Ancient Olympia & Mercouri Vineyards
Katakolon Greece……… a tiny port lined by red roofed shops, bars and restaurants, where hundreds of tables and chairs and even some modern couches blanketed the waterfront walk, presenting us with quite a dilemma….. which one to pick? Fortunately for us, that decision could be delayed. We had a bus to catch to the ancient home of the Olympics.
Walking into Olympia you immediately get a sense of how important this now ruined ancient site was. Tall slim fluted columns no longer hold up roofs, but surround empty grassy spaces, some with relics of marble tubs and benches. Tumbled columns look as if some giant pushed them over causing each marble disc to slide down to rest next to the one in front like a set of round fluted dominoes.
Our guide who looked like a Greek goddess herself as she was dressed in a pleated flowing top, was well versed in the history of the Olympic games in this place and showed us drawings of what each area would have looked like in 776 BC, when the games began and Olympia had been sparkling with new white marble sanctuaries with beautifully carved temple columns and statuary. Before our each of our modern Olympic Games, the Olympic torch flame is still lit today by sunlight on a mirror in front of the Temple of Hera.
My favorite piece of information our guide presented was the fact that there were monuments not just for the Olympic winners, but also for the losers and cheaters! This was done to promote the best performances and competitive integrity from the Olympians. They could easily see how their shame would be on display should they stray from the straight and narrow of the Olympian code. These monuments lined the path to the stadium.
After walking through the arched entry to the large stadium, we found ourselves on the long grassy field where marble starting blocks still mark each end. You can’t help but act like the crazy tourist and pretend to race off those blocks! Since it was another hot dry day, we opted to walk the field not run it, but you could imagine the crowds that would have ringed the shallow field roaring for their favorites. Little trace of those seats remains and now the field is surrounded by a gentle slope.
Leaving the ancient world behind, we headed off to Mercouri Vineyards near the village of Korakohori to join the contemporary world in a tour and wine tasting. The winery is lovely with an old Italianate residence which stands gracefully, its faded pastel stucco walls draped with ivy and stone buildings that house the winery and lush gardens dotted with antique farm equipment, populated with colorful peacocks, and surrounded by tidy rows of grape vines that seem to go on for miles. When we gathered in front of the visitor center we were greeted by a huge friendly St. Bernard who seemed to be keeping an eye on the peacocks.
The estate was founded by Theodore Mercouri, a wealthy cotton merchant from Egypt in 1860 and in 1870, Refosco grape vine trimmings from Italy were planted and the first wine was produced under the name Mercouri. The first modern winery was established in the 1930’s and now the fourth generation of the family remains involved in winemaking.
They have experimented with planting of several varietals including, the red varieties; Avgoustiatis, Mourvedre, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet, Cabernet Franc, Sangiovese and Grenache and the white varieties; Malvasia Aromatica, Ribolla Gialla, Sauvignon Blanc, Tourkopoula and Viognier. Those that worked well became part of the blend for the wines they produced.
The tour of the winery takes you back through time to the old days of hand operated wooden presses and oak barrels, stone wine amphora and rooms that look as if their occupants from early in the century just walked away for a moment, where a beautifully laid table and grandfather clock still wait for them. The tour ends at their spic and span modern facility equipped with stainless steel vats bottlers and the storage rooms filled with rows upon rows of oak barrels and which smelled of wine and yeast.
The actual tasting area is a lovely area behind the winery where you can sit at tables under tall shady trees and eat samplings of the estates olives, spicy sausage and bread with olive oil, while the gracious host and vintner tells you about the intricacies of the wine you are sipping. After the tasting, we headed directly into the purchasing area to buy a half-case of our favorites. Alas……only a couple of the bottles made it home since we drank most of them sitting on our balcony outside our stateroom on the ship watching the sun set over the Ionian Sea. We simply couldn’t resist and wished we had sent a case directly home!
Before returning to the ship we had one last stop in Katakolon for shopping while the guys lounged along the harbor front drinking Greek beer. Just off the waterfront you can find lanes filled with tourist shops selling just about every type of souvenir under the sun, but we were searching for sundresses. We wanted that same Greek goddess look our guide had worn so well. It was tons of fun to try dresses on behind the makeshift dressing rooms made up from folding screens, one of us always standing outside to hold them together since they provided pretty precarious privacy!
Dresses and other purchases in hand, we reluctantly walked back to the ship, picking up the men along the way, but we all agreed, that the day had been wonderful and I personally thought that Katakolon was one of the best ports on cruise!