Mythical Peloponnese: Castles and Legendary Sanctuaries
A deeply informative and expert introduction to specially-selected archaeological wonders, spectacular sites and castles in the land of legends and heroes – the Peloponnese...
We are passionate believers in the miracle that is Greece and are equally passionate in the design and delivery of our programmes, all of which offer insights which resonate with the essence of Greece and which can foment thought, arouse the imagination and inspire interesting discussions during and after our tours. Our well-researched, perfectly-delivered and inspiring tours are conducted round-the-year and are all supported and escorted by our hand-picked specialist, licensed guides.
Greece has been a strategic crossroads since time immemorial and the legacy of its rich history is visible in the castles and archaeological sites with which adorn every corner of this magnificent country.
This well-researched and rewarding programme is designed for small groups (8-16 participants) and provides a deeply informative and expert introduction to specially-selected archaeological wonders and castles in the land of legends and heroes – the Peloponnese.
The typical audience of this programme would typically include avid admirers and discerning connoisseurs of Classical Greek archaeology, history (Classical Greek, Byzantine, Frankish, Venetian and Ottoman) and also of natural beauty, who would relish the experience of seeing the most evocative sites and monuments in combination with the splendid nature of Greece at first hand.
Accommodation is in specially-selected, European standard, high-class city and country hotels. Transportation is by modern, air-conditioned coach whilst the venues for lunch and dinner have been carefully chosen, not least with the hungry explorer in mind – but also to respect and reflect the ancient Greek tradition where eating is central to social interaction and happy bonding.
Points of Interest
The main points of interest include the following, in chronological sequence. Clicking on an underlined link will open a new tab rich in information on the respective point of interest.
We will be waiting to meet you at Athens International airport for transfer to your hotel and the welcome dinner.
We will leave the hotel in the morning for Nauplio, travelling across the Corinth Canal, that magnificent feat of 19th-century engineering which transformed the Peloponnese from a peninsula to an island, where we have a short pit stop for photos. Just a short distance after the bridge, we visit the extensive archaeological site of Ancient Corinth, noted for its archaic Temple of Apollo and an impressive collection of ruins of public buildings. After visiting the site’s museum, we ascend the mighty castle on the craggy and foreboding hill of the Acrocorinth, which guarded the overland access to the Peloponnese for centuries.
We enjoy lunch at a taverna in Nemea before proceeding to Nauplio, where we check in to our hotel. The evening will be free to explore this delightful seaside town, which was the capital of the First Hellenic Republic and of the Kingdom of Greece, from the start of the Greek Revolution in 1821 until 1834.
Dinner and overnight at Nauplio.
Day’s approximate driving distance and time: 171 km (106 mi ) / 2h 35′
We start the day with a visit to the impressive Archaeological Museum of Nauplio, a historic building itself, which houses illustrious finds from all over the Argolid from Palaeolithic (as old as it gets!) times on. We then set off for the legendary Bronze Age site of Mycenae with the imposing ruins of the greatest city of the Mycenaean civilisation, which dominated the eastern Mediterranean world from the 15th to the 12th century BC and played a vital role in the development of classical Greek culture. Mycenae, the city of King Agamemnon, with its Cyclopean walls, the Lion Gate and spectacular archaeological finds is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Lunch at the attractive little village of Kefalari, built at the source of the Erasinos river, whose waters Strabo and Pausanias claimed as deriving from Lake Stymphalia, high in the mountains of Corinthia dozens of miles away.
After lunch we will visit the remains of the nearby mysterious Pyramid of Hellinikon.
Back to Nauplio and free time to spend as you like. We may wish to hop on our coach to explore to the Venetian Fortress of Palamidi above the town or, for the energetic, there’s always the option of climbing the 861 steps!
Own dinner arrangements and overnight at Nauplio.
Day’s approximate driving distance and time: 48 km (30 mi), 46′
This will be a long and probably tiring day, but the time and any fatigue will be more than made up for, both by the sites we will visit as well as the nature of the wild eastern part of the Peloponnese through which we will be driving and which has been a well-kept secret all along.
