I have seen this view 1000 times and it never fails to mesmerize me. The colors change with the light, the season and a sudden change in weather. Those peaks, the arched back of the earth, are bruised blue one day and hazy burnished terracotta the next. The water is indigo, luminous turquoise or gunmetal grey.
This is the view of the Corinthian Gulf from the seaside town of Xylokastron (which translates as wooden castle) on the northern shore of the Peleponnese peninsula in Greece. Standing on the beach, there are mountains behind you and mountains in front of you.
I used to live there. It was a sleepy town of 5000 souls that came alive in summer when Athenian families decamped for long vacations. The Periptero, the restaurant and cafe on the beach, would be full of visitors drinking coffee, ordering ice cream parfait, mezedes and frosty cold beer. Seafront tavernas were busy all day and night, serving swordfish souvlakia, Greek salads bright with tomatoes, peppers, crunchy cucumbers and snow-white feta cheeze drizzled with olive oil.
Strolling along the seafront at night was compulsory, to people watch and meet up with friends, and feel the soft salty air on sun-kissed shoulders. Foreign tourists were rare. But the Xylokastron dimarchio (council) was industrious in advising campers of local etiquette.
“You ought not sleep in the forst” said the sign at the entrance to a whispering pine forest adjacent to the beach that stretched for several kilometres.
A handful of hotels reflected the style of European spa resorts from another era.
In the back streets it was traditional houses with tiled rooves and turquoise, green and red shuttered windows. Wrought-iron gates secured gardens and courtyards decorated with potted geraniums and crimson and purple bougainvilleas, where residents would sit in the evenings and children played.
In the off season, it was just us locals and weekend visitors. Occasionally it would snow in winter, blackening the citrus trees’ load of oranges and lemons.
It has changed of course. Apartment buildings are everywhere, overshadowing the pretty traditional homes. Hotels are expensive as 900 euros a night or as little as 75 euros. There are nightclubs, bars and masses of places to eat.
But that view is still as magnificent and as potent as it ever was.
The Corinthian Gulf is a very deep inlet of the Ionian Sea, separating the Peleponnese from the mainland. A few minutes from Xylokastron a new bridge spans the gulf at Rio Antirrio, taking traffic into northwest Greece. The beaches are pebbles rather than sand, and the depth of the gulf makes the water slow to warm in the summer but it remains warm until late autumn.
Xylokastron is 117km from Athens, and only 20 minutes drive back down the motorway is modern and ancient Corinth. High season is July and August.
Other ancient sites such as Olympia and Mycenae are an easy drive.
Daphne’s Club Hotel Apartments on Sikilianou St are highly recommended. Four-star rating. Apartments start from 75 euros a night. There is an outdoor playground for children, if they are sick of the beach. Even yoga and bellydancing workshops are offered. How times have changed! Call 27430 22966 for reservations.
Buses run from Athens to Xylokastron 6am to 9pm daily. A new suburban train service will take you from Athens International Airport to the nearby town of Kiato, which is 10km from Xylokastron. A taxi can be arranged to pick you up. Phone Daphne’s for details.