Wonderful, mythical Peloponnese

Timeless villages, ancient monuments, medieval castles, rich history, natural beauty and spectacular beaches make the Peloponnese a year-round holiday destination

The Peloponnese is a destination for all seasons, with a rich history and landscape. Destinations of authentic natural beauty, each with their own distinctive characteristics, stand eager to welcome you all year long: Messinia, Elafonisos, Monemvasia, Mani, Porto Heli, Kalavryta and Nafplio. It’s the land of Ancient Sparta, home of the holy olive grove and the birthplace of the Olympic Games. War, peace and culture saturate the cities and countryside of one of the most beautiful destinations of mainland Greece. Here, ancient monuments are scattered throughout the landscape, such as the ancient theatre of Epidaurus and next to it the Asclepius (a Unesco World Heritage Site). 

The Peloponnese is a celebration of contrasts: majestic mountains embraced by a dramatic, golden coastline of endless beaches and exotic coves. Road-trippers will never tire of its winding roads that disappear into the horizon, where sea and sky become one, and pure, unspoilt landscapes, technicolour water and fertile valleys. Its villages, both seaside and alpine, will enchant you with their age-old traditions and exceptional food. You’ll be transported to another time as you are introduced to ancient monuments and resplendent medieval Venetian and Byzantine castles. Then rest up at a traditional guest villa in a stone-built hamlet.

A gilded coastline of exotic beaches and picture-perfect bays 

The coastline of the Peloponnese hides spectacular sandy beaches with crystal-clear water. Award-worthy are exotic Elafonisos and Voidokoilia in Messinia. Other notable beaches are those in the Gulf of Messinia, Kardamyli, as well as Old Epidaurus and Porto Heli.

A journey through history and ancient civilisations 

In the Peloponnese, you’ll experience the grandeur of Ancient Greece. You’ll stand awestruck in Ancient Olympia, the birthplace of the Olympic Games, tour Homer’s ‘gold-rich Mycenae’. You’ll discover the temple of Apollo Epikourios at Basses (Bassae), created by the same architect that built the Parthenon, and marvel at Iktinos, another Unesco World Heritage Site. The Peloponnese is a living lesson in medieval and Byzantine architecture, particularly the well-preserved castle Mystra in Sparta and the castles in Methoni and Pylos.

A paradise for activities in nature 

The European long-distance hiking trail, E4, passes through here and there are dozens of other signposted paths in every area, especially the Taygetos Mountains. The more courageous will want to head to Lagada that has a rock climbing park.

Home of the olive grove and so much more 

The Peloponnese is world-famous for its olive oil and Kalamata olives, but the sweet fragrance of the orange groves in Sparta and Argos will stay with you forever. You’ll discover the wines of Nemea and Mantineia, as well as Monemvasia’s famous Malvasia, the regional sweet wine, dubbed ‘the nectar of the nobles’. Pair it with the local homemade pasta called goges (like gnocchi, but flour-based), Mani’s eliotyropita (olivecheesepie) or Neapolis’ tyropsomo (cheese-bread).

Arcadia is known for its handmade hilopites (a type of noodle) and trahana (rustic pasta), sold in shops along with other traditional products, like the region’s honey, chestnuts and delicious, seedless Tsakonian eggplants. Don’t leave Mani without trying the cured meats and sausages and the various recipes with artichokes, a vegetable produced here in large quantities, along with beans and wild greens. You’ll finish off your meals with local Peloponnese sweets like diples (thin sheets of fried dough), pastelia (sesame with honey) and rafiolia (pastry filled with walnuts). In Corinth, try the syrupy sweet made with rose water and the famous Corinthian raisins and currants.

