From its beautiful olive groves and orange orchards to its wealth of undeveloped, virgin territories, the vast countryside of the Peloponnese peninsula is begging to be explored. Peloponnese holidays in Greece are becoming more and more popular and for good reason. They can cover the famous pink forests, wine country, beautiful beaches, incredible ancient archaeological sites, caves, mountains, great food and unique architecture and more!
They say this is the real Greece and a few days here, or better yet weeks, will leave you feeling like you’ve truly lived like a local and yearning for more. All the beauty and culture of the islands without the crowds. Peloponnese holidays truly are the work of the Gods.
When to visit the Peloponnese
Whilst the Peloponnese is home to some of the best beaches in Greece there are so many things to see and do that it is actually a year-round destination.
Whilst Summer is obviously the ideal time to spend at the beaches and waterfalls, Spring and Autumn are excellent for hiking and exploring Ancient Ruins, Caves and Archeological sites. Even winter is enticing as many of the towns and villages receive some snow, particularly in the mountains, and the stone architecture and wineries lend themselves to cosy moments by an open fire. The casseroles and traditional winter food is hearty and delicious.
Regardless of what time of year you choose you will find the crowds very manageable and in many places, non-existent.
Having once been the capital of Greece in the early 19th century, the town has a wealth of history to offer visitors as well as plenty of charm. The beautiful old town is full of magical spots to explore with a huge number of shops, museums, cafes, and tavernas. There is also the “dream trail” which sets you on a path through the medieval old town, the Syntagma Square and its numerous historic buildings and landmarks, right up to Palamidi Castle, an imposing construction standing 216 meters above sea level. A more relaxing way to see the site is on the Nafplio Hop on Hop off Bus.
The harbour is still a busy seaport and is home to the Bortzi, a Venetian fortress built on a small island in 1473. A number of excellent seafood tavernas run along the front esplanade, most of whom have fresh seafood displayed in cabinets or, as in the case of Bounas Taverna they will take you in to select your fish from the chilled cabinet inside.
There are many other excellent cafes, tavernas, restaurants and bars. Kalimera-Greek Traditional Breakfast, is a lovely spot for your first meal of the day and we had a huge and very good value lunch at Lichnari on our first day. For dinner we really enjoyed Aiolo Taverna and Pergamonto.
Nafplio is also a great place to do a walking food tour, where you can discover lots of hidden culinary treasures under the guide of a local.
Just outside Nafplio is the ancient World Heritage site of Tiryns, believed to be over 3000 years old and the place where Hercules is said to have performed his 12 labors.
There are a number of excellent museums but one that is quite unique is the Komoloi Museum, which houses a mind boggling number of Greek worry beads, albiet in a very small space. The manager is always happy to explain the history and craftsmanship of the very many beads which can be found made in marble, glass, stone and at one point, bone.
There are many places to stay in and around Nafplio to suit all budgets. You will find everything from luxury boutique hotel 3Sixty Hotel to cheap and cheerful guesthouses like Filyra Pension, both of which are in the Old Town.
Families may prefer to stay at Anemos Rooms which are located in the new part of town but have self contained apartments.
We really wanted to stay in the old town and were delighted with our time at Gambello Rooms. Situated in a gorgeous converted Neo-classical mansion the rooms are very comfortable, spacious and ours had a balcony with views out over the bay. Breakfast was good and the location was perfect. Great price too! In fact if we could find an equivalent to Gambello Rooms in every town we would be set for life!
Its a delightful town with a charming historic old town full of excellent tavernas, bars and shops and surrounded by a multitude of things to see and do – the Heli peninsula, the Nemea wine region, numerous historical sights, Forts, Castles and even some excellent beaches. It truly is one of the nicest towns in all of Europe.”
The Natural Beauty of Leonidio
The fertile soil around Leonidio is where the famous “tsakóniki” aubergine ( eggplant) grows – a native type of aubergine that Leonidio is well-known for. If you go there in August, you can even enjoy the Tsakóniki festival, where locals create dishes especially based on the aubergine, in order to impress visitors and uphold local traditions.
Finally, while in Leonidio, you’ll also enjoy exploring some of the local rural villages, or spend some time at the local Beach of Platka. There are some other excellent beaches in the area including Poúlithra, Fokianós and Tygáni beaches.
We had a lovely lunch on the beachfront at Michael and Margaret’s and a great pizza dinner at the super quaint and very rustic En Leonidio 1904 cafe with the stunning backdrop of the red mountains towering over us.
Where to stay in Leonidio
Leonidio is a small town and there are only a handful of places to stay but I have to say we were pretty impressed with what we saw!
We really hit the jackpot with Archontiko Chioti which is a small converted historic home in the centre of town. It has a nice swimming pool, beautifully appointed rooms and they put on a great breakfast. The service was really outstanding and there is nothing they won’t try and help you with. Cheap too!
If this is booked out then Archontiko Hatzipanyioti is just up the road and very similar.
The Rich History of Monemvasia
Monemvasia is quite unique and a must do if you are visiting the Peloponnese. Once an island joined to the mainland by a small rock wall it was deliberately designed to blend into the mountain it clings to and therefore not be seen by enemies at sea. Monemvasia was once a thriving seaport during the time of the emperor Andronicus XII and after occupation by the Ottomans, which lasted up until the early 19th century.
