Messinia is the type of place your friends have never heard of, but by the time you’re done filling them with stories of your travels they’ll be looking up flights for their next vacation. The hardest part will be chosing what to tell them. What’s the most captivating thing about Messinia? It’s beaches? It’s ancient history? Or the Valley of Messinia, famous for its Kalamata olives. This region of the Southern Peloponnese has everything you could want from a vacation, and unlike Santorini, where the sheer number of visitors is putting a lot of strain on the tiny island, Messinia has managed to create a tourism industry that is developing at a pace suited to the area’s relaxed way of life. Rather than fighting through crowds to get a perfect picture of the sunset, go to Messinia and enjoy having the beach to yourself, but with all the luxuries of other tourist destinations.
Facing towards the sunset side of the Peloponesse landmass, this Western Greek region has traditionally focused on farming. It has kept its laid back traditions alive, while slowly expanding its tourism industry. This has kept Messinia an exciting and diverse location for Greek and foreign tourists alike. An abundance of beaches means no competing to share the scenery with throngs of other tourists, and whether sunbeds with cocktails are your thing, or isolated coves with emerald water seem more appealing, options are everywhere.
Kalamata, the capital of Messinia with a population of over fifty thousand people is the best place to fly into, particularly in summer when flights are more frequent. But Messinia is only a short coastal or inland drive from Patras or Athens, with plenty of historical sites along the way for a stopover. Villas and hotels are available to stay in throughout the area with options of cheaper traditional houses, or luxurious modern builds complete with outdoor hot tubs and stunning views. It is worth renting a car to explore all the beaches, waterfalls, mountain or port villages and historical sites that are all within an hour of each other. While it’s possible to stay in one area without running out of adventures, there’s no point in being limited when there’s so much to explore.
History buffs won’t want to miss out on the ruins of the Palace of Nestor or Methoni’s 13th Century fortress, the town that Agamemnon offered to the sulking Achilles in Homer’s ‘The Iliad’. The past continues to come alive here, in 2015 the tomb of a Mycenean warrior was found. Greece’s history, thankfully, is rich in olive oil, the Kalamata Olive Museum is the perfect blend of culture and various local cuisines of fresh fish, wine, and of course, some of the best olive oil in Greece. Olive oil massages are available in some of Messinias spas to provide some relaxation beyond sunbathing.
But it’s the beaches that will really draw friends, families and lovers alike to Messinia. The coastal waters are famously calm, and at the busier spots boats can be rented for day trips to small islands that dot the coastline, there’s even the possibility of spotting loggerhead turtles during snorkeling. It would be easy to beach-hop along the coast for weeks and still have plenty of new coves and strands to return to next time. Some beach locations though, you don’t want to miss out on, particularly Petalidi, a beautiful coastal town that has a more developed facilities for those who want to take it easy, eating in its beautiful plaza and multiple beaches to visit. Best of all it’s only 30km from Kalamata. Driving from Kalamata to Mani you’ll find many coves nestled amongst the cliffs, but the most picture perfect scenery might be Sykia Pass, at the end of Divari Beach. This strip of crystaline water separates Sphacteria island from mainland Greece and provides some great photo and walking opportunities.
To experience the feeling of untouched beauty, steeped in history and scented with the freshest foods, Messinia is the unknown hotspot of the Mediterranean. Soon all your friends will be taking your advice and booking flights to see it for themselves.
For a detailed travel guide to Messinia, have a look at e-navarino.