One of my favorite places in Greece is Gythio in the southern Peloponessos.
It is a port town with lots of good
fish restaurants, some great ouzeries and is within driving distance of the
Mani, Mystras, and much of the south-eastern coast of the Peloponnesos. It also
has some amazing old buildings built in the last two centuries. Gythio (or Gythion) is
a pleasure to wander through with the neo-classical houses, shops and spectacular
old apartment buildings, hugging the side of Mount Koumaros all the way down
to the sea. It makes you feel like you are in the type of Greek port that
disappeared with the introduction of mass tourism into the country. Gythion
to its credit is still Greek. But don't get the impression that this is a coastal tourist resort whose citizens are out each day making the city spic and span for the bus loads of visitors. This is a working class town with a crumbling infrastructure and unemployment, a fading once-important port with derelict buildings and an uncertain future. It's the kind of place I like but that does not mean you will, particularly if you are expecting something like Kardamili or Stoupa. It is an
authentic semi-urban Greek port town with both positive and negative aspects.
The waterfront has three sections. The middle part is the harbor
with its fishing boats and a few restaurants, pizzerias, cafes and shops, a
great place to take an evening promenade with the locals and their families in the summer months but hot as hell in the daytime in the summer.
There is a small square known as Platia Githeiou and the Kati Allo has
some tables on the other side and some great mezedes and large dishes. Next door is the traditional 3 Are Singing 2 Are Dancing which has a lot of nice local dishes and also food that is popular with the tourists, which is sort of the same thing here. In a town like Gythion whose
visitors are primarily Greeks and Greek-Americans it is hard to
go wrong when going out to eat. Also recommended is the O! LIVE at 35 Vassileos Pavlou for traditional Greek dishes with a modern Greek style, fresh fish, grilled meat and fish and lots of interesting and imaginative main dishes and appetisers, as well as Greek micro-brew beers and desserts including Ben and Jerry's ice cream.
In the outer section, which is beyond the harbor there is a line of restaurants that used to have tables right on the sea. The problem was that the waiters had to risk their lives crossing the street carrying huge trays of food and I am guessing there were probably a few casualties and maybe even a couple customers on their way to look at the catch of the day or use the bathroom. But now the shore has become a promenade for the evening stroll, the cars have the street to themselves, and the restaurant tables are in and around the restaurants. It may be less romantic but it is safer for everyone and after a glass of wine or two you won't even care.
The Saga Restaurant has been serving fresh fish since 1961 and is known for its great food, friendly service and location right on the sea. We ate here in 2022 and it has to be one of the best fish tavernas in the Peloponnesos. They have a large collection of ouzo and tsipuro to go with a terrific menu of mezedes and fish dishes. In fact unlike the other fish restaurants which line the coast just outside the harbor, Saga does not have any meat dishes nor do they have the oven cooked meals the tourists all ask for like mousaka, pastitsio, and souvlaki. They don't need to. This is where the Greeks come to eat fresh fish. They also have a large wine list with a focus on those from Lakonia. I recommend the Lefkodoni, one of the few Kidonitsas on their list I had not tasted or heard of before. This restaurant should be your first choice. It looks a little more fancy, with table cloths and real wine glasses, but the prices are normal. They also have the best taramasalata that I have ever eaten. And if convenience is your thing the Saga Pension is right upstairs.
If Saga is full try Trata which is recommended by a number of people in my Greece Travel Facebook Group. In fact many people swear by it and say if you order the fish soup you will keep coming back and will never try any of the other restaurants. 90 Moires is next door and we would have gone there but the woman saw us and crossed the street to drag us in and Andrea was so offended that she mistook us for tourists she refused to even consider eating there. A few steps further is Palirria Fish Tavern, which along with fish has your favorite oven cooked dishes and grilled meat. My second choice would have been Nautalia which overlooks the harbor between the coast road and the square. It was the only place that was empty and the owner looked sort of depressed. But the reviews (mostly in Greek) were good except for a couple nit-picky ones, and the fact that he did not have someone trying to drag me off the street and into his restaurant meant that he had more integrity than one or two of the other places. If you make it to Githion give it as shot and tell me what you think. Actually I walked all over town looking for a place to have an ouzo and grilled octopus and I walked right past this place which specializes in it and I ended up with mixed nuts and potato chips as my meze. Anyway these 4 restaurants are all good, inexpensive, and better than 95% of the restaurants you will find in most places tourists go. Why is that? Because most of the tourists here are Greek.
