One of my favorite places in Greece is Gythio in the southern Peloponessos.
It is a port town with lots of good
fish restaurants, some great ouzeries and is within driving distance of the
Mani, Mystras, and much of the south-eastern coast of the Peloponessos. It also
has some amazing old buildings built in the last two centuries. Gythio (or Gythion) is
a pleasure to wander through with the neo-classical houses, shops and spectacular
old apartment buildings, hugging the side of Mount Koumaros all the way down
to the sea. It makes you feel like you are in the type of Greek port that
disappeared with the introduction of mass tourism into the country. Gythion
to its credit is still Greek. But don't get the impression that this is a coastal tourist resort whose citizens are out each day making the city spic and span for the bus loads of visitors. This is a working class town with a crumbling infrastructure and unemployment, a fading once-important port with derelict buildings and an uncertain future. It's the kind of place I like but that does not mean you will, particularly if you are expecting something like Kardamili or Stoupa. It is an
authentic semi-urban Greek port town with both positive and negative aspects.
The waterfront has three sections. The middle part is the harbor
with its fishing boats and a few restaurants, pizzarias, cafes and shops,a
great place to take an evening promenade with the locals and their families in the summer months.
There is a small square known as Platia Githeiou and the Ouzerie Korali has
some tables in the square and some great mezedes. In a town like Gythion whose
visitors are primarily Greeks and Greek-Americans it is hard to
go wrong when going out to eat. Also recommended is the O! LIVE at 35 Vassileos Pavlou for traditional Greek dishes, fresh fish, grilled meat and fish and lots of interesting and imaginative main dishes and appetisers, as well as Greek micro-brew beers and desserts including Ben and Jerry's ice cream.
Around the corner on the south side of town is the coastal road lined with
fish tavernas which end at the small island called Kranai, now connected by
a causeway, where Paris and Helen left for Troy after he abducted her
from King Menelaous in nearby Sparta. Gythion was the original
port for Sparta in the days of the Illiad and the Odyssey. On Kranai you can visit the Tzanetakis Tower, built during the Ottoman
rule and which now houses the Ethnological Museum. The lighthouse of Gythio
was built in 1873 and is 25 meters tall with a range of 9 nautical miles. Like
much of the area around Gythion, Kranai is covered in pine trees.
The other side of the waterfront is an area of cafes and restaurants as well
as the town hall, built by Schiller in 1891 which houses the archaeological
museum. Schiller also designed the Maiden School up the street, which was built in 1886. Nearby
is the ancient theater built in the first century. This is the more modern part
of the town and there are apartment buildings and shops including
a couple internet cafes.
Right in the middle of the waterfront is the beautiful neo-classic Hotel
Aktaion, not only my favorite hotel in Gythion, the only hotel I have ever stayed
at in Gythio. With every room having a balcony overlooking the harbor it is
the kind of place you have to prod yourself to leave and explore the town. The
ground floor of the hotel has the International
Press Center which also has a CD shop and a pretty decent English language bookstore
upstairs. You may have to ask them to turn on the lights. Just up the street
the shop of Yiorgos
Hassanakos is a gallery, bookstore, giftshop and one of the more interesting
shops in Greece. George, a respected artist, uses the store as his workshop which includes
creating figures of the Greek shadow
pupper theater Karagiozis, portraits and a variety of styles of visual art.
A couple doors down is another shop rich in content, this one an antique shop
one of the best in Greece.
It was in this shop that I bought a turn of the century bronzed baseball which
had been brought back from the USA by a returning Greek immigrant in the twenties!
Tom Mazarakis now has it on his desk. It is probably worth millions but the
guy sold it to me for 15 euros because the possibility of someone else coming
into an antique shop in Gythion and buying a bronze baseball was about one in
Gythion is the largest town in the Mani with 5000 permanent residents. The
drive from Athens is a little more than three hours so like Nafplio many
Athenians come for weekends. Sparta is a twenty minute drive north so you can visit Mystras
and then come back to one of the many beaches and spend the entire afternoon
swimming and eating fish. The most important and interesting place to visit in
the vicinity of Gythion is the Diros Caves which are a half hour drive southwest.
From there you can continue into the Mani going down the west coast and returning
up the east. The beach at Skoutari is one of the most lovely in the
Peloponessos and the small family run seaside taverna To Akroyiali
serves inexpensive fish they catch with their own boat. North of Gythio along
the coast you will find a long sandy beach that you can't miss because there
is a big rusted hulk of a ship sitting on it. The Lakonikos bay is home to Loggerhead
sea turtles, also known as Caretta Caretta and nests are found along the Evrotas
beach, Mavrovouni, Selinitsa, Valtaki and Vathi where ar sand dune restoration
is taking place, the first of its kind on Greece. The town of Skala has an Environmental
Awareness Center run by the Archelon Organization who also have an information
kiosk in Gythion in the summer where you can buy pictures, books and gifts that
help to support the protection of the turtles. (For more info you can e-mail
them at firstname.lastname@example.org)
For exploring the southern Peloponessos I can't think of a better place to
base yourself than Gythion. Even Monemvasia and the island of Elafonisos can
be done as a day trip. And an evening in Gythion, walking in the port, eating
and drinking in the fish tavernas or sitting and watching the sea from your
balcony in the Hotel Aktion you won't even know that you are not on an island.
Gythion can be visited any time of year. For those of you movie buffs who saw the Paul Mazursky film 'The Tempest' with John Cassevettes, Molly Ringwald, Susan Sarandon and Raul Julia and wondered which island it was filmed on, it was actually not filmed on an island. The Tempest was filmed near Githeon and probably if you ask around you can find out where exactly.
George Hassanakos puts out a small guide to Gythion which you can find in
his shop. It is well written and has suggestions of day-trips, where to shop,
where to eat and what to see around town.
See my Gythion
Helpful Travel Information
For Hotels in Gythion see www.hotelsofgreece.com/peloponessos
or contact Fantasy Travel at www.fantasytravelofgreece.com
The best way to get to Gythion is by rental car or by taxi though
there are frequent buses and a rare ferry that goes to and from the island of Kythera and Crete.
For transfers by taxi to Gythion see www.greecetravel.com/taxi
For car rentals see www.greektravel.com/swift