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When summer comes and the masses flock to Greece, the vast majority of travelers head for the islands. With the lion’s share of North American visitors, beautiful places like Santorini, Mykonos and Crete fill with sun-seekers packing the beaches and warm waters of the Aegean Sea.
But Greeks know that the best food and drink — and some of this country’s most stunning scenery — can be found on the Peloponnese peninsula. A vast, mountainous area southwest of Athens, the Peloponnese is home to historic cities, including Sparta, Ancient Olympia and Corinth. Here are some of the Peloponnese’s best spots.
Castello Antico Set on a stretch of beach with some of the finest white sand and blue water in the region, this family-owned hotel in Gytheio features a seaside pool and rooms with easy access to the water. But the property prides itself on its cuisine. Travelers can pair a glass of wine from the cellar stocked with Greek labels with local cuisine harvested from both the waters out front and the hotel’s own farm, where the owner raises his own animals, grows his own crops and tends his own vineyard — then serves it all up in the on-site restaurant.
Estate TheodorakakosLocated about 20 miles south of Sparta, the Estate Theodorakakos winery — the largest in the region and one of the most scenic spots on the peninsula — is crowned by a faux castle. Come for a tasting of its award-winning malvasia, mavroudi, assyrtiko and kidonitsa varieties, which takes place down in the cellar on a table made from a vintage door. If you’re lucky, you’ll be invited on a tour of the property — a bouncy ride in a dusty pickup truck during which you’ll see the vines spread out on rolling hills below large mountains.
Eumelia Set on a soaring plateau in Gouves, in the shadow of some of Greece’s tallest, snow-capped peaks, this 50-acre property is dotted with 1,000-year-old olive trees, as well as gardens, grapevines and fields sprouting with herbs and veggies. Eumelia is an agricultural dreamland — a place where you can harvest the soil, eat its fruits and then lay your head down nearby.
It offers a series of self-contained terra-cotta villas, designed to match the red clay on which they sit and resemble a natural outgrowth of their environment. Take a tour of the farm, do a little yoga on the platform and get your hands dirty snipping your own thyme, fennel, basil and radishes. Then, head into the main house for a Greek cooking class or a tasting of local wines.
Kourmas Not so long ago, the communities of fishermen around the blue sweep of Karavostasi Bay feared marauding pirates — you can still see the man-made caves burrowed into the surrounding cliffs that they used for refuge. And while electricity only came out this way a few decades ago, the bay is now lined with excellent hotels and restaurants, including Kourmas, which serves up octopus, Laconic shrimp and local slipper lobsters, a clawless crustacean that can be served on its own or as part of a pasta.
SagaGytheio may just be the most scenic town on the peninsula. Legend has it that Helen —once known as Helen of Sparta — met Trojan prince Paris here, fell in love and changed history. Now capital of the Mani region, one of few that never fell to the Ottomans, this seaside town is a frequent port-of-call for cruise ships, and its promenade is lined with al fresco restaurants. Saga is chief among them, as locals will tell you. One of the first restaurants established when tourism arrived on these shores, Saga still prides itself on freshness, with local fishermen delivering goods right to the door of the restaurant. Try the specialties: the grilled calamari, sardines and fish soup.