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Three weeks in Greece: itinerary reality check

Three weeks in Greece: itinerary reality check

Old Mar 25th, 2021, 08:27 PM
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Three weeks in Greece: itinerary reality check

I just committed, and used my e-credits to book a trip to Greece this September. It's all still changeable, but I've delayed this trip three times already & I'm hoping this time is the charm!

I planned a route that captures what are, for me, the potential highlights. My preferred travel style is slow & steady ... I don't like to rush, and I'm lazy in the mornings, but once I get moving I can walk all day. I like to wander and explore, and like to linger at sites and places that capture my imagination. My idea is to alternate driving days with full days exploring on foot.

With that, I'm wondering how this pace looks to you all:

Night time arrival
Thessaloniki - three days (not including arrival)
pick up car
Meteora - three days (day one driving, with a stop in Vergina; two days hiking between the monasteries)
Delphi - two days (stop at Thermopylae en route; one full day exploring Delphi)
Olympia - overnight
Mystras - two days
Monemvasia - two days
Nafplio - three days
drop off car
Athens - five days
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Old Mar 25th, 2021, 08:49 PM
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If they are full days (i.e. 2 days is 3 nights) sounds great to me.
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Old Mar 25th, 2021, 09:31 PM
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Originally Posted by dreamon View Post
If they are full days (i.e. 2 days is 3 nights) sounds great to me.
Third time lucky Michael, I hope this works for you. We were planning ten days in Athens over spring break this month, with a side trip to Delphi for a couple of days, now Greece is on the anvil for 2023 perhaps...
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Old Mar 25th, 2021, 10:22 PM
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Originally Posted by dreamon View Post
If they are full days (i.e. 2 days is 3 nights) sounds great to me.
I debated using days vs nights. Here I use 2 days = 2 nights. So: one day, drive to Delphi, overnight at Delphi. One full day and second night in Delphi. Etc.

I have never rented cars for a trip this long, but the consensus here seems to be that one is needed. Hence my difficulty judging what is a relaxed pace, vs what is much too slow.
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Old Mar 26th, 2021, 12:09 AM
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I agree for this kind of trip a car is essential, and you can travel at your own pace without worrying about ferry timetables, which often wipe out a whole day of usable sightseeing time. In reality though, think of two nights equalling one full day, not two. Another advantage of a road trip is you have the ability to adapt your timetable on the fly, provided you can change hotel reservations.

Your itinerary looks sensible, but don’t underestimate the time it will take travelling by road.
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Old Mar 26th, 2021, 01:59 AM
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Even if measured in nights and not days, it's still reasonable - just not as relaxed.

All these journeys are possible by public transport but it would be slower and eat into your time in each place.
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Old Mar 26th, 2021, 06:52 AM
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Looks great--I was supposed to fly into Thessaloniki and see Vergina and Meteora in 2019--sadly that did not happen, but I hope to return to Greece! If I was going to drop one place to give yourself more flexibility, it would be Monemvasia, which I did not see when I was in the Peloponnese. There is just so much near Nafplio.
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Old Mar 26th, 2021, 11:21 AM
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I preferred Monemvasia to Mystras, and if two days means two nights that's overkill for both.

I would (and did) spend more time in the north, where I enjoyed Kastoria and Ioannina, traveling by bus. My TR is seriously dated, but is here: European Spring 2006 -- Wilhelm's Words - Sun and Snow in Northern Greece.
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Old Mar 26th, 2021, 01:18 PM
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Yes, I'd agree that you can see a lot of Monemvasia and Mystras in a day each.
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Old Mar 26th, 2021, 11:55 PM
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I love travelling a lot
3 years ago I went to Greece
I'd like to visit again
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Old Mar 26th, 2021, 11:56 PM
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I'd like to take my students abroad in 2022 summer. Dou you suggest me to take my students there?
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Old Mar 27th, 2021, 07:54 PM
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Michael,

Sounds like an incredible trip! It's great to have that much time available. I think you might be able to pare some days here and there, making it possible to see some additional things, particularly in the Peloponnese, but you know the pace you like to set. So, FWIW, here are some thoughts/suggestions.

Thessalonica: I might give it 2 days, rather than 3. I visited it on my first trip to Greece in 1979 when I was 22, and while I was glad I did, it wasn’t one of the highlights. The city was devastated by a major fire in 1917, and I remember most of the ancient monuments having a battered and bereft air about them. Beyond that, I found the city crowded, noisy, and not especially attractive. The Archaeological Museum is of major importance, admittedly. The “Blue Guide to Greece” has an excellent treatment of Thessalonica.

