There are many reasons why Laconia is a wonderful destination for holidays in Greece. It is not only that I have found so many amazing hotels in Laconia, it simply is a fascinating area in general. It includes the middle and eastern ‘fingers’ of the southern Peloponnese, as well as the western slopes of the Taygetos Mountain range and the area around Sparta.
The Inner Mani
The inner Mani is the rugged ‘middle finger’ of the Peloponnese. Its landscape comes across as stark and forbidding, but the spectacular coastlines and barren mountain ranges, dotted with small clusters of fort-like tower-houses, will impress and charm you. Mani was the only part of mainland Greece that until the 18th century resisted Ottoman rule. Maniates, men and women alike, have always been known for their stubborn character and fiercely independent spirit. Some hair-raising stories exist not only about their ferocious battles against the Ottoman rulers, but also about bloody family feuds.
The inner Mani is an area to simply take in, rather than to run around touring site to site. Wandering around its many stone tower villages is a great experience (Vathia is a must). Close to the main (village-sized) town, Aeropoli, the caves of Pirgos Dirou are among the best known in Greece and definitely worth a visit, as is the town itself. Go for a swim in the beautiful Limeni bay to its north, and have a meal by the water. Further south is Gerolimenas, a tiny and charming port, not striking in terms of architecture (except for Hotel Kyrimai) but a magical spot nevertheless.
On the east coast you should make a stop at the little seaside town of Gythio, which has a good choice of fish restaurants by the water. The drive down the coastal road is beautiful, and you will come across several good beaches, some with sand, others with pebbles.
There are some nice coves and beaches all the way south, though you should keep in mind that this intriguing peninsula is not the place for beach bums, but for those who like to walk, explore and discover in peace and quiet. Spring is the best time of the year for this, and is indeed more of a ‘high season’ than the summer.
On the ‘eastern finger’ of the Peloponnese, the castle city of Monemvasia is a must-see. Built beneath the remains of the 6th century castle, on the side of a large rock rising steeply from the sea, the Byzantine/Venetian/Ottoman fortified city (the kastro, now a small community) is absolutely captivating. Shops are few and either endearingly old fashioned or arty and tastefully done. There are a handful of restaurants and cafés, all small and cute, and several charming hotels. And, most importantly, there is not a single architectural faux pas. The Kastro is under strict archaeological protection and the only type of construction allowed is restoration.
Another highlight just off the coast on the other side of the ‘eastern finger’ is Elafonissos, a small island famous for its beautiful sandy beach. Definitely worth a visit!
The Taygetos Mountains
The Taygetos Mountains are great for outdoor action, even though there aren’t many organised activities as of yet. With a good map at hand and a pair of good walking shoes, however, you will have plenty of opportunities for wonderful walks and hikes. You can explore rivers, gorges and caves, and visit churches and monasteries. If you are in a decent shape, you can hike to the Prophetes Ilias Peak (altitude 2404 metres!). Rock climbers rave about the Langada climbing park, a few km from the village of Trypi.
Take your time to discover some of the traditional villages in the Taygetos Mountains. Arna, for instance, is a small historical village on the eastern slopes of the mountain range. It is situated at an altitude of about 800 metres and enjoys exhilarating views over the mountains and hills straight out to the sea. It has a charming platia (central square) which most of the year looks rather dozy, especially in the winter when it is often covered in snow, but comes to life during the summer months, when entire families with roots in Arna come for their holidays and spend late evenings on the platia dining and chatting.
Another major point of interest in Laconia is Mystras, close to Sparta. The remains of this Byzantine fortress-state make up one of Greece’s most worthwhile historic sites. You can do what most tourists do: go and visit them for the day, perhaps stay one night, and then move on to the next site or to the beach. But you can also stay longer (there are some very charming hotels and guesthouses near the site of Mystras!) and have a different experience altogether. The ruined 13th century city of is a wonderful place to explore and quite frankly, if you only give it a few hours you will miss out on a lot.
If the weather isn’t too hot, allow yourself a full day to stroll through the cobbled paths of the site. You will need some time to visit the monasteries and beautifully frescoed chapels and churches (many of which have been restored) and the remains of the fortress on top of the mountain. Just be careful to not do what I did the first time I visited Mystras. It was in the middle of the summer and I went in the middle of the day. It was hot, the walks were steep, and I ended up being more interested in finding shade and cold water than admiring my surroundings. So if you do go during the summer, make an early start, take a long siesta, and go again at the end of the day, or the next. The second time I visited Mystras on a crisp winter day. There were almost no other visitors, and it was a magical experience. If you have the chance, go off-season too.
Small hotels and other special places to stay in Laconia