The region of Eleia is most
known for Ancient Olympia where the first Olympic games were held
but it is also known by many for a spectacular beach that stretches
for miles along the western coast of the Peloponnesos
Olympia, on the banks of the
Alfios River is an archeological site rich in the
remains of old buildings and history. The games
began ‘officially’ in 776 BC and were held every 4
years though there is evidence that they actually
began long before. During the games a truce in any
wars or conflicts was declared and athletes
competed on the playing field rather then the
battlefield. They were finally ended in 393 AD by
Theodocious I but revived again in 1896 by the
French Historian and Educator Pierre de Coubertin.
They have continued to this day and many Greeks
feel the games should be returned to their ancient
site to eliminate the corruption and competition
which takes place as each city tries to host it.
Though I doubt that would eliminate the corruption
it would at least centralize it. Besides that, the
idea of turning this beautiful area into a modern
Olympic village with all the commercial trappings
that come with it is an obscene idea which I doubt
many people would take seriously unless they stand
to make a profit from it. The village of Olympia
is heavily impacted by tourism and a fair
indication of what would happen to the area in the
unlikely event they ever moved the Olympics here
But if you are not too much of a purist and don't mind being in
a town where every nationality is represented and the mousaka and Greek salads
flow freely then you will see that Olympia does have a charm, more so in the
off-season than in July-August of course.
As for the archaeological site of Olympia
itself nobody is going to be awed or blown away by it. There are
few standing buildings and the place has been pretty well trashed
in the last couple thousand years. But it is in a beautiful setting
and there is something magical about walking through the ruins of
an ancient civilization among tall shady trees and to realize that
this phenomenon that we have commercialized and turned into one of
the world's biggest money-making enterprises all began here. Besides
the absence of advertising the most impressive thing about
Olympia has to be the massive columns scattered around the temple
of Zeus. They are in the process of restoring one so you can get
an idea of what they looked like standing intact.
We stayed at the Hotel Europa which
is part of the Best Western Chain and it would be hard to imagine
a better hotel and location (If you have a car). To get to the Europa you leave the
town and follow the signs up a wooded mountain and it sits on the
top with a view of the valley. Beautiful rooms and good service
and a very friendly international staff. We did not eat at the hotel
restaurant nor did we go back to the town of Olympia for dinner
but instead we used the recommendation of George
the Famous Taxi Driver (who also recommended the Hotel because
this is the one he uses) and drove to the town of Ancient Pisa,
about 5 minutes drive from the hotel to the Taverna Bacchus which
was excellent in food, service and atmosphere. Actually there were several tavernas in the town
and I noticed a large tour bus though no large crowds in the restaurants.
I came to the realization that the tour buses take the tourists
to their hotel where they eat at the restaurant there or in one
of the tourist restaurants in Olympia. Then the drivers go up to
where the Greeks eat. For more Hotels in Olympia see my Olympia Hotel Search Page
The best way to visit Olympia is either doing a private tour with George the Famous Taxi Driver, or else going with a group such as Fantasy Travel's 3-Day Classical Tour
and 4-Day Classical Tour which include Olympia as well as Delphi, Meteora and the Argolis. The 7-Day Grand Tour also includes Olympia along with just about every other important site on the mainland. See my page
for Olympia at
From Kyparissia (in Messinia) running
north for what must be about 70 kilometers is a seemingly endless sandy beach
on the Ionian Sea. Try stopping in the town of Kakovatos (or coastal
community or whatever it is) and drive west to the beautiful beach. Go
for a swim and then visit the small unassuming fish-taverna called
Vezzos for the cheapest and most delicious barbounia in Greece. This area is popular with people who travel with RVs but not very well known to other travelers but there are a lot of hotels in the area especially between Katakolon and Pirgos. And every Greek-American kid who came to Greece for the summer with the Ionian Village Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America Camp knows the area. Try the highly rated Ionian Beach Apartment Hotel and Spa and also use the map to find other hotels nearby and up and down the coast. The best beaches besides Kakovatos are Tholos and Louratas.
Further north is the lake of Kaifaz and its therapeutic baths. The
southern entrance is kind of trashed so go further north and enter
by the baths or on one of the dirt roads in the woods. If you have
a fishing-pole they say you can catch kefalo as big as a large cat.
If you drive inland into the mountains the beautiful village of Andritsaina is worth a stop for lunch or overnight and dinner and is a short drive from the ancient temple at Bassae in Messinia. The area is popular for its hiking trails and rafting on the Alfeios River. See my Andritsaina page
Most people nowadays who come to the prefecture of Eleia will be on cruise ships that stop in Katakolon, a small port that was suddenly thrust into the touristic limelight when they turned it into a major cruise port so people could visit Ancient Olympia. It is actually an interesting (sort of) little town with lots of restaurants and a museum of Ancient Greek Technology, tourist shops and everything you need to keep several thousand tourists happy.
For information see my Katakolon Page
Between Katakolon and the city of Patras is the port town of Killini which is not known for much excepot that this is where you go to catch the ferries to Zakynthos and Kefalonia. It was the ancient harbor of Illias, mentioned by Homer and in the 13th century the Franks under William of Villehardouin founded the city of Glarentza and exported the local products of olive oil, currents, wine and cotton. In the nearby village of Kastro the 13th Century Chlemoutsi Castle is the most important attraction in the area. For ferry schedules from Killini see Ferryhopper.com
The resort town of Loutra Killinis is where you will find the Killini Baths, thermal springs that have been used since ancient times for healing such ailments as arthritis, asthma and other skin conditions. Though they were abandoned for centuries, in the late 19th century they were restored by Greek Prime Minister Harilaos Trikoupis and even had a train line going to them, though it was all destroyed by the Germans in the Second World War. However in the 1950s
the Greek National Tourist Organization rebuilt them. They are now an organized spa run by a private company and the whole area with its beautiful sandy beaches is popular with Greek tourists as well as Eastern Europe. See Hotels in Loutra Killinis
Pyrgos is the capital of Ilia and though there is not much reason to visit there if you are a tourist unless you are traveling by bus and trying to get somewhere else, usually Olympia by bus or train. But before the economic crisis Pyrgos was known for the quality of shopping and if you lived in this part of the Peloponnesos, and even further, this is where you came to find the kind of clothing, including designer, that you would normally have to look in fashionable
areas of Athens.
Be sure to see my Photos of
the Peloponessos for pictures of Olympia and Eleia
More Helpful Info
The best way to visit Olympia is either doing a private tour with George the Famous Taxi Driver, or else going with a group such as Fantasy Travel's 3-Day Classical Tour and 4-Day Classical Tour which include Olympia as well as Delphi, Meteora and the Argolis. The 7-Day Grand Tour also includes Olympia along with just about every other important site on the mainland.
The more adventurous may want to rent a car which you can do through Swift Car Rentals who not only have very low rates but will even drive you out of Athens to the National Road so you don't waste time or get stressed out dealing with Athens traffic.
For my choices of the best hotels, apartments, villas, and holiday homes in the Peloponnesos see my Hotels of Greece Peloponnesos Page
You can find hotels in Eleia by location, price, whether or not it has a swimming pool, and see photos and reviews by using this link to Booking.com. Excellent prices
and many hotels you can book and then cancel
with no cancellation fee. For those who want to book without using a travel agency this is the best way to do it.