For me, there’s nothing that holds more appeal than the classic road trip, the sense of freedom and adventure, the chance to take things at your own pace, the opportunity to go where you want, when you want. There’s something just so inherently “cool” about the idea of driving in the middle of nowhere, windows down, and music blasting as the kilometers slip by. The Peloponnese peninsula makes a brilliant destination for that.
This stunning yet little explored peninsula in south-west Greece was the playground of ancient gods and the inspiration for Homer’s epic Iliad. It is here where the Olympic Games were founded, and the legendary wars of Sparta were fought. Dotted with ancient ruins, and cliff top castles, the region also boasts picturesque villages and some of the Mediterranean’s most beautiful beaches.
We started from Athens and after a couple of hours in the National road to Kalamata we were already driving the narrow, winding road of Messiniaki Mani. First stop was the tiny village of Kardamyli, located in one of the prettiest settings in the Peloponnese, nestled between the blue waters of the Messinian Gulf and the Taygetos Mountains. We decided to spend the day there and hike at the hills behind the village, which are crisscrossed with an extensive network of cobblestone paths, hidden among the coastal flora.
At the next day we headed towards the Lakoniki Mani, a vast, mountainous piece of land, wild and windswept which feels like the end of the road. The scenery is dotted with small villages notable for their Byzantine churches and clusters of stone towers, built to defend against invaders and to protect citizens when local blood feuds emerged. The people in this area had a reputation as fierce and proudly independent warrior who practiced piracy, but these days are incredibly kind and happy to see travelers.
We drove all the way to the tiny settlement of Kokkinogeia where the path to Cape Tainaron the southernmost point of mainland Greece, and the second southernmost point in mainland Europe, starts. Ancient Greeks were placing here the Cave of Hades, the mythical gate of the Underworld, so today we hiked in order to reach the lighthouse of the cape discussing about the trip of Orpheus to Hades in quest of his wife Eurydice, probably the ultimate tragic love story.
Next stop was Monemvasia, a Gibraltar-like rock, which forms a small island linked by a bridge, with a medieval town at its base. The big surprise comes as you enter the fortress’s gates. A whole town of mansions, cobblestone alleys, squares and churches unfold before your eyes. An amazing old-world experience. In order to have a better perspective of the castle, one of the best experiences here, is to walk the path around the rock and then and climb to the ancient town on the upper slopes with views of the cliffside homes and the sea.
Last destination of the road trip was Nafplio, which is considering to be one of the prettiest towns in Greece. The setting of the red-roofed Old Town, on the Bay of Argolis, backed by the rocky heights of Acronauplia and even higher Palamidi, is spectacular. For centuries, Venetians and Turks took turns ruling Nafplio, leaving behind palpable layers of elegance and exoticism.
Seeking for adventure, we decided to rent sea-kayaks and explore the coastline around Nafplio, while paddling in the crystal blue waters. The first site we visit was the famous fort of Bourtzi, built in 1473, on a tiny inlet right in front the town, and then we paddle towards Karathonas beach, rewarded with the breathtaking views of the dominant cliffs covered in succulent vegetation with the fortress of Palamidi as its crown at the top.
Once on the road, the destination doesn’t matter nearly as much as the journey itself. After all we all have an inexplicable desire to move and discover, an almost primal urge conceivably inherited from our nomadic ancestors. Road trips quench that thirst.
Written by Dimitris Papageorgiou