Exploring Mystras

Mystras castle town, Peloponnese, Greece

Today we’re going to explore yet another Byzantine castle town of the Peloponnese: Mystras, which played an important role in the Byzantine Empire during its final centuries, until it fell to the Ottomans in 1460. Mystras location and view are breathtaking as you get to see the plains of Sparta (the hometown of King Leonidas and the 300 warriors who fought at Thermopylae)! Mystras is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Mystras’ History

Mystras was founded in 1249 by the ruler of the Frankish Principality of Achaea William II of Villehardouin, who built a strong fortress atop the naturally fortified hill of Myzithra in Sparta. Byzantines reclaimed the Peloponnese (and Mystras) in 1262 and became the rulers of the fortress. From then onward a brilliant period started for this medieval fortress state: the hill filled with houses, mansions and palaces, churches and monasteries and the densely populated city was enclosed by two walls.

Mystras castle town, Peloponnese, Greece

After the mid-14th century, when members of the imperial family of Constantinopole assumed rule over Mystras – the Kantakouzenoi (1348-1383) and the Palaiologoi (1383-1460) – the Despotate (as it was called) flourished and developed into an important cultural center closely connected with Constantinopole.

Mystras castle town, Peloponnese, Greece

Mystras’ decline started after 1460 when the Ottomans took over the Byzantine empire. The Venetians occupied it from 1687 to 1715, but otherwise the Ottomans held it until 1821 and the beginning of the Greek War of Independence. It was abandoned under King Otto for the newly rebuilt town of Sparta in 1834.

Mystras Today


Unlike Monemvasia, Mystras was attacked and destructed many times and with the creation of Sparta the historical town was abandoned. Today the visitor gets to wander (and literally hike) among the ruins and visit the churches that are preserved and marvel the Byzantine frescoes. The Pantanassa monastery (prominent in the post’s first photo) in the middle of the “town” provides the visitor with amazing views over Sparta’s plain.

The archaeological site has 2 entrances: one for the lower part of the city and one for the upper part of the city the fortress (because hiking can take a really long time). The latter entrance provides access to Hagia Sofia church and the ruins of the church mint. In this upper part of the city one can also see the Palace where the lords of Mystras resided, but unfortunately entrance is prohibited due to ongoing restoration.

Mystras is a 2,5 hour drive from Athens and just a 10 minute drive from Sparta. It’s beautiful during spring time, but I found it equally imposing in late summer/early autumn. Practical information about the archaeological site can be found in the Ministry of Culture’s website.

Mystras castle town, Peloponnese, Greece

P.S. Linking up to Weekend Wanderlust , Travel Tuesday

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The denim shirt dress

denim shirt dress

Denim is one of my favorite fabrics especially for trousers. Lately I’ve been adding more denim items in my wardrobe starting off with a denim shirt and now with this denim shirt dress. It’s a little shorter than I’d like it to be (and that’s the main reason I’m not wearing it with a belt), but I love the color and lightweight feel of this dress which makes it ideal for transitional seasons like fall and spring!

I wore the denim shirt dress the other day, while visiting museums in Athens, something I haven’t done for a long time! I visited the National Archaeological Museum and the Byzantine+Christian Museum, which were renovated for the 2004 Athens Olympic Games look very sleek (especially the Byzantine one). I paired the dress with Folli Follie hoop earrings and my most comfortable ballet flats from Kalogirou (a well known Greek luxury footwear brand).

Here’s a small glimpse of what I saw in the Museums…proper posts will follow in my Aspects of Athens blog!

Wall painting from Acrotiri, Santorini in National Archaeological Museum, Athens

Tell me, do you like denim as much as I do?

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old gospel at Byzantine and Christian Museum, Athens

P.S. Linking up to What I Wore

Exploring the castletown of Monemvasia

Monemvasia, GreeceWhen you approach Monemvasia all you can see is an imposing big rock standing next to the coast, discerning just a few buildings on top of it. The city remains unseen as it is located in the south-east corner of the rock, which is connected to the mainland with a bridge making it the only access point to the city. That’s how Monemvasia got its name: from the words “moni” (μονή) and “emvasi” (έμβαση) meaning single access.

