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Peloponessos
Lakonia
(Sparta, Mystras, Monemvasia, Mani...)

When people think of the Peloponnesos the name of Sparta comes to mind and of course the valiant Lacedemonians and their leader Leonidas who held the Persian army at Thermopalae

Sparta

Sparta, Peloponessos Formerly Athen's greatest foe and competitor, Sparta is now an agricultural city on a flat plain where the Evrotas River flows through it. Unlike the Athenians who built temples and massive walls, the men of Sparta were considered the walls and there are few ruins from classical times, but they include the remains of the ancient acropolis, the sanctuary of Artemis and the tomb of Leonidas, whose small band of Spartan warriors held the Persians at Thermopaleae. On nearby Mount Tagetos there are numerous traditional villages, well worth a visit. The city of Sparta is modern with wide avenues and a big main square and lots of restaurants. It can get pretty hot here in the summertime but in the off-season it is an interesting place to be and the people are extra friendly.The Hotel Menelaion is like the Spartan version of the Grande Bretagne and worth a visit just to see its indoor pool and decor and its impressive neo-classical facade. It is probably your best bet if you are looking for quality accommodations. (You can find other hotels on Booking.com's Sparta Page)

Restaurant Elysse in SpartaA block up the street is the simple family run restaurant Ellyse run by the very lovely Katerina Krias and her husband who have returned from Canada to their home town. Excellent food and lots of choices of meats and vegetable dishes. Be sure to visit the large central square which you can find by parking on the main road (Paleologou Street) and then walking up Lykourgou or Evagalistrias streets. There are lots of cafes that come to life in the late afternoon. Usually in the summer it is empty during the day when people take their siestas. Visit the Archaeological Museum on Lykourgou and Agios Nikolaos and the Coumantarious Art Gallery at 123 Palaeologou street. One of my favorite things about Sparta is the bright red taxi cabs. Sparta has always seemed special to me and I always feel like I am at home here because my gandfather was born in the nearby village of Kalithea about 18 kilometers east of the city on the road to Geraki. Be sure to visit the Museum of the Olive and Greek Olive Oil at 129 Othonos-Amalias Street. Open every day but Tuesday from 10 to 16:00.

See my Guide to Sparta

Mystras

Mystras, GreeceThe nearby ruins of Mystras, which are being gradually restored, are worth a trip. Mystras was the central town of the Morea (Peloponessos) until the Turkish occupation in the fifteenth century. It was inhabited until it was abandoned in the 1820’s when the Turks re-took much of the Peloponessos after Ibriham Pasha’s invasion from Egypt. The old city is rich in churches and is topped by a Frankish castle. There are houses and mansions and many of the churches have impressive frescos. The Pantanassa is a convent inhabited by nuns, the only people living in the city of Mistras today. The Perivlepto is a monastery built under a rock and contains impressive frescos. If you keep climbing through the ruins of the old city you will find yourself in the castle with a view of the valley below. Also worth a visit is the Byzantine city above the town of Geraki , east of Sparta, currently being excavated by the Dutch School of Archaeology. On the way you can stop at the village of Kalithea where my grandfather was born. There are a couple small cafeneons, a beautiful tree shaded square and a Byzantine church with some very interesting frescos you can see if you can find the guy with the key. More on Mystras

For Hotels in Mystras see Booking.com's Mystras Hotel Page

Taygetos Mountain Village Hotels near Sparta

Sparta Hotel Ad"Alagonia Country Homes are nestled in the Taygetos range between Kalamata and Sparti near the beautiful village of Alagonia. Both routes provide a beautiful scenic trip into a traditional mountain town. From the Kalamata side, about half way to Alagonia, there is a Taverna near a mountain spring. It’s a big place you cannot miss. Most people stop here to purchase herbs and local cheeses by the locals on the roadside. The specialty of the house is the yogurt and honey, all made from regional sources. Every table will have some, which is a good sign. The locals come up here during the hot summer and order just that. The mountain spring provides chilled water for travelers and patrons alike.

The bungalows are situated on a precipice overlooking the Alagonia valley. The center of town is minutes away. There are 6 units, each built of solid wood which give them a cabin-type feel. All have an outdoor balcony to enjoy the view. This is a retreat type getaway. In the summer months, the air is cooler and mornings are crisp. The winter brings the occasional dusting of snow and clean mountain aromas.

Alagonia Hotel, SpartaThe owner is my cousin, Nadia Manousos and her husband. She was born and raised in Kalamata with strong family ties to the region. You can cook in your room, but the property has a large restaurant that is well stocked with local products. Nadia uses regional food items and stays on track with seasonal specialties.

In late August, there is a Potato Festival..yes, a real potato festival. The locals cook up huge batches of potatoes (and everything else) on wood fired pits which gives a wonderful smoky aroma to the food. The festivities include the typical all you can eat and drink party, along with music and dancing. What can be more Greek than that? Also, as an added bonus they jump over the smoldering fire pits for good luck, etc. so you can partake of that custom too.

