Home Destination Guides Accommodation 24th April 2019





General
Greece 

 
T H E   P E L O P O N N E S E
 
Golden beach from Navarino Castle     
    
 
Links to sections within this page:
 
General                                                           
Corinth Canal                                                Korinthia Province
Mycenae                                                          Argolis Province
Sparta Town                                                  Lakonia Province
Stoupa                                                             Messinia Province
Olympia                                                           Ilia Province
Kilini  
Tripolis                                                            Arkadia Province
Patras                                                              Achaia Province
 
 
GENERAL
 
    The Peloponnese is a very important region of Greece. On its Northern border, the area extends from the Corinth Canal in the East (near Athens) to Patras in the West. It then extends southwards in a jagged series of peninsulas like the open palm of a hand with 4 slowly unfurling fingers.  For those fortunate enough to visit this area, the Peloponnese is like a Pandora’s box, offering a seemingly never-ending selection of ancient sites, (more than anywhere else in Greece), a rich historical past, a diverse landscape that includes soaring mountain peaks, rugged countryside and beautiful sandy beaches, not to mention a wealth of resorts from commercial ports and bustling towns to sleepy fishing villages. All of this is permeated by the quintessential Greek hospitality that is still so apparent in the warm welcome offered by the local people here.  
 
     In ancient times the Peloponnese was a force to be reckoned with and vied with Athens for supremacy.  During the Mycenaean period, the wealthy, cultural cities of Mycenae, Tirins and Pylos were at their peak, dominating the rest of Greece.  Moving into the Classical period the cities of Sparta and Corinth joined forces against the rising power of Athens to eventually win the 30 year war, also called the Peloponnesian War by the Athenian historian Theucydides.
 
     One of the most famous of the Peloponnesian sites is at Olympia (in the far West), where the first great gathering of competing athletes took place, spawning the world’s supreme sporting event – the Olympic Games.
 
     The Peloponnese is divided into 7 regions or provinces, with names reminiscent of the epics, such as Ilia, Archaia, Messinia, Arkadia and Korinthia.  This richness of cultural heritage leads some Greeks to profess that the Peloponnese is in fact, the centre of Greece, but don’t take other people’s word for it, make your own mind up with a journey through Homer’s heartland, judging for yourself if the Peloponnese is as good as they say it is!
 
 
KORINTHIA Province
 
THE CORINTH CANAL
 
     The ancient people of this region always considered themselves to be (virtual) islanders - the name Peloponnese meaning “Island of Pelops.” However, until the 19th century, it was joined to the rest of Greece by a narrow isthmus. Then, all that changed with the creation of the Corinth Canal slicing its way through the isthmus, finally severing the Peloponnese from the mainland.  It is interesting to note that this was not an original scheme proposed by modern day pioneers, but the fruition of a kernel of thought that originated with the Roman Emperors Caligular and Nero, both of whom wanted to create a short cut from Italy to Athens via the Gulf of Corinth. Unfortunately, Nero died just 3 months after the initial stages of the work had started and this vast project was dropped, until French engineers revived the dream over 1,800 years later.
 
      The Corinth Canal was finally finished in 1893, a magnificent feat of engineering, measuring nearly six and a half kilometres in length, 24 metres wide and 8 metres in depth.  It was hewn through 80 metres of rock face to create a direct sailing route from Athens to the Adriatic Sea (running along the East coast of Italy), via the Gulf of Corinth and then through the Ionian Sea, bringing both commercial and economic benefits to Greece.  In addition the area has benefited by becoming a major tourist attraction in itself and the Corinth Canal is now a firm favourite on many cruise ship itineraries, as well as a popular stop with overland visitors.  Neither has its creation impeded land travel, as there is a comprehensive road and rail network spanning the Canal, including the recently built Patras-Athens highway bridge.
     
 
      Just south of the Corinth Canal is the modern city of Corinth, the regional centre of the Korinthia province. The province itself is situated in the north-east of the Peloponnese, bordering the southern side of the Gulf of Corinth, the southern side of the Corinth canal and also having a coastline facing across the Saronic Gulf towards Athens.  During 1858, Corinth was struck by a terrible earthquake which destroyed most of the architecture from the Venetian and Ottoman eras and a modern industrial town was rebuilt in its wake.  Despite having lost many period and architectural features however, the town does have a pleasant location on the Gulf of Corinth, with a thriving harbour and lovely views across the Gulf.
                                                                                                                                    
      In stark contrast to bustling Corinth, the ruins of the Ancient City of Corinth can be found approximately 8 kilometres inland from its modern counterpart.  During the Roman occupation Ancient Corinth was, at one time, the designated capital of Greece and the Romans became well known for their opulent and hedonistic lifestyle.  It is believed that the ancient city’s vast numbers of slaves outnumbered the 300,000 Romans inhabitants and that there were in excess of 1,000 prostitutes ‘open for business’ in Roman Corinth.  These fascinating ruins together with a Museum are sited on the slopes of Acrocorinthos, a mountain acropolis of natural limestone, with stunning panoramic views across the surrounding area.  The site has some excellent examples of medieval ruins, an early Greek theatre and parts of the Roman city built by Julius Caesar, including a Roman Agora (market place) and an Odeon (small theatre) from the 1st Century.  However, the highlight of the ancient city has to be the ruins of the Archaic Temple dedicated to the God Apollo, whose crumbling 5th Century pillars still stand defiant.
 
      As the main highway leaves Corinth towards distant Patras, it runs parallel with the northern coast of the Peloponnese on the southern side of the Gulf of Corinth. Here the massive central mountain ranges of the Peloponnese, wildly beautiful in their rugged splendour, rise up from the coast, reaching heights of 2,376 metres (Mount Killini), 2,341 metres (Mount Helmos) and 1,926 metres (Mount Voyida).
 
      To the west of Mycenae, the quiet town of Nemea is worth a visit, particularly in August, when they hold their annual wine festival.  Just outside modern-day Nemea, are the ruins of ancient Nemea, a small archaeological site which features remnants of the Sanctuary of Zeus, which date from the beginning of the 6th Century BC.
 
 
ARGOLIS Province
 
MYCENAE
 
     To the south of Ancient Corinth, in the heart of the eastern Peloponnese, where the Korinthia province borders neighbouring Argolis, the ancient city of Mycenae, the city of King Agamemnon, Commander of the Greeks during the Trojan War, offers up its story from its hilltop vantage point.  The boundaries between historical fact and legendary fable become blurred when trying to unravel the secrets of this city, which was the centre of the Mycenaean civilisation around 1500 BC during the late Bronze Age.  This archaeological gem is one of the major sites in Greece, attracting visitors from all over the world, and owes its discovery to the renowned German scholar, Heinrich Schliemann.  Having read Homer’s Illiad, Schliemann used references from the book to help him pinpoint the location of ancient Mycenae, and his determination to discover the ancient city was rewarded when he unearthed this large site in the 1870’s.  Entering Mycenae through the famous Lions Gate, a wealth of ancient buildings and other artefacts, dating from as far back as 1550-1200BC, lies before you, including the circular ‘beehive’ shaped tombs. However, the most famous find on the site was the treasured ‘Mask of Agamemnon’ made from gold and unearthed by Schliemann, considered so valuable that it now resides in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.
 
