You may have sat on every island going and think you know what a summer holiday to the Greece involves. But if you haven’t travelled to the Peloponnese then your Greek journey has only just begun. Here’s 10 reasons why.
1 Awesome archaeology
At Olympia, you can sit on the same grass bank where spectators viewed the first Olympic Games back in 776BC. This ancient city, with its ruins of the Temple of Zeus to whom the games were dedicated, hosted the event for 1,000 years.
Close to Kalamata are the little-visited remnants of a fourth-century city, Messini. Further north are the captivating Unesco-listed sites of Epidaurus, with a huge theatre, and Bronze Age Mycenae.
2 Wonderful walking
The Peloponnese has rugged mountains fringed by dense forests of conifers, planes, oaks and, of course, olive trees. Many different species of birds and small mammals inhabit this unspoilt haven.
A network of paths, some very old and others recently established, criss-cross the landscape, often taking the hiker past concealed churches or ancient remains.
There are also coastal walks in the southern peninsulas dotted with forts to clamber over.
3 Crumbling castles
Along the crinkled coastline of the Peloponnese, castles and fortresses were erected for protection.
At Methoni, the Venetians built a huge complex on a promontory, connected to the mainland by a 14-arch bridge.
At Nafplio, the spectacular Palamidi citadel looms high above the town, while the castles of Koroni and Pylos – the latter with two from different periods – are also worth a visit.
4 Beautiful beaches
The indented coast has sweeps of untouched sand and gorgeous coves, shelving to cobalt sea.
Voidokilia is a perfect semi-circle enclosing powder-blue water. Simos beach on the easily-reached island of Elafonisis has a spit of white sand linking a miniature island. The coves near Marmari down on the Mani have a wild feel.
Lovely Selinitsa, near Gythion, has its own shipwreck while at Metamorfosi you may see dolphins.
5 Medieval majesty
There are numerous medieval towns but if you’ve only time for a couple choose Mystras and Monemvasia.
Topped by a castle, with palaces and churches tumbling down its flanks, medieval Mystras is hauntingly abandoned, apart from a few facilities for visitors.
Fortified and cobbled Monemvasia is built on the side of a dramatic rock just off the east coast.
6 Captivating caves
Two main cave networks in the southern Peloponnese attract both geologists and tourists.
Small boats are used to explore the passageways of Diros, where the galleries of rock formations are reflected in the water.
Further east at Kastania, the number and intricacy of the stalactites and wax-like rock “cascades” make this among the finest in Europe.
7 Magical monasteries
Centuries ago the monks of Greece required solitude so they built monasteries in the most spectacular locations, such as clinging to the side of lofty cliffs.
Take the hike through the deep Lousios Gorge and you will come across two examples. A little more accessible – but still dramatic – are the sanctuaries of Elona and Sintzas near Leonidio. Viros Gorge also harbours monasteries and chapels.
8 Majestic Mani
The middle “finger” at the bottom of the Peloponnese is one of the wildest places in the Mediterranean. Bold mountains drop into the sea and although this spectacular region can look barren in summer, in spring it is alive with wildflowers.
History blends sublimely with the landscape here; centuries-old stone towers and Byzantine churches sprinkle the lonely peaks and valleys, while the lighthouse at the end spurs walkers onwards.
9 Luminous lakes
Small gorge Polylimnio, a short drive from Kalamata, contains a series of green lakes you can bathe in rippled only by the flow of waterfalls. Further north, the Neda river pours through a gorge of crystal pools and waterfalls.
10 Relaxing resorts
In the Peloponnese, “resort” usually means a cute fishing village or a handsome Venetian-era town.
Stoupa, backed by olive groves, is probably the best-known holiday spot. Other idyllic locations include sleepy Finikounda, Kardamyli – loved by artists – and Chrani, with great sea views.
At neo-classical Gythion, the harbour is the place for a fish dinner, while Pylos and Methoni in the west provide access to splendid beaches and historic sites.
Over the past few years, Porto Heli has become one of Greece’s most luxurious destinations, with high-end hotel chains moving in to what is dubbed one of the most cosmopolitan hangouts in the Peloponnese.