Kalamata Art Farm
One of the most interesting places we visited on this trip was the Art Farm. It’s a really unique place owned by Sotiris Marinis. He worked as a concert promoter in the city of Kalamata but decided to get out of the city and open this beautiful space. But what exactly is it? The Kalamata art farm is a lot of things. When Sotiris was younger his parents brought him out to spend his summers on the beach. They would build tree houses in the trees and sleep beside the beach for days on end. Sotiris missed this so he decided to make his own tree houses and then offer them out on air B&B.
At the art farm they have about 10 different tree houses built high up in olive trees. You can sleep up in the trees amidst the olives themselves. The space really is amazing though, it is not just used for accommodation. The whole area acts as a co-op space. The food is sourced locally and when you are there everyone meets up and cooks together. It’s not just unique accommodation, it’s a family. On the land there is also a gorgeous stage area that looks out on the Mediterranean Sea. Many performers love to perform there and in the summer months there are many concerts and performances in the evenings. They also engage in what is known as agricultural tourism and have many classes on teaching people how to re-connect with the food in front of their plate and learning how to grow crops in a natural way and without pesticides or chemicals. The beach is only 5km away and there is also a beautiful castle nearby if you’re up for the hike. Sotiris and the people who work at the Art Farm are truly an amazing bunch of people and there really is nothing like sleeping in a treehouse up in an olive tree. An absolute must see.
Ancient City of Messini
Going into this I knew very little about the Messini people but they sounded really interesting. They seemed to focus on athletic prowess over brute warrior strength, which the romans were very partial to. They fought the Spartans twice and then became slaves to them for a period. None of this would prepare me for what I was about to see in their ancient city. Its nestles in a valley that leads out to a peninsula and the place is absolutely astounding.
So many original artefacts lying in the same spot they lay thousands of years ago. We initially saw their old theatre where they would put on performances and plays. There was also a smaller amphitheatre that was used for speeches and political discussion. the beautiful thing about this amphitheatre is that the mountains behind acted as a natural amplification for the speaker. It was fascinating. There was also a market place which had ornate carvings on the walls depicting animal heads. The mosaic tiles on the ground were still lvisible. You could still see the leaf patterns carved into the massive stone columns.
We continued on further until we came to the most visually stunning part of the experience, the Stadion (stadium). It was a massive area where the Messenia people would sit and view their ancient games. It was stunning, walking through history. We then left the museum and drove over to see the remnants of the massive wall that surrounded and protected the city. Here was more private and we had the place all to ourselves. We sat on the wall and watched the sun set over the Greek mountains. Our last stop before dinner was the gate to the city. These massive stone slabs parted and acted as the gateway from present to past. Goats with bells around their neck clinked in the distance. A couple had arrived to take their wedding pictures here. It was so serene, a beautiful place to drink in.
It’s hard to fully comprehend exactly how old ancient Greece is. They have tombs here that date back to 4000BC. They are discovering new things every day. The amazing thing is that the link between past and present is still very visible. It is a line that has never ended. The products that have been found in tombs from thousands of years ago are the same one still found in shops today. Nestor’s Palace and the nearby tomb are two excellent examples of this. The tomb, located beside the palace was built in a beehive shape, which is quite similar to the ancient tomb of Ireland. When making raisins, Greek farmers would pick the grapes and then leave them up against the wall of the tomb to dry out.
The everyday life of the common people is incredibly connected to ancient life to this very day. A giant warrior was discovered outside this tomb in 2015 and excavations by American Universities are continuing today. The tomb dates back to the Minoan age. The Minoans are a civilisation shrouded in mystery and were a very affluent society that traded a lot with other nations. The strange thing about the Minoans was that they, unlike the Messini people, seemed to be a peaceful nation and none of their paintings depict warfare. But they just suddenly disappeared and no one knows why.
Nestor’s palace is on a hill and overlooks Pylos and dates back to the Mycenaean age but may actually be older. When we got there it was a really hot day but we were struck with awe at the beautiful view that the occupants of this house must have had. The palace was originally two stories high but after six thousand years only the first floor remains. The palace is still in the process of being excavated but you can still walk around and see what it looks like from above. You can still see the paint on the floor of the kings hearth, there is a fully intact clay bathtub that showed me how short a lot of Greek people were 4000 years ago. You could also see the remains of olive pots and where the people stored their olive oil.
