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Sept 2019 1st -17th: Peloponnese

Hi Everyone,

I apologize in advance for this long post.

I need help with a workable itinerary. I thought I knew where to start, but I am underestimating time and distance for this trip from the more I read the forums and other travel sites. I have decided that for my time allotted, that I should stay in the Peloponnese area as that is where the majority of what I would like to see is at.

This is my first big trip over seas and vacation in general. My son will be 17 almost 18 yrs old. (I will be 53 yrs old ) So we have to go in Sept before his college starts. I figured we can fly out Aug 31st and fly home Sept 17th or 18th. I am one of those "The fly by the seat of my pants, and just roll with it type of person." My son has to have everything planned out type. And I would really like to research the history of the places to make it more meaningful for me.

Hence I really need help. (I did buy the RS Athens and the Peloponnese guide book.)

I will be renting a car. I do not want to go to any of the islands on this trip. We also do not need nightlife or a party atmosphere as he is not old enough. For Hotels, we are not the luxury type. He just needs his wifi and AC.

I do want to end up in Delphi at some point. I do not need to go to the Meteora Monastery. It just seems to far out of the way. But then going to a really old church or 2 would be interesting. My son wants to go to Sparta and the Olympics. Athens is a given and I would like to be there for 4 or 5 days from what other people have said. I just am not sure how to plan it all or which towns to stay in etc.

I really just want this trip to be full of great memories and also a big adventure for us both as this will probably be our last vacation together, reality wise. Our travel life was visiting family everywhere else and lots of day trips.

Any and all suggestions is greatly appreciated. :)

Posted by
2513 posts

Suzanne --

NEVER Apologize for a long post! The people who SHOULD apologize are those who ask for help and don't say where they are coming from, not even what part of the world, or how long their trip is, how many people etc etc. They wait until we work out complete scenarios, and then say "o I forgot to say, we only have 7 days and there are 6 of us and we don't drive" Grrr.

it's too late in the evening now, but will get back to you tomorrow. It would help to know when your flight lands on 8/31 and what time your departure is ... and you do realize that it is VERY late in the day to be getting reservations in early Sept, which really in some places is still High Season. ALso will help what your budget range is for Athens hotel.. that should be the last 4 days.

Posted by
4533 posts

We toured the Peloponnese for 2 weeks this past April, at Easter time, using Rick's guidebook for a lot of the planning and execution of the trip. We landed in Athens near sunset and caught a taxi to Peri's Hotel, getting dinner delivered to the hotel and eating it in our room, at the hotel's suggestion. We were leaving the next morning for Hydra and then the Peloponnese, and would be wrapping up the trip with a few days in Athens at the end.

Early the next morning, we headed to the port at Piraeus, only to find that our early ferry to Hydra (our only island) had been canceled due to rough seas. We hung around to see if the waters would be calm enough for the next ferry in 2 hours, but it didn't go, either, so we got a refund and used it on a long taxi ride, shared with another couple to a port closer to Hydra. Seat-of-the-pants flexibility helped this time, and we got to Hydra for 2 nights.

Ferrying from Hydra to Ermioni, we picked up a rental car (Pop's Car Rental, price OK and convenient location but slow checkout process and the GPS unit was broken so we had to hunt in town for a workable road map of Greece), and headed for Napflio, visiting the ancient theater with the fabulous accoustics, plus the remains of the healing center at Epidavros along the way. Staying at Pension Marianna in Napflio is highly recommended! We visited the ancient site of Mycenae from there one day, and were almost the only people at Nemea, with a fascinating small museum and great temple ruins. We were all by ourselves at the nearby Olympia-type Nemea sports arena with its unique entrance tunnel, which had over-2000-year-old athlete graffiti scratched into its walls.

Sparta was on the agenda but we found it to be a modern city in an ancient location, but did visit the nearby monastery/cathedral site at Mystras, then moved on to Monemvasia for a night on The Rock, dining outside with lots of cats eyeing us.

We'd booked our room for visiting the Mani Peninsula in Aeropoli (although Kardamyli, farther north up the coast is Rick Steves' pick of towns), and had 2 nights and 2+ days there, driving up and down that sparsely-populated but very scenic peninsula. Just south of Aeropoli were the flooded Pyrgos Dirou caves, which you visit by guided boat and on foot. I think we were the only non-Greeks there that day.

