For vintage seller Dianne Ludwig, of the popular Instagram account @Welcomeback_slowfashion, it was a case of the simpler the better when heading to Greece for a dream escape.
With five weeks in Greece, all we wanted was the luxury of a simple holiday, daily dipping in the sea and preferably away from the crowds. In the Peloponnese we found that and more.
Part of mainland Greece, southwest of Athens, the Peloponnese is a favourite spot for holidaying Greeks, and for good reason. It’s stunningly beautiful and you can have a much more laid-back holiday, especially if you go ahead of the August holiday rush and the heat.
After 30 hours door-to-door travel to get to Athens, we were looking forward to resting up. We returned to a hotel we knew, InnAthens. We came back for the blackout curtains, restful, tree-shaded courtyard and great food.
With two nights and no sightseeing planned, we had leisurely breakfasts, trying to sample every Greek delicacy on the buffet, and gentle strolls in the National Gardens next door.
Nafplio To Tyros
From Athens it was an easy two-hour drive to our first stop in the Peloponnese, Nafplio. The old town is very pretty with elegant Venetian houses, and because it’s so close to Athens it’s well provisioned with boutique hotels, restaurants and shops, but small enough to be walkable and intimate.
We were staying at the hilltop Pension Marianna, a great location as it was a few minutes’ downhill walk to the beach. Within minutes we had our togs on. We will never forget that first glimpse of the crystal-clear, aqua-coloured water and the tell-tale sign of people bobbing in the sea. We knew we were at the best beach in the town, as it’s where the locals were hanging out.
The older Greeks, often women, approach going for a dip like we might think of sitting in a spa. It’s never a quick run-in, run-out affair, but a half hour or more of bobbing about in the deep water, sometimes solo or chatting with friends. Relaxing in the sea is a daily ritual here. The mind clears when you’re surrounded by beautiful crystal-clear water, and that became part of the rhythm of our days. Best time to bob was always early morning.
Once the day wore on the local teens, who were on study break, arrived, but that provided its own endless entertainment, and for me a chance to photograph these gorgeous-looking tanned kids and their somersault dives, jumps and bombs into the water.
We discovered more beaches the next morning on a coastal walk, and a chance to dust off our kalimera greetings to other early walkers. We even managed, at a leisurely pace, the 1000 steps uphill to the old fort.
Winding our way down the coast, our next stop was Tyros, which is much less tourist-focused. It’s a small fishing port village, with some undeveloped coastline. Wandering down the hill along a rough path through olive trees we discovered Lygeria Beach, its crystal-clear water revealing a gem-like floor of purple and green pebbles. With no road access and few tourists in town, we had the beach to ourselves, so no togs needed.
Next stop was Monemvasia, which is billed as a must-see place. It’s a huge iceberg-size rock island surrounded by the deep blue Aegean Sea, with sheer cliffs rising steeply and a causeway linking it to the mainland.
We were staying in the small medieval village on the island, which is enclosed within the walls of the old castle, and as with any small and hyped place we were worried it would be overrun with tourists. But we’d managed to time a midweek stay (Hotel Byzantino), which was lucky; the castle was uncrowded, we could easily wander around the tiny alleyways and winding staircases, all its nooks and crannies and dead ends, initially often getting lost.
Rising early before the heat got up, we walked the steep steps to the top of the rock, explored the upper ruins of earlier villages and took in the most magnificent views over the castle and out to sea. With its steep cliffs and fortress walls, the island looked like it would have no swimming opportunities, but there was an arch opening in the castle wall, which led to a rock shelf; it felt like a hidden doorway to another amazing world. We saw turtles and sea snakes, and wished we’d brought our snorkels. We swam here throughout the day, and sunbathed afterwards on the warm rocks.
Lakonian Mani & Beyond
We knew once we got to the Lakonian Mani region we’d found somewhere very special. It’s a wild and rugged narrow peninsula, with steep mountains. Driving along the mountain ridgelines there were dramatic views of the jagged coastline below. It’s less tourist-heavy so you feel like you’re in an undiscovered place.
