I know the islands of Greece get a lot of love (and are a great place for walking holidays) but if that’s all you see when you travel to Greece then you are missing out on some absolutely amazing food, scenery and culture that can be found on the south coast of Greece in the city of Kalamata.
I spent four days there and in that short time I had one of the most memorable trips in years, I just feel so deeply in love with the people and the history of the area. Kalamata works as the perfect base camp where you can travel around the ancient parts and explore all there is to see along the way. Here are my top 9 reasons why your next trip should be to Kalamata.
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9. The Ancient city of Messini
I knew absolutely nothing about the Messini People but during this trip we got the opportunity to head over to this ancient city that has been excavated out of the earth. It receives only a fraction of the visitors that other ancient cities do but it really is a sight to behold. We walked around the ancient town and saw an ancient amphitheatre that uses the curve of the mountain as a means of natural amplification. I tried to give a bellow of my own but it didn’t quite work!
The city is nestled in a valley and surrounded by a massive wall that kept the Messini People safe… until they were enslaved by the Spartans!
Walking around you can still see the old market, animal heads carved into the stone, an ancient bank and the houses of the nobility. Then you move further down the valley and see an absolutely stunning Stadion, where the Messini people would compete against each other to prove their abilities. It was so beautiful. I tried flying the drone there but they were quite strict and the woman chastised me saying “If you weren’t allowed to bring a tripod why did you think you could bring a drone?” Ah well, live and learn I guess!
There are lots of fun day tours of the city you can do, including one with olive oil tasting and a taste of Greek gastronomy.
8. Dinner overlooking the ancient of Messini
Ok, last post about Messini I promise but this one really deserves it’s own spot because it was such an amazing experience. Overlooking the valley of this ancient city sits the tiny village of Mavromati. It is very important to the ancient city because that is where the Messini People piped their water from and the fountain in that village is very old and historic.
The restaurant in the village is called Ithomi (http://ithomi.gr/) It is an absolutely beautiful restaurant and a wonderful place to cool off after a sweaty hike into the ancient city. We were meant to meet the archaeologist who helped excavate the city but he didn’t show up. Instead we dined with our guide Margherita and her husband for the evening. They were absolutely fascinating and the conversation was so lovely. The location was absolutely stunning as well. It was hard to pull myself away from such a stunning view. Have a look…
We then had a gorgeous meal that was full of local olives and delicious cooked cheeses. Each dish that came out was more delicious than the last and I left that place in excellent spirits!
You could also consider signing up for a food tour – with guaranteed delicious bites from this gorgeous region of Greece.
7. The Art Farm
The art farm is so many things in one place… It is a short drive from Kalamata and nestled in the mountains surrounded by olive trees. The owner, Sotiris Marinis used to spend his summers down by the beach with his grandparents. Instead of returning home each evening they would build these lovely little tree houses and then sleep in them. Inspired by his childhood Sotiris decided to keep the tradition alive by building tree houses and then opening them to the public. On the property there are about 10 tree houses built into the olive trees and they are absolutely gorgeous. Have a look:
That’s not all though… The place is also a hub for agricultural tourism. Knowing that spall farms can’t compete with the massive scale of production the people here want others to reconnect with their food by learning how to plant and make food in a natural way, that doesn’t harm the environment. As well as that it also acts as a co-op space so you get to make your food together, like a family.
On top of all that there is also a stage there and performances occur all summer long… Is there anything they don’t do! The views are also stunning. If you want one of the most unique experiences in Greece then I couldn’t recommend the art farm enough.
6. Visiting the Mani Peninsula
The Mani Peninsula is only about 30 minutes from the city of Kalamata and it was absolutely fascinating. This is a place that the Greeks describe as being almost as barren as the surface of the moon. It was a very difficult place to survive and in the past the only way to get there was by ship. They only got roads during World War II.
We learned all about the people and how they had a very special tradition that happened during death. When someone passes away down here the people sing; though after watching a few Youtube videos it sounds a lot like wailing to me!
This singing is special because it has been handed down from generation to generation. When anthropologists came along and heard these songs they realised that the songs and their lyrics could provide key information into the growth and development of language over thousands of years.
As well as that famous writer Patrick Leigh Fermor spent a lot of his later years in this area. You can even tour his beautiful house, though it wasn’t open to the public when we visited.