We start the day with a short drive to the hilltop where Larissa, the medieval Castle of Argos oversees the Argive Plain. Ruins within Larissa point to the occupation of the site in the 6th century BC, but it may be much older, not least as the town of Argos itself has been occupied for at least 7,000 years, rendering it one of the oldest settlements in the world. One can still see the remarkable Cyclopean wall sections of Larissa, dating all the way back to the Mycenaean period, while imprints have also been left by the Romans, Franks, Venetians and Ottoman Turks.
We continue our trip through the winding county roads of eastern Peloponnese, through magnificent vistas at every turn, to our stop for lunch at the picturesque village of Kosmas in mountainous Arcadia.
Onwards to Geraki (ancient Geronthrae) and its castle, built by the Franks in around 1250 on a foothill of the southeastern slopes of Mt Parnon, close to the modern village of Geraki. It was once one of the most important castles of Peloponnese, but it lies in ruins today. A most notable characteristic are the many Byzantine churches which are preserved, to a degree, inside and in the nearby medieval settlement as well as its Mycenaean and other Byzantine remains. It may be hard to believe, but this little-known, out-of-the-way site was once one of the most important Frankish castles of the Peloponnese.
We then drive through wonderful mountainous landscapes to reach our destination, the breathtakingly situated mediaeval castle-town of Monemvasia, perched on a craggy promontory on the eastern coast of Laconia and jutting into the Myrtoön Sea of the Aegean.
Dinner and overnight at Monemvasia. Day’s approximate driving distance and time: 193 km (120 mi)/3h 54′
The day is fully devoted to the exploration of this iconic destination, also known as the Gibraltar of the East and bearing a more than passing resemblance to Mont Saint-Michel in Brittany.
Monemvasia, its buildings restored and preserved, is still occupied today. We will walk up its winding streets to admire the historic walls of the upper town, the numerous Byzantine and Venetian churches and the Turkish mosque. As well as enjoying the views and ambience of this strikingly picturesque town, we will also visit the Archaeological Museum which displays antiquities from the various periods of its colourful history. Dinner and overnight in Monemvasia.
A full day to further explore the citadel, with an optional excursion through magnificent scenery to the secluded and unique fjord-bay of Limin Ieraka, 26km / 33 min drive from Monemvasia. In the afternoon, we drive through legendary Laconia to our next destination, the fabled city of Sparta and the Byzantine citadel of Mystras. Dinner and overnight in Mystras.
Day’s approximate driving distance and time (not including the optional excursion to Limin Ieraka) 91 km (57 mi) / 1h 31min.
This day will be devoted to the exploration of the extensive medieval site of Mystras, the renowned Byzantine citadel perched on the steep slope of a hill at the end of the Taygetos range towering in the distance above the city of Sparta. Known as ‘the Wonder of Morea’, it has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1989.
Mystras was once a thriving town that was the second most powerful town of the Byzantine Empire – second only to Constantinople, and is well worth our attention due to its significant role and colourful history during the last millennium from the time of the Crusades up to the beginning of the Greek Revolution against Turkish rule. Lunch and then a free afternoon and evening. Overnight at Mystras.
Day’s approximate driving distance and time: 30 km (19mi) / 40′
We will set off to visit the sites of Ancient Sparta (Sparti) or Lacedaemon, which was once a rich and powerful city-state, famed for its military prowess. This was the place of legends, the city of mighty-warrior kings and where the epic myths of the war against Troy began when Paris, the prince of Troy, either abducted or eloped with Helen, ‘the face that launched a thousand ships’, the step-daughter of King Tyndareus of Sparta and wife of Menelaus when he was king of Mycenaean Sparta.
Our day will include a visit to the small but delightful archaeological site and the Menelaion, in a spectacular setting overlooking the Laconian Plain and the Eurotas river. The Menelaion was built in honour of Menelaos and Helen, the famous King and Queen of Sparta, the latter being ‘the face that launched a thousand ships’. Menelaos and Helen became Pan-Hellenic heroes through the distribution of Homer’s Iliad.
