The Peloponnese is a region rife with interesting sights – crumbling ancient cities, pretty cobbled villages and some of the best beaches in the Med. But don't confine yourself to just the tourist trail, as there is plenty to be seen if you veer off the beaten track. Here are just a few recommendations: some of these places are better known than others, but all of them have a sense of discovery about them. You might find yourself the only visitor, even in midsummer.
The ruins of Messene are more extensive than both Olympia and Old Corinth © elgreko, Shutterstock
Ancient Messene is a hidden gem, a set of ruins more extensive than both Olympia and Old Corinth, but not as plagued by the crowds that flock to these other great Classical sites. For much of the year you might find yourself alone among the ruins, a real treat for anyone exploring this well-kept secret of the Peloponnese. The best way to approach Messene is the old-fashioned way, through the gates in its magnificent walls. You then enter the ancient site down a road just past the museum building on the western edge of Mavromati and emerge just above its large theatre. From this vantage point you can see down to some, but certainly not all, of what awaits: the ruins of an entire city.
This beautiful series of pools and waterfalls offer a different swimming experience from the sea © Nick Pavlakis, Shutterstock
The Polilimnio, or ‘Many Lakes’, used to be a bit of a local secret, but they are being increasingly recognised as an attraction. Out of season you may well find yourself alone here. The lakes, varying in size from bathtub-sized pools upwards, are formed by the River Kalorema (‘Beautiful Stream’) as it tumbles down a hidden gorge in a series of small waterfalls.
Geraki, although smaller than Mystra, also has beautiful churches and stupendous views © Ziegler175, Wikimedia Commons
Easily but unfairly dismissed as the poorer, smaller sister of Mystra and Monemvasia, the Byzantine hillside town of Geraki, topped by a Frankish castle, seems to have been rather forgotten by the rest of the world, overshadowed by its flashy siblings. The site itself is a gem, housing the third-most important Byzantine relicts in Laconia. Anywhere else this would be a premier site. If you have time, pop in and pay the nearby village a visit; they’ll be delighted and it is well worth the effort.
The local octopus catch is left out in the sun to dry © www.traveljunctioninc.com
The little harbour of Gerolimenas comes as a welcome oasis in the barren land of the Mesa Mani. Lying below the great bluff of Cavo Grosso, it offers a row of tavernas and cafés by a pleasant pebble beach, along with some surprisingly swanky hotels. This little Greek fishing village has more charm than most, and several of the tavernas will cook the local catch to perfection.
Prodromou is the most visually stunning of the monasteries in Lousios Gorge © Nick Pavlakis, Shutterstock
This is the most dramatic of the monasteries of the Lousios Gorge, which is itself the most beautiful corner of the evocative region of Arcadia. The monastery is visually stunning, with its stone buildings and ramshackle wooden balconies seeming to hang precariously from the overhanging cliffside. It is dedicated to John the Baptist; Prodromou literally means the ‘Forerunner’, meaning the one who came before Jesus. Starting in the beautiful village of Stemnitsa, you can take a lovely path down to this site.
The lesser-known village of Kyparissia looks like a sleepy corner of one of the islands © Roman Klementschitz, Wikimedia Commons
Getting here is half the fun, as the village is at the dead end of a long and stunning cliffside road. Once there it looks like a sleepy corner of one of the islands, and the beaches are superb. The old town, up the hill towards the castle, has much to offer. The castle itself is a mishmash of Byzantine, Frankish and Turkish remains and is a little scruffy, but the views are exquisite, especially at sunset.
For more insider’s tips and local recommendations, check out our guide to the Peloponnese: