We had several routes to choose from to get between Nafplio and Sparti. Perhaps unsurprisingly we chose the long route which took us around the Argolic Gulf before cutting inland and proceeding through a mountain pass. The coastal part of the route was beautiful and ran through several postcard perfect villages which demanded several coffee stops.
The mountain route on the other hand…well…if anything it was more beautiful. It did however go pretty high. Above the snow line in fact, and resulted in several Kms of driving on ice, which was great fun in a small car with thin city spec tyres. On one occassion, while passing through a mountain village, we encountered a rather steep cobbled street which we had to climb. A cobbled street which was completely iced over. Our first attempt resulted in a lot of wheelspin as we limply slid back to the start. Then, after some encouragement from two guys in a snowplow shod with tyre chains, we took a longer and faster run up and somehow got enough momentum to slide up the hill and on our way. Sam may have quietly screamed a bit nervously a couple of times, and Will may have laughed and enjoyed the whole rally driving thing a bit too much, but regardless we got there in the end, and “enjoyed” our icy descent down the mountain and into Sparti.
We spent the remainder of the afternoon exploring the town. It was the complete opposite of Nafplio, and quite frankly it was a pretty shite small town. Soulless, rather aggressive locals, and a bit dull really. But we were using it as a base, so it didn’t matter too much, and an amazing gyros certainly helped our spirits.
There are no prizes for guessing why we had come here. Only a 5 minute walk north of Sparti lay the ruins of Sparta. There wasn’t really that much to see, as most of the site had succumbed to time. However some of the foundations of structures had remained, and the earthworks of the old theater were largely intact, which was impressive to say the least.
That afternoon we went and saw what would surpass even Nafplio as the biggest surprise of the whole trip: Mystras. We hadn’t even known that the old Byzantine town had even existed, and only went there after spotting something on the mountain from the theater in Sparta. It was basically one of those conversations which went something like:
“ooo, what’s that?”
“Dunno. Looks big. Shall we go and have a look?”
“Yeah, why not.”
The joys of having a car!
Founded some 800 years go, Mystras was only abandoned in 1830 after the modern town of Sparti was founded on the plain. Due to its relatively recent abandonment compared to many sites in Greece, it was still well formed and allowed us to explore to our hearts content and the numerous English signs helped us understand what it was that we were looking at. Upon entering the site we found ourselves walking along the main road of the town, and would follow that road all the way through. The churches dotted round the town were particularly stunning and had incredibly intricate frescoes adorning every inch of wall space. At the end of the long main road, which ascended the entirety of the mountain side, was the fortress that we had spotted from Sparta. It was quite a reward for the long walk, not that walking through the old town itself wasn’t reward enough!
So to sum up: Sparti, meh. Sparta, ok. Mystras, awesome!
Next stop, Olympia.