The majestic peninsula is home to local tavernas, picturesque villages, ancient sites and stunning stretches of coast. Best of all, it’s delightfully unhurried and free of overhyped hotspots
The Peloponnese, southern Greece’s much-mythologised peninsula, has something of a reputation for philoxenia – the tradition of giving a warm welcome and showing generous hospitality to visitors. It’s also a region that embodies the very ideal of slow travel: local food and drink, plenty of walking, zero stress, tapping ancient rhythms and community spirit.
Of course, this comes from the people. But it may also have to do with vital statistics. The peninsula is about the size of Wales, yet receives only a small percentage of tourists in comparison to the big beasts of Corfu, Crete, Rhodes, Halkidiki and others. This means there’s no need to jostle among crowds.
A topography of indented coasts, river valleys, steep mountain ranges and small coastal peninsulas encourages rural integrity over road-building. In hundreds of small villages, local ties are strong, there are festivals aplenty, and life revolves around farming and fishing, family and friends – and, naturally, local tavernas.
Even the staples are sybaritic, from the famous Kalamata olives and green-gold oil to purple-hued tsakoniki aubergines to barrel-aged feta cheese. Wine grapes have been grown across the sun-baked slopes for centuries.
For all its old-world charm, the Peloponnese is also a land of almost unlimited scope for exploration. It’s home to some of the most famous archaeological sites in the world, including Olympia and Ancient Messini, as well as many others lesser-known but no less enthralling. Much of Greece’s mythology originated here, including the main players of the Trojan wars.
If you want relaxation, this unique part of Greece delivers in spades. Get the inside track on the must-visit villages, beaches and beauty spots, for the ultimate go-slow break in the Peloponnese …
Mani, the second finger at the southern tip of the Peloponnese and, by extension, mainland Greece itself, is one of the most beautiful regions in the country, with a mountainous spine running down to what were – until relatively recently – some very remote spots. The sun rises late on the coast because of the high Taygetos mountain range. Mornings tend to be lazy affairs where locals and visitors mingle to enjoy leisurely coffees and late breakfasts.
It is also home to the pretty town of Kardamili. This laid-back little place is wonderful for walkers planning to hike the Viros gorge; ditto for birdwatchers, artists and writers – little wonder that Patrick Leigh Fermor chose this village to be his home. The small beach resort of Stoupa is just a few miles to the south.
Eat and drink
All the local eateries are traditional family-run tavernas – as authentic a Greek culinary experience as you’ll find anywhere. Kiki’s Taverna, up a side street from the town square, does dishes of the day rather than a set menu – favourites include sea bream and goat’s meat – ensuring produce is fresh and seasonal. It’s really traditional and popular with locals. If you want a stunning view with your meal, try Dioskouri Taverna, which overlooks the little harbour of Kardamili, for a fresh fish and sunset combination. It also sells local sea salt, olive soap and honey.
The Liakoto and Anniska hotels are on the sea front with the Taygetos range behind – Kardamili is blessed by both sea and mountain scenery. Anniska has a more traditional look and feel, with a stunning terrace where breakfast is served and drinks flow all day. Liakoto has sea-view rooms with private balconies overlooking the magnificent Messinian Bay. Both hotels have a very high number of repeat guests.
This away-from-it-all haven is at the start of a string of fine, sandy beaches, culminating in the fantastic lagoon-like curve of Voidokilia in the heart of the nature reserve here – with wetlands excellent for birding. Close by is the historic town of Pylos, where the naval battle of Navarino was fought in 1827, during the Greek war of independence.
Eat and drink
There is an extensive choice of tavernas and cafes, which are really only busy at weekends and in peak season, when the locals from Pylos come for a swim and a fish lunch. Elia does superb salads, aromatic grilled sardines, and octopus with capers.
Zoe Resort’s 20 attractive studios and apartments have a large swimming pool and gardens leading down to the beach. Or you could opt to stay in the older – but no less charming – 24-room Zoe hotel.
This historic town is known for the imposing walls of its Venetian fortress, which stretch out towards the sea. It’s very sleepy spot, with a wide sandy beach shelving very gently into shallow waters.
Eat and drink
The Klimataria restaurant is very well regarded, and eating out in the garden courtyard is a reason to visit in itself. Chicken in mustard sauce is delicious, as are the grilled veggies.
The Ulysses hotel, a small and friendly lodging with just nine rooms, is great for the beach. Breakfast is excellent and the hotel makes its own fresh lemonade – perfect for kicking off the morning. The Markopouloses, who own the Ulysses, are a mine of information and treat their guests as one of the family.
The stunning, rugged hamlet of Gerolimenas, at the head of a fjord-like inlet, was once a busy trading post; now it’s a nostalgic post-boom village, and comprises a mere handful of stone houses, a couple of tavernas and a beach.
Eat and drink
The fish – guaranteed fresh – is excellent here. Head for the harbour and you won’t go wrong.
If you want remote coupled with contemporary boutique-style comfort, a stay at the Kyrimai hotel should suit. Converted from a 19th-century warehouse, with sea to three sides, the hotel has a standout restaurant, and you can plunge directly from its jetty into the clearest of seas. Recommended for couples more than families, this is definitely one for romantic getaways.
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