Lying embedded in the bay of Tolo, 3 emerald isles, nibbles of soil, history and sun,are like watchdogs in the mouth of the sea province.
Patterned with castles, dense prickly pears, white chapels, enduring flora and hidden beaches, the trinity of the isles, just a breath away from the port of Tolo, is considered to be an integral part of its land, history and tourist dowry. At least three times, the inhabitants of Tolo had to defend them from the threat of sale-concession to individuals. The third and very recent was expreseed in 2012 as an intention of HRADF for sale or renting of Romvi... In the generalised flurry of disinvestments, there is no more optimism left regarding what will be saved from the claws of exploitation. But there is still a surplus of the inhabitants' combative spirit and love, with their three victorious battles sharpening their determination.
A SHORT CIRCUMNAVIGATION
We set sail at dawn with the cutter of Giorgos and Giannis Georgidakis and with the sunrise still underway. Giorgos is at the wheel and manoeuvres, while Stathis Kotsiopoulos, host of the hotel PANORAMA, acted as a guide and a fellow traveller. On our left lies the lazy body of Romvi, the largest island of the three, with its beautiful pine forest emptying ample emerald colour into the dawning mirror of the sea. Beautiful day with lilac sky... The sea is still, and the bowl of the port between the land and Romvi is like a narrow passage in a pirate novel. Looking at the map, you can easily understand that Romvi was once an extension of the land that a geological phenomenon turned into an islet. Tolo owes to Romvi almost all the picturesqueness, the geniality of the enclosed bay where colourful small boats lie in the sun away from winds. Our boat circles Romvi in order to meet the small treasure that hides behind it, in its southern side, like a well-hidden secret in its arms. Daskaleio, our first anchorage.
Accommodation and food
Thousands of options for every budget, modern hotel establishments, camping, rooms to let, guesthouses, next to the sea as well as in the mounds of the city with a panoramic view to the bay. International as well as Mediterranean cuisine with the main ingredient being the fresh fish and the sea appetizers. You should definitely taste the fish soup and the traditional SAVORI, a special tasty sauce that accompanies the fried fish.
At a short distance
Beautiful and gracious Asini, picturesque Drepano with its renowned mandarins, Vivari with the lagoon, Kantia and Iria, all of them are very well organised resorts with many attractions... Porto Heli, Ermioni, picturesque Kilada... And of course, beautiful Nafplio is a stride away.
Your night out will give you everything you need. With 2500 residents to which are added more than 5000 visitors in the summer, Tolo is the place where you will find everything that you want. The festivals of Epidaurus, Nafplio, Argos care for the enthusiasts of the theatre, the classical music, the modern shows and concerts. Party till dawn, romantic nights with soft music by the sea, lectures, screenings and events of every kind are generously offered during the summer. The special traditional customs of Tolo include the procession of the bier of Christ on Good Friday that takes place at the sea along the coast, while boats and lamps accompany it in a parallel route. In the Epiphany, Tolo is one of the few places in Greece where the Cross is immersed, and the brave youngsters dive in the cold waters to find it. In June relives the custom of Kleidonas. At the end of September the Feast of the Fisherman takes place.
