Prior to my visit to the South Peloponnese, my only travel experiences on the Greek mainland had been several trips to Athens and the surrounding areas. Historically my holidays to Greece are to the many islands and to revel in all that encompasses ‘island life’ – sleepy villages, picturesque harbours, acres of silver-green olive groves and of course to take in those captivating sea views at any given opportunity.

So, this invitation of a familiarisation trip to visit the south west region of mainland Greece was both intriguing and exciting. For me to better understand exactly where the Peloponnese are situated, my colleagues told me to look at a map of Greece and look for the ‘hand with three fingers and thumb’. Sure enough, to the novice Grecophile, the Peloponnese does indeed ‘vaguely’ resemble a comic book monsters’ hand!

Stoupa, Peloponnese Stoupa, Peloponnese

Day 1 & 2 - Kardamili and Stoupa

My colleague Stella and I were taking a 7-day fly-drive journey, travelling from the west to the east and then back again across the Taygetos mountains. After collecting our hire car at Kalamata airport, we headed 35 kilometres south east for our first destination – Kardamili and Stoupa. In the Outer Mani, set amid olive groves, Stoupa sits below the rocky peaks of the mountains and is built around three sheltered bays. Our home for the next two nights would be the Amalia Apartments. Situated 1100 metres from the main Stoupa seafront they are in a peaceful location, have a large swimming pool and with wonderful views out to the sea.

On our first evening we strolled into town which took around 15 minutes and ate in one of the many sea front tavernas and were surprised as to how busy Stoupa was given it was late September. The second evening we drove the 20 minutes to Kardamili to explore the nightlife of the pretty resort and have dinner. Kardamili is a beautiful seaside village, a small, unspoilt resort that boasts stunning sunsets over the Messinian Gulf and is popular with artists and musicians which reflects its Bohemian ambience.  We came across a small but lively taverna, which was obviously very popular with the locals, where we had the most delicious rabbit casserole with the obligatory Greek salad and tzatziki. There is something quite special about eating outside on a warm evening - wonderful aromas coming from the kitchen, sampling the local delicacies and a general feeling of content.
So far this was a lovely introduction to the region and already the mainland was casting its spell.

Amalia Apartments, Stoupa Amalia Apartments, Stoupa

Day 3 – Diros Caves and Gerolimenas

After a relaxing breakfast of fresh melon and pomegranates on our spacious terrace at the Amalia Apartments, it was time to continue our journey. Today our destination was Gerolimenas, approximately an hour and a half drive away along the south west coast of the Mani. Our journey this week involved a lot of driving but it is the ideal way to explore the region at a leisurely pace and discover the many villages and attractions en-route. The first stop today was the picturesque fishing village of Agios Nikolaos.

Life here revolves around the waterfront with the locals and tourists watching the local fisherman land their daily catches from one of the many kafenions, over a strong coffee or beer. In the busy summer months, the road around the harbour is closed for the tavernas to put tables and chairs out right on the waters edge.  Further down the coast we stopped at the small village of Thalames. This really looked like a place that hadn’t changed over the years and oozed Greek charm and character with a taverna, small museum and a traditional mill, which produces and sells organically produced oil, on the village square surrounded by plane trees. We saw many goats roaming carefree around the village and in the surrounding gardens and hillside, all adding to the authenticity of the region.

After a quick lunch of spanakopita and coffee, it was time to head south to our final destination, the Diros Caves before reaching our hotel for the evening in Gerolimenas. To be honest, underground caves, especially involving water, aren’t my favourite sightseeing activity but after hearing so much about them, I had to calm my nerves and head deep underground. With lifejacket on and nerves steadied, we were led down a series of steps into a cool, dark stairwell by our guide and boarded a small boat with the roof of the cave literally just inches above our head due to the high water levels that day! Located near the village of Pyrgos Dirou a few kms south of Agios Nikolaos, these magical caves are estimated to extend to 14 kms. Inhabited by Neolithic man, the caves were abandoned after an earthquake in 4th century BC and remained undiscovered for centuries, until 1895. Famous for their variety of stalactites and stalagmites and a sparkling underground lake, it was clear to see why these have become a popular tourist attraction. Amazing as they were I was very glad to see daylight and discard the lifejacket – next stop Gerolimenas and a much needed ‘medicinal’ alcoholic drink.

Diros Caves, South Peloponnese Diros Caves, South Peloponnese
Gerolimenas Gerolimenas

The Kyrimai Hotel just a few kilometres from the southernmost point of the Tainaro peninsula was our home for this evening. The old warehouse buildings dating from 1870 have been wonderfully restored by the Kyrimis famiy. The original materials, mainly stone and wood have been used throughout and the whole process of restoration has been carried out in strict accordance with the architecture and geometry of the buildings. The result is characterised by ample elegance and exquisite decors and the ideal setting after a long day behind the wheel.

We dined outside with the tranquil waters lapping gently at the terrace edge. The hotel restaurant introduces you to creative cuisine by using traditional products of the region, preparing dishes with the emphasis on Greek cuisine. It was with a satisfied stomach that I wearily climbed the courtyard steps to my room and where I had one of the best night sleeps in one of the most comfortable beds that I had ever experienced in my many years of travel.