That rock gave to the city the nickname “Gibraltar of the East” due to the similarity to the Gibraltar rock (in smaller scale) and “Castle above the Clouds” as the city was originally built on top of the rock.

Monemvasia’s History

The first inhabitants of Monvemvasia got there about 8000 years ago. Back then it wasn’t an island but properly connected to the mainland. In 375 AD a strong earthquake took place making Monemvasia’s rock an island and submerging neighboring cities in the water. The rock was inhabited in 582 AD from local population as the rock was an ideal place to be fortified as it was by the sea and had difficult access. The first inhabitants lived on the top of the rock and around that time the bridge was constructed.

Monemvasia, Greece

Monemvasia had a prominent role in the Byzantine Empire. Due to its location, Monemvasia’s fate was aligned with the Grand Powers of each time: the Byzantines, the Venetians, the Francs, the Pope and the Ottomans. When the Francs took over the Byzantine Empire in 1204 AD it took them 40 (!) years to conquer Monemvasia…only to lose it soon after to the Byzantines.

The city flourished during the 13th and 14th centuries, which are called Monemvasia’s “golden era”. During this period the city consisted of 8000 residences split among 40 parishes. In July 1821 Monevasia was the first Peloponnesian castle to be freed by the Greek rebels during the independence war (from the Ottoman Empire).  After the liberation, fighting between rival factions for control of the fortress led to its decline and depopulation. In the early 20th century most inhabitants abandoned the city for the new settlement, Gefyra that sprang up across the bridge on the mainland. (history source)

Monemvasia today

Nowadays most of the buildings in the Lower Town are restored and many of them are converted to hotels, stores and restaurants. It is the best preserved medieval town in Greece and a popular weekend destination all year round.

During our visit, my husband and I wandered around the Lower Town and visited a few of the churches located there. The town has many narrow streets and steps and is like a maze but thankfully there are signs to help you get around. There is a hiking path that leads to Upper Town, but access is prohibited nowadays due to ongoing archaeological excavations.

Monemvasia can be easily reached (from Athens) by car or bus. You can opt for the quickest route via Tripoli and Sparti (300 km, 4hrs) or the more scenic one via Argos, Paralio Astros and Leonidio (297 km, 5hrs).

Monemvasia, Greece

P.S. Linking up to Weekend Wanderlust , Monday Escapes with Packing my Suitcase and  My Travel Monkey, Travel Tuesday

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Ioanna Kourbela A/W 15: Day to Night

Ioanna Kourbela a/w 2015 Day to Night

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the press day for Ioanna Kourbela’s autumn/winter 2015 collection called Day to Night. Ioanna is a young Greek fashion designer known for her minimalist aesthetic which embraces simplicity and the charm of classical harmony.

Day to Night collection uses natural fibers like wool, cotton and cellulose (which is used to produce paper, so it looks and feels like paper). The colors are neutral: vanilla white, black, golden brown, light blue and grey though there are a couple of beet red accents.  Ioanna Kourbela designed a collection that can be worn all day long, with clean, geometric lines that mimic the hourglass figure. The clothes are made up from combination of stiff with flow-y fabrics.

Being a fan of anything embroidered I was driven to a part of the collection called Grandiose and features two dresses (a mini and a midi), two tops and high waisted skirt in white color and applicated with embroidery. Below on the left you can see one of the tops with light pink embroidery. As my photos don’t do the clothes justice (still figuring out the settings of my DSLR) I also included lookbook photos of my favorite pieces from the collection.

P.S. check out the collection’s video as well, which I called an ode to Athens!

