When people think of vacationing in Greece their thoughts immediately turn to a whitewashed villa perched over the turquoise waters of the Aegean Sea on one of the ancient countries breathtaking sun-kissed islands. Who can blame them? Some vacationers may choose to swing by Athens for a day so they don’t have to go home and admit they didn’t see the Acropolis, but the islands are where it’s at. If you like that sort of thing.
For most people a week or so on Mykonos would be considered a dream vacation nothing short of a trip to paradise, and perhaps even better. But a large portion of Greece, 8,320 square miles known as the Peloponnese Penisula, doesn’t receive nearly the attention it deserves. Yet, its beauty is equally as dazzling, just in its own unique and different way. Of course, there are some beach areas that do receive their fair share of visitors; after all, they’re beaches. But the remainder of the peninsula with its mountains and valleys isn’t a huge draw for the average sun-worshipper forking out mega-bucks for a tan.
Imagine exploring the remains of an ancient castle with little to no other visitors in sight, or looking down from a mountain road at an immense green valley reminiscent of an earlier time in history. It’s a spectacle you will never forget. Or, how does taking a leisurely stroll through the overhanging branches of a serene olive tree grove sound? Bet that would be a new one for you.
The Peloponnese is a peninsula located in southern Greece. It’s divided into three distinct regions with the greatest land mass belonging to the Peloponnese region. There are two small regions known as Attica and West Greece. The biggest hindrance for the peninsula is an impossible one to overcome and perhaps why some prefer to stay away. The entire area shakes and breaks due to being over-the-top prone to having earthquakes. They’ve had so many even the authorities have lost count. If you’re from California this shouldn’t be any big deal.
Architectural historical sites abound such as ancient Olympia, Epidauros, Mycenae, Tirynth, along with small Byzantine churches and sparsely populated villages.
Let’s have a closer look at a few of the larger cities on the peninsula, but please remember, driving between those towns is the most amazing and rewarding part of the journey. If you decide to do that don’t be surprised if a villager approaches you with a plate of olives as a show of hospitality. They don’t get many visitors.
A visit to Kalavryta will impress visitors with its picturesque squares, cute little homes, and stone streets. It presents a picture straight from a romance novel. One of the most exciting features is an original cog train which runs a 14-mile trek from Kalavyrta to Diakofto. The train follows the Vouraikos River and runs past waterfalls, through carved out tunnels, on the edges of sheer cliffs and through deeply wooded pine and oleander forests.
In 1943 Nazi soldiers killed every single male resident above the age of 14 before burning the town to the ground. A huge white cross now sits on a hill in remembrance of those who perished and there is a Municipal Museum of the Holocaust which depicts the history of the town.
The monastery of Agia Lavra where the Greeks launched a revolution against the Ottoman Empire in 1821 is located nearby, and another monastery, Mega Spileon, built inside of a cave, is a true wonder to see with its mosaic floors and beautiful frescoes. Visitors will not want to miss the Cave of the Lakes with it impressive and colorful stalagmites and stalactites.
For winter enthusiasts, the Kalavyrta Ski Center is a modern facility with seven lifts, fancy restaurants, and the occasional party which breaks out for no specific reason.
The ground here is very fertile so most residents are involved with farming and raising livestock and chickens. Korinthos is loaded with architectural sites and because it skirts the sea, tourist accommodations are located by the beaches which are surrounded by pine and olive trees as well as grapevines. Raisins produced in this area are world-renowned.
At one time Korinthos was one of the largest and most important cities in Greece and it was instrumental during the Peloponnese War. Then along came Athens to steal its thunder. In the seaside zone, you’ll find a statue of Pegasus as well as wooden fishing boats and small coffee shops and taverns strewn along the pebbled beach.
Just Northwest of the city are the ruins of ancient Korinthos where you’ll find the courtyard and the temple of Apollo, as well as the temple of the goddess Tyche. The Acropolis of Korinthos is also located nearby. It is the oldest and largest of all castles in the Peloponnese. Many of the ruins around Korinthos date back as far as 4000 B.C.
Arcadia is the mountainous region of the central Peloponnese Peninsula and it is spectacular in so many ways. Despite being central, it owns shorelines on both the Gulf of Argolis and the Myrto Sea. It was often represented as a paradise in ancient Greek and Roman poetry and early Renaissance literature.
The mountains are not lush and forestry but the terrain is green with low lying brush which in itself presents a picture of dazzling beauty. Wondrous views are never obstructed. The highest elevation is 3,300 ft. Hiking this area while camping along the way is the adventure of a lifetime. You’ll think you’re hallucinating the first time you see a stream seemingly disappear underground into the soluble rock just below the surface. It is also from here that some of the best views can be had. Imagine how surreal it would be looking down upon a green valley full of farms from a mountaintop with the morning fog lazily drifting between the two. Here is where such a vision can become reality. Only here.
For the adventurous who choose to stay on the move rather than lay on the sand, the Peloponnese Peninsula offers everything they could ever dream of. The towns are interesting, but all the areas in between them are where the real adventures lie.