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Monemvasia is one of the most mysterious and magical Peloponnese towns, and a really unique destination. A medieval wonder built into an amphitheatre of rocky cliff, topped by a spectacular castle fortress. Some of the best places to stay in Monemvasia are the restored Venetian mansions turned boutique hotels in the medieval part of town, though if you're looking for something more modern you'll find plenty of choice in Gefyra.
The Byzantines founded Monemvasia in the sixth Century, on a rocky outcrop just 200 meters off the coast of the mainland. Their castle was built on a plateau which rises 100 metres out of the sea, with the rest of the town on a rocky ledge below. The figures are even more breathtaking when you see it.
It may not look it today, but Monemvasia was once a great port on the trade routes between the Mediterranean and the Levant. Around 40,000 people lived here, and they lived well - think fur coats and fine foods. Taken by the Venetians and Ottomans, Monemvasia is a fine example of a city founded by Greeks, transformed and fortified by Venetians, and then restored and fortified again by the Ottomans.
A more modern town has gradually built up on the mainland across from the rocky atoll, with a wonderful, narrow crossing in between. This is called Gefyra. One of the fantastic things about Monemvasia is that you can't really see the town from the mainland, it's hidden - but that does mean that if you stay in Gefyra you won't have the lovely views of the kastro you might imagine...
These days only half of medieval Monemvasia is inhabited, the lower town. But even in the inhabited part there are beautiful ruins in amongst the narrow cobbled streets which also hide a wonderful 16th Century Mosque, several Byzantine churches, a Christian Cathedral, the Archaeological Museum and some surprisingly fine restaurants - including one in the roof of an old tower house.
The upper part of town, leading up to the fortress, is where you'll find more Byzantine ruins. And the church of Ayia Sofia, a rare 11th Century octagonal church which offers spellbinding views over the Aegean - on a clear day you can see all the way to Crete.
As far as swimming is concerned there's Kakavos, a pebble beach to the left of the bridge, which has a row of cafes and bars behind it, Kourkoula, which is more like a giant rock pool on the rocky atoll, and Portelo, also on the rock, which is pretty unusual place for a dip - right in the shadow of the castle.
- Converted from a collection of ancient Venetian buildings Malvasia was the first hotel built in Monemvasia - right between the castle and spectacular views of the sea. Romantic and historic, this is one of the best places to stay in Monemvasia if you're here to explore the history of the place.
Luxury and Relaxation in Monemvasia
- If you're looking for a luxurious escape, the Kinsterna Hotel & Spa is ideal. This collection of 27 rooms is arranged on a working olive and wine estate, in a group of beautiful, traditional buildings and done up in sumptuous style. There's plenty you can do here - explore walking trails, snorkel, visit the sights, or just eat extremely well and totally relax.
Still not sure which to book?
Best Hotels in Monemvasia
Malvasia 21 rooms from $86Monemvasia
Historic charm in a unique location, with dazzling views, close to Monemvasia castle. Rooms have rugs, antiques and plenty of character some with vaulted stone ceilings and terraces with magnificent views over the mediaeval town and Mediterranean Sea. A perfect spot to experience the real Greece.Views - Great views from hotelSights nearby - Just outside the gates of Monemvasia CastleFull of characterHideaway - Tranquil and intimate.
Kinsterna Hotel & Spa 27 rooms from $213Monemvasia
Five Star luxury on a beautiful olive and wine estate. A traditional building with romantic terraces stepped into the valley, each with pools and relaxation areas. Sumptuous rooms and suites are chic and understated. Excellent restaurant, beautiful views. Dreamy.Garden - The estate produces its own crop of wine and olive oil.Total relaxationViews - Great views from hotelRomantic - Good for couples.Recommended by - Mr & Mrs Smith, CN Traveller, Tablet