Category Archives: Places visited

The posts cover all the Places we have visited in our travels.

Three weeks in Roccella Ionica

After a very straightforward crossing from Corfu we arrived in Roccella on Tuesday morning, 2 October and began to settle in.  We have booked our flight home for the 24th and so had three weeks to prepare Windependent for our departure.

The marina here is quite big, seems well protected from the weather and is really well organised, with fabulously friendly and helpful staff.  There is even a Community Centre for the live-aboards and free use of pedal cycles to get to town and back.

Me, Andy,Valeria,Steph and Dani
Dani, Valeria & Steph before
….. and after ….

There is a large and growing ‘live aboard’ community of folks who will either stay here the entire winter or, like us, return home for all or part of it; so there is a fair amount of socialising to do.   As soon as we’d arrived Valeria invited our immediate neighbours for drinks and we’ve been making lots of new friends.  There is a big weekly BBQ at the ‘community centre’ and we’ve had a couple of BBQs on and around our boats.

Sunday morning whiskey tasting
Cycle path to Roccella

Roccella town is about 2 km from here, hence the bikes. These aren’t always available but the walk does us good, 5 km to the supermarket and back for a start! . There are a number of hiking trails around town but the dominant feature is the castle, sometimes known as the Palazzo Carafa and the fortified tower or Pizzafalcone,  on the hills above it.   We took a walk up there on Saturday, it is only open between 4 and 8 pm at the weekends and covered around 10 km.

The castle is being heavily redeveloped with a large EU grant and it appears it will be a museum of some description.   It is a very impressive building dating from the fifteenth century when Roccella was the seat of a Marquis, although later, in its heyday, Roccella was a Principality!

Castle of Carafa and the Pizzofalcone watch tower
Castle entrance and church.
Pizzofalcone watchtower
Roccella beach

The weather is still very hot during the day, cooling at night and we’ve even had some very heavy rain.   Most evenings there are clouds along the coast which makes for some amazing sunsets; the sun disappears behind the castle hill but lights up the clouds from below with some spectacular results.

But now we are preparing to return home for a couple of months and are doing our final preparations for a couple of months away from home.  We have just one more day before flying on Tuesday.

Although we are really looking forward to seeing friends and family in the UK we’ve found a great bunch of people here in Roccella and so, even before we leave ,we’re looking forward to returning!

Port Mandraki and Corfu Town

With our watermaker miraculously working and my €50 salvage fee burning a hole in my pocket we were at a bit of a loose end for a few days, so we decided to go to Port Mandraki, the small yacht club marina directly below the ‘old fort’ in Corfu.

Port Mandraki

It was suprisingly un crowded and we were put on the outer harbour ‘wall’. I use inverted commas because as harbour walls go it is pretty insignificant. It is between 1 and 2 metres high and about 3 metres wide, made of rock with a haphazard concrete pathway along the top.  These rocks extend out underwater in the marina and so we had to go bows onto the wall.  Our draught at the bows is about 20 cm and so there is no chance of catching anything that way round.  But that also meant we couldn’t use our gangway without some major seamanship being undertaken, so we used the marina’s plank, a 4 metre wooden scaffold board about 30 cm wide.   A disincentive to enjoying the local wine with ones lunch!

Church of St George, against castle heights

Once tied up and we’d negotiated the gangplank a few times hooking up the electricity and water we set off into town to explore.   The marina is right inside the old fort.  This is of Venetian vintage and as an added layer of defence they also cut a channel across the head land on which the fort is built to form a moat; the marina is on the fort side of that feature.  Walking through the Venetian Fort we rather incongruously found ourselves in a what could easily have been mistaken for a street in the Woolwich Arsenal!   Information signs then informed us that Corfu had been a British Protectorate from 1815 to 1864.  Corfu has a long and involved history and has been conquered, occupied or administered by virtually everybody at one time or another.

Making our way out of the fort we headed into Corfu Town.   On first impressions we could easily have been in Italy, and, as towns go, it  was very pleasant to wander around.  We had lunch and even went to visit the Museum of Oriental Art.

Museum of Oriental Art

Old Town Hall

That took up Friday afternoon and Saturday.  On Sunday morning, checking the weather, we suddenly found that 4 of our 5 forecasts said we’d have two days of settled weather from Sunday to Tuesday, none of those 4 actually agreed on how settled, what the wind direction might be or whether it would rain but we decided to go for it.  Our passage to Roccella was 200 miles, or 40 hours, if we left on Sunday afternoon, we’d arrive on Tuesday morning.  If we didn’t go on Sunday we’d likely be hanging around Corfu for the next week!

So we moved berths to get closer the the fuel pump, went shopping, took on diesel and were all set to go by 4 pm on Sunday afternoon!