                                                                                                    
ARGOS
 
     Approximately 13 kilometres to the south of the ancient city of Mycenae, on the western side of the Argolis peninsular lies the modern inland town and regional capital of Argos.  Well worth a visit are the rich assortment of ruins spanning the Greek, Roman and Frankish eras, including a dramatic theatre seating around 20,000 people, which can all be found within walking distance of the town’s main square.  Argos is home to an interesting medieval fortress and if you choose a Wednesday to visit the town you can pick up some bargains at the local weekly market.    
 
 
NAUPLION (pronounced Nafplion)
 
     Just a few Kilometres south east from Argos, tucked away in a crook of the coastline on a beautiful bay at the very north western end of the Argolis peninsular, is the stunning city of Nafplion, which, for the briefest period in history became the capital of the newly emerging Greek state from the late 1820's until 1834.  In some ways it was fortunate for Nafplion that it's time as designated capital was brief, because most of the elegant architecture and neo classical mansion houses encapsulating Nafplion's rich and turbulent history now remain intact.
 
     According to legend the city was named after its founder, Nauplius, Son of Poseidon, who participated in the war against Troy, and met his demise at the hands of Odysseus.  Later, Nafplion became prized by the Turks and following its capture, spent hundreds of years under Ottoman rule, a presence embodied in the beautiful Ottoman architectural features that still remain.  In the 17th Century, the city was conquered by the Venetians, who added to Nauplion’s charm with a legacy of stylish and graceful buildings, which means that Nafplion today has one of the best preserved Venetian quarters in Greece.  Not to be outdone by Venice, Nafplion was again seized by the Turks and remained under Turkish rule until its liberation by the Greeks, in 1822.  King Otto, the first King of Greece, finally took up residence in Nafplion in 1833 and briefly made the city his home, although he then moved to Athens in 1834, when Athens became the new capital of Greece.
 
     ‘Aristocratic’ Nafplion spreads its way around a hillside, before coming to rest alongside the deep blue sea of the Gulf of Argolis.  The city has a bustling waterfront with a picturesque harbour shared by colourful caiques and local ferries.  There are no less than three fascinating Castles in Nafplion, including the domineering Palamides Fortress with a reputed 1,000 steps leading up to it, and the charismatic Bourtzi, which is built on an islet in the harbour and dates from the 15th Century.  Bourtzi Castle is probably the most striking of them all because of its location, floodlit in the evenings, it seems to float on the calm harbour waters so that those who choose to eat their evening meal in one of the many waterside tavernas can gaze out at the Bourtzi and lose themselves in the mists of time (and wine)!   In the day time you can visit Bourtzi Castle by taxi boat - these run regularly throughout the day and take about 20 minutes to reach the base of the Castle. 
 
      From Nafplion harbour there are (almost) daily ferries to the islands of Spetses, Hydra, Poros, Aegina and the Athens port of Pireaus, so this is also a good base for anyone wishing to explore the whole Argolis and Saronic area.
 
      A short stroll from the sea front is the city’s main park area; a haven of green shady trees and flowers combined with bird song from the park’s aviaries make this an ideal place to quench your thirst at one of the small quaint cafes dotted around the park.
 
     Nafplion’s Old town is minutes away from the waterfront, an eclectic mix of Venetian mansions, bougainvillea and pedestrian alleyways paved with cobbles all crammed with cafes, tavernas and small shops selling jewellery, art, traditional handicrafts, and souvenirs.  Look out for St George’s Church, adorned with a beautiful fresco, replicating Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous ‘Last Supper’, and the Komboloy (Greek for worry beads) Museum which is a real eye opener.  This is the only Komboloy Museum in Greece and there are some fascinating examples of worry beads from all over the world, including Hindu, Muslim, Catholic and Buddhist rosaries, some dating from the 1700’s and all made from a variety of ‘living’ materials such as horn, bone, amber, coral, ebony and ivory.  For the believer, there is also the opportunity to buy your own set of worry beads from the Museum shop.
 
     Modern Nafplion, or the New Town, plays host to a smart, modern shopping area combining chic boutiques and classy jewellers with a whole variety of other shops, restaurants, tavernas and café bars, offering many pleasant hours of shopping for those with enough stamina.  Nafplion has all the usual amenities such as Banks, ATM machines, doctors, pharmacies, car hire, local and intercity bus services, taxis, travel agents and a tourist information office.  There is a Saturday morning market offering locally produced honey, olives, fruit and salad produce, as well as an assortment of other goods.  For those interested in history, there is an interesting Archaeological Museum, housed in a grand Venetian building with some wonderful artefacts from Mycenae on display, or you can take in a visit to the National Art Gallery with exhibits of fine modern art from Greek artists.  Lastly, on the outskirts of the town, take time to fit in a visit to the Lion of Nafplion, an enchanting sculpture of a sleeping lion carved out of the hillside at the request of King Louis of Bavaria, to commemorate the deaths of the Bavarian soldiers killed in 1834.
 
     Nafplion has always been a popular choice amongst Greek visitors, particularly Athenians, who often visit for weekends, and whilst there are other nationalities who visit, Nafplion an essentially Greek destination with an authentic Greek atmosphere.
  
      A few kilometres inland from Nafplion is the site of the ancient city of Tiryns (Tirintha), where the ruins of a Mycenean palace and the renowned Cyclopean walls still stand.  It was Homer who wrote of the original Cyclopean walls that stood approximately 20 metres high, and despite the passage of time, some of the remaining ruins still reach up to 10 metres in height.
 
                                                                                           
TOLON
 
      The closest resort to Nafplion lays 20 minutes around the headland, some 10 kilometres to the south, at Tolon.  Once a sleepy fishing village, Tolon has become a well established resort, without losing any of its appeal, and has a relaxing, friendly ambiance.  The main attraction has to be the lovely long beach which arches around a narrow strip of sand and shingle along the front of the village, before expanding into a wide belt of golden sand and small dunes beyond the confines of Tolon.  With hazy views of the mountains which protect the bay, the gently shelving sheltered waters are great for families with young children.
 
      This is also an excellent spot for water sports of all kinds and a local water sports company has taken advantage of this opportunity by offering a comprehensive choice of activities including windsurfing, dinghy sailing and waterskiing, for both beginners and the more experienced alike.  Small motorised boats can be hired by those wishing to explore the coastline and off shore islets and pedaloes are available for the less intrepid.
 
