Home / things to do / “over the top”

 

‘Over the top’ aptly describes an unconventional route from Stoupa, or thereabouts, to Gythio.

They are not the Himalayas, but the Taygetos mountains dwarf anything in the UK – and are probably the best that the Peloponnese has to offer. The route in question provides an opportunity to see, from a safe distance, their highest point – and to enjoy some fantastic scenery along the way.

Accepted wisdom suggests that this journey should be tackled only in a 4×4 vehicle. Correct – to a point – but Sheila and I first undertook it in a virtually new (ordinary!) car belonging to good friends, Rod and Jen, and all concerned managed to accomplish the feat unscathed. Indeed, those visitors from the south east of England – Surrey in particular – should feel quite at home on ‘road’ surfaces of the kind that will be encountered.

The starting point entails a drive to Saidona; from there following a perfectly surfaced, if windy, road towards Exohori. A disconcertingly sharp turn to the right is the start of the journey ‘proper’, and from there the route climbs steadily; snaking ever upwards and affording numerous opportunities to stop and savour the views and (usually) the solitude.

This really is another world if experience of the area has been confined to Kalamata, Stoupa, Kardamyli and Agios Nikolaos. Encounters with other people are infrequent; signs of habitation (bar a solitary, and seemingly deserted, mountain hut) are few, and there is not a taverna in sight.

The trip can be completed in half a day or less. Equally, regular stops for photographs, and to take in the ‘ambience’, can consume as many hours as may be spared. From a personal point of view, half a day is about right – proceeding in unhurried fashion, absorbing what there is to see and, in particular, greatly enjoying the spectacle (peaks and aerial perspective) which is a feature of the lookout point which marks the highest, and half way, point of the journey.

From there the route descends, presenting a few slightly more challenging gullies and ruts in the road surface – which require careful negotiation and, on occasion, are best tackled after off-loading surplus passengers (i.e. all bar the driver!). It’s not really that bad – but perhaps attempting to drive it in a Chevrolet Matiz, Hyundai Atos or similar would be ambitious, although not impossible. Be aware, however, of the exclusions which hire car companies normally apply in relation to damage to the undersides of vehicles!

Passing a distinctly unattractive monastery – usually with numerous goats in the vicinity – somewhat tamer conditions are encountered as one returns to civilisation. Some attractive countryside – with helpfully ‘mature’ buildings to provide points of interest – offers photographic interest. At this stage, however, it is likely that thoughts turn increasingly towards refreshment – which is available in several villages or, perhaps more appealingly, in Gythio.

A fairly sizeable town, many of the buildings stacked to overlook a harbour and distant peninsula, Gythio is certainly worth exploration. A shortish climb up steps between the buildings on the harbour front reveals hidden ‘backwaters’, usually ablaze with the colours of geraniums, bougainvillea and hibiscus and, intermittently, providing views to the sea – with the island church being an especially attractive sight from these higher levels. A place through which to amble slowly and simply enjoy the variety of sights along the way, Gythio represents a dramatic contrast to the wild, mountainous conditions which have been left behind – and rounds off what should prove a memorable day out before taking the conventional, coastal road homewards.

Hopefully the pictures on these pages do reasonable justice to the adventure described – but do give it a try and see for yourself.

 
 

One Comment

  1. Excellent article describing the ‘drive over the top’ and I agree the views are breath-taking. You do have to know the road after Saidona is a forest track as far as the monastry; its condition is dependent on how damaging the winter rains have been. In June 2011 when I travelled the road in 4 x 4 the road was terribly rutted and I met a bulldozer creating a new level surface – it needed it in many places. The previous year the road surface was good and a car would have had no trouble.

     

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