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The Peloponnese - When and where to visit
The Peloponnese is the last southern thrust of mainland Greece, and thus of the entire Balkans, into the waters of the Mediterranean. It looks, somewhat, like the palm of a hand with three fingers pointing down and a thumb poked out to the east. Its one connection with the rest of Europe is a thin isthmus to the northeast, in fact the original ‘Isthmus’, joining it to the continent above. Or at least it would be, had not the late 19th-century Corinth Canal separated it.
It can be useful to think of the Peloponnese as Greece’s biggest island: it has a long coastline and you are never that far from the sea, but you must also remember that two-thirds of its landmass comprises mountains. The majority of these form a central spine heading south down to the Mani, the central ‘finger’. The highest point in the region is Profitis Ilias (2,404m), which caps the Taygetos range to the south in the southern administrative region of Laconia. There are also two peaks of comparable altitude in the north, namely Helmos (2,338m) and Killini (2,374m). Snow seldom falls on the plains, but it can cover the high mountains from November to early June. The majority of the rainfall is in the winter and, owing to this, the majority of streams and rivers are seasonal. The average monthly temperatures in degrees Celsius are 10.6°C in February, 19.7°C in May, 26°C in August, and 14.8°C in November. Note that these averages hide the fact that in the summer temperatures can soar to 40°C and beyond.
Spring is one of the best times to come to the Peloponnese.The climate can be very pleasant and, although the Greeks will think you mad, you can swim from April onwards. Greek Easter is the biggest festival of the year and it’s usually possible to get involved. Above all, the mountainsides, bare and forbidding for the rest of the year, are covered with swathes of wild flowers in every colour imaginable.
Summer is for the sun worshippers. Temperatures in July and August can soar above 40°C, making anything more energetic than walking into the sea a daunting prospect. It is also the busiest time of year, and not only with foreigners. In August the entirety of Athens decamps to the beaches and accommodation can be hard to come by.
Things start to calm down again in autumn from September onwards. The sea stays warm and swimming remains pleasant into October, which marks the end of the usual ‘holiday season’ that began in April. Don’t discount coming in the winter months, however. There are often sunny and enjoyable days, even in December, and there’s also the opportunity to ski in the mountains.
With their magical combination of stone and water, the Diros caves are some of the finest in the world © Koppi2, Wikimedia Commons
The shape of the Peloponnese lends itself to a circular tour, with one or more excursions inland, but, as distances are not that great, it is also easy enough to base yourself somewhere and make excursions around.
Ancient Corinth The streets where St Paul preached can still be walked on, and the bulk of Acrocorinth above delivers on the majestic views it seems to promise.
Nafplio Easily the prettiest town on the Peloponnese, and an excellent base for exploring, it also provides a bit of culture and sophistication amongst the rural backwaters.
Epidavros The classical theatre of the ancient Greeks is something most people have an image of in their head. Epidavros is where this image steps, spectacularly, into reality. Try and catch a play here.
The rack-and-pinion railway This scenic short ride between Kalavryta and Diakopto is definitely not just for the railway buffs and, if you are not a walker, it’s your best chance to see a mountain gorge up close.
Mycenae A monumental structure of stone perched on a ridge between two mountains, Mycenae was already old at the time of the ancient Greeks.
Diros Caves For something completely different allow yourself to be punted around these extraordinary sea caves.
Mystra Many visitors are surprised by the exquisite beauty of Byzantine churches. This ghost town, in the foothills of the mountains, is full of them.
Olympia Set in a peaceful river valley, it is hard to ignore the atmosphere of Olympia, which saw the athletic games take place for more than 1,000 years.
Voidokilia There are plenty of fantastic beaches around, but this one, backed by a lagoon, is amongst the best. The postcard printers certainly seem to think so.
Monemvasia The little village that is hidden away on this ‘Greek Gibraltar’ has never seen a car. It is almost impossibly romantic.