On the way to our night in Kalamata (wish we'd have had more time there), we drove up to Agia Sophia, and visited its very old Greek Orthodox church, plus a couple tiny churches, in the rain.

We had a big Easter lunch on the way to Olympia. Definitely hire Rick's recommended guide, Nikki, for the Olympia site, and go as early in the day as possible, before the crowds descend on the place. See the site outside first, then linger in the museum. We then headed towards Delphi, but because a room wasn't available in Delphi that night, we booked a spur-of-the-moment night at the superb, mother-and-daughter-run Archontiko Art Hotel in Galaxidi. With more time, we would've stayed another night or two. We'd booked a night in Delphi before leaving the US, but the small town was full of noisy students and it was tough getting to sleep that next night, but it was convenient, with the very worthwhile ancient site just down the road from the town.

We turned on our rental car at the Pop's location outside Athens, and took the train into the city. So we didn't do one-night-stands everywhere, but were pretty much on the move, in a clockwise direction, starting and ending in Athens. On the road, watch for oncoming drivers, who don't necessarily stay on their side of the road, especially on curves! Most people's turn signals must not work, either. In Athens, keep a close eye on your purse/bags on the Metro subway. You'll get a new appreciation for, and never view yogurt, olive oil, or oregano quite the same way, ever again.

Posted by
786 posts

I am just going to basically reinforce Cyn's excellent post.
It might not be a good idea to rent a car and drive immediately after a transatlantic flight. If you get in to Athens in the afternoon you might just want to stay at Peris hotel which offers shuttle service. Return to the airport to rent the car. Our flight arrived at 9:30 am so we drank a lot of coffee at breakfast on the flight. More coffee at the airport then met the car rental company Athens Car Rental ACR. They meet you at arrivals take you to the car in the parking lot do the paperwork take your credit card info and walk you through and around the car and away you go. They are a local company and they work hard for your business.
The National road to Corinth is a very good highway and has a couple of rest stops service centers. Drank more coffee. Finished the two hour drive in Nafplio parked the car in a free parking lot and left it there for a full day before we were ready to explore the area. You can easily spend 3 or 4 days in Nafplio enjoying the lovely city with its fortresses and the ancient sites in the surrounding area. Also included ancient Nemia and Ancient Corinth.

The Peloponnese can easily be done in a circular route. From Naflio drive to Sparti, Sparta no longer exists. Drive another 5km and visit Mystras. It was the last city of Byzantium and has several cathedrals in good shape spread out over a mountainside. This is an excellent site and needs at least 4 hours. Bring water. Later head south and east and spend the night in Monemvassia. Imagine sleeping in a village in a period room in a 14th century village surrounded by city walls.

From there head west to the Mani a unique area full of tower houses. It takes at least a day to drive around the Mani. I think next time we will stop half way and stay the night so we don't have to rush to finish the trip. With any luck you might find a tower house converted into a bed and breakfast.

Continue west to the area around Pylos. There are 4 Venetian era fortresses in this area including at Methoni and Koronos. Continue north to Olympia then up to the National highway and cross the gulf at Patras. Arrive Delphi in the late afternoon and visit the museum. Enjoy the views sweeping down the mountainside and spend the night there, Next morning get to the site at opening and yo will have it virtually all to yourselves for at least two hours before the tour buses arrive. If you still have a couple of days it is certainly worth the time to head north to Meteora. This area doesn't have a monastery it has several Monasteries all perched high up in the mountains. If you have time you will not regret making the effort to get there. Leave and drive to Athens airport and drop off the car.
Here is what your trip will be like.
Olympia Delphi Meteora
Peloponnese Battle Castles
Nafplio and Peloponnese

Posted by
786 posts

I just noticed you are from Bellingham. We live due north from you and I can assure you you will be really Jet lagged going that far. From the west coast it can take a full 24 hours to get to Athens. Wait a day before renting the car.
Athens really needs a minimum of 3 days you might find 5 days a bit long as the important sites are all clustered in a small area.