Kyrimai Hotel, Gerolimenas Kyrimai Hotel, Gerolimenas

Day 4 – Gythios and Monemvasia

After breakfast we strolled around the small harbour of Gerolimenas where the fishermen were bringing in their first catch of the day, eagerly anticipated by the owners of the local tavernas. Today we were heading to Monemvasia, a town and municipality in Laconia, which is located on a small island and linked to the mainland by a small causeway. The drive today was expected to take approximately two hours and to break up the journey, once again it was an opportunity to explore the region.

Our first stop was the port town of Gythios. As we approached the port, the weather was beginning to change. A strong wind and squally showers weren’t going to deter us from wandering the lanes lined with neo-classical houses, old apartment buildings, shops and tempting bakeries. Gythios is the largest town in the region of Mani and ideal for taking a ferry to Crete and Kythira, although looking at the choppy water sin the harbour today, maybe not the best day for being out at sea.

Gythios Gythios

As we continued towards Monemvasia, the winds had really picked up and had made navigating the narrow, winding roads even more of a challenge. Twenty minutes from our destination, the large rock formation of Monemvasia loomed before us. As impressive as it was from this distance, we were yet to discover its full splendour. Originally the only way to reach Monemvasia was by boat, while later on the causeway was constructed to connect the castle entrance to the mainland. We battled the elements as we strode up the road to the entrance and despite feeling tired from the climb and the wind, neither of us were expecting the sight before us. In Medieval times, Monemvasia was entirely carved on the back side of a rock in the sea and is not visible from the mainland, this was so that the locals could avoid enemy attacks.

So here we were with the surreal sight of narrow streets bustling with tourists and lined with shops, tavernas and guest houses, where only a few moments ago we were looking at a rather large but insignificant rock out in the sea.  A walk around Monemvasia is like travelling back to the past, while the sea view from the castle top is truly breath-taking. The climb up the cobbled streets and the pounding wind was taking its toll, so after refuelling at a small taverna we headed back across the causeway. The light was fading as were our energy levels, so we were excited at the thought of reaching our next hotel, just twenty minutes along the coast road.

Monemvasia Monemvasia
View from the top of Monemvasia View from the top of Monemvasia

Turning off the coast road we followed the signs for the Kinsterna Hotel and Spa driving through olive groves, vineyards and fruit orchards before reaching the gates of the impressive mansion house. With a view of the medieval fortress town of Monemvasia, the Byzantine-era Kinsterna mansion has been restored with the utmost respect for its long history and now is an entire settlement unto itself, with a central manor house, adjacent out-buildings and nearby dwellings. At the same time, the owners have also set out to restore the estate’s rich natural environment, emphasising various traditional agricultural activities such as: harvesting grapes, producing olive oil, distilling tsipouro and making soap – all with the aim of making the estate as autonomous and self-sustaining as possible. The Kinsterna also produces its own wine, extra-virgin olive oil and table olives, bread, marmalade and other fruit preserves. The fruit-bearing trees and fertile vegetable gardens, the beds of aromatic herbs and flowers and the springs with their fresh, flowing waters all contribute to this ethos and model of sustainability.

Kinsterna Hotel Kinsterna Hotel

The hotel’s rooms and suites are captivating in their history and magnificence, while the individual dwellings and two fabulous villas offer privacy and a modern design that perfectly complement the style and atmosphere of the historic manor. Each and every room is different and unique, with individualised layout, design, styling and decoration. All the rooms and suites, however, share certain common characteristics, such as: traditional hand-made embroideries on the walls, custom headboards and lamps, impressive wooden ceilings covered with herringbone-patterned reeds, luxurious marble baths, traditional wooden doors and shutters, new and antique design objects, top-quality linens and superb bath products.

Kinsterna Hotel Kinsterna Hotel

Our journey this week had provided us with some great experiences but I have to say that the Kinsterna had captured my heart. After being shown to our rooms and guided through all the services and amenities, our host asked if there was anything else we required – without hesitation, I asked for an additional three or four nights here!

The short visit to Kinsterna will undoubtedly remain etched in my memory of travel experiences for years to come and would certainly plan a return visit.

Day 5 - Mystras, Pylos and Methoni

Todays journey was scheduled to take between 3 and 4 hours from the east coast of the Peloponnese back to the west coast via Mystras and across the Northern Taygetos mountains, so a hearty breakfast and plenty of Greek coffee were in order this morning.  The weather had improved and we were back to familiar welcome blue skies and temperatures in the mid 20’s, although we had heard reports that a strong storm (or even a hurricane was due to hit the region at the end of the week).

Mystras is located on a rocky hill at the foot of the Taygetos mountains and was once a brilliant and powerful Byzantine state, the last bastion of Hellenism before the conquest by the Ottomans. In 1989, Mystras was included in the list of the UNESCO World Heritage monuments. The archaeological site of consists of a medieval castle and the fortified settlement that encloses monasteries, churches, chapels, houses and palaces within its walls. It is one of the few well-preserved Byzantine settlements surviving until today.

The Sunvil Family

By The Sunvil Family

25th October 2018



The Sunvil Family
The Sunvil Family
The Sunvil Family

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