If you keep walking away from center of town on the coast road you will come to a couple intriguing places. The Kranai Meat Bar is just what it sounds like: A place to get real American-style beef steaks like Black Angus Ribeye, T-bone along with your favorite Greek meat dishes including provatina. It is a psistaria taken to the next level. Prices are normal and even though the Premium Meats seem expensive compared to the Greek dishes, they are cheaper than you would find at a similar restaurant in the USA. If one Existed. And next door is the Kranai Fish Bar which is a hybrid of sushi and Greek fish dishes and had we noticed it I am certain my daughter would have insisted we eat here and would have probably been right.
At the end of the line of restaurants is Grigoris Psarotaverna which looked promising and gets great reviews from Greeks but a couple bad reviews from the kind of tourists that don't understand that mousaka is not a fish. They have their own fishing boat so if you go with whatever they caught that day you probably can't go wrong. I will try this place next time unless someone tells me not to.
The 3rd section is to the north and is really the heart of town for the locals where the everyday shopping takes places. If you are looking for a hole-in-the-wall cafeneon where the old men hang out and they serve simple meze with your ouzo check out the area around the town hall or the streets that lead off it. In the same neighborhood but closer to the sea Barba Sideris is a famous psistaria (grill house) which is also popular with members of my Facebook group. There are a few more restaurants and cafes next to a "beach" though I would describe it as a place where the sea happens to meet the shore but not somewhere you would ever want to swim. If you are in this part of town and you can live without eating your dinner without a view of the sea go to Duosmos Mezedopouleion, a traditional yet modern Greek style, well run restaurant. It is on the corner of Ioanou Grigoraki and Dirou.
My daughter loved the coffee at Old School Home Bar and she was intrigued by the cocktails list as well. But it looked to me like La Yard was the place to be unless they were having a private party for a modeling agency.
Remember to try Sparta Beer and drink Kidonitsa!
Around the corner on the south side of town is the coastal road lined with
restaurants and bars which end at the small island called Kranai, now connected by
a causeway, where Paris and Helen left for Troy after he abducted her
from King Menelaous in nearby Sparta. Gythion was the original
port for Sparta in the days of the Illiad and the Odyssey. On Kranai you can visit the Tzanetakis Tower, built during the Ottoman
rule and which supposedly houses the Ethnological Museum though nobody I know has ever seen it open. The lighthouse of Gythio
was built in 1873 and is 25 meters tall with a range of 9 nautical miles. Like
much of the area around Gythion, Kranai is covered in pine trees.
The other side of the waterfront is an area of cafes and restaurants as well
as the town hall, built by Schiller in 1891 which houses the archaeological
museum. Schiller also designed the Maiden School up the street, which was built in 1886. Nearby
is the ancient theater built in the first century. This is the more modern part
of the town and there are apartment buildings and shops including
a couple internet cafes.
Right in the middle of the waterfront is the beautiful neo-classic Aktaion Hotel, not only my favorite hotel in Gythion, the only hotel I have ever stayed
at in Gythio. With every room having a balcony overlooking the harbor it is
the kind of place you have to prod yourself to leave and explore the town. This is also the hotel that Patrick Leigh Fermor used to stay in. The
ground floor of the hotel has the International
Press Center which also has a CD shop and a pretty decent English language bookstore
upstairs. You may have to ask them to turn on the lights. Just up the street
the shop of Yiorgos
Hassanakos is a gallery, bookstore, gift shop and one of the more interesting
shops in Greece. George, a respected artist, uses the store as his workshop which includes
creating figures of the Greek shadow
pupper theater Karagiozis, portraits and a variety of styles of visual art.
A couple doors down is another shop rich in content, this one an antique shop
one of the best in Greece.
It was in this shop that I bought a turn of the century bronzed baseball which
had been brought back from the USA by a returning Greek immigrant in the twenties!
Tom Mazarakis now has it on his desk. It is probably worth millions but the
guy sold it to me for 15 euros because the possibility of someone else coming
into an antique shop in Gythion and buying a bronze baseball was about one in
a million. (This shop may be gone or moved)
Gythion is the largest town in the Mani with 5000 permanent residents. The
drive from Athens is a little more than three hours so like Nafplio many
Athenians come for weekends. Sparta is a twenty minute drive north so you can visit Mystras
and then come back to one of the many beaches and spend the entire afternoon
swimming and eating fish.
The most important and interesting place to visit in
the vicinity of Gythion is the Diros Caves which are a half hour drive southwest.
From there you can continue into The Mani going down the west coast and returning
up the east.
The beach at Skoutari is one of the most lovely in the
Peloponnesos and the small family run seaside taverna To Akroyiali
serves inexpensive fish they catch with their own boat.
North of Gythio along
the coast you will find a long sandy beach that you can't miss because there
is a big rusted hulk of a ship sitting on it. The ship according to Peloponnesian historian Peter Katsambis "... was anchored at the port of Gytheio as its captain needed medical treatment around December 1980. Apparently the ship was leaning dangerously to its right side & taking in water slowly & remained there until November 1981. During a violent storm it somehow came loose from its anchoring & ended up at Selinitsa beach where it has been ever since."
