Planning a budget road trip in South Peloponnese, the land of myths and legends
By Liila & Manolis
When evaluating possible destinations for BrokeinLondon’s summer holiday 2016, it was impossible not to recall last year’s amazing road trip in Sicily. The island was such a great combination of history, natural landscapes, blue water, and great food, that it may be difficult for any other place in the world to compare. Where could we possibly find crystal clear water, scenic, natural landscapes, and delicious meals all at limited cost? Then we thought: Why don’t we travel to Greece?!
Planning our 10-day itinerary/best places to visit in Peloponnese
Given that we only had 10 days* and we really enjoy moving about and exploring, we decided to focus on a road trip around the Peloponnesian peninsula, specifically the south-eastern part, Lakonia. But where is Peloponnese? Where is Lakonia? Peloponnese is a large peninsula in southern Greece with a 3-leg shape and is separated from the central part of the country by the Gulf of Corint. Lakonia covers the 2nd and 3rd legs of Peloponnese and is very famous for it’s olives, citrus, and orange groves, as well as pastural land. Lakonia is also referred to as the “mythical Peloponnese” together with Arcadia, which are both lands of the gods, ancient civilizations, and sanctuaries.
We decided to start our holiday by exploring the area of Mani, which includes some small, picturesque towns such as Kotronas, on the coast and stunning towns at the top of mountains including Areopoli. Among other amenities and tourist attractions are the famous stalactite caves of Dirou, which we couldn’t miss. Afterwards, we planned to drive towards the 3rd leg of Peloponnese, including a stop in Gytheio, then to pass through the stunning fortress town of Monemvasia, to finally reach our final destination; the beautiful island of Elafonisos.
On our way back to Athens, we wanted to have a full immersion in Ancient Greek history by visiting the archaeological site of Mycenea, a major historical site and one of the major centres of Greek civilization in the second millennium BC.
(*Please note that our itinerary is also perfectly suitable for only 7 days in Greece)
How to get cheap flights to Greece/Peloponnese
The most convenient way to reach Peloponnese from abroad is to fly to Athens and then to drive from Athens to Peloponnese. There are other airports in Peloponnese, for example you can also fly to Kalamata, but it is definitely more expensive. To fly on a budget, have a look at the best cheap flight providers such as Momondo, Skyscanner and Cheapoair to find cheap flights to Athens starting from £ 40 return. However, keep in mind that if you want to book low cost tickets to Greece during the high season you will need to book some months in advance.
How to get cheap car rental in Greece
In Athens International Airport, you will find several options for car rental. However, if you would like to book before hand, we suggest you go through Auto Europe, which is a car hire comparison website that provides a best price guarantee. We have used Auto Europe in our previous road trip in Sicily and were super happy with the whole experience, so decided to use this method again for our road trip in Peloponnese.
How to get to Peloponnese by car
The road from Athens is particularly enjoyable because it goes through mountains (the Peloponnese mountains have several high peaks, which make this regions interesting for trekking), coasts, small villages and picturesque churches. It’s important to note that there are several routes for getting out of the Attiki area (around Athens). On one route (from Athens to southern Peloponnese), you will spend around 12 Euro in total for tolls. Google maps will give you an average of 340 km from Athens to Kotronas (our first stop), however consider that it will take longer than 3.5 hours (around 4-4.5 hours), since the road has many twists and turns.
TIP: From Athens to Sparti there are two highways, a new and an old one. We recommend to take the old one since it is faster and overall, less tolls.
Map of Peloponnese
We advice you to download the offline google map of Peloponnese, so that you are able to use it even if you don’t have 3G. You can also buy a map of Peloponnese at gas stations across Greece. However, if you like to buy a map of Peloponnese in advance, you can do so via Amazon.co.uk for around for £8.
Basic info you should know in advance
Greek currency: Euro.
Time difference: +2 hours.
Telephone codes: Calls from the UK, dial +00 30 plus the area code.
Flight time: From London, UK to Athens airport is around 3 hours.
Road signs: Mostly in Greek and English.
Speed limit: 100-120 km/ph on highways unless otherwise stated.
Emergency service telephone number: 112(General European emergency number) for information in English, French, and Greek regarding police, ambulance services, fire brigade, and coast guard. Other emergency numbers in Greece: 100 (Police), 166 (Ambulance), 199 (Fire)
Costs to consider for a road trip in Peloponnese
Air tickets to Athens: From £40 return.
Accommodation: Starting from £20 per day.
Car rental: From around £15 per day.
Car insurance: Starting from £5 per day.
Fuel: Around £1.2 (1.4 Euro) for Unleaded-Super, £1 (1.6 Euro) for diesel.
