Sightseeing in West Peloponnese

The entire region of the Peloponnese is home to 5 of the total of 18 UNESCO World Heritage sites in Greece. And the West Peloponnese itself has 3 of these to show for. History throughout the ages comes alive all the way from the ancient times, to Byzantine and Venetian eras that left their mark on the Greek soil.

 

Ancient Olympia

The sanctuary of Olympia is one of the most important sites to visit in Greece, located near the coast of West Peloponnese. One of the region’s UNESCO World Heritage sites is the birthplace of the Olympic Games and houses 70 structures including the ruins of a 5th century temple dedicated to Zeus and two museums. Symbolically Olympia was a place that fortified community bonds through constructive recreation, engaging both in athletic feats as well as current affairs debates for sharpening the mind. It is the epitome of the ancient Greek saying ‘nous ighi-is, en somati ighi-i’, meaning ‘healthy mind, healthy body’ which was one of the ideals that ancient Greeks aspired to.

Temple of Apollo Epicurius

This was the first ancient Greek site to be given UNESCO World Heritage status and is situated in Bassae, in the north western Peloponnese area of Oichalia. It is especially interesting to observe the unusual features depicted at this archaeological location. It is considered an ancient Architectural marvel, showcasing all three types of ancient Greek orders: the Doric, the Ionian and the Corynthian. The Temple of Apollo Epicurius is an impressive, highly studied, well-preserved structure, said to have been designed by the architect of the Athenian Parthenon.

Ancient Mystras

Another UNESCO World Heritage site, Mystras is a fortified town near ancient Sparta, situated on the slope of Mount Taygetos. A place that saw its share of sieges, experienced a period of prosperity followed by turmoil in the Byzantine era. Today, the ruins of this once noble settlement include the fortress, the palace, churches and monasteries. The Peribleptos Monastery has some incredibly rare frescoes exemplifying the finest of Byzantian art.

Ancient Messene

Situated in the town of Ithomi, Ancient Messene is a riveting archaeological site that was actually built on a previous settlement of Achaean Greeks. Thebans and Spartans both wanted to claim Messene as their own, to be commanders of this emblem of strength and power. It is unique in that Messene was a large, fortified city-state that used to be enclosed by a 9km circuit wall and various watchtowers along its perimeter. Within its confines you will find remnants of reconstructed monuments, including the Odeion, the Arsinoe Fountain, the Bouleuterion, the Stadium, the Agora, the Theatre and various villas with mosaic floors. The site has a museum which houses many artefacts including statues, showcasing the wealth of Ancient Messene in its glory days.     

Ancient Sparta

A dominant military power of ancient Greece, Sparta was a Doric city-state of disciplined people, who aspired in military proficiency above all. The men were warriors by nature, the women were brave and enjoyed more rights and equality than in other areas of ancient Greece, while their frugal way of living, the challenging ‘agoge’ training undertaken by youths in order to attain citizenship, and an unyielding sense of honour in both life and in death, has had many generations of writers and philosophers fascinated. You can visit the ancient theatre of Sparta, the shrine of King Menelaos, ancient King of Mycenae who predated Spartan dominance, evidence of whom was found in the area during Spartan reign.

Culture – Major towns of West Peloponnese

Messinia

Messinia or Messene Greece, is the westernmost prefecture of the Peloponnese, covering these four areas Kalamata, Messini, Oichalia, Pylos, Trifylia and parts of Mani. Messene Greece is a mostly verdant part of the Peloponesse, including the more rich landscapes of Mani. The capital town of the Messene Greece prefecture is Kalamata. Messene Greece is known for its world renowned Kalamata olives, the exceptional extra virgin olive oil and for its juicy oranges. It’s natural beauty, the serenity that the region exudes and the expansive visuals make it a fast developing destination, with a seaside golf course as a highlight has spurred the sustainable construction of many new luxury hotels. The wonderful thing about Messene Greece is that it remains unspoilt although it is easily accessible and able to offer both luxury or more modest accommodation options to its visitors, depending on preferences.

Kalamata

Things to do in Kalamata Greece in the port town and capital of Messenia include walking around the city, exploring the attractions or checking out its picturesque old center. Kalamata is the largest settlement in the prefecture and has played a significant role in forming the cultural and agricultural characteristics of the area. Kalamatianos folk dance originates from Kalamata as do the famous Kalamata olives. Things to do in Kalamata Greece include visiting a handful of byzantine churches, a cathedral, the 14th century Frankish Villehardouin castle as well as the Benakeio Archaeological Museum and the Folklore and History Museum. The younger crowds may find the Railways Park interesting and fun activity while its main beach has been awarded a blue flag, ensuring the quality of the waters for a carefree and relaxing day under the sun.

