Saturday, May 20, 2017

Citta dei Nicliani ~ Hidden Treasure in the Deep Mani

A full moon was beginning its twilight climb. A chilly breeze rattled the leaves.The cries of the jackals echoed across the broad expanse of rangeland that linked us to the sea. As we sipped wine on our room’s small terrace overlooking the stone courtyard, I gave thanks for eavesdropping.

Moon rising at hotel Citta Dei Nicliani - Peloponnese
Had it not been for eavesdropping on a conversation in a local village cafe a year or so ago we may never have found the hotel Citta dei Nicliani because even after nearly a decade of operation it remains somewhat a hidden treasure in the area of the Peloponnese known as ‘the Deep Mani'.

The Deep Mani is a vast, lightly-populated area with scattered small villages – some now deserted -  and some which were first written about by Homer. Its a rugged land with a rugged history; wars, feuds and piracy. It is the Land of the Towers, but that topic is deserving of another post on another day. . .
The Inner Mani - Greece Peloponnese
. .extensive wine list. . .great dinner. . .unbelievable breakfast. . .luxurious accommodations

‘Excuse me,’ I recall saying to the man seated near us, ‘We couldn’t help but overhear your conversation. Where is this place??’

Courtyard view of the reception/lounge/dining area
Turns out this hidden gem is only an hour’s drive south of our Stone House on the Hill but still we didn't get around to experiencing its charms firsthand until a couple of weeks ago.

Its name Citta dei Nicliani, its Italian for ‘city of the Nicliani’ a clan of strong people who populated the area during the Ottoman rule. They are said to have written an Italian duke seeking help in opposing that Ottoman rule – and got it. The original tower on the property, a restored centerpiece of the hotel was built in 1750.

Charms of the Citta dei Nicliani

View from inside the lounge/reception area Citta dei Nicliani
It was through the imagination and hard work of an Athens family: Ilias and Tanya Sepsas, and their children, Zaira and Paniotis, that created this first class hotel as it is aptly labeled. It opened in 2011.  The family foursome is responsible for the day-to-day operation of this seven room hotel.

Walkway beneath Citta dei Nicliani
As is usual with our travels, we set out on this adventure somewhat at the last minute.  Most of the rooms were already reserved but we managed to book one of the two remaining for a next-day arrival. Booking one of the last rooms available always makes us a bit nervous but in this case we shouldn’t have been;  it was simply charming.

PicMonkey Collage
Our room and en suite at Citta dei Nicliani 
Designers have blended up-scale modern designs into the rooms carved out of the renovated historic old buildings.The hotel features Guy Larouche bedding, flat screen television (which we never turned on) and incredibly fast and free wi-fi.

The Scout and Paniotis Sepsas, hotel manager, review the wine list
That man who’d described the place as having an extensive wine list, hadn’t exaggerated.  Paniotis, who is the master of the wine cellar handed The Scout a 52-page book with wines available for purchase.  Perhaps the most amazing entry to us was a Cayuse wine from Washington State – a wine so highly sought back in the Pacific Northwest that you must be on a waitlist to purchase it from the winery and that is almost impossible to find at retail outlets, but here we could  - if we wanted to pay the 250-euro price, which isn’t out of line for that label.

PicMonkey Collage
Lobby/reception/dining area - hotel Citaa dei Nicliani
The reception/lounge/dining area was a glass-walled structure that allowed the blooms of fragrant garden vines to dangle inside from the roof line, fresh cut blooms decorated all the tables and so many bric-a-brac and books on display that it will take another visit just to flip through a few more of their pages and admire the decor.

PicMonkey Collage
Dining - a made-to-order experience- Citta dei Nicliani
If a guest choses to eat dinner at the hotel, the menu selection is made by late afternoon with a preferred serving time noted. These meals are individually cooked and the loaves of bread – carob and wheat – are baked daily and served out of the oven with the meal.

And breakfasts which are included in the room price are such a feast that you need not eat again until dinner. They offer an array of salts and sugars almost as extensive as their selection of wine.

