! Of course, we would have just continued on, but I wanted to avoid that if possible.
We got lucky and did find a place to park along the side of the road leading up to the entrance, alongside many other cars. We did drive all the way to the entrance to Monemvasia at first, passing all the parked cars, almost accepting our fate… we passed three tour buses, knowing that at least some amount of visitors had left and perhaps it wouldn’t be too crowded… we even slowed down when a couple stopped walking and stood by a car. After a minute, they continued, so they weren’t going back to a car and leaving. In fact, it looked like the guy was hiding behind the car to take a piss. 😓 Finally, we saw a car leave from their parking spot and took their place. It was still a short walk to the entrance – Nick didn’t see much point since it was half the distance away, but I think it made a difference. 😁
I was well in need of a coffee by then, and we stopped at a cafe, but it might have been a tourist trap. 👀 My coffee was quite expensive – I think 5€ – and Nick got a “homemade lemonade” that he watched the staff member make with syrup. 🤷🏻♀️
We explored the streets of Monemvasia, starting with what appeared to be the town centre, watching stray cats play with each other. We walked up to the lighthouse, which was in a rather isolated spot, and was pretty quiet. As the sun was slowly going down, and the lighthouse was behind a large wall going across a section of the island, it was shady and cool.
It was easy to get lost – in a fun way. There were a lot of streets to explore beyond the main street of shops and eateries.
We wanted to explore more, so we began to climb up to the Upper Town. It was a suggested 35–45 minute walk from the main street, according to a sign next to some stone steps. We weren’t quite sure what we’d see there, but knew from a map that we could at least expect a pretty obvious Upper Gate that would indicate we reached our destination.
Once going through the Upper Gate, I realised that the Upper Town was quite a sight to behold. Standing on the flat rooftops of old houses, and seeing more of the plateau, it was hard to believe that people (the more wealthy of the inhabitants of the island) had lived up here. The exterior of the houses looked like they were in good condition – you might expect worse condition for an ancient building.
There was a church on the plateau, but it was closed by the time we reached the Upper Gate. I started exploring and seeing what else I could see. I hadn’t really scrutinised the map to know what else was at the top. But the views were incredible, and the fact that you could see into the distance because of the plateau was enticing me to explore even more.
I was almost rendered speechless (aside from my exclamation of “holy shit!” on my Instagram stories at the time) by the views on the plateau. In the late afternoon, the light was perfect. I know that’s incredibly cliche, but it made for a much cooler walk, and only added to the sea views. I could see Nick from a distance away, who didn’t follow some of the path immediately, but waited for me to explore. He joined me and I pointed towards what he later said was the acropolis – just a little reluctantly, he agreed to go. I knew there couldn’t be too much longer until we reached it, but I definitely did not expect the view I saw.
We reached the spot marked as the citadel. By then I think we had been walking for about 50 minutes in total. There wasn’t much in terms of buildings to explore, but there was an incredible view looking back to the mainland, where we could clearly see the bridge we drove on to reach the island, and there was a stone rock formation like a diamond-shaped window. At the risk of sounding cliche (again), it was almost like something from a fairytale. 💖
The views speak for themselves. In a place that has been known for its picturesque streets, we found something else. There was a lot of effort required to hike to the top, but the fact that we accidentally stumbled upon it made the experience more memorable.
For dinner we searched the internet quickly to choose a restaurant in the Lower Town on the main street. It took us about twenty minutes to walk back down – a lot faster than walking up, that’s for sure. A couple of the restaurants appear to be tourist traps, and have food that isn’t that great. We ended up going to a restaurant called To Kanoni, which had favourable reviews. Someone left a bad review for the place next to it and suggested going next door instead. 😊 We enjoyed our time dining on the rooftop and I ordered octopus, which was actually had the best octopus I’ve had. It was cooked perfectly, and not too soft or chewy.
We came across many stray cats in Greece, but at this particular restaurant there were many hanging out on the rooftop. We didn’t mind them – we’re not allergic, and although we aren’t big fans of cats, we enjoyed their company and found them interesting to watch. They just hung around us like little fur friends. 🐈
It was dark by the time we left the island. We may not have spent very long there, but Monemvasia was still one of the highlights, especially going to the top. I posted on Instagram that I almost didn’t want to share about this place because I was tired of seeing places filled with tourists being disrespectful, influencers trying to get their perfect pictures, and crowds ruining a moment. But the top of Monemvasia is a site that needs your effort to see. The kind of adventure that real travellers – not tourists – want to see. It’s possible got a little lucky, but I still think this place is a gem.
And it will reward you at the end. Would you climb to the top of Monemvasia? ⛰️
I skipped a couple of stops we made on the way from Nafplio to Monemvasia, because I was itching to share this journey, but I may include them in a later post.