Dining while looking out over the Ancient City of Messini
Messini is an awe-inspiring trip and one not to be missed during a trip to Kalamata. The nearby town of Mavromati is also not to be missed during your visit to this area. We were very tired after a lot of walking and there was a beautiful restaurant called Ithomi (http://ithomi.gr/) that sits out and looks over the valley where the ancient city lies. The place is stunning, it has a colourful collection of furniture and the food absolutely blew me away. Before coming on this trip I knew very little about Greek cuisine but once the dishes finished flowing I was an expert. We began with an aperitif, locally made ouzo which is an anise-tasting drink and quite refreshing. After that we got Saganaki which a circle of sheep cheese, lightly cooked on top but with a crispy bottom. It was a textures sensation! We then tasted the Kalamata olives which tasted superb. We then learned how to identify a Kalamata olive from the other imposters out there; The pit of a Kalamata olive has a small hook or barb on it’s end. It wouldn’t ever hurt you but it is a good way to see if the olive really is from the region it says it is. After that we ate a tomato dish with lumps of smoked pork and more delicious sheep cheese. The salad had honey sesame pieces and figs mixed in and then a balsamic dressing on top. There was also some sliced steak but for me the real star of the show was the sausages we had towards the end. They had a very strong, sharp, meaty taste but then an orange aftertaste. I’ve never had this combination before but the two complimented each other excellently. All night long we were drinking a chilled red wine, sitting outside as the sun set over an ancient civilisation. I had to pinch myself at times.
Visiting the Mani
The Mani Peninsula is just south of the city of Kalamata and is a very interesting place indeed. A lot of the towns out in this peninsula were inaccessible by road up until world war two. Margherita, our guide, described the arid landscape as being as alien as the surface of the moon. For us though, Mani was a treat. Famous British explorer Patrick Leigh Fermor visited this place and was so taken by it that he built a house in the area and spent the later years of his life there. In his book he documents Mani traditions that have not changed for hundreds if not thousands of years. One that struck me in particular was the concept of the death ceremony. When a loved one passes away they are sang to all the time until they are buried. It is more of a sorrowful lament more than anything and videos I watched on YouTube are quite raw and emotional. The Mani people believe that by singing they were elevating themselves to a special place and respecting their dead. The most interesting thing about the singing is that it is a tradition that has been orally passed down from generation to generation for thousands of years. They provide key information into the evolution of language as they stay so close to the source material. The village we visited was a Gorgeous village called Kardamyli which was a sleepy little town with some beautiful cafes and a 2 minute walk from the Mediterranean Sea itself. My friend Denis even got to go for a swim.
We even passed by a woman dressed entirely in black. I asked was she a nun and Dora, our wonderful tour guide told us no, that is how a widow dresses after her husband passes away. So I got to see a tiny bit of the ancient tradition before we hit the beach chairs and relaxed by the sea.
Dining on the edge of the sea
After a long day we were so tired and in talks with skipping dinner and returning to the hostel. We decided against it in the end and I am so grateful that we did. It’s amazing how one can be driving along these winding roads and suddenly be in the midst of a tiny little village as the sun was starting to dip in the sky. Even though we forgot to bring swimsuits we decided to take a dip in the sea. I’ve never seen a sea as calm as the Mediterranean. I could float in the same place for hours and never move. The water was so clear you could see straight down to the bottom while out swimming.
It was a great way to whet my appetite for dinner. Dinner was in a nearby restaurant and when the heat of the day is over they bring all the tables out so you can dine within an arm’s reach of the ocean. Margherita, our guide, told us that Homer describes twilight as the time where the sea takes the colour of the wine. We ate our dinner in front of the ocean and watched the sun slowly set and change from yellow, to orange to a deep pink.
We ate fresh calamari, octopus, anchovies and locally picked greens with olive oil. The food was gorgeous but on this night it was the sunset that blew me away. It was the most peaceful experience of the entire trip. Places like these are gems that are hiding along the coast, waiting to be discovered. We then drove home along the Mediterranean coast as the song of the cicadas followed us all the way home.
Fine Dining in Kalamata
For our last night in Greece we had a very special feast indeed. We ate at one of the best restaurants in Kalamata, Ev Zin which was under the care of chef Stellio.
He’s been living in this region all his life and certainly knows his stuff when it comes to good ingredients. It was here I had my favourite olive oil of the trip, you could just taste the freshness of the trees and nature with every bite. As an aperitif we had two different kinds of pate; olive and sundried tomato. Combined with fresh, crispy bread soaked in olive oil it was an absolute treat. After choosing a wine with help for the sommelier we moved onto the first course.
It as a salad topped with local figs, cheese, sundried tomatoes and a balsamic vinegar drizzled on top. The combination created a sweet, rich flavour combination in the pallet. It was divine. Talamagi is a famous Greek delicacy which consists of a circle of salty, sheep’s cheese that is partially fired, so the centre is soft and gooey but the edges are crispy and delicious. This variation had smoked veggies in the middle and was gorgeous. We then moved on to another Greek delicacy, Moussaka. It was on a bed of stringy crispy potatoes with mincemeat and aubergine paste and other veggies. It was amazing! I’m salivating just thinking about it!
We then moved onto the fish and had some smoked ell with orza pasta, thinly sliced fennel and lemon foam. A very strange combination but quite an interesting one.
The final main course was probably my favourite. It was a fillet of sea bass adorned with sliced courgettes. Beside the sea bass was the courgette flower, stuffed with rice. It was a beautiful combination as well as the gorgeous presentation.
