The Peloponnese (or Peloponnesus) is a peninsula in southern Greece, a place full of mysteries and myths, archaeological sites and wonderful beaches, a place that has so much to offer so that it can please any type of traveller. Below you can find the must-see places in Messinia and Laconia regions of the Peloponnese, including the Mani Peninsula. The Peloponnese is a great destination for those travellers who want to find an equilibrium between the pleasure of going to the beach and the one of admiring the cultural heritage of a place.
Kalamata is the capital and largest city of the Messinia region. Kalamata International Airport (situated about 11 km away from the city, in Messini), although very small, operates some international flights, as well as domestic flights to Athens and Thessaloniki. Kalamata Old Town, after having been almost destroyed by the Ottomans during the War of Independence and then rebuilt by French around 1830, was then destroyed again in 1986 by an earthquake. Miraculously, Kalamata’s Castle or the Kastro survived the earthquake and it can still be visited, offering a stunning view of the city. Another attraction that cannot be missed is the Church of Ypapantis, which hosts the miraculous icon of Virgin Mary, known as “kalo mata” (“good eye”), from which the city takes its name. Feel free to enjoy a walk on the narrow streets of Kalamata, among souvenir shops and restaurants where you can taste delicious gyros.
Sparta and Mystras
Sparta is the capital of Laconia region. It is attractive for visitors due to the archaeological site of Ancient Sparta, which offers a glimpse of what once was fearless Sparta. Although the remainings of Ancient Sparta are few, it is worth visiting the site (and it is free!) and it is interesting to admire from above the “new” Sparta. Mystras is about 6 km away from Sparta and the truth is that most of the people visit Sparta on their way to Mystras because Mystras is a fortified town that served as the capital of the Byzantine Despotate of the Morea in the 14th and 15th centuries and it experienced great prosperity. The town is a huge complex of ruins (libraries, monasteries, palace, fortress), but there are also a few churches in good condition. In 1989, Mystras fortified town was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The visit takes at least 3 hours, so make sure you have comfortable shoes and water. For those of you passionate about history and architecture, this place will be a paradise.
Monemvasia and Kastania Cave
Monemvasia offers both history and sea. Once you arrive there you will be immediately fascinated by the huge rock linked to the mainland (Gefyra) by a causeway. Monemvasia was part of the continent until 375 d.C. when an earthquake separated it, transforming it into an island. Monemvasia was a powerful medieval fortress and its area consists of a large plateau, about 100 m above sea level, 300 m wide and 1 km long. It is divided into Lower Town and Upper Town. You can reach the Lower Town by foot, by car (if you are lucky enough to find parking near the entrance – vehicles are not allowed inside the fortress) or by shuttle bus. Once arrived up, you will find yourself in a labyrinth: narrow alleys, flowers, hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops, churches, nude colours, the fortress walls, from where you can see the crashing waves. It seems a fairytale. Monemvasia is the Saint-Malo of Greece or the Gibraltar of the East, as some say.
A must-see attraction in the area is Kastania Cave, situated about 38 km away from Monemvasia. It is one of the most impressive caves in Greece and it has a rich variety of colours, shapes and figures. There is a small parking lot in front of the main gate, a bar where you can have a snack while waiting for the next tour to start and there is an English speaking guide. Photographing is not allowed inside the cave.
Elafonisos – a beach paradise
Elafonisos is a small island with an area of 19 square kilometres, with wonderful sandy beaches and crystal clear waters, to which you can arrive by taking the ferry from Pouda/Pounta (from Monemvasia to Pouda there are about 35 km). The ferry ride takes only 8-10 minutes. The most famous beach on Elafonisos island is Simos, located in the south-east part of the island. Tranquillity and endless blue water! Near the rocky parts, you can do snorkelling, surely you can see some fish.
Close to Simos, but opposite, to the East, there is Leyki beach, a smaller, rocky beach, with wavy blue water, more suitable for snorkelling. Few people go there, so if you are looking for privacy, then this is for you.
Except for the beaches, the vivid, animated part of Elafonisos is the North, full of restaurants, hotels, souvenir shops. There is also a small, beautiful church. Having a walk at twilight can be a nice and enjoyable experience.
Vathia – the ghost village
Vathia is maybe the most famous and photographed traditional village on the Mani Peninsula, due to its tower-houses built on a hill. It is an iconic example of the south Maniot architecture, developed during the 17th and 19th century when the region was dominated by different clans being in rivalry one with another, so they built tower-like houses to protect themselves better from the enemy. Such tower-like houses can be seen either isolated or grouped as villages. Most of them are abandoned, but some are still inhabited or have been restored and transformed into hotels or restaurants. Vathia is like a ghost-village, a labyrinth of old abandoned tower-houses. Vathia can be visited for free. After the visit, you can enjoy a drink or a meal at the restaurant across the road, offering a scenic view of the village and the surrounding hills.
Cape Tenaro, known also as Cape Tainaro or Matapan, is the southernmost tip of the Mani Peninsula (in the Peloponnese) and mainland Greece and the second southernmost point in mainland Europe. To arrive there, first you have to drive to Kokkinogia and then continue on foot, following the beaten path, for about 2 km. It takes about 30-40 min per way because the path is mainly rocky. Make sure you wear comfortable shoes, take enough water and use sun cream because during summer days the sun burns pretty badly even at 6 PM. It’s worth the effort! Once arrived at the lighthouse, you can enjoy stunning views of the sea, cliffs and hills and, after returning to Kokkinogia, you can chill by jumping into the refreshing water of the local beach.
Limeni is a small picturesque village known for its green waters and for the restaurants that provide grilled fresh fish, so fresh that, if you are lucky enough, you can even see the fisherman catching it in front of you. Although very small, Limeni is quite touristic, so it can be a little difficult to find a place on the rocky beach. However, it is worth visiting and it is only 6 km away from Areopoli, another charming city in the Peloponnese.
Areopoli takes its name from Ares, the god of war. The old town of Areopoli is extremely vivid especially in the evening, with tourists wandering on the paved narrow streets. The place is crawling with restaurants and bars, each of them trying to attract the tourists with a unique design. Having a stroll in Areopoli at sunset can be all that you need after a day full of activities.
The Peloponnese peninsula is fascinating and worth exploring: a wide variety of beaches, rich cultural heritage, delicious Mediterranean cuisine, hospitable locals, breathtaking places.