Looking out over the Argolic Gulf from the once mighty Palamidi Fortress, one wonders why so many people travel to the Greek Islands, yet in comparison so few travel to the Peloponnese. Considered a prime example of Venetian military architecture, the fortress has played a role in Greek military history since the 18th century, through the Greek War of Independence, and was even occupied by Germans in World War II.
Approximately 1,000 steps below the fortress (Not to worry, you can also drive to the top, or take a bus) is the town of Nafplio, the first capital of unified, independent Greece. Here there exists eclectic architecture spanning sporadic development over hundreds of years. This seaside community serves as a retreat from city life for Athenians, but we visited in early April and with the tourist season still a few weeks away, we didn’t have to fight the crowds of summer. Off season and shoulder season travel as a family can be rewarding as it brings smaller crowds and lower prices.
After walking the old town and the seaside boardwalk, one can settle in to any number of restaurants with a view over the water and enjoy the local speciality, seafood on the terrace with a cool breeze coming off the water. During our visit we stayed in an immaculately prepared AirBnB steps away from the old town and the waterfront so we prepared our own dishes featuring the catch of the day then ventured out for some baklava or ice cream at one of the many local shops serving delectable treats.
For a very easy, and rewarding day trip venture through the winding country roads lined with citrus trees to Homer’s fabled city of gold, Mycenae. This Bronze Age society existed a thousand years before Athens became the home of democracy. In contrast, the Mycenaean’s were warriors and made their home on a steep, easy to defend hill from which one can see the entire way to the sea.
Climbing through the city and passing through the lion gate takes one back in time. Kids love exploring the ragged ruins of stone homes that were forgotten three thousand years ago. To fetch water, the Mycenaean’s descended 20m below ground to a cistern. I think we made it almost to the bottom, but with a sleeping baby on my back, a pitch black cavern, and three thousand year old steps that have not been well preserved, I gave up.
The majority of the treasures of Mycenae are now housed at the National Archaeology Museum in Athens including the death mask of Agamemnon. While the mask likely was not of Agamemnon, it is a highlight of any visit to the museum, should your travels also include Athens.
Nafplio and the Peloponnese are quite possibly my favourite place I have ever visited and it will take some place truly special to make me change my mind.
If you are visiting Greece, we highly recommend Rick Steves Greece: Athens and the Peloponnese.
To read more about our trip from Athens to Nafplio and a humourous story about apples, helpful locals, and language barriers, you know what to do. (The Story About the Apples)
Happy and safe travels.