Self-Driving the Peloponnese – a very Greek holiday


    The Peloponnese has so many reasons to visit it. As a family we decided it ticked all the boxes and more:

    • History, extraordinary history, the area is filled with famous places that conjure up familiar stories.
    • Beaches, unspoilt and quiet, snorkelling over ancient cities, turtles, swimming around shipwrecks – endless watery fun.
    • Forts, islands with causeways, cave hotels, monasteries carved into cliffs, stone tower houses and gigantic cave systems – adventures everywhere.

     

    Choosing where to go was the hardest part of the trip. We pored over all the choices and had to drive past things that on any other holiday would be essential stops.

    We decided that 2 weeks would cover a reasonable amount of ground and hired a small car for the 3 of us that we picked up in Kyllini after catching the ferry there from Zakynthos. We decided to visit 2 of the 3 peninsulas so that we wouldn’t be rushing and so that we could spend more than 1 night in places. We then chose a few historic sights (you would need months to visit them all) and tried to organise it so that we could visit them early in the morning or early evening to avoid the heat (we travelled in July). We then factored in lots of coastal accommodation so there was usually a pool or a beach at the end of the day. Then it was a matter of prioritising other activities so there was a good balance of everything. You could easily overdose on Byzantine churches, ancient cities and the wonderful museums attached.

     

    There is a major motorway from Athens to Kalamata so you can travel very quickly if you want to maximise your time and we used this sometimes but we also travelled on tiny roads that were barely paved and overgrown with bushes and trees. Travelling times are quite small but it can take a whole day when you stop for swims and exploration endlessly.

    We first visited Olympia, a real thrill to discover where the Olympics started and take a wee run on the original stadium. We then drove up into the mountains in Arcadia and stayed in a wonderful old stone village and did some great walking around the hills to the monasteries dotted around the place. After this we headed to the Mani Peninsula, this area has only been paved since the 1990’s and is famous for its piratical past and patriotic inhabitants who only very recently stopped feuding and exacting vendettas! It is very remote and very traditional and even in July felt empty. The sea is crystal clear, the seafood is delicious and the people very friendly. We then travelled on to Monemvasia – an island fortress invisible from the mainland that has been ferociously defended since 583, the architecture is wonderful and it is like a maze with unexpected treats at every corner. We also travelled down to the end of the Laconic peninsula and caught a ferry to Elafonisi island a cute small island with only one road along the seafront lined with tavernas filled with holidaying Greeks. After this we headed on to Napflion (the busiest place we visited – popular with Athenians for the weekend and cruise ships). This is a great base for visiting Epidavros (in July they have a festival putting on traditional plays like the Odyssey) and Mycenae and it has wonderful forts both above the town and in the harbour. From here we headed to Athens via the Corinth Canal. It is an amazing feat of engineering and very dramatic to see. We chased some yachts passing through it and managed to time it to see the submersible bridge working. It was one of the unexpected highlights.

    We could easily have spent many more weeks exploring all there was to do and we will definitely return. There is so much variety and so many reasons to visit I would have no hesitation in recommending it to everyone….