5. Getting Lost
The roads around Kalamata are incredibly convoluted and we managed to get lost once or twice. Instead of it being stressful, it was one of my favourite parts of the trip! We would drive along tiny roads completely surrounded in olive trees. After a while and we would come across an ancient church or a beautiful lagoon.
There were some roads we even had to get out and follow the car because the ground was too rough.
It was an absolute blast and really very exciting that you can be surrounded with so much beauty that is just waiting to be explored.
4. Dinner while watching the sun set over the Mediterranean
After a long day touring loads of places in the heat it felt really nice to know we had a relaxing dinner to come. We ended up in a tiny seaside cove that had a few restaurants in the area. There was a lovely lull in the area; though there were tourists it never felt like a mad crush of people. It was so serene! We decided to have a quick dip to cool off before sitting down on the edge of the Mediterranean and watching the sun hang in the sky.
According to our guide Homer described the setting sun as the time of day where the sea takes the colour of the wine. It was stunning. Denis, the Italian blogger couldn’t contain his excitement and went in for another dip.
The food was gorgeous as well… I have a new fund affinity for fresh sardines that are pickled and soaked in olive oil. We also drank some of the local spirit, Ouzo and it went down extremely well!
3. Visiting Navarino Lagoon
This lagoon was by a long shot the most beautiful beach I’ve seen in years. I am not a beach person… It’s boring, there’s nothing to do, there’s sand everywhere. I don’t get them. I got this place. It is a very private lagoon that is a perfect umbrella shape, the water is pristine and the place is absolutely magical. Not even pictures do it justice but I tried.
I feel like tourism in this part of the world is smack bang on the nose, it’s never crowded, never crazy but always alive with people. This beach was busy but it was an absolutely perfect place to relax and chill out. There was also an old French castle on the top of one of the hills that I absolutely had to fly my drone around. Look at how cool this castle is:
The area is also a national sanctuary for birds and one of the only places in Europe where you can see chameleons. Despite our best efforts we failed to see a single one!
2. Castles, castles and more castles.
I’m an Irish guy, I know my castles… We have them all over the country. But none of our tiny Irish castles could compare with the massive fortifications built by the Francs and Greeks. We visited a lot of castles during my trip but my favourite one has to be the Castle of Methoni. I think the Game of Thrones directors really missed out on this one because it was far more brilliant than any of the other castle locations I’ve seen in the show.
DID YOU KNOW? You can actually visit many of Kalamatas’ famous castles on a day trip from Athens?
I got shouted at before I could get some lovely drone footage but I got some pictures on my camera of one tiny part of the castle that juts out into the Mediterranean. This castle is HUGE and this is just one ‘branch’ of the overall structure. I could have spent hours exploring these nooks and crannies.
1. Visit the historical town of Pylos
Pylos is a town with a rich and vast history. There was a massive battle here in 1827 when the massive Turkish ships invaded and nearly overpowered the smaller Greek ships. The Greeks were cunning though. They led the Turkish Ships into the Bay of Pylos where it was narrow and difficult for the massive Turkish ships to turn around. The Greeks then picked them off easily and on clear days the wreckage of those ships are still visible today at the bottom of the sea. The government is looking into recovering the ships once they can find some funding to do so!
The area of Pylos is beautiful and we sat in the main square to grab some food and drink in our surroundings. Protip: Don’t get food in the main square, it was over-priced and not that good. Next time we’ll stick to a couple of glasses of wine!
Pylos has it’s own castle which sits on the top of a hill near the centre of the city. It is called Neo Kastro and has two very interesting museums inside it. One museum is dedicated to all the things excavated from the hundreds of historical sites in the area. The other one is dedicated to all the discoveries found in the deep blue sea. Both are still very new and the staff in the ocean museum could really benefit from taking some lessons in how to be friendly. During the time we spent there she made it feel like it was a chore and that she hated her job. When you’re working in tourism it helps to be positive as you are the face of your country!
Either way some of the discoveries in the museums were fascinating especially the jewellery. I was looking at 3,000 year old jewellery that was similar to one’s that my mam would wear! It was crazy.
Dora and Margherita were our two guides and the trip would not have been the same without them. I left with a richness and intimate knowledge of the country that only came from them. They helped explain the sadness and frustration of the Greek people during these trying times. They also showed the beauty and generosity of the Greek people to me. It was honest and it was authentic.
If you want a place that is a tiny bit off the beaten track then Kalamata is the place to go. What are you waiting for!?