There are several boutique hotels and rooms to rent so you can experience Monemvasia at night, which many say is when it is at its most charming and revealing. There are also a couple of good cafes and tavernas particularly Chrisovoulo and Oinomelo. Its also wonderful to dine on the mainland with views back over the island all lit up at night, at places like Melitzanakia and Skorpios.
If you would like to splurge for a night or two the amazing Kinsterna Hotel is located on a hill overlooking Monemvasia and is considered one of the best hotels in Europe. Situated on a sprawling estate the Byzantine Era mansion houses a luxury spa, two swimming pools and an award winning restaurant. The gardens are quite magnificent and include a vineyard, herb and vegetable garden and animal farm. The hotel produces their own wine, cheese, olive oil, bread, soap and more.
If you would prefer to stay on Monemvasia itself the quaint and affordable Goulas Guesthouse has great views and few stairs, whilst Likinia Hotel is brand new and has all the modern conveniences with many historic elements.
Its a very special and unique place to stay that’s for sure!
Home to many excellent seafood tavernas its a great spot to stop for lunch but it is also worth considering staying a few days as there are a few fascinating things to see and do.
Located close to the main town is the small island of Cranae, believed to be where Paris of Sparta and Helen of Troy spent their first night together, igniting the Trojan War.
Also, close by you can see the Dimitrios Shipwreck at Valtaki Beach and the lovely Lighthouse of Githio. Selinitsa Beach and Mavrovouni beach are also lovely spots.
Limeni – paradise in the Mani
Limeni is a small but beautifully maintained and restored village located in a small protected cove with crystal clear, azure water. There are a number of outdoor activities and boat rides on offer as well as a dive center.
Whilst there are only a handful of tavernas and cafes the quality is exceptional. One of the best meals we have ever had anywhere was at Telonio and the views at sunset make it even more special!
It is also quite common to see Sea Turtles fighting over kitchen scraps in front of the Tavernas.
As stated there are a couple of very charming boutique hotels in Limeni and they are all just meters from the water. Mavromichalai is a gorgeous, small, luxury hotel on the waterfront in a restored 18th century tower house and is hard to beat although Vasilios Apartment Hotel has commanding views on the hill above and is somewhat less expensive. They are both truly fantastic places to spend some time.
We decided to stay a short drive up the road at Aria Suites and Spa, a newly opened hotel at the time ( we missed the completion of the indoor swimming pool by one day) which offer beautifully designed rooms and apartments in a village concept, with spectacular views over the sea. We did have a few teething issues with service and I would imagine it will be difficult to get experienced staff at most places on the peninsula. That said the views, the comfort, and the privacy would see us back there again happily. Bassa Maina hotel is right next door and quite stunning as well, albeit at a higher price point.
The Caves of Diros
The Caves of Diros are actually two massive caves and the largest, Vlichada, is open to the public and is mostly explored in small boats on the water. The tour is 1,500 meters, of which the first 1,200 are on the water and it takes about 25 minutes to complete. They believe the caves may, in fact, go for many kilometers right up through the Mani peninsula and they are still being explored and mapped.
Inside the cave, the fossilized bones of panther, hyena, lion, deer, ferret and the largest hippopotamus bone deposit in Europe have been found. Near its natural entrance, pottery has been found to indicate the human presence. In fact, in recent months they have discovered evidence that this may have been where the first humans arrived in Europe from Africa.
Arrive early and avoid the tour buses and you may have the whole place to yourselves as we did. Make sure to check the official website for prices and opening times which are subject to change.
Relax in beautiful Kardamyli
The Old Town of Kardamyli was once a fortified settlement that features a restored tower and a stunning 18th-century church – to a variety of lively bars and eating venues. Kardamyli offers a laid back and relaxing experience of visiting Greece in its true natural state.
Combined with a delightful rural setting and natural landmarks like the Ritsa Beach and Vyros Gorge, you’ll find the town has plenty of exploring on offer as well.
There are no fancy resorts in this part of Greece ( yet) and accommodation tends to be in small family run hotels or Airbnb rooms and apartments.
the rich culture of Kalamata
A thriving city in its own right, Kalamata can provide you with the urban experience of the Peloponnese region, featuring a variety of stunning sights and landmarks that will tell you all about the history and cultural heritage of Greece. The Victoria G Karelias collection of Greek Costumes is particularly worth a visit and considered one of the best costume collections in the world.
Ancient Messini is around 20kms from Kalamata and is one of the most important ancient sites in Greece. It is very well preserved and includes an incredible amphitheater and impressive stadium as well as a small but very good museum.
Some of the best things to do in Kalamata include the Benakeion Archaeological Museum and the Folklore and History Museum, as well as places like the Railways Park and the Modern Greek Art Gallery. There is also an excellent Farmers Market on Wednesdays and Sundays.
Like most parts of the Peloponnese there are also some great beaches and Kalamata beach itself is popular for good reason. And no visit to Kalamata is complete without a tour and tasting of Olives and Olive Oil!
