Following our time in Athens, my friend took our small group to visit her family’s village in the Peloponnese region. This is an area that tourists are not likely to travel to unless they have a specific friend they are visiting. We spent a relaxing week staying in the village, hanging out with the locals, and traveling around the region. Below are some of the fun things we did in this region:
Things to Do:
Karyes. This quaint mountain village is surrounded by nature. Hike and walk around looking at the picturesque houses, the beautiful foliage, and discovering different sites (e.g., the clock tower, the Caryatids monument, the old churches). Visit the town center to grab a bite to eat and a drink. There are several restaurants and cafes and lots of seating outside where the locals hang out. Plan to spend a few a few hours here walking around and getting a bite to eat.
Vatheia. This nearly abandoned village (sometimes referred to as a ghost village) is located on a hilltop in Mani and has some beautiful views of the surrounding ocean and countryside. The cluster of towers and structures is enclosed by cacti and plants that are slowly taking over parts of the town. Visitors are free to roam around the area at their own leisure. We spent a memorable afternoon hiking around the buildings, taking pictures, and viewing nature. For a while we were the only ones here. We saw a couple of locals and a couple of other tourists but that was it. This place truly is almost a ghost village. Bring water and food if you plan to spend the afternoon as there is not really any place to buy anything. Also bring a good pair of shoes and watch out for the cacti. Plan to spend 2 hours here walking around and taking in the feeling of abandonment.
Cape Tainaron. This is the southernmost part of mainland Greece that has a nice trek to a lighthouse. Visitors can park nearby at the small village of Kokkinogia. From there it is a 30-45 minute walk to the tip with the nice views of the ocean and a peek at the lighthouse. The path is well defined, but there are some rocky parts especially as you get closer to the end. On the way there (closer to the village) there are some mosaics and small ruins that are nice to look at. We did the hike as the sun was setting which was nice to see, but by the time we reached the end it was completely dark. And we did not bring a flashlight. We had to use the light on our cell phones to get back, which was a little dangerous because of all the rocks. I would recommend doing the hike before the sun sets or bringing a flashlight if planning to go at night. There is a cute restaurant nearby the parking area where we grabbed a late dinner after the hike. Plan to spend 2 hours walking to the end and back and looking around.
Diros Cave. The entrance to this cave site is located on a beach. The caves are a nice way to cool off and have some gorgeous stalactite and stalagmite formations. Visitors are taken on a short boat ride through the caves and then a take short walk on their own to the exit. This is not a guided tour as the workers do not speak English, but the views are nice and talking points are not really necessary. The caves do get crowded so be prepared to wait. We happened to go during the end of peak season so our wait was not too bad, but we still had one. Visitors will need to get in line to buy tickets at the ticket stand located a short walk above the cave site. The tickets will have a number on them, and workers at the cave site will call out numbers when the boats are ready. Check out what number they are on and then grab a drink or ice cream at the cafe located next door. But do not go too far away. Visitors need to be in the vicinity to hear the numbers being called as there is no other way to check when it is their time. After the caves, head over to the beach which is located right at the exit. We were able to grab our stuff from our nearby parked car and change in the public changing rooms. The each is small but nice. It is a pebble beach so not the most comfortable to lay on and getting in and out of the water is somewhat dangerous as the pebbles are really slippery. But the water is nice so try to find the path with the least stones or bring a pair of water shoes to help with the grip. Plan to spend 40 minutes in the caves but longer for the wait and the beach.
Dimitrios shipwreck. The story behind this ship is unclear, but the remaining wreckage is cool. It is located on a beach near Gythio and visitors are free to walk right up to it. The side by the beach has been spray painted and the salt water has eaten away large chunks of the ship. Visitors can get a good view of the inside of the ship through some of these holes. Plan to spend 30 minutes walking around the beach and the ship.
Gythio. This cute fishing town is surrounded by several beaches. We went to a nearby beach during the day and then came to the town at night to walk around the waterfront. There are lots of shops and restaurants. Walk around and look at the shops and the drying octopus. For dinner, sit at the waterfront and have a nice meal watching the boats. Throw some bread in the water to see all the fish. And then have desert at one of the bakeries. We got a box of assorted baklava that was delicious. Plan to spend a few hours here looking around and grabbing something to eat.
This is a great region to buy some local ingredients, including fresh honey, cheeses, olive oils, and other spices. Buying these locally and fresh really does make a difference in food. These are great purchases for any pantry, especially for those who love to cook.
What to Eat:
Traveling through the villages, visitors will find the original “farm to table.” Stop at a local restaurant in the plateia and order a dish with goat or lamb and some local wine. Also, try the Tsipouro, which a lot of locals drink. This liquor can be drunk straight or distilled with water or ice. Go to a bakery and get some fresh bread and desserts as well. This trip was a chance for us to try some great traditional Greek food. Everything was fresh and from the area.
Where to Stay:
We stayed in Karyes at a friend’s house. As described above, this village is located in the beautiful mountains. Since we had a local guide, she was able to take us around to meet the other locals and do things that tourists probably would not get a chance to do or see, which was great. This is a place I would not have gotten to stay at or even known to visit if not for my friend. For those staying in the Peloponnese region who do not have a local to stay with, I would recommend trying to spend one night in one of the mountain villages and one night closer to the beach and coastal towns to get more of a variety.
We arrived to this region by car. There are some buses that go between this region and Athens but these may not be as reliable, and there is no public transportation in these villages. Visitors will definitely need a car to get around in the region. Renting a one is the best option. We rented our car in Athens and were able to travel around the region at our leisure. Some of the roads are quite windy and up a mountain, but we were lucky to have a friend who was comfortable driving these back roads. When we departed we dropped the car back off in Athens.
We spent a really nice week in this region seeing another side of Greece. We visited towards the end of August so tourism was lower. Although it was warm on the beaches and coast, it did get chillier in the mountains so a light coat was necessary. I think visiting in the spring or fall would also be nice to see the flowers in full bloom or to see the leaves turning. This was a great experience that was definitely made better by having a local take us around and show us the sights. This region is for travelers looking to see a more local side of Greece that is less touristy.