Tolls: Around 12 Euro to go from Athens to southern Peloponnese.
Food: From £6 per person, per day.
Finding the right budget accommodation in southern Peloponnese
Where to stay in Peloponnese? The best way to find the most suitable hotel/camping/B&B for you (and for your pockets) is to have a look at Booking.com and Tripadvisor and to read carefully the reviews of previous travellers. Don’t forget to have a look at the specific website of the place/s you are interested and the relative pics. On Booking.com there are regular offers and great discounts, so don’t forget to check it out. Moreover, most of the rooms offer free cancellation! You can use the Booking.com search box below to find a cheap place to stay in Peloponnese:
TIP 1: You can also have a look to find a cheap place to stay via airbnb (you can get a free £30 (€36) coupon for registering via BrokeinLondon)!
TIP 2: Another good tip for saving some money is to include some days of camping in your holiday; perhaps in between staying at two hotels. Camp sites in Greece are generally very cheap, well-organised and close to beautiful beaches. Therefore, besides saving some money you will also have a more direct contact with the nature. Nevertheless in general, Peloponnese hotels are a bit cheaper compared with the standards of other European countries, you may also decide to treat yourself by staying in a nice budget boutique hotel.
You can search for hotels and flights below:
Kotronas, Diros Caves, Areopoli
Our first destination was the southern part of the 2nd leg of Peloponnese – Mani. We found an amazing hotel in Exo Nimfion (Lalloudes), located right in front of the sea, and only 10 minutes distance from Kotronas and 20 mins from Areopoli. Hotel Lalloudes (find Lalloudes on Tripadvisor) is a perfect spot for investigating the area. It was build in the style of traditional Mani stone houses, which look sort of like small towers. The hotel has an amazing private beach with crystal-clear water, a comfortable pool with a chilling area, a bar next to the pool offering both drinks and food/snacks, and a restaurant on the sea front. Lalloudes is a family hotel, run by the lovely Manolakos: Mr Dimitri and Mrs Kaky, and their two daughters, Kelly and Lila. The hotel has 20 rooms, decorated with traditional local furniture. Some of them also have large terraces (like ours – see below), from which you can enjoy a breathtaking sea view.
There is also a small church, which was built together with the hotel, contributing to the magic environment. We tried the restaurant of the hotel on the first night. The food cooked by Mrs Kaky was excellent (and one of the best meals we had during the holiday): traditional Greek food of great quality and large portions at excellent prices. In particular, we recommend the souvlaki plate. For breakfast, Lalloudes offers a rich buffet, featuring local products: kagianias (traditional Mani omelet with pork meat, smoked with sage herbs and then boiled in water together with oranges), travichtes (fried dough), ,cheese, cereals, fruits, coffee, and juices. We really enjoyed our stay at Lalloudes, and we warmly recommend this place both for the beautiful location and for the warm hospitality of the Manolakos’.
Kotronas is famous for its beautiful beaches with sand, pebble or stone, able to satisfy every taste and the traditional architecture, which includes several churches, chapels and the traditional Mani towers. The village carries thousands of years of history and is an ideal destination for relaxation. Only a short distance by car from Kotronas, it is possible to visit many traditional small villages, for example, Flomohori, Kokkala, Nyfi, and Oitilo. All of these villages, which look as though they haven’t been touched by the modern world, will transport you back in history to an older, simpler time.
The Diros Caves are perhaps one of the most impressive natural sites in Greece. Located at the top of region between the town of Pirgos, Dirou and Areopoli the entrance is a few metres above the sea. The Diros Caves are 3 lake caves named Glyphada, Alepotripa and Kataphygi. Their temperature fluctuates from 16°C to 20°C and the temperature of the water is around 12°C. The caves cover an area of around 33,000 square meters, of which only 5,000 have been explored. Beside the fact that these caves are spectacular, the excursion is also lots of fun! It takes place on a small boat with a group of 5-6 people. A navigator will be on board to show you around, negotiating the super narrow canals. The magic of the colours and shapes created by the stalactites contribute to this unique experience of exploring a subterranean river. The cost for entering is 13 Euro or 8 Euro for concessions.
Areopoli is a tiny, cute town and is home to less than a thousand people. At a first look, you wouldn’t imagine that such romantic place was once the birthplace of the Greek Revolution. It was here that the war for independence against 350 years of Turkish occupation began, when on the 17th May, 1821 a man named Petros Mavromichalis (aka Petrobey) raised the Greek flag of war in defiance of centuries of Ottoman rule. The banner was raised under the motto “Victory or Death”. Because of this historical event, the town was renamed Areopoli after Ares, the god of war, in 1836.
