This post is also available in: Ελληνικα (Greek)
After the fall equinox, weather became cooler in Athens. The last summer light travelled to the South. During the weekend, we decided to catch the summer before it disappears into the silver colour of the sea.
Following the sun, we arrived in Pilos after 3 hours from the new highway, which crosses central Peloponnese.
The beautiful city of Nestoras according to Homer is built amphitheatrically on two hills, took its present form after the Navarino war. We sat down for a while under the plane tree in the central square of the village to have a cup of Greek coffee and enjoy the view of the bay which is protected by the long island of Sfakteria.
The sunlight is sometimes bright, sometimes milky white, and other times golden, everything is filled with colour, the most expensive and precious in the sky.
We continued our journey on a winding country road, crossing the shady olive trees scattered across the pale high ridge of the Messenian Mountains to the left, and at times the deep blue of the Ionian Sea to the right, arriving at dawn in Finikounda.
Our plan was to wake up in the early morning to explore the left foot of the Peloponnese.
The tranquility of the olive groves, the endless sandy beaches and the great horizons characterize this coast. The Messenian land is spread in all its splendor a vast expanse of olive trees and vineyards. The area is blessed full of contrasts.
September is the most exciting month for the exploration of the Greek coast!
The beaches were serene and artistically chiseled by the waves and the wind, with no sign of human presence. A few German tourists strolled on the beach, while a few locals chatted about past summers on the beach of Mavrovouni.
Traveling northwest we passed through the impressive castle town of Methoni, which occupies the entire cape of the southwest Messenia coast with an exceptional natural harbour.
At the harbour we met a friendly local, who took us on his boat to the uninhabited island of Sapienza which has pine forests, lush bays with crystal clear waters and magnificent sea beds full of ancient wrecks. This sea hides thousands of stories, treasures and mysteries, with conquerors, seafarers, shipwrecks, pirates and all sorts of other Mediterranean travellers.
After Methoni we crossed a large forest area which was a wildlife refuge, we passed Pilos again and reached Gialova.
The fine sand of Gialova wrapped across the bottom of the seabed, like a brown veil, as we dipped our toes into the clear waters. Next to it Gialova lagoon which was full of migratory birds, that had just come from southern Europe and Asia that were basking in the sun. The locals told us that the bird dance begins at sunset and the spectacle is magnificent!
As a child, I remember my father’s stories about Voidokilia, the most beautiful beach of Greece, hidden behind endless olive groves and the lagoon of migratory birds. The beach is as remote as it needs to be to stay unspoiled from humans! It belongs in the list as a Natura 2000 Protected Area. Its name probably derives from its natural beauty and the great curvature of the bay.
We turned left towards Divari beach where we then parked the car and started walking between the dunes along the shore of the lagoon. The white sand shimmered in the sunlight across the beach. I lay on the soft golden sand and dipped my hand in the treasure chest of shells. The white foam of the sea, was drawing patterns beaches. Paliokastro was to the left and on the other side of the beach on the hill was the Mycenaean vaulted tomb, attributed to Thrasymides the son of Nestor.
According Homers stories, Odysseus’s son Telemachus along with the goddess Athena were disguised when arriving on the beach of Voidokilia. They attended the grand sacrificial ceremony for Poseidon, where they then met Nestor the king of Pilos and inquired about his father’s fate after the Trojan War.
The myths that got lost over the centuries in the land of Olive Trees, gave nature the freedom to create a magnificent landscape! The sea of West Messenia hugs the plains under the shade of the mountains.
The elevation and soil differences together with the shade of Mount Taygetus and the Sea salt, makes all types of olives different in quality and taste in this area!
We passed through thousands of olive trees and lost ourselves in the sand dunes near Petrochori. Dunes grow as grains of sand accumulate, formed by the waves and wind. Their construction lasts hundreds of years and is of great ecological importance. These ecosystems host a variety of plants and animals such as the Wild White Flower (lily).
But we wanted to discover the hidden beaches.
We entered dirt roads that lead nowhere. The vast expanses of olive groves have fenced off countless beautiful beaches for many kilometres making public access impossible to.
It looks like these beaches belong to the olive groves!
But there were not always olive groves in the Peloponnese. According to De Condolle, the olive tree originates from Syria and were transferred to Crete in 3500 BC, where the Minoan civilization flourished.
The sacred tree has been cultivated in Messenia since the 12th century BC. In ancient times the blond coloured wheat dominated the land, which is now covered in the green-grey colour of olives. The olives were scattered in the fields. The cultivation was systematized during the Venetian occupation and later during the Ottoman Empire, which contributed to the development of trade and facilitated maritime transport.
Olive oil, the “liquid gold”, is a great product with an economic and social importance for Greece. Messenia’s economy depended to a large extent on olive cultivation. The spread of olive cultivation is greater than any other type of fruit tree and occupies the 75% of the tree plantation.
Lately there is a danger of monoculture in Messenia!
According to Rob Dunn, a professor of biology in North Carolina, monoculture is a very serious problem because the landscape becomes homogeneous and soil fertility is destroyed. The reduction in diversity of the soil structure is also reflected in biodiversity. The dominance of the olive groves on Messenian land has created new data against the diseases. Olive fruit flies spread a lot easier in dense plantations and require more sprays that impacts production costs and quality.
What will be the future of the olive trees?
We managed to dig through thousands of trees and find a path to the sea. The sun was slowly sinking into the sea, scattering a serene colour, while the waves struck the shores of the Messenian land. I was lying on the beach and for the first time I felt so connected to this land. The feeling of an expat returning home is very strong.
I love this land! Here is my roots…