Greece is rightly considered to be a top European destination when it comes to beautiful beaches, but it can offer much more than a beach resort. It has majestic mountains with lush alpine meadows (complete with wolves & bears) and bucket loads of culture / ancient sites.
My most recent visit saw me heading for the Peloponnese region of mainland Greece. The Peloponnese is a beautiful green section of the mainland which tumbles south from Athens all the way to the Aegean, packed full of history, hidden treasures it is a must see seeking the “real” Greece.
The easiest access is Kalamata airport (into which BA fly) but I chose to fly into Athens so that I could take in the Acropolis and enjoy a leisurely wander through the cities vibrant old town. The rock of the Acropolis, with the ruins of the Parthenon rising above, is one of the defining images of Greece. To see the site with the sun setting behind it head to the roof top bar of the Grand Bretagne where you will get the added benefit of enjoying a good G&T.
After a whistle stop tour of Athens I collected my hire car and headed West on the 8A towards Patras and ancient Olympia.
At this point I should highlight how easy it is to drive in Greece; the roads are good, Sat Nav works and all the likely sites to interest a tourist are well signed posts in English. They do however bring a different approach to transporting horses…
Olympia is situated in the Elis valley, through which runs the River Alpheus, and is the gateway to a region of unspoiled natural beauty and unrivalled history. The Temples of Apollo Epikourios and Aprodite are within a short drive, as is the Chlemoutsi Castle. For nature lovers, there are river valleys, waterfalls and lagoons to discover and enjoy.
As I walked around Olympia I felt like I was taking a journey back in time, you can still see the remains of the stadium that hosted the very first Olympic Games. The connection seems all the more real after the inspiring London Olympics; indeed I was not aware that the Olympic torch is lit each time at the site.
The museum houses some unbelievable sculptures such as the sculpted decoration of the temple of Zeus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the famous Hermis of Praxiteles and the statue of Nike of Paionios.
From Olympia is a very easy 1 ½ hour drive down to the Costa Navarino Resort that is home to the Westin and the The Romanos. Both are excellent hotels; the Westin is more geared for families while the Romanos have some sumptuous suites and villas. It was however not the hotels that really excited me but the beauty of the area and the amount to do.
Firstly, the beaches…..I did not think that Greece offered stunning sandy beaches but I was wrong! The beach outside the hotel is nice but to see a truly special beach you will need to hire one of the hotel bikes and potter down to Voidokilia Beach.
There are brilliant cycling opportunities that work for both road and mountain bike enthusiast. If you like more than two wheels the resort also has a very good go kart circuit (well away from the hotel so you don’t hear it…).
If you are looking for something a little more sedate you can jump in a hire car (there is a desk at the hotel) and head off under your own steam to find the Greece of old with charming fishing villages and great little tavernas.
We also took part in a Traditional Greek cooking lesson which was a very pleasant evening that culminated our cooks trying to also teach us Greek dance (not as successfully as the cooking mind).
Thankfully I booked an afternoon flight from Athens, so I had time to call in at Mycenae on my way to the airport. The site is among the most important archaeological sites in Greece. According to mythology, this was the town of the legendary king Agamemnon, the leader of the Greeks during the Trojan War. It is a stunning walk up the valley to reach the site and once at the top you can see why they chose the hill top location; although I imagine the ancient Greeks were more concerned about defensive positions rather than the view…
Once a major centre of ancient Greek civilisation, its history mixes together myth, legend, and fact. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
If you are travelling as a couple or a family (the sites really do bring to life much of what is taught in the classroom) the Peloponnese has a lot to offer. In truth I left wondering why it had taken me so long to discover this corner of Greece, so don’t make the same mistake….