The castle of Methoni is one of the most important fortress complexes in Greece, and today is a beautiful archaeological site that covers 9.3 hectares and ends at the Bourtzi, an octagonal tower surrounded by the sea on all sides.
The walk begins at the imposing gate of the castle, along the length of which survive two domed buildings that housed Ottoman baths, the base of a ruined minaret and other traces of its centuries-long history. Methoni was once an important citadel, with large numbers of people living within its walls. Indeed in the foundations and walls of the first buildings of the modern town built beginning in 1828, large stones were used that were salvaged from the old homes in the castle.
Today the small town of 1,200 residents is built next to its castle, comprising mainly low-rise buildings with ceramic-tiled roofs. It lives mainly off of tourism, both seasonal and not.
Its castle is inspiring. You won’t run into any knights, but you will hear the story of Ioannis Koutroulis. He was a knight in the late 14th century who, legend has it, waited seven years until the love of his life was finally able to get a divorce allowing them to marry. When she did what followed was a wedding so epic that it became a part of the vernacular – to this day the phrase “like the wedding of Koutroulis” is used to describe particularly high-spirited affairs.
Every year on the long weekend of Clean Monday the wedding is reenacted with authentic Venetian costumes from the active cultural association of Methoni. The association has also recently created a fustanella workshop to preserve the art of creating these pleated white kilts traditionally worn by Greek men. In the summers they also organize festivals in the castle’s moat.
From the spring onwards, visitors begin to arrive in Methoni. Until then, the 3-4 tavernas that stay open year-round cater almost exclusively to the British, German, Dutch and French pensioners who have built country homes on the nearby hill of Tapia. For them, a life-long dream has come true and they often spend up to 9-10 months of the year here.
On Thursday evening the taverna Palia Istoria is full and we are the only Greeks. On Friday it is the same story at a different taverna, Kastro. “If it wasn’t for the foreigners we would be closed during the week,” says the owner.
The Dutch chef Hans Kloek has nothing but praise for the food in the local tavernas, as well as for their prices. The British woman Judith Martin is obsessed with Greek traditional dances and is a mainstay of the dance group of the cultural association. Together with her husband they also participate in the choir and are grateful for the view of the sea they get from their window every morning, and for their small garden.
Many of these new residents of Methoni are active walkers and tend to the paths in the area. The fact is that there are many beautiful spots to explore, such as Iliodysio behind the castle with its gorgeous sunset, and the Catacombs of Saint Onoufrios which are located 20 km away and can only be reached by foot or 4×4. Here hermits lived from the 5th century onwards, and on the rocks you’ll see fragments of murals.
Battling the Waves
A favorite spot for windsurfers, the beach of Methoni fills with colorful sails and athletic bodies ready to do battle with the elements and to temporarily soar over the waves whenever the wind picks up.
“In November 2007 the conditions were so good that half of Athens came down to Methoni,” says windsurfing fanatic Giannis Petrakis who, as a resident of Methoni, frequently gets out on the water. He explains that the beach is suitable for beginners thanks to the sandy seabed, but also for advanced surfers. Southerly winds create conditions more suited to kitesurfing, whereas northwesterlies kick up waves for wave-riding. For those interested in classic surfing, Koroni is the place to go.
For water-sports enthusiasts looking to get out on the water in Methoni and Koroni, visiting the Facebook page of Windsurf Team Methoni is a good way to make contact with the locals.