Monemvasia is a town and a municipality in Laconia, Greece. The town is located on a small island off the east coast of the Peloponnese. The island is linked to the mainland by a short causeway 200m in length. Its area consists mostly of a large plateau some 100 metres above sea level, up to 300 m wide and 1 km long, the site of a powerful medieval fortress. The town walls and many Byzantine churches remain from the medieval period. The seat of the municipality is the town Molaoi. The town's name derives from two Greek words, mone and emvasia, meaning "single entrance". Its Italian form, Malvasia, gave its name to Malmsey wine. Monemvasia's nickname is the Gibraltar of the East or The Rock.
What to do in Monemvasia
Open sesame: the mediaeval castleAs soon as you walk through the gate, you’ll begin to explore the secrets of this mediaeval castle. First have a coffee in the Agora, on the main cobblestone street in the Lower Town. This was the Byzantines’ Central Avenue, the Venetians’ Market and the Ottomans’ Bazaar, the commercial artery and cultural hub for so many civilisations. Today you’ll see cafes, tavernas, shops and artisans’ workshops. Duck in and out of arched alleyways of Monemvasia until you reach the sea wall, where you’ll pass quaint homes and crumbling churches. Look up and see the grand mansions of the Upper Town, where the nobility lived. At twilight, the stones turn lavender (hence its nickname, the Violet City) and the streets fill with mysterious shapes, sounds and shadows. By now you’re no longer a visitor but a resident, as were the Byzantines, Ottomans, Venetians before you. In the evening you’ll have your choice of elegant restaurants, traditional tavernas, charming cafes and chic wine bars.
A culinary journey in Monemvasia
Try the local homemade pasta called goges (like gnocci, but flour-based) or saitia (fried cheesepies with fresh herbs). Oenophiles should sample the regional sweet wine called Malvasia, the authentic flavor of Monemvasia, dubbed the “nectar of the nobles”.
A fairy tale stay
Monemvasia is an ideal romantic hideaway and honeymoon destination. Boutique bed & breakfasts and luxury hotels with suites boasting Turkish baths, mosaic floors and flowering courtyards will transport you to another time, without sacrificing modern comforts. In the dimly lit rooms, with their vaulted ceilings and handmade wooden furniture, you’ll live your own fairy tale.
Up, up and away: The Upper Town
The Upper Town was home to the Venetian aristocracy and, although it’s a steep climb to reach the beautiful mansions (in the 17th century travellers once counted 500), you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of the whole area. The half-Byzantine, half-Venetian church of Agia Sofia clings to the side of the cliff, and is one of the most significant attractions in Monemvasia. Once inside, you’ll be awe-struck by its magnificent octagonal dome.
Nafplio is a seaport town in the Peloponnese in Greece that has expanded up the hillsides near the north end of the Argolic Gulf. The town was an important seaport held under a succession of royal houses in the Middle Ages as part of the lordship of Argos and Nauplia, held initially by the de la Roche following the Fourth Crusade before coming under the Republic of Venice and, lastly, the Ottoman Empire. The town was the capital of the First Hellenic Republic and of the Kingdom of Greece, from the start of the Greek Revolution in 1821 until 1834. Nafplio is now the capital of the regional unit of Argolis.
What to do in Nafplio
Palamidi Castle: 999 steps above the town
Are there 999 or 857 steps that lead to the top of Palamidi Castle? Discover it for yourself. Once you climb up the steep hill, you’ll be rewarded with a spectacular panoramic view of Nafplio and the sea. The fortress was built in record time, between 1711-1714.
Akronafplia: the Acropolis of the Argolic Gulf
The acropolis of Nafplio, which the Ottoman’s named Its-Kale, was erected by the Venetians and later passed on to the Byzantines and Ottomans. It has three levels, each with a different castle and walls from different time periods. From the rock of Akronafplia you’ll take in the stunning view from the Bourtzi Castle to Arvanitias beach.
A stroll around Arvanitia promenade
The walk around Arvanitia promenade, with the view of the Argolic Gulf, is lovely and romantic. You’ll begin at the waterfront and end up, after about 1km, at Arvanitias Square. The whole time, you’ll be walking beneath the rock of Akronafplio and you’ll also come across the pretty little chapel of Panagia ths Spilia (Virgin Mary of the Cave), the Santa Maria Grotta of the Venetians.
