Kalamata, you beauty, you. You're not all about the olives. But they are some of the world's best. With the towering green Taygetos mountain range, long seafront expanse and atmospheric old streets, it's a wonder more people don't know about you. So, shh. Just between us, here are some of the best things to do in Kalamata, the most intriguing city in the Peloponnese.
Dreamy, lilting and framed with the silver blush of twisting olive trees, the area around Kalamata breathes in and out with a restful sigh. The word laconic hails from here, though it surprised me to learn that it actually means sparse. I'd always thought it had a luxurious, languorous, feel.
This is the area of the gods, after all. Aphrodite, Hercules, the home of Hades and the Underworld, a short drive from Olympia and a shorter one still to Sparta. Even mainland Europe tapers out to the south on the Mani, as though it has found a place that soothes it and simply sees no reason to go further.
So here, distilled in blog form, I offer you my collection of the best things to do in Kalamata, Greece, and around. Plus the auditory image of the way SatNav pronounces it: calamity.
Go, travel, enjoy - and send me some olives if you get the chance!
Held on Wednesdays and Saturdays, this is an absolute treat of a place - and one which is completely devoid of gentrification at the time of writing. Relocated following earthquake damage, the market is something of an institution - and it knows it.
Expect lines of fruit and veg, stalls selling almonds and chamomile tea all picked locally. Apricots, squash, beetroot and tomatoes. Look out for sfela, the dense and tangy take on feta, as well as plenty of fish and meat.
And, of course, this being Kalamata, you'll find olives and more olives and lots of olive oil. Find them vacuum-packed and stored in tins, ready to be flown home in suitcases.
The ring surrounding the market hosts cafes aplenty, full of men smoking and chewing the fat. Alternatively, grab a coffee inside where they grind and roast the beans on the spot.
Catch the Lonely Planet broadcast below:
Inside tip: be careful about parking. We picked up a ticket here and I'm still not sure why. If it looks too good to be true, it is! Park a distance away and walk in if you can.
Billed as a big open-air museum, the curious thing about this train station is that you can wander so freely around.
It's situated in the central park area and consists of railway carriages and engines in scarlet, black and lavender blue, all from a bygone age.
It's unpretentious with a fairly basic cafe nearby. If the cafe is the main reason you're going, head further into town ;-)
Parks run in a straight line from the main port up towards the train station and Old Town, passing the open air rail museum and some lovely small playgrounds for children.
Frankly put, Kalamata doesn't have the prettiest beach in Greece. But for a beach next to a city, it's pretty darned good.
With pebbly sand and a wind that can chase away demons, a visit to the beach takes a little preparation. But the water is still so clear and blue, the deep shark's fin of the Taygetos mountain framing the city so well.
A whole range of budgets and styles run along the seafront when it comes to bars and dining: from the young party scene to chic silver retreats and family-focused places.
Crumbling stone walls, Greek orthodox churches, a handful of museums and plenty of spaces for shade. Kalamata's Old Town does everything you want it to, with a olde world charm of tumbling pink flowers and moped-draped lanes.
This is the closest place to a crowd too, though, so watch your bags and prepare for polite but firm "no thank yous" to people who follow you around.
The buttery-yellow Cathedral of Ipapanti imposes with its silver dome and white adornments. Wander through a few moped-studded lanes to reach the St Apostles Church: a quieter, more intimate setting with terracotta rooftops and blocks of bare stone walls.
Insider tip: walk through the long strip of parks that lead to the Old Town from the railway museum. .
Softly lit with an abundance of ceramics, costumes and quotes, the Archaeological Museum of Messenia presents the history of the Mani in a stylish and glamorous way. Coins and jewellery make the past seem more real and there's a section on an important part of local culture that's hard for a museum to capture: dance.
Right by the railway station, Kardamo stands out among a triangle of roads offering pulsing and hipster design.
Since opening in 2010, it's created quite the name for itself.
We dined early in the evening (with toddler in tow) and the staff couldn't have been friendlier, nor the food fresher. Wooden tables with whitewashed walls and spiky on-trend plants make a nice contrast from the traditional tavernas and the twists on the traditional dishes liven up the palate too.
As befitting its image, you'll find quinoa on the menu but you'll also discover grilled squid with a mushroom vinaigrette and grilled burgers with smoked cheese and tomato cake. The chef prepared an impromptu chocolate cake for toddler Lab and from the look on her face, that may well have been the happiest moment of her life.
Kalamata lives on the mainland of Greece in the southern part of the Peloponnese. It's the largest city around, just before the main land mass splits into three fingers and heads south into the Ionian and Aegean Seas.
During the summer, you can fly direct from London Gatwick into the small and easy to navigate Kalamata airport. The car hire company is just outside and several tour operators run trips from here as well. It is twenty minutes from Kalamata Airport to the seafront, a deliciously short space of time and a very easy drive.
Alternatively, it's a three hour leisurely drive from Athens (90 minutes if you know what you're doing.) You can either make that a feature, as with this driving itinerary through the Peloponnese, or just hotfoot it down to the coast.
Kalamata has so many amazing day trips! In fact, the whole of the Peloponnese could double as a day trip paradise. It's so easy to drive around, the scenery is spectacular and the range of things you can see and do never grows old.
Here are the highlights...
The vast remains of an ancient city... bigger than Epidaurus, more expansive than Olympia. Yet, in Greek terms, relatively unexplored.
The spelling doesn't help. People aren't quite sure which version to run with. Messini or Messene? Then there's the fact that it's not quite yet a UNESCO World Heritage Site, unlike others on the main peninsula.
And then, perhaps, it's just a result of poor signposting. Even knowing where we wanted to go, we nearly missed it.