In Meteora, the monasteries are relatively close together. You might be able to do all of the major ones in a single day, and then continue on towards Thermopylae and Delphi.

Delphi and its museum are great, but they don't take as long to see as you might think. The two 11th century Byzantine churches at Osios Loukas are only about 15 miles away and are also well worth a visit: fine mosaics and marbles. Bonus: on the way, when you turn off the main highway to Athens to head south to Dhistomo, you will be in the crossroads where Sophocles placed the fatal encounter between Oedipus and his father Laertes.



The Byzantine churches at Osios Loukas

Once you head west from Delphi for the Peloponnese, Nafpaktos has a picturesque small harbor.

When you’re driving down from Patras to Olympia, it’s worth getting off the road at Lechena and driving a few miles west to see the massive Frankish crusader castle at Chlemoutsi. It’s a reminder of the period after Constantinople fell to the Fourth Crusade in 2014, when the Byzantine Empire fractured into pieces and French nobles and Venetian admirals scrambled to sweep up the shards.

https://www.kastra.eu/castleen.php?kastro=xlemoutsi

In the museum at Olympia, look for the helmet of the Athenian general Militiades, victor over the Persians at Marathon in 490 B.C. and inscribed with his name, or the cup (likewise inscribed with his name) that apparently belonged to the sculptor Praxiteles.

About a 90 minute drive to the south of Olympia, through winding mountain roads that lead through the town of Andritsena, is the well-preserved Temple of Apollo at Bassae, in the mountains in the middle of nowhere. Remarkably enough, it has to be covered by a huge tent to protect it from being ravaged by acid rain.


The Temple of Apollo at Bassae

The southwest Peloponnese (a/k/a Messenia) is currently off your route, but if you can carve out a couple of days from other places, it has some major attractions, particularly (1) the Mycenaean “Palace of Nestor” at Pylos, which was visited by Odysseus’s son Telemachus at the beginning of the “Odyssey”; (2) the remarkable bay of Pylos/Navarino, with the offshore island of Sphacteria and a Venetian/Turkish castle at its southern end; and (3) the truly astonishing Venetian fortress at Methoni, on the southwesternmost cape of the Peloponnese.

https://www.odysseyadventures.ca/art...e02-pylos.html




Pylos and Methoni

If you can work out going to the southwest Peloponnese, that allows you to approach Sparta from the west by way of Kalamata. The drive through the Taygetus range over the Langada Pass is exceptional, but taxing with many hairpin curves. You'll see Mistra on the way down the eastern slope to Sparta.

I love Mistra, but I agree with thursdaysd: it won’t take a full day. Another memorable excursion nearby is three miles east of Sparta on the other side of the Eurotas River on the road to Yeraki: the Menelaion. This was an ancient fertility shrine associated with Helen and her Greek husband Menelaus, to which women came to offer sacrifices in hopes of having attractive children. Behind the remaining platforms of the shrine are the remains of a Mycenaean palace, presumably believed to have been that of Helen and her husband, which accounts for the location of the shrine. The view across the Eurotas valley towards the Taygetus range is sweeping. And it’s only about a twenty-minute hike from the parking area, although some of it runs across the side of a relatively steep slope.




The Menelaion, its view, and the Mycenaean palace ruins

It takes roughly 90 minutes-plus to drive from Sparta to Monemvasia, depending on your route and stops. A back road that takes you by a more northerly route passes through Geraki/Yeraki (25 miles from Sparta), which has a Frankish/Byzantine town with 15 smaller churches and chapels and a castle with cyclopean masonry crowning a razorback ridge that’s a mini version of Mistra.

Alternatively, with a two-hour drive south from Sparta through Gytheion, Areopolis, Vathia, and on to the end of the road at Porto Kayio, you could do the coastal drive through the Mani: the middle peninsula of the three in the southern Peloponnese. It would then take you about two hours to get back to Monemvasia.



The Mani (that's Porto Kayio on the bay in the distance)

Again, I agree with thursdaysd and dreamon that Monemvasia doesn’t require a full day to see the sights, but it’s a place where you also just want to soak up the atmosphere. I found it to be one of the most memorable places I have ever visited. The church at the edge of the cliff in the upper town; the sweeping views up and down the coast; the silence and end-of-the-world feeling when you are sitting atop that great rock as the end of day approaches; and the feeling of isolation and timelessness as the old town in the lee of the huge rock buttons up for the night are unforgettable. (And do stay in the old town, rather than on the mainland, of course.)