Iconic buildings of a more recent history
At the epicentre of Nafplio’s old town is Syntagma Square, surrounded by historic buildings – Trianon, the Archaeological Museum and the National Bank of Greece, built in the 1930s. On the nearby streets you’ll witness the modern history of Greece: the Hellenic Parliament (Vouli ton Ellinon), the church of Agios Spyridonas (outside of which Ioannis Capodistrias was murdered in 1831) and across from that, the only Turkish bath in town. Two other squares, Agios Georgios and Trion Navarhon, also have several interesting monuments and grand mansions worth seeing.
Kalavryta is a town and a municipality in the mountainous east-central part of the regional unit of Achaea, Greece. The town is located on the right bank of the river Vouraikos, 24 kilometres (15 miles) south of Aigio, 40 km (25 miles) southeast of Patras and 62 km (39 miles) northwest of Tripoli. Notable mountains in the municipality are Mount Erymanthos in the west and Aroania or Chelmos in the southeast. Kalavryta is the southern terminus of the Diakopto-Kalavryta rack railway, built by Italian engineers between 1885 and 1895.
What to do in Kalavryta
A stunning train ride through the canyon
Both are internationally known. The Vouraikos Canyon ranks among the ten most beautiful in Europe and the rack railway, built in 1896 with a gauge of just 750mm, is one of the six most famous in the world. On the ride from Diakofto to Kalavryta you will marvel at the canyon’s wild beauty, roll alongside the river and then you’ll be awed by the scenery at Dikastiria, Portes, Katarraktis (Waterfall) and Meteora tis Zachlorous. The route can also be hiked by the fairly fit. The tavernas at the scenic station at Kato Zachlori come highly recommended.
Monuments to faith through time
The Mega Spilaion Monastery is a stunning eight-storey complex built on vertical rocks reminiscent of Meteora. Tradition says that it was founded in the latter half of the 4th century. Pilgrims are drawn by the bas-relief icon of the Virgin holding the Infant made mainly of wax and mastic! The Monastery of Agia Lavra is said to have been founded in 961 on the site now called Paleomonastiro (Old Monastery). The museum houses a banner from the Greek Revolution of 1821, which tradition says began right here.
Ski holidays with a view of the sea
Just 14km from Kalavryta, the ski resort is considered one of the best in Greece. Its 12 pistes cover every level of difficulty, there is a snowboard park, you can rent snowmobiles and, best of all, you can do all of this with a view of the sea.
The Cave of the Lakes: the surreal silence of underground water
The Peloponnese will give you an unforgettable experience: Pass through the Chamber of the Bats, if you dare, and you’re in the enchanted cavern of the first lake. Stalactites and stalagmites sparkle around you in the surreal light and echoing silence. There are another 12 stepped lakes on the three ‘floors’ of this magical world, the bed of a subterranean river. The fossils found here include that of a hippo and there is evidence that the site was inhabited as early as the 6th millennium BC.
In the embrace of Helmos, a historic and hospitable town
Tasteful traditional hostels with fireplaces, restaurants, cafes and tavernas, a cobblestone main street, lined with shops, and the scenic train station are some of the attractions of Kalavryta. The town’s most beautiful square, Plateia Eleftherias or Helmos, is home to the historic hotel of the same name. One of the sights is the grand house of Paleologina, a crenellated three-storey stone structure with a murder-hole above the entrance. At the Holocaust Museum you’ll learn the tragic story of executions and destruction carried out in Kalavryta by the Nazi occupiers in 1943.
Olympia a sanctuary of ancient Greece in Elis on the Peloponnese peninsula, is known for having been the site of the Olympic Games in classical times. The Olympic Games were held every four years throughout Classical Antiquity, from the 8th century BC to the 4th century AD. The first Olympic Games were in honor of Zeus.
