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Especially off-season, when buses don't run as frequently as they do in summer, it's most rewarding to explore this region by car, giving you the freedom to visit the sights at leisure. You may want to rent a car at the Athens airport and drive south from there; the E94 ring road around Athens allows you to avoid the harrowing city traffic and connects with E65 south to the Peloponnese. You may want to rent a car in Patras if you are arriving on a boat from Italy or one of the Ionian islands.
Note that even if highways have assigned numbers, no Greek knows them by any other than their informal names, which usually refer to their destination. A toll highway, known simply as Ethnikos Odos, or National Road (officially E65), runs from Athens to the isthmus of Corinth (84 km [52 mi], 1¼ hours), and from there continues to Nafplion, Patras, and Olympia; have change ready, as a toll of about €2 is collected intermittently on parts of the system, including the segments between Athens and Patras and Athens and Nafplion.
The system is well maintained, but the highway between Corinth and Patras is two lanes for some of its length and can be extremely dangerous, with impatient drivers using the two lanes as four lanes. Slow-moving traffic is forced onto the shoulder. No speed limit is enforced, and the asphalt becomes very slippery when wet. The accident rate is high. For those traveling south from Corinth, the fastest route is the section of the E92 toll highway known as the Corinth–Tripoli Road; it is currently four lanes to Tripoli, then becomes a well-maintained two and three lanes to Sparta, where you can branch off to Monemvassia, the Mani, and other places in the southern Peloponnese. The trip from Corinth to Sparta takes about 3 hours.
Narrow roads cross mountainous terrain throughout the region, providing many a scenic route when not closed due to snow in winter. You'll need a good map to navigate the back roads, as well as a transliteration of the Greek alphabet—many signs on remote roads are in Greek only. Gas stations are few and far between in some places, so top off the tank when you have the chance. An alternative route from Athens to Patras is via Delphi, then crossing the gulf of Corinth on the Rion–Antirion bridge or by ferry from Antirion to Rion.
As for pure pleasure, traveling by car through the Peloponnese really delivers. Four wheels are not only the easiest way to get around the Peloponnese, they are also a chance to enjoy dramatic scenery and get to out-of-the-way spots. The very best driving routes? Some point to the mountain roads that lead to Stemnitsa and Demitsana—on this journey, you’ll encounter thick forests, stone villages clinging to steep hillsides, and brooding Frankish castles. Others tout the road from Kalamata to Mystras: this scenic route rises from the Messinia plains onto the forested flanks of the Taygettus range and the ruined city of Mystras and modern Sparta. For some, the road down the Mani peninsula can’t be beat: setting out from Gythion, the landscape becomes starker the farther south you travel (on a highway that is barely more than one lane in places) until you reach cape Tenaro, the mythical entrance to the underworld.