Sights and attractions in the Peloponnese: 
  • The Castles: The castles of Monemvasia and of Nafplio (Bourtzi, Akronafplia and Palamidi) are amongst the most romantic destinations in Greece, ideal for two-day getaways.  
  • Alpine villages: Scenic mountain villages like Stemnitsa, Dimitsana, Karytaina, Vytina and Trikala are all beautiful for either a winter or spring holiday. Throughout the peninsula, you’ll find stone-built villas and traditional tavernas serving tried-and-tested Greek recipes.
  • Kalavryta: You’ll explore the jagged Vouraikos Canyon and visit religious sites such as the Mega Spilaion and Agia Lavra monasteries. And in winter, Kalavryta’s ski resort.
  • Nature: Nature in all its glory: Don’t miss the fairy tale Foli forest, the Gialovas Wetland, the Dirou Caves, hiking the Lousios Gorge and Lake Tsivlos.
  • The Rio-Antirrio Bridge: Finished in 2004, it is the world’s longest multi-span cable-stayed bridge. Lit up at night, it’s a magnificent sight.
  • Ancient Olympia: One of the most significant archaeological sites in Greece. Visit the stadium, temples and settlements of the original Olympic venue. Don’t forget the Temple of Zeus, which once housed the legendary golden Statue of Zeus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, destroyed in the 5th century AD.
  • Ancient Messene: Just 30km north of Kalamata, the city of Messene, founded in the 4th century BC, is noteworthy for its outstanding perimeter walls erected in the 3rd century BC, and its massive Arcadian Gate and eight surviving towers.
  • Ancient Epidaurus: The famous theatre of Epidaurus is one of the most important monuments of Ancient Greece. Built around 340-33 BC, it combines perfect acoustics, elegance and symmetrical proportions.  
  • Temple of Apollo Epicurius: Like the traveller Pausanias in the 2nd century BC, you too will be impressed by the isolated Τemple of Apollo Epicurius at Bassae, which means ‘little valley in the mountains’. The first ancient monument in Greece to be listed by Unesco as a World Heritage Site, in 1986, it’s certain to engrave itself into your memory.



The region of Peloponnese encompasses the following prefectures:

Corinthia, Argolis, Laconia, Messinia, Arcadia, Elis, Achaea


Ancient Corinth
Acrocorinth Castle
Doxa Lake
Doxa lake

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Nemea Temple of Zeus
Nemea - famous for its wine

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Epidaurus Theatre
Epidaurus - aerial view of site
Epidaurus - museum view

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Mycenae - Citadel aerial view
Mycenae - Lions Gate
Mycenae Trasure of Atreus_reduced
Mycenae - Treasure of Atreus
Mycenae - Tomb of Atreus inside

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Nafplio - panoramic view from port
Nafplio - view from Palamidi fortress
Pedestrian street in old city
Old city step street
Nafplio - Palamidi fortress
Nafplio - Bourtzi castle

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Monemvasia rock - view from a hill
Monemvasia village - view from port

In Monemvasia time here appears to have stopped, as nearly all of the buildings date from the Byzantine, Venetian or Ottoman eras. Painted largely in earth tones of ochre and russet and boasting graceful arches and red-tiled rooftops, Monemvasia’s buildings are truly enchanting. Today, the majority serve as vacation homes, souvenir shops, cafés or bar-restaurants, with only a handful of year-round residences; off-season life in this small walled town isn’t for everyone.

The town’s main thoroughfare starts at the main gate and is lined the whole way with cafés, restaurants and shops. The walkway ends at the East Gate, although a path continues the short distance to the lighthouse outside the walls, where you can enjoy a quiet moment looking out at the Myrtoan Sea.

There used to be another main lane that linked the Portelo, a gate on the seafront, to Ano Poli (Upper Town), but over the years, that lane disappeared, although the gate is still there. Today it’s used to reach the other side of the stout town walls, where a stone ramp and an outcropping of rocks comprise Monemvasia’s only in-town swimming spot.

Put on some comfortable walking shoes and head to Ano Poli, up the footpath known as “Voltes.” Settled before Kato Poli (Lower Town), Ano Poli was gradually deserted in the years following the second period of Venetian rule (1685-1715). Today, the entire area is considered publicly owned land and is administered by the Greek Archaeological Service.