Besides the historical importance of Areopoli, the beauty of this tiny village is impressive. We fell in love with its traditional, narrow streets that invite you to get lost and explore. There is lively open-air market in the main square each Saturday, with a lot of local producers present.
In the evening, go for a walk in the main road and have dinner in one of this tavernas with romantic atmosphere. In particular, we recommend one taverna called Poulos. The menu is a more elaborated and modern version of traditional Greek specialities, offering lots of interesting options for vegetarians, who unfortunately may face some difficulties due to the typically meat-based Greek cuisine. Service and prices are great. We paid less than 20 euros in total and tucked into a beetroot salad (delicious!), fried zucchini with a special yogurt sauce, ntolmadakia (grape leaves stuffed with rice), saganaki (fried Greek cheese), and -of course- a half litre of house, white Greek wine.
There is also a creperie -unfortunately it doesn’t have a name- close to the main square where we had a breakfast that was absolutely terrible. The crepes were tasteless and very expensive so don’t even think about eating there. Just remember: the creperie with no name!
- Find hotels in Areopoli
More pics from Kotronas, Diros Caves, Areopoli
We spent two days in Gytheio at the Petropoulakis Tower, a beautiful agriturismo located on top of a hill, 10 minutes by car from Gytheio. The Petropoulakis Tower (find the Petropoulakis Tower on Tripadvisor) dates back from the 17th century. In 1943, it was completely destroyed by the Germans, and later on, in 2006 the Tower and the surrounding 4 buildings were restored by Dimitris Petropoulakis, designed to be sympathetic to the traditional architecture of Mani. Now it is a hotel with 20 rooms (from 80 to 100 euro per night in high season), pool and restaurant. There is also a farm, whose products – such as a great olive oil – are served every day in the small buffet breakfast along with cheese, salami, and cakes. “We produce whatever the hotel needs”, Mr Petropoulakis told us. The first night we had a dinner at the hotel’s restaurant, which is situated at the pool area. The food was great and quite cheap, in a relaxed and romantic surrounding. Manolis had a plate of biftekia (Greek way of burgers), I had gemista (vegetables filled with rice) and we also got a xorta salad (boiled greens). Every dish was delicious!
TIP: If you plan to stay at Petropoulakis Tower, ask for a room with a view as the view is stunning!
In Gytheio we found a small fantastic bakery called Sousami (in Greek: Σουσάμι) selling local pastries at really good prices. The products were super tasty and really good quality. We tried the folia (round bread filled with egg and bacon), tiganita (a local product: fried dough, delicious with graviera cheese), spanakopita (spinach pie), and paid just 3.50 Euro in total!
For a swim, you should definitely visit Vathy. This is a nice, quiet beach (with small rocks), only 5 km away from Gytheio. The beach is covered with white sand and it’s surrounded by lush vegetation.
That night, we wanted to visit a fish restaurant, so we had a look online to find the best ones and we decided to visit Trata which was on Tripadvisor’s number one tavern in the area. Trata is a nice fish restaurant on the port of Gytheio. Customer service is excellent and makes you feel as though you are visiting a friend’s place. The menu offers traditional Greek food and has a great variety of fish, which is served fresh every day, as they have their own fishing boat. Not only the food is excellent, but also incredibly cheap. We had a xorta as starter/salad (3 euro), gemista (5 euro), mixed fried fish (12 euro), and half litre of wine (3 euro). In particular, the mixed fried fish is the real deal! The fish is so fresh and absolutely delicious; it can serve 4 people (not kidding, we had to ask for a doggy bag to bring it back home). For such a plate, you would definitely expect to pay double price anywhere else.
- Find hotels in Gytheio
More pics from Gytheio
After leaving Gytheio, we moved towards Monemvasia. The town is located on a small island made from a large sea rock, which is 300 metres wide and 100 metres above sea level. The island of Monemvasia was separated from the mainland by an earthquake in 375 AD. A fortress was entirely carved on the back side of this island in the Medieval times, in order to keep it hidden from the mainland, protecting the locals from enemy attacks. The only way to reach Monemvasia was by boat, until later on when a paved pathway was constructed to connect the castle entrance to mainland Greece. Monemvasia has stunning sea views (the one from the castle top is breathtaking) and there are many Byzantine churches from the medieval period.
