What to See in the South of Greece

Greece’s Peloponnesian Peninsula is a land of ancient ruins, delicious food, and spectacular sunsets. It can be hard to decide what to see, especially when you only have a week or two! From Corinth to Olympia, Sparti to Kalamata, your historical tour of southern Greece is as easy as picking names from a map. If you get the chance to range further afield, charter a boat into the Aegean to visit the islands of Mykonos and Santorini.

Ημεροβίγλι, Imerovigli 847 00, Greece
We were glad we stayed in Imerovigli when we visited Santorini because it kept us away from the crowds in Oia, and gave us the chance to eat at places like Anogi. Everything about it was pleasant: the patio, the friendly, efficient service, the local wine that came it a cute little ceramic pitcher. I’d been wanting to try the island’s fresh seafood, and the roasted bream did not disappoint. We also had a delicious eggplant salad, made with local white eggplant. Even our eight-year-old liked it. Something about the place made everything good, for everyone.
On a day tour of Santorini, our guide brought us to this little shop and restaurant in Akrotiri. Well, really it’s in the middle of a field outside of Akrotiri. Anna, the owner, greeted us, and everyone, warmly, and within seconds we were presented with a platter of their homegrown, homemade treats. Jams made of fruits and tomatoes, cheeses, and, most surprising, pickled caper leaves. I didn’t even know capers had leaves, really. But they were delicious. We stayed for lunch and bought several jars of jam to bring home. Since we couldn’t bring home a sunset, it seemed like the next best way to remind us of Santorini.
Imerovigli is the little town at the highest point on Santorini. As evening approached, we didn’t want to stray far from our balcony at Langas Villas, which offered sunset views that dreams are made of. Luckily, this restaurant was right across the street. Also luckily, we went early, which meant they had room for us. Turns out people come from a lot farther away than across the street to eat at Avocado. The servers were friendly and warm. The complimentary glass of ouzo and amuse bouche of cheese was welcome. The Greek salad of local tomatoes and perfect onions was packed with flavor. The risotto was delicious. But it was the fried potatoes, sprinkled with local cheese and smoked salt, that made us make a reservation to ensure that we would dine there again before we left Santorini.
13 Agiou Gerasimou, Mykonos Town, Mykonos 846 00, Greece
Before catching the first boat to Delos, we wanted to grab some breakfast. Wandering up from the old port, we were lucky enough to stumble across this place. The cases were full of pastries of all kinds, and the friendly young baker, whose facial hair would have been the envy of the entire borough of Brooklyn, talked us through all of them. I went for one filled with a local sweetish cheese. My son went for the pain au chocolate, of course. Then we grabbed a couple of stuffed donut holes. My son lucked out and got chocolate, I got lemon. The baker could tell I wanted chocolate, so he gave me one for free. The pastry turned out to be buttery, flaky, and delicious. Now that is a breakfast of champions. I wish we’d had more mornings to spend in Myknonos if only so I could have sampled everything.
Dio-Olympos 270 65, Greece
Even the most experienced visitor of ancient ruins has to think Olympia is pretty cool. To walk beneath the arched entrance to the original Olympic stadium? How can you not take your place at the ancient starting line as if you’re about to sprint in front of thousands of cheering fans? In addition to the stadium you’ve got many more buildings, including the impressive temples to Zeus and Hera. Because we still celebrate the Olympics today, this site had more impact on me. It helped me connect the dots from the present to the past more directly. For that reason alone, I found it worth visiting. The museum is also full of treasures. The most famous is the statue of Hermes, which is beautiful, but I was also struck by the collection of small carvings of animals they’ve found at the site, votive offerings that show that Olympia had been a place of pilgrimage for centuries even before the Olympic games began.
Mystras 231 00, Greece
In a country full of beautiful historic sites, this may have been my favorite to explore. It has so much: a beautiful hilltop setting that offers views for miles; ruins that you can clamber over; restored Byzantine churches with incredible fresco work covering the walls and ceilings, and peaceful courtyards draped with bougainvillea; a working nunnery, where you might spot a nun going about her daily business; plus lots of cats. There’s an upper section, which is where you’ll find the ruins and the views. We drove up there first, and the nice woman at the ticket desk told us we should explore the upper section, then drive down to the lower, and drew out a route for us so that we could see everything. We spent about 3 hours total wandering and taking it all in. If you’re into Byzantine art, you could spend longer. And, unlike a lot of sites in Greece, the information panels are helpful and interesting, explaining different aspects of daily life in that era: who got to live inside the walls of the fort; where they got their water; burial practices. It’s a fair amount of walking, so stay hydrated, and take breaks in those peaceful courtyards. Then, if you want a spectacular drive, go from here over the mountains to Kalamata. The scenery is spectacular.
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Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
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