Pylos – sea turtles and history

Pylos

“Glug!” I turned. “Glug! Glug!” I turned further to see bubbles bursting on the water’s surface.

It was a perfect stretch of mirror-like lagoon, the Limni Divariou, some call it the Gialova Lagoon and eight kilometres north of the Greek Peloponnesus town of Pylos. It was a baking day thanks to climate mayhem, a perfect blue sky hovered above, while my attempt to walk barefoot through the sand from the nearby, magical Voidokilia Beach had been like walking on hot coals. Within minutes I had resorted to shoes, and even they felt to be melting. I was alone, it was quiet, and I had followed the wriggle-shaped tracks of a snake to reach the Limni Divariou. For some reason I was not frightened.

Turtle haven

The glugging had been unexpected, yet the moment I heard it I felt happy as the bubbles were evidence of an animal thought to be heading towards extinction – the sea turtle. There are seven different species of the reptile and nearly all are now classified as endangered. What a tragedy for an animal that was a contemporary of the dinosaur. Sea turtles face threats at every stage of their lives while global warming is skewing sex ratios so there are now more females than males.

Research suggests that 52% of the world’s turtles have eaten plastic or other human rubbish, likely mistaking it for jellyfish. Eating plastic can kill one in five turtles that ingest it and cause gut blockages so that normal food cannot be eaten. Humankind may not have done sea turtles any favours, but the Limni Divariou showed me something different. Here was one place doing its best to preserve Nature, and the turtles clearly loved it.

History and sticky cakes

This area of Greece, Messenia, is hard to reach, yet is steeped in history. For dreamers, and I am one, it is ideal. It was why I was found, 45 minutes later, thoughtfully stirring my medium-sweet Greek coffee at a harbourside taverna table in nearby Pylos. The coffee was a diversion, as my focus was the sticky cakes. First a baklava, which I had almost finished. Next would come the kataifi, which lay dead centre of a chipped, white china plate by my left elbow. The kataifi would not last long. I have a problem with Greek sticky cakes. I simply cannot resist them. It is likely my Athenian childhood. If I see a Greek sticky, I feel obliged to have another, not just one but plenty. My record is 13.

The harbour town of Pylos, on the shore of Navarino Bay

As honey ran down my chin and somehow transferred itself to my fingers, I gazed at the flat waters of Navarino Bay, spread out before me. I was looking at history, and was surrounded by it, too. For it was here, on 20 October 1827, that the last sea battle fought by sailing ships took place.

Britain, France, and Russia were allies and took on an Ottoman armada, although most ships fought at anchor. The allies won, the Ottomans were massacred, losing 70 of their 78-strong fleet, as well as 3000 killed and 1100 wounded. Not a single Allied vessel was sunk. By dusk that day the fighting was over and church bells pealed throughout Greece, as it was the beginning of the country’s independence.

I stirred my jet-black coffee, took another bite of sticky, and looked behind me. I was in Three Admirals’ Square, its centrepiece a three-sided marble monument carrying the profiles of the admirals who won at Navarino – Codrington, Van Heiden and Rigny. Their battle is commemorated locally each year.

Ancient myths and mysteries

Far in the distance, perched on a rocky summit, and protecting the northern entrance to Navarino Bay, I could see the irregular outline of the 13th-century Old Navarino Fortress, Palaiokastro. Nearby I thought, would be Nestor’s Cave, now bat-heavy, and home to a handful of stalactites. Legend says it was here that Hermes hid Apollo’s cattle. Nestor was the legendary King of Pylos and a prominent character in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. No one knows if he truly existed but if he did, history claims Nestor was more than talkative.

As I turned my attention to the kataifi, I let my mind wander. Pylos may be small with a population of less than 5500 but it has a history, both real and imagined, that goes back many thousands of years. You feel it when you are there. Just up the road, at the Palace of Nestor, more than 1000 clay tablets were found, inscribed with Linear B, the precursor of ancient Greek writing and dating from 1400BCE.

Pylos also has more ancient ruins than it is possible to visit, caves, rural walks, beaches to die for, Greek stickies by the thousand and plenty of contented sea turtles.

Not been there? Put it on your wish-list and go.

***

If you go…

Where it is

The main square of Pylos is at:

36.91367° N, 21.69643° E

The address is:

Πλατεία Τριών Ναυάρχων

240 01 Pylos

Greece

Getting there (see https://www.rome2rio.com/map/London/Pýlos)

Distances

Kalamata (32 miles), Athens (171 miles), Thessaloniki (423 miles), Milan (1087 miles), Paris (1615 miles), London (1892 miles). I drove there from London in a hybrid electric car.

Rail

London St Pancras – Paris – Turin – Bari (train) – Patras (ferry) – Pyrgos (bus) – Pylos (taxi). There is no railway station in Pylos.

Air

From London, fly to Kalamata or Athens and travel overland from there

Bus

London Victoria (Regiojet) – Prague (Eurolines Germany) – Athens (KTEL Messinias) – Pylos

Parking

Pylos has plenty of car parks.

Accessibility

There is accessible parking in Pylos and mostly it is flat in the harbour area. Pushing a wheelchair is possible, albeit not everywhere. I did.

Places to eat

1. Katerina’s Tavern Restaurant

Address: Romanos Beach, Costa Navarino, Pylos, Pylos-Nestor 24001, Greece

Tel: +302723041312

Web: https://katerinastavernrestaurantsince1967.business.site

Note: Costa Navarino is not in the town of Pylos itself but is certainly a good place to stay and eat, with plenty of choice.

2. Aetos

Address: Pylos, Pylos-Nestor 24001, Greece

Tel: +302723022783

Web: https://www.facebook.com/people/Aetos-restaurant/100063787560520/

Note: Right on Pylos harbourside

3. Kafenion o Platanos

Address: National Road 82 Filellinon, Pylos, Pylos-Nestor, Greece

Tel: +302723022642

Places to stay

1. Karalis City Hotel

Address: 26 Kalamatas, Pylos, Pylos-Nestor 240 01, Greece

Tel: +302723022960

Email: info@hotelkaralis.gr

Web: https://hotelkaralis.gr/en/

2. Miramare Hotel

Address: 3 Tsamadou Anastassiou, Pylos, Pylos-Nestor 24001, Greece

Tel: +302723022751

Web: https://zestrip.net/Miramare-Hotel/

3. The Westin Resort Costa Navarino

Address: Navarino Dunes, Costa Navarino, 24001 Messinia, Greece

Tel: +302723095000

Email: reservations.westin@costanavarino.com

Web: https://www.costanavarino.com

Note: Out of town but almost a town in itself

Other things to see

1. Niokastro: Pylos Castle (Location: 36.91135, 21.69204; http://odysseus.culture.gr/h/3/gh352.jsp?obj_id=19782)

2. Romanos Beach (Location: 36.98640, 21.65269)

3. Nestor’s Cave (Location: 36.96046, 21.65774; http://odysseus.culture.gr/h/2/gh251.jsp?obj_id=16941)

4. Palace of Nestor (Location: 37.02927, 21.69515; http://www.efames.gr/anakt_nest_gr.html)

More information

Pylos – travel in history: https://www.pylos.info/en/home/

Pylos (Wikipedia): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pylos

CityBook Pylos: https://citybook.com.gr

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Richard Villar

Travel writer, doctor & international mountain leader

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