No other part of Greece combines stupendous mountain scenery and scenic hikes with deserted, pristine beaches and an incredible wealth of ancient sites like the Peloponnese. After all, this is where gods and heroes were said to walk the earth and the world’s greatest sporting event was born.

Monemvasia - Kastro

Surrounded by the teal waters of the Aegean Sea, vast, imposing, Monemvasia (moh-nem-vah-sia) is an iceberg-like slab of rock, with sheer cliffs rising hundreds of metres from the sea, linked to the mainland by a single, highly defendable causeway.

Monemvasia’s fortified medieval village is divided into the lower town , bisected by a main cobbled street lined with souvenir shops and tavernas that leads to the main square, and the upper town , with its ruins and fortress . The greatest pleasure of visiting the kastro comes from wandering the labyrinth: exploring the tiny alleyways and winding stairways that weave between a complex network of stone houses, and ducking into atmospheric nooks and crannies.

Cross the causeway and follow the curving road that skirts the cliff to the official entrance, a narrow tunnel in a massive fortifying wall. The tunnel is L-shaped, so the magical town is concealed until you emerge on the other side.

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Once the port of ancient Sparta, Gythio is the gateway to the Lakonian Mani. This pretty fishing town makes a pleasant but not terribly thrilling stopover if you’re travelling between the Mani and Sparta or Monemvasia or if you’re taking a ferry to Kythira. You can count Gythio’s attractions on two fingers: the long stretch of Mavrovouni beach, 2km south of Gythio, and pine-shaded Marathonisi Islet, alleged to be ancient Cranae, where Paris of Troy and Helen consummated the affair that sparked the Trojan War.

As you can imagine, fresh fish features rather prominently on the menus of tavernas that cluster along the seafront between the pier and the causeway to Marathonisi Islet.

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Diros Cave

These extraordinary caves, inhabited since Neolithic times and systematically explored from 1949, lie 11km south of Areopoli, and are signposted near the village of Pyrgos Dirou.

The entrance to the caves is on the beach. You’ll be treated to a half-hour’s silent, eerie glide by boat through the cave’s many passages, giving you time to admire the beautiful stalagmites and stalactites, many of the latter as fine as gossamer threads. You then walk the remaining 300m on foot.

Abandoned as human habitation in 4 BC after an earthquake, the caves weren’t rediscovered until around 1895. Then in 1949 the local husband and wife speleology team of Yiannis and Anna Petrocheilou began to systematically explore the caves, now estimated to be around 14km long. Underwater exploration continues to this day.

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Kastania Cave

The extraordinary Kastania Cave located at the end of a spectacularly winding 17km route northeast of Neapoli, contains some of the best examples of rare stalactites and stalagmites in Europe, estimated to be around 3 million years old. Guided tours in English depart hourly; as you walk around a raised and lit 3km circuit, guides are quick to point out octopi, exotic plants and otherworldly creatures cast in stone.

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There’s not a lot to do on Elafonisos…which is just how its peace-seeking visitors like it. This tiny Greek island is a mosaic of jewel-colored flowers, soft white sand, and aquamarine sea. Elafonisos is all about the beach, an incredible long beach with white sand and crystal clear, transparent waters, with pristine snorkeling conditions and quiet stretches of sand. Every day ends on a happy note when you can dine on fabulously fresh seafood at a harbor-side tavern, relaxing under a tangerine sunset.


The island of Kythira dangles 12km off the tip of the Peloponnese’s Lakonian peninsula, between the Aegean and Ionian Seas. It’s so quiet even the cats are yawning. Often veiled in sea mists like sudden shrouds across its rugged terrain, Kythira is for much of the year really a ghost land, an unspoilt wilderness of lush valleys, canyons and cliffs falling abruptly into the vivid blue sea. Despite its proximity to the Peloponnese, it is considered a part of the Ionian Island group, and while the stands of cypress trees help remind you, there is something truly time-trapped about this isolated isle, as if it simply forgot to join the 21st century. The island’s population is spread among more than 40 rural villages, which with their sugar-cube design style have a distinctly Cycladic feel, punctuated by neoclassical manors and old-style kafeneia.

Tourism remains very low-key – except in July and August, when the island goes mad.

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The captivating ruins of churches, libraries, strongholds and palaces in the fortress town of Mystras (miss-trahss), a World Heritage–listed site, spill from a spur of the Taÿgetos Mountains 7km west of Sparta. It’s among the most important historical sites in the Peloponnese. This is where the Byzantine Empire’s richly artistic and intellectual culture made its last stand before an invading Ottoman army, almost 1000 years after its foundation.

Traveller facilities are split between Mystras village, 1km or so below the main gate of ancient Mystras, and Pikoulianika village, 800m from Mystras’ fortress gate.

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Ancient Mycenae

World Heritage–listed Mycenae is synonymous with the names Homer and Schliemann. In the 9th century BC Homer told in his epic poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey , of ‘well-built Mycenae, rich in gold’. In Mycenae, myth and history are inextricably linked. According to Homer, the city of Mycenae was founded by Perseus, the son of Danae and Zeus. By Agamemnon’s time the Royal House of Atreus was the most powerful of the Achaeans (Homer’s name for the Greeks).

Agamemnon’s fortress is entered through the dramatic Lion Gate , a solid construction of massive stone blocks over which rear two large lionesses. This motif is believed to have been the insignia of the Royal House of Atreus.

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