It is said that the journey begins the moment you start preparing for it. And that is a fact. You spread out the map across the dining table, then check out the Google versions; keep notes; calculate distances from A to B; make a note of towns and villages you intend to visit; collect ideas for various activities and “must have” experiences and finally pack your bags.
Everything is ready for tomorrow’s most wanderlust trip! In my mind I am already in the car heading for the Peloponnese. In reality, I am still at home. How on earth am I going to get some sleep? My eyes just won’t close as my frenzied imagination runs through all the exciting adventures to come!
I check the weather forecast one last time. It will be more like summertime than autumn. Perfect!
Our journey starts in Argolida. We are spoilt for choice with so many beautiful places in the prefecture, but our first destination is Ancient Epidaurus, followed by the beautiful city of Nafplio.
Wanderlust Day 1: Argolida Prefecture
The ancient theatre of Epidaurus is majestic. There are quite a number of people here enjoying the October sunshine. I soon begin to experience a familiar sense of awe as I enter the archaeological site, a finely preserved representation of ancient Greek culture at its height! I find myself almost running up the marble steps to reach the top tiers, from where I hear a crystal-clear recital of a Kavafis poem by an Italian woman down on the stage. The symmetry of the theater and its excellent acoustics are as amazing as ever. How far ahead of their times our ancestors were!
As even more people arrive and the theatre starts filling up, it is time for me to go. I drop by the museum and Asclepius Sanctuary and after some essential photography, get back into the car and drive to Nafplio, the first capital city of Modern Greece.
I leave my stuff in the hotel and quickly lose myself in its alleyways. I wander here and there, pointing my lens at clusters of bougainvillea and the odd colourful bicycle leaning nonchalantly against a wall. I emerge from the labyrinth and head towards the harbor to check out Bourtzi, the small island fortress in the bay with a thousand stories engrained in its stone work. From here, I turn my attention to Palamidi, the castle above the city where war hero Kolokotronis was imprisoned, commanding fabulous views of the surroundings. When night falls, it is time for dinner in a traditional tavern, not forgetting a well-deserved dessert and a drink in one of the town clubs. After all, Nafplio has it all, history, art, nature, taste and nightlife.
Tips: If you want the ancient theatre of Epidaurus to yourself, be there before 11 am because after that time tourist coaches arrive and the site fills up. In Nafplio, savour your ice cream in “Italos” and enjoy the sunset sat by the clock in Akronafplia castle.
Wanderlust Day 2 and 3: Laconia Prefecture
After a three-hour drive we have just begun to make out the distinctive Monemvasia rock in the distance. On arrival there, we take the road connecting the beach to the fortress and then, abandoning our car to the 21st century, prepare for the fairy tale to begin. Entering the citadel, we are greeted by the sight of a cobbled street straight out of the Byzantine era, leading to the central square with the old canon and the church of “Elkomenos Christos”. On either side, little shops and houses bedecked with bougainvillea add life to the place. Every corner presents a photo opportunity, every alley a reason to never leave.
I wander around the top castle to see the view of the tiled roofs and just before dusk, I go down to Kato Poli where little children play football in the new square. I have a coffee with a view of the sea and a hastily sinking sun and then I surrender myself to the delicious tastes on offer. I have been told to try the famed aubergine and who am I to ignore this recommendation?
In the morning I wake up for a last stroll on the paved street by the sea front wall. This place is magical! However, it is time to go. Mani awaits!
The first tower houses can be seen from afar and this is a sign we have reached Mani. The landscape is dry and rugged but it is this wild, stark beauty that makes it famous. Our first stop is the cave of Diros, one of the most beautiful in the world. The experience in the depths of the Laconian earth is enchanting and I look forward to continuing the mood on the surface, namely in Areopoli with its towers and stone alleys.
Before sunset, I head to the harbor of Areopoli, beautiful Limeni with its combination of tower houses and taverns at the water’s edge. The sun gently caresses my face, hair and soul and I sink into a wicker chair, with a cup of coffee and a smile on my lips. Friday evening continues back in Areopoli with a cocktail and a chat with the locals, taking advantage of the fine weather and welcoming the weekend in its numerous bars.
Tips: Since cars are not allowed in Monemvasia citadel, take as little luggage as possible and avoid wheeled cases as they are hard to manoeuvre on the cobbles. Before you head for Mani, pause for photos at the Demetrios shipwreck in Gythio. Make sure you are in Areopoli on Saturday since this is when local producers set up their stalls and sell their produce. Have your afternoon coffee in Limeni, on the Itilo side so you have a view of the whole village and the sunset right in front of you.
I wish I could stay a little longer but the road trip beckons us ever onwards; this time towards Messina.
Wanderlust Day 4: Messinia Prefecture – Kardamili, Kalamata
Our first stop is Kardamili in the area of Messinian Mani. The change of prefecture gets gradually more noticeable and I must admit that, for me, there is a special sense of excitement. You see, I have roots in Messinia both metaphorically – my origins – and literally – the roots of the trees in my olive grove!
So the first coffee of the day is here, by the little harbor of Kardamili and, as it is still early morning, we see two fishermen cleaning their nets and feeding a goose, a permanent resident of the area. A stroll around the old fortified town is a must. We take pictures while, to my surprise, lots of foreign tourists are sat here and there painting landscapes on aquarelles.
Time is pressing and after I promise to come back soon, I continue towards Kalamata. Although I know the capital of Messina quite well, the city has a surprise in store for me. A few kilometres outside Kalamata the team of the local horse riding club are at the beach, swimming in the sea with their horses. It is a scene that leaves me absolutely speechless.
Nickolas, the owner of the Equestrian Club, invites us to a Saturday family lunch. Nick, who is the team videographer, and I suddenly find ourselves eating and raising glasses as if we are part of the family. “This is Messinian hospitality”, I said, winking. In a matter of moments, we go from being complete strangers to fully-fledged members of this wonderful gathering!
Our stroll continues, coffee in hand, in the alleyways around Aristomenous square, where all the university students, and consequently, all the cafeterias are gathered. We carry on to my favourite spot, 23rd March Square and Kalamata castle where we have dinner and then come back for a drink. After all, nightlife in Kalamata, both in its old town and along the sea front, is one of the best kept secrets in the Peloponnese. Before you go dancing, however, a stop at Navarinou St for a sweet treat with a sea view is a must!
Tips: The best sunset in Kalamata is in Verga and if you feel like a good walk, head to “Chiliometro” on Navarinou St, the promenade of the city.
Wanderlust Day 5: Messinia Prefecture – Voidokoilia, Methoni, Pylos
The following day finds us on the other side of Messinia as we want to see the Navarino Challenge athletes running along Voidokoilia, one of the most impressive beaches in Greece! The event is co-organized with Costa Navarino. As we are there very early, I get the opportunity to see the rising sun daubing the Gialova lagoon in its golden rays before I begin to cheer the runners on.
Our inner compass points towards Methoni now, but along the curling coastal road that takes us there, the harbor of Pylos suddenly reveals itself. There is no way we are not stopping for a meal and a wander round. The Navarinia Festival and Navarino Sea Battle re-enactment are coming up in the following week so the atmosphere is already charged with excitement and anticipation. After a walk along the pier and around Trion Navarhon square, we hit the road again towards Methoni castle.
It is a typical Sunday afternoon and there are few people around, so the castle is basically for our eyes only. I walk along the paved roadway that extends into the sea to reach another Bourtzi, like the one in Nafplio, a fortified island with an octagonal castle. The keen-eyed can also make out the islets of Shiza and Sapienza in the distance.
I could sit here for hours but the Vlahopoulou Women’s Association is expecting us to make lalaggia and tiganides, traditional Messinian delicacies fried in world famous Kalamata olive oil. In essence, during the evening there is a great feast in the main square of the village where I would still be, eating and drinking with the locals had it not been for the programme I had to follow!
In a matter of moments, we go from being complete strangers to fully-fledged members of this wonderful gathering!
Tips: If in Methoni, add a one day trip to Sapienza islet to see the ibexes. From its lighthouse, you can view this famous heart shaped island from up high.
Wanderlust Day 6: River Neda, Lake Kaiafa
The following day finds us on the road heading to the River Neda and its waterfalls. A place long included in my bucket list which I hadn’t had the chance to visit until now.
