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There is ancient Athens, there are the grand Greek Islands, the main land doorway to Europe and then there is something very special – the Peloponnese.
Where? That was the question I was asked most often before my trip. The best way to describe it is as a large island that is just minutes away from greater Athens. Describing it once I was back from my first trip there? Pure heaven!
The Peloponnese is a hidden gem in plain sight that offers everything the Greek islands are known for but without the hoards. The air is fresh, the waters are clear, the food is abundant and delicious, the people friendly and welcoming and the scenery - divine. All this and add to it a long, storied history, great outdoor adventures, world class hotels and quaint villages and we have a recipe for the next best thing in travel.
Our journey from Athens and through to Peloponnese on a small luxury bus was calm and relaxing. This was a pleasant surprise as the highways were uncongested, smooth and in perfect condition, as were most of other the major routes including in the mountainous areas. In this part of Greece the sun is pretty much guaranteed, especially in summer, and that is exactly what we had. Beautiful blue skies and a comfortable warm temperature, this was a recipe for a great trip.
Our first stop was to the Skouras wineries for a tasting and lunch of local cuisine. To our delight, we met the founder and owner George Skouras who was open, friendly and explained how much of a challenge it was establishing this winery when most people did not believe the land was suitable for a vineyard and there was already too much wine available on the market. Against all odds and in a very short time he has succeeded, as Skouras wines are now well recognised throughout Greece and internationally as a premier Greek wine. The sampling with lunch was terrific.
History before our eyes
With a full and happy stomach, we would visit the amazing ancient theater of Epidaurus. Set on the side of a mountain, this historical site was a marvel of engineering and still used today for live performances. This visit made me believe in the old saying that ‘they do not build them like they used to’. Close by was the museum with local artefacts that date back many millenniums and are a testament to the advanced ancient Greek society.
Jewel by the sea
Keeping with the theme of hidden gems, the town of Nafplio is just that. Located in a quiet bay on the Mediterranean our visit there was a memorable one. We would start at a taverna with a wonderful meal directly across from the waterfront and made with fresh local fish and other seafood delights.
This once Venitian city was clean and organized with charming little pedestrian streets. There was a sense of celebration in air and later in the night, the lovely town square was packed for an energetic live performance by the Greek Navy music band. The mostly local population was out on this marvellous starry night singing and dancing into the late hours.
More wonderful history
Way on top of a hill was the Mystras monastery. Getting there through the many winding roads was part of the fun and included breath-taking views of the sea, olive orchards and clusters of houses clinging to the edge of cliffs. This 12th century monastery has survived the test of time. Although in ruins, one can still see how it has shaped the people that it served.
A destination on its own
Only a few hotels can be a standalone destination. The Kinsterna Hotel is justly one of those very unique properties. My reaction at first glance of this historic building was a triple “Wow!”
Something like this, “wow…wow, just, wow!”
Once there, with all its charm and beauty, there really is no reason to go anywhere else. This was only the beginning; the Kinsterna sits on top of a hill overlooking the deep blue waters of the Mediterranean. On the other side, on another hill are their vineyards, olive orchards and vegetable gardens and in between is a stunning pool that flows the length of the many buildings. Add nature’s orchestra of singing birds, horses and goats and it was a fairy tale setting.
My accommodation was in what looked like a historic stone building but was actually a recently constructed villa. This mirrored the original centuries-old building for looks. My room had all the creature comforts: satellite TV, Wi-Fi, gorgeous marble bath room, wooden floors and beautiful modern furniture. Stepping outside and on to my large private balcony, I was greeted with a view to a kill. A stunning panoramic view of what I would call an iconic Greek postcard!
The Kinsterna is more than a hotel and produces its own wines, olives, herbs, jams and honey and you can believe it is fresh and delicious. Add to this, a master chef and professional kitchen staff using freshly sourced local ingredients and you have a delectable gastronomic fest!
Not your average boat ride
Not knowing what was ahead, the Diros Caves would be a pleasant surprise. Getting there at the end of the day meant the tourist were all but gone. We were led straight to an underground cave where we were given life-jackets and asked to get into a large canoe like boat. The air was cool and fresh and what would normally be very dark opened up to a magical experience. We were deep under a mountain and had colourfully light walls and water. Our only source of power was our guide who doubled as the oarsmen. He would explain these caves were only discovered recently by a Sheppard and have now become one of the major attractions in the Peloponnese. I could see why, they are amongst the most beautiful I have ever visited.
A sight for sore eyes
The Archaeological Site of Ancient Messini is a wonder on its own. It rivals many, if not all, remaining Greek and Roman sites and best of all there were no tourists to get in your way. It was so tranquil, in the fresh air surrounded by wonderful natural scenery and in the presence of old theatres, lasting artwork and large remaining marble columns, I was in bliss! If you let your mind wander, you can take yourself back to a historic time when Greeks were a world power. Opulence was the word.
You just cannot go wrong when ordering meals here in Peloponnese. Food is a way of life. Badly prepared meals are considered a crime. It just does not happen! Throughout our tour here, we would eat like kings. Day after day, our agenda revolved around delicious lunches and suppers in restaurants with incredible views. The Peloponnese could easily be a foodie destination that is food first, sites later.
Finally a swim
Greece is so well known for its beaches that many tourists base their visit around the magnificent aqua-blue waters. The Peloponnese sure does have that, but there is so much more to discover that I would have to wait to my final day in the city of Kalamata to take the dive. Surely now, clear, salty and refreshing, I have made my Greek visit complete!
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