Quick change of plan over breakfast Sunday morning. I had hoped to do a couple of things while based in Gerolimenas. Pencilled in mentally for Sunday was a long walk taking in some tower-house villages and a mountain top. I was all geared up for that until a taxi pulled in at the end of the hotel terrace.
I had sussed out that there was no bus from Gerolimenas to Vatheia, the archetypal and iconic tower house settlement about 8 kms to the south. There is a bus from Areopoli but it skirts around Gerolimenas without stopping. So I temporarily abandoned my breakfast, indicating wildly to the very attentive waiters that I hadn’t finished and so not to clear the rest of my yogurt and coffee, and went to ask the driver how much it would cost for a taxi to the village. It’s not very far, 8kms there and the same back is well within my capability for walking, but it was all on tarmac which is not very exciting. So I agreed the price of €13 and a time of 10.00 ‘peripou’ to set out.
It was indeed worth the money. A few people I have met and chatted to have raved about Vatheia as the only really true example of what blood-feud/tower house Mani was all about. I can’t confirm that because I haven’t yet seen many other tower-house villages but most certainly Vatheia is not to be missed and I guess it’s true that the new-build in the tower house vernacular does detract from the authenticity of places I have seen. I’m very glad that I went.
The taxi dropped me off at the edge of the village. First I wandered around on the uphill side of the village to get the morning sun on the hilltop setting, then I wandered the ‘streets’ of the village. A few of the towers have been renovated and are lived in but not many. Some were renovated as part of a scheme to develop tourist accommodation by EOT the Greek tourist organisation but that never worked and is bankrupt, towers all closed up. A tower renovated as a ‘new’ taverna lies empty with rotting timbers, presumably the ‘seasonal; café noted in the 2012 edition of the Rough Guide to Greece. There was no indication of any other beverage establishment. I wish they would get their facts right!!!!! I really fancied a frappé in a historic setting, it would have been very poignant sipping a cold drink where, on a historical timescale, not long ago blokes were trying to shoot each other and smash each other’s marble roofs.
There was a path around the outside of the village with lots of paths heading inwards to the core and plenty of abandoned towers to wander into and climb up inside …. having first judged the soundness of the remaining structure. Cadw and English Heritage would have cordoned the whole pace off on Health and Safety grounds.
I was glad that I didn’t visit it on a bus trip from Areopoli as that would have severely constrained the time for wandering around. One minibus trip came and went while I was there, staying not more than half an hour I guess. As it was I finally left after about 2 hours and then only because I was conscious of the fact that I had to walk back Gerolimenas and there was just the possibility that I might call in at one of the small coves and have a swim.
It is amazing that people should have lived in these towers, tightly crammed in cheek by jowl so close physically and yet so distant from each other socially. I think it’s most unlikely that any number of the many remaining semi-derelict and unoccupied towers will ever be restored. Modern expectations of living accommodation would be too difficult to achieve while preserving the character of the buildings, floorspace being tightly constrained and windows very small, doors very low, stairs narrow and ladder-steep. Most have little space outside the building though at least one has renovated some open space as a very pleasant garden. Vehicles have to be parked at the edge of the village, no access into the village would be possible. I can’t see development of the place as a ‘themed’ tourist accommodation working for the same reason ….. as it clearly hasn’t, the board announcing ‘Vatheia Appartments’ rusted over and lying forlornly.
But this is no different from the castles in Wales. They will never be restored to living or tourist accommodation (with the exception of Manorbier) The major difference there being that castles are one single structure whereas the tower houses are individual and presumably separately owned to complicate matters even further..
As a vivid example of how things were Vatheia has to be see.
On the way back I did indeed call in at a fabulous, very quiet ‘locals’ pebble beach. Had a swim. Ate a banana. Got hot. Had a swim. Gets repetitive doesn’t it.
Arrived back at Gerolimenas in time for a frappé before yet another swim and then ambling around the village with the camera. But all the time the memory of Vatheia was there in the mind. It’s one of those places you don’t forget. Grey images haunt you. The brightness and colour of Gerolimenas in the evening sun couldn’t push them away.