We all know that Greece has some pretty spectacular holiday spots. The problem with this, however, is that many equally spectacular spots often get overlooked. Famous island destinations like Mykonos and Santorini draw in the crowds and are, of course, well worth the hype, but Greece’s mainland is just as enchanting and authentic.

In particular, the southern Peloponnese region delivers the Greek essentials in one very pretty package: ancient sites, picturesque towns and lots of excellent beaches. Cast your eyes over the locations we’ve picked out below and you might be surprised to learn that they can all be found in this lesser-visited corner of the Greek mainland.

The green-fringed city of Nafplio / Image: Adobe Stock

This painfully gorgeous city embedded into a pocket of the Peloponnese coastline feels like all of your Greek fantasies brought to life in one place: cerulean waters, cobbled paths, bougainvillea-bordered squares, all overlooked by a hilltop fortress. Strange as it may seem, its beauty is partly down to a line of conquerors; with fierce power struggles come charming Ottoman fountains and grand Neoclassical pillars. Don’t leave Nafplio without tasting two of its bare necessities: seafood and oranges.

Monemvasia

Monemvasia
Rock of ages: the medieval town of Monemvasia / Image: Adobe Stock

There’s an undeniably dramatic quality to this towering rock that looms over the Aegean Sea, leading to locals referring to Monemvasia as ‘the Gibraltar of Greece’. The town itself is an ancient maze of twisting alleyways, and if you climb up high enough, you’ll reach the ruins of a monastery. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find teeny boutique hotels masquerading as traditional Greek townhouses. All in all, an endearing spot for a romantic escape.

Kardamyli

Kardamyli
Kardamyli – an easy place to while away the hours, days and weeks / Image: Adobe Stock

This picturesque, slightly sleepy fishing village – just a one-hour drive south from Kalamata – has a vibe that’s difficult to pin down. If you’re snacking on souvlaki at Dioskouri Taverna while overlooking the bay, it’s charmingly laid-back. If you find yourself sipping mojitos at cafe-bar Aquarella at 2am one warm July weekend, there’s a hint of Ibiza in the air. Whatever you’re after, you’ll probably find it in Kardamyli, which triumphs in marrying trendy boutique hotels, buzzy bars and drop-dead-gorgeous beaches with bona fide Greek charm.

The small port of Gerolimenas is big on charm / Image: Adobe Stock

If you fancy sharing a village with the locals, and no-one else, this is the place for you. The main ace up Gerolimenas’ stone sleeve is pure authenticity. The sea is so clear it looks drinkable and you can watch fishing boats return to the jetty with their catch, before settling down for the night in a local taverna.

Kalamata

Kalamata
There’s a lot more to Kalamata than just superlative olives / Image: Adobe Stock

Stroll across Kalamata’s harbourside strip, past bars teeming with hip young revellers, and it might fill you with a sense of California-esque chill. And when cosmopolitan meets traditional like this – and when lots of olive oil is involved – you get some down-right delicious plates of food. Head to veteran tavernas like traditional Ta Rolla for heaving plates of moussaka and crispy fried cod, or farm-to-table establishments like Oinopantopoleion Chrysomallis for fresh anchovies drenched in peppery olive oil.

Ancient Olympia

Ancient Olympia
The gold medal-worthy ruins of Ancient Olympia / Image: Adobe Stock

The storied site of Ancient Olympia is one of Greece’s greatest marvels, an archaeological sanctuary around 3,000 years old and the birthplace of the Olympic Games. The ruins can be found in the area fittingly known as the ‘valley of the gods’, home to a network of rivers, waterfalls and hot springs. Perfect for a dip after a light spot of discus.

Mystras

Mystras
Step back in time at Mystras / Image: Adobe Stock

Balanced precariously on the steep shoulder of Mount Taygetus, enclosed by groves of orange and olive trees, is Mystras, a portal to an ancient city. At least, that’s what it can feel like when treading the time-worn cobblestones of this former Byzantine capital that’s now recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s every bit as extensive as you’d expect from a grand collection of palaces, monasteries and churches. So, if you’re here for the day, bring your walking boots and a hefty packed lunch to keep you in the exploring mood.

Elafonisos

Elafonisos
The tranquil, turquoise waters of Simos Beach / Image: Adobe Stock

Still want islands? We’ll give you islands. What tiny Elafonisos offers is a typically stunning Greek beach, though you’ll be forgiven for thinking you’re in the Caribbean when you lay eyes on the stretches of golden sand lapped by gleaming blue waters at Simos Beach. Here, you’ll also find superb snorkelling, wild-ish camping and cantinas playing a rhythmic blend of Greek and Latin music. Enough said, really.

Vatheia

Vatheia
The abandoned tower houses of Vatheia / Image: Adobe Stock

This semi-abandoned hilltop village has a fabulous floral secret. Vatheia’s fully intact but spookily empty tower houses might give something of a ghost town image, but every spring and summer the surrounding hills burst into an intense bloom of wildflowers. The lively carpets of yellow (peppered with red, blue and lilac if you get closer) offer a brilliant juxtaposition to the largely lifeless settlement – and a premium photo opp.

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