If the prospect of layer upon layer of historical legacy doesn’t draw you to the Peloponnese, go anyway. Because – as well as Byzantine cities and Venetian fortresses – the region’s natural beauty is enhanced by citrus groves, snow-capped mountains and Greece’s most untouched beaches. Put simply, you’ll find that it’s the perfect place to relax after the bustle of Athens.
Like the ancient hordes who used to invade the Peloponnese from mainland Greece, you will probably arrive in the region via the Isthmus of Corinth. It was this thin strand of soil that allowed the Peloponnese to cling to the mainland for several millennia after the birth of civilization. The peninsula technically became an island, though, when a canal was cut through the isthmus at the end of the 19th century. a pastiche of Roman, Byzantine, Frankish and Turkish architectural styles, all perched on a 575m high limestone rock.
Travel west from Corinth to Olympia – easily the most-visited attraction in the Peloponnese. It was here that, in 776 BC, the first Olympic games were held and the remaining ruins are absolutely breathtaking.
Have a look around the gymnasium and the wrestling school, or – if you’re feeling energetic – why not go for a quick jog in the original Olympic stadium? Travel south from Olympia and you will eventually reach the Mani peninsula, site of the mythological entrance to Hades’ underworld. Make the most of the Mani’s amazing beaches, but don’t forget the curious mediaeval fortresses that can be found further inland. The towers were built for protection during clan wars and some of the finest examples can be found at Stavri and Kato Boulari.
If you can drag yourself out of the Mani, head east towards Sparta, another town with a firmly established place in the history of Western Europe. Ancient Sparta was famous for its abstinence and rigorous discipline, but the modern version is a lot more laid back, with tree-lined avenues and a nicely sized population of just over 14,000. Stay in the Peloponnese for at least two weeks if you really want to savour the region’s full natural beauty and historical treasures. If you are relying on public transport, give yourself three weeks. If you can afford the time, stay for a month, but after that long on the peninsula, you might never leave.