PicMonkey Collage
Breakfast was in itself a reason to get up each day - Citta dei Nicliani
We spent two nights  which gave us a full day to explore the Inner Mani area and we barely touched the surface – we could easly have filled another day, if not two, had we taken a few hikes, spent time on the nearby beaches or visited each of the villages in our immediate area.

Looking into the reception area - Hotel Citta dei Nicliani
Now at this point you are saying to yourself, she must be exaggerating – it couldn’t be that great – go take a look at TripAdvisor where you’ll find 137 reviews of the hotel. Seven are 'above average' and 130 are 'excellent'.  Words used in the reviews include ‘magical’, ‘never been to a place like this’, ‘never had such a warm welcome’. 

Better yet, go stay there and experience this treasure of the Inner Mani. Rates vary between high and low season and the room. Our room was 90-euros a night. We certainly plan to be regulars there! (And for the record: we weren't comp'ed for our stay, nor did they know I was writing about the stay until the morning we left.)
For more information:

That’s it from us this week. Again I am a bit late with this post but we’ve been without internet for the last three days.  Summertime is easing its way into our part of Greece and the livin’ is easy.  Hope the same holds true for you whatever season you are enjoying in your part of the world. Thanks again for the time you spend with us ~ safe travels to you and yours!

Linking up - internet willing with these fine folks:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Sirocco Wind and Saharan Sand ~ Springtime in Greece

The sky turned as gray as if a rainstorm was headed our way.  The air was humid and heavy. The temperature, climbing.

Gray sand-filled skies made for an odd sunset

The Sirocco, as the wind that blows from the North African desert is known, was blowing sand from the Sahara. As it darkened the horizon and dirtied the house, we knew spring had arrived and we were on our way to summer in our area of the Greek Peloponnese.

It is the most wonderful miserable weather imaginable, to my way of thinking. And I love it, simply because I am here to experience it! 

PicMonkey Collage
Scirocco sunset, left, regular sunset, right

For so many years I’ve read books set in the Mediterranean – novels, travelogues and those real-life tales written by ex pats -- that have told of the winds and the sand and I found the whole concept so . . .well, . . .exotic.  I really hadn't thought about the dirt.

The Sirocco originates amid the dry, dusty conditions of North African, bringing sand from the Sahara Desert. As it makes its way north it adds a fair bit of humidity and by the time it reaches Italy, France, Spain, or Greece it is packing a warm wallop of dirt and dust.  Housecleaning is a waste of time when the Sirocco is in town. And you certainly don’t want to hang laundry out to dry either. It is too hot to do much else. So you sit and watch the dust blow (just like all those things I'd read had said).

Sirocco greeting 2016 en route home from Athens
Our introduction to this weather phenomenon was a year ago when we were driving from Athens to The Mani and instead of the magnificent blue sky and stretches of green fields we are accustomed to passing through, we drove into a sand ‘fog’ bank.

Luckily in our area the winds and their sands seem to last no more than a few days.  Enough time for me to experience the exotic that I’d dreamt of and enough time to dirty up everything and move on.

PicMonkey Collage
May Day 2017 in Greece
All sorts of signs of spring giving way to summer have been evident in The Mani the last few weeks.  And most of those signs were far more beautiful than the blowing African sands.  For example, on May 1st, nearly every home and business sported a beautiful hand-made wreath (some cars even have them affixed to the hood).  They are sure signs of spring.

Nasturtium carpets in the olive groves 
Another sign is that the nasturtium has begun carpeting fields and trees in the area (well, everywhere but at our house where my attempts to get them to grow have again failed.)

Baby Kalamatas (those little dots between the leaves) have appeared on the triees
The olives – Kalamata olives – are but mere pinpricks in size in the spring.

Fisherman leaves the port of Agios Nikolaos
The fishing fleets are out in full force and the pleasure craft are beginning to appear in harbors and ports that dot this coastal area.

