Nafplio, Greece—and visits to Ancient Nemea, Mycenae, and Epidavros
Continuing on from my post about our short stay in Athens, we picked up a rental car and began our drive around the Peloponnese region of Greece. We had a few places we were staying around the area before returning to Rafina port (45 minutes from Athens) and then island-hopping. But our first stop was the town of Nafplio. It was only a few hours from Athens, but we planned to stop at a few sites along the way.
Nick was a little nervous about driving out of Athens on the road, knowing that traffic could be bad, and drivers in Greece don’t mind taking risks and driving fast. But we stayed “safely” behind a bus for a little bit, and just followed the cars… it all went fine, and once we were on the highway, there wasn’t much to worry about.
The Corinth Canal was our first stop, and it wasn’t too far away from Athens. It is an old, man-made canal, dug at sea level, connecting the Gulf of Corinth in the Ionian Sea with the Saronic Gulf in the Aegean Sea. It physically separates the Peloponnese region from the Greek mainland. Modern-day ships can’t fit through the canal because it is so narrow. It’s now a spot where you can bungee jump, but otherwise, people stop to have a look and take photos.
The next archaeological site we visited was Ancient Nemea, which had some the remains of some ancient buildings pretty similar to what we had seen in Athens, but in better condition. It had a stadium too, but it was very old and didn’t have stone steps. We pictured that people might just sit on the grassy hills. It was a rather rudimentary stadium.
Winery visit – Domaine Bairaktaris
Then we visited a winery in the area called Domaine Bairaktaris and enjoyed – to quote Nick – the best wine he has ever had, a semi-sweet Greek wine called 3/.13. It’s not possible to get Greek wine outside of Greece, making the experience a lot more unique. We debated against buying a bottle because we would not be able to take it back home unless we checked in our luggage and declared it – it would have to last our whole trip, and we were avoiding the checked-in luggage. We thought about bringing it with us on our road trip, considering the price was really quite affordable… but we still decided against it, with all the driving Nick was going to do. We can, however, order direct with them… and pay probably a shit-tonne of duties, taxes, and shipping. 😂 At least the option is there!
I should add – and I’ve probably mentioned this a handful of times before in travel posts – when we hire a car in another country, Nick is the one who drives! He has a preference for driving and is a confident driver, and tends to feel unwell in the passenger seat, but that does work out for me because I’m not such a confident driver. 🙈
Archaeological site of Mycenae
After grabbing lunch, we stopped at the Archaeological site of Mycenae. Yep, all of these archaeological sites were starting to meld into one… but Mycenae is a rather unique site with some excavated tombs. The Tomb of Clytemnestra was the most interesting one – a giant, tall tomb that was excavated in the 1960s, but at the time it was found to have been looted, and the burial chamber empty. The story goes that Clytemnestra’s daughter, Ifgenia, was sacrificed by her father, Agamemnon, in the Trojan War, so she killed her father. Then their son, Orestes, sought revenge for his father’s death, and killed Clytemnestra. Whether this is really her tomb is still uncertain. But it’s a tragic tale that has inspired many works of fiction. We got a little surprise when we looked inside what we thought was the empty tomb, because there was actually a dog resting from the heat and lying alongside a bowl of water. We didn’t initially spot it because it was a little dark inside!
It was getting super, super hot at Mycenae, but we pushed through the heat and explored the whole area. There were steps going below ground, and it looked impressive, but there was a gate preventing you from going much further. It still made for a nice photo looking outwards (and a brief moment for some shade).
If you visit Mycenae, you’ll get a lot of exercise in, due to all the stairs. The most majestic thing is that there is a beautiful view of the Peloponnese region from the site.
A museum accompanied the site, which had a few archaeological finds. I can’t quite remember, but I believe at least some of them were replicas and not the original.
Arriving in and exploring Nafplio
We spent two nights in Nafplio. We were welcomed into our cosy Airbnb by our host, who made us feel very welcome. The apartment was nice and cool – unlike our apartment in Athens, which tended to get hot during the day. We took some time to settle in and then explore the old town of Nafplio for the rest of the evening.
We did a lot of walking – it was a bit unintentional! I have a thing for climbing and reaching great heights and seeing what there is to offer, and there were some rather enticing steps (I know…) in the old town. The main attraction in Nafplio is the Palamidi Fortress, which locals say have 999 steps to the top. It’s actually a little more than a thousand to get to the fortress itself, but if you are fit you can do this easily in less than half an hour. Of course, it’s a little painful on the calves as you go downhill – at least for me!
We could see the fortress from where we were at the top of the old town. There is a bell tower and a hotel at the top, since the area is accessible by road, but other than the views, not much else. The views were incredible though, and I spotted this arch that looked like something out of a fairytale, and you could see the sea through it. I don’t know why, but these old buildings and ancient ruins having unexpected arches/windows always made me want to go up to and look through them and see what was on the other side.
We could see one of Nafplio’s beaches from where we stood. We also walked all the way back down and around the seafront, and almost walked all the way to the beach we’d seen earlier from the top of town.
Dinner was a somewhat disappointing Italian spot, haha, but that didn’t matter too much because we reserved the next day for a meal at a restaurant recommended by our Airbnb host.
Early morning walk up to the Palamidi Fortress
The next day we headed off early to walk the supposed 999 steps to Palamidi Fortress. We went at about 8–8:30, since the Fortress opened at 8:00am. It was a good idea since we didn’t want to head out too late and be stuck in the heat. We didn’t count the steps, haha… but I believe that there is almost a thousand of them.
Visiting Epidavros and one of the world’s best preserved ancient theatres
There is a lot to see at the fortress and many different areas. Again you’ll get a lot of exercise and steps from exploring it. Afterwards, we had a small bite to eat, and again, we needed a short break at our Airbnb to recharge. Then we headed to Epidavros, about 20 minutes drive away, where we visited yet another archaeological site.
The very special thing about this one was the ancient theatre – Epidaurus – which is one of the best preserved ancient theatres in the world. Concerts are still held here and the acoustics are great. You can sit in the stands and hear someone quite clearly if they are in the centre of the stage and speak at a reasonable volume. Again, there are a couple of other parts of the site to explore, but they may feel a little repetitive depending on what other historic/ancient sites you are planning to see.
Since we weren’t too far from the sea, we drove to the area by the water, where we could see Athens in the distance. We had some gelato before heading back to the town of Nafplio.
For dinner we decided to share a whole red snapper, at the restaurant that our Airbnb host had recommended. It had been some time since Nick and I had had fish! They de-boned it for us as well, and we enjoyed some wine. The restaurant got really popular over the course of the night, so a good thing we popped in a little early (6:00pm or so – that’s early for many of the locals in Greece!) and managed to get a table before that happened.
The next morning we picked up quick breakfast at a cafe nearby before continuing our road trip around the Peloponnese. Our next stop was Monemvasia, which I’ll write about in another post. 🏻
Other posts about this trip: