By Thanasis Krekoukias
Edited by Paulina Björk Kapsalis
The first meeting with Messinia set the tone for the race: Descending from Tsakona, the cyclists rolled south along Pamisos River, passing by the stone walls and well-preserved monuments of Ancient Messene dating back to the Classical, Hellenistic and Roman periods, and finishing the étape at Kalamata harbor, below its famed castle and the towering Mount Taygetus – a tantalizing first taste of the region’s offerings.
I was reporting on the DEI International Tour of Hellas, a large part of which was set this year in the Peloponnese. The next day, the 114 cyclists who had arrived from near and far gathered at Navarino Dunes, at Costa Navarino, to begin the third étape of the 5-day event – this one characterized by natural marvels and the picturesque charm of the Messinian towns and villages. From here, they pedaled by Greece’s southernmost major wetland, Gialova lagoon, and the iconic Voidokilia Beach. With a view towards Sfaktiria island and the bay of Navarino, which was once the setting for the history-defining naval Battle of Navarino, they then followed the coast through the little town of Pylos with the Ottoman Neokastro fortress, and continued all around the Peloponnese’s fourth “finger” through the medieval castle towns of Methoni and Koroni, and the wide sandy beaches of Finikounda and Petalidi. Finally, the étape came to an end in the central square of Kyparissia, where those with enough remaining strength could explore the lovely Upper Town and the Castle of Arcadia.
On the last day of the event, which once again began at Costa Navarino, the athletes headed north in the direction of Nestor’s Palace, before returning to the coast and moving along the Kyparissia Gulf to Ancient Olympia, finishing in one of the most important archaeological sites in the world – the place that gave birth to the Olympic Games.
It was, by all measures, a successful event. Speaking to overall winner after the race, Iuri Leitao said: “It was an unforgettable experience. It was my first time competing at this event, and I want to acknowledge the fine job done by the organizers, who provided excellent preparation and luxurious accommodation. Costa Navarino was the biggest surprise – the best destination I’ve ever visited. Without a doubt, along with the win, this was the perfect setting for creating an unforgettable memory.”
With thousands of years of history, countless monuments and sights, natural beauty to boot and excellent roads largely devoid of traffic, Messinia is an ultimate place for cycling, which became abundantly clear at this year’s event. The impressive images of the athletes whizzing through the olive groves, past historical sites and along the sea were broadcast in 174 countries around the globe. The official Destination Partner of the event, Costa Navarino, which hosted the athletes, their companies and various VIPs, famously works to promote the region of Messinia as well, protecting and spreading the word of their pristine natural surroundings. The resorts (W Costa Navarino and The Westin Resort Costa Navarino) were a constant cause for enthusiasm and group conversation ahead of the start in the mornings.
Greece’s first cycling star to earn a World Champion title, mountain bike marathoner Periklis Ilias, who has roots in Kyparissia, said: “This is by far the most beautiful hotel we’ve ever stayed at on any tour. […] The routes in Messinia were fantastic, with quiet roads, nice mountains, and incredible views of Greece! It’s hard to find a good location in combination with good hospitality and accommodation, but Messinia and Costa Navarino manage that on a very high level,” while Polish rider Stanislaw Aniolkowski, who took first place in two of the étapes, expressed hope to return on vacation next year, bringing his family.
Echoing everyone’s enthusiasm, the president of the Hellenic Cycling Federation, Vassilis Diamantopoulos, added: “Costa Navarino was the best choice the organization could have made for hosting the athletes and their companions. The participation of one of the world’s finest tourist destinations in the DEI International Tour of Hellas has catapulted the competition’s prestige and offered a unique experience and high-profile event that will remain in everyone’s memory.”
Thanasis Krekoukias is a journalist working as an editor for News247 and Sport24, and a cycling commentator for Eurosport Greece.
Photo Credits: © Nassos Triantafyllou