Thomson Holidays

Coastal caves

Boat tours of Meganissi island will almost certainly include the impressive sea caves that have carved their way into the soft white limestone along the west coast of Meganissi.

The biggest, and by far the most famous of these, is the Papanikolis Cave which is said to be the second largest sea cave in Greece. Papanikolis Cave has a huge chamber about 120 metres long and 60 metres wide.

There is an estimated 40,000 square feet of water surface in the cave chamber and the roof is about 30 metres above the water at the highest point. There is plenty of room to get a boat inside and island caiques usually venture inside. There is even a sandy crescent at the deepest point of the cave.

Papanikolis Cave is thought to have been used as a hiding place for German submarines in World War II, but I've yet to have this confirmed.

Stalactites drop down from the roof and cavern walls at this and several other caves along this part of the coast. Another nearby cave ,called the Alabaster Cave, has even more impressive stalactites than Papanikolis. Other well-known caves in the region are those of Yiovani and Demona, accessible only by boat.

Kalamos & Kastos

A couple of islets lie to the east of Meganissi and they are a popular destination for day trips by boat. Kalamos is the biggest at 20 sq km and the islet has four hamlets at Kalamos, Episkopi, Kastro and Kefali. The pretty harbour of Kalamos lies is a crescent bay beneath Mt Vouni (750m) on the east side of the island.

The traditional stone houses are packed around the harbour front, each separated from the other by the narrowest of cobbled alleyways. There are only about 600 permanent residents here but visiting yachts help keep a couple of waterfront tavernas busy in high summer.

A coast road snakes north-east out of Kalamos, through the dense pine woods, to the tiny port at Episkopi which has a few summer apartments and a small quay for fishing boats. At the kastro above Episkopi is a derelict fortified monstery.

The road to Episkopi passes a shingle beach at Agios Konstantinos - one of the few on the islet accessible by road. There are several beach coves on the Kalamos coast, the most notable called Myrtia, Asproyiali, Agriapidia, Pefki and Kefali but they are only accessible by boat.

Kastos is an even smaller islet and it has a single hamlet of traditional stone houses and tavernas built around the small harbour. Only about 50 people live here permanently but numbers swell considerably in the summer.

All the beaches on Kastos are found along the eastern shore and they include Ambelakia, Fyki, Vali, Kilada, Aghios Aimilianos, Limni, Kamini and Vrisidi and all can be reached along dirt tracks. The western side of Kastos is sheer cliffs and rock and there are no beaches, just a small, sheltered quay at Sarakiniko.

The church of Agios Ioannis is worth a visit for the fine paintings and the islet Prasonisi, near the harbour, has good views of the bay. Kastos is also noted for its windmills , although they are all in private hands so you can't visit without permission. One windmill is thought to be the best preserved in the Ionian islands and it still has its orginal milling mechanism intact.

Ancient windmills

The are several old windmills on Meganissi and the neighbouring islets of Kalamos and Kastos. Most of them, unfortunately, are now derelict. Scattered over the hillsides to catch the winds, the windmills of Meganissi are often difficult to reach.

Several shells of old windmills can be seen on the hillside above Atherinos on Meganissi and they must have been a glorious site when operational in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Many were sited on steep sided slopes to gain full advantage of the southerly winds. Windmills were privately owned and took their names from the owners such as Bakolas Mill and Hymos Mill.

There are thought to be about 40 mills on Meganissi - many more if you count Kalamos and Kastos - but all that remains of most are the circles of the threshing floors.

Also of interest on Meganissi are the water wells which can be found the the island villages. None are used to actually draw water but they make an attractive sight. The Ferentinos well, in Spilia, is typical.

Old olive presses, too, can still be found on the islands. Olive groves are everywhere and many of the trees are ancient. Scores of island olive presses have been lost but a few survive. The traditional Zavitsanos press, in Spartochori, is still used for the island's autumn olive harvest. There are plans to restore a donkey-powered olive-press in Vathy and to turn it into an industrial museum.