Dessert was orange sorbet on a light chocolate mousse drizzled with orange olive oil. Yes it is as good as it sounds! The other dessert was a pear sorbet with melt in the mouth meringue all covered with a sweet coconut cream.
I think I’ll have dreams about that coconut cream it was so good. We had plans to go out and sample the local bars in the area but after that feast we were so satisfied that we went home to sleep.
Ev Zin restaurant is easily one of the best dining experiences in Kalamata.
Visit the Navarino Lagoon
I’ve seen pictures of this lagoon and thought that there’s no way that it could actually live up to the expectations. Boy was I wrong! The place is very well known amongst tourists but we had a secret weapon in the form of Margherita, our guide for the trip. She is an absolute wealth of knowledge and gave an amazing sense of life to each of the places we visited.
There were so many alcoves that make it very easy to get away and grab some peace. We got out to the beach and I’ve never seen a more perfect semi-circle cove that is filled with crystal clear, calm water. Paradise.
This area is a sanctuary for animals, especially birds who nest in the area. As well as that it is the only place in Europe you can see chameleons in the wild. We searched and searched but couldn’t find them.
We then hiked up to the top of a hill to check out a tomb that is over 4000 years old. I thought it would be the perfect spot to fly the drone so brought it out for a spin. Margherita pointed out a castle on a hill across the bat so I went over to have a look. It’s probably the best footage I’ve got yet!
The castle was built by the Franks and overlooks the Bay of Pylos, which is the largest natural bay in Europe. It was here that the greeks battled the Turks in the 1830s for their independence. The Turkish ships were huge and the Greek ones were smaller. They lured the big ships into the bay where they couldn’t turn around which made them easy targets. Lord Byron himself even played a part in the struggle and it was in Greece where he died.
We also learned that many Turkish ships that sank in the bat are still intact today and on really clear days, when the water is still, you can see the wrecks. The Greek government are looking into performing an archaeological excavation soon. This place is an absolute must see.
Visiting an Olive Oil Factory
Olives are the life blood of the people in Kalamata. The entire landscape is dotted with olive trees and olive oil is an intrinsic part of the Greek diet. They have been making olive oil in this region for over 6000 years… That’s a long time!
We decided to visit an old olive oil factory that has been producing olive oil since 1777. It has also been in the same family since then. We saw how the entire process unfolds. People from the area bring their olives and it is first weighed. The factory then pays the farmers what its worth. The olives are then sifted to remove any excess twigs and leaves, though some leaves remain to give it more nutrients. The olives are then ground with two massive stone wheels. The resulting pulp is then put in these special woven sacks and then they are pressed by machinery. What comes out is the finished olive oil. The leftover pulp is used as feed for the animals.
After the tour we then sampled the home-made olive oil. We got some fresh bread and a big jug of their oil and went to town. Their oil is quite green and had a very fresh taste. I tried to treat it like a wine tasting and let the oil spread all over my tongue, but it was tough and I ended up dribbling down my mouth more than I would have liked! We also tried some flavoured oils which were delicious but for me I’ll stick to the original. I asked the family that own the factory if it has ever fallen into other hands and they said no. Someone in the family always comes back or the business comes back to them when they are ready to accept it. Their new generation are all in university now but the owner is confident that they will come back to the factory when it feels right.
Pylos Castle and Museum
Pylos is a really beautiful part of Greece, it is an absolutely stunning holiday destination but what I enjoyed most was the historical significance of the area. Everywhere you turned was a beautiful castle just waiting to be discovered.
On the top of the city of Pylos sits Neo Kastro. It is a beautiful old castle but inside there is something absolutely fascinating. There is a museum dedicated to the archaeological finds that occurred in the area. Inside I learned so much about the ancient Greeks that I never knew. They used to wear these delicate golden headpieces as a way of showing status. The things were gorgeous!
There was also an abundance of everyday items and jewellery. I saw a beautiful, purple amethyst that was over 3000 years old but it looks exactly like something my mother would wear. I guess we don’t change that much over such a long time!
There are many things to see in the museum from pottery that has been meticulously pieced back together to jewellery and statues. It’s a fascinating place.
The museum is in the castle and in the area outside it sits hundreds of old cannonballs recovered from the ocean as well as a MASSIVE anchor. I could only imagine the size of the ship that an anchor like that would stop. There is another museum beside the archaeological museum that specifically deals with artefacts discovered from under the ocean and it is also really interesting.
There we saw lots of things, from a bag of dried hazelnuts that is still perfectly preserved, to an old pistol that looks more like coral reef that pistol. Unfortunately when we got out of the museums the castle was closed so we didn’t get a chance to explore but that gives me all the more reason to go back and visit!
We then went into the centre of Pylos and had a drink and a bit of lunch and sat out looking across the bay. It was fascinating for me to imagine that only 300 or 400 years ago the massive naval battles that took place here. Then only 5000 or 6000 years ago there were also thriving communities that used to live and trade in the same place I was sitting. It was a very humbling experience.