For a small island only about 1000 square kilometers, Monemvasia packs in a lot of history and charm. It is one of the most perfect romantic weekend getaways for couples or a great place to travel with friends and family.
The island was originally settled in the 6th century by the Byzantines. It soon became an important trading port for the empire and supplied products to another of our favorite sites in Greece, the Byzantine city of Mystras. During the nearly 8 centuries of Byzantine rule, the population swelled to 40,000 people at one point. Amazing to imagine if you visit today.
After the fall of the city of Constantinople (now Istanbul), Monemvasia was the only Byzantine city not conquered by the Ottomans. The Turkish-Venetian war of 1463 led the citizens of Monemvasia to surrender to the papal rule and then to Venice. The city became known as Napoli di Malvasia under the Venetians and was a key trading hub for wine produced in the Peloponnese. So much so that during the Middle Ages wine shops in Venice were known as malvasie.
The island was once attached to the mainland but became separated after an earthquake in 375 AD. There was a bridge leading from the mainland to the island which was the only point of entry, thus the name Monemvasia which means “single entrance” in Greek. Now you can reach the island via the 400m causeway or by ferry in the summertime.
Monemvasia is now a popular tourist destination especially in the summer. There are plenty of hotels, shops and restaurants in the lovely medieval town. Most of the narrow streets can only be navigated on foot and by donkeys making it a charming place to wander and discover. Monemvasia is great to visit any time of year. In the autumn and winter the island will be very quiet – you may have it all to yourself – ideal for romantic weekend getaways for couples. Easter week and August are very busy, but spring and summer are beautiful times to visit.
THINGS TO DO IN MONEMVASIA
- Climb the zigzagging pathway to the top of the island, a flat plateau where you’ll find the Byzantine church of Agia Sofia as well as remains of other Byzantine structures. The views are outstanding!
- Head to the central square to visit the Christos Elkomenos church. It is a beautiful and peaceful small church with Venetian details. Did you know there are something like 40 chapels in this small village?
- The tiny Archaeology Museum across from the church is worth a visit to see the building – a mosque – and chat with the curator.
- Go for a swim in the deep waters below the castle. Portello on the rocky shoreline has a flat area for sunbathing and diving.
- Have lunch or dinner at Matoula Restaurant. This typical Greek taverna is supposedly the oldest shop on the island. They serve fresh and tasty food. We enjoyed wine, cheese, tzatziki, olives, horta, salads, eggplant, grilled bread – all was delicious!
- Craving a cocktail? Head to Enetiko Cafe & Cocktail Bar. Their terrace has an amazing view.
- Enjoy a unique experience at Byron’s Wine Kamara, tasting local wines and enjoying appetizers while chatting with owner Byron.
THINGS TO DO NEARBY MONEMVASIA ISLAND
- Check out the amazing Kastania caves
- Visit a local winery like Malvasia Wines
- Head to the beach! Kourkoula is a long pebble beach near the island and Ambelakia Beach in Xifias has a great view of the island. For the best sandy beach nearby make your way to Plytra, complete with sunbeds, umbrellas and restaurants.
MONEMVASIA HOTELS & ACCOMMODATION
Relax while enjoying the stunning views at Malvasia Traditional Hotel or charming rooms at Hotel Byzantino in the town center. There are many Monemvasia hotels to choose from. You’ll even find apartments and rooms for rent on sites like Airbnb.