Peloponnese: A Paradise for Sports Lovers – Greece-is
From world-class golf courses to great diving spots and from challenging cliffs to dreamy forest trails, the Peloponnese features ideal locations for all the activities you can think of – and then some.
Natasha Blatsiou | October 9th, 2015
With more than 10 international awards, including World of Leading Golf’s “Best Newcomer of the Year 2014,” the two 18-hole, signature courses at Costa Navarino, The Dunes Course (designed by two-times Masters champion Bernhard Langer) and The Bay Course (designed by acclaimed golf course architect Robert Trent Jones Jr), have in just a few years made Messinia one of the top golfing destinations in Europe. Of course this achievement has also been facilitated by the area’s natural beauty, featuring rolling hills, centuries-old olive trees, amazing sea and river views, a mild climate offering ideal conditions from late February to November, complemented by sound environmental planning, excellent facilities and impeccable course management by world leaders Troon Golf. Costa Navarino’s next development phase will include the creation of two more courses, one at Navarino Hills, nestled on a charming hillside, and the other at Navarino Blue, next to a 1k sandy beach washed by the crystal-clear waters of the Messinian Gulf, and just a 10-minute drive from Kalamata International Airport.
It may look like a natural alpine lake, but it’s not. Doxa is man-made, and its relatively small size makes it ideal for cycling around. The route is 4k long, starting out from the lovely chapel of Aghios Fanourios, also known as Palaiomonastiro, standing serenely at the tip of a narrow peninsula jutting into the lake. A road leads 1k above the lake to the new monastery of Aghios Fanourios, which you can visit. More experienced mountain bikers may want to continue the ascent along a marked network of dirt tracks and paths on Mt Dourdouvana (2,109m), which is magically reflected in the lake.
Unleash the Spiderman within at a sport climbing park that combines history and natural beauty with excellent quality rock and a wide choice of routes. The park is just 16k by road from Sparta, via the village of Trypi. Four fields host 60 routes, well equipped with stainless steel bolts. The quality of the limestone is exceptional and the views of Mt Taygetus breathtaking. After a day’s climbing, it is worth visiting Trypi, site of the infamous pit hole of Kaiadas, into which the Spartans supposedly cast their weak and deformed infants (a myth that has been debunked by the archaeologist’s spade). The park is not for novice climbers and the best time to visit is between May and October.
Just 14k from the frequently snow-blan- keted town of Kalavryta, prepare yourself for sea views and sun. Helmos Ski Center, Greece’s second largest ski resort, has a welcoming, family-friendly atmosphere that makes it ideal for novice and intermediate skiers. The center is located at Xerokambos (1,700m), with lifts going all the way up to the highest peak, Neraidorahi. With seven lifts and 12 pistes, it caters to all levels of experience, and also has a snowboard park and snowmobile rentals. You can rent any necessary equipment, book lessons and chill out – or rather, warm up – at a lovely wooden chalet that serves hot drinks and snacks. (www.kalavrita-ski.gr)
Don your helmet, wetsuit and most courageous smile and, paddle in hand, jump into a raft and glide past rocks, trees, stone bridges, springs, waterfalls and lush vegetation, carried by the clear green swell of the Lousios. Stretching from Karytaina to Dimitsana for 23 kilometers, the lively river passes through the gorge of the same name, a popular attraction in its own right. The rewarding rafting experience in the mountains of Arcadia requires no previous experience, just a brief introductory prep by the professional guide who heads each boat. The starting point is Atsicholos bridge, while there is a choice of three different destinations (Koukos bridge, Thisoa and Matesi), depending on the length of time you want to spend on the river. Participants must be able to swim, as there will be moments when the boat tips over, but any cold you feel will quickly be replaced by the sheer exhilaration of this great group activity. Numerous adventure tourism operators, easily found online, will be happy to book you a place all year round.
The view of the coastline around Epidaurus from above is quite spectacular and is freely accessible to bold paragliders. The mountains above the bay of Ancient Epidaurus provide warm currents of air which are ideal for thrilling, safe flights. The best time of year is at the end of summer, when the strong north winds and high temperatures gradually subside. There are other great starting points for paragliding in the area, including on Mt Akros and the Arachnaio range. You will find plenty of take-off spots: Tintin is ideal for ridge soaring; Ted’s Café is perfect for beginners (with good conditions for learning thermal flying); Blacky is easy to reach and flights usually ascend to 2,000m with updrafts of 6-7 meters per second. Lastly, Peter’s Paradise offers classic thermal flying over one of the most mythical landscapes of Greece. (Source:www.mythicalpeloponnese.gr)
Sailing out of the Argolic Gulf, the Myrtoan Sea and the impressive coastline of the eastern Peloponnese stretch out before you. Beginning to the south of Paralio Astros, you will come across a succession of coves with emerald green waters in which to drop anchor. After Leonidio and its small harbor, head east to the bay of Poulithra, situated between two imposing headlands; continue past deserted stretches of coast or stop for a while at the fairly sheltered, tranquil beach of Fokianos. Further south lies Kyparissi with its charming island-style architecture, a good place to stock up on supplies. Proceeding to Monemvasia, you will find numerous beaches that provide suitable anchorages. One fascinating place to spend the night is Gerakas, located at the head of an impressive fjord. Here you will also find good food and chilled wine. (Source: www.mythicalpeloponnese.gr)
The marine environment off the rocky islet of Venetiko, south of Koroni, is teeming with life. Set out in a boat from the picturesque town or from nearby Finik- ounda and head for the small, relatively sheltered bay on the northeast coast of the island. From here you will discover the massive boulders, home to shoals of tiny fish, starfish, crabs and, a little deeper, to larger denizens such as dusky groupers and dentex, even coral. Another extremely interesting dive spot, for more experienced divers, lies further south of Venetiko, off the tiny islets of Avgo and Petrokaravo. The spectacle of rocks appearing to rise almost vertically from the great depths of the Messinian Gulf makes the effort worthwhile. On the way back, stop off at Tsapi with its lovely chapel, at Zaga and the beaches close to Akra Nisakoulia. (Source:www.mythicalpeloponnese.gr)
In Mani you can hike along old stone paths and follow routes of significant cultural interest, or tackle lengthy ascents to the peaks of Mt Taygetus. But what attracts many nature lovers are two of its spectacular gorges, used as trails since ancient times. Vyros, the so-called “Royal Way,” was the natural route connecting Sparta with the harbor of Kardamyli, while Rindomo, intriguingly referred to by Pausanias as “Pig Valley,” marked the natural boundary between Messinia and Sparta. Arid, rugged and a long trek, be sure to wear sturdy walking shoes, take plenty of water and be particularly careful on the more difficult sections. As with all wild landscapes, certain spots with steep cliffs, crystal-clear rivers, dense vegetation and clusters of trees are especially captivating. But the highlight, just 4k from the village of Voreio, is certainly the amazing Pigadiotiko bridge. This awesome feat of engineering features two superimposed stone arches linking the sheer walls of the gorge, forming a bridge of exquisite beauty.