Most folks visit to just relax and get away from the heat, the city, their relatives, but the area is prime for hiking and riding. Nadia will loan you a bike if you want to hit the trails.

It is a peaceful place with caring owners. As most local businesses, they will treat you like family and you will want to return. It is a bit out of the way, but if you are driving the Peloponnesus and find yourself in the mountains of Alagonia, you’ll be more than welcomed as their guest.

And..if you do go, please say hello from their cousin in America, Dean Argyres! You can see photos and booking information on the Booking.com Alagonia Country Homes Page

Monemvasia

Monemvasia, peloponnesos, Greece Because of its connection to Pireaus and the Saronic Gulf islands by Flying Dolphin, Monemvasia was as good as any place to begin a trip through the Peloponessos. However in the summer of 2003 they discontinued the Flying Dolphin and unless they start it again the only way to get here is to drive. The trip is about five hours from Athens. The citadel town of Monemvasia on the Eastern Peninsula of the Peloponessos is Greece’s answer to the Rock of Gibraltar. It’s a walled city on the site of a giant stone mountain which rises from the sea, connected by a narrow isthmus. The village that is contained within these walls was in ruins twenty years ago but has now been restored by the Germans who bought it one house at a time. The modern town of Nea Monemvasia is full of tourists in the summer. Try the Aktaion Fish Restaurant in the port of Nea Monemvasia. Monemvasia has amazing wine and it is hard to find outside of the area. Be sure to visit the Monemvasia Winery in the village of Velies.

Gerakas, Peloponessos, ancestral home of telly SavalasNorth of Monemvasia is the town of Gerakas, which is approached by sea through a long channel that seems more like a river. It was the primary source of the gray mullet eggs used at one time for tarama but which is now made from carp. It is also the ancestral town of none other then Telly Savalas. There is a great seafood restaurant here called Remezzos which people come to from miles around.

If you go south from Monemvasia the island of Elafonisos caters to wealthy Athenians on their yachts but the beaches are great, some say the best in Greece as is the seafood. Just drive south until you see the signs just before you get to Neapolis. Neapolis is an agricultural town on the coast where you can catch the ferry to the island of Kythira and Crete. The area between Neapolis and the south eastern tip of the Peloponessos at Cape Maleas is a great place for hiking.

See my Monemvasia page for more about Monemvasia and Geraka.

For Hotels in Monemvasia see Booking.com's Monemvasia Page

Gythion

Gythio, peloponnesos, The port of Gythio is rich in fish taverns, beautiful old Turkish style houses and a bustling waterfront, which is the town’s center of gravity. There are long sandy beaches nearby. Marathonisi, which used to be an island but is now connected, is supposedly where Paris spent the night with Helen when he first abducted her from King Menelaous of Sparta. There is an ancient acropolis and a small museum in the town hall. My brother uses Gythio as his base when he travels around the Peloponessos. There is a fantastic antique shop where I bought a turn-of-the-century bronze baseball. (Really) It is right on the main road in the port. In fact pretty much everything is on the main road of the port. We stayed at the Aktaion City Hotel, a large neo-classical building which overlooks the harbor and is clean, convenient, and has a very friendly andhelpful staff. For those looking fr something a little more upscale, say, with a pool, try the Aktaion Resort which is right on the beach.

Gythion ShipwreckThere are a couple other places worth mentioning in Githeon besides the excellent fish tavernas, Italian restaurants and ouzeries in the port (take your pick). We ate at a place called Akroyiali, one of a row of fish tavernas on the southern edge of town for no other reason then I almost ran over the waitor in my car twice, on the way out of town to the Mani and when we returned that evening (the restaurant is on one side of the street the seaside tables on the other). I thought the least I could do was eat at his restaurant. The food was good especially the fish soup. The white wine, a locally made (meaning somewhere in the Peloponessos) retsina was excellent. There are a couple nice bakeries so you can stock up on bread and spanakopita if you are taking a day trip to the Mani. There are some great beaches outside of town to the north and the south including this one with the shipwreck at Trinisa. Also if you are camping for some reason the southern side of Githeon is full of campsites. More on Gythion

For hotels in Githion see Booking.com's Githion page

The Mani

Town of Vathia in the Mani, peloponnesos, The inhabitants of the Mani peninsula are so tough, the land so inhospitable, that it has never been conquered. Even the Germans left them alone when they occupied the country in World War Two. All the more reason to go there for as frightening as they were to the Turks and the Germans, the Maniatis are among the most hospitable of the Greeks and their houses, like fortified towers, make up for the lack of major archeological sites. They claim proudly to be the direct descendants of the Spartans and are known for their independence and the fact they are impossible to govern. These are certainly my kind of people. You can begin a trip through the Mani in Areopolis and drive down to the bottom on the western road and back up the eastern side and see the whole thing in a day. Many people stay here in the numerous castle hotel-guesthouses which you can find on Booking.com's Mani Page.

