Whisper it, the thing you need to know about Greece this summer is ‘Forget the islands.’
Yes, we know it’s a shock but if you’re looking for rugged landscapes, boutique hide-aways and delicious food, what you really need to do is set your sights inland.
Greece’s Peloponnese is a large peninsula to the south of the country, which has remained relatively undiscovered and although the area is popular with some Greeks, you won’t find nearly as many British visitors here as on the islands.
Belle began her tour of the area with a direct flight from London Heathrow to Kalamata (£258 with British Airways) and picked up a hire car at the airport (£79 for a week with Holiday Autos).
From there it was a three-hour drive through the twists and turns of the rocky Taygetos mountains to reach the town of Monemvasia and the hidden luxury of the Kinsterna hotel.
Set high up in the hills away from the town, the Kinsterna is housed in a 17th century mansion surrounded by beautiful gardens and two pools filled by the cistern that gives the hotel its name.
As well as traditional rooms in the Byzantine building, the hotel also boasts newly built residences. Belle stayed in a premium residence (490 Euros/night) – large and comfortable, it was stylishly decorated with modern twists. There was a bright turquoise Turkish rug on the floor, beautiful tiles in the bathroom and a walk-wardrobe.
The hotel also has a great restaurant housed in a cool modern building painted in neutral tones with nods to tradition such as the old copper pots hanging up.
Breakfast is served here and on the wide terrace overlooking the working gardens – the hotel makes its own olive oil and wine – and the mansion.
The rock sticks up from the sea like a piece of toblerone and is striking at different times of the day as the sun plays on it.
You can spend hours wandering the many cobbled streets and dipping in and out of the churches, cafes and shops, selling jewellery and local delicacies like jars of the preserved orange peel that’s traditionally served as dessert and as welcome treat to guests.
The next stop was the Mani – the middle peninsula of the Peloponnese. The further south you get into the Deep Mani, the landscape changes dramatically with stark moonscapes of rocks, thistles and cacti abounding.
Belle’s base was the fishing village of Gerolimenas, near where the Ionian sea meets the Aegean and home to the Kyrimis family of traders.
Their warehouses have been transformed into a lovely quiet boutique hotel of just 22 rooms- the Kyrimai – a member of the Yades Greek Historic Hotels, which are dotted around Greece in historic buildings.
The Kyrimai is based at the end of the village with a small pool and a jetty out into the sea with the rocky hills surrounding the bay.
The rooms are rustic, decorated in neutral colours to show off the best of the building that dates from 1870. Belle stayed in a split level room with balcony and view over the pool and bay (190 Euros/night).
Again, there is a great restaurant where you can sit right next to the water for breakfast and dinner.
Belle ate a delicious meal of stuffed vine leaves with yoghurt, sword fish in a tomato and garlic sauce and Greek pasta with prawns and dill. All the flavours were clean and there was a great balance to the dishes, definitely our favourite meal of the trip.
From the Kyrimai, you can spend lazy days at the many sheltered coves, visit ruined towns like Vathia or go for a walk at Cape Tenaro – the southernmost point of mainland Greece and reputedly the entrance to Hades – where there are the remains of a temple of Poseidon.
From the rocky coasts and harsh landscape of the Deep Mani, Belle headed for some rest and relaxation at eco-hotel, the Eumelia in inland Laconia.
The name means ‘harmony’ and that is exactly the ethos behind this place made up five houses decorated with the deep red colour of the earth and designed to work with the rhythms of nature.
Set amongst ancient olive groves with the beautiful horizon of the Taygetos and Parnonas mountains, the Eumelia allows you to escape from the hustle and bustle of the world and reconnect with nature.
You can do yoga up on the rooftop of the main building, enjoy a wine tasting or go hiking in the nearby mountains.
The houses are cool and comfortable – decorated in neutral tones using organic and sustainable products. You can choose to eat in the main building but most people opt for self-catering, enjoying the Eumelia‘s own olive oil and wine with honey and yoghurt from a nearby farm.
After just a few hours, Belle felt completely relaxed and slept incredibly soundly which was perfect before the last day of the trip, visiting the ancient city of Mystra.
A world heritage site, Mystra is another ruined Byzantine city, filled with palaces and churches dotted high on a hillside with gorgeous views.
It takes a good half-day to get around the large site and costs 12 Euros for an adult entry. You may be able to be dropped at the top of the site and work your way downhill. If you visit in the early evening, it’s cooler and you can have the place to yourself.
So if you’re looking for an escape this summer, the Peloponnese has got so much to offer – boutique hideaways, a chance to discover the real Greece, incredible and varied landscapes and fascinating ruins. Forget the traditional British idea of a Greek island holiday and head to Peloponnese for adventure, luxury and the odd bit of paradise!