With such a diverse island offering, it’s not very often tourists spend a large amount of time on mainland Greece, but this southern regional gem is well worth an extended visit. With scenic rolling hills, olive groves, world-famous oranges and boasting the cleanest beaches in all of Greece, the small villages around Laconia provide a tranquil and relaxed holiday setting; a far cry from the historic images drawn up by it’s war loving capital, Sparta. This is the undiscovered Greece that the children of the 60’s and 70’s celebrated so much and the good news is, Greece’s untouched authentic beauty still exists here.
Laconia is situated in the south-eastern part of the Peloponnese peninsula, the coastal surrounds of this farming area and their towns are spectacular. For those with time and an appreciation for local cuisine, a tour of this region or car hire is a perfect August adventure for those wanting to avoid the high season European crowds while discovering ancient history, people, architecture, natural beauty, local wines, olive oil production and of course, pristine quiet coastal beaches.
A highlight being southernmost Monemvasia and its brilliantly in tact Medieval fortress, linked to the mainland by a short causeway 200m in length. Its area consists mostly of a large plateau some 100 metres above sea level. The town walls and many Byzantine churches remain from the mediaeval period, yet this site is much of a secret from tourists who opt for locations such as Rhodes, Nafplio or even Dubrovnik in Croatia. Yet this area has been a buzzing town with locals and those few tourists familiar with the region for years.
Further along the second ‘Leg” of Laconia, is the sleepy beach side fishing town of Gythio along the Mani region. This picture perfect setting is the beginning of a stretch of coast and recently discovered magnificent caves open to the public for exploration from 1972. The Diros Caves are located approximately 12 miles south of Areopolis and they are part of an underground river. About 5,000 meters have been exposed and accessible by small boats and through narrow passageways. The Caves are well-lit and crammed with stalactites where reflections are remarkable. Alepotrypa Caves are huge chambers in which excavations have unearthed evidence of prehistoric occupation. The caves are among the most important natural sites in Greece and with great archaeological significance.
For those who just cant get the idea of an island out of their heads when travelling to Greece, have a look into Elafonisos. It’s a must see. Separated from the mainland by only a few km’s, ferry with car loading capacity cross the crystal clear aquamarine waters every 30 minutes during the peak summer period. This is the type of ocean swimming we dream about – and wide stance of empty pristine beach is practically impossible to find in August. Even when the water is above head level, you can still see the different coloured stones beneath you.
If all the swimming and sightseeing works up an appetite, you wont be disappointed with so many fisherman’s boats docked right next to the ports flowing tables and chairs. You will be welcomed with open arms in typical Greek hospitable style in every cosy Taverna or classy, recently renovated Cafenio haunted by young locals home for the summer. Traditional classic delights like calamari and Greek salad are a staple, but make sure to start you day with freshly squeezed Laconian orange juice. Or try one of the frappe’s that come off a long list of coffee options for any connoisseur to appreciate!
Many local farmers are also distilling and selling their own olive oil, which is distributed locally throughout the region. A visit to a Greek restaurant or local home is incomplete without home made bread, olives and a dish of olive oil for dipping. Plus all product from the region supports those farmers and inhabitants of these small villages who have sadly been unable to sell a lot of produce of late.
There is no better time to offer our tourism to these welcoming, friendly and distinctly beautiful Greek towns. With so much on offer these mainland Greek regions are a perfect summer getaway with breathtaking sites, without the sweat, chaos and crowds of a European Beach holiday in August. Ferries from Athens to direct to Monemvasia and recent road updates make the ride by car or personalised Mercedes Taxi (50 euros each way for 3.5 hrs) an incredibly appealing last minute alternative.
Connoisseur Travel Correspondent