 

Gaios to Lakka by bus

On Tuesday we took the bus from Gaios for the half hour ride to the north end of Paxos to visit Lakka, another small town with a picturesque anchorage.   The countryside on the route was all olive groves with some huge old olive trees, and a surprising number of deserted , derelict buildings.   Lakka was a completely different story.  It is a small, quaint town full of shops and restaurants and set on a picturesque bay just begging to be photographed.

Sivota and the South Ionian Regatta

Returning to Sivota was a good choice as it turned out. Busy due to the Regatta but well sheltered from the winds which were good for the races but not for passage making north! We are grateful to Martino for squeezing us in. Turns out his sister’s boyfriend is …. you guessed it …. Brazilian!

Isabella On Watch ….

The bay was very, very busy with every available berth taken, and the anchorage full each evening. But with all these crews in town it wasn’t as rowdy as might have been expected and we quite enjoyed our stop over. There were plenty of restaurants and tavernas, shops for essential food and fishing tackle and of course Graeme, Jayne and Isabella.

As the week wore on the Regatta crowd slowly disappeared and normality returned although on Saturday we were entertained watching two departing yachts getting their anchors caught on submerged obstructions. One eventually freed himself through brute force but the second managed to dredge up 3 or 4 old anchor chains, all comprehensively tangled round his anchor. After a while Graeme and I went over and helped him free himself.

On Saturday afternoon the four of us decided we needed some exercise and so took a 4 km walk up to a reputedly good winery in the hills above Sivota on the road to Lefkada. We found a taverna for refreshments half way there with fantastic views into Sivota Bay. Happily the taverna was there for refreshments half way back as well!

Sivota Bay

But when we got to the winery it was closed …… well, mostly. We managed to tag onto the end of an over running coach tour and after a quick tasting bought a couple of bottles! Had to be done after all the hiking to get there!

We also had our last meal out with Graeme and Jayne that evening; the ’12 Gods’ restaurant was the best one we found in Sivota. And then we bid our farewells. It was lovely to see them again and spend time with them and we may not see them again until we return to Greece next year.  We’re pretty sure to meet up again as we’re both heading in the same general direction as each other.

Sunset in Sivota

We are both set to leave Sivota on Sunday although we’ll be off earlier with further to go. Paxos, here we come!

Reunion in Sivota

We set off from Sami early on Saturday morning for a short ‘drive’ up to Sivota on the south coast of the island of Lefkas, where we planned to meet up with our friends Graeme and Jayne, and their Ship’s Cat Isabella,  in Scarlett.

Scarlett

As it happened we both arrived at the same time and ended up on opposite sides of the same pontoon just after lunch.  Our plan loosely was to leave on Tuesday on our way up towards Lefkas town to wait out the next batch of poor weather, so with a couple of days to kill we set about some serious socialising, meals on board and ashore.  Isabella even seemed to remember us and Windependent from Olbia almost 5 months ago and settled right in when Graeme and Jayne came to visit!   It is great to meet up with them again.

Chart of Sivota

Sivota is a sheltered bay about half a mile long.  It has a small town quay and is home to an enormous charter fleet which takes up fully 3/4 of the available space.    Unbeknown to us, we had arrived at the start of a charter fleet sailing regatta and space in Sivota was at a premium.  Luckily,arriving early we got onto a privately run pontoon and as the afternoon wore on all the available berths were taken up and boats were anchoring in the harbour with very little room to swing.  How it will be when it gets busy is anyone’s guess.

The village has grown to service the charter fleet custom and trade from other visiting yachts and there is little  else in Sivota other than restaurants, shops and a couple of mini markets.  That said it is a pleasant enough place to pass a couple of days, quiet but crowded, picturesque and sheltered.

Zakynthos

Zakynthos town was rather a surprise for me; I had always associated it with the excesses of the ‘party scene’ and so was pleasantly surprised.

Zakynthos Town Quay

We arrived from Ormos Navarino on Sunday evening and were directed to the town quay. This is alongside the main road through town and so was quite busy although it was not intrusive. Our plan was to remain here until Wednesday or Thursday before heading on towards Sami on Cephalonia.

View across the harbour

Our prime reason for being in Zakynthos was, again, the weather; even Valeria’s Med Sailing Facebook group had mention of it! On Monday we were due strong southerly winds and on Tuesday the wind was due to swing round to the west; for a change the forecasts were quite accurate. What we didn’t realise was how exposed the quay was to southerly winds. The quay lays almost north – south so the wind, up to 30 knots, was directly on our beam and ‘twisting’ the boat on our anchor and moorings so the port quarter (left hand back bit) was pushed close to the quay, too close for comfort really. So we stayed on board on Tuesday with a fender to hand. It was only later we found out that a local game fisherman on the next mooring to ours moves his boat elsewhere in strong southerlies! Wednesday the wind was mostly from the west and we were quite sheltered so went for a wander round town.

