Greece: in Mystras, to discover the Peloponnese out of season

In summer, when asked “where are you going on vacation”, one in three people answer “in Greece”, or, “I don’t know but I would really like to look for a Greek island to relax in”. When the hordes of tourists leave, the country becomes quiet, almost lethargic. Nevertheless there is a Greece that both in high and low season is an oasis of peace, quiet, silence, and nature. Not the blue of the sea or the white sand of the beaches. A green nature, with pines, cypresses and olive trees clinging to the mountains.

A two-hour drive from Athens, in the heart of the Peloponnese, we arrive at the mythical Sparta, which has lost much of its mythological charm, transformed as it is into a modern city and with the usual dose of Greek traffic. Better to continue further, towards Mystras.

AN IMMENSE UNESCO HERITAGE
The small urban center of Mystras (also called Mistra or Mistrà) is quiet, with some taverns, many flowering plants climbing on the houses and walls, the classic sleepy cats that are found almost everywhere in Greece. Dominated by Mount Taygetos, the town has a long history of domination but was also a Byzantine capital in the 14th century. Cultural, political and theological capital capable of attracting the most excellent minds of the time, it is known for its immense Byzantine archaeological area, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1989. On its area there are many well preserved churches which have a peculiar feature that combines forms of Western Latin and Byzantine construction. If on the ground floor the cross of the plant is Latin, the domes are cross-in-inscribed. Not missing also a church built in a rock cave which was probably a pagan temple dedicated to Demeter.

Also not to be missed the church of Agia Sofia which dates back to 1360; on the outside it is decorated with polychrome stones, but inside the mosaic floor is truly extraordinary, it represents “the navel of the world”. On the other hand, the Palazzo del Despot, an ancient residence of the Byzantine governors whose foundation dates back to the 12th century, is being renovated. From its panoramic terrace you can undeniably enjoy a spectacular view.


The archaeological area of ​​Mystras – photo Barbara Gallucci


The archaeological area of ​​Mystras – photo Barbara Gallucci

A CASTLE WITH A VIEW

The castle and the fortress built in 1249 by the prince dominate the whole William of Villehardouin and then ceded to the Byzantine Empire shortly after. It can be reached from the town center easily by car or with a not too demanding uphill walk of an hour and a half. The trail is well marked and allows you to better discover the natural landscape of Laconia. It is not the only one on Mount Taygetos; there are dozens of kilometers of paths to follow on foot and, going up, you can see, on clearer days, even the sea of ​​Kalamata.

The visit of the castle is also an excursion into a precious and mysterious artistic and architectural heritage characterized by walls, small frescoed chapels, the monastery of Pantanassa with the nuns who welcome the flow of tourists with the handicrafts made in the area, colonies of inevitable cats and viewpoints on the plain of Sparta and the Taygetos mountain range, first mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey. An experience that, out of season, has a mystical touch.

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The trails on Mount Taygetos – photo Barbara Gallucci
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Mystras castle – photo Barbara Gallucci

WELLNESS AT 360 DEGREES

And mysticism takes unexpected forms on the slopes of the mountain where it is located Euphoria, the secular temple of Marina Efraimogloua scholar of traditional Chinese and Indian medicine who then decided to deepen the elements closest to her Hellenistic culture aimed at well-being understood in a holistic sense, at 360 degrees.

“I started from the Greek concept of euphoria, with the root eu which means well and phoria, he or she who brings well-being, to develop a program that I have called the 5 elements of healing and spirituality. Socrates, Hippocrates, Plato, all had well-being at the center of their thoughts, both physical and mental “says Marina who chose Mystras to open her Euphoria Retreat, a hotel, a spa, but above all a place where you can naturally find energy taking advantage of the extraordinary context in which it is located where history, art, mountains and culture are in perfect balance. Not on an island surrounded by crystal clear water but in the green and true heart of Greece.

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Views of Mount Taigeto – photo Barbara Gallucci
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Euphoria Retreat – photo Barbara Gallucci

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Greece: in Mystras, to discover the Peloponnese out of season