      There is a small fishing harbour at the resort end of the beach, and a warm welcome will be had at the variety of tavernas, restaurants and café bars which line the waterfront and spread throughout the resort.  Tolon itself has a Post office, Bank, ATM machine, Chemist, taxis, car hire, supermarkets, shops, bars and a disco.  Nightlife is fairly low key, but tends to be busier in high season and weekends due to the influx of Greek holidaymakers.  There is a local bus running approximately every half an hour to Nafplion in the high season and taxis can be used for the return journey if you intend to have a late night out.  There are a whole host of excursions available locally, taking in a range of archeological sites and other places of interest, in addition to a choice of cruises.  However, local buses also visit the majority of sites and ferries run regularly to the Saronic Islands of Spetses, Hydra, Poros and Aegina.  In September, as part of the promotion of agri-tourism (a scheme that seeks to keep smaller villages from de-population by attracting more visitors), the Festival of Fishermen and Trawlers takes place in Tolon.
 
     It is also worth taking the 10 minute stroll across the headland from Tolon to the quiet bay of Ancient Assini to muse on the claims that this was the very spot that Agamemnon chose to launch his fleet against Troy.
 
 
ANCIENT EPIDAVROS
 
     Inland from Nafplion and Tolon (east across the Argolis peninsula), set amongst pine trees on the hillside slopes of Mount Kynortion, is the Ancient Epidavros Sanctuary, home to one of the finest amphitheatres ever built in Greece and as luck would have it, one of the best preserved.  As a result, Ancient Epidavros, (not to be confused with Palea (Old) Epidavros, a small port on the eastern side of the Argolis Peninsular and Nea (New) Epidavros, a small hamlet a few kilometres away), has been named a World Heritage site and is one of the foremost archaeological sites in Greece.  This famous Sanctuary was dedicated to Asklepios, the son of Apollo and God of Healing and whilst the Asklepieion Sanctuary on Kos was deemed more important at the time, Epidavros was more accessible than Kos for the majority of Greeks and became more prosperous as a result.
 
     Whilst there are some notable ruins of a hospital, health spa and gymnasium, plus some Roman baths and houses, the ‘piece de resistance’ is the magnificent Epidavros theatre, built in the 4th Century BC and comprising of 54 limestone tiers capable of seating 14,000 people, which are still in use today.  Apart from its incredible symmetry, the natural acoustics of this theatre are said to be so precise that even without the use of microphones, the performers on stage can be heard right up to the 54th tier.  Each year in July and August the Epidavros Theatre hosts classical performances, lit by the moon and torchlight as the sun fades.  These are open to the general public as part of the Festival season and feature plays by Aristophanes and other classical playwrights.
 
     Another wonderfully preserved building on this site is the circular Tholos, built around 350 BC, by the same architect who constructed the amphitheatre.  There is also an on-site Museum housing many of the items unearthed during excavation.  Tours to ancient Epidavros run from Athens, Nafplion and Tolon.  Alternatively there is a local bus service direct to the site from both Athens and Nafplion, but opening times for Epidavros should be checked locally prior to visiting by car or local bus, as the site may not be open every day.
 
 
PORTOHELI, KOSTA and SPETSES
 
     From Epidavros the main road runs torturously south through the Didimo Mountains until it reaches the southern coastal town of Portoheli and neighbouring Kosta which are the main ferry ports for the nearby island of Spetses.  Portoheli is situated on a natural bay surrounded by wooded hillsides with lovely views of the small islet of Hinitsa and across to Spetses.  With a regular ferry service operating between Portoheli and Pireaus, as well as being only a 3 hour drive from Athens, it is not surprising that Portoheli has become a popular destination amongst Athenians looking to escape the city in high season.  In addition to Spetses, there are hydrofoil services to some of the other Saronic Islands as well as Nafplion.
 
 
EASTERN ARGOLIS
 
     Along the eastern side of the Argolis peninsular there are no major towns and the road winds through unspoilt and rugged terrain skirting the Arahneo Mountains, which peak at over 1,199 metres.  Towards the southern end of the eastern side, on a small peninsular sticking out into the Saronic Gulf, is the harbour town of Methana where daily ferry services leave for the islands of Aegina and Poros (see island briefs), as well as to some of the many other Saronic islands.  Further south from Methana the road almost peters-out when it reaches Galatas, another harbour town,  separated from the island of Poros by a narrow channel of water.  From Galatas, taxi boats run a shuttle service to Poros and in high season they are in great demand when  Poros becomes a popular holiday destination.
 
 
LAKONIA Province
 
From the Argolis regional capital of Argos, the main route leads west to the large central town of Tripolis (in the Arkadia province), situated in the mountains near Lake Taka.  From here the southern route cuts through magnificent countryside making a beeline for Sparta, which nestles on a fertile plain between the breathtaking mountain ranges of the Taigetos in the west and the Parnon in the east.  This whole central southern peninsula is designated as the province of Lakonia, although at its southern end it splits into two further promontories (two of the four ‘fingers’ of the Peloponnese), and the western promontory is well-known as the ‘Mani’ peninsular.
 
 
SPARTA TOWN
 
     Sparta is a name that conjures up images of athletic, muscle-honed men and women, scantily clad, their shields and swords ready for war. This was an ancient city that relied not on fortresses for protection, but the local warrior peoples who thrived on bravery and military prowess.  The greatest honour for Spartan men was to be killed in battle, for women - to die in childbirth, and it is claimed that children who were born weak or ailing were left by their mothers to die in the harsh depths of the scenic Langada Gorge.
 
      In the 13th Century some Spartans started to migrate further afield, many heading to neighbouring Mystra, approximately 7 kilometres further up the hill. The town then gradually fell into decline until in 1834 the first King of Greece, King Otto, decreed that Sparta should be rebuilt, eventually resulting in the pleasant, bustling market town of today.  Sparta has good facilities and like Thessaloniki in Northern Greece, was rebuilt on a grid system, with the town square as the central point.  The market produce here is excellent, so stock up on olive oil, figs, delicious mountain honey and juicy local oranges just bursting with flavour.  Sparta may also be the only town to have a Museum dedicated entirely to the Olive.  This is a fascinating Museum charting the history of this most famous of Greek products down through the ages, including examples of olive presses and other interesting items.
 
       North of the main town lies the archaeological site of the ancient city of Sparta, where paved walkways allow the visitor to wander around the site, taking in the ruins of the Acropolis of Lakedemonia and the surrounding mountain scenery.  The town also has a small Archaeological Museum, in addition to the ruins of the Sanctuary of Orthia, where young men proved how courageous they were by subjecting themselves to ferocious beatings.  Ancient Sparta had no grand buildings or fancy architecture, as the townsfolk placed little stock on the comforts of life that the Romans so loved, hence the adjective ‘spartan,’ or plain – a word that is still in use in the English language today.  For this reason the ruins of ancient Sparta, or Lakedemonia as it was also known then, are generally low key and there are few reminders of its former glory.  Sparta is off the beaten track for the majority of tourists seeking a beach holiday and the soaring summer temperatures tend to dissuade most casual sightseers from venturing inland. If you have a particular interest in these ruins, sun hats and bottled water are a ‘must’!
 