Limeni Harbor to our south
We are basking – sometimes baking – in temperatures this week that are nearing 90F and 32 –34C.  Spring might well be giving way to an early summer. . .here in this exotic Mediterranean that I’ve for so long imagined.  You know? Sometimes reality is even better than one’s imagination!

20160331_081316 [1378312]That’s it from The Stone House on the Hill this week. Hope whatever season you are experiencing in your part of the world that it is a lovely one. 

I'm a bit late posting this week as we’ve been busy with our adopted (as in, she-adopted-us) Mom Cat, pictured left in a very pregnant state last year.

For those not on FB, Mom has been a regular at our place for nearly two years, either about to give birth or with nursing kittens. She gave birth to three  kittens in early April and all died a few weeks ago. The sad situation had a golden lining as we finally had a window of time while we were here to get “Mom” fixed.  She had surgery on Thursday and we’ve been busy watching over her (doting) ever since.  The vet told us she was already pregnant with four kittens so the surgery was a bit more than expected. She is, I am happy to report (knock on wood) doing well. And, 'Mommy' Cat has become 'Maggie' Cat.

Safe travels to you and yours ~ and as always, thanks for the time you spend with us!

Linking this week with:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Greek Road Trips: Finding the Menalon Magic

Our destination was Dimitsana, population 340.

Clinging to a hillside overlooking the Lousios Gorge in the Menalon Mountain range of the Peloponnese, the small hamlet lies northeast of Kalamata.

We’d chosen it to be our introduction to the area from among a dozen such small villages that are scattered across the region known as Central Arkadia (are-cod-EE-ah).

Dimitsana, Peloponnese

Lonely Planet’s guidebook describes it as ‘a tangle of precipitous ravines and narrow roads that wind their way through the medieval-village-speckled valleys of the Menalon Mountains. . .where you’ll find some of the most breathtaking mountainous scenery in the Peloponnese.’ 

P1030659The guidebook described it perfectly. But it didn’t prepare us for the lush forested peaks that rise from those magnificent gorges nor for the charm of its villages. I've caught myself wanting to use the word 'charming' in every paragraph of this post.

The guidebook could also have described it as:

'a magical land straight out of a fairy tale’.

Amanites Guesthouse, Dimitsana - Our room with a view
The first part of the trip is on the national highway, a slick divided four-lane route, that links Kalamata to Athens. Our adventure began after leaving that freeway as we set out on roads so narrow in places and without guardrails that we were relieved when the only on-coming traffic was a herd of goats.

As the road became rougher, and thinking this place really was remote, we realized we’d taken the wrong turn back at the village with the castle (I said it was a fairy tale setting so of course there would be a castle). Once we got on the right road (which was narrow but well maintained), it didn’t take long to reach our destination.

Oncoming traffic in Greece's Arkadia region

Each of the roads had taken us through several picturesque towns each it seemed with an ancient castle, or bell towers or church or fortress.

PicMonkey Collage
Villages in Central Arkadia - Peloponnese
We had afternoon cappucinos in a captivating village named Stemnitsa, population 200, home to a gold and jewelry college. Items created there are sold throughout Greece. The village is also known to outdoor enthusiasts from around the world because of. . .

No better place to sip a cappuccino than Stemnitsa, Peloponnese

The Menalon Trail

Menalon Trail Map
The area’s a magnet for outdoor enthusiasts who are hiking all, or parts, of the 72.5km Menalon Trail that stretches between the villages of Stemnitsa  and Lagkadia.

The well-signed trail, completed in May 2015, offers eight sub-section hikes. One of the most popular is the 12.5 km route from Stemnitsa to Dimitsana. That route takes hikers past two Monasteries – each worth a visit.

We didn’t bring day packs and hiking poles, hats and gear for tackling the route, but having seen the area, we plan to return and explore at least a part of it one day.

Lousios Gorge, Central Arkadia

Destination Dimitsana

Gunpowder Mill - Dimitsana
We did – thanks to the advice of friends -- visit the village’s Open Air Water Power Museum (now don’t quit reading or start snoring here!). 