Some of the small villages had the old fortified tower houses, which gives a sense of the history of the region. These tall, box-like structures with few windows are so unusual and look like modernist architecture, but they were built for defence. The Maniots were fierce, proud warriors constantly defending themselves from attack. I could see why I’d want to defend this land too; as barren as it was, it was stunningly beautiful.
We’d meander off the main road, down hill into small villages, often wondering if we could squeeze our tiny car through narrow alleys, and almost always be rewarded by finding a perfect cove for a swim.
We stayed at the Kryrimi Inn in the tiny village of Gerolimenas. We’d planned some day trips from here, but we delayed these as our apartment was so comfortable; we joked that the bathroom was bigger than some of our hotel rooms. We spent our days reading on the veranda with views of the deep blue sea and rugged barren mountains, only leaving for swims off the pier and to wander a few minutes into the village for meals.
While Gerolimenas was ruggedly beautiful and hard to leave, our next stop, the picture-perfect Limeni, was a perfect follow-up. Limeni is a tiny village with a big swooping aquamarine bay which gives off a tropical glow with its sandy white bottom. Steps lead down from a handful of hotels and cafes directly into the water, and we swam out towards anchored boats among jumping fish and turtles.
Limeni has an upmarket clientele and the dress standards were up, but it’s got a laid-back, easy pace, and it was opportunity to bust out my best vintage jumpsuits for evening wear.
Over the five weeks we drove most of the coast of the Peloponnese in pursuit of the best swimming spots. The perfect horseshoe bay of Voidokilia, where we rose early to watch the sun come up while we swam was a favourite. And we loved our weekend swims off the pier at Pylos among the local families.
We also hiked high into the mountains around Stemnitsa, visiting monasteries perched on clifftops, drinking herbal tea made for us by one of the fathers. We dipped in mountain streams and waterfall pools. We also had a week on Spetses Island, where we ate dinner on the beach most nights with the sea lapping our feet as boat wakes came ashore, and we had the best time people-watching.
Kalamata is in the Peloponnese so there is abundant fresh produce and good wines, and we managed to eat well and cheaply at family tavernas, with the odd splurge in higher-end restaurants.
Breakfasts were leisurely affairs, several courses, and always Greek yoghurt and honey, the sweetest melons and fruit and local pastries. Breakfast started late for us early risers, 8.30am or 9am; lucky we had packed our Bialetti coffee pots from home, handy for a brew before we set off on our early morning walks.
Greek food leans heavily into seafood, which we love, but as sea lovers we are so aware of the pending disaster of dwindling fish stocks so we only occasionally ordered fish. Favourite dishes included chickpea balls with tzatziki, giant beans, Mani salad (orange and potato salad with wild pig), a delicious fish and vegetable soup, which was so nourishing (Akrogialia on Spetses), and some of the best meatballs we had ever had were at the taverna in Stemnitsa, which was run by the local butcher.
Go in June, July or September, October when you’re more likely to skip the August crowds and heatwaves.
The roads in the Peloponnese are narrow and winding with no passing lanes, so distances can take longer to cover than Google suggests. A small car is great for negotiating the narrow lanes and easy parking.
Clothes and packing
● Holidays are a chance for me to have some fun styling different outfits, so packing light isn’t in my nature. And as we had a car to travel around the Peloponnese (public transport isn’t really an option), taking a bigger bag wasn’t difficult to manage.
● Pack your favourite resort wear, don’t be afraid to glam it up, but take natural fibres to counter the heat, silk head scarves to disguise beach hair and pack an array of swimwear. Greek women of all ages and body shapes tend to wear bikinis and glow with confidence, so pack yours.
● Take Tevas or similar sturdy sandals, great for rock-hopping and walking, and some nice slides for dinner — you won’t need anything else.
● Pack lots of your favourite skincare, great to slather on at the end of a day in the sun.
● If you want to look like a local bobbing in the sea, pack a second hat that you can wear in the sea and don’t mind getting wet.
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