When you dream about Greece, it’s undoubtedly about the islands. You picture the historical sites on Rhodes, the all-night parties on Mykonos, the beaches on Milos, and the perfect sunsets in Santorini’s caldera. But they’re all islands. Except for Athens, whose international airport is a necessity, you don’t give the mainland much thought. The next time you’re ready to board an overcrowded ferry though, you might want to consider the quiet Peloponnese coast instead.
The Peloponnese peninsula is the southernmost section of Greece’s mainland. You arrive in Gytheio, on the Laconian Gulf, to find pastel buildings and ancient ruins. Octopuses are drying in the sun along the harbor. Fishing boats are tied to the waterfront promenade. While olive groves line the hillside.
Gytheio was once a major port that supported Sparta, a prominent, ancient city-state. The Romans built an acropolis and a theater to show off their prosperity. But an earthquake around 375 AD destroyed the port, and the city was largely abandoned. The ruins, on the edge of town near an army camp, are long overgrown. Fishermen, olive farmers, and beach lovers now call the much-smaller city home. It has little puppet theater, tiny tavernas, and ferries to nearby islands.
After exploring Gytheio, drive south to the even smaller village of Mavrovouni. Here you find a long, sandy beach and the picturesque Castello Antico Hotel. The stone hotel looks old, but it was only built a few years ago. The gardens are full of purple bugambilia and sweet-smelling roses. Stone steps and archways lead to quiet areas with olive groves and sea views. Trellises crowded with bougainvillea climb the sides of the apricot stone walls and wooden shutters. Inside, the exposed stone walls keep the minimal bedrooms cool, though there’s a fireplace in the lounge for chilly fall evenings.
You wake up in the morning right before breakfast is to be delivered to your balcony. You eat homemade cake and marmalade, plus local yogurt, while sipping Taygetus mountain tea and staring at the still-quiet beach. Change into your bathing suit, grab a towel, and head down for a swim. The water is calm first thing in the morning, though by noon, the wind will pick up, and the windsurfers will start to appear. Walk down the beach, picking up whitewashed logs and softened sea glass. You might see endangered loggerhead sea turtles laying their eggs in the soft sand.
Return to the hotel for a long, outside lunch. Salty tomatoes, octopus, and red shrimp are cooking on the grill. Olive oil-poached fish falls of the bones. And an ouzo aperitif is more refreshing than you anticipated. You planned to go hiking or fishing in the afternoon, but your lazy lunch turns into even lazier beach time. You fall asleep watching the windsurfers instead of joining them. Oh well, that’s to be expected on the Greek islands. Except, for once, you never even made it all the way to the islands.