Its key monument is the Church of Hagia Sophia, dating from 1150, which is widely believed to be a copy of the famous church of the same name in Istanbul. In fact, that’s not true, as this church was originally dedicated to the Virgin Mary rather than Saint Sophia. It is, nevertheless, a beautiful church and a valuable part of Monemvasia’s architectural treasure trove.

Monemvasia main square
Narrow pedestrian street

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Mystras - Modern town
Mystras - Medieval rendition
Mystras - Despot's palace
Mystras - Pantanassa monastery

The  castle of Mystras, along with  Monemvasia represented the core of the illustrious Despotate of Morea, the Byzantine Empire’s semi-autonomous province in the Peloponnese. The rocky, naturally-defensible islet of Monemvasia served as the initial seat of the region’s renewed Byzantine administration until 1262, when this role was transferred to Mystras — whose own impressive fortifications had first been built by the Franks some 13 years earlier. As militarily strategic locations, both castles were successively claimed or reclaimed by the Franks, Byzantines, Venetians and Turks, resulting in their changing hands several times during their history.

Mystras’ authority was strengthened in 1349 when it became the capital of the despotate — essentially the entire Peloponnese. Although the Byzantine Empire was already beginning to collapse from external enemies and internal intrigue, Mystras was reaching its floruit, becoming one of the most important economic and cultural centers of Byzantium and offering the hope of rebirth to the rest of the empire. In the end, however, Mystras could only manage to prolong the empire’s life a little longer, to be its last “glimmer” and final stronghold.

Today, as visitors stand facing the Hill of Myzythras, on which Mystras was built, one immediately grasps the significance of the place. Crowned with a mighty citadel and walls that descend around its Upper and Lower towns and their many painted churches, Mystras is rightly considered one of Greece’s greatest archaeological sites, worthy of its ranking as a UNESCO World Heritage Monument.

Access to the Mystras castle can be gained through either of two gates. Most visitors choose to enter through the Lower Gate that leads directly to the Lower Town; afterward, ascending to the Upper Gate by car, they visit the Upper Town.

In the Lower Town are several historic mansions and the site’s most important churches. Inside are precious works of Byzantine art, many of which are kept under lock and key for security reasons. Always open, however, is the Metropolitan church and the interesting museum housed in its courtyard. The museum features artifacts excavated in the town and strives to illuminate the connections and complex influences that once existed between Byzantium and the West. In the Upper Town stands the Church of Aghia Sophia, the famous Palace of the Palaiologoi (under restoration) and the fortress, from which the views of Mt Taygetus and the Evrotas River Valley are incomparable.

Of course, visitors who choose to climb from the Lower to the Upper Town and the citadel, strolling on well-marked paths, gain something even more special. The feeling of walking along historic, stone-paved lanes, surrounded by lush vegetation and absolute quiet is itself a monumental experience.  

Info link to Greek Castles website

Sparta - modern city view with Mt. Taygetos
Sparta - Ancient theater
Sparta - Mosaic of Achilles at Skyros
Sparta - Archaelogical museum
Sparta - Menalaion

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Gythio - Port view
Gythio - Tzannetakis tower
Mani - abandoned village of Vathia
Mani - Mani village
Mani - Limeni
Mani - Oitylo village
Diros cave
Diros cave

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Ancient Messini - Odeon
Ancient Messini - Stadium
City of Kalamata at dusk
Kalamata - View of Bay
Kalamata City Hall
Kalamata - City Hall

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Kardamyli village
Messinia - Stoupa bay
Messinia - Voidokoilia bay at sunset
Messinia - Pylos and Navarino bay
Pylos - Nestor's palace
Pylos - Neokastro
Pylos - Church of Tranfiguration inside Neokastro


Built amphitheatrically on the slopes of two hills, the town of Pylos took its present form after the naval Battle of Navarino (1827). Almost every part of the town has a view of the bay and the small island of Sfaktiria to the west.

One of the town’s grandest buildings is the mansion where Kostas Tsiklitiras – an early 20th century Olympic champion – first lived. Today it houses a collection of paintings and other items amassed by the French philhellene, historian and journalist René Puaux (1878-1936). 


