When I saw that Methana was featured in the New York Times as being one of the top 50 destinations to visit I was both proud and surprised. What would make someone from New York travel across the Atlantic to the little (almost an) island of Methana?
But after spending a few weekends on Methana in the Autumn and the Spring, I realised Methana is just what is needed for people who live busy lives. It’s the perfect place to slow down, enjoy the peace and tranquillity of this wild, unique and isolated location.
Despite feeling like it’s cut off from the world, Methana is not an island, as it’s connected to the Peloppense by an isthmus and it’s only 2 hours sailing from Piraeus. The ferry times mean you can visit for a weekend or a longer stay.
Methana is a hiker’s dream. It was formed by volcanoes thousands of years ago, resulting in dramatic landscapes, challenging hills and stunning summits. The volcanic soil is rich in nutrients, so the gardens in the small villages are full of beautiful blooms in Spring and the trees on the hills are rich in golden leaves in Autumn. It’s also a great location for cycling - the roads are smooth, scenic and almost empty of traffic. And you can take a bicycle for free on Saronic Ferries.
To see the volcano is essential and there are a number of ways to do it. Formidably active runners go from the Port to the volcano village of Kameni Hora in the course of a morning as part of the Methana Volcano Challenge trail race! But you have the more traditional option to cycle or go by car or motorbike along the coast. You'll go past the spellbinding milky water of the old mineral baths, past the dazzling turquoise sea with mineral waters flowing in, along the peninsula and, before Methana’s isthmus, start the undulating roads past emerald bays to the village of Vathy.
The entrance to Vathy is marked by a sign for an old Acropolis and the Church of St George, that can both be easily reached only a few hundred metres from the road. There are lots of shaded beach umbrellas along the front of the village and the small sheltered port of Vathy boasts a number of tavernas, and of course, cats.
But you will keep following the signs to the tiny village of Kameni Chora, and its approximately 15 inhabitants. The village, whose name translates as Burnt Village, is nestled on a bed of lava, which came from one of Methana’s eruptions more than 2000 years ago. The village itself is fertile, with olive trees growing in beautiful terraces and in spring, have vibrant red anemones flowering below. But volcanic rock forms the high hillsides around this village and it’s rumoured the caves in the area are cold enough to be used for cold storage!
If you are hiking and cycling around Methana, be warned, it’s a small place and due to its remoteness, everyone will keep an eye on you. Kindly residents always checked that my bicycle or energy levels were ok when they found me at the top of climbs or by the side of the road.
I started walking from just outside Vathy to the volcano trail head. A car had passed me when I was cycling earlier and now as I was walking, the car pulled over. “I’ll take you to the volcano” the driver offered and I gratefully accepted so I could save my legs for more exploring. My driver was Vangelli, a Methana local who had travelled around Australia and had great stories to tell. He was Methana’s own version of the Durrell's Spiros Americanos. He offered to wait for me and bring me back down, but I wanted time to explore and he went off to feed his horse. You don’t get that in New York.
There’s a friendly taverna in Kameni Chora, in fact you soon realise everyone is friendly! I didn’t meet all of the village’s 15 inhabitants but I did meet a local lady who just wanted to share her news, a donkey and a cat, and two gents in the taverna.
The trail to the volcano is quite short - the sign suggests a 25 minute walk, but the trail is rocky so bring good shoes. The views are stunning and you can spend much longer there, admiring the bays, looking across to Aegina and feeling like you’re sitting in a landscape from Mars.
There are many more places to hike than the volcano and the island is rich in history dating back to the Mycenaean as well as nature. The landscape here is stunning in its wildness.
At the end of a hard day’s hiking you can soak in the unique waters of Methana. The sea water on the edge of town is the most obvious place, and handrails will guide you down, so everyone can have a dip. There’s also a little shallow rock pool full of warm water just past the basketball courts at the far end of the town.
When it's time to leave, all journeys from Methana end at the same place: the colourful chairs of Methana BB cafe near the port. It’s where everyone sits and waits for the ferry, having a final ouzo, wine or freshly squeezed juice to mark the end of a weekend or week away.
And guess who’s booming voice will greet you as you come to take a seat? It's none other than Vangelli who greets me as warmly as he does his regulars. When the ferry pulls into port and I make my way to leave, Vangelli calls out, because, having seen me three times this weekend, he knows he will see me if I come again. There's nowhere and no reason to hide on this beautiful and wild part of the Saronic!