Pit stops on the Peloponnese

There's so much to explore in this part of Greece


It's a pine-scented evening in the little Greek resort town of Kyllini. The sky is speckled with a thousand stars while the lights of neighbouring Zakynthos wink across the bay.

Rocking gently in the capacious hammock on the patio of our beautiful villa at the five-star Mandola Rosa hotel, I try hard not to spill my glass of Ouzo - well this is Greece after all.

Out here in the Peloponnese - the southernmost part of mainland Greece - life slumbers to a lethargic rhythm. Not just for the holiday makers. Even the locals seem to operate as if moving underwater.

Yet despite its stunning natural beauty, ancient archaeological sites, gorgeous places to stay, spectacular mountainous interior and deeply indented aqua blue coastlines, many Brits prefer to flock to the Greek islands or the fleshpots of Halkidiki. In doing so, they miss more than a trick. This is a place which turns your bones to liquid.

But if you do visit, the problem is where to go since the Peloponnese spans such a vast area (8,320 square miles to be exact). In our case the answer was to divide our stay between three very different venues.

Getting there

Fly: Easyjet flies to Athens from Manchester and Gatwick, flights from £58 one way. Thomas Cook operates flights to Kalamata from Manchester and Gatwick.
Stay: Olympia Riviera Thalasso Hotel in the Olympia Riviera resort starts from £91 bed and breakfast in a double room with sea view. Mandola Rosa from £187 b&b in a Junior Suite with sea view. Kinsterna Spa starts at £91 per night b&b.

Having flown into Athens on a stiflingly hot afternoon, we picked up our hire car, and were soon climbing into the mountains for our first pit stop, Villa Vager, a family-run boutique hotel with breathtaking views, personal service and delicious home-cooked food. It's also surrounded by stunning archaeological sites, and on the way from the airport we stopped off at the ruins of Mycenae, the kingdom of mythical Agamemnon, first sung of by Homer.

Checking out, we then took a two- hour drive south east to the Kinsterna Hotel. Nestling among olive groves, citrus trees and vineyards, this 18-acre five-star spa hotel is located in an impressive mansion and estate dating from Byzantine, Ottoman and Venetian times. We stayed in one of the luxury family suites where, each evening, there was no greater pleasure than to sit on the balcony, inhale the fragrant air of the orange and lemon groves and nurse a congenial glass of Ouzo (yes, there's a pattern forming here).During the day, it took every effort to drag ourselves away from the pool, since the views of the Aegean below were spectacular. Though a boat trip around the bay surrounding nearby Monemvasia, a medieval castle town is linked to the mainland by a short causeway, was worth the effort. Once on the island it was also worth slaving up the hillside to walk within the romantic walls and cobbled streets of this ancient island town.

The final leg of our stay took us on a long drive to our last base - Grecotel's Olympia Riviera resort on the Western coast of the Peloponnese. This stunning gated complex in Kyllini comprises three hotels - including the spectacular Mandola Rosa - set on one of the longest sandy beaches in the Mediterranean.

But the trip itself was part of the pleasure. Baffled slightly by a disconnect between what the sat nav suggested and the absence of a correlating road - my husband took the decision to try a different route, taking us on a hair-raising drive into the mountains across the middle of the Peloponnese.

Though there had already been so many high spots during our stay in Greece, for our 11-year-old daughter, Sophie, checking into the Olympic Riviera offered an additional attraction. Namely a children's programme entitled "Be a Model for a Day"- which promised a whistle-stop introduction into the world of beauty and fashion, led by professionals from the modelling industry. It included hair and make-up tips, and even a lesson in table manners.

For those with the energy, archaeological treasures such as Olympia (birth place of the Olympics) are only a car ride away. Or you can hire bikes - as we did - to explore the locality, and tap into the slumbering mojo of this part of Greece.

Miles of unspoilt countryside, beautiful sandy beaches, and a hospitality ethos which tips on an axis of generosity and gratitude. All of which makes the Peloponnese so hard to leave.

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