Historic Hiking Odyssey in Greece's Peloponnese
The protagonists of the Peloponnesian drama are the mountains, sea, and sun, providing endless fun for hikers, walkers, sailors, and sunbathers alike. Natural hot springs near Corinth, mountain villages in forested Arcadia (where nymphs and dryads are rumored to wander), and nearby coastal islands such as Kythera, the birthplace of Aphrodite, all beckon the aesthete. This mythical area on Greece's southern end boasts the best of all that the country has to offer: superlative historical sites, art, and unspoiled natural beauty. A former peninsula off the mainland near Corinth, the Peloponnese is now technically Greece's largest island, as well as one of its most enticing regions for travelers of any interest or background.
For those who want to have their hike and culture too, the Peloponnese boasts such extraordinary architectural and sculptural treasures as the perfectly preserved classical theater at Epidavros, the Byzantine monasteries of Mystra, the clifftop hidden city of Monemvassia, and the striking geometric vase collection of Nafplion. For the history buff, too, the Peloponnese is paradise: Greece's most significant archeological digs have all taken place here, unearthing such celebrated sites as sporty Olympia, columned Corinth, and Mycenae, believed to be home to Homer's King Agamemnon.
Where to go? Better ask where to go first! The Peloponnese is littered with wonderful spots to discover. Surprisingly, very few tourists make it beyond such famous towns as Olympia and Corinth, so you may well have a rural village or white-sand beach all to yourself, free from postcard stands and crowds. Hikers, whether hard-core athletes or "weekend warriors," may particularly enjoy the stony Taygetus mountains, located in the south. Nearby, on the very southwestern tip of the first of the Peloponnese's three "fingers," the lovely beach towns of Pylos and Methoni offer aprhs-hike relaxation and sunbathing. Farther inland, near dusty Tripoli, outdoors lovers will not want to miss two charming villages, Dimitsana and Stemnitsa, seemingly untouched by time. The nine-mile (14 km) walk between the two towns affords breathtaking views and is just one of hundreds of beautiful roadside rambles possible. If you prefer to sit back and let the vistas come to you, try the historic rack-railway trains that shuttle wide-eyed tourists over dramatic gullies and waterfalls between tiny mountainside Kalavrita and the equally bucolic Diakofto, situated on the sunny beaches of the Gulf of Corinth.
Although Greece's tourist infrastructure is growing and improving, you can presently expect a somewhat more rustic, less formal feel to accommodations, public transport, and general services than you might in France or Germany, for example. The area tends to be most crowded in July and August, and some accommodations are closed during the winter off-season. Opening hours are irregular, that is, flexible. Prices, however, are extremely reasonable for all the necessary amenities, and the remarkable warmth of the locals more than makes up for the lack of four-star restaurants. Camping sites and bed-and-breakfasts abound; medium-sized towns tend to have only one or two relatively basic hotels. It is very possible to hike through the Peloponnese on a tight budget: food, very pleasant accommodation, site admissions, and bus or train transport runs from $30 to $80 per day, although more luxurious hotels (available in such larger cities as Corinth, Tripoli, Sparta, and Patras), hydrofoil trips, and spa treatments could easily raise your costs above this figure. Many American travel companies lead excellent walking or bus tours around the peninsula; these can be an extremely rewarding way to travel.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication