The pull of the Peloponnese: why now is the time to visit mainland Greece

With a combination of nature, culture, sun and sea to rival Greece’s many islands, the Peloponnese peninsula may just be the perfect spot for an autumn break. Head there now while the weather’s still balmy but crowds have thinned.

Thursday, September 10, 2020,
By Greek national tourism organisation
Greece's southern prong, Outer Mani, has postcard-pretty villages like Kardamyli and Stoupa dotted along its rugged, empty ...

Greece's southern prong, Outer Mani, has postcard-pretty villages like Kardamyli and Stoupa dotted along its rugged, empty coastline.

The Peloponnese is known for its world-famous olives, wide beaches and passionate locals who are fiercely proud of their homeland. Its history is a fascinating one, and the area is scattered with Venetian fortresses, Mycenaean palaces and Byzantine cities, all standing testament to the passage of time. Steeped in myth and legend, this is where the Argonauts went in search of the Golden Fleece and Paris of Troy eloped with Helen, disappearing into the night from the beautiful island of Kranai, just off the Peloponnese coastline. Visit now, as Autumnal colours start to creep in but evenings are still long and warm.

Why go

Connected to the mainland by the Isthmus of Corinth, the Peloponnese peninsula is one of Greece’s less-visited regions, offering plenty of opportunities to escape the crowds. As the home of the world-famous Kalamata olive, the site of the very first Olympic Games and with endless unspoilt beaches to explore, it has everything for either a relaxing or an adventurous getaway. Those in search of a romantic break, meanwhile, can explore secluded coves and waterfalls and indulge in the fresh Mediterranean cuisine and warm hospitality of the locals.

Kalamata is Messinia’s capital and the second-largest city in the Peloponnese, famed for its long beach and excellent shopping opportunities. 

What to do

Starting in Kalamata, a city served by direct flights from Heathrow and a three-hour drive from Athens, travellers might start by exploring Messinia, an area packed with olive groves, mountains and coves. After taking in the Ancient Theatre and Pylos’ Castles, travel south to the Messinian part of Mani, the name given to Greece’s rugged central southern peninsula. Venture into wild Outer Mani for a coastal road trip, taking in wildflowers and peaceful villages such as Kardamyli. Then travel further south to Lakoniki Mani, making sure to pause at the village of Limeni. This tiny cluster of stone-built houses are some of the most picturesque in Greece, hanging — quite literally — off the rocky cliff face and with views stretching out across the Mediterranean. But don’t stop there; continue on down the coast to the town of Pyrgos Dirou to explore its three archaeological caves both on foot and by boat. On the opposite side of the peninsula meanwhile are Elafonisos, an island home to the famous Simos beach as well as sanctuaries and churches, and Monemvasia, a medieval tower town packed with history in the shape castles, fortresses and magnificent Byzantine buildings.

The Palamidi Citadel is both vast and ancient, built by the Venetians between 1711 and 1714. Climb to its top at dawn or dusk for spectacular sunset views. 

Don’t miss out on

Home to the spectacular Palamidi Citadel and often touted as the most romantic destination in Greece, the town of Nafplio is a must-see on the Peloponnese map. A great alternative to ancient Olympia, Nafplio has its own array of archaeological treasures, from its Turkish mosques to the church of Agios Georgios. Start by navigating the cobbled streets of the medieval Old Town to take in impressive neoclassical mansions, then visit the Archaeological Museum in Syntagma Square. Climb the steps of Palamidi Citadel for jaw-dropping views of the area and be sure to visit the Bourtzi, a castle built on a tiny island off the harbour and viewable by boat.

If you only visit one beach, it has to be Voidokoilia in Messinia, a beach with intense blue waters shaped like the Greek letter omega. 

Where to beach hop

Blessed with hundreds of miles of Mediterranean coastline, the Peloponnese is home to some of Greece’s best beaches. If you visit only one, make it Voidokoilia, in Messinia, a beach shaped like the Greek letter omega, with intense blue waters — although be aware it’s popular and has no facilities, so arrive early and take supplies. A favourite among residents is Simos, on Elafonisos island, where divers can see the sunken city of Pavlopetri, an ancient archaeological site. Finally, Selinitsa Beach on the Mani Peninsula is a wonderful spot, home to the shipwrecked Demetrios, as well as, for a few weeks every year, the caretta-caretta sea turtles, that come ashore to lay their eggs.

Olives from the Peloponnese, or more specially from Kalamata, are world-renowned, known for their firm texture and full flavour. 

What to eat

With olive oil at its heart, Peloponnese cuisine plays its part in the reputation of Mediterranean food as some of the healthiest in the world, but while the Kalamata olive may be its most famous export, the Peloponnese peninsula has plenty more foodstuffs worth visiting for, from its oranges to its sweet wines, as well as cured meats and dairy products. An emblem of the region is the Tsakonian aubergine, a sweet purple variety used in moussaka, added to pastas and stuffed with meat and then baked. Pork is a popular meat, served smoked and cured or grilled with salads of vibrant vegetables and topped with feta. Thanks to its climate, the Peloponnese region has been producing wine for thousands of years and is the largest grape-growing area in the country, with excellent sweet wines as well as deep, juicy reds produced from the agiorgitiko grape. Obligatory souvenirs to take back home include pasteli sesame bars and dried figs.

Nafplio is often dubbed the most romantic town in Greece, thanks to its jaw-dropping Venetian architecture and abundance of neoclassical mansions-turned luxury hotels. 

Where to stay

Accommodation options throughout the Peloponnese are plentiful and varied, from converted neoclassical mansions in Nafplio and cosy hotels in Kalamata to stylish resorts in luxurious Porto Heli. Those looking for somewhere low-key and peaceful might stay in arty Kardamyli or neoclassical Gythion, near Selinitsa beach, where there’s also the opportunity to camp at Gythion Bay.

Olympia was the birthplace of the Olympic Games, and the flame is still lit here before travelling to the host country.  

Did you know

The birthplace of the Olympic Games, Olympia is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was once a place of worship for devotees of the Greek god Zeus. Visitors can stop off here at the Archaeological Museum for impressive sculptures of the temple of Zeus. Every four years from 776 BC to AD 393, Olympia hosted the world’s most famous sporting event, and now visitors can recreate historic moments by sprinting through the ancient Stadium of Olympia while imagining the roar of the crowd; the Olympic Flame is famously lit here ahead of each Games.

Limeni is a tiny cluster of stone-built houses hanging quite literally off the rocky cliff face with views stretching out across the Mediterranean.

Essentials

Getting there and around
Several airlines fly from London, Birmingham and Manchester direct to Kalamata three times a week. Once there consider hiring a car, or alternatively, the local buses and train are reliable and cost-efficient.

When to go
Visit between June and September for hot, dry weather, or to avoid crowds why not visit in autumn, when temperatures still reach a pleasant 20C and attractions are near-empty.

For more information head to visitgreece.gr

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