St Dionisios
Byzantine Museum, Solomos Sq.

Zakynthos was mostly demolished in the earthquake in 1953 and like many towns in the Ionian Islands is ‘new’. The harbour front is all restaurants, hotels and shops and a few streets back from the quay is a pedestrianised shopping street, the ‘Central Market’. At the south end of the harbour is the huge St Dionisios church and at the north end is the large Solomos Square, with the Byzantine Museum fronting on to it.

St Nikolaos Church, Solomos Sq

I visited the museum and was a little disappointed. It houses a magnificent collection of religious iconography, some of it dating from the 16th and 17th centuries and I assume salvaged after the earthquake, although it could have been salvaged from war damaged churches, unfortunately what explanations there are, are all in Greek.

We found Zakynthos to be a lively place, probably livelier ‘in season’.   On three nights we had a busker on the quayside just along from us and it was very pleasant having dinner with our own personal musician on hand. Valeria face bragged about it! We also met a very nice helpful big game fisherman called Yannis, but more of him later.

It doesn’t seem as if there is a lot to do or see in town, it is obviously very geared up for tourists but it was a pleasant place to spend a couple of days.

Porto Kayio to Kalamata

We set off from Porto Kayio at first light on Thursday morning, much to Valeria’s joy, to make the most of the good weather on our 50 mile passage to Kalamata.

First light at the entrance to Porto Kayio

Moon over the Mani Peninsula
Sunrise over Matapan

Our route took us south round Cape Matapan, hugging the coast in the flat calm weather before we could head north in to the Messiniakos Gulf.   In antiquity this area was know as Messene.  When conquered by the Spartans the Messenians left for Sicily, settling in the area now known as Messina.

As we motored north towards Kalamata we checked the weather again and found the forecast had become somewhat more favourable and meant we could probably manage with just one night in Kalamata. This would allow us time to do some washing, clean the boat, take on fuel and fresh water and go shopping before setting off again by 2 pm on Friday,  the check out time!

And it all went according to plan, with one very pleasant variation. We went for a walk in the port area of Kalamata in the evening and found it to be a rather dispiriting place, rather run down in parts and not very inviting at all.   Turning back towards the marina we suddenly bumped into the French couple we’d met in Porto Kayio; Jacques and Isabel from the yacht ‘Manipo’.  They had found space in the main port and, seeing our AIS, had come looking for us!   So returning to the restaurants close to the Marina we had a couple of drinks and some snacks before inviting them back to ‘Windependent’  for more of the same!

The following morning after washing the boat and filling up with diesel we set off for a coffee aboard ‘Manipo’ before doing our shopping.  It transpires that Jacques and Isabel are heading in the same direction as we are in a couple of days and so we hope to meet up with them again before long.

Our walk around town in daylight didn’t change our impressions of Kalamata very much, but then it is off-season in what was once THE commercial port for the area, although not so now.  But the weather was definately looking up for the next few days so we decided to set off as planned and continue on our way towards Corfu.

Porto Kayio.

Sunset off the coast of Crete

We left Spinalonga on Saturday, 2nd September, at just after 7am for a 36 hour passage to Porto Kayio, an anchorage on the eastern tip of the Mani Peninsula, the middle of the three fingers of the Peloponese.

We had head winds the entire way although they were relatively light until Sunday when they built to 20 then 25 knots, with a 2 metre swell, as we got towards Porto Kayio on Sunday evening. Once into the shelter of the land the sea died away but we still had the wind, and this was funnelled through the entrance to Porto Kayio quite spectacularly.  Inside the bay the wind let up a little and we found ourselves a spot to anchor for the night.

Winds in the mouth of Porto Kayio

The following day it looked as if we’d dragged our anchor and diving on it I found we had indeed dragged 10 metres into deeper water. As we were considering our options another yacht left the bay from a position close into the beach and so we moved in to take their spot. As it transpired this position is about the best place to be, the sand offers slightly better holding and the wind which whistles across the north part of the bay only gusts here, seldom reaching full force.

Porto Kayio is a bit of an exaggeration really. There is little here that would qualify as a ‘port’ except a small jetty for local motor boats.   The village comprises about 30 buildings, most of which are hotels or B&B’s with restaurants.  There is a tiny scrap of stony beach only big enough for a single row of sun beds and not a lot else. It is very isolated and wonderfully peaceful and an ideal destination if you want beautiful scenery and quiet contemplation.  Tourist buses visit occasionally as a lunch stop on their way to and from Cape Matapan, the south tip of the peninsular, and there is a steady stream of yachts.