There are two impressive castles near Pylos: Palaiokastro, which was built in the 13th  century AD by the Franks, and Niokastro, which was built in the 16th  century by the Ottomans. The first is located between Voidokilia Beach and Golden Beach in a location with a magnificent view of Navarino Bay; however it is difficult to explore, as it has not been properly conserved and there are some dangerous spots. 

Niokastro is located on a hill west of Pylos and is one of the best-preserved castles in Greece, housing the Archaeological Museum of Pylos and exhibitions by the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities.


One of the best preserved Mycenaean palaces lies 18km north of Pylos. Nestor’s Palace reached the peak of its powers between 1300 and 1200 BC and is located in a prime spot of Messinian land with a breathtaking view of Navarino Bay.

It first came to light during excavations that were carried out in the area during the 1930s and 1940s. The throne room with its large circular hearth, a well-preserved marble bath and the various pottery used to store products such as olive oil and essential oils, are truly impressive. The new roof installed in 2016 to protect the entire archaeological site adds to the grandeur.

King Nestor of Pylos was one of the Achaean chieftains who, according to the Iliad, went with his fleet to wrest Menelaus’ wife Helen back from Paris, and was one of the few to return safely.  There was for a long time debate as to whether his palace was in Elis, near Olympia, as  Homer describes in the Iliad  or by the shore, as described in the Odyssey, but in 1939 Carl Blengen found the remains of a Mycenaean Palace 10 miles north of modern Pylos at Epano Englianos, and this is now believed to be Nestor’s. 

Methoni - reflection of castle
Methoni - bay with castle

The castle of Methoni -actually a fortified city- is one of the most important and the most beautiful castles in Greece. It was built by the Venetians after 1209 at a strategic location, on a rock penetrating the sea and is separated from the land by an artificial moat.

The castle occupies the whole area of the cape and the southwestern coast to the small islet that has also been fortified with an octagonal tower and is protected by the sea on its three sides. Its north part, the one that looks to land, is covered by a heavily fortified acropolis.

Strategically situated Methoni and Koroni were long prized jewels of the Republic of Venice. The two small towns in the southwestern Peloponnese are only a half-hour drive from each other, and always had a common fate. Their castles flourished during the Venetian occupation (under Venetian rule from 1207 – 1500), developing into important stops for merchant ships traveling from the West to the East, as well as for pilgrims heading to the Holy Land.

The castle of Methoni is one of the most important fortress complexes in Greece, and today is a beautiful archaeological site that covers 9.3 hectares and ends at the Bourtzi, an octagonal tower surrounded by the sea on all sides.

The walk begins at the imposing gate of the castle, along the length of which survive two domed buildings that housed Ottoman baths, the base of a ruined minaret and other traces of its centuries-long history. Methoni was once an important citadel, with large numbers of people living within its walls. Indeed in the foundations and walls of the first buildings of the modern town built beginning in 1828, large stones were used that were salvaged from the old homes in the castle.

Info link to site


Kaifas lake and baths
Olympia - Stadium

Olympia , is a small town in Elis on the Peloponnese peninsula in Greece, famous for the nearby archaeological site of the same name, which was a major Panhellenic religious sanctuary of ancient Greece, where the ancient Olympic Games were held.

Ancient Olympia is the place where the Olympic Games took place every four years for over 1100 years, until their abolition by Emperor Theodosius I in AD 393. The Olympic flame is still lit here for the modern Games. Thanks to the destruction ordered by Theodosius II in AD 420 and various subsequent earthquakes, little remains of the magnificent temples and athletic facilities, but enough exists to give you a hint of the sanctuary’s former glory. It is one of Greece’s most evocative ancient sites.

Walking amid the tree-shaded ruins, you can almost picture the blood and smoke of oxen sacrificed to Zeus and Hera, the sweaty, oiled-up athletes waiting inside the original stadium, the jostling crowds, and the women and slaves watching the proceedings from a nearby hill. It’s worth remembering that some structures precede others by centuries; a visit to the archaeological museum before or after will provide context and help with visualizing the ancient buildings.

