The Peloponnese is at once historical – home to a succession of civilizations over thousands of years – and, at the same time, a place of virgin beauty and authentic rural settlements. As a result, there is a multitude of things to see; from villages to cities and from natural wonders to ancient and medieval sites, there are plenty of reasons to hit the road while staying in Messinia.
And you need not to go far. Below are ten of our favorite places to visit in the Peloponnese, all located anywhere within five minutes’ to 2.5 hours’ drive from Costa Navarino.
Every visitor to Messinia needs to visit Voidokilia Beach, an iconic stretch of shoreline. The horseshoe-shaped white sandy beach, which graces numerous lists of the world’s most beautiful beaches, separates the Gialova Lagoon from the sea. While it looks almost man-made in its perfection, it’s purely a product of nature and remains unmarred by human intervention, thanks to its location within a Natura 2000 protected area.
Hollywood star Ralph Fiennes, no stranger to world travel, told Vanity Fair that he was happiest when swimming at Voidokilia. The beach’s name (“voidokilia” means “ox belly”) is derived from the myth in which Hermes steals oxen from his brother Apollo and hides them in a nearby cave. Regretting his actions, he gives Apollo a lyre made from the shell of a loggerhead sea turtle, a species that continues to nest here to this day.
The historical city of Kalamata
Although we love olives and especially the acclaimed Kalamata olives, there’s much more to this coastal city than the famous product. The fortifications you see in the city today were constructed by Geoffrey I of Villehardouin in the 13th century; the settlement they protected was subsequently conquered by the Byzantines, the Franks, the Venetians and the Ottomans. One of the loveliest walks in the city starts from this old fortified area of town and continues through the city’s historical center to the port.
Location: 1 hour from Navarino Dunes and Navarino Bay
Explore the ruins of a city founded 2,500 years ago, which, at its zenith, was larger in area than ancient Athens and boasted a pioneering zoning plan to ensure the fair distribution of land to rich and poor alike. If you’re lucky, you may catch one of the concerts or other cultural events often hosted at the site’s spectacular theater.
Location: 1 hour and 10 minutes from Navarino Dunes and Navarino Bay
At the birthplace of the Olympic Games – the same spot where the Olympic Flame is still lit today – it’s easy to imagine the ancient Olympics coming to life around you as you wander among splendid ruins, such as the Temple of Zeus, or linger over art objects, such as the statue of Hermes by Praxiteles, in the on-site museum.
Location: 1 hour and 45 minutes from Navarino Dunes, 2 hours from Navarino Bay
The historical sights of Pylos
The town of Pylos offers several interesting sites for anyone interested in history. Head up through the lush pine forest to explore one of the best-preserved fortifications in Greece, the Castle of Niokastro (meaning “New Fortress”), built in 1573. Then hike to the Palaiokastro (“Old Fortress”), built in 1278, to enjoy a view of “exceptional serenity and shimmering infinity,” as the poet Kostas Ouranis once described it. Visits to the Archaeological Museum and the Museum of Underwater Antiquities will reward you as well.
Location: 20 minutes from Navarino Dunes, 10 minutes from Navarino Bay
If you have time for one more castle, this is arguably the most impressive fortified complex of the Peloponnese (1209), and a jewel of Venetian-era architecture. Cross the stunning bridge that leads into the castle and walk across the walled grounds to the octagonal fortified islet known as Bourtzi.
Location: 30 minutes from Navarino Dunes, 20 minutes from Navarino Bay
The town of Kyparissia
This charming town has been shaped by consecutive conquests by the Franks, Byzantines and Ottomans, leaving behind a medley of cultural influences. The perfect walk begins in the afternoon in the picturesque alleys of the old quarter, Ano Poli (meaning “Upper Town”), and ends at the hilltop Frankish fortress for a romantic moment as the sun sets over the Ionian Sea.
Location: 40 minutes from Navarino Dunes, 50 minutes from Navarino Bay
The village of Kardamyli
The most magical village on the Messinian side of the Mani, the chosen home of the celebrated British war hero, writer and traveler Patrick Leigh Fermor, Kardamyli is also famed for its tower-house architecture and its stunning natural setting between the mountains and the sea.
Location: 1.5 hours from Navarino Dunes and Navarino Bay
The Temple of Apollo Epicurius
Described by UNESCO as “one of the best-preserved monuments of classical antiquity and an evocative and poignant testament to classical Greek architecture,” it was the first construction of its kind to be put on the UNESCO World Heritage List. It has been attributed to Iktinos, one of the architects of the Parthenon, and is believed to have been built in 420-400 BC.
Location: 1 hour and 45 minutes from Navarino Dunes, 2 hours and 15 minutes from Navarino Bay
Although it’s two and a half hours away, it’s definitely still worth making the drive to the spectacular cave complex of Diros, as it’s arguably one of the most impressive caves in the world. With a known length of 15 kilometers stretching back under the mountain, the cavern system is still revealing its secrets to the scientists exploring it. It contains one of the world’s oldest known intact burial sites, from 3800 BC, where the remains of a couple, locked in an embrace, were found. The cave’s beautiful stalactites and stalagmites are dramatic, awe-inspiring natural formations.
Location: 2.5 hours from Navarino Dunes and Navarino Bay