With or without the ship Selinitsa is a very nice sandy beach and there is a popular cafe/restaurant called Glyfada Beach right there. And unlike the shipwreck in Zakynthos that all the tourists swarm to see where you have to pay for a boat to take you, Selintsa has a parking lot.
The Lakonikos bay is home to Loggerhead
sea turtles, also known as Caretta Caretta and nests are found along the Evrotas
beach, Mavrovouni, Selinitsa, Valtaki and Vathi where sand dune restoration
is taking place, the first of its kind on Greece. The town of Skala has an Environmental
Awareness Center run by the Archelon Organization who also have an information
kiosk in Gythion in the summer where you can buy pictures, books and gifts that
help to support the protection of the turtles. (For more info you can e-mail
them at firstname.lastname@example.org)
For exploring the southern Peloponessos I can't think of a better place to
base yourself than Gythion. Even Monemvasia and the island of Elafonisos can
be done as a day trip. And an evening in Gythion, walking in the port, eating
and drinking in the fish tavernas or sitting and watching the sea from your
balcony in the Aktaion Hotel you won't even know that you are not on an island.
Gythion can be visited any time of year. For those of you movie buffs who saw the Paul Mazursky film 'The Tempest' with John Cassevettes, Molly Ringwald, Susan Sarandon and Raul Julia and wondered which island it was filmed on, it was actually not filmed on an island. The Tempest was filmed near Githeon and probably if you ask around you can find out where exactly.
George Hassanakos puts out a small guide to Gythion which you can find in
his shop. It is well written and has suggestions of day-trips, where to shop,
where to eat and what to see around town.
See my Gythion
Suggested Hotels in Gythion
With a great location in the harbor of Gythio, Aktaion Hotel offers rooms with views of the sea. A guest lounge with free Wi-Fi and TV room is also available. Housed in a beautiful neoclassic building, Aktaion Hotel offers rooms with private bathrooms, air conditioning, fridge and TV. Breakfast is included in the
room rate and can be ordered through room service. And most importantly remember that Francis Leigh Fermor stayed here. It also has an incredible view, especially if you like sunrise.
Just 11 meters from the sandy beach of Gythion, Aktaion Resort (above photo) offers an outdoor pool with hot tub and poolside bar. Free on-site parking is also provided. Luxury
and comfort are provided in the fully equipped and air-conditioned rooms of Aktaion Resort. Each has a satellite TV, bathroom with hairdryer, and veranda with pool and sea views.
The beautiful, new, modern Las Hotel & Spa is a 4-star hotel right in the center of town with a rooftop swimming pool, restaurant, bar, fitness center and very nice rooms. Housed in a 1864 neoclassical building, the former House of Commerce of Gythion, the Gythion Traditional Hotel offers spacious, high-ceilinged rooms and apartments with kitchen. All units have double glazed windows, mini-bar, TV, air conditioning and spectacular sea view. The Pantheon City Hotel is a modern, centrally-located hotel, right in the harbor with great views of the sea and the port. Panoramic Sea View Apartment has air-conditioned accommodations with a balcony and free WiFi. The apartment has 3 bedrooms, 1 bathroom, bed linen, towels, a flat-screen TV, a dining area, a fully equipped kitchen, and a patio with sea views.
The 4-star Thirides Beach Resort
is a complex of stone buildings featuring a swimming pool, restaurant and 2 bars, just 30 meters from the beach of Mavrovouni and 2 miles from downtown Gythion. Hotel Milton in Mavrovouni offers air-conditioned rooms with free Wi-Fi access and a private balcony enjoying sea views. It has a bar and serves traditional Greek breakfast in buffet style. Just a few steps from Mavrovouni Beach and offering a sun terrace, Studios Resbithas is a self-catering accommodations located 1.2 mi from Gytheion. It offers children’s playground and garden with BBQ. Free Wi-Fi is available throughout.
Just 30 meters from Selinitsa Beach and 1.2 miles from Gythion, Niriides Resort offers air-conditioned accommodations with sea and garden views, and free Wi-Fi. Free sun beds, umbrellas and showers
are available on the beach.
For more hotels, apartments, holiday homes and villas use Matt's Gythion Hotel Search
Helpful Travel Information
The best way to get to Gythion is by rental car or by taxi though
there are frequent buses and a rare ferry that goes to and from the island of Kythera and Crete.
For transfers by taxi to Gythion see www.greecetravel.com/taxi
For car rentals see www.greektravel.com/swift
You can find hotels in Gythion 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.