Ioanna Kourbela a/w 2015 Day to Night

Visiting Knossos: Europe’s oldest city

Knossos, Heraklion, Crete

I’m sure you’re all familiar with the word labyrinth, aren’t you? You might as well have heard about the myth of Minotaur, the half bull half human creature which was killed by Theseus with the help of Ariadne. Yes I know, lots of characters in just one sentence, but you can read the (quick) story over at Wikipedia. Well, today I’m taking you to the actual place where this myth takes place: the city and palace of Knossos.

The archaeological site

Knossos, Heraklion, Crete

The city and palace of Knossos date from 1700BC. The site was discovered in late 19th century by Minos Kalokairinos and excavations started in 1900 by British archaeologist Arthur Evans. The excavations uncovered the palace, warehouses, private houses and a very sophisticated sewage system. Many of the buildings featured elaborate murals, which are now housed in the archaeological museum of Heraklion. One thing you should keep in mind is that a large part of the palace is re-constructed according to Evans perception based on writings and descriptions of the palace.

Notable decorative details found throughout the palace, are the double axe (labrys), bull horns, people, mythological creatures, real animals, vegetation, and marine life. At this point it should be noted that the word labyrinth originates from the word labrys and it’s no wonder that it ended up meaning a maze, because this palace is a maze indeed!

Knossos, Heraklion, Crete

A few places to check out in the palace are the Throne room (pictured above) and the Queen’s quarters. The former is a room with painted walls in beige and red colors and features mythical creatures called griffins as well as an alabaster throne. The Queen’s quarters have dolphins painted on the walls and had a bathtub, which was unique for the time.

Practical tips and information

Knossos, Heraklion, Crete

The archaeological site of Knossos is open year round, apart from certain holidays. It gets the most visitors during summertime, as people combine their vacations with sightseeing (I can’t blame them, this place is unique). During summertime the site is open from 8am until 7pm. The entrance fee is 6€ (reduced 3€) and there is a combined ticket of 10€ (reduced 5€) for visiting both the archaeological site of Knossos and Heraklion Archaeological Museum. Upon entering the site you will find a kiosk with guides (for free), which tour the site and explain the history of the place. There is a tour in English for sure, but I’m sure there are other languages available as well. I didn’t join a tour during my visit but it comes very handy because as I told you, this place is a maze and you will learn more about Knossos from the guide than the information signs which can be found throughout the site.

Knossos, Heraklion, Crete

Based on my personal experience I strongly advise you to visit either early in the morning or after 5pm, as it is very hot during summertime and the site has a few areas of shade. I’ve written a couple of tips on what to wear when visiting Knossos as well! As for the ticket options I recommend the combined one because all the frescoes found in Knossos are located in the museum and the ones you see in Knossos are reconstructions.

Have you visited Knossos?

P.S. Linking up to Weekend Wanderlust , Travel Tuesday

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Knossos, Heraklion, Crete

What to Wear: Leisure Walk

Urban Outfitters cardigan and Zara tank top

I love to walk and take advantage of every opportunity on doing so, even in downtown Athens. It’s easier to walk while on vacations though, even on the beach, on the promenade or on country roads. The latter happens when I visit my husband’s village in Crete, which is up in the mountains and has a couple of trails that I like to walk on! I was there last August and although it was very hot in the coastal towns, it was rather windy up in the mountains, where the village is located (that’s why you’re seeing a cardigan in these photos).

For leisure walks comfort is the key for me! The outfit I chose this time consisted of leggings (these are from Guess), my trusty Zara tank top and a cardigan (from Urban Outfitters)! Shoe wise I went for my comfortable pair of Fanstasy Sandals (also styled with a tropical print dress). And no need for a bag since the cardigan has pockets! This outfit works well as a transitional one to fall as it contains both summer (tank top, sandals) and fall (cardigan, leggings) elements!

P.S. Fun fact: those pictures where shot in the same place where I had my day after wedding photoshoot!

Tell me, which is your outfit of choice for a leisure walk?

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Featured in Links a la Mode!

links a la mode

A quick post to let you know that my post What to Wear: Greek Holidays was featured on  IFB’s (Independent Fashion Bloggers) link round up this week!