Greece – and Laconia in particular – is the home of the olive tree and its blessed fruit, both symbolically and agriculturally. We will pay homage to this wonderful and tremendously important facet of Greece by visiting the delightful Museum of the Olive and Greek Olive Oil in Sparta. Lunch and a free evening at your lesiure. Overnight at Mystras.
Day’s approximate driving distance and time: 30 km (19 mi) / 40′
This will be the day we encounter a series of magnificent coastal castles and fortifications in the south-western Peloponnese.
We first drive to Koroni, a castle built on a rocky headland jutting into the Messenian Gulf. The site’s origins date back to the 8th century BC, but the castle now visible was constructed during the Byzantine era. Parts of the extensive site are still occupied today, though visitors are welcome to explore the surrounding walls and ruins. Scattered columns from the ancient Messenian temple remain as evidence of the distant past, next to the 4th century AD basilica of Agia Sophia, the 17th century church of Agios Charalambos, and the church of Panagia Eleistria.
After lunch at Koroni, our next stop is Methoni, known in the ancient days as Pedasos. The walled city of Methoni lies on a rocky headland separated from the mainland by an artificial moat. on the west coast of the Peloponnese around 11 kilometres south of Pylos. It is one of the most important castles (actually, a fortified city) in Greece and commanded a strategic position with its exceptional natural harbour being the first port of call for travellers approaching by sea from the south west. Still impressive today, the castle of Methoni occupies the whole area of the cape and the southwestern coast to the small islet that has also been fortified with an octagonal tower and is protected by the sea on its three sides. Its north part, the one that looks to land, is covered by a heavily fortified acropolis.
This long and rich day will reach its end when we arrive at Pylos, also known as Navarino. Pylos has been inhabited since the since the Neolithic times. It was also an important kingdom in Mycenaean Greece, with remains of the so-called “Palace of Nestor” excavated nearby, named after Nestor, the king of Pylos in Homer’s Iliad. Dinner and overnight at Pylos.
Day’s approximate driving distance and time: 183 km (114 mi) / 2h 58′
We will start the day with a visit to Neokastro (New Navarino Castle) overlooking the historic bay of Navarino, which is famed for the important naval battle of 1827 between the Turkish and Allied (British, French, Russian) naval forces, a battle which played a crucial role in the liberation of Greece from Turkish rule. Given its prime position, it comes as no surprise that the castle was first built by the Ottomans in 1573 to guard the southern end of the bay sheltering the modern town of Pylos. At the north end of the bay is Palaiokastro (Old Pylos Castle), which we will visit along with the natural wonders of the area, such as the Gialova Lagoon (lunch) and magnificent Voidokoilia bay and beach. Free evening and overnight at Pylos.
Day’s approximate driving distance and time: 38 km (24 mi) / 62′
This day will see us drive through magnificent mountain scenery, first to the remarkable temple of Apollo Epicurius at an altitude of 1,131 m (3,710 ft) on Mt Kotylion. Designed by Iktinos, architect the Parthenon in Athens, it was described by ancient writer and geographer Pausanias as eclipsing all others but the temple of Athena at Tegea by the beauty of its stone and the harmony of its construction.
This famous temple to the god of healing and the sun (Epicurius meaning ‘helper’ in ancient Greek) was built around the middle of the 5th century B.C.
A UNESCO World Heritage site, Apollo Epicurius has the oldest Corinthian capital yet found and combines the Archaic style and the simple serenity of the Doric rhythm with some daring architectural features.
We will continue through wild mountain scenery to the picturesque little village of Andritsaina for lunch, to reach our day’s final destination of Karytaina, a village of Arcadia situated on a hill high above the right bank of the river Alpheios, which flows through a precipitous gorge towards its confluence with Lousios river, in which Zeus (Jupiter) was baptised, according to Hellenic mythology. Dinner and overnight at Karytaina.
Day’s approximate driving distance and time: 147 km (91 mi), 3 hours, 15′
The day starts with a visit to Karytaina Castle, built on a lone steep hill at an altitude of 550 m (1,804 ft). Like many of the Frankish castles of the Peloponnese, it was constructed in the 13th century following the temporary overthrow of Byzantine Constantinople after its siege by Crusaders in 1204. Some archaeological evidence and historic writings suggest the settlement existed much earlier – at least in early Byzantine years, and probably in ancient times. After lunch, we leave for Ancient Olympia. Dinner and overnight at Olympia.