 
HIKING AND WALKING around Sparta
 
     This said, the grand landscape surrounding Sparta has attracted a new type of tourist. Hiking and walking holidaymakers can follow the network of old mule tracks that traverse the land from village to village, across olive groves and through stunning scenery.  This way village life and the renowned Greek hospitality can be sampled at its best, as well as taking in a ruin or two on the way.  For those with a car, the main road travelling west from Sparta to Kalamata is a scenic delight, crossing the Taigetos Mountains and passing through the Langada Gorge.
 
 
MYSTRA
 
     To the west of Sparta is the medieval Byzantine city of Mystra, which rises in stages up the Taigetos mountainside, culminating in a hilltop Frankish fortress, which dominates the skyline and offers superb views across the plain of Sparta.  Mystra is renowned for its beautiful churches, monasteries and convents. These with their ornate architecture and quality frescos, spread out along the narrow streets as they rise steeply towards the fortress.  Present day Mystra is a pleasant village, where a statue commemorating the last Byzantine Emperor, Constantine, takes pride of place, and where a local bus service runs to the Frankish fortress on the top of the hill.
 
 
MONEMVASIA  
 
       From Sparta the road runs south before forking in two, one road travelling to the eastern promontory of Vatika and the other continuing towards Gythio and the Mani.  The eastern route passes through the village of Moloi, which is noted for its Festival of the Goat held every July, with celebrations and festivities lasting around 10 days. The road then leads on to Monemvasia, or to be more precise, to the mainland town of Gefira, (pronounced Yefira, meaning ‘bridge’), just a stone’s throw from Monemvasia.
 
      Monemvasia is sometimes referred to as the Gibraltor of Greece, and is an archetypal gem, jumping out of the ‘pandoras box’ of treats that the Peloponnese has to offer. It epitomizes Greece with an abundance of history, architecture, stunning sites, panoramic views, azure waters, great food and hospitality.
 
      Connected to Yefira by a narrow causeway, Monemvasia at first sight appears to be just a bare lump of rock, towering 300 metres high - its grey mass contrasting starkly against the deep blue sea.  Yet this barren facade is deceptive, because hiding around the southern side of the rock is a stunning medieval citadel, built in the 6th Century AD, wonderfully preserved and probably the best example of its kind that Greece has to offer.  The ‘rock’ itself was originally part of the mainland until a massive earthquake in 375 AD hurled it into the sea, making it the perfect place for the Byzantines to build a fortress town in the Middle Ages.  In 1540 the Turks came along and it wasn’t until the bloodbath of 1821, during the Greek war of Independence, when every Turk in the garrison was killed, that Monemvasia returned once again to Greek jurisdiction.
 
      Monemvasia town is divided into two parts, the Upper and Lower towns. It owes its atmospheric charm to the foresight of the Greek authorities who have prohibited new buildings since 1902, refused installation of neon lights for advertising or otherwise, and declared Monemvasia a pedestrian precinct, barring all motor vehicles.  All produce and luggage is brought in by the age-old wheelbarrow and the causeway is sometimes used as a car park!  There is only one gateway into the town, through a narrow passage in the great western wall of the citadel, which leads straight into a maze of cobbled paths and alleys, unchanged by time and covered with bougainvillea.  The picturesque cobbled streets, crammed with small shops, cafes, bars and tavernas lead to a main square which has a Museum and a beautiful 13th Century church named Christos Elkomenos.
 
       Following the paths around the great city walls there are great views of the ‘mainland’ and out across the blue depths of the sea.  Even better views can be had from the upper town, reached by a stone path winding up the rock to the fascinating ruined fortress and the notable church of Saint Sophia decorated with frescoes. However, if venturing up the rocky path, beware of the sun, shade is scarce and it is advisable to take bottled water and wear a sun hat when sightseeing.
 
      Back on the mainland, Yefira is a nice, typically Greek fishing town, having a small harbour lined with restaurants, that face the colourful local fishing caiques.  Yefira offers reasonable amenities with shops, money exchange, cafes and tavernas, and the causeway doubles as a quay for a ferry boat and summer hydrofoil service.  The majority of visitors are Greeks, many using the hydrofoil service from Pireaus or the daily bus from Athens in the summertime, and the atmosphere is very relaxed and friendly.  If you are looking for something special, there are some choice hotels in the lower town of Monemvasia, which are full of character and provide the visitor with an opportunity to really appreciate the atmosphere of the citadel in the quiet of the evening.  Alternatively Yefira has a selection of hotels and rooms at more competitive prices, and also offers a bus service to and from Monemvasia across the causeway.  The coastline in this area is generally rocky but sandy coves can be found just a few miles outside of Yefira.
 
 
 
ELAFONISSI ISLAND
 
     Elsewhere on the eastern promontory of Lakonia, the landscape is dry and uninviting and the only other town of any size is on the southern end of the western side facing the Gulf of Laconia, at Neapoli.  This is a small harbour town well off the beaten track with a narrow beach, a ferry quay and a tiny, off-shore island called Elafonissi or Deer Island.  At one time Elafonissi was joined to Neapoli by a causeway but now the island exists in splendid isolation - apart from the regular ferry service to the mainland.  The only settlement on the island also goes by the name of Elafonissi, and is an attractive fishing village home to some shops, cafes, tavernas and a couple of Pensions, where traditional trades such as fishing are the mainstay of the local people.  The few visitors who venture this far can take a local caique round the bay to swim in the clearest of sea water and spend time on the lovely sandy beaches of Simos and Kato Nisi.
 
 
KITHIRA ISLAND
 
     To the south of Elafonissi, suspended like a pearl from the necklace of the Peloponnesian coastline, the island of Kithira hangs between the twin peninsulars of the Lakonia province.  Kithira has had a chequered history, with the islanders once ruled by the Venetians being sold as slaves in 1537 by the pirate Kemal Reis.  With few job prospects on the island, many of the younger generation have migrated to the mainland and even further afield, keeping only a family or second home on the island.  Consequently Kithira has only a modicum of activity during the high season and for the rest of the year tranquillity reigns, so for many this may be a Greek island too far!
 
     On the northern coast the small village of Agia Pelagia has become the main destination for the ferries arriving from Neapoli and Gythio.  Facilities are basic, with some shops and tavernas and around the coast are some lovely peaceful sandy coves.  There are only a couple of daily bus services operating, mainly to shuttle the local children backwards and forwards to school.  Taxis are available but tend to take advantage of this lack of transport by charging a premium.  There is one main road running north to south across the island, linking Agia Pelagia with the island’s main town of Kithira, known locally as Chora, and the coastal resort of Kapsali.  This road passes through the town of Potamos which has a choice of shops and is bustling on Sundays with a local market.  Just outside Potamos are the remains of the medieval town of Paleochora.
 
