Monday, January 3, 2011

Oceania Cruise: Monemvasia, Greece

This is No. 6 in a series that covers the itinerary of Oceania’s “Grecian Glory” cruise, which will take place in May 2011.

(Photo from

 The cruise will happen aboard Oceania’s newest ship, Marina, scheduled to be christened by Mary Hart on February 5.

(Photo from

This week we’re virtually visiting Monemvasia (pronounced Mo-nem-vah-SEE-ah). I’ve learned so much since doing this series! When would I, otherwise, have studied Zakynthos (last week’s post) or Monemvasia, Greece??

Monemvasia is a sort of medieval castle-island off the southeastern tip of the Peloponnese (of the Peloponnesian War fame, 431 BC-404 BC). The Peloponnese is a peninsula in the southernmost part of mainland Greece (though now technically an island since the construction of the Corinth Canal in 1893).

Once a part of the mainland, Monemvasia was repositioned 1/8 to 1/4 mile off shore during an earthquake in 375 A.D, and is now connected by a causeway. This connecting ribbon of land led to the island’s name, which came from two Greek words, mone and emvasia (or embassia), which mean "single entrance."

From a distance, the appearance of Monemvasia has been likened to Mont St. Michel in France, which is also reached by causeway leading to what appears to be a rock island. It’s easy to see, from the photo below, where it got its nicknames, The Rock and the Gibraltar of the East.

As you approach the causeway, the rock is said to be daunting. You see no houses. You walk across the causeway, and through castle walls that are thicker than you ever imagined, and you enter another world. There are no cars, but there are some donkeys. There are no highways, but there are cobbled passages that twist and meander between structures. “The houses are built next to, above, below almost inside each other - some extend over vaulted archways across the streets. The surprising Venetian chimney pots characterize Monemvasia's largely terracotta tiled rooftops. There is one tiny main square with its ancient cathedral church to one side."

Interesting Chimney

“Visitors usually fall for Monemvasia’s combination of nature and history, its serene view of the velvet-blue Mirtoon Sea, its collection of quirky, open-hearted locals offering a plate of amygdalota (almond cookies dusted with powdered sugar) or a glass of Malvasia white wine.

"They stay in the rooms of renovated monasteries, swim in the clear water off the rocky beaches and hike through winding paths starred with crimson blossoms, past the ruins of churches and mosques, to the abandoned fortress at the crest of what historians called ‘the Gibraltar of the East'."  (Article, “Next Stop: Monemvasia” by Joanna Kakissis, New York Times, September 3, 2006. For additional information, you may enjoy reading the whole article at

The article continues, “For tourists in search of an authentic slice of post-antiquity Greece, now is the time to visit Monemvasia. Over the last three decades, this area has risen from modern obscurity to become a popular holiday destination for Europeans and Americans.”

View of the Lower Town



Probably the most upscale property near Monemvasia is Kinsterna Hotel & Spa.
(Photo from!/photo.php?fbid=427595517554&set=a.427595397554.228433.319105447554)

With commanding views of Monemvasia Castle and the Aegean Sea, this suburb property features a restored Byzantine-era, rural mansion surrounded by vineyards and groves of olive and citrus trees. The vineyards and orchards are irrigated by an ancient cistern. The cistern also feeds the swimming pool, which begins as a brook and grows to run like a river through centuries-old orange trees. Here’s a link for more information:

The Kinsterna appears to be an exceptional property as a destination. But as it is 4-1/2 miles from the island of Monemvasia, and parking would have to be on the mainland side of the causeway, it’s just a little too much trouble when our destination is supposed to be Monemvasia. Good to know about, though!

Photo courtesy of Rob Wallace

Love those vaulted stone ceilings!

Apartment Living Room

I think the headboard and bedspread could be improved on, but what a cute fireplace!

Admittedly, I got carried away with these rooftop or terrace seating areas. I think I want to be there!

The next stop on Oceania’s “Grecian Glory” itinerary is Santorini, but as I’ve already posted about Santorini, I’ll probably just reference that and we’ll jump ahead to Ephesus.

Of all the people I know who’ve cruised to Ephesus, every one of them thought it was their favorite destination of their trip, so come back next week to learn why that might be the case!

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