Day’s approximate driving distance and time: 80 km (49 mi) / 1 h 46′
Today we will be visiting the archaeological site as well as the museum of celebrated Ancient Olympia, birthplace of the Olympic Games in 776 BC and home to the great sanctuary of Zeus. The archaeological site, surrounded by olive trees olive trees and vibrant nature, includes both sanctuaries and temples as well as the stadium and and gymnasia and training grounds used by athletes. Legend has it that the training grounds were founded by none other than the demigod and hero Heracles (Hercules) himself! The superb museum contains an extensive collection of ancient Greek weaponry and armour, the wonderful sculptures from the Temple of Zeus and the Hermes of Praxiteles, arguably one of the very few surviving works by one of antiquity’s greatest sculptors.
Following our detailed exploration (and a well-earned lunch!), we will proceed to the village of Arkoudi, with its lovely beach for a free afternoon for a stroll or a swim. Overnight stay.
Day’s approximate driving distance and time: 63 km (40 mi) / 68′
Rising far in the distance stands the Castle of Chlemoutsi, but it is only when we walk through the gates that the full splendour and magnitude of the castle is revealed –and this is precisely how we will start our day.
Chlemoutsi Castle was built by the Frankish Prince of Achaea, Geoffrey de Villehardouin, in the 1220s on a rocky plateau which offered a prime site for such a construction, just a few kilometres inland from Glarentza (near modern Kyllini). It commands a view of the surrounding plains of Elis, across the Ionian Sea to Zakynthos and Kefalonia to the west, and as far as the mountains of central Greece on the opposite side of the Gulf of Patras.
After lunch, we will depart for our return trip to Athens, where the farewell dinner will be offered in the evening.
Day’s approximate driving distance and time: 298 km (185 mi) / 3h 58′
Transfer to Athens airport.
- Accommodation at specially-selected, European standard high-class city and country hotels, basis bed and breakfast and double sharing. Single occupancy subject to supplement.
- Ten lunches and eight dinners, including the Welcome dinner on the first day and the Farewell dinner on the last one
- Greek airport transfers on the first and the last day of the tour
- Expert, licensed Archeologist-Guide accompanying the group throughout the duration of the tour
- All tour legs by air-conditioned coach
- Archaeological site and museum tickets
- Bottled mineral water daily during the tours
- Free use of power packs for recharging mobile phone and portable devices on the move
- Hotel porter and restaurant gratuities
- Air travel to and from Greece
- Personal travel insurance
- Coach driver and guide gratuities
- Visas and travel document and formality costs, if and where applicable
- Anything not explicitly mentioned in Included section
Points to note
The tour is accompanied by an expert, licensed guide who is fluent in English. Transport is by air-conditioned coach, accommodation is at specially-selected, European standard high-class city and country hotels, whilst the price also includes daily breakfast, ten lunches and eight dinners (including the welcome and farewell dinners), Greek airport transfers, bottled mineral water daily, museum and archaeological site entrance fees and hotel porter and restaurant gratuities. The price is on a double-room sharing basis.
The programme does not include flights to and from Greece or personal travel insurance. An example of how to obtain travel insurance can be found here. For the full list of what is and what is not included in the price, please see below.
Good and comfortable footwear is a must. The tours take place nearly all the year, thus waterproofs and warm clothes in non-summer months are recommended. Some locations (such as the Acrocorinth) call for strenuous walking, including uphill stretches.
As the safety and comfort of all our travellers are of paramount importance to us, we might need to adjust at our sole responsible discretion the route and/or the activities should weather or other conditions so dictate.
We provide in the itinerary description the estimated daily driving distance and time, however these values are purely indicative approximations and may vary depending on traffic, weather and other factors.
The driving distance and time on the road of some of the tours’ days (for instance, days 4 and 11) are fairly high however we do go to great lengths to make the trip as relaxed and pleasant as possible. Our coaches are modern, fully air-conditioned and we ensure that we use larger coaches which offer a generous surplus of space compared to the size of the travelling group.