Snow. More snow. The frigid temps of last week remain a brutal memory. It’s February. Everyone I know is planning trips to warm places. I’m just back from Palm Springs and L.A, so I’m stuck here.
My survival method: I’m dreaming of the Peleponnese.
In this complex and gorgeous region, now classic myths tell us of past dynamics of daily life, where ancient gods and goddesses once ruled. It’s a region I call the “Tuscany of Greece” (and roughly the same size) — without the traffic or the tourism.
The Peleponnese is far more geographically diverse than Tuscany’s rolling hills. This ever-changing landscape of verdant mountains, olive trees and stone walls, where, literally, thousands of acres of olive groves, meadows waterfalls, vineyards, ancient ruins, caves, and spectacular beaches can all be experienced.
There are charming accommodations in centuries-old structures, redone with chic, modern interiors, that show the harmonious marriage of ancient and modern styles in interior design, and how interesting it can be.
Sounds too good to be true, right?
A visit to the Peleponnese is a truly Greek experience, where history and archaeological ruins, swimming in stunning blue water, eating delicious food (that’s incredibly affordable) wineries, and unpretentious locals, all co-exist. And yes, for most of the year – the weather is perfect. I’ve meandered narrow roads traversing switch-backs as I swooned over jaw dropping scenery in every direction. I’ve driven the coastal roads and seen the crystal clear waters of both the Aegean and Ionian seas. I’ve seen cows and goats walk beside my car, and witnessed sunsets over olive trees stretched over the landscape as far as I could see.
Stay-Eat-See: 10 of my favorites
1. Costa Navarino, on the Ionian Sea, is a sustainable resort, set amidst ancient olive trees that have been saved in what is the largest reforestation project in Europe. Before arrival arrange a spa treatment at the resort’s Anazoe Spa. Treatment methods date back to Homeric times using olive oil and aromatherapy. The Messinian Salt & Honey Scrub or the deluxe Healing Massage Remedy by Hippocrates.
2. Gialova- The nearby small fishing village of Gialova offers a number of charming fish restaurants along the bay; one of the best is Koxili. As is always the case in Greece, the sunset and views are fantastic.
3. Ancient Messini– the ruins here are a mere twenty-minutes from the village of Kalamata; considered to be one of the most important archaeological sites in Greece. What remains of the 4th century B.C. city is extraordinary. A classically shaped stadium, theater, temples and a cemetery. At the Arkadia Gate, see a round stone courtyard with an inner gate and gigantic monolithic lintel, now half fallen. A small museum at the top of the village displays artifacts collected here during excavations.
4. Limeni is a tiny gem of a town, where sparkling blue water is never more than a few steps away. Pirgos Mavromichali is the place to stay. Trust me. The landscape and the sea here feel untouched by time. The 27-room hotel is built in an old stone tower, literally at the waters edge. Passing through the original wooden doors, expansive courtyards lead to multiple terraces and the sea. The tower has been redone into a boutique hotel that is both architecturally interesting and comfortable.
5. Walk next door to Taverna Takis. In this dreamy setting on the patio over the sea order grilled fish that has been caught that day, right below where you’re sitting.
6. Diros Caves. The world-renowned Glyphada Cave is eye opening, especially if you’ve never seen stalactites and stalagmites up close. The 40-minute boat ride on the underground lake enables visitors to view these natural mineral growths of vast size and shape.
7. Kyrimai Hotel, in Geromilinas, another sleepy village with a romantic 22-room hotel made from an old warehouse and tower. The Kyrimai features traditional Maniot architecture, and has been thoughtfully restored. Each guest room is distinctive, all feature natural Coco-mat beds. And the hotel has a gourmet restaurant with an award-winning chef. Greek and Mediterranean flavors emerge from the kitchen. Lanterns line the dining terrace; dine to the sound of waves rolling against the sea wall.
8. Githio a small city with a fantastically massive harbor — it seems wider than the city itself. Githio is built upon a hill, amphitheatre style. I opted to stay just outside the town, so I’d have the beach right at my doorstep at Antico Castello, a new hotel built to look like a series of old stone towers on Mavrouni Beach. I love it for it’s proximity to Githio, a mere 5 minute drive. Olive trees line the path to the sea. There is a swimming pool, outdoor bar and beach umbrellas. And amazing breakfasts, served poolside, with local honey and homemade yogurt. I walked along Githio Harbor and opted for Saga restaurant, where the catch of the day was brought to my table. I ordered it grilled with an oversized Greek salad of brilliant red tomatoes and local feta cheese.
9. Stay at the Kinsterna Hotel & Spa truly a gem of the region. Set on a lush hillside with fabulous views of the Medieval Castle’s Rock of Monemvasia and the endless blue of the Aegean, the superbly restored Byzantine-era rural estate is surrounded by vineyards olive and citrus groves of Monemvasia, all irrigated by the ancient cistern located in the center of the building. This is a 5-star hotel, which maintains its authentic architectural details of Byzantine, Ottoman, Venetian and modern-Greek styles.
10. The Temple of Nemean Zeus On the drive back to Athens, pass through Sparta and Tripoli, but Nemea is your destination. Do not miss the spectacular excavated site of the Temple of Nemean Zeus, with its grand columns that stand adjacent to lush vineyards. According to legend, winemaking has taken place here since Homer’s time.
1 Olive trees as far as the eye can see
2 Costa Navarino and olive trees
3 Remains of the old stadium at Ancient Messini
4The original stone walls at Pirgos Mavromichali
5 Emerging from Diros Caves, this is what one sees
6 Githio Harbor
7&8 Antico Castello and Mavrouni Beach
8 Vineyards in Nemea
10 Temple of Nemean Zeus next to the vineyards
11 the pool at Kinsterna Hotel, amazing views
12 Old stone wall at the sea in ancient Monemvasia