We are glad we took their recommendations – it was a great trip back into the area’s pre-industrial past.

Paying the 3-euro per person admission we toured the restored grounds and mills of the long-ago bustling Agios Yiannis (St. George) mill. It is 1.6 km from the village, a nice taster-sized hike or you can drive and park at the site nestled into the side of the gorge. We watched the water-run flour mill operate as well as the nearby gunpowder mill. (Ammunition was produced here for the Greek War of Independence.)

New upscale bars and bistrots line old cobble-stone streets in Dimitsana
Coffee shops, upscale bars and restaurants – so many from which to choose that we couldn’t try them all in a single two-night visit.  And the view of the the gorge from those overlooking it, drew us back each night to sip and savor the view.

8 p.m. sun was just setting over the Lousios Gorge - we had a front row seat
There are guesthouses and hotels in several of the villages.  We chose Amanites Guesthouse, an 8-room boutique hotel recommended by Lonely Planet guidebook. We had a delightful room with a view (note photo above) and our 70-euro a night rate included  a buffet breakfast the featured homemade jams and spreads, a variety of bread and pastries, eggs, cheeses, fruits and vegetables.

Breakfast buffet included at Amanites Guesthouse hotel - Dimitsana
While warm weather brings hikers to the area, winter snow draws the big city dwellers. If you are traveling between Athens and Ancient Olympia, this is a great scenic route to follow.

If we’ve teased your travel bug with this post, here are some sites you might find of interest:
Map picture
Menalon Trail,
Open Air Water Power Museum
Amanites Guesthouse
Dimitsana is less than two hours drive from Kalamata.

That’s it for this week’s travels in Greece. We thank you for the time you spend with us and love hearing from you.  And thanks to those of you who’ve been recommending Travelnwrite to your friends! Hope you’ll be back next week and until then safe travels to you and yours.

Linking this week with:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Greek Ferry Tales ~ Not Always a Greek Tragedy

There is nothing like the romance of boarding a Greek ferry and setting off for a new destination. The excitement of the trip becomes as much about ‘the journey’ as ‘the destination’. We think Greek ferry travel has got to rank in the top 10 of life’s best travel experiences.

Ready to set sail - Piraeus, Greece
So, I was stunned at the reaction of a friend in America's Pacific Northwest when I suggested that she consider taking a ferry between Athens and Crete on an upcoming trip. She visibly recoiled, and exclaimed,  “But, they are unsafe. . .they are always sinking!!” 

Our ferry between Piraeus and the island of Poros Greece arrives
While I will admit I obsess about plane crashes (as The Scout will attest), I’ve never fretted about ferries sinking and we’ve been on quite a few in recent years. In fairness to my friend’s response though, I thought maybe I’d missed something so I set out to do a bit of research about Greek ferries.

Ferry disasters, like plane crashes, make headlines for the obvious reasons.  Loss of life, the human error or malfunctioning equipment grab the readers’ attention.  And those disasters – thanks to the internet – can live on for decades with the flick of the wrist and a Google search.

Car/passenger ferry links Poros island with mainland Peloponnese
I had to go back a bit but found two mid-century Greek ferry tragedies. Both took place in 1966; a half century ago (that time span since 1966, in itself, is a startling fact to those of us who are a ‘certain age’).

* The Express Samina, one of the oldest ferries sailing at the time, went down killing 82 of 550 passengers, just two kilometers off the coast of the island of Paros. Reportedly the crew had left the bridge to watch a replay of a goal in an important soccer match on television and the ship hit some rocks.

* The other disaster that year took place near Falkonera island, when the Heraklion sailing between Chania (Crete) to Pireaus (Athen’s port city) capsized in a storm.  Only 46 survived out of 73 crewmembers and 191 passengers.

