The soul of Greece, and in some ways, one of the least well understood regions, is the easy-to-reach, yet somehow easy-to-overlook Peloponnese. Not far from Athens, reachable by car, bus, train, airplane, or ferry, the Peloponnese is home to one of the most varied and remarkably ancient landscapes in Greece. Originally covered by the sea, with the exception of a few mountain peaks and during the last Ice Age connected by land to Kythira, an island to the south, and even to Crete the Peloponnese is now a collection of mountains and small fertile interior plains. The very nature of the geography has contributed to a sense of isolation between the mountains, and in fact parts of the Peloponnese remain, even today, more or less cut off from the rest of the world. Roads have been cut with enormous toil through the mountains, but in some parts of the Peloponnese, the roads are so winding, and so precipitous, and so overwhelmingly beautiful, that it can easily take several hours to drive thirty kilometers.
But what hours those are! Full of surprises: monasteries carved under rock overhangs, a lake set inside a lush poppy-filled meadow completely circled by mountains, dense fir forests haunted by wildlife, citrus and currant fields, a stone threshing floor seemingly in the middle of nowhere, a few dozen boxes of bees, a still unexcavated ancient theater all of these and many more are to be expected on a drive through the Peloponnese. For many Greeks, the Peloponnese is the heart and soul of the country: its heroic past (Herakles was from here, as were Agamemnon and Menelaos of Trojan War fame, as well as many of the heroes of the Greek War of Independence (1821-1827, 1829)) coupled with a strong traditional way of life will affect even the most jaded visitor.
Although the vast majority of the Peloponnese remains unexplored by most visitors, those who venture off the beaten path are rewarded with unique sights, tastes, and sounds. We will consider each of the prefectures of the Peloponnese in turn, but bear in mind that it would be quite unlikely to visit only one of them. Most visitors will come to at least two or three prefectures. A typical visit to the Peloponnese to see the main sites would last about nine to twelve days, although it is quite common to come for only two to four days to see the popular prefecture of Argolida. The more time you can spare, the more you will be rewarded!
The Peloponnese is divided into seven prefectures: clockwise from the closest to Athens, they are Korinthia, Argolida, Arkadia, Lakonia, Messenia, Ileia, and Achaia.
The Peloponnese is not set up for tourism in the same way as the islands. You won’t be met with offers of a room when you get into town. However, wandering around most towns, you will see signs offering rooms to rent: just knock!
There are more tourist hotels in popular areas such as near beaches and in the more popular towns, such as Nafplio. Even small villages often have hotels, which, with a few exceptions, are rarely full.
Free camping is possible in many of the deserted areas in the mountains.
A pleasant evening stroll along the water in Nafplio or a raucous parade at Carnival in Patras are only two of the options for nightlife in the Peloponnese. But in general, this is not a region that attracts those with an itch for parties and clubs (who mostly head to the islands).
Of course, the dedicated hedonist will find plenty of places to unwind in the cities and larger towns, and even the small villages will usually have at least one place to entertain you in the evenings.
The Peloponnese is one of the best destinations in Greece for beaches, especially if your party includes children. There is a wide variety of options, from the family-friendly resorts along the northern coast of Achaia and Korinthia to the utterly deserted stretches of beach along the southern coasts.
The southwestern area is most preferred among those who know. There are even lakes where you can swim in the interior.
Nature and Walking
There are countless opportunities for walking and enjoying nature in the Peloponnese. The mountains offer a wide variety of hiking options, from easy walks to more challenging hikes. Kalavryta (Achaia) is famous for its ski slopes, and rafting is possible on several rivers.
The whole of the Peloponnese is accessible by good roads. While you may find some narrow or unpaved roads, the regular asphalt road network is much more extensive than many first-time visitors expect. It is not necessary to have a 4×4 or off-road bike to visit the vast majority of the region; but having your own car will give you enormous flexibility. If you come to the Peloponnese by car (or rent one once there) you will have the opportunity to visit many more sites than otherwise.