What to do in Ancient Olympia
The Olympic Games, all for the pleasure of Zeus
London, Beijing, Athens… Retracing the history of the Olympic Games back to 776 BC, you arrive at the starting line, where it all began in this gentle, wooded valley of the Alpheios River in the Peloponnese, where Zeus’ most important sanctuary was located. In his honour, every four years, this was the scene of an event in which the whole of the Greek-speaking world took part.
The Olympic Games were more than athletic competitions. They were panhellenic festivals and took precedence over everything else occurring at that time, even wars. During the period of the Games and allowing for travel time, any hostilities between the normally fractious Greek city-states was suspended and the Olympic Truce imposed. Broken only twice in a thousand years of Games, this was an accomplishment we would do well to emulate.
A tour of the Ancient Stadium of the Olympic Games
One of the most significant archaeological sites in Greece, the ancient stadium was where the most important competitions took place. Pass under the arched entrance and you’re in a place where countless VIPs and ordinary people (but not women) rooted for their heroes. The stadium you see today was built around the same time as the temple of Zeus, the 5th century BC.
The hippodrome for chariot races lay to the south of the stadium. Still standing are ruins left from a later age: baths and villas, like the one Roman emperor Nero had constructed as a private residence when he attended. After Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, the Olympic Games gradually lost their prestige since they were considered a pagan festival. They ceased completely in 393 AD when the emperor Theodosius I decreed them unlawful. Olympia never regained the glory and allure it had enjoyed as host of the Games. But on 18 August 2004, when Athens hosted the Modern Games, those wonderful years came back. The Stadium in Olympia witnessed a reenactment of an ancient sport, the shot put. Both men and women competed, some 1,611 years after the last Games took place there. And of course, Olympia is still the place where the Olympic Flame is lit each Olympiad.
The Hermes of Praxiteles, a peerless masterpiece
In Olympia’s archaeological museum you’ll come face to face with one of the greatest marble sculptures of all time, Praxiteles’ Hermes, one of the most important exhibits in the museum. The god is leaning against the trunk of a tree. In his left arm, he’s cradling the infant Dionysos.
It is the epitome of Greek beauty, balance and craftsmanship. Apart from the Hermes, the museum contains dozens of other finds from the site, dating from prehistoric times to the early Christian era, when the Games were outlawed. Look out for the Nike of Paionios and the monumental friezes from the Temple of Zeus, which depict the chariot race between Pelops and Oinomaos and the fight between Lapiths and Centaurs.
Guide to the archaeological site of Olympia
The Sanctuary of Zeus was called the Altis or ‘sacred wood’. A walled area, it enclosed many monuments and buildings beside the Temple of Zeus. You’ll see arcades, smaller temples, statue pedestals. Some of the structures were residential, others had an administrative or ceremonial function. Zeus’ temple stood at its heart. Can you imagine being faced with his enormous statue, carved from ivory, gold flashing in the sunlight? Could there have been any doubt that he ruled over heaven and earth?
Finished in 2004, is the world’s longest multi-span cable-stayed bridge. Lit up at night, it’s a magnificent sight.
Messene, officially Ancient Messene is a local community of the municipal unit Ithomi, of the municipality of Messini within the regional unit of Messenia in the region of Peloponnese, one of 13 regions into which Greece has been divided. Before 2011 it held the same position in the administrative hierarchy, according to Law 2539 of 1997, the Kapodistrias Plan, except that Ithomi was an independent municipality and Ancient Messene was a local division within it.
Most of the area of Ancient Messene contains the ruins of the large classical city-state of Messene refounded by Epaminondas in 369 BC, after the battle of Leuctra and the first Theban invasion of the Peloponnese. Epaminondas invited the return to their native land of all the families that had gone into exile from Messenia during its long struggle with and servitude under the military state of Sparta, now finished as a conquering state. This new Messene, today's Ancient Messene, was constructed over the ruins of Ithome, an ancient city originally of Achaean Greeks, destroyed previously by the Spartans and abandoned for some time. Currently the substantial ruins are a major historical attraction. Much of it has been archaeologically excavated and partly restored or preserved for study and public viewing, as well as for various events. The site was never totally abandoned. The small village of Mavromati occupies what was the upper city around the fountain called klepsydra. Administrative structure and population figures refer primarily to it.