I’ll try to add some final notes and thoughts about books that might add to your trip tomorrow night.
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Old Mar 27th, 2021, 08:05 PM
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While I'm sure it's possible to visit plenty of monasteries in one day, whether it is a good idea depends on the person's stamina - and the time of year. I visited in April, which was fine, but I hate to think of climbing all those stairs in July or August, with no shade. I split my visits across two days, and was glad of the slower pace.
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Old Mar 27th, 2021, 09:30 PM
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<< My preferred travel style is slow & steady ... I don't like to rush, and I'm lazy in the mornings, but once I get moving I can walk all day. >>

I think a few posters might have missed that he isn't an early morning go getter.

Your trip sounds great to me!
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Old Mar 28th, 2021, 10:03 PM
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There's just so much to see! I'm slowly working through everyone's advice, and devouring every trip report I can find. Thanks for all the feedback. I wish I had three weeks just for the north, and three weeks just for the Peloponesse. I'm putting in some significant time in trying to learn Greek; I intend to be back.

I need to work on my timing for Mystra and Monemvasia. The drive looks from Olympia to Mystra looks like there are tons of things to see, and tons of places to stop at ... so one of the days would be taken up just by driving. I'm thinking that really exploring Mystra would involve a lot of hiking. I'm actually thinking of it as a "hiking day" with lots of cool things to see en-route. And after a long day of hiking I'm just gonna want to eat and drink and relax. Though also, it doesn't look like it's really a full-day hike?

dreamon , yorkshire , et al - Monemvasia looks super cool, but it does sound like one day and one over-night might be enough. I'll just make sure that I have a short driving day before I arrive.

jeffergray ay , you're killing me with those pictures! It looks so beautiful. And I'm currently listening to the Odyssey audiobook, which is fantastic - it's a whole different experience than reading it. I already binged the Illiad and Ovid's Metamporphoses (he was Roman, but the stories are all set in Greece, and the newest translation is fantastic). Any site from the books is going to grab my attention.

thursdaysd - your blog was one of the ones I used to plan part of this! I know I'm missing a lot in the north, and it was a real struggle debating between just focusing on the north or including the Peloponesse.

joannyc - I don't get moving without lots of coffee! I admire those travelers who can wake up & be ready to roar. I'm not one of them.

Heimdall - I'm a slow driver ... I don't even own a car. I take the times on google maps & double them!

I'll be tweaking things a lot before I commit to any reservations. Now I'm thinking if I shave a day off Saloniki, and one overnight from either Monemvasia or Mystras, I could add two nights somewhere else and do much shorter driving days. It'll be fun planning the route.


Last edited by michael_cain_77398; Mar 28th, 2021 at 10:41 PM.
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Old Mar 29th, 2021, 01:58 AM
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Addendum: Maybe I can have it all ...

I really only have four days that I'm unsure of, and if I treat it as a road-trip then this might work.

1 Delphi to Olympia
2: Olympia > Methoni (or somewhere nearby)
3: Methoni > Messini > Aeropoli (or somewhere in the Mani)
4: Aeropoli > Monemvasia
5: Monemvasia > Mystras

6: Mystras to Naflplio (three nights in Nafplio)



Last edited by michael_cain_77398; Mar 29th, 2021 at 02:06 AM.
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Old Apr 24th, 2021, 04:51 PM
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Your Peloponnesian Itinerary

michael,

Sorry it has taken me so long to respond to your post with the suggested Peloponnesian itinerary above -- I had a really intense period at work.

But I think what you've outlined above sounds generally workable. Some thoughts.

1. Delphi to the Olympia archaeological site: According to Google maps, the route along the coast through Lechaina and the castle of Chlemoutsi is 162 miles and 3.75 hours. Depending on when you leave Delphi, even with short stops at Nafpaktos to see the harbor there and a look at the castles guarding the straits at Rion, plus the visit to Chlemoutsi, you might still get to Olympia in time to do some touring before the end of the day.

2. Olympia to Pylos and Methoni: If you do the straight drive along the coast, Google Maps indicates this is all of 72 miles and about a two-hour drive. Under those circumstances, you could easily visit Nestor’s Palace, tour Pylos’s Venetian-Turkish castle and mosque, and tour Methoni’s fortress in that same day. Pylos would have a greater range of hotel and restaurant offerings, but Methoni does have a largish (by Greek standards: maybe 80 room) hotel that I think is run by Greece’s national tourist authority that looks across a beach and a bay to the Venetian fortress.

Pylos has had two big archaeological discoveries within just the past several years, as the links to the New York Times and Smithsonian magazine articles below indicate: the discovery of the tomb of a warrior and also two tholos (beehive-domed) tombs dating back as far as 1500 B.C. The former (a shaft grave) was intact; both of the latter were looted in antiquity, but from gold flakes found inside, the archaeologists believe that the interiors were once lined with thin sheets of gold, creating a dazzling effect by candlelight.