Links à la Mode, September 17

SPONSOR: Shopbop Paul & Joe Sister, James Jeans, MiH Jeans, Tibi, Tory Burch, Straight Leg Jeans, Peasant Blouses, Sweaters and Cardigans, Over the Knee Boots, The Kooples

The essential guide to Elafonisos

The Essential Guide to Elafonisos, Greece

“What are you doing next weekend?” said my friend, “Come along with us, we are going to Elafonisos. They say the sea there is Caribbean turquoise”.  I jumped on the opportunity and visited the small island. That was 5 years ago. Since then I’ve been to Elafonisos twice more (the most recent visit being a few weeks ago) and since I love it so much (the beach is indeed divine), it’s time to introduce it to you too!

Elafonisos (Ελαφόνησος) is a small island off the coast of southeastern Peloponnese in the region of Lakonia. It’s a popular relaxing holiday destination for years. Thankfully the island isn’t over-developed, so the raw beauty of the island is still there!

What to see and do

There isn’t much you can do in this island either than relax, swim, tan, make sand castles…and that’s what people come here for! It is also family and dog friendly (because cats don’t give a damn about the sea)!

Beaches you shouldn’t miss

Simos beach, Elafonisos, Greece

Elafonisos is famous for its beaches and particularly Simos beach, which is actually divided into 2 parts: small and big Simos. The first one faces southeast and the latter southwest. In both beaches the sea has this turquoise hue and tropical feeling (minus the palm trees). The island has another large beach to the west called Panagia with similar sea color, and various smaller ones.

Related: 10 Greek Beaches you shouldn’t miss

The natural environment in Elafonisos is protected under the Natura 2000 act, as the sand dunes on the beaches are home to unique flowers and vegetation. For this reason there aren’t any beach bars (but there are small cafes in the entry points of each beach) and the areas with umbrellas and sunbeds (to rent) are limited. You are more than welcome to bring your own gear (you are going to need an umbrella if you plan to spend a lot of time on the beach), as both beaches have ample space.

Where to stay

Elafonisos, Greece

There are various rooms to let, some with breakfast and some without. A search in Booking.com will bring up about 23 establishments in Elafonisos. I’ve stayed in two of them: En Plo and Pallas Pension, both of which are located on the seafront, right next to each other. There is also a camping on big Simos beach.

Where to eat

Salad in Kouzini, Elafonisos

Small island though it may be, Elafonisos has  many places to eat. For fish/seafood I suggest Menti brothers (almost opposite the church) and Aronis fish tavern (the last one on the promenade, facing west). Stin Akri is an all-day café/restaurant with delicious breakfast options (you’ll find it opposite the church). The one bar/restaurant that I frequented during my last visit was Kouzini, which features Greek cuisine “with a twist”. They also feature delicious salads and award-winning cocktails on their menu.

When to visit

Table by the sea in Kouzini, Elafonisos port, Greece

As all Greek islands, Elafonisos gets crowded during July and August. My favorite period to visit is early September as it’s not so crowded and not too hot (although the temperature this year was an exception).

How to get there

Church in Elafonisos, Greece

In order to get to Elafonisos you need a car. There is the possibility to reach it by bus (via Neapoli) but in the island there is no availability to rent bikes/motorbikes and cars and the distance from the port to the beach is 5km. The distance from Athens is 328km (miles) and you’ll need at least 5 hours to get there (without stop). If you’re coming from Europe via the Ancona-Patras ferry, you’ll need around 6 hours to get from Patras to Elafonisos (there are 2 available routes).

Have you visited Elafonisos?