Minoan and Anek Lines ferries in Chania, Crete
* In 2014 the Norman Atlantic, a ship owned by an Italian ferry company and flagged in that country, sank as it was sailing from Patras, a port town in the northern Peloponnese en route to Ancona, Italy. The ship had been leased by the Greek line, Anek. It was carrying 422 passengers and 56 crew.  Nine died and 19 went missing.

* In 2016 the ferry Pangia Tinou sank while in port in Pireaus.  It wasn’t in service and no one was on board at the time.

Heading to Loutro village (white spot on the coastline) from Hora Sfakia
In addition to reports on those incidents, I also came across some interesting statistics:

* There are 164 passenger ferry sailings daily from Piraeus.  That means more than 50,000 sailings a year from that port alone.  If you go back to 1966, the year of the double disasters, and do the math, you find that there have been more than 250,000 sailings from Piraeus alone in the last five decades. 

* In 2000, the UK’s Guardian reported, “According to the Annual Ferry Review produced by research company IRN Services, 50 million passenger trips are made on Greek ferries each year, and between 1994 and 1999 there were no fatalities - an impressive track record for a country which has the biggest ferry fleet in Europe.”

One of our favorite Greek ferries, Samaria I, southern Crete
We’ve had the opportunity to sail on small ferries like the Samaria I above, which links the communities that dot the southwestern coastline of Crete.  Several times it has transported us between Hora Sfakia and Loutro. Unless you come by private boat this is the only way to reach Loutro – it is not accessible by road.

PicMonkey Collage
The size of cruise ships and nicely appointed - we took the Blue Star above to Piraeus from Crete
We’ve also traveled between Crete and Piraeus as well as Crete and Rhodes on the large cruise-ship sized ferries.  Because the trip to Pireaus, is an overnight sailing we’ve booked cabins and slept comfortably in twin beds, awaking at 6 a.m. in Piraeus.  I wrote comparing the ferry’s interior to that of a cruise ship in this post. Check it for interior photos.

PicMonkey Collage
Arriving Mykonos about the high speed ferry (Cosmote is a telephone company ad) not the ferry name
We’ve also traveled on various types of high speed catamaran-style ferries with interiors that look much like that of an airplane and which significantly reduce the amount of time it takes to go from place to place.
Car/passenger ferry for short haul runs to the Peloponnese
Any ferry. Any size. Any Greek destination. We wouldn’t hesitate to travel on a Greek ferry.

However, there are three things we’d advise you to keep in mind when planning a ferry trip in Greece:  1) Ferry travel – even for walk on passengers – is not inexpensive. Airline tickets might be cheaper than the ferry tickets. 2) a storm at sea can cause major delays or cancellations of ferries so if you are heading to Athens to catch a flight give yourself some wiggle room when planning your ferry trip because if the weather doesn’t impact it, 3) there just might be a strike by ferry or dock workers.

One of the best sites we’ve found for researching Greek ferry travel is

That’s it from us this week.  We wish you happy travels and smooth sailing ~ And as always a big thanks for stopping by TravelnWrite
Linking this week with:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Road to Greek Residency ~ Timing is Everything

As all travelers know, timing is everything.  A missed connection, a traffic jam, a detour, any number of things can impact the timing. And timing can make or break a trip.

Road to Karyovouni village - Greek Mani
One thing we’ve learned in our years of travel is that sometimes – even with the best laid plans and preparation – timing is beyond our control. Such is the case of our Road Trip to Greek residency. . .

Our Journey thus far: 

Highway between Kalamata and The Mani - Greece
For those just joining us: We are part-time U.S. expats from the Seattle, Washington area who own a home in the Greek Peloponnese. Two years ago when we entered this lifestyle it seemed our tourist visa stays (90 days in and 90 days out per the Schengen Treaty) would be just right. But the rigidity of those limits have us wanting a bit more flexibility to travel, or stay longer, or return more frequently and the way to do that is to have a resident visa.

P1030134We set off on our Road Trip to Residency in February  – with bulging application packets of documents proving health, wealth and honorable citizenship. We traveled to San Francisco for an interview and review of those documents by the Greek Consul there who serves the U.S. area in which we live.

