Mystras, Greece

Built atop Mt. Taygetos near the ancient city of Sparta, lies the historic fortified city of Mystras on the peninsula of Peloponnese, Greece. The capital of a Byzantine Despotate in the 14th and 15th century, Mystras experienced an era of prosperity and cultural enlightenment. The city was inhabited until the mid-1800’s when the site was abandoned in favor of the new town of Sparti which was built eight kilometers to the east. The region has a Mediterranean climate of hot summers and warm winters. Snow is rare along the coast but is common in the mountainous regions where Mystras is located.

Ruins of Old Town in Mystras, GreeceDuring its noted history, Mystras was for a time the seat of power for the Latin Principality of Achea. The principality was created after the capture of Constantinople by knights of the Fourth Crusade and a palace was constructed there. The principality was short-lived however. The city of Mystras and other fortified towns in Pelagonia were used as ransom for William II and fell under the control of the Byzantine Empire. Mystras achieved the status of being second only to Constantinople in importance and its palace being a residence for the emperors. It was during the Byzantine Era that the Church of Agia Sofia was constructed. The frescos located inside the church date from the mid-1300’s. These rare works of art provide a priceless insight into Byzantine art. The significance of Mystras is also enhanced by the fact that George Gemistos Plethon, an influential Neoplatonist philosopher, lived there with other philosophers who had a major impact on the Italian Renaissance. After the fall of the Byzantine Empire, Mystras was ruled by Ottomans, Venetians and finally the Greeks once again.

Today, visitors can tour the archaeological ruins of the fort, towers and mansions. They will be awestruck by the frescos in the church of Agios Dimitrios, where the last Byzantine emperor was crowned and those on the walls of the Monastery of Pantanassa, and its mix of Gothic and Byzantine architectural styles. The Archeologial Museum of Mystras displays clothes, jewelry and written documents that provide a revealing glimpse into the storied past of this region.

In the past, Mystras has served as a military and cultural center. Now, it is one of the most well known archaeological sites in the country. Due to its place in Western cultural history, the churches, monasteries and palace of Mystras were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1989 and as a result, tourism has provided a boost to the local economy. Visitors can stroll the narrow streets of the picturesque old village, enjoy the shops, outdoor cafes and the annual Palaiologeia Festival of this scenic hillside location.


Peloponnese, Greece

Situated 90 minutes away from Athens, Peloponesse is a region at the southern point of Greece. As a peninsula it is barely attached to the mainland, but is often called an island as well. Travelers can drive to Peloponnese from Athens by traversing the Corinth Canal, or connect via the Rio Bridge from the eastern mainland.

The landscape of Peloponnese is dotted with Venetian castles, Byzantine citadels, Golden Age temples, Greek Orthodox churches, and Mycenaean domes. The region also has plenty of pristine beaches and sparkling waters, but offers seclusion and more serenity with fewer crowds than the well-known Greek tourist spots. Peloponnese’s ancient sites and natural beauty allow for tranquil explorations away from sightseeing tours. This makes this magical region a welcome destination for vacationers looking for an alternative to the hustle and bustle of Athens and the popular Greek Isles.Koroni Castle, Peloponnese, GreeceOne of the most recognizable and historically significant places is Olympia. Visiting this site of the first Olympic Games is an important part of the itinerary. Olympia also houses a museum that includes regional findings and exhibits. In addition, Epidaurus, Mystra, Mycenae, Nafplio, Mani, and Messinia all offer different vacation experiences with visually stunning scenes of Greece’s glorious history.The Ancient Theater of Epidaurus is still one of the most recognized open-air marvels. If traveling here during spring, you can experience re-enactments of classic Greek theatre performances during the annual Epidaurus Festival.

Originally constructed as a secular shelter, the well-preserved ruins of Mystra with its unassailable castle and inspiring churches are a viable reminder of the Byzantine Empire’s architectural and artistic marvels. Mycenae is another historically significant relic dating back to the Byzantine era. You will need to dress in sturdy hiking gear, but following ancient footsteps through the Lion Gate on the way to the Mycenaean Acropolis and the Tomb of Agamemnon are worth it.

Nafplio, once regarded as the center of ancient Greece, is a cheerful city with pictorial streets winding among neoclassic buildings, Venetian castles, mosques, Turkish fountains, and outdoor cafes. Highlights include Constitution Square, the Venetian fortress of Palamidi, and the fortified islet of Bourtzi.

The centrally located region of Mani has lots of Frankish castles, Byzantine churches, and buildings reminiscent of the Ottoman occupational period. Since Mani has an independent and isolated aspect, even by Peloponnese standards, this distinct society developed its own traditions and architectural style.

Situated at the extreme southwest of Peloponnese, the Messinia region is a beach lover’s paradise. You can take your pick from sandy, pebbly, and rocky beaches. The most popular areas in Messinia are Kalamata, Koroni, Methoni, Pylos, Filiatra, and Kiparissia. However, anyone can discover hidden areas for swimming, diving, and sunbathing pleasures.

Peloponnese, like the rest of Greece, is sparsely populated with a well-developed road system. This makes car or bus travel uncomplicated. Renting a car is a favorite travel method and allows for effortless exploration of Peloponnese’s natural beauty.


Kalamata, Greece

Kalamata is a city in the Messenia region of the Peloponnese. The Peloponnese is a large peninsula in the southern part of Greece. Kalamata is the capital and major seaport of Messenia. Cities nearby include Athens at 148 miles, Olympia at 71 miles, Tripoli at 50 miles, and Sparta at 37 miles.

Kalamata is famous for its olives and its pasteli. Pasteli is a candy that is mixture of sesame seeds, honey or sugar, and sometimes nuts, that is shaped into a bar. Major exports of Kalamata are olives, olive oil, and raisins.

Kalamata is also famous for the Kalamatianos dance that is very popular there. It is a festive dance typical of the Greek circle dances. The lead dancer will have a silk handkerchief that is held by the second dancer, allowing more freedom of movement.

Marina, Kalamata, GreeceThere are many things to do in Kalamata which include taking walks along the coast, exploring archeological sites, or cycling in the countryside. Transportation is excellent to get you where you want to go, including buses and the narrow gauge railways.

Many tourists are fascinated with castles and Kalamata has one from the 13th century. Kalamata Castle is located on a hill overlooking the water and is wonderful to explore. Another site to see is the Church of the Virgin Ypapanti. The nuns in the convent are famous for the silk they weave and embroider.

Whether you are into water sports or just want to relax on a beach, Kalamuta has beautiful beaches by the warm blue sea. You can take a trip by boat, windsurf, fish, snorkel, or scuba dive in the clear water. A fun day trip is taking the ferry to the island of Crete.

A great time to visit Kalamata is during the summer because of the festivals that are held there. Types of festivals include a film festival and dance festivals. The annual Kalamata Dance Festival showcases not only Greek dances but foreign dances as well.

One reason people love visiting Kalamata is because of the Mediterranean climate. Many visit in the summer which is very warm and has little rainfall. Highs in August can reach 32C or 90F. In the autumn, it is cooler with more rain in November and December but still very pleasant.

Winters are very mild and wet with January having an average low of 10C or 50F. Spring is an ideal time to visit with temperatures that are warm and comfortable between 16C and 20C or 61F and 68F.