Our Amazing Peloponnese Road Trip!
The Greek islands are always a great option for a holiday but if you want to experience the “real-Greece”, spend a week or two road-tripping through parts of the Peloponnese and enjoy its many forested mountains, gorges and valleys, pastures of olive groves and orange orchards, pretty seaside villages, castles as well as the scenic clean beaches and endless blue skies.
At the beginning of May, my cousin and dear friend Haldόra Jónsdóttir made a stunning ten day road trip that started with a visit to see friends in Achladakampos and then onwards to Leonidio followed by visits to Poulithra, Plaka, Kosma, Monemvasia, Neapoli, Elafonisos Island, Gythio & Mavrovouni Beach, Limeni, Kardamyli, Kalamata, Pylos, Methoni and last but not least the Navarrino Bay with its amazing Voidokilia beach followed by a lunch at the nearby Petrochori beach (Grigoris Tavern) before heading back to Athens.
When I started planning this trip I had thought of Napflio as our first stop but since May 2nd was a national holiday here in Greece I knew the city would be really crowded and since Haldóra had already been there on previous visits to Greece we decided to skip it!
Instead we headed directly to Achladokampos, a small village tucked away in the mountainous region of Eastern Peloponnese, approximately midway between Argos and Tripoli . . . where we enjoyed a day with my friends (Georgia and Anthony) who, as always, wholeheartedly welcomed us and went out of their way to spoil us and make our stay an unforgettable experience . . . that reflected the best of Greek philoxenia (the ancient tradition of warm hospitality) and allowed us to experience and feel the vibe of everyday life in a small Greek mountain village.
Since we arrived just around lunchtime, we were treated to a lovely luncheon at a small tavern next to the old train station that I would call . . . a real hidden gem! Here you will be served delicious traditional Greek dishes made with outstanding locally sourced seasonal ingredients that are always fresh and well cooked. The local chilled white wine we enjoyed with our meal was also really nice but what topped it all was the unexpected dessert . . . scrumptious tasting Diples topped with chopped walnuts, finely sliced lemon spoon sweets and dusted with a whiff of cinnamon . . . . a mouthwatering dream come true!
After a lovely day with our friends and a good night sleep we left Achladokampo in pouring rain that made driving on tight country roads a bit hazardous but thanks to Dora’s sense of direction we arrived at Leonidio just as the sun came out and made our arrival at our lovely hotel, Archontiko Chioti Boutique Hotel & Spa, so much more pleasant.
The town of Leonidio, the economic center for this region, is a must for all! It sits at the end of the Dafnon Gorge, a long narrow crevice that follows the Dafnon River through the mountains and comes out at the coastal plain and the sea. Agriculture is the main source of income for the residents, but in summer tourism is playing an increasing role in their livelihood. Furthermore, for Greek Easter, the town is famous for its unusual celebration, when the custom of aerostata (air balloons) also attracts local spectators and visitors from afar. . . . something that I would really like to experience some day!
As I did when I first visited Leonidio about six years ago, following a walkabout town and drinks with a view (see photo) Haldόra and I had a lovely dinner at the traditional En Leonidio restaurant/pizzeria in the center of town. Here, apart from savoring delicious homemade pasta and we also drooled over one of the best homemade pizza’s in Greece . . . topped with slices of the famous local Tsakonian eggplant which is never bitter . . . and lots of cheese! Apart from the food, I also like the place’s huge collection of local folk art objects displayed inside the stone-built restaurant and alongside the walls outside, giving the place a charming quaint look!
After an eventful day we were happy to return to the luxury and tranquility of our Archontiko Chioti Hotel, a beautiful renovated family mansion that dates back to 1864 and reflects the history and style of the land architecture. We really liked the tasteful decorations, the comfy beds, professional and friendly staff as well as the delicious breakfast before our departure the following day . . . that kept us going for hours!
The final destination on the 3rd of our road trip was Monemvasia via the canyon of the Dafnona River with a stop at the beautiful mountain village of Kosmas. However, as we were in no hurry and the weather was ideal for plenty of sightseeing, I decided to show Haldόra some of my other favorite places close to Leonidio.
Our first stop was Poulithra; a small village on the Myrtoan Sea coast, at the foot of the eastern Parnon mountains where we enjoyed a long walk on the beach followed by a visit to the Smyros Resort - where I had spent a lovely holiday with my late husband just after it’s opening some years ago. I was happy to see everything looked just as I remembered and I look forward to perhaps another visit sometime soon.
If we had been at Poulithra a bit later I would have insisted we have lunch at the Myrtoon, restaurant where, after a dip in the ocean just in front of the restaurant, I remember eating some unparalleled tasty meals . . . where fresh simple Greek dishes with flavors of the land are the protagonists! Next time in this area I will definitely make time for a meal here! (Photo below from a previous visits . . . YUM!)
Plaka, the small port of Leonidio situated 4km from the town, with its fishing boats and a well-regarded beach was our next stop and well worth a visit. There are a number of taverns and bars adjacent to the sea and north of the port, you’ll find the Lako Beach which faces the island of Spetses and the open sea. Also, in August, the town hosts the Tsakonian Eggplant Festival, which is gaining ever growing popularity, attracting well known chefs from across the world.
As tempting as it was to spend more time in the Poulithra-Leonidio area it was time to continue our stunning road trip towards Monemvasia; the impressive castle town in south-eastern Peloponnese, with a stop at one of Greece’s most beautiful mountain villages, Kosmas.
The drive from Leonidio is awesome! First you drive through the canyon of the Dafnona River, past the monastery of Panagia Elona, and then upwards to the southeastern side of Mt Parnona where you will arrive at the village of Kosmas at 1150m.
Before our trip through the canyon I had told Haldόra about this remarkable spot . . . and as it had done the first time I drove through the canyon, it surpassed both our expectations! The unique beauty of the area’s lush landscape; the forest of firs, chestnut and walnut trees as well as the abundance of water, springs and ravines . . . are breathtaking!
Upon arrival at Kosmas, we parked close to the village’s central square and before heading to one of the cafés for some refreshments, we stopped to admire the local church (Saint Anargyri) with its famous lion fountain and sparkling clean water; that many drink . . . including us!
While sipping our strong cups of Greek coffee and nibbling on a huge piece of rich and delish Baklava, under the shadows of the central square’s huge old trees, I have to admit I had a hard time imagining the dark past and fate of destruction this idyllic village went through during WWII and The Greek Civil War (1946 -1949).
Instead, as you should, we focused on the place’s astounding beauty and serenity and the possible adventures tourists could enjoy in this part of Greece!
I would have loved to stay here for a few days to do some hiking and taste the many traditional specialties the locals are famous for . . . . but alas we were on a tight schedule so we ended up in one of the villages specialty food shops and stocked up on all sorts of nuts and locally made spoon sweets; some of which Haldόra took with her to Iceland . . . and other that I am still devouring with great joy here in Athens!
Our next stop Monemvasia . . . Coming soon with lots more . . . in part 2 of our Stunning Peloponnese Road Trip!
Until soon . . .