Abandoned boats in Elafonisos, Greece Elafonisos, Greece


P.S. Linking up to Weekend Wanderlust , Monday Escapes with Packing my Suitcase and  My Travel Monkey, Travel Tuesday

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My ideal tropical print dress

Tropical print dress in Elafonisos

Until 8 years ago I didn’t own anything floral…I went only for monochrome (meaning one color and not black and white) clothing pieces or striped one, but never floral. Until I found the perfect floral dress for me…it was dark blue and had brown, white, burnt orange and baby blue colored flowers. A few years ago I stumbled upon this tropical print dress, during the summer sales! I was in a shop with my mum and she looked for a dress and of course I perused the racks too and found this little gem!

I loved the colors: emerald-green, blue, magenta, the tropical print and the wrap detail which made it ideal for summer! I usually wear it with magenta peep toed high heels and my Kate Spade slingbacks, but this time I wore it with my trusty Fantasy Sandals, as I never carry heels with me during summer vacations! The tropical print dress is from a brand called Fifilles, Paris.

Tropical print dress in Elafonisos

I shot these photos in Elafonisos where I spent a part of my holidays! You might have seen some glimpses on Instagram! If not, come by on Thursday as I am going to share the essential guide on visiting Elafonisos!

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Crete Road Trip: Heraklion to Ierapetra

Agios Nikolaos lake, Crete, Greece

During the last 3 years I’m spending my vacations in Crete (even got married there) as my husband comes from the island. His village is located in the center of Crete (literally), so we can venture out either to the west or the east in (almost) equal time! In the past we took road trips mostly to the west in the regions of Rethymno and Chania, as there are more interesting beaches there, including Elafonisi, one of the Greek beaches you shouldn’t miss!

This year though I decided to take a road trip to the east, visiting Agios Nikolaos, Plaka and Ierapetra, all in the Region of Lasithi. Agios Nikolaos is around 63 km (39 miles) from Heraklion and the road condition is pretty good. From there on towards Plaka to the north and Ierapetra to the south the road gets narrower.

Agios Nikolaos

Agios Nikolaos is a small city compared to Chania, Rethymno and Heraklion and it doesn’t have a Venetian fortress like the other 3 cities! It does have a lake that used to be a cave (but the top collapsed many many years ago) and a nice promenade where you can walk next to the sea from the marina towards the port and the lake (not ideal at midday though!). Around the lake there are many restaurants and cafes!

Agios Nikolaos marina, Crete, Greece

We didn’t spend much time in Agios Nikolaos and after our walk we headed north to Plaka for lunch.


You might have read (or heard about) the book The Island. If not (I haven’t ), let me tell you that it takes place in this area. Opposite Plaka is a fortress island called Spinalonga. This island was already a fortress since the antiquity but it was the Venetians who gave to the island its current name and fortified it further. From 1905 until 1957 lepers were banished there so as not to come in contact with the rest of the population. In 1957 the inhabitants of Spinalonga where cured with antibiotics and the island was abandoned. Nowadays you can take a boat from Plaka or Agios Nikolaos and visit it.

Ostria restaurant, Plaka, Crete, Greece

While in Plaka, stop for fresh fish and seafood at Ostria at the northern end of the village. There is a pebble beach next to it with crystal clear waters if you fancy a swim too!

After lunch it was time to resume our road trip and head south!


Ierapetra fortress, Crete, Greece

Ierapetra is the southernmost city in Europe. In front of you is the Libyan sea and on a perfectly clear day you can see all the way to Egypt! Despite the heat we walked along the promenade, which is lined with cafes and restaurants, until we reached the fortress (built by the Venetians as well).

Ierapetra, Crete, Greece

For the return back home (to the village of Agia Varvara) we chose the south road, which is more scenic, has less traffic, but is in worse condition! Unfortunately I have no photos from this route as we were pressed for time!

If you do have a lot of time in Crete it is a road trip worth taking (to Ierapetra at least). You can drive further to the west as well and visit Siteia, as well as Vai, which is the largest natural palm forest in Europe!

Have you visited Crete?

For more wanderlust inspiration here are snapshots from previous vacations in Crete!

P.S. Linking up to Weekend Wanderlust , Monday Escapes with Packing my Suitcase and  My Travel Monkey

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