Here’s something you probably didn’t know about the Peloponnese: it’s technically an island ever since the French managed to finish Emperor Nero’s pet project, several centuries later. So yeah, move aside Crete, there’s a new sheriff in town. Sacrilegious (!), I hear some exclaim. Well, not so much. The Peloponnese is Crete’s equal when it comes to just about everything. Food, history, landscape, culture, people… Heck, they even share a penchant for heroically driving out invaders (Shh! don’t mention the war) and starting revolutions.
These two regions share a lot. That’s undeniable. But what sets the Peloponnese apart from the exotic charms of Greece’s biggest island, and by extension Greece?
History & Culture
To begin with, the Myceneans, the original dwellers of the Peloponnese are considered to be pure Greeks, alongside their Minoan cousins. In fact, recent studies have shown that these two DNA strands have more in common with modern Greeks than any other one.
The Peloponnese is littered with ancient temples and castles from its glorious past. The Mycenean civilization, the first ever European one, declined in the second millennium BC. It was followed by a period called the Dark Ages after which the Classical Era flourished. And it flourished with style. The first Olympic Games were held here in 776 BC thus heralding the beginning of Greece’s Golden Era. Ancient Olympia and Epidaurus hold magnificent examples of surviving architecture.
The ancient theater at Epidaurus is still in use today for various festivals. Olympia, on the other hand draws visitors all year round to experience the mystical aura of the first Olympic venue. The Peloponnese is home to legendary city states such as Sparta, Corinth, Nafplion and Argos, and it was through the Peloponessean League that these city sates formed alliances with which they fought off neighboring invaders.
Subsequent colonizers such as the Romans, Byzantines, Ottomans, Venetians and Franks left their mark in the form of various castles, walls, and fortresses, most notably the magnificent Monemvasia medieval castle. They carved up and divided the peninsula until a bunch of Greek insurgents took Mani and proceeded to liberate Greece from Ottoman yoke.
The verdant canopy that engulfs most of the Peloponesse in cypress and pine trees is stunning. The southern climate is a draw for many animals, while the flora is said to contain many endemic species. Olive groves dominate the scenery, obviously. Lemon trees, figs, oranges and pears are also abundant. The Peloponnese is also rich in natural beauty of the rugged kind. The Zarouchla forest is a rich ecosystem of rare black pine trees in Achaia province.
Similarly the Riparian forest is a unique jungle-y enclave where several rivers meet to create a lush environment for animals. Kalamia forest is an oak tree protected area, while Kapeli Plateau and Oak forest are unique in the Balkans for the combination of different flora. The Peloponnese also has a fair few gorges for the adventurous out there. The gorges of Mount Lepida, Loussios, Ridomo, Vouraika and Viros are all impressive hiking and walking trails.
And the best thing is that when sufficiently hot from walking, one can cool off in one of the many lakes and rivers. The Neda river being the most prominent, while Doxa lake and Polylimnio particularly are superb. Polilimnio is in fact a 15 lake system with lush waterfalls and scenic vistas. Definitely one not to miss.
Kalamata olives are the nuts. Repeat after me, and light a candle while saying it. If you’re in the Peloponnese and haven’t already succumbed to the flavourlicious olives, then you’re either suffering from ageusia or are in a different place altogether. Or it could be that you’re tucking in to some tasty aubergines stuffed with tomato and are too busy chomping down. No sweat. When you’re done eating, try the delicious honey drizzled sweets. They are to die for.
In the Peloponnese everything you eat will come from some orchard not too far from your plate. Everything has to be fresh. And that assures you of the highest quality, most flavoursome tastes with all the health benefits associated with such a culture.
The Peloponnese is a secret doorway into Greece’s past, present and future. Everything that is Greek originated from this corner of the country. It is undisputed queen of Greece.