Epidaurus was a small city in ancient Greece, on the Argolid Peninsula at the Saronic Gulf. Two modern towns bear the name Epidavros Palaia Epidavros and Nea Epidavros. Since 2010 they belong to the new municipality of Epidaurus, part of the regional unit of Argolis. The seat of the municipality is the town Lygourio.
What to do in Ancient Epidaurus
The ancient theatre of Epidaurus: A Unesco World Heritage Site
The famous theatre at Asclepius of Epidaurus is one of the most important monuments of ancient Greece and a world-class attraction. It combines perfect acoustics, elegance and symmetrical proportions. It was built around 340-33 BC, so that the patients of the Asclepion could watch theatrical performances and was in use until the 3rd century AD. Imagine it how it once was, when musicians, singers and actors performed here every four years in the spring. Imagine the dramatic performances and rituals that honoured the god of medicine, Asclepius, and be transported to another time.
A living theatre and modern myth
An institution from 1955 onwards, the ancient theatre of Epidaurus holds a prominent place in modern Greek culture. It has hosted top performances of ancient dramas by the most acclaimed Greek and foreign actors, directors, set designers, choreographers, composers, as well as operas, dance recitals and symphonies. The most famous of all these performances was that of the Greek National Opera when the legendary diva Maria Callas sang Bellini’s ‘Norma’ in 1960 and, the following year, Cherubini’s ‘Medea’.
The Epidaurus Asclepion: the ‘mother’ of medicine in the Peloponnese
This lush green landscape in the Peloponnese, with its sunny climate and numerous thermal springs was the perfect location in which to build the Asclepion –the headquarters of antiquity’s god-physician and the most important healing centre in the Greek and Roman world. Its fame travelled beyond the borders of the Argolid and it is known as the birthplace of medicine. Its monuments are renowned masterpieces of ancient Greek art and have borne witness to the practice of medicine in ancient Greece. The worship of the god Asclepius was established here in the 6th century BC.
Coastal and cosmopolitan Old Epidaurus
This seaside settlement in the Peloponnese, with its lacy beaches took life thanks to the performances in the ancient theatre. Every summer dozens of yachts and sailboats moor at its harbour. Actors and theatre aficionados have chosen it as their ‘hangout’ and many celebrities have built their villas here, among the citrus and olive groves.
Nea (New) Epidavros: a picturesque settlement in the heart of the Peloponnese
This picturesque settlement spreads across the rocky slopes. The sheltered little harbour has a marina and from the Venetian castle you can admire the Vothylas gorge.
Lygourio: a town with a long history
Built at the foot of the Arachnaio Mountain chain, Lygourio comes to life every summer thanks to the famous Epidaurus Festival. Its many sights are indicative of the long, rich history of the region. At the highest point of the village you’ll see the ruins of the walls of ancient Lyssa.
Messenia is a regional unit in the southwestern part of the Peloponnese, one of 13 regions into which Greece has been divided by the Kallikratis plan, implemented 1 January 2011. Before 2011 Messenia was a nomos. The capital and the biggest city of Messenia in either case has been the city of Kalamata.
What to do in Messenia
Paleokastro: A forgotten Frankish castle
Don’t miss the opportunity to travel on foot to this "castle on a cliff," one of the many attractions you’ll encounter in Western Messenia. It’s located on the Gulf of Navarino, and the view is so impressive that the locals say (well, exaggerate) that on a clear night you can see as far as the lights of Malta.
Neokastro: The impressive, listed Ottoman fortress
This is possibly one of the best-preserved fortresses in Greece and touring 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 erected in 1573 and, invisible from the sea, played a key role in the famous Battle of Navarino.
Pylos: ‘Hostess’ of the Peloponnese
Nothing here betrays the troubled past of the city that is synonymous with the Battle of Navarino.
Today it rests peacefully, built in the shape of amphitheatre below Neokastro, reminiscent of an island hamlet. Enjoy a leisurely coffee in the shade at the traditional kafenia 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. Your holidays here will be heavenly.
Voidokoilia beach: A semi-circular summer dream
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 sea-lake: 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 natural 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 that ‘looks’ towards Pylos. Nearby is Voidokoilia. And from there until Kyparissia you’ll come across 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 Voidokoilia is the infinite beach of Romanos.
