Yes, the Greek Islands and Athens are on so many bucket lists. Santorini is spectacular, Mykonos is, well, Mykonos, and the smaller islands are beautiful, too. But there is another side of Greece. The beautiful, less touristy, less expensive and much more “Greek” Peloponnese.
Go in either of the ‘shoulder’ seasons, April/May or September/October to avoid the heat – this applies to anywhere in Greece. Only a couple of hours from Athens by car. (Yes, hire a car!) The first day you need to take it easy and be careful, but Greek highways are excellent, the secondary roads are usually very quiet and the drivers courteous. There is plenty of free parking, too. It’s not as frenetic as driving in Italy or as downright dangerous as driving in Poland and the roads are wider than the English lanes, too.
So, pick up the car at the Athens airport (don’t drive in Athens yet!). There is a toll road E94 around Athens and all the way to the Corinth Canal, about a two-hour easy drive. The signage is good and the scenery is quite spectacular, except for the oil refinery outside Athens. Get off the highway and spend the night in Loutraki, which is right on the sea. This is where many Athenians go for holidays and is a bustling town with a spread of restaurants along the seafront.
The next day, stop at the bridge over the Corinth Canal and marvel at how much effort was needed to dig that relatively short “ditch”, then go south to Isthmia to see the “disappearing” bridge at the other end of the canal. There’s a great little tavern next to the bridge, too.
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You are now on the Peloponnese peninsular with plenty of choices for things to do. I suggest you head down route 70 as far as Galatas and take the 10-minute car ferry across to Poros, another Greek Island. Stay a night or two, wander along the harbour and drool at all the yachts and eat at the local tavernas – plenty to choose from here!
You can do a side tour from Poros to Hydra, a beautiful, little, car-free island. Check the ferry timetable for an early departure when you are ready to leave Poros, because you are off to the ancient theatre at Epidavros and you should arrive there as early as possible to avoid the tour buses.
Head another half hour on to Nafplio where you can stopover for a night or two. Stay in one of the little pensiones in the old town and eat in a local restaurant away from the harbour. Now you are getting even closer to the real Greece. Use Nafplio as a base to visit the ancient towns of Mykines and Tiryntha. There are great views from the castles behind Nafplio and Argos, too.
The next day, head south towards Leonidio and enjoy the magnificent coastal scenery along this road. Stop at the little places like Kiven and Paralio Astros and soak up the laid back atmosphere of these seaside towns. Have lunch at a local tavern overlooking the sea and spend the night near Leonidio at my first secret destination. Beautiful, hand-built stone houses are only a five-minute drive from an ancient port and a seafood restaurant where you can sit with your feet in the sand watching the sunset over the sea. Your scrumptious Greek breakfast will be found in a basket hanging outside your back door the next morning. Why not spend two nights here? You’ll wish you had.
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End of Part One, and it only gets better…….
Have you visited Greece yet? Or perhaps it’s still on your bucket list? Let us know in the comments section below.