    At the southern end of the island, scenic Chora is a village of whitewashed houses, reminiscent of the Cyclades, which sits on a hill above Kapsali, topped by the ruins of a Venetian Castle.   The Castle was built in around 1503 and has stunning views across the bay.  There is also an interesting Museum in Chora.  Kapsali has a small port, although most ferries tend to use Agia Pelagia. There are a couple of pebble beaches, but the best beach can be found around the headland on a lovely stretch of sand at Fryiammos.
 
     Kithira purports to be the island where the Goddess Aphrodite emerged from the sea, (although Cyprus also lays claim to the same legend!) and in the east of the island is the site of Paleopolis (literally meaning old town), where the Temple of Aphrodite was built.  The stones from the Temple were later used to build a church on the same site.  In the east of the island is the attractive village of Milopotamos, well worth a visit for both its Venetian Castle and the interesting Cave of St Sophia.
 
    Surprisingly, Kithira has a small airport in the north east and Olympic Airways operate a domestic flight service to the island from Athens throughout the year.  In addition to the ferries from the mainland, Kithira also plays host to a regular return ferry service operating from the Cretan port of Kastelli (in the far west of Crete).
 
 
GYTHIO
 
     In the curved bay of the Gulf of Lakonia lies the harbour town of Gythio, the most important town in southern Lakonia and imbued with a rich history.  In ancient times, Gythio was known for the production of murex, a purple dye, which was made from sea molluscs in a local tradition which has since become lost to future generations.  Gythio also played a crucial role in the 30 year War of the Peloponnese as the Spartan navy was based in Gythio harbour and bore the brunt of brutal attack from the Athenians.
 
     Modern day Gythio has an attractive seafront promenade, lined with Venetian houses and fish restaurants (the local speciality) on one side and a harbour full of fishing boats on the other.  At the southern end of the promenade is a small offshore islet called Marathonisi, linked to the mainland by a causeway.  According to the ancients, this is where Paris brought Helen (of ‘the face that launched a thousand ships’ fame) for the night, having whisked her away from Sparta, not to mention her husband, before fleeing to Troy.  The islet has several interesting monuments, including a chapel and a fortress tower built by the Turks that houses a Maniot Museum and a lighthouse.
 
    In the town, Gythio has a bank and ATM machines, together with a variety of shops, authentic café bars and restaurants.  One of the few remnants of ancient times lies just outside the town at the site of a small theatre.   The town is a popular haunt of Athenians looking for a laid back summer break from the City, and there is a good coach service to and from Athens, via Sparta, on a daily basis.  However, local bus links in this area are poor and car hire is the best option for those wishing to explore further afield.  In high season the harbour sees tourist boats dock for the day, but more important is the vital ferry link from Gythio to the island of Kithira. This ferry runs all year round and is the only port, apart from Neapoli, offering a ferry service to Kithira.
 
   
THE  MANI
 
    The Mani covers the western promontory of Lakonia with the Gulf of Lakonia on the barren eastern side and the Gulf of Messinia to the west.  It is roughly divided into two parts, the Inner Mani being the southern finger of the peninsular and the Outer Mani being the area to the north of this. The outer Mani actually falls under the jurisdiction of the Messinian peninsular further to the west, and forms the land spreading up the coastline of the Gulf of Messinia towards Kalamata at the top, taking in the resort of Kardamili on the way.
 
     The Inner Mani peninsular is austere and mountainous. The local Maniots mimic their rugged landscape in temperament, being renowned for their fierce, tough nature, though paradoxically also their warmth and hospitality.  Despite its stark, intimidating mountains, this part of Greece is beautiful in its remoteness and it is thanks to the harsh terrain that the Mani was one of the only regions in Greece never to have been occupied by either the Turks or the Venetians, enabling the area to retain a certain purity of culture, tradition and architecture.  Agriculture and fishing are the age-old means of making a living here and the fruits of local labour are reflected in tasty dishes such as ‘siglino’, smoked pork, succulent sausages and delicious fried pastries with walnuts and honey.
 
    Some Maniots claim to be descended from the Spartans and this may explain their feudal past where families belonged to clans and vendettas between rival clans were commonplace.  The fear of attack and reprisals from feuding neighbours caused the clans to build taller and taller houses for protection, resulting in the now distinctive and unique fortified Tower houses built of stone that have become characteristic landmarks of the Mani area.  It wasn’t until the Greek War of Independence and the intervention of the Maniot General Mavromichaelis, that the feudal families put away their differences and united for the common good.
 
    Across the northern end of the Mani peninsula, the road from Gythio heads west, traversing the mountains, until it reaches the small town of Areopolis, close to the western coast. Here, a statue of the great General Mavromichaelis has pride of place in the central town square. The market town of Areopolis is the capital of the Mani and from here there is a single coastal road that makes a complete circuit of the Inner Mani peninsular.  The impenetrable mountains occupy the centre of the peninsular and rise to over 1,200 metres high.  The road signs are pitted with bullet holes and the Mani Tower houses are everywhere - some abandoned, but many still inhabited.  Increasingly, some of the Tower houses are being renovated as part of the agritourism initiative, in the hope that visitors can be attracted to stay in these unique properties and experience a truly Greek way of life.
 
    Taking the circular road around the coast, just south of Areopolis you will come across the stunningly beautiful caves of Pirgos Dirou.  Over 1,200 metres of subterranean river run through the Caves and the caves themselves are renowned for their stalactites. Small boats run a shuttle service through the caves on a daily basis during the tourist season, although you may have to wait in a queue at the height of the season.
   
     Heading to the southern tip of the Mani, there is a great collection of Tower houses at Kita and on a hilltop at Vathia. Passing the ‘road’ leading to Porto Kagio (with ferries to Kithera and Gythio), we move on up the eastern side of the peninsula, where the road is precipitous with awesome views across the Gulf of Lakonia.  Along the way there are a number of small villages, each with their Tower houses and churches - all totally unspoilt, as the road winds its way once more across to Areopolis. 
    
 
MESSINIA Province
    The most westerly peninsular on the Peloponnese lies in Messinia and is encircled by the clear blue waters of the Messinian Gulf in the east and the Ionian Sea in the west.  Here tourism remains in its infancy, the coastline dotted with unpretentious fishing villages, while the rugged interior is festooned with traditional mountain hamlets.  The best beaches are found on the western coast, but the eastern side lacks neither beauty nor charm, so whichever side you choose you are sure of a truly relaxing break with a hefty dose of Greek hospitality thrown in!
  
STOUPA
 
     Travelling north from Areopolis the road follows the coastal plain to the west of  the Taigetos Mountains and into Messinia. Here lie the greener, more fertile shores of the Outer Mani, and one or two of the most popular resorts, including Kardamili and Stoupa.
 