Posted by
2513 posts

Whew... I was too busy to reply early this AM thank heavens, because my tag-team partner Stanbr did all the work! my small tweaks to what he & Cyn didn’t include (mainly because R Steves has a word limit!!):

  • FLIGHTS - u either have to go to Vancouver or Seattle and the FORMER has much shorter flights AND apparently costs less as well! There’s a Swissair that goes Aug 31 late-day, 1 stop, arrives ATH at 8:15 pm — 17hrs travel (+9 hrs clock-change) vs about 23-24 hrs from Seattle & I can Assure u Swissair OR AirCanada will have more comfortable economy seats than TortureChairs of AA, Delta etc!!! To stay o-nite there’s another nearby hotel w free shuttle, -- that has restaurant. NOTE: if u have return options, try not to book a departure before about 9 am; u have to be in line 2 hrs ahead, it takes 60 mins from Central ATH to airport (€38 flat-fee taxi) & who wants to get up before 5 am, after one’s last night in Athens!

  • CAR - Great Stanbr Recommend! If u need automatic, book NOW; supplies limited. Another MUST: stop by AAA for 20 mins to get Intl. Driving Permit ($25). If both will drive, BOTH need. Also— don’t rely on just GPS; buy Pelops map Airport newsstand; GPS can lead u astray unless navigator can crosscheck paper map. Also use on yr smartphone.

  • EN ROUTE - IF u start 9 AM, rested, no need to zip straight to Nafplio; u can exit big hiway @Isthmus to see/photo Corinth Canal (30 mins) & then exit 15 Km or so, 5 K N to Ancient Nemea (60-90 mins) -THEN go under big hiway S to Nafplio by 1 pm. Saves backtracking to see these. 

  • NAFPLIO - Alternate ruins with Beach time! the sea in Sept is DIVINE! Tolo beach is popular but check tiny cove near ASINE ruins. This fab map--
 -- shows ALL roads, Athens & all around Pelops, including terrain. Viamichelin estimates drive time... add on to it, as a "newbie."
  • REST of the WEST - my only tweak would be, if short on days, skip Mani, or just give it a day. Just N. of Pylos, stay 2 nites at my Hidden Gem, (NOT a resort, a nice family-run place not pricey). Great base to explore those castles and MOSt pristine beach ever. 

  • HOTELS - As soon as u have yr flight, seek Hotels in ATHENS & NAFPLIO - you’re late in bookings & Nafplio is busy on weekends. Check booking. com, plug in dates, when list comes up, immediately click “Map View” in upper RH Corne and you see ALL available hotels. This helps you book in Old CIty Nafplio not “new town" & in Athens find places near Acropolis. This “tinyurl” for - -- helps u “Zero in” on best-situated Athens Places. Good luck! PS: In delphi, if available, budget Hotel PAN has great views from rooms at back, looking down mountain to sea.

• AN ISLAND -- back in Athens, if u crave quickie Island experience & it's a sunny day, take Green Line Metro to Pireaus, get a Conventional Open-deck (NOT hydrofoil) ferry to AEGINA. Sit on deck for 60-minute "mini-cruise" enjoying view of big ships, little sailboats, yachts, a dolphin? Rent a car, see a ruined temple, hit a beach - and catch a sunset ferry home. This album - -- is a step-by-step preview of what you'll see.... you'll see the sea!

Posted by
6322 posts

The Peloponnesean Peninsula is an amazing place to visit! If you find you are having trouble finding hotels with rooms for your dates, use an Athens based travel agency like Fantasy Travel or Dophin-Hellas. We used a different agent/agency who has retired but they got us reservations and car at the last minute. Greece is very mountainous so be aware that it may take longer to drive certain distances than you think it will take.
In Dephi, get a hotel with views of the mountain valleys that stretch all the way to the sea, beautiful views. Best views of our trip were in our cheapest hotel! We stayed overnight in Sparti for Mystras. The hotel staff was so extra welcoming as they do not see many Americans. And by using a Greek agency, we were usually the only Americans everywhere we stayed.
Napflion is one of my favorite travel destinations. You can drive down the point of land to take a water taxi over to nearby island of Spetses for the day.

Posted by
1603 posts

I do want to end up in Delphi at some point. I do not need to go to the Meteora Monastery. It just seems to far out of the way. But then going to a really old church or 2 would be interesting.