Beach in the ManiThere are some impressive beaches down at the bottom of the peninsula in Marmafi and Porto Kagio. Most of the villages are a collection of the famous tower houses interspersed with typical Greek country architecture similar to the junta-era apartment buildings of Athens and just as tasteless. But there are clusters of old buildings here and there that make for some impressive photographs. The town of Vathia (above photo) is probably the most impressive and the least destroyed of the Mani towns, perhaps because much of the village is deserted. If you want to visit one town in the Mani that will impress you architecturally this is the one. If you rent a car to drive the Mani get one with a good engine probably 1200 CC or more. Not because you will want to drive fast but because if you take the eastern road back you will feel more confident in your vehicle's ability to make it up the hills.

See also The Deep Mani

The Diros Caves

The Diros Caves, Mani, GreeceThe Diros Caves are famous for their stalactites and stalagmites are said to extend as far north as Sparta. They were inhabited in Neolithic times and then abandoned after an earthquake. Rediscovered in 1895, exploration began in 1949. The caves contain an underground lake. The criticism is that for all the miles and miles of caverns and passageways only a small portion is open to the public. But that criticism falls by the wayside once you go there and you realize that the Diros Caves are as awe-inspiring as the volcano of Santorini or even the Acropolis. We went there on a hot day in June, happily bought our tickets and walked through the modern-looking entrance and down the steps into a whole new world (that was a very comfortable temperature I might add). There were little flatbottom boats waiting for us and we spent the next 45 minutes sailing through underground caves no wider than our boat and into giant caverns. I seriously doubt anyone could go through the caves without wanting to tell the whole world about it. I highly recommend making the journey here. More on the Diros Caves

Messinian Mani and Above

Itilo, Mani, GreeceFrom Areopoli following the coast you will pass the large Limeni Bay and the towns of Limeni and Nea Itilo. Further north besides wanting to jump out of your car every two minutes to take a photo there are a few places worth mentioning. In the town of Thalames is the Morea Olive Oil Factory right in the main square. Owned by a German fellow by the name of Heinz Neth, the factory is worth a stop and he will explain how the oil is extracted and you can sample his delicious olives too. We bought a 5 liter can of oil and a jar of olives. The tree-shaded platia is a nice place to stop for a break too. There are also a couple old men selling local honey, herbs and their own olives and oil. There are several small Byzantine churches along the route many of which have some interesting frescos and stone carvings. There is no shortage of nice beaches along the way.

Beach in Stoupa: peloponnesos, The town of Stoupa which is promoted as a resort for discriminating tourists looking to find the 'real Greece' actually appears to be a resort that is for tourists whether they are discriminating or not. But even though many who visit Stoupa seem to be the kind of tourists who don't care whether they are in the Peloponessos or Tunisia as long as there is a beach and a place to get a cold beer, looks can be deceiving and one is forced to come to the realization that if a lot of people come somewhere because they are looking for a place off-the-beaten-path, even though it is now on-the-beaten-path, those beating the path may be more interesting than your typical package tourists that mass like lemmings on the shores of popular islands like Mykonos, Corfu, Crete, Kos and Rhodes. Stoupa is an attractive and fun town with a nice sandy beach and a rocky cove on one end and a line of tavernas, cafes and tourist shops that overlook it. You could not find a better place for a Greek Island holiday and you don't even have to get on a boat. It has a strong resemblance to the Sporades islands of Skiathos and Skopelos. For Kazantzakis fans this is where the writer lived and the hero of his most popular and my favorite book, Zorba The Greek, supposedly worked in Pastrova. (In case you are wondering Zorba was a real character and you can read about the actual person in Kazantzakis' Report To Greco'.) Kardamili is further up the road and is at the end of the Vyros Gorge at the foot of Mount Taygetos. It is popular with trekkers because of the number of trails which are color-coded so you won't get too lost on them. The main village which is above the port is quiet and attractive. There are some nice beaches in the area and a number of shops, restaurants and plenty of travelers, mostly of the adventurous variety.

For a list of hotels and booking information for Stoupa and Kardamili visit my Stoupa Hotel Booking Page

See also The Outer Mani

Kyparissi, pelopnnesos Lakonia is a largely agricultural area with high mountains, beautiful beaches and small towns and villages all with their own charm. You could easily spend your entire vacation here, swimming in some of the cleanest seas in all of Greece and eating some of the most delicious food you have ever eaten, and the cheapest too. Some of the best and most beautiful villages in Laconia are not ready for mass-tourism and for that reason I have hidden them on the site and made them a little more difficult to find. But if you are the type who likes to go off the beaten path and don't mind driving five hours over narrow winding roads to find a beautiful village and beach one of the most difficult places to get to in the Peloponessos is also one of the most beautiful seaside villages in Greece. See Kyparissi: The Most Beautiful Village in Greece

Be sure to see my Photos of the Peloponnese page for pictures of the Mani and Laconia

More Peloponessos Information

You will most likely need a car to explore this part of the Peloponessos since it is off the beaten path, unless of course you just plan to lay out on a beach in which case you just need to get to your hotel and back from Athens. For car rentals see www.greektravel.com/swift and for taxi transfers see the website of George the Famous Taxi Driver.

You can find hotels in Lakonia 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.

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