Holidays to Messinia offer up everything from picture-perfect beaches to gourmet food, time-frozen monuments and Venetian towns.
Spanning the south-western corner of Greece’s Peloponnese region, Messinia has a long list of talents to its name. For starters, it’s here that you’ll find Voidokilia beach – which is dubbed one of the most beautiful in the world. Elsewhere, you’ve got time-warped Venetian towns, crumbling castles, and teeny tavernas – all wrapped up in miles upon miles of untapped countryside.
An under-the-radar resort
Despite Messinia’s many draws, it’s somehow managed to stay mostly unnoticed by the tourist crowd. Holidays here, therefore, are a great chance to relax and soak up the laidback local way of life. You can hire a car and tour a tiny mountain village, where as few as five residents call the place home. Or set off on a hiking trail – ticking off waterfalls, caves and olive groves – without another tour group in sight.
A collection of castles
Large parts of this coast used to belong to Venice, so there’s plenty of Venetian architecture to go around – particularly in Methoni and Koroni. Today, Koroni’s old castle is occupied by the Timios Prodromos Convent, though it’s still possible to visit the promontory beyond the castle and take in the views of the town. Methoni’s 15th-century fortress – with its Turkish baths and underground passages – is also worth a daytrip.
Messinia’s geography is really varied, so there’s plenty to keep outdoorsy types busy. The clarity of the Messinian Sea makes it a fantastic spot for a bit of snorkelling or scuba diving, and many dive centres cater to those wanting to peek at underwater life. You can even explore a submerged town. The cliffs above the Proti Islet, meanwhile, lure in rock climbers from across the coast.
Things to See and Do in Messinia
A dramatic coastline
Whether framed by soft, white sands, or clinging to the edge of a towering cliff, there’s one thing Messinia’s beaches all have in common – dramatic scenery.
The sporty beach
Six kilometres from Kalamata sits one of the region’s most popular swim spots – Almyros Beach. What makes this pebbled alcove such a local favourite is that it’s so well-equipped. There are showers, beach bars, deck chairs and a volleyball court nearby. In the summer months, it’s the place for watersports, whether you’re after water-skiing or windsurfing.
Few beaches form as pretty a picture as Voidokilia beach, which is almost a complete circle of soft sand. From the beach there are unobstructed views of nearby dunes, and the ruins of Nestor’s Palace. Those who don’t mind a hike can climb 45 minutes to the crumbling Navarino Castle.
Silk scarves are the trademark souvenir in Messinia – there’s even a Greek song about it. To pick up one of your very own, make a beeline for Kalamata’s Gkonos Silk Fabrics, which has been specialising in silk kerchiefs since 1895.
For beautiful, custom-made sandals, head to Sandalia Sti Stoa in Kalamata’s historical centre. The shop has a large range of handmade leather sandals that offer comfort and style in equal measure.
A holiday to Kalamata wouldn’t be complete without shopping for gourmet goodies – it’s home to the famous olive, after all. That’s where food specialty shop Papadimitriou comes in. A haven for food-lovers, Papadimitriou specialises in Grecian delicacies, such as balsamic cream with local pomegranate juice, or chilli and paprika mustard.
Kalamata’s Bocca is one of the city’s chicest venues. A young crowd flock to try out the inventive cocktail menu. The tables spill out onto the street, and fairylights and lanterns set the scene after dark.
In the summer months, Sunset Bar, in Kyparissia, is the place to be. It’s located right on the beach, so – as the names suggests – puts you in a front-row position to watch the sun set. Live music and a regular rotation of DJs keeps the party going through the night.
While in Messinia, make sure to stop in one of its many bakeries for diples, a local sweet of curled fried dough that’s drenched in honey and coated in walnuts.
Overlooking Navarino Bay, the Elia Restaurant not only serves up some of the best seafood in Messinia, but one of the best views, as well. It’s a firm favourite with locals and guidebooks, because of its simple yet tasty fare and affordable prices.
Kayak in Costa Navarino has quickly built a name for its all-natural, 100% Greek ice-creams and frozen yoghurts. There’s a range of unique flavours to choose from, though the Ferrero Rocher ice-cream is a crowd favourite.
Pies at Liopita
No Messinia picnic is complete without a pie from Liopita in Kalamata. The little shop whips up both savoury and sweet pies, which are made fresh every day. For something a little different, try the galatopita, or milk pie.
The Burgery is a haute burger joint that has recently become a Kalamata institution. There are 15 different types to choose from, not to mention loads of quesadillas and club sandwiches.
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When you bed down in the sleepy beach resort of Kalo Nero, you’ll be just an hour’s drive away from the town of Kalamata. This place is famous for its olives – a Greek favourite – and there are plenty of factories and mills that can give you the lowdown on the cold-press process. The Giannopoulos Olive Oil Factory – a five-minute drive from Kalo Nero – is just one of the local spots to give tours.
Costa Navarino is a brand-new, up-and-coming resort on the west coast of Greece’s Messinia region. Other than a sprinkling of shiny hotels and scenic ancient ruins, the area is almost completely untouched. And the hotels that are here put luxury living in the spotlight – so it’s the ideal place to wind down, get back to nature, and treat yourself to some pampering.
Gialova sits somewhere between the sleepy and up-and-coming brackets. It’s got a couple of cobbled streets lined with modern restaurants, bars and souvenir shops, but everything else is super-traditional. You’ll see terracotta-topped villas instead of high-rise hotels, and the surrounding countryside is cloaked with olive groves and colourful bougainvillea.
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