     The small, attractive resort of Stoupa is ideally situated on a broad, sheltered sandy bay, with yet another sandy swathe at Kalogria beach a short stroll around the headland, making this a magnet for families and couples.  Accommodation is slotted in along the narrow village streets, or spread out amongst the surrounding olive groves and the resort lays claim to being the place where the enchanting book ‘Zorba the Greek’ was written.   All the essentials are here with a good choice of local tavernas, restaurants, cafes and bars as well as shops, churches, mini markets, ATM machine, bakery, a chemist and car hire availability.  The pace of life here, as with most of the Maniot resorts, is slow and laid back. A leisurely meal in a coastal taverna  is complemented with great views across the bay to the Messinia peninsula. In addition, Stoupa has the advantage of being within an hour and a half’s drive of the regional airport at Kalamata, with charter flights arriving from the UK.
  
 
HIKING AND WALKING around Stoupa
 
     Always a hit with Greek families, Stoupa has seen a slow but steady expansion in size and popularity over the last few years due to the combination of good beaches and proximity to Kalamata airport.  The area is also becoming popular with visitors who enjoy walking or hiking, due to the unspoilt scenery and nature trails.  There is a coastal path running south to the quaint fishing village of Agios Nikolaos, which will take about an hour to walk each way and further on is the quiet hamlet of Agios Dimitrios with its own tiny harbour still guarded by an old Maniot watchtower. The area around Kardamili also has its hiking attractions, with a network of ancient stone paths and tracks running across the hillsides, connecting the mountain hamlets and churches. Hikers and ramblers come to take advantage of the many trails available - the stunning trek through the Vikos Gorge being one of the most popular. 
 
 
KARDAMILI
 
     A short drive (approximately 10 minutes) to the north of Stoupa brings you to the picturesque coastal resort of Kardamili, set beneath the towering Taigetos Mountains.  In ancient times Kardamili harbour was used by the Spartans as a portal to the sea and during the 19th Century clan members fortified the village with intriguing Tower houses built from the local Maniot stone. Set apart from the rest of the village, a few minutes walk along an old dry riverbed, is the now deserted old town of Kardamili, where many of these Tower houses still survive today.
 
    Nowadays Kardamili has a more peaceful existence and has attracted a rather bohemian clientele, including writers and artists. It has also been designated a village of outstanding beauty. The village has a selection of tavernas, restaurants, bars, cafes and small local shops.  Taxis are available as well as both mountain bike and car hire.  The coastal road runs through the village but local bus services are limited and to fully explore the area, car hire is essential.  The coastline at Kardamili is mostly rocky but there are purpose built quays to swim from or to the north of the village there is a long, sweeping beach of white pebbles at Ritsa. 
 
 
KALAMATA
 
      Just over an hours drive north of Kardamili, nestled in a bay on the northern edge of the Gulf of Messinia lies the expansive metropolis of Kalamata, the second largest city of the Peloponnese (Patras being the largest).  However, Kalamata is probably better known for its delicious, plump Kalamata olives, with their distinctive dark skins of an almost purplish hue, which grow in near perfect conditions in the surrounding countryside and are exported all over the world.
  
     Although Kalamata has a rich historical past, the city was irrevocably damaged by a massive earthquake in 1986, which brought down most of the Venetian and Turkish buildings and resulted in characterless replacements.  Fortunately, the city’s 13th Century Frankish Castle survived.  Built on an acropolis and incorporating an impressive amphitheatre, it is the setting for many cultural events during the summer months.
  
     Kalamata has also benefited to some extent from its regional airport. Situated just north of the town, it now offers British tour operators the opportunity to fly their customers direct from the UK by charter aircraft to the region.  However, Kalamata airport is only a small one and if tales of long queues at the check-in desks and luggage carousels are to be believed it is probably just as viable to fly into Athens and drive across the Corinth Canal!  If anyone has visited recently, we would appreciate an update!  Previously, Olympic Airways operated a domestic flight from Athens to Kalamata, but this has been discontinued.   Kalamata has good road links with the rest of the Peloponnese and there is an excellent bus service operating several times a day to Patras, together with an even more frequent service to and from Athens.
 
     As befits a large town Kalamata has all the usual amenities with visitors usually converging on the waterfront tavernas and restaurants.  The town also has an art gallery, a museum, a choice of nightlife with bars, clubs and discos and a good stretch of sand and shingle beach which offers a variety of water sports.  Being situated between Messinia and the Lakonia peninsular, Kalamata is well positioned for exploring both areas.
 
 
CHRANI (pronounced Crani)
 
The coastal hamlet of Chrani lies in the middle of the eastern side of the Messinian peninsula, approximately one hour’s drive from Kalamata.  This peaceful hamlet, tucked well away from the madding crowds, sits at one end of a long, sweeping bay of shingle that remains uncrowded even in August.  The green hillsides, cloaked with trees and shrubs make good walking country and there are lovely views across the Gulf towards Stoupa and the Maniot mountains. The village has cafeterias, mini markets, some good tavernas, money exchange facilities and car hire. It does not have a resident doctor but there is a doctor in the neighbouring village of Logga, approximately 6 kilometres away. Chrani is a stress-free zone - so you won’t find mass tourism, buzzing nightlife or noisy discos….perfect for those looking to get away from it all!
 
     For a change of scene the larger village of Petalidi is located a short drive to the north of Chrani and approximately 12 kilometres to the south is the small, picturesque harbour town of Koroni.  Koroni has a wonderful medieval fortress, built by the Venetians. From the Fortress you can walk to the quay-side tavernas or down to Zaga beach which has a good stretch of sand, beach-side tavernas and some water sports in high season. A bus service operates from Kalamata along the eastern peninsular as far as Koroni up to 6 times a day.
 
    
FINIKOUNDA
 
      If you thought Chrani was quiet, here is another little gem ready to take you back to a time when tourism had barely begun in Greece.  Set on the southern end of the Messinian peninsula, Finikounda village has glorious beaches and a charming harbour where the brightly painted fishing boats sit on a sea so clear that they almost seem to be suspended in air.  Very traditional and very Greek, Finikounda has retained its authenticity mostly because it is so remote. There are a few more visitors in August than at other times, but these are mostly Greek escaping from Athens.
 
     The village has a variety of tavernas, mostly offering traditional Greek food and freshly caught local fish, as well as some café bars, mini markets, small shops, a couple of taxis and a doctor.  In total, there are three beaches, all within walking distance, mostly of sand with some shingle, so pack that book you’ve been dying to read and leave the high heels at home!  The occasional boat trip runs in high season and there is a local bus service running several times a day through lovely scenery to the small towns of Methoni and Pylos on the western side of the peninsula, otherwise the only way to really explore this lovely area is by hire car.  Using a car, Finikounda is ideally situated to explore both the eastern and the western coast of Messinia.  
 
 
METHONI
 
The small coastal town of Methoni lies on the southern tip of western Messinia, a short drive from Finikounda.  Methoni, is dominated by a striking Venetian Castle, witness to the changing fortunes of this attractive, historic town.  Originally built to deter pirates the Venetians built a cathedral inside the castle walls and the Turks contributed by adding a Turkish bath.  Methoni has a good sandy beach, and a choice of tavernas, café bars and small shops, although some of them may be closed in the very early and late part of the season.
 
