By Natasha Blatsiou
Harmonious yet multifaceted, life in the Messinia region is more than what comes to mind when you picture Greece. The year rolls by with mild winters, sweet springs, and gentle summers – the sun generously casting down its rays throughout the seasons. The villages in this corner of the Peloponnese have that human quality that comes from embracing a simple lifestyle and respecting traditions, and the locals are renowned for their hospitality. One of the prettiest corners of the Mediterranean, easily accessible yet unsullied by mass tourism, Messinia is both a year-round destination and an ideal location for a vacation home.
Connecting with a glorious past
Nestled into the lush nature everywhere are traces of past civilizations – constant reminders of the forebears who lived off the same land, and your own place in history. It also provides plenty of opportunity for adventure and discovery: remarkable sites that are just a couple of hours’ drive away from Pylos. To name just a few, you will catch a glimpse of prehistoric Greece in the Neolithic finds at Diros Cave; imagine past glories at the Palace of Nestor, the country’s most beautifully preserved Mycenaean palatial complex; and walk amongst the Archaic and Classical ruins at Ancient Olympia, the birthplace of the Olympic Games.
Many of the region’s historic settlements are still inhabited today. The period of Venetian rule in the area has left behind impressive castles like those of Methoni and Koroni, while in more recent times, Pylos was the site of one of the world’s greatest naval battles, the Battle of Navarino in 1827, which signaled the beginning of the end of Ottoman rule in Greece. Meanwhile, new life is being breathed into the age-old ruins as they come back into use. You can watch live performances at Epidaurus, the world-famous ancient theater that still hosts productions of ancient drama every summer, and at the site of Ancient Messene, which often fills with Greeks and foreigners coming to watch a play or concert.
Marveling at nature’s wealth
Messinia is one of Greece’s richest regions in terms of biodiversity. Near Costa Navarino, the Gialova Lagoon is a haven for dozens of migratory bird species and the only place in Europe where you can find a colony of African chameleons. Protected Caretta caretta sea turtles return every year to the Gulf of Kyparissia, the Mediterranean’s second most important nesting site, and Taygetos, the Peloponnese’s highest mountain at an altitude of 2,407 meters, is home to 138 endemic plant species. In this amazing and varied natural mosaic, you can explore pristine landscapes, and of course meet locals who continue to preserve centuries-old traditions.
Cherishing incredible beach life
There’s hardly a stretch of the coast that doesn’t call for a plunge into the sea, whether your soft spot is cliffs, pebbles, or sand as far as the eye can see. The biggest star of all is the world-famous Voidokilia Beach, shaped like the letter Omega. The true beauty of it really shows when it’s free of crowds, so try to visit early in the morning or in the late afternoon, in spring or fall. Take off your shoes and have a stroll from end to end; look out at Paleokastro Castle; visit the vaulted tomb believed to belong to Thrasymedes, son of King Nestor, and lap up the view. Cast your mind back to Homer’s time and imagine Telemachus’ ship sailing in as he searches for his long-lost father, Odysseus.
Learning the joy of sharing
The ladies of Messinia, deft hands in the kitchen, are always ready to impart their wisdom, recipes, and tips regarding the region’s cuisine. They’ll tell you how to roll out the dough for hylopites pasta, how best to cook meat, and secrets like how cutting the tomatoes just before serving them is the best way to retain all their juices and flavor. They also encourage the younger generation to carry on the tradition of gathering the family around the table on any occasion, big or small, just as they were shown by their mothers. They help pass around huge platters laden with food while raising a glass of wine to everyone’s health and keeping the conversation lively. Dessert, too, comes on a big plate, because what matters in Greece above all else is the joy of sharing.
The expats: Why we love living in Messinia
Savoring the Earth’s bounty
Fruit and vegetables are blessed by the sun, the sea breeze, and the TLC of local producers, and harvested just at the right moment for immediate consumption. “One of the reasons we love living in Pylos is that the culinary treasures of this land are just a short trip away at the greengrocers,” say Sharon Stocker and Jack Davis, both Αmerican archaeologists.
Finding an eternal muse
“From my countless journeys all around the world, I have realized that every town, every region, and every country has its own rhythm. Just consider the hustle and bustle of the streets of New York, the celebration of “la dolce vita” in Venice. Right here in the Peloponnese in Messinia, you feel totally at peace. I never thought that someone could fall in love with a country, with a region, with a mentality…but yes, that’s what happened to me!” says Voka, an artist from Austria.
Becoming what you are
Messinia is more than just another vacation destination. It is a lasting experience, as proven by people from around the world who put down roots here, making lifelong friends, and embracing a different way of life; “I wanted to acquire a home in an old Mycenaean city and I ended up here, mainly because I met some wonderful people who became good friends,” says French classical scholar Charles-Frédéric Schmitzberger, who teaches Ancient Greek Civilization at the University of Lorraine and lives in a stunning restored watermill from 1850 in Kyparissia.
“I spend my time here studying, painting, playing bouzouki, and having friends around. And I try to impart a little of the great love I have for the place, because here I feel that I’ve achieved what Pindar said about becoming what you are.”
Photo Credits of the hero photo: © Giannis Giannelos