Greek summer at its finest: beautiful beaches, quaint fishing villages, endless olive groves, coastal and mountain trails with glorious views. And beyond that: ancient civilisations, Mycenaean palaces and the Gialova wetland, the only one of its kind in Greece. You’ll go hiking at Paleokastro, walk around the ruins at Neokastro and at the Methoni and Koroni castles, followed by a lovely lunch or dinner at tavernas on the water, serving fresh fish and meze. Or perhaps a round of golf?
Piece by piece, you’ll put together the puzzle that is Western Messinia. One summer on the southwestern coastline of the Peloponnese is never enough.
What to do in Western Messinia
Paleokastro: A forgotten Frankish castle
Don’t miss the opportunity to travel on foot to this cliff-side castle, one of the many attractions you’ll encounter in Western Messinia. It’s located on the Gulf of Navarino and the view is so impressive that the locals claim, albeit rather imaginatively, that on a clear night you can see as far as the lights of Malta.
Pylos: ‘Hostess’ of the Peloponnese
The calm of today belies a troubled past in a city synonymous with the Battle of Navarino. Now it rests peacefully, built in the shape of an amphitheatre below Neokastro, reminiscent of an island hamlet. Enjoy a leisurely coffee in the shade at a traditional ‘kafenio’ in the central square of Trion Navarhon with its exotic palm trees. Visit the Archaeological Museum. Take a stroll along the coastal road and then sit down for dinner at one of its many restaurants. A little outside town, you can admire Kamares, a section of the old water tower.
Neokastro: The impressive, listed Ottoman fortress
This is possibly one of the best-preserved fortresses in Greece and looking around it is an indescribable experience. Right in its centre is the impressive Transfiguration of the Saviour church (Metamorphosis tou Sotiros), which functioned as a mosque during Ottoman rule. It was built in 1573 and, invisible from the sea, played a key role in the famous naval Battle of Navarino.
Images of the beach under Paleokastro, with its famous bay – shaped in a perfect semicircle – have travelled the world. Incredible turquoise water and fine white sand, hidden in which you’ll find beautiful seashells.
Gialova Lagoon: A habitat for rare birds and animals
Equipped with binoculars and camera, you’ll follow the footpath that leads to the bird observatory. Gialova is an incredibly beautiful nature reserve in the Peloponnese, home to 250 species of rare birds – among them flamingos, swans and mallards. Particularly important is the presence of the African chameleon. Gialova is the only place in Europe where it survives and reproduces.
Beautiful beaches of all sizes
In Pylos, you’ll find the beach of Chrisi Akti (also known as Divari), situated in a protected area. Nearby is Voidokilia and from there until Kyparissia you’ll come across seemingly endless sandy beaches, like Mati and Lagouvardos (perfect for surfing and other water sports), as well as small and picturesque bays with deep water, such as Stomio and Filiatra. North of Voidokilia is the miraculously expansive beach of Romanos.
Methoni Castle: Guardian of the port
As soon as you set foot on the stone bridge with its 14 arches, flirting with the swell, you’ll be impressed by the castle and its imposing gate. A second and then a third gate lead you to the inside of the castle, where there was once a settlement. Among its remains is the pretty church, Transfiguration of the Saviour (Metamorphosis tou Sotiros), the Turkish Baths (dating to the 19th century), the house of Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt and the Bourtzi, founded by the Venetians in the 13th century and rebuilt by the Turks in 1500.
Methoni: Picturesque, quiet and authentic
The picturesque seaside new town of Methoni, famed for its low stone homes, one beside the other, with their lovely patios and fragrant flowers, will charm you and invite you to enjoy its beaches, cafes and restaurants.
The impregnable castle of Koroni
It was built around the same time as the castle of Methoni. Under Ottoman rule, it was considered the best-fortified castle in Messinia, if not in the entire Peloponnese. Inside the castle and on the ruins of an ancient temple dedicated to Apollo, the Byzantine church of Agia Sofia was built, next to the monastery of Timios Prodromos.
Built in what used to be ancient Asini, modern Koroni is aristocratic and stately. With its well-preserved old stone homes and sloping streets, it has an ambience reminiscent of southern Italy. In the summer months, the coastal road overflows with coffee shops, tavernas and people, while all around, you’ll find beautiful beaches, the most popular being sandy Zanga.
Sheltered and welcoming Finikounda
Be sure to include Finikounda on your route and stop for lunch or a coffee. Situated on a sheltered bay, surrounded by sandy beaches with shallow waters, it is ideal for families with small children. Its name derives from the Phoenicians who had trade links with the region, while the modern village was developed by Cretan immigrants around 1840.
Hidden gems of Western Messinia
Sphakteria: The island-protector
On this wooded islet, monuments have been erected, dedicated to the dead of the Battle of Navarino. With the caique that takes you to Sphakteria, you’ll see the small islet Helonaki (‘little tortoise’), with its monument to the British soldiers that fell in the battle.
That this region has been inhabited since the Neolithic period is endorsed by the findings that date back to the middle of the 6th millennium BC, found in Nestor’s Cave, located on a hill above Voidokilia beach and under Paleokastro.
The palace belonging to Homer’s Nestor covers an area of about two hectares and is perhaps the best-preserved Mycenaean palace in the Peloponnese identified so far. Notable finds include tablets with Linear B texts.