In terms of dining you are spoilt for choice in Kalamata which has a thriving food and bar scene. In fact there are over 10,000 cafes, bar, restaurants and tavernas in this small city! The food precincts are found along the water- front where perennial favourites such as Fish and Pasta Kannas and Da Francesco are found or along Iatropoulou street where you will find trendy coffee shops, bakeries and bars.
If you can find the time to spend a few days here, however, you will be rewarded with Frankish Castles, Ottoman fortresses, beautiful nature reserves, and Voidokilia Beach, also known as Omega Beach as it is in the shape of the Greek letter Omega.
Pylos is a nice town to base yourself and has great western views and a number of good restaurants along the coastal road. Neokastrao is one of the best-preserved fortresses in Greece and is also home to the Transfiguration of the Saviour Church which functioned as a mosque during Ottoman rule. The fort played a key role in the famous Battle of Navarino so is of particular interest to history buffs.
On the Eastern side of the Messinian peninsula is the stunning Colonides Beach hotel with amazing views over the sea and well priced rooms near a beautiful protected beach.
On the Western side Pylos is a great town to spend several days. The lovely Hotel Anezina has affordable, well appointed rooms with stunning views as does Hotel Philip just a few doors up. The gorgeous Romanos Resort – A luxury Collection Hotel is the main luxury option and is part of the Westin Group.
Further north is the town of Marathopolis – a beautiful spot where you can do day trips to nearby Proti Island. Near new Pefkides offer lovely self-contained apartments right on the beach amongst lovely gardens. Right in town is another excellent small hotel, Artina Nuovo which boasts a particularly impressive breakfast spread and great sunset views.
The games took place every four years ( just as they do now) between 776 BC to 393 AD. The site was also a place of worship dedicated to the Greek god Zeus. You will find here incredible sculptures such as the decoration of the temple of Zeus, as well as the famous Hermes of Praxiteles and the statue of Nike of Paionios.
Today you can visit the Ancient Stadium, the temples of Zeus and Hera, the Palaestra and the workshop of Phedias. An impressive array of artifacts which were unearthed during excavations are also on exhibition at the nearby Olympia Museum. It is quite incredible to imagine the roar of the crowd and the atmosphere that must have occurred in ancient times.
The site is open at different times throughout the year and on certain days can be free whilst others completely closed. As such it pays to check the official website for opening hours.
How to Get to Olympia
Olympia is around 90 minutes drive north of Kalamata and about the same south from the city of Patras. If travelling by boat, the nearest ports are Katakolo (34km), where cruise ships arrive and Killini (66km) with connection lines to and from the Ionian islands. Buses are available from both cities as are numerous tours.
Hotels near Olympia
Leonidaion is a charming, modernised guesthouse in town with great family service that we recommend. A good budget alternative is Hotel Kronio, which is probably the closest to the Museum and Historical site whilst Hotel Europa is great for families and groups with a huge swimming pool.
Discovering Sparta and surrounds
The nearby traditional villages of Koumoustá and Anavrytí are worth a look as well as Ksirokámpi, with its famous church of Áyios Níkonas, which dates back to the 14th century.
The city of Sparta itself has a few impressive destinations you can also check out, such as the Archaeological Museum, the famous “Koumantários” Art Gallery and unique places like the Museum of the Olive and Greek Olive oil.Only 6kms outside Sparta are another World Heritage site, the ancient ruins of Mystras – the ‘wonder of Morea‘, which built amphitheatrically around a fortress and conquered and reconquered by Venetians and Byzantines over centuries.
Corinth – the new look of an Ancient Place
Corinth has a lot to offer its visitors, including the gorgeous seaside view near the El. Venizelos square, along with the delightful port of Floisvos with the nearby marina, and must-see landmarks like the Apostolos Pavlos Metropolitan Church and the Historic-Folklore Museum.
Akrokorinthos archaeological site, however, is one of the reasons most people visit the town, offering a priceless glimpse at the ruins of the Pirini fountain and the courtyard of Apollo.
The other reason people visit Corinth is to see the Corinth Canal. This man-made canal cuts through the narrowest point between the Peloponnese and the mainland, the Isthmus of Corinth and was built in 1893. This created a significantly quicker shipping route from Europe through to the Middle East and beyond but a number of financial setbacks, scandals, and its ultimate narrowness meant that traffic through it was less than satisfactory. Today it is still used by small boats and ships but is largely a tourist attraction.
Corinth is only a one hour drive from Athens so can easily be visited as a day trip. Most people chose to stay either in Athens or in Nafplio.
As you can see, there is plenty to think about when considering a holiday in the Peloponnese region of Greece. If you are self driving you will find the traffic light and the pace relaxed. If you would prefer to join a tour of the region you will be guided through some incredible spots and see things that truly will amaze you.
Its easy to see why this region of Greece is considered one of the most historically wealthy and important regions of the country. With numerous ancient sites, temples and ruins, the fertile valleys, fields and forests and the incredible beaches, villages and natural beauty of the Peloponnese there is something for everyone, and at all price points. This is the REAL Greece, without the crowds or the chaos.
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