 
PYLOS
 
      Further up the western coast, north of Methoni, the small town of Pylos not only has a fascinating history but also has one of the best locations on the southern end of the superb Navarino Bay.  Navarino Bay is just about one of the best natural harbours that Greece has to offer, being virtually landlocked by the long, narrow offshore islet of Sfakteria which protects the Bay from the open sea and offers safe swimming in calm, clear waters.  Navarino Bay earned its place in the annals of history in October 1827 when 26 British, French and Russian ships came to the aid of the Greeks during the War of Independence and managed to sink a total of 53 Turkish and Egyptian ships.  When the sea is calm and the sun is bright, snorkellers might get more than they bargained for as wreckage from this massive defeat can still be seen on the sea bed. Any visitors having a late holiday on the 20th October are in for a real treat when Pylos celebrates this anniversary in style.
 
      Unspoilt Pylos is yet another town dominated by Castles, the Old Castle (Paleo Kastro) at the northern end of the bay and the imposing New Castle (Neo Kastro) built by the occupying Turks in 1572. The latter was built around a central courtyard and is used as a prison.  There are wonderful views from the Kastro, overlooking the red tiled roofs of the houses as they tumble down to an attractive, lively little harbour.  Pylos also has a certain amount of chic with stylish architecture, a leafy main square surrounded by cafeterias popular for exchanging gossip, plus restaurants and tavernas offering Greek specialities and fresh fish.  There are banks, a post office, a bus station, car hire, an interesting Museum and a variety of other shops, as well as water taxis offering trips to the offshore islets around the Bay.  In addition this part of the coastline is known for having some of the best sandy beaches in Messinia.  Within a short distance from Pylos are the fine sandy beaches of Divari, Golden Beach and the crescent of golden sand at Voydokilia.
     
       A 5 minute drive (approximately) from Pylos at the northern end of Navarino Bay is the small village of Yialova, which has a sandy beach, good tavernas and an assortment of shops.  Because of the unique conditions around Navarino Bay and the adjacent lagoon at Divari, the area bordering Yialova is now a protected nature reserve, renowned for its variety of birds, including herons and kingfishers and also a special type of chameleon.  
      
      Everywhere you look around the unspoilt countryside you see olive trees and Pylos has taken advantage of this natural resource to promote agritourism during the off season months November to February when the olive crop is harvested.  Organised excursions are available to watch the olives harvested and to follow their progress through to the pressing of the oil and the production of by-products such as olive oil soaps.
  
     An important archaeological site in this area, located approximately 16 kilometres to the north of Pylos, is the ruin of King Nestors Palace, a Mycenaean settlement dating from circa 1300 BC and only excavated in 1952.  Nestor’s Palace is believed to date back some 3,000 years and in order to preserve the now exposed ruins, the archaeologists working on the site have erected a protective roof over the excavations.
    
     For archaeological buffs, Messinia hides another exciting site tucked away between the Minthi and Likeo mountains, close to its boundary with Ilia province.  It is in this remote area at Basses (pronounced Vasses) that the Temple of Apollo, dating from 420 BC lays claim to the title of being one of the greatest Temples in Greece.  To visit the site on your own a car is essential, the best route is probably travelling north from Kalamata to Megalopoli, north west from Megalopoli to Andritsena and then up a small mountain road to the Temple at Vasses. However, organized excursions are available from some resorts.  For those touring and wishing to enjoy a little more of this amazing countryside, Andritsena offers local accommodation.
 
 
ILIA Province
 
OLYMPIA
 
     The Ilia province north of Messinia covers the western region of the Peloponnese and is noted for its most famous ancient site at Olympia.  This is the birthplace of the Olympic Games, Greece’s legacy to the sporting world, which took place in summer at Ancient Olympia every 4 years, from 776 BC until 392 AD.  Athletes would travel from far and wide to showcase their strength and ability at Olympia and competition was just as fierce then as it is today - according to the tales that abound of bribery and corruption, floggings and fines!  The Ancient ruins lie in the beautiful Alpheos valley, close to the River Alpheos, which played an important role in the preservation of the site.  When the river overflowed, the remains of Olympia became covered with a protective seal of mud thereby preventing any further erosion of the site.  The focal point of the site is, of course, the Stadium where the games were held, but other strong contenders for attention are the remains of the Temple of Zeus and two excellent Museums.
 
     Comprised mostly of plains and valleys, with mountains rising only on its eastern border, the Ilia region is extremely fertile and dominated by agriculture.  Grapes are a major product, producing quality wines, raisins and sultanas, as well as citrus fruits and the indomitable olive. Most villages have their own lively markets and local handicrafts.  In the town of Krestena, a short drive from Olympia, they celebrate the raisin in August.
   
   
KILINI
    
Approximately 30 kilometres to the south of Patras, on the far western coast of the Peloponnese, lies the small port of Kilini.  Transport links to this tiny port are poor - there are only infrequent bus services and the train services between Kilini and Patras are at best sporadic.  However, Kilini is a useful alternative port if you are travelling from the Ionian Islands to the Peloponnese and wish to avoid the bustling metropolis of Patras.  Several ferries operate most days from Zakynthos (Zante), and similarly from Argostoli on the island of Kephalonia.  Kilini is also much closer to the ancient site of Olympia than Patras, and it is feasible to do a day trip, or overnight trip (depending on ferry schedules) from the Ionian islands, taking in the sites of Olympia and having a laid-back ferry trip thrown in for good measure.
  
 
 
ARKADIA Province
 
     Right at the centre of the Peloponnese, lies the province of Arcadia, which is dominated by awesome mountains rising to nearly 2,000 metres above sea level.  Covered by snow in the winter months, this region has been dubbed by some as the ‘Switzerland of Greece’. In central Arkadia, due north of Sparta, lies the large town of Tripolis and nearby is Lake Taka.
  
     The Arkadia province actually covers not only the central area of the Peloponnese, but extends out to the east until it meets the coast of the Gulf of Argolis, thus filling the space between the Argolis province in the north and the Lakonia province to the south. The Arkadia province thus has quite an extensive coastline in addition to its mountains. However, this section of coast is quite remote, with no major route running through or near it, only a coastal road that enables you to travel from one end to the other. In the hills, back from the coast, lie a number of monasteries.
 
 
ACHAIA Province
 
    The final province of the Peloponnese is Achaia, which occupies the central Northern region. It abuts Korinthia in the east and spreads along the southern coast of the Gulf of Corinth across to busy Patras in the west and beyond.  This region is dominated by spectacular mountain scenery, and a sizeable portion of the Athens – Patras highway runs along its northern coast, bordering the Gulf of Corinth.
 