Buses run regular routes from Athens, Thessaloniki, and the mainland, as well as between the cities and towns of the Peloponnese. These buses are new, air-conditioned, and cheap.
Trains are less useful in the Peloponnese (for example, the trip from Athens to Patra by train is discouraged in favor of the bus) but there are some exceptions: don’t miss the cog railway that runs between Kalavryta and Diakofto (Achaia).
Ferries serve several itineraries in the Peloponnese: from Gytheio and Elafonisos (Lakonia), you can reach Kythira, and Kastelli in Crete. From Killini (Ileia) you can reach the island of Zakynthos. Small towns in Argolida connect to nearby Spetses and Poros in the Argo-Saronic island group. And of course, Patra is an international port that connects to Italy, as well as to several of the Ionian islands.
There are airports in Kalamata and Patra.
You will need to have your own car; rentals are easy to arrange in Athens. You will be staying in a different hotel every few nights in order to see as much as possible. This itinerary can be accomplished at any time of the year, although during holidays and high season, it may be hard to find a hotel for only one night, as hoteliers appreciate longer staying guests.
Day 1: Leave Athens for Corinth, stop at Corinth Canal, Ancient Corinth (visit Acrocorinth if you like hiking, as well as the Archaeological Museum and site of Ancient Corinth), drive to Nafplio, enjoy the town and check out the Palamidi fortress (keep in mind it does close somewhat early, as early as 3pm at certain times of the year). Take the walk along the water that wraps around the mountain. Overnight in Nafplio.
Day 2: Morning at Mycenae: Treasury of Atreus, site of Mycenae, Archaeological Museum of Mycenae. Lunch, afternoon in Ancient Epidauros (Theater of Polykleitos, Sanctuary of Asclepius, Museum), visit the Mycenaean site of Tiryns just before Nafplio, see the Peloponnesian Folklore Museum and the Komboloi Museum (traditional worry-beads), both located in the Old Town of Napflio, dinner and night in Nafplio.
Day 3: Drive down the coast to the Byzantine city of Monemvasia. Leave your car and wander throughout Monemvasia. You can stay in a hotel just outside Monemvasia, or at one of a few hotels located inside the gates.
Day 4: Drive west toward Sparta, visit the Byzantine city of Mystra (this visit will take a few hours), head south toward Gytheio. Perhaps see Geraki (although it can be hard to find it open). Dinner at Mavrovouni or Gytheio, night in Gytheio.
Day 5: Drive west from Gytheio to the coast (in the direction of Areopoli) and head south along the west coast of the Mani peninsula, stopping for lunch along the way. Reach the southern tip of Europe (Cape Tainaron, the ancient entrance to underworld. Oddly enough, in this area is the deepest level of sea in the whole Mediterranean (4850 m.)) by 4:30pm, and drive back up the eastern coastal road, back for dinner and sleep in Gytheio.
Day 6: Drive north to Sparta and head west to Kalamata along the famous Sparta-Kalamata road. From Kalamata (perhaps stop to visit the city or the museum) head towards Pylos or one of the other coastal towns, where you can visit the fortress. Visit the Chora Trifyllia Museum and the Palace of Nestor at Pylos. Overnight in Pylos.
Day 7: Drive northeast to the Temple of Apollo at Vasses, visit the site, and continue to Krestena and north towards Olympia. Overnight in Olympia.
Day 8: See the sight of Ancient Olympia in the morning and the museum before lunch. After lunch, drive east through the villages of Lagkadia, Dimitsana, and Stemnitsa until you get to Tripoli; while in Dimitsana, visit the Open-air Water Power Museum; while in Stemnitsa, take a detour to the Lousios River Paths. If you get to Tripoli in time, the Archaeological Museum of Tripoli is one of the best in the region. Night in Tripoli or one of the villages in the area.
Day 9: Continue east toward the Argolid and visit the archaeological sites of Nemea and Isthmia (both are interesting sites and both have excellent museums), and Lerna if you are interested in Early Helladic civilization, before heading back to Athens.