The Peloponnese, or “Island of Pelops” as it was called in ancient times, is separated from the mainland by the narrow Corinth Canal. It is a multifaceted territory of ancient, medieval, and Byzantine wonders; lush and rugged landscapes, startling beaches, a pure cuisine and a hospitable ‘philoxenia’ throughout. Steeped in legends and rich history, it is where Paris set off with the Argonauts after stealing Helen and sailed to seek the Golden Fleece; it is where you will find the dramatic, Medieval castle-city of Monemvasia, the picturesque (once capital) city of Naflpio, remnants of the civilisations of ancient Olympia and ancient Mycenae, as well as incredible Frankish, Venetian and Ottoman fortresses such as those of Mystras. It is where one of the world’s largest golfing destination stands (Costa Navarino) nearby one of the country’s most impressive beaches; where the spirit of ancient theatre remains very much alive at the amphitheatre of Epidaurus; where action-adventure lovers can traverse vast gorges, climb majestic mountains or raft along tumultuous rivers. There is so much to see and do in this beautiful mainland region of Greece – in the first half of our tribute to the Peloponnese, one of the most ideal springtime destinations in Greece, we list the first top-five unmissable places to visit.
Here is where it all begins – at this narrow canal (around 7km across and 8m deep) where the Peloponnese begins. A key strategic and trading point in ancient times that linked the Ionian and Aegean seas, this dramatic gorge is a great place to make your first stop; if you’re feeling brave enough, you can even bungee jump down it. After centuries of attempts to create the canal, the Roman Emperor Nero made the first effort in 67 AD but the canal was actually completed by French engineers in 1893.
Acrocorinth & Ancient Corinth
Verdant and in springtime overflowing with floral beauty, scenic and strewn with Medieval and Ottoman fortifications, the Natura 200 habitat of the 540m-high Acrocorinth is an excellent place to trek uphill to take in spanning views of ancient Corinth below. Ancient Corinth, once a spot of lively trade with European and Middle Eastern colonies, is today an impressive site where findings unearthed since 1896 can be seen. Visit the Archaeological Museum, admire the seven (of 38) remaining columns of the Temple of Apollo, as well as the North Market, the South Stoa, Lechaion Road, a theatre and the Asklepion amongst other impressive sights here.
Make a day-trip of your visit here, visiting the seaside town of Palaia Epidaurus and enjoying a swim and seafood lunch before visiting the ancient theatre, which during summer is one of the key spots for the Athens and Epidaurus Festival. Once the renown Sanctuary of Asklepios, where people would visit from around Greece and its surrounding regions to be healed through various therapies including hot springs, nutrition, music and dream-oracles, the theatre here is magnificently presented and famed not only for its extraordinary acoustics but also its atmospheric location within nature.
West of Epidaurus and south of Corinth is Nafplio, modern Greece’s first city-state following the War of Independence and one of the country’s most picturesque destinations. With its cobblestone streets lined with pretty stores and grandiose Venetian, Greek and Ottoman architecture, the Bourtzi fortress floating in the centre of the harbour and the Palamidi fortress towering above it, there is much to enjoy. Don’t miss the Archaeological Museum, the Peloponnesian Folklore Foundation Museum, the Byzantine Church of the Virgin Mary’s Birth, the Old Mosque on Syntagma Square and the Palace of Justice. Adventure sports lovers can visit the Radical Kite Centre.
One of the most breathtaking ancient sites to find yourself in when visiting the Peloponnese is ancient Mycenae, with its enormous wall-stoned fortress and the famous Lion Gate as well as the huge tholos (tomb) of the Treasury of Atreus on the hill of Panagitsa, and the hill of Tiryns, to name but a few of its glorious attributes. It was here that the archaeologist Heirich Schliemann discovered King Agamemnon’s golden death mask during his excavations of the ancient citadel, (today to be admired at Athens‘ National Archaeological Museum, although many other finds from here can be seen at the Archaeological Museum of Nafplio). Here too, however, is a top-notch museum not to miss.