 
PATRAS
 
    Located on the north-western coast of the Peloponnese, where the Gulf of Corinth flows into the Gulf of Patras, the busy city of Patras is the third largest city in Greece. Its vast port takes the title of second largest in Greece (the Athens port of Pireaus being the largest) and is the hub of domestic and international ferries of all shapes and sizes.  Because of its westerly location it is the port of choice for ferries arriving from southern Italy, the Adriatic and the Ionian Islands and is not only used by the tourist market but is an important route for traffic importing and exporting all manner of goods to and from Greece.  Patras enjoys excellent road and rail links with Athens, particularly since the completion of the new Patras-Athens Highway.  It also has good road links to all the large towns of the Peloponnese and most of the other major cities in Greece.  There is a rail link from Patras down the western coast of the Peloponnese to the towns of Pirgos, Olympia, Kiparissi (a pretty coastal hamlet in Messinia) and on to Kalamata, but you should be aware that this is definitely not the fastest of routes!
 
     During fierce fighting during the Greek War of Independence, most of the city was destroyed along with a lot of historic sites and architecture and the subsequent rebuilding was more along practical lines rather than the aesthetic.  This, coupled with the commercial aspect of the port (attracting great numbers of freight vehicles crossing into the EU via Italy), has meant that Patras has little to offer the tourist looking for a relaxing break in the sun.  Patras is a busy commercial city and most of the passengers entering the city are transitory, in fact the port is so busy that a new system of departure ‘gates’, similar to airports, was introduced to make it easier for passengers to identify the correct ferry!  Fortunately both the main bus station and the railway station are located in the centre of the port’s waterfront, along with the tourist Police and a Bank.  At the eastern end of the waterfront is the International Ferry Terminal which also houses the Tourist Information Office.
 
     However, whilst Patras lacks the qualities of the more popular tourist towns, it is not without its attractions and if you have time to wander around whilst waiting for a ferry there are several sites well worth seeing.   Opposite the railway station, the main street of Agios Nikolaou leads to the most prominent attraction, which is the Venetian Castle, built on the site of an ancient acropolis in the east of the City. A short stroll to the south of the Castle is the restored remains of a Roman Odeon.  Closer to the waterfront, a few blocks behind the Tourist Police, is a small Archaeological Museum and south of the port is the Cathedral of Saint Andrew, named after the Saint, whose head is apparently enshrined within the building, making this a major stop for pilgrims and Greeks alike.  
      
     Travelling east from Patras along the coastal road back to Corinth, a small road branches off, after the town of Egio, into the mountains.  Climbing the hills the road terminates at the Monastery of Taxiarchon, where the monks have followed the tradition of rose-growing for the past 300 years.  Some of the flowers are crystallized into a sweet which is sold locally.  Visitors are welcome during spring and summer when they can watch the sweets being made and try a sample!
 
 
KALAVRITA mountain railway & skiing
 
       And finally, for lovers of the truly unique, and amongst others the ‘anorak brigade,’ the Peloponnese offers up her last secret; the renowned rack-and-pinion railway that runs from the village of Dhiakofto close to the coast, through the breathtakingly beautiful scenery of the Vouraikos Gorge to the mountain village of Kalavrita.  As far as facts and figures are concerned this narrow gauge railway runs for 22 kilometres through spectacular countryside on a 75cm gauge track, rising over 700 metres from start to finish.   It was built by the Italians in the late 20th Century and is a masterpiece of engineering, with part of the route drilled out from the solid rock face of the Gorge and steep climbs up to a 1 in 7 gradient, resulting in a stomach churning lurch as the rack-and-pinion gears, (an Abt system), drag the railway carriages upwards.
 
      The railway operates all year round.  In Winter when the snow is thick on the mountain-sides Kalavrita becomes a popular ski centre, and in the Spring thaw the Gorge fills with ice cold water which gushes down to the sea.
 
     About half way up to Kalavrita, just outside the village of Kato Zahlorou, there is the fascinating Moni Spileo Monastery, built up against the mountainside, in front of a cave, (Spileo being Greek for cave).  It was inside this cave that a local girl discovered an icon of the Virgin Mary which is now displayed in the Monastery along with some more macabre items such as various limbs and a couple of heads all purported to be from Saints.  
 
     Kalavrita has its own tale to tell, of courage, defiance and martyrdom.  During the German occupation in the Second World War many local people joined the secret ranks of the Greek resistance, fighting tirelessly against their occupiers.  In 1943, in an attempt to stop this activity, the Germans rounded up the villagers, confining the women in the church, and took 1,436 men and boys to the edge of the village where they were shot.  The women later escaped, but at the moment of horror when the shots rang out, the church clock stopped and has remained ever since with its hands at 2.34.
 
     In the hills above Kalavrita there is another Monastery at Agia Lavra, and a monument dedicated to those Greeks who died fighting during the War of Independence. 
    
 
 
TRANSPORT  CONNECTIONS
 
      There are several ways to get to the Peloponnese.  Package holidays are available from selected Greek specialist tour companies, most of them flying into Kalamata airport.  There are charter airlines flying direct from the U.K. to Kalamata during the summer months, usually from April to October, or it may be just as viable to fly into Athens, particularly if you intend to visit the Eastern Peloponnesian resorts of Nafplion or Tolon.  There are excellent road and rail connections between Athens and the Peloponnese, coaches run on a regular daily basis from the capital and car hire is available at the airport.   Flying time from the U.K. to both Kalamata and Athens is approximately 3 and a half hours.  Unfortunately domestic flights from Athens to Kalamata have been discontinued for the foreseeable future, but there is a domestic flight from Athens to Kithera operated by Olympic Airways.
 
     There are excellent ferry links from the Italian ports of Brindisi, Bari, Ancona and Venice to Patras on an almost daily basis.  There is also an excellent domestic ferry service from Patras to the Ionian Islands (Zakynthos, Kefalonia, Ithaca and Corfu) as well as the northern mainland port of Igoumenitsa (opposite Corfu).  The small western port of Kilini offers further services to the Ionian Islands of Zakynthos and Kephalonia.  The eastern Peloponnese has excellent links by ferry, hydrofoil or flying dolphin to the Saronic Islands of Spetses, Hydra, Poros and Aegina as well as Athens.  Many eastern Peloponnese resorts and coastal villages run local ferries to the Saronic IslandsNafplion and Tolon have regular boat trips to Spetses; Galatas runs water taxis to Poros; Porto Helio has regular boat trips to Spetses in addition to the ferries to Hydra, Poros and Athens; Ermioni operates flying dolphins to Hydra; and Methana has ferries to Hydra, Poros and Aegina in addition to the Athens ferries.   Kithera has ferry connections to Athens, the coastal towns of Neapoli and Gythio on the Peloponnese and to the island of Crete.  
 
     It should be noted that the existence and scheduling of all ferry options are subject to the vagaries of Greek commercial decisions, general delays and adverse weather conditions, so all timetables should be checked and confirmed locally before any reliance is placed upon the existence or timing of a service. 
    
   
   
  
 
The foregoing information was last reviewed in April 2007. Things change, and whilst we are often travelling in Greece we do rely to some extent upon others to provide updates in order to keep the site as current and accurate as possible!  If you have updates or information that you think should be included here, please mail the webmaster@aguide2greece.com  - thank you.
 
 
                           
 
 
 

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