Kardamyli

A quaint, seaside town, Kardamyli is known for its crystalline waters, its seafront tavernas, the fresh fish and seafood although meat dishes are done really well too. Actually, an ancient settlement, Kardamyli has been mentioned in the texts of Homer, in the Iliad volumes, and still retains its archaic name. It has various great spots that command an incredible view of Mount Taygetus called Prophet Elias while nearby is the Viros gorge. The beaches along its coast are pebbly and inviting, two of which are Foneas and Ritsa beaches. Kardamyli is quite a beautiful place, with a colourful square of quaint little shops while the neighbouring old hamlet of Proastio is one of the oldest settlements in the greater region, with over 40 religious buildings, including monasteries, chapels and churches to explore.

Pylos

Pylos is a fascinating town on the far western coast Messenia. During the Venetian times Pylos was referred to as Navarino, which is where the Old Navarino Castle gets its name from. However, the namesake castle is not all there is to admire in Pylos. Attractions in Pylos also include the new fortress called Neokastro and the ruins of Nestor’s Palace. One of the most beautiful beaches in the entire region is found near Pylos, that of Voidokilia beach, which is possibly the most impressive beach in the entire prefecture. The overall charm of Pylos town is responsible for its touristic development in recent years, with many newly built, top tier luxury hotels promising guests a premium stay experience.

Mani

Mani Greece is unique for a variety of reasons. It is the only place that is split into three areas and across two prefectures. A place that is divided not only geographically but also in natural beauty and local mentality. Mani Greece is compartmentalised into Exo Mani (Outer Mani), Kato Mani (Lower Mani) and Mesa Mani (Inner or Deep Mani), the latter two of which technically belong to the Laconian prefecture. Notoriously, Laconian Mani is more barren and more rugged than Messenian Mani, with harsher, windswept landscapes and laconic architecture that blends into the scenery. Messinian Mani is much more verdant and positioned with direct access to the Ionian sea, which accounts for its wonderful beaches. The capital towns of Mani Greece are the stone-built Areopolis and the coastal town of Gytheio. Each region of Mani Greece has its individual charm and a road trip along the coast is a highly recommended way to discover it all.

Activities & Experiences

Ecotourism in the area

What makes Messinia so special is the fact that the region has managed to maintain a strong ecotourism element. Ecotourism is an alternative way of tourism that ensures environmental sustainability and responsible travel to areas of natural beauty, engaging local communities and improving the wellbeing of the locals.

Ecotourism is any activity that respects the local habitats and the Navarino Bay has various locations that exemplify precisely that. Whether it is visiting one of the many wonderful beaches in the area, the wetlands and the various waterfalls, the area is packed with natural wealth. The region is home to a number of endangered species such as sea turtles and many types of birds. The Gialova Lagoon, an important nature reserve and essential stopover for migrating bird species, is the only place in Europe where the endangered African chameleon resides, while it also hosts over 250 birds types including herons, cormorants, kestrels, seagulls, flamingos, ospreys, imperial eagles and other wading birds.

Ecotourism also attempts to bridge the gap between tourism and agriculture, linking the two in a way that both benefit. It rests on the idea that, increasingly, all the more local products are used in restaurants and hospitality businesses. This has a positive effect on the local economy too, as well as placing local gastronomy at the forefront of the visitor experience.

Natural Beauty

Beaches

Messenia is the home of some of the best beaches Peloponnese can boast about. Apart from remote and pristine Voidokilia beach, which is probably the most photographed beach in all the prefecture, there are at least five others that are also considered to be among the best beaches Peloponnese. These include Foneas and Ritsa beaches near Kardamyli, Finikounda beach in the municipality of Methoni, Elea beach which is 10 km from the town of Kyparissia, and for the more active types, Lagouvardos is the region’s best beaches Peloponnese for all kinds of surfing.

Mount Taygetos

The Taygetos range spans the prefectures of Messenia, Laconia and Arcadia. Named in antiquity after the nymph Taygete, the mountain range’s highest peak used to called Taleton, which was dedicated to the sun god Helios and Zeus. According to records, rituals used to take place there, the bonfires of which were visible from the settlements below. The peak today is called Prophet Elias, and on the 20th July, this tradition comes alive. The mountain tops of Taygetos are in plain sight from Sparta, Kalamata and Kardamyli which bask incredibly scenic vistas that frame their skyline. Mount Taygetos, whose length goes beyond 100 km, belongs to one of the  European long walking routes, that of E4, making it perfect for long-distance walking and hiking trails.