So I'd suggest to visit nearby Hosios Loukas, a monastery with a splendid Middle Byzantine church of the early 11th century (UNESCO World Heritage site).

Posted by
4533 posts

We didn't venture up to Meteora, but I believe I understood that at least some of those monasteries are only accessible to males, so Suzanne might make the journey, only to be turned away? Or are there some places accessible to both sexes?

Posted by
786 posts

Sorry Cyn that is not the case. Ladies are welcome at all the Monasteries but need to have modest clothing. No bare legs or shoulders. Additional complimentary garment are available at the ticket office for non conforming ladies.

Posted by
2 posts

Hi Everyone,
Thank you so much for your replies. I really do appreciate it.

Stanbr, thank you so much for the pics. My son was amazed what the trip will actually be like and made it a bit more real. That is impressive. I feel much better about our trip now and if we do not go to so many places, it is going to be amazing no matter what. And also for the reminder on the how much the flight is going to hit us from the time and distance. I was actually wondering about that. And i will take your suggestion to go see Meteora if we end up having time. Oh an my son said we have to stay in a tower house. It's on the list.

Janet, Thank you so for all of your recommendations. I really appreciate it. I will book the flight out of Vancouver, it really is much closer than Seattle. And which airlines to choose. I also loved all of your pictures. Thank you for the reminder we have room for a random island trip.

Cyn, Your trip sounded like it was a good trip. I would not have thought about hiring a tour person at a site That is now on my list. Along with all the other places you recommended. And that 2,000 yr old graffiti, we will make sure we stop by there and see it as well. That is the wow that they did that, and that it is still there.

Suki, Thank you for the idea for using a local travel agency in Greece. I may do that once I book my flight, it sounds much easier than finding one every night.

sta019: Thank you for the suggestion. That is now on our list of places to go to. My son is amazed how churches were build way back when compared to a modern church. It made me smile. And the fact that there is a crypt and you can go there. I was hoping that they are not the bone crypts etc of like Italy an France, those Patrick wants to go see, and me not so much. and a Unesco site as well to mark off.

I really do feel much better about this trip now and glad that I asked. I really do need to plan this trip out even if I am not a person who plans things out. Can you tell I have never actually traveled traveled... I have only been to Teotihuacan, Mexico a few years ago, but that was a group trip staying in one place and only going to the pyramids as it was a trip specifically for that.

Posted by
2513 posts

Suzanne, we all are happy if our suggestions make the prospect less daunting for you. Fortunately, you have plenty of time to fill in the details... and even to look at some more books besides the R Steves one. check out the library for ROUGH GUIDE to GREECE, and Cadogan Guide to Peloponnese (latter is i think not updated since 2010 or so, but just read it for the insights not provided in the Steves necessarily more-surface approach... AND the enjoyable prose style. Once you get into this, assign your son to find the best you-tube clips of your destinations... there are bad & good & he'll learn to discern. The website for Nemea is really nifty -- no surprise, since it'$$ done by UC Berkeley ALso the website for Nafplio is superb AND noncommercial (done by a Scandinavian expat who lives there) ... if you click on every link, you'll really go down the rabbit hole for hours! So much to see/do/explore. I've never met a young person who didn't like that area... and it brings out the curiosity in all of us.

Posted by
1253 posts

And watch the videos on Greece by rick Steves. They are available on u-tube. We also bought dvds from amazon from a National Geographic special on Greece. The third one on classical Greece is simply superb. We watched it first when our twenty something children were visiting.

The nice thing about videos is it is something you can do together.


Posted by
786 posts

If you plan to fly from Vancouver you probably will fly to either Toronto or Montreal and catch a connecting Air Canada Rouge flight. That flight goes direct to Athens and arrives in the morning. We are taking that route on Wed this week. Rouge is a specialty leisure airline and they do pack people in however they also have what I call a faux business class cabin, with wider more comfortable seats, leg room and lots of good food on china with wine served in wine glasses and complimentary drinks. Unfortunately the seats are not fully inclined so its still a long way across the Atlantic.
Last time we flew half the people in this cabin were from all over the US. They were taking advantage of the low value of the Canadiuan dollar.