Along a verdant, undulating trail, we reach the largest waterfall and the view fully rewards our exertions. Only the sound of the water breaks the tranquillity of the landscape. I take off my shoes and hesitantly dip my toes to try out the water. It’s cold but I am here now so I might as well go in. I put on a bathing suit and in I go!
Time passes and the afternoon finds us leaving Messinia prefecture behind and heading to Lake Kaiafa.
Ilia Prefecture: In Kaiafa we are welcomed by the wonderful forest right next to a huge beach, which, by the way, is gorgeous as well as empty when we arrive. A strip of land separates us from Lake Kaiafa and the islet of Agia Aikaterini and for a few moments I feel like I am not in Greece. So used to the blue of the sea, my eyes take some time to adjust to the piercing green of the lake.
Tips: Make sure you are on Kaiafa beach at sunset and in order to enjoy Ancient Olympia, be there very early as groups start arriving at 11 am.
Wanderlust Day 7 and 8: Ancient Olympia and village hopping in Mountainous Arcadia
The morning finds us in Ancient Olympia, the most important landmark of the Peloponnese and the birthplace of the Olympic Games. Our tour around the archaeological site includes short pauses at Philipeio, the ruins of the Temple of Hera, Nymphaion and of course, the stadium, where you get goose pimples just contemplating the magnitude of its history.
However, our time is racing like a sprinter and I have to leave Ilia and head to Arcadia.
Arcadia Prefecture: And here we are at the heart of the Peloponnese, Arcadia. It is here that we are welcomed by authentic autumnal images. Yellow leaves everywhere, running waters, stone houses left and right. A treat for anyone preferring the mountain to the sea!
We are ready for village hopping! We start from beautiful Stemnitsa and Roilou tower and we have a coffee in “Gerousia”, a traditional café in the village square. We carry on to Dimitsana with its ultra-modern Water Power Museum which makes a huge impression on me as it is an incredible combination of the traditional and the contemporary. Later we wander around the cobbled stone alleys and sit for a meal in one of the numerous taverns of the area.
Village hopping continues the next day, this time starting from Karitaina and its beautiful castle, aka “the Greek Toledo”, and have a coffee in the café of the next village, Zatouna, with its many water fountains. We carry on to “the hanging village of the Peloponnese”, Lagadia, also known for its artisans and tapestries and we conclude our tour in Vitina where we sit down to dinner after having done our shopping: local honey, oregano and handmade pasta.
Tips: A “must” in Vitina is the street of Love and the little forest, aka Otto’s forest, is well worth a visit. It is an enchanting place. If you choose to go village hopping in Mountainous Arcadia, set aside two days in order to visit these villages at your own pace.
Wanderlust Day 9: Corinthia Prefecture
We have reached our penultimate day and time is pressing. We change prefecture again and head to Lake Stymphalia. Take a glimpse just before you keep on reading!
Corinthia Prefecture: Our first stop is the Environmental Museum which amazes me as much as the Water Power Museum in Dimitsana. Unfortunately the lake is totally dried up. Then again, this does give us the chance to walk in it and take amazing photos of places we would otherwise have no access to.
Our day concludes in the best possible way. Just outside Nemea we sample fantastic wine varieties in Semeli winery and wander around the endless vineyards.
Tips: If you want to enjoy the authentic viticulture experience and wine production process, book accommodation in the premises of Semeli while, if you would like to see more of the Prefecture of Corinthia go on a lake hopping trip combining lakes Doxa and Stymphalia.
Wanderlust Day 10: Achaia Prefecture
Achaia Prefecture: Although it is not winter yet, a visit to Kalavryta is a must. We can always come back to the ski centre with the first snows. We walk around the paved streets of the town and the smell of grilled meat from the taverns tickles our nostrils. We carry on to Diakopto where the rack and pinion railway awaits to bring back old fashioned romance and adventure to the railway experience! Nature is at its best at this time of year and the colours of the trees are impressive.
And after 10 wonderful days on the Peloponnese, full of images, colours, flavours, faces, joyous conversations and lots of emotions, it is time to go back to base. So this is the last change of prefecture… Attica. Back to Athens with a mind full of pictures and a camera full of colourful shots of the Peloponnese.
Find more of Maria’s travel stories here.
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