On your right as you descend, the first ruin encountered is the gymnasium, which dates from the 2nd century BC. South of here are the columns of the partly restored palaestra (wrestling school), where contestants practised and trained. Beyond is Pheidias’ workshop, where the gargantuan ivory-and-gold Statue of Zeus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, was sculpted by the Athenian master. The workshop was identified by archaeologists after the discovery of tools and moulds; in the 5th century AD it was converted into an early Christian church. Next is the leonidaion, an elaborate structure that accommodated dignitaries, built around 330 BC.

The Altis, or Sacred Precinct of Zeus, lies on the left of the path you came down. Its most important building was the immense 5th-century-BC Doric Temple of Zeus, which enshrined Pheidias’ statue, later removed to Constantinople by Theodosius II (where it was destroyed by fire in AD 475). One column of the temple has been restored and re-erected, and helps put into perspective the sheer size of the structure. To the east of the temple is the base for the Nike (Victory statue) that you can admire in the archaeological museum.

South of the Temple of Zeus is the vouleuterion (council house), which contains the altar of oaths, where competitors swore to abide by the rules decreed by the Olympic Senate and not to commit foul play. Here were kept the official records of the Games and its champions.

East of the temple is the echo stoa, with a Doric colonnade leading towards the stadium. Its remarkable acoustics meant that a sound uttered within was repeated seven times. Just east of the portico are the remains of a lavish villa used by Emperor Nero during his participation in the Games in AD 67; it replaced the original Sanctuary of Hestia.

The stadium lies to the east of the Altis and is entered through a stone archway. It is rectangular, with a track measuring 192.27m; the stone start and finish lines of the sprint track and the judges’ seats still survive. The stadium could seat at least 45,000 spectators; slaves and women, however, had to be content to watch from outside on the Hill of Kronos. The stadium was used again in 2004, when it was the venue for the shotput at the Athens Olympics.

To the north of the Temple of Zeus was the Pelopion, a small, wooded hillock with an altar to Pelops, the first mythical hero of the Olympic Games. It was surrounded by a wall containing the remains of its later Classical-period Doric portico. Many artifacts now displayed in the museum were found on the hillock. There’s also a large third-millennium-BC burial site here.

Further north is the late 7th-century-BC Doric Temple of Hera, the site’s oldest temple. An altar in front of the temple would have maintained a continuous fire during the Games, symbolising the fire stolen from the gods by Prometheus; today, the Olympic flame is lit here.

Near the altar is the Nymphaeum (AD 156–60), erected by the wealthy Roman banker Herodes Atticus. Typical of buildings financed by Roman benefactors, it was grandiose, consisting of a semicircular building with Doric columns flanked at each side by a circular temple. The building contained statues of Herodes Atticus and his family, though Zeus took centre stage. Despite its elaborate appearance, the Nymphaeum had a practical purpose; it was a fountain house supplying Olympia with fresh spring water.

Beyond the Nymphaeum and up a flight of stone steps, a row of 12 treasuries stretched to the stadium, each erected by a city-state for use as a storehouse for offerings to the gods; these were mainly used to advertise the city-state’s prestige and wealth.

At the bottom of these steps are the scant remains of the 4th-century-BC Metroön, a temple dedicated to Rhea, the mother of the gods. Apparently the ancients worshiped Rhea in this temple with orgies.

The foundations of the Philippeion, west of the Temple of Hera, are the remains of a circular construction with Ionic columns built by Philip of Macedon to commemorate the Battle of Chaironeia (338 BC), where he defeated a combined army of Athenians and Thebans. The building contained gold-and-ivory-covered statues of Philip and his family, including his son, Alexander the Great.

North of the Philippeion was the 5th-century-BC Prytaneum, the magistrate’s residence. Here, winning athletes feasted and were entertained. This was also where the fire of Hestia burned eternally, symbolizing the common hearth of all Greeks.

