Not far from Ancient Messene are the Old and New Voulcanou Monasteries. The Old Monastery is abandoned and you can drive there up a dirt track [or walk from the Arcadian Gate]. The New Monastery is more accessible and it’s an attractive mountain drive.
The New Voulcanou Monastery
The New Monastery was founded in the 16th Century and is best viewed from above. It’s well signposted as you approach Ancient Messene from the south, although you can also reach it by driving through Mavromarti on the steep road that leads towards the Old Monastery. If you time your visit well you may be able to see inside the compound.
The Old Voulcanou Monastery
Our visit to the Old Voulcanou Monastery was a truly special experience. The Old Monastery did not appear on Google maps when we visited, nor is it signposted, however it’s well worth seeking out. To find it turn up the steep narrow road off the main road in Mavromarti which is the village above Ancient Messene and keep driving up and up! The views of the ever diminishing Ancient Messene are amazing.
Once you are through the village keep on driving until you see a crumbling wall on your left, a modern shrine just ahead of that and just beyond that some ruins of a wall to the right. This is the Laconian Gate. It is not as well preserved as the rather impressive Arcadian Gate so keep your eyes peeled. Just before these sights you may have missed a rather insignificant dirt track leading up the mountain to the left. Yep, that’s the one you need that leads to the Old Voulcanou Monastery – haha!
You can walk up to the old monastery which sits at the top of Mount Ithome. It’s about 3.5km but we decided to drive [very slowly] up the tiny steep scary track. The Bradt Guide advises not to attempt the journey by car in the wet. We could hear the thunder grumbling in the distance as we turned up the track.
After a few minutes we reached the Sanctuary of Artemis Limnatis which actually had an information board and a bench by it. It’s fenced in and for a change I did not attempt get a closer view.
After about 1.5km of being jolted around, our nerve broke and we decided to park on a bend and walk the last couple of kilometres, gawping at the views. Ancient Messene looked teeeny way below us.
It was spitting as we reached the monastery and we were a bit knackered but it was so worth it. If you head to the right of the monastery there is a small arch where you can enter the compound. You can walk into many of the buildings and chambers. We could see lightning and hear the thunder as we mooched around.
The church is locked but you can peek in the gaps in the back door and see the 17th century frescoes.
We returned to the car and got drenched, but the road held firm and thankfully did not turn into a river and we were grateful that it was a cool day, perfect for walking up [and down] a mountain.