The peninsula is just the spot to recommend for a tranquil trip to Greece, says Joanna Booth
Only a slender sliver of land connects the Peloponnese peninsula to the rest of the mainland and prevents it from being Greece’s largest island.
Indeed, it’s home to the kind of laid-back, picturesque beach resorts that many travellers head to the islands to find. Yet it’s a huge area with relatively little mass tourism, so it rarely feels crowded and it is easy to escape into the deserted countryside.
There are no huge sprawling resorts. Holidaymakers wanting a very Anglicised experience – or raucous clubs – will be better going elsewhere, but couples or families seeking that elusive ‘real Greece’ will certainly find it here.
Its position on the mainland means that it also has a wealth of historic sites, ranging from classical remains at Olympia, where the original games were held, to truly ancient Mycenaean sites such as Nestor’s Palace at Pylos.
With some beautiful craggy scenery, it’s also a popular spot with walkers in the shoulder seasons. And with the development of the new Costa Navarino luxury resort (see below) it’ll also start to welcome a whole new kind of tourist in the coming years.
Who to book with
Despite the fact it’s a little off the beaten tourist trail, the Peloponnese is not difficult to visit. Thomas Cook and Thomson both fly to Kalamata airport from Gatwick and Manchester, and Sunvil Holidays uses the Sunday Viking flights from these same two airports for its holidays. It is also possible to fly via Athens, but transfer times can be around four hours, which is worth avoiding if possible.
Though the Peloponnese area is very Greek, English is fairly widely spoken in all resorts, and tourism is developed enough for there to be a good selection of tavernas and shops in even the smaller beachside towns.
Unsurprisingly, the area is most widely featured by specialist operators. Sunvil Holidays has a broad selection of properties across resorts including Tolon, Chrani, Kardamili and Nafplion.
Sunvil Greece director Dudley der Parthog says: “It’s one of my favourite areas. It has great scope and variety, and a real diversity of scenery. It’s off the tourist trail and very Greek – it’s perfect for our typical clients and performs very well for us. It suits Grecophiles, and those who like to explore, so we feature fly-drives in the area. Having said that, it’s also great for first-timers, as they will find the real Greece here.”
Olympic Holidays offers a mix of hotel, apartment/studio and villa accommodation, featuring the lively resort of Kalamata, with its museums, historic sights and international airport, and Stoupa.
Commercial director Photis Lambrianides says: “It’s an area of outstanding beauty. The terrain and scenery are very picturesque and beautiful. There are many quiet and peaceful villages, and stunning beaches facing the crystal clear sea.”
Manos offers holidays in Stoupa, Aghios Nikolaus and Finikounda. Simply Travel has a small summer programme in Messinia, Kardamili and Nafplion.
Where to stay
Except for the new development of Costa Navarino, the accommodation options tend towards self-catering apartments and small, family-run hotels.
In the south of the Peloponnese, resorts include Stoupa, a burgeoning small resort famed for its lovely beaches and with a wide selection of bars, restaurants and small shops. Other options include Chrani, a quiet seaside hamlet; Finikounda, a pretty village with three golden beaches and a range of tavernas; the historic small towns of Pylos and Methoni; the upmarket village of Kardamili; and the archetypal Greek fishing village of Aghios Nikolaus.
In the north, visitors tend to stay in the handsome Venetian-era town of Nafplion, and Tolon, a charming resort with a sandy beach and a wide range of activities from watersports and cruises to excursions to nearby ancient sites or even Athens.
What to see
This area is a great choice for tourists with an interest in Greek history, with more on offer than any of the islands, but still offering good beaches. The north of the Peloponnese has a high concentration of ancient sites, including Corinth, Mycenae, Epidavros and Olympia.
There’s more recent heritage in the Peloponnese too, from Byzantine churches and monasteries to the elegant Venetian-era town of Nafplion.
In the peninsula’s southwest, the Diros Caves are a popular excursion. Visitors sit in wooden ferries and float along an underground river through huge caverns lined with stalactites and stalagmites.
In the southeast, the fortress of Monemvasia sits on top of a rock just off the coast. Inside its walls is a medieval town with red-roofed houses and churches, and spectacular views.
Costa Navarino: The new plush resort in the Peloponnese
The biggest news for the Greek luxury market isn’t happening in Santorini, Mykonos or Rhodes. These islands may be more established when it comes to top-end holidays, but the Peloponnese is the location for Costa Navarino, a huge new development making waves with upmarket operators.
It’s being featured by the likes of Carrier, Kuoni, Sovereign, W&O Travel and Abercrombie & Kent, and will attract a very different kind of holidaymaker than those who have previously ventured into the remote areas of the peninsula.
Terrace, Methoni Villa Royal
Located on the deserted Messinian coast, it’s being built in stages, and the first, Navarino Dunes, opened last year, featuring two Starwood hotels. Both The Romanos, part of Starwood’s Luxury Collection range, and The Westin Resort, Costa Navarino, are built in a low-rise villa style from natural stone.
There’s a golf course and a large spa, and a range of restaurants both in the hotels and in the purpose-built village centre, which also has a theatre and shops.
Coming in the next stages will be a Banyan Tree all-pool-villa resort, another spa, a second golf course and a sports centre with diving, racquet sports, watersports and archery facilities.
Olympic Holidays offers seven nights’ B&B at the four-star Hotel Akti Taygetos Resort in Kalamata for £455 per person, based on two sharing a twin room. The price is for departures in June 2011 and includes flights from Gatwick and transfers.
Book it: 0844 499 4449, Olympic Holidays agent site
Sunvil Holidays offers seven nights’ self-catering at the beachfront Stella Apartments in Tolon from £593 per person, based on two sharing, including return flights from Gatwick and transfers.
Book it: 020 8758 4758, Sunvil agent site