Our plan was to wait here until Thursday for favourable winds before setting off north towards Pilos in search of diesel.  Unfortunately Pilos seems to be on of those marinas which was started but never completed and reports suggest that as there is no one to collect harbour dues it is likely completely full of local boats. With this uncertainty in mind I decided to head for Kalamata where there is fuel and a marina where we can wait out the next burst of strong winds forecast for this weekend.

Porto Kayio has been inhabitted since antiquity due to its sheltered anchorage.   The name Kayio derives from its Venetian name which meant Quail, as apparently they were abundant here.   The Ottoman Turks occupied the area, building a castle in the 16th century to defend the anchorage which was the base for galleys patrolling the Kythera Channel.  There after it was occupied by the Venetians then the Turks again until Greek independence.

Ma belle …….

We went for a walk to the headland at the mouth of the bay on Monday afternoon and I took a hike up to the church above the bay on Wednesday.   That was a bit disappointing as after a steep climb and a rather overgrown footpath to get there I couldn’t get into the church yard which over looks the bay.    There is also the ruined castle on the hill over looking the church but I couldn’t find the footpath to get to it.  But the exercise was welcome!

Kastro

The rest of our stay was taken up with swimming and snorkeling,  reading and keeping an eye on the forecast.  We also had to go ashore to find some water and sample the local cuisine and struck it lucky with the Akrotiri Restaurant.   Simple food, absolutely delicious and they were quite happy for us to take water from their tap.

The Akrotiri

Tuesday, the 5th, was our Wedding Anniversary and so we went back to the Akrotiri for a long lunch of Saganaki (a fried cheese dish), sardines, a fish of some description and a delicious baked aubergine in tomato and cheese sauce, and some wine of course. This stretched well into the evening when we met a French couple from another yacht and some of their friends.  It was a lively way to spend our anniversary, unexpected and all the nicer for it!

View from our table

Tomorrow we are off early for a 10 hour passage to Kalamata.  We have had a very pleasant few days in Porto Kayio.  It is a lovely little place, more so when the wind isn’t howling through the bay.

Back to Spinalonga.

Getting down here to Crete, with fair winds and a following sea, was simple; however, getting away again is not proving to be so easy.

The Meltemi blows here every afternoon and recently has been blowing all day, every day.  As it hits the north coast of Crete the wind turns to come from the north west and west, the direction we want to go.   So we are back to waiting for favourable weather to head up to Peloponnisos, then on towards Cephalonia, Lefkas and Corfu.

On reflection ‘favourable’ may not be the right word, perhaps ‘least unfavourable’ would be a better description!  When we get good weather in Crete it is not so good further north, and vice versa.  But we have decided to go for it on Saturday morning aiming to reach the anchorage off Porto Kayio on Sunday evening anticipating generally north westerly winds to 15 knots for most of the way, we hope.

So, having said farewell to Lu and Marco we left Ágios Nikolaos Marina on Tuesday morning (with a bit of a struggle against the wind still pushing us onto the jetty) and returned to the south end of Spinalonga Lagoon to anchor off Elounda again.

Although sheltered here, we still had up to 30 knot winds whistling down off the high ground to the west of the town but apart from the, sometimes sharp, snubbing of the anchor bridle as we swung in the wind it was comfortable enough.  Getting ashore in the tender would have been a very wet endeavour though so we sat on board until Friday when the wind stopped.

Elounda Church again

The weather forecasts appeared to remain unchanged, showing 15 knot winds again, which seemed to translate to double that at the bottom of the mountains.  But on Thursday evening the wind  off Elounda died away and Friday was a beautiful calm day with the occasional puffs of stronger winds.  We went shopping,  had lunch and managed to scrounge 40 litres of fresh water from the skipper of a day trip boat on the quay and another 40 from the restaurant Poulis, right by the scrap beach (all of 30 metres long and 3 metres wide.

So on Friday evening it was early to bed looking forward to heaving the anchor at sunrise and setting off for our 36 hour passage to the tip of the middle finger of Peloponnisos.

Elounda in the evening

As with a lot of places we’ve spent any time Elounda grew on us.  It is a tourist town and base for the day trip boats to the Venetian Fort,  but it was not manically crowded and in the evenings was quite quiet.  It is hardly picturesque but it is pleasant and has a certain charm to it.   The harbour area and sea front is home to numerous restaurants right on the water, literally tables on the beach in the case of Poulis!

Also, just south of Elounda is the site of the Minoan city of Olous. Most of it is submerged beneath the sea and what were salt pans.  I had a walk around looking for the remains pictured on the web site but found nothing but some goats.

Over all Elounda was a pleasant stopover.  A nice place to wander round; we found fresh fruit and veg, a butcher, water and some nice restaurants.   I have read of people spending the winter in Spinalonga; that might be a bit much but there are definately worse places to wait out the weather.