The third largest city in Greece, Patras is a business and education centre as well as being the capital of the prefecture of Achaia. Road, rail and especially sea traffic all meet here linking the Peloponnese with the rest of Greece and with the ports of the Adriatic and, by extension, Western Europe.
In the harbour and in the large square next to it, with the railroad station at one end and on the surrounding streets, there is incessant traffic. But off the waterfront, parts of Patras are charming and quiet. Facilities for tourists abound: shops, hotels, restaurants are all very much in evidence and its summer festival held in the restored Roman Odeon is well worth attending. King George I Square nearby represents another era; it is lined with neoclassical buildings and its Municipal Theatre is a replica of the Skala in Milan. Up above, you can see the ruined medieval castle.
As in every town or village in Greece, regardless of size, in Patras too the churches are of major interest. In this case, the church of Agios Andreas, the patron saint, is distinguished by its ugliness, but it houses an impressive gold reliquary of the saint. There also many museums to visit while waiting for your boat to leave: the archaeological, folk art, ethnological and printing (the last two in the Centre of Literature and Art.
Beaches abound both to the east and west of Patras, sheltered and wave - free on the Gulf of Corinth, broad and sometimes battered by low rollers on the west coast. For a dip closer to town, only 1 km from the centre on the harbour road at Agia, the GNTO (EOT) has an organized beach.
Proceeding further east, in 9km you come to Rion, where the ferries leave one after another for Antirrion opposite, enabling you to continue on to Epirus and Central Greece. You can't visit the Castle of the Morea here, but it is yet another reminder of Venice's command of many a strategic spot in Greece between the 1204 and the end of the 18th century. From here to Aegion, the second biggest town in Achaia, the coast is studded with pleasant beaches, at such locations as Psathopyrgos, Labiri, Longos, and Rododafni. If you'd rather a change from sun and sea, though, go as far as Diakofto and take the funicular railway which climbs into the steep hills inland and allows you to visit the historic monasteries of Megaspilaion and Agia Lavra and the town of Kalavryta, market centre for the mountain villages in the region.
Back by the sea, you'll find that there are pretty beaches and lush greenery all the way to Corinth. The villages have names like Platanos, Kryoneri, Krathio, Akrata itself and Aigeira and all well equipped for tourism and ideal for families.
But we'll head back, as planned, to start on our westward course around the Peloponnese. The beaches along the Gulf of Patras are more windswept and open than those we're just described. You won't find any citrus groves and apricot orchards on their shores. The first you come to are at Ano and Kato Alissos, Kato Achaia and Lakkoperta, all easily accessible. Keep a look out too for antiquities and vestiges of the Frankish occupation of the Morea, as they called the Peloponnese. Near Araxo you'll see an ancient fortress, known today as the Kastro tis Kalogrias (of the nun), Cyclopean walls on the rim of a hill, if you can take your eyes off the endless beaches on the other side.
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