VIEW AND CAPER
The small wooden pier welcomes us in crystal waters and pebbly frolics. The mildly shaped path leads to the hilltop where the chapel of Zoodochos Pigi waits for us with its plain courtyard and the extraordinary view. Going up, your attention is distracted sometimes by the virgin vegetation with the caper being present in almost every step and sometimes by the consecutive frames with the deep cerulean of the sea, the coasts and the ridges of Romvi and the cliffs of Daskaleio being embellished with touches of seagulls and passing boats. The chapel is a vaulted Basilica with a gambrel roof and, according to the dedicatory inscription, was iconographed in 1688. A few fitted and scattered remnants of early Christian Basilica reveal its much earlier creation. It is surrounded by a two-metre wall, and an inscription on the iconostasis informs us that it was renovated in 1869 by the Cretan refugees who settled in Tolo. The tradition says that a seminary operated in Daskaleio, some kind of secret school, and this is where the name of the island derives from. Another version regarding its name, probably less convincing, claims that it is about a corruption of the Scogio di Tolon, like the sailors and Italian geographers were calling the port of the island. On the periphery of Daskaleio you can still see remnants of Venetian fortifications that, despite the disasters and the dereliction, are maintained in a sound condition, while near to the chapel parts of a castle still exist. Daskaleio as well as Romvi were often used as shelters for the nearby inhabitants in order for them to be protected from many invaders of the Byzantine period, and also as shelters and temporary sees of Bishops. This is confirmed by, among many other findings and testimonies, the Byzantine lead seals of the 6th-8th A.D. century that were found in the two isles, owners of which were officials of the church and the provincial administration and titulars of the Byzantine Court.
We go downhill, and the gaze is dazed by the light blue surprises, the rocky peaks, the green oases, the coves that twirkle to the touch of the sun. Among the mounds of Romvi appears Tolo.
Daskaleio, untouched nowadays by the human intervention, is a landscape with amazing images, a paradise for hiking, deep therapeutic breaths and swimming away from the overgrowding and the noises.
We leave behind us the small pier with the first morning visitors and we approach again Romvi. A tiny pebbly seacoast steals our hearts. The most besieged by the investors isle, it has been declared, since 1962, an archaeological site (M.D. 15904/24/11/62), an act that makes every "exploitation" illegal. At the same time, it is a game reserve and an area of landscaping beauty, while the pine forest that spreads over the shore across from Tolo constitutes a long and persistent effort of afforestation made by the inhabitants of the island, with the Cultural Association being the protagonist nowadays. On the back side of the island lies a wide forest of wild olive trees, while across its territory there are remnants of Venetian fortifications as well as classical and pre-Chrestian remnants. The archaeological excavations have yet to solve many puzzles of its history. In 1686 the Venetian fleet entered the cove of Romvi with the troops of Morozini, aiming to attack the Turkish-occupied cities of Nafplio and Argos and, consequently, to oust the Turks from Peloponnisos. The operations were successful, Morozini enjoyed great glory and established the era of the 2nd Venetian domination. During this period the Venetian fortifications of Romvi and Daskaleio were built.
In 1985 Romvi was besieged for the establishment of fish farms, in 1987 for the establishment of an international naturist centre, while in our days it was found in articles that it was candidate for the gavel of HRADF. The Cultural Association and the Professional Association of Tolo had to deal once more with the bureaucracy of the validation of the self-evident. The area of the island (1.6 sq. km) and the beautiful and accessible morphology obviously pave the way for "ambitious" speculative exploitations. The response of the Culture Association and the Professional Association to the appetite of this kind was definite and nonnegotiable: "The island of Romvi with the adjacent islands of Daskaleio and Koronisi are inextricably linked to the tourist signifance, the reputation and the promotion of our land. They are our adornments and living space, interwoven with our daily life. Any interested "party" that invokes claims should keep in mind that, for once more, they will face not only our opposition but also prohibitive legal provisions...".
On the top, above the rocks and on a stone wall of Romvi, it is long been written in white colour the phrase "HANDS OFF THE ISLAND". For information, reminder and compliance of every potential conqueror...
The only accepted utilisation of the isle are few very soft interventions for the establishment of hiking trails on its unsoiled territory. There is a confusion regarding the name Romvi . The greekness of the word raises serious doubts about the Slavic origin from the word orovas (=island), since there is the ancient greek word orovos, orovion (the plant-legume bitter vetch), as well as the words orovax (peony) and rhombus. It is also known as the "island of Aphrodite".