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/histo...ion-180961441/

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/17/s...nt-greece.html

If you go by the Temple of Apollo at Bassae, that’s 110 miles, but fully four hours of driving, and the mountainous parts before you get back to the coast road could be pretty stressful – often narrow, very winding, some significant unprotected drops. For someone who’s not a regular driver, probably not your thing.

3: Methoni > Messini > Aeropoli (or somewhere in the Mani): Methoni’s fortress is unforgettable. The story of its fall to the Turks in 1500 is tragic and unforgettable.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Methoni,_Messenia

Here are some good pictures of Methoni from a Greek language website:

https://methoni-castle.gr/

Together with Koroni, on the eastern side of this, the westernmost of the three southern peninsulas of the Peloponnese, it was known as “the Two Eyes of Venice,” because these were perfect vantage points for looking out for enemy fleets attempting to approach the entrance to the Adriatic Sea. Koroni offers another imposing Venetian fortress, and the wrought iron balconies in the town are charming. It’s a pretty easy drive along the south side of the peninsula east from Methoni.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Koroni

https://www.kastra.eu/castleen.php?kastro=koroni


The massive walls of the 4th century BC Greek fortress at Messene are a perhaps 15-20 miles north of your route as you are approaching Kalamata, but may bear considering for a visit as well. Google maps indicated that Methoni-Koroni-Messini and Areopoli is about 100 miles, but 3-1/2 hours of driving time. The alternative is to take the main and much faster road from Pylos through to Kalamata.


On the way down the coast from Kalamata to Areopolis, the house of the British writer Patrick Leigh Fermor has recently been opened to the public.

https://www.davestravelpages.com/pat...i-mani-greece/

There are also good caves at Pyrgos Dirou, just north of Areopolis, which you tour by boat.

4: Aeropoli > Monemvasia

Back in 1996, my wife and I stayed in a Greek National Tourist Office property in a tower house in Areopolis. It was OK, but I remember being more interested in another hotel where we went for dinner that was perhaps 10-12 miles further south (maybe at Mezapos?), near the southern end of the bay that is partly sealed off by the Tigani peninsula on its western side, which is shaped like a frying pan (narrow handle, bulbous head). You can walk from this hotel out to the peninsula, which is marked by the walls of what was either a fortified Byzantine town or possibly the French crusader castle known as Le Grande Magne.


Further south along the Mani coastal route, the largely deserted village of Vathia was also being redeveloped into tourist accommodations when we were there.

But you’re a hiker, and the ultimate hike here is from where the road ends at Porto Kayio (“the Port of Quails”). Cape Matapan (the ancient Tainaron), the end of the middle peninsula of the Peloponnese, was believed to be the location of one of the entrances to Hades in ancient times. It was also the site of another famous temple of Poseidon (see, e.g., Sounion near Athens). And during classical and Hellenistic times, the temple there was a prime marketplace for hiring mercenaries.

https://greeceinsiders.travel/cape-tainaron/

https://olympusmountaineering.com/20...mily-friendly/

https://www.davestravelpages.com/cap...eway-to-hades/

Thus, Areopoli - Porto Kayio/Taenaron - Monemvasia is worth doing if your schedule permits (especially the drive to Porto Kayio, even if you don’t have time for the hike to Taenaron). Areopoli - Porto Kayio is 27 miles, but the winding road makes it about a 70 minute drive, per Google maps.

5: Monemvasia > Mystras

I posted earlier about Monemvasia, Geraki, and Mistra/Sparta.

6: Mystras to Naflplio (three nights in Nafplio)

On your drive from Sparta to Nafpoli, when you reach the Gulf of Argos west of Tripolis, there is a remarkable site just off the road at Myloi/Miloi called Lerna, or the “House of the Tiles.” It dates back to only about 2500-2300 B.C. This, by the way, is where Hercules supposedly killed the Hydra.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lerna

Argos, which you will pass on the way in to Nafpolio also has a romantic French crusader castle that is built atop the far larger stones of the classical citadel. A road leads right up to it, so it’s a fast visit.

https://www.kastra.eu/castleen.php?kastro=argos

Nafplio is such a great base, as you already recognize. The town itself has great character; don’t miss the suit of Bronze Age Mycenaean armor in the town museum. The Palamidi fortress overtopping the town commands amazing views across the bay to the Argolid plain. The Mycenaean fortress of Tiryns, which you will pass on the left just before reaching Nafplio, is also well worth a stop; the walls and the size of the boulders they contain are amazing. Some ancient sources depict it as the home of Hercules (like, who else could have moved those rocks?). The theater at Epidauros is remarkable.