An Ancient City
Messini as we see the remains today, began in 390 BC but evidence reveals that it was a human settlement as long as 6000 years ago.
It's striking in its size, its grandeur and it's relatively good shape. Unlike many other ancient cities around here, Messini was ever extensively built over. Once the heyday was over, the party moved on.
You can see the theatre, a gasping amphitheatre and streets and streets of columns. One of the greatest sculptors of the ancient world worked here, Darynon, creating life-size statues to sit among 140 columns around an ancient temple.
The small museum (part of the 12 euro admission price) shows several of these, most notably Aphrodite and Cupid, missing their noses of course. It wouldn't be fun without that, would it?
Look out for the restaurant overhanging a precipice just before you reach the museum. The food is standard Greek fare but the few across the city is unmissable.
It's a sandy beach with a difference: the colossal rust-red shipwreck that just waits, brooding, on the shore.
Confession time. I never made it to the museum. I did, however, work my way through a lot of olive oil. Here's the link to the museum - a bookmark to myself for next time!
Areopoli is pretty - and she knows it. Tiny curving streets, tumbling begonias idyllic cafes and cornflower-blue doors, it's definitely worth stopping off here en route to the south... Unless. Unless you see the car park full of coaches. In which case, run! Run for your lives!
Less scenic than some of the other small villages along the coast, it has the advantage of feeling more authentic. We stayed at the Porto Vitilo Boutique Hotel [hosted] in Karovastasi, a beautiful secluded spot with honey-stone walls, plentiful yogurt at breakfast and an infinity pool with a calmer than calm view out across the water to the horizon. The beach is also right there but it's not a place to swim. It is a place to soak up the natural beauty of the Mani.
Three restaurants live within reach, one with a giant black pirate and all with views of the sea. Expect the owners to be mixing serving guests with managing their kids' homework, dealign with deliveries and generally having a chat about the price of fish (I suppose. I wish I understood Greek!)
Tiny but perfectly formed, Gerolimenas near the southernmost point still has fishermen detangling nets in the postcard pretty boats that bob along the shore. The translation means "old harbour" or "sacred harbour," depending on who you ask. The on-the-ground vibe is authentic yet stunning harbour. With a top place for lunch!
Yes, it's another pretty coastal spot! But this one was featured in Homer's Iliad as one of the seven cities offered to Achilles as a condition to fight in the Trojan War. As you do.
But the Ancient Greeks weren't the only ones with their eyes on this scenic spot. The Venetians left their imprint in the architecture too and there's a short but sweet walk to Upper Kardamyli through olive groves and dusty paths.
Whenever we got into a conversation with people who lived in the Peloponnese, they asked us about these caves. Were we going to see the caves? Had we come to see the caves? Surely, above all else, caves were the name of the game.
Well, I have a secret to share. I'm not that in to caves. So I just smiled politely.
But, you know. Plenty of people thought they were great. So here's the cave link so that you can plan and decide for yourself.
Kampos makes for a scenic drive-though point, crumbling stone buildings and deep Greek blue doors and shutters hugging the twisting, curving roads.
Slightly larger than the other picturesque fishing towns around here, Agios Nikolaus is nevertheless still cute and small. She's also more prepared for tourists than some other spots so if you have your heart set on an ice cream then this is the detour for you. Boats still bob about but they have more of a pleasure than working vibe.
Vathia also caught the eye of the Venetians, and it's one of the most photographed little villages on the peninsula. The road winds and twists and spins about, presenting the stone towers and terraced houses to the viewfinder like a juicy worm to the early bird.
Many (but not all) houses are abandoned so it's not a place to plan to spend a great deal of time (but it is pretty!)
You can almost drive to the southernmost point of the Mani - but not quite. A tiny car park ensnares you below the taverna at Kokinogia and from there it's a 30 minute walk to the tip. The ground's a little uneven, though (and not suitable for toddlers) so we contented ourselves with the view from nearly the end. And what a view it is. If you're short on time, though, no need to stress. The towns, villages and coastlines in the northern Mani are just as beautiful as the south. Don't miss out on slowing down and enjoying yourself just to race to the tip. And don't forget to look around for the cave that's the entrance to Hades and the Underworld...
Beyond Kalamata, you have access to the whole of the Peloponnese. But, to state the obvious, the further you drive, the longer you, well, spend in the car.
And that's less time exploring and eating Greek salad.
That said, if this is going to be your only time in the Peloponnese then check these out:
Disclosure - I was hosted at these places for review purposes. However, I always kept the right to write what I like and would only recommend places I enjoyed. It would be a bit weird otherwise... to have a bad stay and recommend them anyway?! If you book through these links then I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Cheers!
An elegant hotel on the seafront, Elite City Resort also has more resort and villa-style rooms in the back, some with their own private pools.
We travelled there early in the season when the big swimming pools and gym hadn't yet opened but the plunge pool in our room was perfect for baby Lab. Closed partly when we were there.
When the season gets going, you'll find a choice of restaurants, a full gym, meeting area, spa, children's club and large pool.
It has an AMAZING children’s playground, all enclosed and with climbing frames and a pirate ship to suit toddlers and older children.
Luxurious yet authentic guesthouse in the mountains near Kalamata, overlooking the sea. I fell in love with Villa Vager Mani. Find out why over here.
It's possible to walk around the Old Town and along to the train station where the cool eateries hang out.
However, for day trips and if you're staying further afield, it's really helpful to have your own car, especially if you want to get off the beaten track. Kalamata has plenty of taxis but you'll struggle to find them as soon as you leave the city. Hire a car with Hertz here.
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