Methoni Castle: The port’s guard
As soon as you cross 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 (that date back to the 19th century), the house of Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt and the Bourtzi (that was rebuilt by the Turks in 1500). It was originally built in the 13th century by the Venetians.
Methoni: Picturesque, quiet and authentic
The picturesque seaside new town of Methoni, with 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 fearless 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, right 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.
Mycenae is an archaeological site in Greece. From the hill on which the palace was located, one can see across the Argolid to the Saronic Gulf. In the second millennium BC, Mycenae was one of the major centres of Greek civilization, a military stronghold which dominated much of southern Greece. The period of Greek history from about 1600 BC to about 1100 BC is called Mycenaean in reference to Mycenae. At its peak in 1350 BC, the citadel and lower town had a population of 30,000 and an area of 32 hectares.
The population is between 300 and 350 during the winter but increases dramatically in the summer months. During July and August the number of tourist visitors reach over 3,000 per day (bringing with them some 1,600 cars). Many people visit the island for its light coloured, sandy beaches. Among the most well known of its beaches are Sarakiniko, Fragos (Simos) and Panagias Nissia, all filled with blue-green waters. The Main Inhabiting Families that run and manage the island are the Mentis, Psaromati, Barbarossa and Aronis families.
Elafonisos is a small Greek island between the Peloponnese and Kythira. It lies off the coast of Cape Malea and Vatika. The area of the island is 19 square kilometres. Elafonisos is by far the largest inhabited island in the Peloponnese archipelago, and the only one that is a separate municipality. There are also some archaeological discoveries to explore on the island and in the surrounding waters. The main church of the community is Agios Spyridon (Greek: Άγιος Σπυρίδων), which is built on a tiny separate piece of land which is connected by a bridge over shallow waters to the rest of the island. The community's land area also includes 3 km2 (1 sq mi) of the mainland consisting mainly of the famous Punta Beach.it is on land.
Mystras or Mistras also known as Myzithras in the Chronicle of the Morea, is a fortified town and a former municipality in Laconia, Peloponnese, Greece. Situated on Mt. Taygetos, near ancient Sparta, it served as the capital of the Byzantine Despotate of the Morea in the 14th and 15th centuries, experiencing a period of prosperity and cultural flowering. The site remained inhabited throughout the Ottoman period, when it was mistaken by Western travellers for ancient Sparta. In the 1830s, it was abandoned and the new town of Sparti was built, approximately eight kilometres to the east. Since the 2011 local government reform it is part of the municipality Sparti, of which it is a municipal unit.
The famous Alepotripa and Vlichada caves are located in Pirgos Diros. They were explored by the speleologists Ioannis and Anna Petrochilos. The Alepotrypa cavern was discovered in 1958. Archaeological research begun in 1970 under the direction of archaeologist Georgios Papathanassopoulos. In the course of the late Neolithic period (4000 - 3000 BC), the cave was extensively used as shelter, dwelling, workshop, storage place for goods, cemetery and a place of worship.
The richness and quality of the unearthed findings witness the existence of a populous society in Alepotripa, which developed over time into an important centre that engaged largely in trade, maritime travel, farming and stockbreeding. Strangely enough, human skeletons were found on the surface, meaning that entombment had not taken place.
This led archaeologist G. Papathanassopoulos to the conclusion that these Neolithic people died suddenly during a strong earthquake, which in turn generated huge rockslides from the ceiling, thus blocking the cave's entrance. The passageways of Alepotripa, decorated with stalagmites and stalactites, measure 500 m in length. The cave covers an area of 6,500 m2. The central cave ends in a very beautiful lake attaining a maximum depth of 6 m. The cave is not open to the public, yet.
The cave of Vlychada covers an area of 16,700 m2 and since 1949 about 2,800 water passages have been explored. A 2.5-km-long winding passageway is the main route for sightseeing. During a 40-min boat trip, the visitor comes across an intricate network of passages and galleries, decorated with gleaming stalagmites and stalactites, whose reflection in the water accentuates their natural beauty. The guided tour into the cavern of Vlychada takes place by boat and on foot - part of it is on land.