Above: Tiryns

I’m not clear on whether you planned to turn in your car at Nafplio and maybe take a bus back to Athens, or whether you were going to finish the drive yourself and turn in your rental car at Athens itself. If the latter, certainly consider stopping by Mycenae and ancient Corinth. And if you can make the time for it, the massive mountain of Acrocorinth, which rises up abruptly to the south of the ancient city, is one of the most remarkable places in Greece, in my book. Again, there are Byzantine and Venetian walls built atop classical remains; the tower of a Frankish castle; and a dazzling view of the northeastern Peloponnese and the isthmus of Corinth from its highest summit.

https://www.kastra.eu/castleen.php?kastro=acrocorinth

Finally, if you are driving all the way into Athens, since you have an interest in Byzantine things, there is an important Byzantine church – the Monastery of Daphni or Dafni – on the right side of the highway just as you complete the climb up from the Bay of Eleusis. It is surrounded by high battlemented walls and is famous for the central dome mosaic image of Christ Pantocrator.

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Old Apr 24th, 2021, 09:54 PM
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Ancient Messene is a huge archaeological site, and well worth the short detour.

Last edited by Heimdall; Apr 24th, 2021 at 10:09 PM.
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Old Apr 25th, 2021, 01:47 PM
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Jeffergray - that helped immensely. Thank you so much! I think I'm close to having a final set of plans, based on this & recommendations I see on the French-language sites. Interestingly, the French recommend the same set of sites, but different places to overnight.

I don't think I'll have time to visit the Mani this round, without feeling rushed. But this one feels right:

Monday: Drive Galaxidi to Chlemoutsi to Olympia. Spending the previous nights in Galaxidi rather than Delphi gives me a bit more time, and I figure I can at least visit the museum the first night in Olympia, if not the archaeological site also.

Tuesday: Olympia in the morning (if I haven't had my fill); drive along the coast to Nestor's Palace, Pylos, and Methoni. Overnight Methoni or Pylos.

Wednesday: Drive Methoni to Messene. Messene wasn't on my radar before, but everything I read makes me think it needs to be proper destination. The clincher for me was reading that it was designed by Hippodamus, the "father of modern urban planning." My degree is in Urban Planning - so I can't miss that! A lot of the French sites recommend spending the night in the area, but I think I'll drive on to Mystras for the night.

Thursday: Full day Mystras. I know it won't take a full day, but the village looks nice, and I'd like to not feel pressured to see it & then drive on.

Friday: Drive to Monemvasia, possibly via Geraki. Overnight in Monemvasia. If I arrive before lunch that should give me plenty of time to explore it.

Saturday-Monday: Nafplio

Tuesday: Drive Nafplio to Mycenae to Acrocorinth. Overnight near ancient Corinth. I know this isn't a "great" overnight, but it looks like there are nice places near the ruins, and like with other sites I'll be able to take my time to explore.

Wednesday: On to Athens. Since I'll be leaving from Corinth I should have time to stop and explore en route.
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Old Apr 25th, 2021, 04:36 PM
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Glad to be of service, Michael. Your current itinerary sounds very reasonable. Enjoy!

While the Mani is worth a day or two if you have the time, in a country with the attractions of Athens, Thessalonica, Meteora, Delphi, Olympia, Mistra, Monemvasia, and Nafplio, let's face it -- the Mani is definitely farther down the list. I didn't get there until my third visit to Greece, and my second to the Peloponnese.

[However, in case anyone else reads these posts and plans to visit the Mani, let me add one correction -- the road to Cape Matapan now goes significantly south of Porto Kayio -- and one addition -- the hotel/restaurant I was trying to remember south of Areopolis appears to be the one now known as the Ippola Boutique Hotel.]

Messene is well worth visiting, and has another remarkable story behind it. As you may have already discovered, the Messenians were Greece's equivalent of the "captive nations" of eastern Europe, or the native peoples of South Africa -- but they remained under the Spartans' thumb for close to three hundred years (c. 670-370), although not without a lot of revolts along the way. Actually, Nafpaktos, which you'll pass on the way from Delphi to the straits at Rion, was the site of a colony of exiled/escaped Messenians that the Athenians planted there to help keep an eye on the Corinthians, who were Sparta's major ally.

I think Hippodamus may also have designed the city plan of Priene, along Turkey's Aegean coast, in case you ever find yourself there.

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