Back in early September 2005, we headed west out of Athens and took a five-day driving trip around Greece’s southern peninsula, the Peloponnese.
Sometimes, when the big city/our daily grind/being stuck at home for any length of time gets us down, we order some Greek food and mentally return to the ancient ruins, seaside villages, free-roaming goats, dream-blue water, perilous mountain roads and endless, gauzy views of farmland and olive groves.
Here are some maps to help you visualize the Peloponnese. The region is the (bright pink) peninsula on the bottom left, beneath Central Greece, to the left of Attica and the Saronic Islands and north of Crete. Athens is in Attica; it takes about 1 ½ hours to drive west from Athens along the National Highway to Corinth, the peninsula’s first major site.
The Peloponnese is peaceful to the point of silence. You’ll be on winding, perilous mountain roads by yourselves for miles at a time, passing clusters of goats perched on anything they can find that’s taller than the ground. Woebegone donkeys will stand alone in fence-less fields, one or more legs tied to a rope to keep them from running away; you have to resist the urge to set them free, as they’d just wander into the road and wreak inadvertent havoc.
Any given pile of rocks is a piece of the puzzle of human civilization. (You know, kind of like that big stone foot on Lost.) While at ruin sites, finding guides to tell you what you’re looking at isn’t a bad idea, but it’s also exciting to simply hold hands and stare at the sheer ancient-osity of it all.
Sometimes you’ll find tavernas where the wine is flowing and the bouzouki a-twangin’, and there’s a smile and a dance for everyone. Sometimes you might wander into a middle-of-nowhere mountain town on a Sunday, seeking lunch with the few words of Greek you can remember in the moment…and find only grim, hostile faces and a scary basement bathroom straight from Trainspotting. No matter what comes, you’ll find comfort in getting back on the road, curving through olive groves, sheer hillsides dotted with red-tiled roofs and breezy tunnels of shady trees.
Driving counter-clockwise over 5 days, we visited (among more anonymous spots along the way):
Corinth – Acrocorinth – Mycenae – Nafplio – Mystras – Sparta – Githio – Pylos – Pirgos – Olympia
And here were the highlights: