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Three weekend getaways in the Peloponnese, Greece

History, culture and classic Greek hospitality abound in these three scenic Peloponnese coastal towns — and each can be discovered over a weekend.

By Maria Amatzidou & Helen Iatrou
Published 4 Mar 2021, 10:04 GMT
The picturesque Peloponnese coastal town of Nafplio was the first capital of independent Greece and is just a ...

The picturesque Peloponnese coastal town of Nafplio was the first capital of independent Greece and is just a two-hour drive south west from Athens.

Photograph by Getty Images

1. Nafplio

If you’re looking for a romantic getaway, do as the Athenians do and head to Nafplio. The picturesque Peloponnese coastal town, the first capital of independent Greece, is just a two-hour drive south west from Athens. Here you can wander bougainvillea-filled streets dotted with neoclassical mansions and discover the Old Town’s cobblestoned alleyways, home to traditional cafes, handicraft shops and tavernas.

No visit to Nafplio would be complete without exploring its castles and fortresses. Head to Bourtzi, the iconic Venetian fortress set on a rocky islet with fantastic coastal views, and early 18th-century Palamidi Castle, whose 999 steps yield a breathtaking reward — a sweeping panorama of Nafplio bay. As the sun sinks, pick up loukoumades (honey-drenched Greek doughnuts) in Syntagma Square, then stroll the Arvanitia Promenade, in the shadow of the remains of the fortified hilltop castle Akronafplia — the oldest of the three.

Where to eat
Kanakarakis 1986 is a friendly spot in the Old Town that whets the appetite with its creative selection of Greek and Mediterranean cuisine, from grilled meat to seafood orzotto (a risotto-type dish made with pearl barley). Make an ice cream pit stop at Antica Gelateria di Roma — a must while visiting Nafplio.

Where to stay
Grand Sarai is a beautifully renovated boutique hotel in the Old Town previously served as the first Court of the Modern Greek State. Rooms have modern decor with stunning views of the town or waterfront. Doubles from €120 (£104), breakfast included. 

The true magic of Monemvasia — and the best views — are tucked away in the uninhabited upper town, among crumbling mansions adorned with historic crests.

Photograph by Getty Images

2. Monemvasia

Tethered to the mainland by a dramatic causeway, the monolithic rock of Monemvasia, with its ochre-stoned fortress and tumbledown, Venetian-style mansions, has a fascinating maritime history and offers one of the most picturesque getaways in the southeast Peloponnese.

It was the Byzantines who first recognised the strategic military value of Monemvasia, an outcrop rising sharply from the water just off the mainland. Since those first fortifications were carved into the rock in the sixth century, conquering Venetians and Ottomans added to its castle and steep, amphitheatre-shaped town, resulting in a distinctive mix of architectural styles.

Today, the main thoroughfare bustles with bistros, tavernas and artisans’ workshops. But the true magic of the place — and the best views — are tucked away in the uninhabited upper town, among crumbling mansions adorned with historic crests. As you climb the narrow, cobbled streets, stop at the Archaeological Museum and the Church of Elkomenos Christos. Hike on to the 11th-century, octagonal Church of Aghia Sophia and the fortress’s summit for a bewitching sunset.

Where to eat
Popular for its comfort food and friendly atmosphere, Matoula, the oldest taverna in Monemvasia, can get crowded during the peak summer months, but its traditional dishes and terrace garden are well worth queueing for. Enjoy soutzoukakia (stewed meatballs) with chilopites (noodles) or stuffed cabbage leaves and order a bottle or two of the local wine, Malvazia.

Where to stay
Formerly a monks’ residence, Kelia guesthouse has been restored in keeping with tradition and sits in a beautiful courtyard beside the whitewashed Church of Panagia Chryssafitissa. Interestingly, the famous Greek poet Yiannis Ritsos was born here. Rooms from €88 (£77), B&B. 

Head along coastal roads flanked with olive groves to Messinia, in the southwest Peloponnese, to explore sites like the Venetian Fortress of Methoni.

Photograph by Getty Images

3. Messinia

Head along roads flanked with olive groves to Messinia in the southwest Peloponnese to explore ancient castles, and sample spit-roasted pork at old tavernas. On its western coast lies Voidokilia beach — morning dips in its shallow emerald waters are glorious, when it’s flushed with sunlight and swimmers are scarce.

Tread carefully across dunes to the neighbouring Gialova Lagoon and follow a trail through its eight ecosystems. It’s a vital stopover for migratory birds, and one of Europe’s most important wetlands. Stop by the pools of nearby Polylimnio, where a network of waterfalls and lakes is  concealed amid farmland.

Make your way west for a stroll through the island-like coastal town of Pylos. From the town’s 16th-century castle, Nekastro, you can gaze upon the Bay of Navarino — it’s hard to imagine this serene location hosted the eulogised 1827 naval Battle of Navarino, a victory that delivered a decisive blow in Greece’s War of Independence. Delve deeper into the area’s rich history with Explore Messinia, whose guides lead kayaking tours of the bay’s islets, sea caves and natural arches.

Where to eat
At Elia restaurant, in Gialova, the extensive menu is bursting with dishes honouring local ingredients, including smoked Taygetus trout, talagani cheese and wild asparagus. Pair grilled sea bream and other seafood delights with a snappy Chardonnay from small-scale Domaine Dereskos vineyard.

Where to stay
Villa Vager Mani, a 15-minute drive from Messinia’s capital, Kalamata, is an exquisite, sea-facing stone-built guesthouse in Megali Mantinia village. Suites are as generously sized as the breakfast. Tailor-made excursions can be arranged. Rooms catering to four from €240 (£215), B&B. 

Discover more inspiration and travel guides for Greece

Published in the April 2021 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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