We (Pete and Rachael) live in the far south-west of the Peloponnese near Koroni a part of each year, in a beautiful area of valleys clad with olive groves leading down to the sea. There is no package tourism in this little corner of Greece and our local village, Harakopio doesn’t depend on tourists at all; the village is just about as busy in December, the main olive picking season, as it is in the summer months. There are so many wonderful places we have visited in the Peloponnese it made sense to bring our experiences of each place together with a few photos from the thousands overflowing out of our laptops and create this travel guide.
Why come to the Peloponnese?
The Peloponnese is large compared to the Greek islands. It is 21,000 km², more than twice the size of Crete, and has 1.7 million international visitors to the region annually. In startling contrast, Santorini is a mere 73 km² in size yet is overrun by 1.9 million visitors each year. This comparison alone should tell you how different the Peloponnese is to the Greek tourist islands.
Take our local town Koroni as an example. It is a Venetian port with a castle, has narrow streets, cafes and restaurants along the waterfront, and a long sandy beach on the edge of the town. It has been a holiday resort for a long time, but mainly for Athenians. On a weekend night in August there are still far more Greeks in the restaurants than foreigners. The place is busy in August but quiet for much of the rest of the year and everyone who comes here wonders why it is so unknown and so few people come here. The answer is that package tourism requires an infrastructure of airports, road links, hotels, and resorts to be set up to process huge numbers of people. Koroni is a traditional Greek resort built up of many small business that work on a small individual scale. It’s a far superior place to visit than the vast majority of package resorts but that is of no interest to the tour operators if they can’t push enough people through the town to make their money. All of which is absolutely fine for just about everyone who lives here, no-one wants that sort of mass invasion.
The Peloponnese is becoming more noticed however. Kalamata Airport used to be dominated by package holiday flights mainly from the UK. These gradually decreased in number but there has been a huge expansion in recent years of flights for independent travelers with easyJet and now British Airways from London, and many flights from Munich, Amsterdam, Paris, Nantes, Tel Aviv, Moscow, Milan, Katowice, Rome, and Prague.
There are places in the Peloponnese that have become commercialised. Stoupa on the Mani is overflowing in summer as is Monemvasia; the area around Pylos has changed considerably over the last decade; all the major ancient sites are geared to receiving many coach loads of people each day. However, for each of these there are many smaller unknown destinations that remain untouched. For instance, the Lousios Gorge is a fabulous area and the monasteries are an absolute privilege to visit. The solution to avoiding overcrowding at the ancient sites is simple – go later in the day when all the coaches have left for the next overnight hotel, or visit the smaller sites where there will only be a handful of people. The peak season here only picks up in July and is over by the end of August, so come earlier or later if you are able to.
If you want a genuine experience of Greek life you won’t find it on Santorini, beautiful as the island is. With a local population of only 15,000 and close to 2 million tourists visiting each year it’s clear to see all you’ll get is a manufactured version designed for the needs of tourism.