It is worth visiting first thing in the morning or in the late afternoon; it’s a magical experience to be there without the crowds. Information panels are in Greek, English and German. The entrance ticket also gives access to the superb archaeological museum and excellent museum of the ancient Games.

Archaeological Museum

This superb museum features finds from the adjacent archaeological site of Olympia. Visiting it in conjunction with the ruins helps to put the ancient site into perspective. The museum’s exhibits span the Olympic sanctuary’s past, from the prehistoric to the Roman periods. Artifacts include increasingly sophisticated ceramics, votive offerings to Zeus and Hera, sacrificial cauldron adornments and statuary from the Temple of Hera.

The main hall dramatically displays the biggest highlight: reassembled pediments and metopes from the Temple of Zeus.

The quality of finds from is remarkable, with far more bronze artifacts recovered than at other ancient sites. Numerous votive offerings – ceramic and bronze animals, cauldrons, statues – display remarkable craftsmanship, while the terracotta decoration that survives from the various treasury buildings is a reminder that most of the buildings would have been quite brightly colored.

The eastern pediment of the Temple of Zeus depicts the chariot race between Pelops and Oinomaos, while the western pediment shows the fight between the centaurs and Lapiths at the wedding feast of Pirithous (the centaurs got drunk and tried to abduct the women; the story can be seen as an allegory for Classical Greek values and victories over ‘barbarians’). The metopes depict the Twelve Labours of Hercules; half the fun is trying to work out which is which from the remains alone.

Another highlight, in a room of its own, is the majestic 4th-century Parian marble statue of Hermes carrying baby Dionysus, carved by Praxiteles. The imposing Nike by Paionios (around 420 BC) is another stunner.

continued below…

Olympia - Hermes holding baby Dionysus
Olympia - Temple of Zeus East pediment
Olympia - Temple of Zeus West pediment
Olympia - Temple of Zeus east pediment detail
Olympia - Temple of Zeus west pediment detail

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Kalavryta train station
Kalavryta narrow gauge train

Kalavryta is one of the few places in Greece where you can enjoy a view from the mighty mountaintops over a gorge as beautiful as Vouraikos, without having to risk life and limb clinging to a climbing rope. And this is thanks to the rack railway, a small train on cogs that sets off from the seaside town of Diakofto in the northern Peloponnese, makes a stop at the verdant village of Kato Zachlorou and at the impressive Mega Spilaio (Big Cave) monastery, to end an hour later, 22k further along the track and 700m up in the historical town of Kalavryta.

As the train leaves the terminus at Diakofto (160k from Athens), the low brush and the calm waters of the Gulf of Corinth give no indication of the wild beauty that you will soon encounter. Leaving behind farms and olive groves, the walls of the gorge start to get narrower, almost impassable. The electric-powered train makes its way through tunnels bored into the rock and dark underpasses, clings to narrow bridges and, most importantly, crawls its way up steep inclines thanks to the tooth-like cogs of the middle rail that keeps the train in place along the more precipitous parts of the route.

On most days three trains depart, and five on holidays. It is worth knowing that the gorge through which the line runs forms part of the Helmos – Vouraikos Geopark. Hikers will also enjoy the section of the E4 path that runs parallel to the tracks, which will allow them to enjoy being immersed in nature and every detail of this rich microcosm.

The gorgeous natural landscape around the town of Kalavryta in the northern Peloponnese hides many options for the traveler: Mount Helmos, superb caverns with lakes, as well as smaller caves, some of which have been turned into places of worship.

In Kalavryta itself, the liveliest area is the street of Aghiou Alexiou, the main pedestrian thoroughfare that features cafe-bars, tavernas, delicatessens, ski equipment shops and a few trees around the square which one hopes will be left in place after its planned renovation. These plane and fir trees charmingly highlight the alpine character of this small town that was essentially rebuilt from rubble after the Second World War and today is a popular ski resort destination  on Mount Helmos.

Kalavryta - Ski slopes
Kalavryta ski center
Kalavryta Cave of Lakes
Kalavryta Cave of Lakes

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