The island is a living museum of Byzantine, Ottoman, and Venetian history, dating back to the 13th century. Monemvasia is one of the most impressive and romantic places in Greece. The town is actually divided in Palia Monemvasia, the Medieval town carved along the sides of a rock, and Nea Monemvasia, the modern town. Both places offer many tourist facilities, including guest-houses and boutique hotels. Most of the nearby beaches are between 2-7 km distance from the centre (Pori Monemvasias, Xifias, Pera Kakavos). However, Mandraki beach is in a walking distance, located near the port. Without leaving the town, there is also a sort-of secret access to a small rocky beach right down by the walls of Monemvasia. If you’re in for a bit of adventure, you can visit the Kastania Cave, although we didn’t have the time during our visit. Monemvasia is a picturesque place full of nice cafés and restaurants, with breathtaking sea views, as well as tourist-y shops with local products and art-crafts, so if you need to buy some original and beautiful gifts, this is definitely the right place. One thing to bear in mind however is that as is the case in every tourist spot, prices are higher, so it is not the place to find deals.
- Find hotels in Monemvasia
More pics from Monemvasia
Suggested Camping sites in South Peloponnese
At this point on our trip, we felt like going wild: it’s not possible to visit Greece and not go a proper island? That’s why we decided to jump on a boat and have a 3-day stop at the island of Elafonisos. You’d think that combining road and boat trips together was not a good idea but actually the good news is that it takes just 15 minutes to reach Elafonisos by boat. With only 12 euro, you, your travel mate, and your car can head off to the island. Although you may think that the best sea views are far from land, Elafonisos will change your mind (and if you do not believe us, check the pics!).
We now have definitive proof that Elafonisos is one of the best islands, with the best sea views, in all Greece. The beaches are covered in pale sand and combined with the blue-green water, you can see why we love this natural, uncontaminated island. However, when in need of a human contact, you can always go for a walk around the port. Here, you will find restaurants and coffee places. At Elafonisos we stayed at Simos Camping. The camping is located just 50 meters from the most beautiful beach of Elafonisos, Simos beach where the crystal-clear sea and natural sand dunes create a heavenly atmosphere. The camping also offers fully equipped bungalows, a restaurant, bar, mini market, sunbeds and umbrellas.
More pics from Elafonisos
One our way back to Athens we visited the glorious Mycenae. Situated on a rocky hill (40-50 m high) with commanding views of the surrounding plain, Mycenae covers 30,000 square metres and is home to one of the oldest civilizations in history. It is most famously known as a military power, dominating much of southern Greece. In fact, the period of Greek history from about 1600 BC to about 1100 BC is called Mycenaean in reference to this town.
When visiting Mycenae in the summer, you should consider the following points. Most of the site is of course open air (there is also a museum), and thus it is exposed to the sun; therefore, if you plan your visit between 11am to 4pm, you should remember to have a hat with you and a big bottle of water (if you forget, you can buy some right outside the ticket place; water in Greece is cheap everywhere). The site is quite big, so consider that you will need to factor in a minimum of around 2 hours, including the museum. If you are a student, remember to bring your student ID international card, because students get completely free access, which is quite a deal -considering that the ticket is around 10 euro for ordinary visitors.
#1 | Dimitrios shipwreck
When driving from Gytheio towards Monemvasia, you should definitely stop to have a look at the marvellous Dimitrios shipwreck. It is located on an easily accessible sandy beach – Valtaki – just few minutes outside of Gytheio. Dimitrios is a 67-metre cargo ship built in Denmark in 1950 (rumours say that the ship was used to smuggle cigarettes between Turkey and Italy). It has been stranded on the beach since 23rd December, 1981. Looking so unreal, it could be part of a film set, so take your time to get some good pics here!
#2 | Neda waterfalls
Peloponnese is also very famous for its beautiful waterfalls. Why not enjoy a couple of relaxing hours visiting one of these beautiful natural sites? You could visit, for example, the Neda Waterfalls, or the Lepida waterfalls, which are on the route between Sparti and Athens.
#3 | Ancient Olympia
A nice alternative destination to include in your road trip in Peloponnese is Ancient Olympia, a sacred place dedicated to Zeus, where the Olympic games used to take place. As we have already been there in the past, we decided not to stop this time. However, Olympia is one of the most well-known tourist destinations in Greece, so you may want to visit it, especially if you are flying from Kalamata airport as it is only 1 hour distance, and 4 hours from Athens.
#4 | Use the Free Road Trip Planner Furkot
You can use the free online road trip planner Furkot to map your route, schedule stops, find attractions, book hotels, share travel itineraries, map routes.
#5 | Make sure you Try traditional Greek dishes
Do a some research in advance about Greek food specialties that you absolutely want to try during your holiday in Peloponnese. Check out this great top 15 of traditional Greek food from our friends at Travelporter.com.
Images in this page © 2016 Emmanouil Zografakis.