Our documents needed to be current, so there was a tight timeline between the California trip and our return to Greece. Timing is everything.

Having obtained a 12-month entry visa as a result of that San Francisco meeting – we then made a quick trip to our state capital Olympia, Washington. There we had those stacks of documents notarized and later apostilled by the Secretary of State’s office so that the Greek government could accept them. Tight squeeze in scheduling, but timing is everything.

On the Road in Greece:

Our mid-March return to Greece where we plan to be until early June – seemed back then more than enough time to make it through the Residency permit process. So optimistic were we about being approved and the process going smoothly that we decided we’d buy a car this spring as well. (A resident permit is required of foreigners registering cars here).

However, the first month came and went as our packets of documents were translated into Greek and the new documents stamped and added to that pile of paperwork we’d brought with us.

The Scout waits in the Immigration office
Last week was – finally -  ‘the’ week. With our Greek attorney in the lead we took those documents to the Greek immigration office in Kalamata. It was a sparsely furnished, stark, sort of place. Only a handful of other hopefuls were ahead of us, and we waited our turn to talk to one of three clerks behind a glassed-in counter.

With luck we’d be issued a temporary visa, the authorities would keep and examine the documents closely and with more luck we’d be issued a permanent visa before we leave. We’d given up hopes of buying the car this trip.

The clerk smiled at us and welcomed us in English – a good start, I thought. But then in Greek he told our attorney why we wouldn’t be getting any permits that day nor would we be leaving our documents for review:

The immigration laws changed April 1st (no joke!).

New forms, new fees - paid them at the post office which is also a bank

We would need to pay another fee to the bank, have photos taken and put on a CD, and we would have to have fingerprints taken by immigration officials. The conversation at the counter went:

“Can we do that today?”  The Scout asked, trying to salvage a bit of the ground we seemed to be losing.
“That is a problem,” explained our attorney. “The equipment is here but the law is so new it isn’t hooked up”
“When will it be hooked up?’ asked The Scout.
“Maybe next week,” she replied. “But they also need a technician to operate it. . .”

We quit asking questions.

The official how-we will-look-as-residents photos
The directions for the photos advised no smiling. We had them taken after leaving the immigration office – it wasn't difficult to not smile.

On Road Trips - Pay attention to the Road Signs

P1030503In early March we’d read a Greek news article about an overhaul of the country’s immigration system for foreign residents.  It sounded really slick as it changed from a sticker pasted into the passport, to a plastic card - a residence card, with computer chip, that doubles as an identity card.

The change was initiated back in 2002 – 15 years ago! – when all European member states agreed to introduce the new cards The aim is to have a uniform residence permit for the European Union. The regulation was updated in 2008. Some countries have completed the process, for instance, Germany rolled them out in the fall of 2011.

Basically it uses electronic photo identification and fingerprints and other data on a chip in the card and sounds much like the U.S. Global Entry card used many thousands of travelers there.

So that explained the need to go get photos taken, pay an additional fee, and await the fingerprint machine and technician. We seemed to have timed our effort to put us right in the middle of the conversion. . .and that is where I intended to end today’s post.

Stop! Listen to other travelers

Stop sign near our home in Greece
Monday morning we had a conversation with a fellow American who lives down the road from us. He’d also been in the pursuit of a residency permit and obtained it back in mid-March. We congratulated him on his timing, having avoided the new system.

'No,' he said. 'I had my photos on a CD and they fingerprinted me in the Kalamata office. And issued a residency card - not a sticker in the passport.'

(Now it had taken him a half dozen visits to the Immigration office to get it done, but obviously he timed that March visit correctly.)

So as I wrote in the beginning, timing is everything when you travel -  even on Road Trips to Greek Residency.

Thanks for being with us again this week. Next week, I’ve got a Greek ferry tale for you. Should we resume the road trip, you’ll be the first to know! As always, happy travels to you and yours!

Linking this week with:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration


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