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Region E - Touring the Peloponnese, Zakynthos and Kefalonia

A trip round Peloponnese seeing scenic and historic spots

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Stunning scenery at every turn, whether you happen to be along its incredibly varied coastline or in the mountains at its heart. Eons of history imprinted on its soil, monuments to past civilizations springing up at every step. The Peloponnese is an endless source of interest for the visitor. 

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Patras and the cast of Achaia

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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.

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The coast of Ilia and a side trip to Zakynthos and Kefalonia

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Travelling along the Patra - Pyrgow national road, we leave Achaia behind and enter the fertile district of Ilia, ancient Elis. At Lechaina turn towards the sea to see for yourselves if all you've heard about its endless beautiful beaches is true. The coast is almost a continuous band of golden sand from one end to the other.

From Lechaina we turn a little to the north to view lake Kotychi, but it's hard to stay away from the beaches that are so close to it. If we head west, we soon reach Kyllini, an important port in ancient times and again during the Frankish occupation, when it was known as Glarentza (Clarence). A few scattered remains can be seen, among which the Franco-Byzantine monastery of the Virgin of Vlachernai. Far more impressive in the immense fortress of Chlemoutsi (Claimont) at Kastro to the south. With its huge barrel vaulted galleries around its keep, it is the best preserved Frankish monument in the Peloponnese. It commanded a view of all the surrounding countryside. For most people, Greece is represented by ancient columns and Byzantines churches; it's hard for us to envisage a time when knighthood was in flower and jousting tournaments were held on the plains below.

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Ancient Olympia and southwest coast

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In Kyllini once more, we take the Patras - Pyrgos national road south. By turning at Amaliada, we can follow the coast and feast our eyes or take a dip at the lovely open beaches at Kourouta and Palouki, at Katakolo (the port of Pyrgos) and beyond. But to vary the drive a bit, we'll turn anland for Olympia (20km past Pyrgos), one of Greece's major sites, and one know the wold over.

The landscape of Olympia is the antithesis of Delphi's. No drama or vistas here; instead, its wooded hills and quiet rivers give it a feeling of peace in valley; the only rivalries were athletic contents. The origin of the Olympic Games is shrouded in myth, but their official start in 776 BC, they were held regularly every four years until 393 AD. And in our own era, the torch is lit here and from here is passed to the country where the Games are being held. Avisit to Olympia takes us back to when the Games were at their peak in the 5th century BC., a glorious time when wars stopped in observance of the Truce and the victors were content with a simple olive wreath.
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The beaches and castles Messinia

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We're now travelling through Messinia, and it seems as though those extraordinary beaches will go on for ever. Elaia, Ayiannakis, Kalo Nero point the way to recreation possibilities on the southern shores of the big gulf of Kyparissia.

A bit beyond Kalo Nero, the road divides. If you turn left, you'll have the chance to explore the interior of the district of Messinia and in another 35km take the fork that leads east to Megolopolis and Tripolis or south to Kalamata. If you decide to take the latter route, be sure to turn at Mavrommati and take a look at the fascinating ruins of ancient Messinia with their formidable 4th century fortification walls.

But we'll stick to the shore. Our next stop is Kyparissia, and we'll go straight to the harbour to see the remains of the harbour works left from antiquity. Then we'll wander up to the High City (Ano Polis) and its picturesque old houses. The town is watched over by a Franko - Byzantine castle built on top of the ancient acropolis.

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Mani, Monemvasia and Mystra

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As we leave Kalamata and skirt the east coast of the bay of Messinia, we pass the beaches near the city and then go through an idyllic lush landscape. But as we penetrate further into the Mani, the surroundings become drier, harsher and wilder; prickly pears and tumbled rocks replace citrus groves and fertile valleys. With the forbidding peaks of Taygetus at our back, we're about to get to know a more austere beauty.

Still by sea, we spy delightful little coves and beaches - serene parentheses among the sea - blasted boulders. Before long we come to Kardamyli, a picturesque village growing ever more popular with tourists. Nearby we catch  our first glimpse of the Mani's famous towers, plus the remains of a castle, some ancient walls and the Tomb of the Dioscuri before pressing southward.

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The Argolid - its ancient sites and contemporary attractions

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On the way north from Sparta, instead of talking the direct route to Tripolis, we'll turn east for Yeraki, a mini - Mystra, with its own beautifully restored Byzantine churches, crenulated walls and medieval castle. Then taking the road (not all of it paved) that winds over Mt. Patnon, we descend to Leonidion, hemmed in between its stunning red cliffs and the sea, and then wend our way up the dramatic west coast of the huge Gulf of Argos as far as Astros. All the way the beaches are stupendous, though nay all are easy to reach. Astros itself is a picturesque town, and Paralio Astros and Agios Andreas nearby are becoming popular resort areas. Continuing up the coast we meet the road which leads to Argos.

Now we're in the Argolid, one of the most important centres of Greece from the Mycenean era on. Now it's one of the areas most visited by and developed for tourists. The first site along the main road is also the oldest: Lerna, near Myli, conjuring up legends of Herakles and the Hydra. The House of the Tiles there is the largest Early Helladic building yet found. (At Myli the road forks and follows the shore to Nafplion). But we'll proceed to Argos to visit the archaeological sites in the area first. You may wish to rush past Argos's ancient agora, sanctuary of Aphrodite, and theatre, one of the three largest in Greece, but don't fail to visit the museum.

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Corinth and the Isthmus

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The road Palia Epidavros back to Corinth is one of the most beautiful cornices in Greece. Cut out of the mountainside, it passes through thick pine forests high above the Saronic Gulf; there are so many spectacular views it;s hard to keep your eyes on the road.

On our way we encounter another Epidavros, Nea (New) Epidavros, where the first National Assembly met in 1821, and beyond that the Monastery of the Virgin of Agnounda. Now we're entering the prefecture of Corinthia, and as we reach the seaside we're tempted by the beaches at Almyri and Loutra Oraias Elenis. The Istmus and Corinth are close at hand and we'll take some time off to visit the site of ancient Corinth, whose population were more famous for their business skills than for their philosophical or military expertise.

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