CROWN WITH PRICKLY PEARS
We nod to the small lighthouse of Romvi that points out to the seafarers the sharp cape and we start heading towards the third isle of Tolo, lilliputian, craggy Koronisi. Its rocky slopes are bathed by waterfalls of prickly pears and on its top shines the completely white chapel of Agioi Anargyroi. It looks like an overdecorated crown and at nights it seduces the romantic souls that are mesmerised by its soft lighting. The chapel was built by the first Cretans who settled in Tolo after 1830. It gives an amazing view to Tolo and the Argolic Gulf, and many people choose it for their marriage ceremony. The inhabitants of Tolo are absolutely right... Without its isles the tourist king of the South would look empty...
THE CRETANS OF TOLO
Tolo was inhabited almost exclusively by Cretans who came successively to the area during the period of Turkocracy and the years of the Greek War of Independence. The first wave stayed in Argolida after they fought on the side of Morozini. After 1830, and especially after the two Cretan revolutions, many families of Cretans came here as refugees, while among them there were also historic warlords. By a resolution of Kapodistrias and royal decree of King Otto, the fighters and the refugees of Crete who had lost their houses received in 1834 the, then uninhabited, area of Tolo which was initially called Minoa. Since the land was infertile, the Cretans had to turn to fishing, while their ingenuity and progress turned them later into the small settlement in the Municipality of Minoas, to which adjacent villages were later added. After the start of Epidavria, in 1953, the cretan cunning, realising the great opportunity of tourism, established a vigorous resort which gradually became one of the most popular destinations during the '90s. With the Kallikratis Plan, Tolo was incorporated into the Municipality of Minoas, but it always maintains its distinguishable Cretan identity and autonomy.
Even today it is one of the most vigorous tourist centres of South Greece providing more than 4500 bed-places and accommodation throughout the whole year. During the crisis, Tolo withstands thanks to its tourist tradition, its loyal visitors, the reputation, the high-quality services and the excellent organisation of the local professionals. Most hotels, taverns, bars...are literally on the beach, while very short distances separate the visitor from all the possible needs of holidays. Just next to the settlement lies the big, sandy and popular beach Psili Ammos, which has been awarded many times with the blue flag. It extends to touch the picturesque beach of ancient Asini in Kastraki where also lies the entrance to the archaeological site, which is the guardian of the sea. Then the big, pristine beach of Plaka in Drepano unfolds... All of them are at a distance of a few minutes from the centre of Tolo.
The name "Tolo" is also a puzzle. One version attributes it to a Frank Bishop of 1200 who called it De l' eau, which means water. Another version attributes it to the Venetians who called it Port Aulon (Port Olon).. This is an etymological puzzle that has some more versions with which I do not want to bore you.
LET'S GO ON A CRUISE
In the summer, the 3 boats of Tolo, "Giannis-Giorgos", "Taxiarchis" and "Eros", are available every day for the transportation to the isles. They are offered for large groups, while gastronomic parties with barbacue on board are often organised. The small boats at the port and Phili Ammos are for smaller groups. You can also travel to the isles by pedalo, canoe -even by swimming- since the distances, especially to Romvi and Koronisi, are very short. From the port of Tolo there are routes and short cruises to other places and islands of the Argolic Gulf, like Hydra, Spetses, Poros...and also Monemvasia. Excursions to Delphi, Olympia, Mystras etc are also organised.
ISLES IN THE FIRING LINE
Visigoths, Slavs, Avars, Turks, pirates came and went... And the isles survived with their historical remains adorning and honouring their unassailable beauty. But the new invaders are called investors. And they bring with them moden weapons that cause irreversible damage. Besides Tolo, the marine environment of the islands is the daily fishing area of the fishermen of Drepano, Kantia, Iria, Kilada etc. This is vital for the remaining fishermen who deliver daily fresh seafood to the table of the visitor. The islands of Greece, over 6000 including the skerries, are half of our identity. They carved our voyeuristic soul, they are in perfect harmony with our mountain beauties and they are a unique, invaluable heritage of our country. Let's protect them with passion if we do not want to mourn them.